Institute for Family Studies Blog The Institute for Family Studies (IFS) is dedicated to strengthening marriage and family life, and advancing the well-being of children, through research and public education. In Primal Screams, Identity Politics Is a Symptom of Family Breakdown family-breakdown family-breakdown by Ashley McGuire

Who am I? Be it Jean Valjean or Elvis Presley asking, it’s a question that has plagued all of humanity from the very beginning. And in today’s post-sexual revolutionary world, it’s perhaps harder to answer than ever before. So writes Mary Eberstadt in her latest book, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics

At just over 100 pages, the book, which is an expansion of her essay by the same title for The Washington Examiner, reads more like a treatise, a handbook of sorts for understanding the connection between identity politics’ ever-tightening grip on American culture and the fallout of the Sexual Revolution. The connection isn’t just deep, she argues, it’s primal. 

Eberstadt focuses on the nuclear family, which the Sexual Revolution exploded. Once the ultimate human safe space, the place where we first extracted a pre-political sense of identity, the family has now been shattered by everything from no-fault divorce to abortion to out-of-wedlock childbirth to amorphous definitions of marriage, all cultural offspring of the revolution. This “familial liquidation,” as she calls it, or the Great Scattering, as she describes it elsewhere, has destroyed the natural human habitat and left much of humanity feeling completely unmoored, without a sense of belonging or a clear sense of identity. 

As a result, people are increasingly filling the void with identity politics. Eberstadt quotes Allan Bloom, who wrote, “The more people feel themselves adrift in a vast, impersonal, anonymous sea, the more desperately they swim toward any familiar, intelligible, protective life-raft; the more they crave a politics of identity.” She takes the point further, arguing that “some people, deprived of recognition in the traditional ways, will regress to a state in which their demand for recognition becomes ever more insistent and childlike.” Think, liberal arts students putting scholars in neck braces and the like.

Therein is the profundity and the novelty of Eberstadt’s argument. The children of the Sexual Revolution may have grown into adults, but they are still afflicted by the pathos of lost children, quite literally howling, whether at a demonstration like the Women’s March or live on MSNBC, out of a deep desire for belonging.

Eberstadt adds an interesting dynamic to the book by drawing stark parallels to nature. Be it wolves or monkeys or elephants, Eberstadt cites study after study that looks at the way other mammals organize into families, and the devastation wrought when those animal families are destroyed. She flips the script if you will. Usually, the focus is on the habitat and its effect on the animal. Primal Screams tells the other story—what happens to the habitat when the animal’s natural familial orientation is destroyed. 

Perhaps her most striking example is that of elephants. She quotes Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee, who said, “Destroying the family life of highly social, intelligent animals leads inevitably to misery among individual survivors and pathological misbehavior among the group.” She documents the breakdown of the elephant family structure as a result of various environmental disruptions like poaching, which has unraveled elephant culture as a whole, so much so that we are witnessing what one ecologist described as “a precipitous collapse of elephant culture.” 

What Primal Screams does so masterfully is to hold up a mirror to our own cultural collapse and point a laser beam right at the heart of the problem: familial breakdown. Identity politics is a symptom of that collapse. According to Eberstadt, “Our macropolitics have become a mania about identity because our micropolitics are no longer familial.” Her thesis sheds new light on modern-day phenomena like androgyny, the feverish rush to gender ideology, and the ongoing fallout of #Metoo.

Finally, she provocatively suggests that the revolution has given way to “evolutionary winners,” those people who manage to stake a claim to marital happiness and familial stability. She alludes to the research and work of many on this site, including IFS senior fellow Brad Wilcox, explaining that already, “the new wealth in America is familial wealth, and the new poverty, familial poverty.” She continues, “Perhaps the real divide of postrevolutionary humanity lies between those who have figured out how to navigate the Great Scattering successfully and those who have not.” 

Survivors who are seeking navigation tools would do well to start with Primal Screams.

Ashley E. McGuire is a Contributing Editor at the Institute for Family Studies. Her new book is Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female (Regnery, 2017).

Tue, 17 Sep 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Faith: An Overlooked Tool in Substance Abuse Prevention and Recovery by Brian Grim

There are 20 million Americans afflicted with a substance use disorder (SUD). And tragically, each year, nearly 160,000 die from alcohol or drug-related deaths. However, as we head further into the 30th annual National Recovery Month, one of the most effective tools to prevent and/or recover from addiction is often overlooked—faith. And when it comes to prevention, particularly among youth, faith is a driving force, according to a new report I co-authored with my daughter, Melissa, which was published in the Journal of Religion and Health. The report is the second commissioned by the interdenominational initiative, Faith Counts to examine the socio-economic contribution of religion to America.

Unfortunately, most Americans will find this surprising. In the latest Gallup survey, only 46% of Americans think that religion can answer today’s problems, but the reality is that religion provides answers for one of today’s biggest problems—addiction. Part of the misperception revealed in the poll is that fewer people are affiliated with religion today, resulting in less experience with faith and its positive impacts. 

So, what are the positive impacts of religion on substance abuse/addiction that are outlined in the new study? 

Overwhelmingly, research shows that youth who are spiritually active, participate in a faith community, and invest in a prayerful relationship with their God are less likely to use or abuse drugs and alcohol. By contrast, teens who do not consider religious belief important are almost three times more likely to smoke, five times more likely to binge on alcohol, and almost eight times more likely to use marijuana compared with the teens who strongly appreciated the significance of religion in their daily lives. And compared with the teens who attended religious services at least weekly, the teens who never attended services were twice more likely to drink, over twice more likely to smoke, over three times more likely to use marijuana or binge on alcohol, and four times more likely to use illicit drugs. 

A host of empirical studies also reveal that faith among adolescents and young adults can act as a powerful deterrent against drug and alcohol abuse, even when controlling for other contributory factors (e.g., depression). Higher degrees of religiosity among youth, including religious attendance, involvement, and reliance on religious beliefs in decision-making, are associated with several benefits, such as limited depression and negative attitudes toward substance abuse. Adolescents who frequently attend religious services, who are involved in faith-based activities, and who place a high value on spirituality exhibit greater resilience when facing the stressors that can lead to the formative use of drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Studies also show that high school students’ attendance in religious services and their incorporation of prayer into their everyday lives can equip them with vital spiritual and moral guidance that will decrease their inclinations for drugs and alcohol when stressors arise. 

The evidence on the association between religious involvement and/or religiosity and reduced risk of substance use among adolescents is overwhelming. Teens who attend religious services weekly are less likely to smoke, drink, use marijuana or other illicit drugs (e.g., LSD, cocaine, and heroin) than those who attend religious services less frequently. Further, religious practice among teens discourages them from taking highly dangerous drugs. For example, people who attended religious services at least weekly in childhood and adolescence were 33% less likely to use illegal drugs.

Adolescents also benefit from their mothers’ higher levels of religious practice, controlling for factors that also influence the level of drinking (e.g., the adolescents’ peer associations). Higher teenage religiosity is also related to other factors related to a decrease in drug use, such as good family relations, high academic performance in school, having anti-drug attitudes, and socializing with friends who do not take drugs. Moreover, teens themselves tend to cite their peers’ religious and spiritual inclinations as reasons that discourage their peers from drinking and taking drugs.

Our study concludes that the decline in religious affiliation presents a growing national health concern because the growth of disaffiliation is concentrated among Millennials and young adults, who are also the highest percentage of any age group to have a substance abuse disorder. In a sense, the antidote is being rejected by the very people who need it most.

Brian Grim is a non-resident research scholar at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University and president at the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. He previously was director of cross-national data at the Pew Research Center and a program director at universities in China, the former USSR, and the Middle East.

