On Psychology

Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 2000 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Retirement tax plan works for dads

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- ONE OF the big ideas being discussed this election year is whether to allow individuals the option of investing some portion of their Social Security taxes in private savings accounts. A lot of good reasons have been advanced to support this idea, including, to cite just two, the opportunity to earn a higher rate of return on Social Security withholdings than would otherwise be the case and helping to put Social Security on a more secure basis financially.

Here's another reason why such a reform is a good idea: It also strengthens fatherhood. Here's how.

Part of being a good father is being a good provider. It's not the only part, of course, but helping to ensure the family's financial solvency is certainly an important part of being a good dad.

This is not to deny that women also play a key role in providing for their families. Of course they do. Still, many men -- and especially fathers -- believe they are the ones who ultimately are responsible for the soundness of the family budget. That may not sit well over at the offices of "Extreme Feminists of America," but the notion that fathers are largely responsible for the financial security of their families has been a reality for generations.

It is the father, for example, who more often stays in the paid labor force after a child is born in instances where a couple can afford to have one parent stay at home. Fathers also tend to worry more about the family's financial health and more typically are the ones who take on the responsibility for paying the bills.

Men aren't the only ones who believe fathers ought to be the primary providers for their families. Studies consistently show that women are much less likely than men to "marry down" financially. That is, women do not tend to marry men whose economic prospects are not at least as good as their own. That's one reason why some advocate the expansion of welfare-to-work programs to include low-income men as well as women - to increase their marriageability.

The role of father as economic provider is particularly important in low-income and working-class families. Without sufficient income to support their families, men in these socioeconomic groups can come to feel like failures as dads. All too often, the result is withdrawal from the role of father, either physically, through abandonment, or emotionally. It's also why domestic violence becomes more prevalent during difficult economic times.

It's not just the ability to bring home a paycheck that makes a difference for families, however. It's also the ability to create wealth. Wealth not only gives fathers a sense of financial security, but also provides them with the satisfaction of knowing they have created something they can pass down to their children.

Unfortunately, few low-income and working-class families are able to generate any real wealth. Instead, they live paycheck-to-paycheck, unable to set anything aside. Without the ability to generate wealth, many come to feel they have been failures as fathers when they are unable to pass on any inheritance to their children or, even worse, become a burden to their children in their old age.

Imagine how this might change if the federal government said to fathers (and mothers) of every socioeconomic class, "We trust you to manage a portion of your own Social Security contributions." Armed with the capital to make investment decisions for their families, at least some men will feel more empowered in their role of father. And for the first time, many of them would be able to create wealth.

Privatizing at least a portion of Social Security is resonating with the public. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 59 percent of voters support proposals to allow workers to divert a portion of their Social Security taxes to individually owned, privately invested accounts.

Most supporters of this reform see it as a means of saving Social Security. An added benefit would be providing fatherhood with a shot in the arm.

At a time when fatherhood has grown so weak that over 24 million children live in homes absent their fathers, public policy ought to do all it can to support and encourage responsible fatherhood. Giving fathers the ability to invest part of the money they earn for their families' futures can do just that.

JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR


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© 2000, Dr. Wade F. Horn