Why the sexual revolution has been bad for the poor

On Google Reader, Joel shared a post from First ThoughtsR.R. Reno, looking over statistics from the National Marriage Project, writes “educational levels, economic success, and family stability [like having parents who stayed married and not having children out of wedlock] reinforce each other.”

He concludes:

And it’s also useful to be reminded of something else: The sexual revolution, like most revolutions (all revolutions?) has ended up benefiting the people on the top at the expense of the people on the bottom. Bourgeois Americans have judiciously incorporated sexual freedom into their lives, retaining to a great degree the stabilizing institution of marriage. Not so the folks in the middle and on the bottom, many of whom are undone by the collapse of older moral strictures.

I’ve long been baffled by progressives. They make the observation, largely true, that increased economic freedom since the Reagan years has disproportionately benefited those who are most capable of taking advantage of new opportunities in the marketplace—that is to say the well-educated and well-disciplined bourgeoisie. But these same progressives line up to trash traditional morality, ignoring the fact that the same holds for sexual freedom.

No, not the same but worse. It’s not at all clear that investment banker bonuses diminish the earning power of coal miners or janitors. But it is clear, I think, that the sexual liberties that can be gently folded into upper-middle class life wreck havoc on working class communities.

That’s why I think that a Catholic commitment to what’s known as “the preferential option for the poor”—a proper commitment, I might add—would seem to require a fairly strict social conservatism when it comes to sex, marriage, and the family.

It’s probably worth pointing out that the economic changes of the last 30 years, while they may have resulted in more concentration of wealth at the top, have also resulted in the general increasing of the size of the pie for all because of new technology and its falling prices.  That doesn’t mean that everything about the economy has been great, but the sexual revolution can’t claim that same benefit for society (unless someone tried to say that this has resulted in more available and culturally acceptable sex for all, but that’s part of the problem).

You can read Albert Mohler’s interview with W. Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project here, and you can also find an audio version on Mohler’s website.



  1. I see it more and more the older I get. A rock star can do drugs and bounce back through rehab. A 19 year old does drugs and lands in jail with a future of difficult jobs and poor choices ahead.

  2. Great point, Joel. That reminds of an article that I read about racial profiling where the author noted that police are always doing pretext stops in poor (often black) neighborhoods in places like South Central LA, but there’s no way that anyone would let them do the same things at UCLA in wealthy Westwood. And probably the poverty and lack of clout in South Central has more to do with it post-civil rights movement than race.

    Here’s a link to that article: https://temporachristiana.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/police-talk-about-racial-profiling/

      • Yeah, but part of the reason for the high crime rate is that they’re looking there for drugs.

        My brothers and sister went to a Catholic high school in Pasadena, Ca. because the public schools in Pasadena/Altadena were terrible. According to my brother, there were a ton of drugs at the Catholic HS and so kids from Pasadena HS, which was heavily policed, would come there to get drugs. So while the police were clamping down on the poor and minority kids, there was a great drug market under the umbrella of respectability about a mile away.

  3. That makes sense: the police pushed the dealing out of Pasadena HS but there’s still demand, so the supply shifted to a less policed location.

    If theft and violent crimes follow the dealing to the Catholic high school, I would expect parents, school, and police to eventually step in. Part of that would probably include profiling people who look like they don’t belong there.

    I think your example shows that drugs are primarily a problem because they tend to domino into more serious crimes; but if those serious crimes do not follow, drugs will be ignored.

    • If my understanding of our 40-plus year drug war is correct, it’s always focused on the poor. To me, that says they don’t have the clout to say that they don’t want their communities and young people under police surveillance. Thus the kid at the public school gets a police record for having drugs at school, while the kid at the Catholic school skates by under the policy of benign neglect. I don’t want more Catholic HS kids arrested, necessarily, or to import the neglect to the public HS. Both options seem pretty screwed up.

      Also, if crimes rather than drugs are the problem, then our method of solving the problem is really backwards. We arrest tons of people for drugs and send them into our failing prison system where people tend to get worse rather better.

      That brings me back to my original point about drugs, playing off of Joel’s point: experimentation in vices (enabled at least in part by the reduction of social disapproval of this) hurts the poor more because they don’t have the resources to bounce back.

      • So “lack of clout” is the primary reason why the drug war has been “focused” on the poor?

        (1) Are crimes uniformly distributed across economic levels? i.e. is everyone committing the same crimes and only the poor are being busted for it?

        (2) Same question as #1 but restricted to drug crimes.

        (3) Is clout the primary factor for determining police surveillance?

        Maybe I’m wrong, but I would answer:

        (1) No, there is often a correlation between poverty and crime.

        (2) No, I’d guess that there is probably still a correlation between poverty and drug crimes. However, drug crimes are often socially perceived to be a lesser offense and may therefore: (a) have a somewhat more uniform distribution, and (b) be overlooked when it doesn’t accompany more serious crimes.

        (3) No, crime is the primary factor (I would hope!). Clout is a secondary factor that may be weighed against the seriousness and prevalence of a crime.

        I agree with you about our prison system and the penalties for drug offenses. There is something fundamentally wrong when worse criminals emerge than entered a prison.

        I also agree with Joel’s and your final point — by definition, the poor do not have the same resources as the rich, including resources to bounce back from their mistakes.

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