Mon, 16 Sep 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Friday Five 293 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Event: Fifth Annual American Family Survey
Deseret News and Brigham Young University
Friday, Sept. 13, 10:00 AM EST at the American Enterprise Institute

Poverty Rate for People in Female-Householder Families Lowest on Record
John Creamer and Abinash Mohanty, U.S. Census Bureau

TANF and MOE Spending and Transfers by Activity, FY 2018 (National & State Pie Charts)
ACF, Office of Family Assistance

Caregiver Stress: The Crucial, Often Unrecognized Byproduct of Chronic Disease
Elsevier via Medical Xpress

How Training Just for Dads Helps the Whole Family
Juli Froga, KQED News

Fri, 13 Sep 2019 07:30:00 -0400
‘Jawline’ Highlights Loneliness and Desperation of Generation Z by Anthony Barr (@AnthonyMBarr)

It’s a summer weekend and you’re a preteen girl at a convention venue in LA. You’ve spent your hard-earned money—$250 to be precise—for a ticket and the chance to get a hug, or better yet, a selfie with your favorite online celebrity. But the celebrity in question is not a Hollywood actor. Instead, Austyn Tester is a rising digital star who lipsyncs One Direction songs and dispenses upbeat messages about body positivity on live webcasts. I should mention that Austyn is a teenager, too—only 16 years old.  

The new Hulu documentary “Jawline” chronicles the meteoric rise and fall of Austyn’s celebrity career, giving the viewer an unscripted look at the world I’ve described. If all this feels alien to you, it also felt that way to me, and I’m a Millennial. But "Jawline" is more than just a sobering portrait of the emerging Generation Z; it is also a heartbreaking look at how kids are turning themselves into commodities online in a desperate attempt to find the social and economic capital lacking in their physical communities. And as kids turn to the Internet to find what is lacking offline, they become increasingly vulnerable to a new kind of exploitation. 

There is a simple business strategy in this digital celebrity industry. Teens like Austyn spend countless hours building a follower base from the hundreds into the thousands. At a certain point, a talent scout will see opportunity and offer to bring the teen on board, giving them coaching and a platform for touring, all for a nice slice of the profits. Certainly, there is the potential for various kinds of exploitation commonly associated with child acting or modeling, from talent agents who fraudulently withhold payment (something Austyn experiences), to adults who harass or sexually abuse children, to unscrupulous parents who try to live vicariously through their kids. But aside from that, I think the world that "Jawline" exposes is exploitation all the way down: teens, in the midst of trying to develop an authentic sense of self, who are paid (or not paid) to perform that nascent authentic self for thousands of online fans. 

It isn’t just family breakdown that is driving these kids online; it’s also the absence of meaningful offline friendships.

In addition to exploitation, the documentary also shines a light on impoverishment and disillusionment with the American Dream. Austyn lives with his single mother and older brother in Kingsport, TN, which has a poverty rate of 20%, well above the national rate. The economy in his hometown is in decline, and the defining industries are health care, manufacturing, and retail—you can imagine the paltry wages. Of course, higher wages are available in management (college-credentialed) or in mining (male-dominated), which means Austyn’s mother isn’t accessing the best jobs. While the documentary does not tell us the income level of Austyn’s household, we get subtle clues regarding financial hardship, such as comments about having no food in the house. Austyn’s brother tells us that they’ve had it worse: “we’re still poor, but like, less.” But both brothers are clear that they want out of their town. In one of the most striking moments in the documentary, Austyn comments on the people in his community: 

They’re so programmed...go to school, get good grades. If you get an A, you’re smart; you get an F, you’re stupid—and then you get a job and then you have a family, and then you get old, you die. 

Austyn doesn’t do well in school (in part because of bullying), so it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t see education as a viable path. Is it any wonder that Austyn and his family seize upon superstardom as the escape plan?

The social picture of the documentary naturally intersects with the economic. Austyn lives in a single-parent household, in part, because his father was abusive. This family profile is sadly not an outlier experience in our country. Pew Research reports that “the share of U.S. children living with an unmarried parent has more than doubled since 1968, jumping from 13 to 32% in 2017.” And while out-of-wedlock births account for some of that rise, Pew also estimates that 20% of kids born within a marriage will experience family breakup by age 9. A number of interviewees in the documentary spoke about the experience of loneliness or family breakdown. One preteen girl explained: "I live with my aunt. My mom’s in jail, and my dad wasn’t around, and I don’t see my brothers. So, they [digital stars like Austyn] were like my brothers.” Another girl added that “broadcasting feels kinda weird, but it also feels like you have a family.

And it isn’t just family breakdown that is driving these kids online; it’s also the absence of meaningful offline friendships. As one preteen reports, the live-cast celebrities are “like those friends that I never had and wished I had.” The lack of offline friendship is particularly depressing because though there is a general loneliness epidemic in America, Gen Z has been hit the hardest, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the health insurer Cigna last year. Although we do not know for sure what is causing the decline in teen mental health, what is clear is that online interactions cannot fully efface the deep loneliness caused by breakdowns in offline relationships, and the odds are good that too much time online will actually increase that loneliness.

Persistent loneliness can easily turn into depression. The social science here is bleak: “the total number of teenagers who recently experienced depression increased 59% between 2007 and 2017,” reports Pew. I was thinking of these statistics when I heard one "Jawline" interviewee say things like, “I just remember that I have the Internet, and I have all the good things on the Internet, and that just kinda keeps me going.” It is also worth noting that multiple interviewees spoke of their struggles with self-harm and suicide ideation and talked about how their attachment to Austyn was their saving grace. After Auystn’s career implodes, his mother mentions his struggles with anxiety (another recurring theme of Gen Z). Is his anxiety because of prior abuse, or time spent online, or the nature of marketing oneself, or food scarcity, or watching his dreams shatter? Most likely all the above are factors. And as I finished the documentary, I was left wondering how many more kids live a similar nightmare?

Near the end of "Jawline," Austyn’s mother describes how he’s fallen behind in high school credits, as he bemoans the reality of having to return to school. His mother tells him that “no one’s to blame but you for this.” I’m not sure who is to blame, but I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to blame our youth. As a Millennial, my peers and I have our own defining struggles with depression and anxiety. We are young professionals now, struggling under student debt, trying to unlearn the lessons of the meritocracy, and preparing ourselves for another economic recession. I write this as someone who is barely keeping afloat myself, worried about the fate of the next generation. Who knows who or what is to blame for the problems facing Gen Z or what policy solutions are needed?  But as “Jawline” underscores, it’s clear that the kids are not alright, and they desperately need our help.

Anthony M. Barr is a recent graduate of the Templeton Honors College at Eastern University, and he was a recent Fellow at the Hertog Foundation in DC. He has written for The American Conservative and University Bookman, among other publications.

Thu, 12 Sep 2019 07:30:00 -0400
National Survey Reveals Generational Differences in Consensual Non-monogamy by Heather Smith and Alan J. Hawkins

In a recent episode of Facebook Watch’s television series, The Red Table, Jada Pinkett Smith, her daughter Willow Smith, and Jada’s mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris, or “Gammy,” explored unconventional relationships. Willow (age 18) began to discuss the “constricting…ownership” of monogamous relationships. Jada (age 47) supported Willow’s opposition to monogamy, while across the table Gammy (age 65) wasn’t “too sure about this polyamory thing.” 

The family invited a “throuple,” a three-way relationship sometimes called a “triad,” to the Red Table to discuss the ins and outs of polyamory. Thomas, sitting next to his wife Cathy and their girlfriend Nicole, identified as heterosexual, while the two women identified as bisexual. What started out as a monogamous relationship turned into an open relationship for Thomas and Cathy after one year of marriage and eventually into a polyamorous relationship with Nicole five years later. The three of them have been together for nine months.

Polyamory is one form of consensual non-monogamy (CNM), where an individual is in a relationship with multiple people but with everyone consenting to the arrangement. Each relationship within the polyamorous relationship may be structured as a more sexual connection or a more emotional connection. For example, in a recent New York Times photo essay, married couple Beth and Andrew Sparksfire are shown laying next to another couple. Next to Andrew is his girlfriend, Effy Blue and her boyfriend Thomas. However, Beth and Thomas are not in a relationship with each other. They say consensual non-monogamy works for them. 

Despite stories like these, for the vast majority of the individuals in the United States, monogamy is still preferred, according to a recent study from The Wheatley Institution and School of Family Life at Brigham Young University (the “iFidelity” survey). This survey of 2,000 respondents, which included married and unmarried individuals, and individuals in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships, is the first estimate of CNM attitudes and behavior with a large, nationally representative sample. From this sample, we found that only 3% of adults reported currently being in a CNM relationship and only one-in-eight (12%) reported having ever been in a CNM relationship. Furthermore, 86% of respondents said that committed couples should be monogamous (64% “strongly agree”), and 89% said they would not consider an open sexual relationship.

