27 July 2017

What Do Baby Mamas See In Ex-Cons?

The Typical Colorado Former Inmate

Like 90% of Colorado prison inmates, he is male. Like a plurality of Colorado prison inmates, he is white. All three racial/ethnic categories are common in Colorado prisons. "Colorado's inmates are 45% Anglo, 32% Hispanic, 20% African American, 3% Native American and 1% Asian. Colorado as a whole is 71% Anglo, 20% Hispanic, 4% African American, 1% Native American and 3% Asian." But, he is a United States citizen who was born in the United States.

Most Colorado prison inmates aren't just people who committed a crime, they are actually criminals. Like most male Colorado prison inmates, he was convicted of some sort of crime of violence or sex offense. He pleaded guilty to the offense and has probably spent at least five years of his adult life in prison. He has been incarcerated more than once, although some of his prior periods of incarceration were as a juvenile and in a local jail for a misdemeanor. And, he has spent some time on probation and parole. 

Like 40% of Colorado prison inmates (and a larger percentage of male inmates) he is associated with a criminal gang and like many "marginal" gang members first joined it while incarcerated when he needed the protection from other inmates that it offered.

His anti-social behavior isn't new. It has a lot to do with why he didn't graduate from high school and was already discernible when he was in middle school. 

Like 82% of Colorado prison inmates of both genders, he has a moderate to severe substance abuse problem (i.e. he is an alcoholic and/or a drug abuser). He was probably under the influence of marijuana or cocaine when he was arrested. He experienced a traumatic brain injury that has had a negative impact on his behavior at some point. 

His family wasn't affluent or well educated. His parents were briefly married, but they aren't married now. He's never been married himself.

Like the median Colorado inmate, he has a few minor job skills but they are inadequate in the current job market. He did not graduate from high school but did earn his GED while in prison. He was a below average IQ but not low enough to count as developmentally disabled. He isn't registered to vote, even though he's now eligible to register to vote because he completed his most recent parole. He is not a military veteran. He is frequently and intermittently unemployed, in part due to poor behavior on the job, and he doesn't get paid much when he does work. Economically, as men in Colorado go, he is one of the worst providers there is.

What Is Remarkable About The Typical Colorado Former Inmate?

The point of all of this is not to beat an old drum. The point of this is to highly something that is remarkable.

What is it? 

This typical Colorado inmate will have, on average, as many children over the course of his lifetime as the average man in Colorado with no criminal record, although he will have his children either too early to be socially acceptable, or in middle age, after he has "aged out" of the criminal justice system, or both. Demographers talk about "make up fertility" on the part of released felons.

In all likelihood he won't marry the mother of his children, and if he does, he will in all likelihood end up divorced in fairly short order. But, despite the fact that about 15% of men never have children, he isn't any more likely to be one of them than anyone else.

It is hard to imagine a less attractive mate for a woman than a typical, middle aged ex-con, yet these men nonetheless manage to find women who are willing to bear their children on a very consistent basis. And, there is no reason to think that this is anything other than an at least tacit choice of a mother who chose to bear a child when she get pregnant in an era when a variety of birth control methods are available, there is a "day after pill" that can prevent conception if there is an "accident" and abortion is also available. The instantly observable social and interpersonal tells of social class are also strong enough that few women are going to deeply mismeasure the fact that they are entering into a relationship with a "bad boy" even if they don't know all of the details of his sordid past and all of his personal idiosyncratic flaws.

There are a few saints who go to prison based upon wrongful convictions or who make a horrible, uncharacteristic, once in a lifetime mistake for understandable but unjustified reasons. But, for the most part, the path to prison is paved with a lot of personal baggage that also makes a typical ex-con both a criminal and a pretty undesirable partner in many other respects. 

Not only is he not the model partner and likely to leave her, in addition he often puts his baby mama or her children at risk of becoming victims of domestic violence, of being collateral damage inflicted by others against his loved ones as a result of his criminal activity, and may drag her into criminal liability herself from actions that flow mostly from the fact that she is in a relationship with him. If you want to absorb those risks in a presentation unclouded by racial confounds, go see the movie Baby Driver.

Yet, nonetheless, these men find girlfriends and those girlfriends have their children, although usually in a fairly short relationship (perhaps because that makes it less likely that she will discover the less desirable aspects of his character). The young male protagonist in Baby Driver in involved in a lot of violent criminal activity and gets a deserved (but mild as a result of his youth and virtues) punishment, but he still manages to win over a down on her luck young woman anyway.

In my mind, the fact that this happens anyway is a pretty remarkable mystery that doesn't have an adequate answer yet in the social science. 

There is a cad v. dad debate in the social sciences, which suggests some reasons that those baby mamas tend to be young. And, some researchers blame it on irrational hormonal motivations (also here). But, those debates hinge on assuming that the cad is sexy and exciting, and while some "original Gs" may be able to pull that off, there are also many typical former Colorado inmates for whom you'd be putting lipstick on a pig to call sexy and exciting. As one paper in the field summarized the hypothesis:
Recent studies indicate that for long-term relationships, women seek partners with the ability and willingness to sustain paternal investment in extended relationships. For short-term relationships, women choose partners whose features indicate high genetic quality.
It is hard to characterize the typical former inmate described above as someone of "high genetic quality" in the modern world where brains, self-discipline and an ability to play well with others is everything. Yet, somehow, women don't steer clear of these men and trust them to be fathers of their children anyway. Somehow, hormones steer a significant number of women towards bad boys even when they aren't of high genetic quality by modern standards.

Perhaps the best answer may be the evolutionary psychology hypothesis that today's brutes, while highly dysfunctional in modern society, are the kind of men who were selectively fit in the less civilized past when our instincts and hard wired predispositions were established. In our dim evolutionary pre-history, violent and ruthless men survived, while wimps, no matter how smart and well socialized, died.

But, it is hard to know if this is a real reason or merely a "just so story."

An alternative possibility is that assortive mating is a powerful social force and that in a highly stratified market for partners and prospective co-parents, for women at the bottom of the heap themselves who have only everyone else's left overs to pick from, a bottom of the heap man who manages to stay out of prison may not be all that much more desirable as a partner than one who goes to prison, so the marginal comparison she faces may not be as steep as the profile above, implicitly comparing the typical former prison inmate to the "average" man in the community would suggest.

The trouble with this hypothesis is that it is somewhat implausible to think that even if men are picky in choosing their primary partner, that it is so much harder to a low status woman to be a mistress of a much higher status man than to be the abandoned lover of a very low status former inmate. And, why should it matter to her if she will probably end up as a single mother either way? But, perhaps a perceived greater possibility that she might win permanent status as the primary partner of the lower status man makes it worthwhile for her to settle for him, even if often doesn't work out with him either, and perhaps she might feel she has more in common with him as a fellow inhabitant of the lowest social stratum.

An Aside For Another Day

It is also worth noting, as an aside for another day, that the people who end up becoming criminals are overwhelmingly the least economically fit members of our society, and that in the lion's share of cases, the motivations for crime are economic ones.

Criminal gangs exist and are so common among criminals, in addition to serving as a means of mutual self-defense in under-regulated prison environments, because they act as firms that make most of their money these days selling vice in unsavory black markets (usually illegal drugs and prostitution), as alternatives like theft and extortion has grown less profitable, gambling has been legalized, and loan sharking is less attractive because there are legitimate alternatives.

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