Ever since Karl Marx dubbed religion the "opium of the masses" sociologists have debated the role of ideas in human behavior. Does, for example, the fact that unmarried Murphy Brown had a baby on last night's episode of the popular television sitcom simply reflect society's increased tolerance of out-of-wedlock births? Or does it, as some argue, signal that illegitimacy is now OK -- thus encouraging women to emulate the television heroine?
One might think Ms. Brown a poor role model for unwed mothers. She is a 40-something, college-educated, white professional who also happens to be a millionaire. Most single mothers are none of the above. But there's a catch: Though "Murphy Brown" depicts a lifestyle far different from that of the average unwed mother, such women are much more likely than others to watch the show. That's because, as a recent American Psychological Association study found, poor and minority women watch more TV than almost any other group.
Will Ms. Brown's example make them rush out and have babies? Probably not. Might, however, her resourcefulness as a single parent inspire poor mothers to seize more control over their lives and thus feel better about themselves? Perhaps -- but then you have to ask: What's so bad about that?