However, we also found noteworthy generational differences in CNM attitudes and behaviors that reflected the “Red Table” episode with the Smith family. We compared responses across generations to the likelihood of engaging in a CNM relationship and the belief that committed couples should be monogamous. The results are summarized in the following figure.

As the results illustrate, more recent generations are more open to CNM relationships. When comparing Baby Boomers to Millennials, Boomers are 22 percentage points more likely to agree that committed couples should be monogamous (85% vs 63%). Older generations are much less likely to have ever been in a CNM relationship (5-10%) or to have even considered an open relationship. 

However, despite the generational differences in attitudes, each generation shows fewer people currently engaging in CNM than ever having engaged in CNM (usually by 5-10 percentage points). This suggests that some individuals tested the waters of CNM and felt the water was too cold. Maybe they found that there is something fundamental about committed monogamous relationships.

Why Is Acceptance of and Engagement in CNM Still Rising?

While one can only speculate, some may argue the exploration of non-monogamous relationships is just the next horizon of the unfolding sexual revolution in the United States. Scholars on NPR and the Netflix documentary, Explained, argue that Millennials believe non-monogamy is a part of evolution, as if the desire to have multiple partners in a relationship is a natural progression for humanity. For some, maybe the next sexual horizon looks bright and inviting.

Sex educator Janet Hardy, the author of The Ethical Slut, who is in a polyamorous relationship herself, said, 

20 years ago, I used to get calls from show producers all the time, and the call would go, ‘Can you point me towards a poly family that’s not either old hippies or screaking geeks?’ I would say no, because ‘A’ that’s most of my Rolodex, and ‘B’, that’s who was doing poly back then. But these days, when I speak to poly audiences, they’re young professionals, all shiny and new. It’s very different.

Another reason could be that Millennials are less likely to marry and more likely (when they do) to marry at later ages according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For some, this delay of marriage creates time for increased exploration of sexual behavior. It is possible that differences between Millennials and previous generations in CNM attitudes and behavior are just an artifact of changes in marital timing. This could be why we found that half as many individuals had been in a CNM relationship while married (4%) compared to those who were unmarried at the time (9%).

However, in further analyses of the iFidelity data, we controlled for marital status and found that Millennials—regardless of marital status—were still more accepting of CNM and more likely to have participated in CNM at some point. And these differences still held up even when controlling for differences in marriage rates and marital timing across generations.

Others, such as individuals quoted in Rolling Stone, speculate that our culture is beginning to catch up with individuals’ sexual preferences to allow room for alternative ways of being in relationships. So much so, that in the last year, the American Psychological Association, according to the group’s Facebook page, has organized a consensual non-monogamy task force in an effort to “generate research, create resources and advocate for inclusion of consensual non-monogamous relationships in basic and applied research, education and training, psychological practice, and public interest.” 

Not all psychologists, however, are enamored with the direction younger generations are going with their questioning attitudes towards monogamy. CNM poses many challenges for those involved. A National Review article highlighted some psychologists’ views of the challenges facing those involved in CNM relationships, including time management, resource allocation, and the spectrum of “consent.” 

More individuals in a relationship system mean less time for each relationship dyad, which creates a complex calendar of sexual and emotional connection. Even individuals in a monogamous relationship struggle to determine the allocation of resources and responsibilities. Bring in one, two, or three more individuals, and where do the resources and responsibilities go? And how does one partner cope when the other seems to be more on board with CNM? The consent given in a CNM relationship is on a spectrum filled with varying degrees of acceptance, jealousy, and sacrifice. 

While CNM may be on the rise despite the many challenges presented, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of Americans still desire to settle down in a monogamous relationship with someone who feels the same. The norm of marital monogamy is not crumbling, although it certainly deserves further monitoring. Still, the apparent rise in CNM could affect married individuals who are not involved in CNM by creating cracks in the norm of marital monogamy, making it harder for those who desire monogamy to ask for it, expect it from their partner, and resist requests to “consent” to opening up the relationship. 

Heather Smith is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University studying family life with an emphasis on human development in the School of Family Life.



Wed, 11 Sep 2019 07:30:00 -0400
How to Make Family Life More Achievable by Lyman Stone (@lymanstoneky)

Editor's Note: The following essay is an edited version of IFS research fellow Lyman Stone's oral testimony before the Joint Economic Committee on September 10, 2019

Thank you, it’s an honor to be here today to testify on topics that are important to American families. I’m affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, however for my testimony today, the views offered are solely my own. 

Most of my written testimony discusses concrete questions of family affordability. The upshot is: contrary to popular narratives, child-rearing in America is not really any more expensive than in the past. 

Some elements of raising a family have gotten more expensive, but the evidence suggests that the problem facing families is not simply a budget crunch.

According to a wide variety of surveys, the average American woman says she wants to have around 2.3 to 2.5 children. This value has been approximately stable for 30 years. And yet, if current birth rates hold, the average young American woman today will only end up having 1.7 children. That means that for every 10 women in America, there will be 6 missing children. This is a new problem: from 1990 to 2007, the fertility gap was consistently just one third as large. 

So what’s going on? Instead, of “affordability,” we should discuss “achievability.” What is holding people back from having the family they reliably say they want in surveys?

The answer is basically “marriage.” Increasingly postponed marriage can account for at least half of the increase in the fertility gap over the last decade and for virtually 100% of the increase since 2000. 

But incentivizing marriage is a tricky question in a diverse society. Americans are justifiably uncomfortable with being lectured about getting hitched, by anyone, especially the Federal government! 

But luckily, there are some good policy options available.

First of all, it must be said, the federal government already has a marriage policy. And that policy is this: working-class people should not get married, but middle-class and wealthy people should. This is the policy stance of the tax code, of our welfare programs, of almost everything the government does. The tax code gives you a handy marriage bonus if you have a CEO in the family, as their spouse is unlikely to earn an equivalent amount, and our tax brackets are of greatest benefit to families with the most lopsided spousal incomes. But if you get the EITC, getting married could reduce your benefit by thousands of dollars. For two working-class people with similar incomes, there’s a very real tax on marriage. In my written testimony, I show how the marriage penalty can amount to 15% or even 25% of a family’s income. It’s no mystery why working-class Americans are getting married less.

To be clear, the problem here is not “government benefits” per se but their eligibility rules that discourage working-class Americans from marrying. And the result is neighborhoods with scattered families, inconsistent fathers, overworked mothers, and diminished opportunity for children. And, additionally, fewer kids overall.

So there’s a very real way to make family life more achievable. Fix the massive government bias against marriage and especially working-class marriage. 

The second response to the “marriage first” explanation for decreased family achievement is to reconsider our justifications for policies like the Child Tax Credit. The justification for the Child Tax Credit is not that parents are inherently cash-strapped, but rather that parenting is inherently valuable to society. 

In other words, we should have a parenting wage because parenting is important work, and workers deserve to be paid. How we provide such a wage may vary, but we, as a society, should treat parents more generously than we presently do, and in a way that explicitly communicates to parents that we see parenting as worthy labor.

When societies provide a “parenting wage,” the fertility gap shrinks! Now, if there’s not also a change in marriage norms and behavior, fertility rates won’t rise by a lot. So the best strategy is a one-two punch: for family achievability to improve in America, it’s vital that we, 1) end penalties for working-class marriage, while 2) increasing our social commitment to the work of parenting by providing a parenting wage. And whatever happens to fertility rates, the children who are born are born into a society of greater opportunity and healthier families—one that engages in a valuable public catechesis: parenting matters.

Lyman Stone is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, and an Adjunct Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Tue, 10 Sep 2019 07:30:00 -0400
A New Way to Measure Media Violence by Tyler J. VanderWeele

Editor's Note: The following article was originally published at Psychology Today. This version has been lightly edited.

Does it matter what we watch, or what sort of media we consume? This question has been debated in various forms. One particularly heated issue, especially in the psychology, has been whether or not violent video games lead to greater levels of aggressive behaviors. Some studies have indicated yes; others have suggested no. The existing meta-analyses, which attempt to aggregate all of the available data and studies, are themselves divided. What is one to think?

Trying to Resolve the Disputes

At the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard, we aim to make use of sophisticated statistical methods to help address these sorts of controversies. In the case of the meta-analyses on video game violence, some of the problem has been exclusive focus on just the “statistical significance” of the estimates; one meta-analysis indicates “yes, statistical significance”, and another not. The problem may be that there is not a single answer; video game violence may matter in some circumstances, but not in others. The effects may be heterogeneous. In fact, earlier this year, we published new metrics for assessing meta-analyses that better account for such heterogeneity.

The reporting of meta-analyses typically focuses on the average effect size across the various studies and settings considered. Many of the statistical techniques accommodate the fact that the effects may be larger in some settings than others. But for purposes of reporting, they still focus on the average effect size across all studies. Our new metrics instead characterize—across different studies and contexts—the estimated proportion of studies with effect sizes above or below certain thresholds (for example, the proportion with positive effects, or with negative effects, or the proportion of settings where the outcomes are increased by more than 20%).1 This can sometimes give a better sense as to policy importance when the effects are heterogeneous and may be of different sizes in different settings.

When these new approaches were applied to the question of video game violence, we were able to show that, although there are indeed some disagreements across the competing meta-analyses, there is also a lot of agreement. (See our paper published last month in Perspectives on Psychological Science for the technical details). Specifically, when using our metrics, the meta-analyses, including those that claim “statistical significance” and those that do not, indicate that in the vast majority of circumstances, video game violence does increase aggressive behavior, but in almost all such contexts, the average effects are relatively modest. 

Video game violence, thus, does seem to increase aggressive behavior, by at least a little. But the various meta-analyses also agree that violent video games rarely increase the likelihood of high levels of aggressive behavior by 40 percent. Some disagreements remain—such as in how many contexts (e.g. different types of games) playing these games increases the likelihood of high levels of aggressive behavior by 20% to 40% for instance. But the data from all these studies seem to agree that there are usually at least small detrimental effects.

Practical Implications

So, does this matter in practice? Sometimes, these video game studies are criticized for the fact that they really tell us nothing about longer-term outcomes, and this is mostly true. Most of the experimental studies carried out in laboratory settings only assess very short-term effects of playing a violent video game on one particular occasion versus not playing a video game. However, small effects across millions of people can add up. 

Moreover, if one is to take seriously theories of character development, then character and behaviors are shaped by the formation of habits and repeated actions across many settings. This would suggest that if violent video games are played frequently, as indeed they often are, this might have at least some effects on one’s character. The effects on an individual occasion are almost certainly small, but over many occasions, they might be non-negligible.

A focus on what is good, admirable, and noble may be more conducive to flourishing than playing violent video games or watching media depictions of suicide.

Mass Shootings?

Recently, there have been discussions about whether violent video games might play a role in bringing about mass shootings, with many of the media reports claiming that scientific research had disproved this. Our research was even cited in a recent New York Times piece about this very question. But as indicated above, one limitation of the data is that the most rigorous studies are done in lab settings and long-term outcomes are not measured. Although the lab data suggests that effects on average are small, small effects on average are compatible with effects that are, for particular individuals, large or determinative. 

However, it is unlikely that being randomized to play a violent video game, on one specific occasion, is going to lead to a mass shooting. Thus, laboratory experiments do not really provide the right type of data to sort out how important video game violence may, or may not, be in giving rise to mass shootings. The media reports that claim that video game violence plays no role in mass shootings are not justified; but nor are the media reports that blame the shootings on video games. The truth is that we simply do not know. The right studies have not been done. Even our more nuanced analyses are compatible with video game violence playing an important role in mass shooting, and compatible with their being entirely irrelevant. A different type of study (e.g. which assessed violent video game practices retrospectively for those who carried out mass shootings and how that compared with the general population, controlling for other variables) would be needed.


Some of these considerations are also relevant to other forms of media. Consider the recent debate over whether the portrayal of suicide on television shows and movies might increase the likelihood of viewers attempting suicide themselves. Once again, our new metrics can be helpful here. Our research on the topic of suicide was recently published in JAMA Psychiatry and indicated that in about two- thirds of the settings (different movies, television shows, etc.), the media portrayal of suicide increased subsequent suicide rates, but that in about one-in-five settings, the portrayal may have even had moderate protective effects, though considerably less often than they were detrimental. 

Again, the effects are relatively small, but small effects across many people can add up. For example, another recent analysis in JAMA Psychiatry indicated that the release of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why resulted in an excess of 103 adolescent suicides, even after controlling for prior temporal and seasonal trends. Here, it would seem not a good idea to say that because study effects are “small,” these 103 adolescents who took their own lives do not matter.

A Better Way Forward for Flourishing

The results of these various studies certainly do not imply we should resort to some form of extreme censorship or impose restrictions on freedom of speech. However, we do think the evidence concerning the effects of various forms of media should be made clear, and producers should at least be aware of it when making decisions. Moreover, from the consumer’s perspective, while the effects are mostly small, there are of course numerous ways to make use of one’s leisure time. A focus on what is good, admirable, and noble may be more conducive to flourishing than playing violent video games or watching media depictions of suicide.

Tyler J. VanderWeele, Ph.D., is Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health, a faculty affiliate of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, and Director of the Program on Integrative Knowledge and Human Flourishing at Harvard University.

1. Our new metrics are different than traditional "vote-counting" meta-analysis methods because they acknowledge the heterogeneity of effect sizes and also the varying sample sizes and standard errors across studies which "vote-counting" methods for "statistical significance" ignore.

Mon, 09 Sep 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Friday Five 292 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Do Unmarried Women Face Shortages of Partners in the U.S. Marriage Market?
Journal of Marriage and Family via Wiley News

Long-Term Trends in Deaths of Despair
Social Capital Project, U.S. Joint Economic Committee

Beliefs About Uncommitted Sex May Put Marriages at Risk
Kathleen Haughney, Florida State University News

'The Great Scattering’: How Identity Panic Took Root in the Void Once Occupied by Family Life
Mary Eberstadt, Quillette

The Fragile Families & Child Wellbeing Study Releases Restricted Use Contract Data to the Public
The Fragile Families & Child Wellbeing Study, Princeton & Columbia

Fri, 06 Sep 2019 08:00:00 -0400
How Do Teens Feel About Screens? by Charles Fain Lehman (@CharlesFLehman)

America’s kids are unhappy: 3.5 million teenagers experienced major depression in 2018, continuing a surge since 2012. Rates of teen suicide have increased steadily since 2007. And new data indicate that rates of depression and anxiety are also up among college students, suggesting that unhappy teens do not cheer up when they leave home.

These disturbing trends have prompted a robust debate about underlying causes and, in particular, the role that smartphones, screens, and social media all play. Has our national experiment with widespread tech use made our kids miserable?

Although heated, the current debate suffers in many ways from a paucity of data. Just a handful of big data sets—predominantly the Monitoring the Future and Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance surveys—contain any indicators at all about teens’ screen use. These do more than their share of work as objects of dispute. There have been a number of longitudinal studies, but these follow only a few measures. Neuroimaging research, although promising, is still in its infancy.

The real problem is, as psychologist Jean Twenge and others have compellingly argued, that the American experience of being a teen has been radically transformed, and we have very little insight into how teens are experiencing that change. Today’s teens are what linguist Gretchen McCulloch recently labeled, “post-internet people,” or kids who have grown up fully immersed in the new digital culture. Whether or not screens caused the depression spike is just the tip of the iceberg; more research is desperately needed into how tech is changing every aspect of teen life. 

Enter the fine folks at the Pew Research Center, who last year released a survey of 743 teens (ages 13 to 17) and their 1,058 parents, asking about their experience of adolescent screen use. The raw data are not yet available, Pew told me, but the original two reports and a second analysis released in late August provide invaluable insight into how today’s teens actually feel about screens.

First, some raw numbers. Pew has helpfully tracked smartphone ownership among the general population since 2011. Then, 35% of U.S. adults owned smartphones; as of 2018, 77% did. Teens, however, are more aggressive adopters. In 2015, 73% of teens owned a smartphone compared to 69% of adults; in 2018, 95% of teens had a smartphone, 18 percentage points more than adults.

The gap is similar for social media.1 In 2015, 65% of adults used social media compared to at least 71% of teens; in 2018, the gap widened to 69% versus at least 85 percent.

Within the 13-to-17 age group, smartphones are pervasive. For example, teens whose parents make in excess of $75,000 a year are 1.3 times more likely to own a desktop or laptop computer than those whose parents make less than $30,000, but only 1.04 times as likely to own a smartphone. The same disparity persists when looking at standard educational or racial inequities—as of 2015, in fact, Pew found that “African-American teens are the most likely of any group of teens to have a smartphone.” Social media usage is similarly constant across racial, educational, and economic lines. 

Smartphones and social media, then, are basically ubiquitous among teens, regardless of socioeconomic status. How do they actually feel about that? The answer, the Pew data suggest, is “mixed.”

When asked how social media has impacted people their age, 31% of teens said it had a “mostly positive” effect, 24% a “mostly negative” effect, and 45% “neither positive nor negative effect.” In other words, while many researchers are certain that screens definitely are a negative, or positive, force in teens’ lives, adolescents themselves are far more equivocal. 

Where teens say social media is positive, it is largely because of the connections it fosters. Those who responded “mostly positive” cited not only connecting with family and friends but also “meeting others with the same interests.” The same is true of smartphones: 83% say they use their phones for “connecting with other people.”

“I feel that social media can make people my age feel less lonely or alone,” one 15-year-old girl told Pew. “It creates a space where you can interact with people.”

While that connection seems like a benefit, Pew’s data also reveal many costs. For many teens, screens might be habit-forming: 45% say they are online “almost constantly;” 54% say they spend too much time on their phones, and 41% say they spend too much time on social media. Additionally, 72% often or sometimes check their phones immediately upon waking up, and more than half have taken steps to limit their own phone and social media use.

That compulsive behavior flows naturally into self-reported negative psychological experiences. For example, 56% say they are lonely, upset, or anxious if they don’t have their phone; only 17% say that they are relieved or happy. But that may not be because screens directly cause mental health issues—only 4% of those who thought social media were mostly negative suggested such a cause—but because of social experiences it facilitates. Among those who disliked social media, the modal respondent said it was “mostly negative” because it facilitated “bullying/rumor spreading.” Others thought it harmed relationships, or lead to a lack of in-person contact.

Teens’ overall ambivalence about screens occludes an important underlying divergence. Specifically, the negative effects of screens seem to more strongly affect girls than boys. Roughly half of girls are near-constantly online, anxious without their phones, say they spend too much time on social media, and use their phones to avoid other people. In each of these categories, they outpace their male peers by 11, 14, 12, and 13 percentage points, respectively.

To the extent that screens affect mental well-being, then, it is likely that the effect concentrates among girls. Teen girls experience more anxiety, depression, and loneliness, and attempt suicide more frequently than their male counterparts (although the latter complete suicides more frequently). It isn’t clear why, although one possibility is that social media is more conducive to negative manifestations of female social interaction than male social interaction.

Beyond that distinction, the picture these data paint is more complicated than screens simply making teens happy or depressed. Rather, what they seem to be experiencing is a normal adolescent experience—a desire for connection, anxiety about rejection, a fear of bullying—refracted through the novel medium of smartphones and social media. These platforms, which facilitate more connections than have been historically available to humans, might “supercharge” both the positives and negatives of adolescence, rather than just one or the other.

The other important takeaway is that systematically talking to teens matters. The underlying causes of the spike in teen depression remain largely a mystery, but their effects—including more than 2,000 suicides a year—are obvious. Robust studies and neuroimaging matter to understanding the long-run effect of screen culture. But just as important, and much easier, is the sort of comprehensive survey work Pew is trying to do, work which tries to understand what is happening to our kids by actually asking them.

Charles Fain Lehman is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon, where he covers crime, law, drugs, immigration, and social issues. Reach him on twitter @CharlesFLehman.

1. Pew did not report total rates of social media use across all sites for teens; rather, the “at least” figures represent the share that uses the most popular social media site in each year. The true proportion is therefore almost certainly higher.

Thu, 05 Sep 2019 21:30:00 -0400
Are We Overlooking the Real Trouble in Fleishman Is in Trouble? by Kay Hymowitz (@KayHymowitz)

It’s easy to understand why Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman Is in Trouble has been the “It” novel of the summer. A treasure chest of amusing signifiers of the haute professional class as well as the restless denizens of the Tinder world, it mocks affluent Manhattan pretensions even while embracing that group’s anxieties, especially those swirling around marriage and gender. The novel “revolves around one major concern,” as one Vox writer explains:

Is it possible in our culture, given its gender norms, for a woman to outstrip her husband in ambition and wealth and career and for everyone involved to be okay with it? Or is it that women [are] always going to be trapped under the weight of everyone else’s expectations?  

Worthy questions, I suppose, but they miss the deeper issues raised, perhaps unintentionally, by this wittily entertaining writer. What are the ambitions promoted by “our culture” and now pursued so avidly by women? Are these ambitions that lead to well-being? Do they make women —and men and children—happy?

The hero of Fleishman is in Trouble is 41-year-old Toby Fleishman, a heptologist at a Manhattan hospital recently separated from his wife, Rachel, who is a fabulously successful, glamorous talent agent with her own successful firm. As told by Toby via an old college friend Liz (or Libby or Elizabeth; like many women of her class, Liz has identity issues), Rachel has achieved her success through the overtime efforts of her child-centered husband, who would leave work at 5 in order to relieve the babysitter. He was the parent the school called when one of the children spiked a fever, the one who arranged for summer camps, orthodontist appointments, music lessons, and all of the other essential nourishments of upper middle-class child development, to smooth the way for his wife to achieve her dreams. This aspiring father-of-the-year even spends time searching out new recipes for his family to enjoy. He does the cooking, too, of course.

As tends to happen in modern marriage novels, the arrangement makes everyone miserable. As the story opens, Rachel has disappeared without any warning to a yoga retreat, leaving her 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son unannounced and asleep in her almost ex-husband’s apartment. In Toby’s eyes, her behavior is entirely in character. Rachel brings the uncompromising work habits that have led to her success in her cutthroat business home with her. She yells, manipulates, mocks, and sneers (“she went for his masculinity like it was an artery”). She is icily voracious in the bedroom, while remaining otherwise uninterested in her husband and, apparently, her children.  

What are we supposed to make of Rachel’s eager competition in the soul-destroying rat race that corrupts everyone around her, husband and children included? Do we cheer “You Go Girl!” even when the girl’s ambition is to collect luxury brands?

It is Toby’s idea to end the marriage and, indeed, he finds many advantages in his new status as a Manhattan bachelor. Though a Princeton grad and a successful M.D., Toby can’t fully escape his childhood self-image as an overweight, Jewish nebbish. Only five foot five inches tall—the author never lets us forget this crucial fact about our hero—he has slimmed down by rigorously disciplining his diet. Now a free man, he is besieged on dating apps by legions of horny, cleavage-baring women who once would have been merely the object of his persistent masturbation fantasies.

Brodesser-Akner gives Toby center stage at first, but as she slowly brings Liz’s own voice into the narrative, she drops hints that maybe we shouldn’t take him at his own word. Liz begins to notice her friend’s self-involvement, and it unleashes memories of her own career disappointments and a litany of familiar accusations against men. “When you succeed, when you did out-earn and outpace, when you did exceed all expectations, nothing around you really shifted. You still had to tiptoe around the fragility of a man,” she complains. Women don’t stand a chance in her view: “If you are a smart woman, you cannot stand by and remain sane once you fully understand, as a smart person does, the constraints of this world on a woman.” Once Rachel appears to tell her side of the story, Toby becomes a voodoo doll for female resentment, just another entitled white dude oblivious to women’s pain. And so it is that Fleishman Is in Trouble turns into what Washington Post reviewer Ron Charles calls a “feminist jeremiad nested inside a brilliant comic novel.”

The problem is that the jeremiad is not comfortable in its nest. In fact, the women’s complaints are at war with Brodesser-Akner’s comic novel. The author seems to forget that while Toby may be an egotistical bore at times, his wife is what might be politely called “a piece of work.” A social climber extraordinaire, she believes her husband suffers from an “embarrassing disability which was that he was a successful doctor at a top-ranked New York hospital,” meaning, he is a loser. She tries to change that: she dresses him “to look like a rich person,” she has a friend (who will soon become her lover) offer him a million-dollar a year job that she knows he would hate, and she pouts when he turns it down. She drives herself to a nervous breakdown in a cutthroat job whose main purpose is to pursue her hollow, unexamined life: the language tutors, country clubs, art consultants, a 5-bedroom house in the Hamptons with a den, solarium, and deck overlooking the ocean, and ever larger apartments in ever fancier buildings. She convinces herself that this is all for her children and their father. But although Toby surely appreciates some of the finer things, there is little evidence he craves the prestige addresses she does.

What’s telling about our current cultural moment is that Rachel’s shallow, snobbish status obsessions didn’t attract any attention from the book’s many reviewers; it’s as if those obsessions are so obviously acceptable that they don't notice their corrupting effect. Instead, they endorsed the novel’s supposed depiction of “the impossible pressures that talented women endure,” in Ron Charles’ words. 

It’s hard to say where the author stands on all this. Does she believe men’s putatively sordid treatment of women explains very much about her characters (as many of her readers seemed to believe)? What are we supposed to make of Rachel’s eager competition in the soul-destroying rat race that corrupts everyone around her, husband and children included? Do we cheer “You Go Girl!” even when the girl’s ambition is to collect luxury brands?

It’s true that women face particularly painful tradeoffs and colliding desires that men never will: it’s impossible to imagine a world where this will not be the case. But the life disappointment of those who climb their way to the top is not a gender story. Masters of the Universe, male and female, will suffer missed opportunities, broken trusts, unfulfilled hopes, petty competitions, and dashed illusions in their scramble to the top. Brodesser-Akner calls the final section of her book “Rachel Fleishman is in trouble.” But Rachel's trouble is not male malfeasance; it’s her fixation on that great condo in the sky.

Kay S. Hymowitz is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. She writes extensively on childhood, family issues, poverty, and cultural change in America.

Wed, 04 Sep 2019 07:30:00 -0400
How the ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’ Affected Low, Middle, and High-Income Families by Elaine Maag (@ElaineMaag)

Editor’s NoteSkeptics of the 2017 “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA)—like the Institute for Family Studies’ W. Bradford Wilcox—have wondered how much the TCJA really helped middle and working-class families. To find out, we asked Elaine Maag, a scholar at the Urban Institute, to calculate how the 2017 tax law affected typical working-class, middle-class, and upper-class married families with two children. Here is what she found. 

Many factors influenced how a family was affected by the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" (TCJA), including whether the family was headed by a single parent or married couple, how many children a family had and how old those children were, whether the family itemized deductions prior to the law, and how much income a family had, and, in some cases, the sources of that income. On average, families with children saw their tax bills drop by $2,570, with benefits much higher for those at the top of the income distribution than at the bottom. Untangling how “ordinary families” were affected is a difficult task because ordinary families vary in all these important characteristics. 

In order to provide some context on how a low, middle, and high-income married couple with two children fared, we used the Tax Policy Center’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Calculator to calculate federal income and payroll taxes, pre and post TCJA. We divided married couples with two children into three groups, and then chose characteristics for our sample family based on the average characteristics held by the majority of people in those three groups. Answers can vary greatly if the characteristics of the taxpayers are altered. Tax calculations are for the tax year 2018, the first year the law was in effect (see figure below).

Low-income Family: We estimated that our low-income family would have earnings of about $36,000 (about 150% of the poverty line) and it would not have been beneficial to itemize their deductions prior to the TCJA. This couple would have seen their taxes before credits rise but benefit more from the child tax credit under the new law, resulting in a net tax reduction of $1,404. 

Middle-income Family: The average earner in the middle third of the income distribution earns about $85,000, and most people in this income group do not itemize. This family would see their taxes drop from $18,378 to $15,968, a difference of $2,420. This family also received more in child credits but also benefited from reducing the second and third tax brackets from 15 and 25% by 3 percentage points each. Although the family had more taxable income under the TCJA, they owed less tax on that income. 

High-income family: Finally, we estimated our high-income family would earn about $154,000 and have about $400 in interest income. This family would have itemized deductions before the TCJA but under current law, will use the standard deduction instead. The family’s tax would drop from about $41,600 to $36,900—a reduction of about $4,700. This family benefited from receiving the child tax credit, which they were ineligible for prior to the law change, and from lower tax rates. Although the family had more taxable income under the TCJA, they owed less tax on that income.

For additional examples of how families fared, go here.

Elaine Maag is a principal research associate in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute, where she studies income support programs for low-income families and children.

Editor's Note: The author has updated Figure 1 with the correct labeling.


Tue, 03 Sep 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Friday Five 291 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

The Ugly, Exhausting Reality of Parenthood and Why We Hide It From Our Children
Nefertiti Austen, On Parenting, The Washington Post

Gaps in Wealth of Americans by Household Type
Jonathan Eggleston and Donald Hays, U.S. Census Bureau

Rotten STEM: How Technology Corrupts Education
Jared Woodard, American Affairs Journal

How to Bring More Meaning to Dying
BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger, Greater Good Magazine

Changes in Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths by Opioid Type and Presence of Benzodiazepines, Cocaine, and Meth
R. Matt Gladden, Julie O'Donnell, et al., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Fri, 30 Aug 2019 08:00:00 -0400
Five Facts About Teen Mental Health and Screens: A Response to Anya Kamenetz by Jean Twenge (@jean_twenge)

In the years around 2010, something started to go wrong in the lives of American teens—the group I call iGen. Adolescent depression spiked, loneliness increased, and life satisfaction fell. It’s difficult to say definitively why this occurred, but technology use might have something to do with it. The first iPhone was introduced in 2007, and by 2013 the majority of Americans owned a smartphone. During this same time, social media moved from optional to virtually mandatory among teens. At the same time, face-to-face interaction among teens declined, and the number who weren’t sleeping enough increased.

National Public Radio (NPR) recently published a piece on this topic by Anya Kamenetz, who has her own book on kids and technology. I talked to Kamenetz for more than an hour and referenced a raft of papers on the trends in adolescent mental health. When her piece was released by NPR earlier this week, however, I was disappointed to see that it was filled with inaccuracies. When I e-mailed Kamenetz, I got a message saying she was away on vacation until September 3. I’d rather not let these inaccuracies stay uncorrected for that long, so I will lay them out here with five points.

1. Kamenetz writes that “there are lots of numbers that don't necessarily fit Twenge's theory” (about teen mental health issues increasing around the same time smartphones and social media became popular). She mentions two trends as evidence. First, she says, “The uptick in suicides started in 1999.” Not true. Here is the CDC data on suicides among 13- to 18-year-olds in the U.S. from 1999 to 2017:

This figure clearly shows some decline or no consistent change between 1999 and 2007, and then a consistent rise beginning in about 2008. How, then, could Kamenetz write that suicide began to rise in 1999? My best guess: She confused the starting year of the data (1999) with the year the increase began (2008). It’s also possible that she’s referring to the increase in suicide among adults, but since the rest of the article is about adolescents, I can’t see why that would be the case.

2. Second, Kamenetz writes that “The downturn in teen mental health started in 2005.” This is also not accurate. Here is the data on clinical-level depression from a national screening study:

This clearly shows little change between 2005 and 2011, and then increases starting with 2012, especially among girls. Again, I suspect she confused the starting year of the data (2005) with when the increase began (2012).

3. Next, Kamenetz interviewed Katherine Keyes, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who has studied trends in adolescent mental health, and summed up the trends this way: “Adolescent mental health isn't in ‘free-fall,’ says Keyes, but seems to have leveled off since a dip in 2012.”

But that is not what Keyes’ own research shows. Here’s a direct quote from Keyes’ recent paper on trends in mental health among adolescents: “Symptoms of depression are increasing among US students aged 13–18 years through 2018, with the largest increases occurring among girls since 2012.”

Thus, the statement that adolescent mental health has "leveled off" since 2012 is completely false, based on Keyes’ own paper. Here is the trend for all 12th graders, which I graphed using the means from Keyes’ Supplementary Table 1:

The increase in depressive symptoms after 2012 could not be more clear; there is no “leveling off.”

4. Furthermore, Kamenetz interviewed Amy Orben, a graduate student at Oxford, who offered an alternative explanation for the trends in adolescent mental health: “And, [Orben] adds, there's a chance that young people today may simply be more open in surveys when asked about mental health challenges. ‘A lot of teenagers are a lot more OK to say they're not OK.’” Importantly, Kamenetz does not include the evidence that completely refutes this argument: Hospital admissions for self-harm, self-poisoning, and suicide attempts have also increased since 2010, and these trends in behaviors can’t be explained away by self-report tendencies on surveys—and neither can the increase in completed suicides. These studies have received extensive press coverage, and I mention the point about behaviors vs. self-report in my book ( iGen ) and in all of my journal articles on the topic. We likely discussed this during the interview as well.

5. Then, there’s this: “‘A teenagers' technology use can only explain less than 1% of variation in well-being,’ Orben says. ‘It's so small that it's surpassed by whether a teenager wears glasses to school, or rides a bicycle, or eats potatoes.”

More children and teens are being seriously hurt or dying due to mental health issues.

As I told Kamenetz in our interview, these types of comparisons can be chosen arbitrarily, so they are not very useful as objective measures of importance. One can easily choose other comparisons that give a very different impression. For example, the correlation between mental health issues and electronic device use is larger than the correlation between mental health issues and heroin use, exercise, or obesity. I provided these exact comparisons to Kamenetz in our interview, yet they are nowhere to be found in her article. But this is clearly relevant: If we’re not going to worry about technology use, then we might as well also write off heroin use, exercise, and obesity when it comes to teen mental health. I doubt many people would want to do that.

The less than 1% figure is also inaccurate—it’s based on comparisons including TV, which is not the same as “technology use” or relevant to the recent increase in mental health issues. In addition, the whole concept of “percent variance explained” went out of style several decades ago, and for good reason. As David Funder and Daniel Ozer explain in their recent paper, percent variance explained is “misleading” (their word) and “allows writers to disparage certain findings inconsistent with their own theoretical predilections.” As they and methods researcher Robert Rosenthal point out, the polio vaccine explained only .0001% of the variance in whether children get polio, but unvaccinated children were more than three times more likely to get polio. In the case of technology use, twice as many heavy users of social media (vs. non-users) are depressed (in a study by UK researchers using one of the same datasets Orben used). That is not a small effect.

Just as it’s difficult to definitively explain why adolescent mental health has suffered in recent years, it’s difficult to say why there appears to be an extreme level of denial that there’s a problem. When presented accurately, it’s very clear that adolescents are suffering from more mental health issues than they were 10 years ago, and that these increases began in the age of the smartphone and ubiquitous social media. These trends include large increases in self-harm and self-poisoning, as well as death by suicide, with the result that more children and teens are being seriously hurt or dying due to mental health issues. No matter what the cause of these trends, we need to pay attention to them. Our kids are depending on us.

Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood

Thu, 29 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Belinda Luscombe on the Art and Science of Marriage: Five Questions with Family Studies by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

TIME magazine editor-at-large Belinda Luscombe begins her new book, Marriageologyby describing one of her husband’s most annoying habits: repeatedly asking her to help him find the envelopes whenever he needs to mail a letter, even though she’s shown him where they are a hundred times. Though our complaints may differ, every person who has been married more than a few years can relate to the irritation Luscombe feels about his forgetfulness, which she writes “makes me want to put stones in my pocket and walk into the ocean. Or even better, take them out and throw them at him.”

It’s personal anecdotes like this one, sprinkled throughout the book alongside the latest science, that make Marriageology such an engaging read. In six, easy-to-digest chapters, Luscombe, who has been writing about relationships for TIME for a decade, shares what she’s learned about how to stay married from experts, research, and especially her own nearly 30-year union. In the following interview, which has been lightly edited, Luscombe shares some of the insights from her book and explains how staying married through the good and bad times has helped her become better at loving her husband. 

Alysse ElHage: I enjoyed your book so much, and I have to say it was refreshing to read something on marriage from a mainstream journalist, who is not a conservative, yet recognizes the value and beauty of marriage. What motivated you to write a book about staying happily married?

Belinda Luscombe: Well, I cover human relations a lot for Time. And I get a lot of books sent to me, probably two or three a week… Books about parenting and how to raise happy children, or how to be a good leader and a successful person or happy in your life. But I don’t get that many books about marriage. And it seems to me when you ask anybody how their kids are or how happy they are, it really is reflected a lot in how happy their marriage is or how happy they are with a co-parent, or how happy their relationship is to their closest most intimate friend, which is what a spouse really is. So, it seemed to me there was a huge gap… 

And also, you’re right. I do not want the happiness of our central relationship to be a conservative or a progressive issue. I personally think that marriage is the most radical wealth-sharing institution we have. I mean, you say to somebody, “Everything that I have and everything that’s good that happens to me, I’m going to share with you 100%. And every bad thing that happens to you and every misfortune or illness or whatever you go through, I’m going to be there and share that with you, too.” That’s crazy! It’s so un-American: no questions asked, we’re in this together. It’s like the very smallest act of microsocialism, or the world's smallest trade union. I felt like we’re looking at marriage all wrong, and that bugged me. 

ElHage: In one of the most personal parts of the book, you share about going to see a marriage therapist with your husband. You write that when your husband suggested it, it came as a surprise, especially when you found out he had already found a therapist. Some people view seeing a marriage therapist as the last hope, or even worse, as a sign that their marriage is over. Why do you think that is?

Luscombe: In the book, I use the analogy of physical therapy. If you have a wound, if you over-extend yourself in sport, they’ll send you to a physical therapist. And it doesn’t mean your body is on its last legs. What it means is, something’s gone wrong. You’ve overused this particular body part, and we’re going to build up some muscles to restore it to its strength. I think if people could see that analogy, it would seem less shameful.

One reason people see marriage therapy as a shameful thing is that they think marriage is some kind of a triumph, some kind of an achievement. It’s crossing the finish line—we’ve done it. My life is great; I’ve gotten married! And then if that achievement isn’t working out, it seems like you’ve failed. Like you got demoted at work. 

But marriage is just not like that. It’s not the finish line; it’s the starting block of a different sort of race. So, I don’t think everybody needs to go to therapy necessarily; I do think everybody could probably take a look at their marriage and think about it and learn some skills… As you go along in your marriage, you get better at loving people. That’s the point; that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. So, if occasionally you go to somebody who knows the higher-level skills, I don’t see why that would be shameful at all… 

Being married to the same guy [for nearly 30 years], I’m just better at him. I’m better at loving him. I understand what he needs, and there’s a satisfaction in being able to do things well. There’s a satisfaction in just being good at him.

I think the other problem is that going to therapy is an admission that you’re having trouble. And yes, [therapy] worked for us. We were in quite bad straits. But having trouble in your marriage is being married. You do meet people who just sail through, but it’s unlikely—especially in this day and age where so many expectations are put on marriage—that you’re going to live your entire life and never have a profound and seemingly unsolvable disagreement.  

ElHage:  True, and to follow up on something you just said: why do you think we put so many expectations today on marriage? 

Luscombe: Marriage is in a very interesting position right now. Because all the benefits that marriage used to offer—sex, children, status, for women 50, 60 years ago, a provider, for men 50, 60 years ago, a housekeeper—those have all been outsourced. We don’t need to get married for any of those things anymore. What is the point of marriage now? And I think the wedding industry, God bless its heart, has done a wonderful job at making people think that it’s the most important day of their lives. And in some ways they’re not wrong, but I say in the book that spending all that money and doing all that wedding planning and not thinking about the marriage that comes after is like blowing your entire fortune buying into a high stakes poker game and then not really knowing how to play, rather than even thinking about taking one poker lesson beforehand. So, I think the wedding industry is part of it. 

There are a lot of government benefits that accrue to married people, but I actually don’t think anybody goes, “I’m going to get married so I can get a tax break.” I think people do fall in love, and it’s a wonderful thing. And we have for many decades created a wonderful mythology around marriage, all these movies and Shakespeare plays and songs that kind of end with this this marriage feast. So we have weighted it down on the one hand with all this kind of privilege and beauty and promise of bliss, while on the other hand, all the things it’s actually brought you, you can get elsewhere. So now it’s become this kind of bright glittering object, which doesn’t necessarily have the buying power that gold used to have. Marriage has all the buzz now and much less of the purpose, so when people get married, they think, I did it! And then they’re like, wow, this is hard. I think they get a shock. 

ElHageIn your discussion of divorce, you talk about the U-shape of marital satisfaction over the years. And you write that it reminds you of a riverbed. “You just have to forge on and keep your head above water,” until it gets better. This reminded me of the study we featured by Paul Amato, which found that marriage tends to get better over time, especially after the 20-year mark. Many people have a hard time just sticking things out. Any advice for couples who are maybe struggling?

Luscombe: First, I have to stress I’m not a therapist. I don’t give “this is what you should do” kind of advice. I feel like that would be fraudulent on my part. The U-shaped happiness thing is a well-established sociological phenomenon where people’s happiness is up high when they’re young, in their 20’s, and then it goes down in their 40’s and 50’s, and then it goes up again. Marriages kind of follow what our lives follow, anyway. 

I remember once asking Henry Kissinger if he thought Arab Spring would make the situation in that region better. And he said something like, “No, there are no solutions. You are just punching your ticket to a different set of problems.” A 2002 study that looked at 645 unhappy couples and checked back on them after five years, found that those who had divorced were no happier than those who didn’t.

And I think about that sometimes when my spouse is driving me mad: there are no solutions. This situation may not be the one I love at the moment, but is the situation where he’s not here better? Would I find happiness with another person? I feel like you put so much work into learning a person, that even when things are a bit tough, you’re probably better off with them because of how much you know already. Super romantic, right?  

ElHage: You say that marriage is the “longest project” you’ve ever stuck with, and you are grateful you stuck it out. What makes the work of marriage worth it for you personally and more broadly, what would you say about the good of marriage in general in a culture where, at least among some populations, marriage appears to be in decline?

Luscombe: Well, I have to say that if you can stick with somebody for 50 years and don’t get married, then to me, I just consider you married. Maybe you’re losing some of the benefits that the government offers. Marriage, the institution, seems to protect the couple a little bit. It seems to help them plan for the future. And some people argue that getting up and announcing your intentions to stay together in front of all your friends is significant. But I have a brother who’s been with the same woman his whole adult life and has kids with her. And I just call her his wife because, to me, they’re married. So I don’t see those things as that different. 

Marriage is not something that happens to you. It’s something that you do.

I think the problem that the less wealthy are having [in regards to marriage] is this kind of achievement attitude that we have about marriage—that I can’t get married because I don’t have a stable job; I can’t get married because one of the partners is not employed, and I don’t want to be on the hook for them or a drag on them. I think that the American government, for all that it loves marriage, does not support families very well. The minimum wage here is a joke; people would have to work 25/8 on that to support a family. There’s so little family leave. It’s brutal, especially at the lower end of the wage spectrum. If you don’t work in a knowledge industry, if you’re sort of an hourly employee, it’s incredibly hard to have a family and have children. Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin writes a lot about how the working classes have abandoned marriage partly because it’s an achievement and partly because getting married suggests a plan for the future; it’s an optimistic thing to do. And I think that often people find that they just don’t have enough hope in the future to be able to make that statement…

Personally, for me, marriage is a little bit like learning to write. I could write a bit when I started my career in journalism. And now I’m better at it, and it’s satisfying to be better at something. And being married to the same guy, I’m just better at him. I’m better at loving him. I understand what he needs, and there’s a satisfaction in being able to do things well. There’s a satisfaction in just being good at him. Just speaking Jeremy. 

As I write in the book, pair bonding, finding a mate, that’s an incredibly natural thing to do. The entire animal kingdom does that. We, as humans, are one of the rare species that tries to do it forever. So, in many ways, it’s not natural. But it’s not natural in the same way that reading is not natural or dancing or rap—all these fantastic things that we do, like poetry. What’s natural about poetry? They are higher-order skills that are really, really worthwhile. 

That’s the way I feel about marriage. It’s not something that happens to you. It’s something that you do. I mean, that’s love. Love is not just something that you fall into—it’s something you learn to do. 

*Photo credit: Peter Hapak for TIME

Wed, 28 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Marriage (Still) Matters for How Couples Share Finances by Laurie DeRose

Is it really all that surprising that cohabiting couples are more likely than married couples to separate at least some of their income and assets? Patrick Präg, Katia Begall, and Judith Treas, authors of a recent research paper, presumed that this “marriage-cohabitation gap” in couples’ financial management strategies would depend on country context. Instead, they found that married individuals differed from cohabitants to about the same degree across a very wide range of countries.

I think I understand why the rise of cohabitation doesn’t make cohabitation more like marriage when it comes to income pooling. My cousin “Frank” had his wedding reception in his home—a beautiful, modern home in the mountains, where several dozen people could mingle and celebrate. His new wife’s little girl had her very own bathroom in a “princess suite” upstairs, as they had moved in months before.

Interest rates kept dropping after the wedding, so their banker suggested that they retitle the home in both of their names when refinancing. But when Frank refused, his wife was devastated. She thought that their married family had a kind of stability that seemed inconsistent with Frank’s refusal to title the house in both their names. It seemed to her like he was saying that they weren’t really married—and that she and her daughter could be booted out of the house just as easily as they could have been when they were cohabiting.

According to Präg and his colleagues, “the symbolic and normative value of making a public commitment to a life partner may actually increase when cohabitation exists as an accepted alternative to marriage.” In other words, the rise of cohabitation doesn’t mean that people view it the same as marriage. So my cousin’s wife wasn’t really crazy for feeling like a refusal to put the house in joint tenancy was a symbolic threat to their relationship in a way that his owning the house alone hadn’t been before they married.

It seems to me that this research deserves comment more for what the authors expected to find than for what they found. The idea that cohabitation becomes more like marriage when it becomes more common rests on the idea that marriage doesn’t have much causal impact on people’s lives, and that what really matters is the individuals’ commitments to one another, not whether they have “a piece of paper.”

If marriage does not really change anything, then cohabitants and marrieds could still look very different for reasons other than the piece of paper. Consider how institutionalization and selection might matter here. First, institutionalization. Where cohabitation is common, this theory goes, societal approval is generally higher and stigmatization correspondingly lower: cohabitants do not differ because of minority stress. Cohabiting couples can also gain from legislation protecting their rights upon separation that is more common (though hardly universal) in countries where cohabitation is widespread.

Second, selection. The idea here is that when any process involves about half the population at some point in their lives, those who participate are pretty typical. Therefore, under this theory, the assumption that co-resident couples should pool their resources will be about the same between cohabitants and marrieds because both have typical values. Contrast that with how values might differ where a particular type of person was selected into one legal status or the other (e.g., only highly individualistic people cohabiting where it is rare enough to fly in the face of social norms or, conversely, only people who hold marriage to be a sacred institution not cohabiting where it is socially approved and/or expected.)

Both institutionalization and selection would seem to predict a smaller cohabitation gap in income pooling where cohabitation was normative, which is exactly what the authors were expecting to find. But that was not the case. They also thought that a context of high divorce rates would narrow the cohabitation gap by making married people more wary of completely joint finances, just like cohabitants already were. Again, this is not what they found. Finally, they predicted women’s economic independence would narrow the cohabitation gap by making it more common for everybody to have individual assets. Again, no.

Instead, Präg and colleagues found that the rates of all of these contextual factors—cohabitation, divorce, and women’s economic independence—did matter in explaining overall financial behavior, but that cohabitants and married people were still quite distinct across contexts. In fact, because childless couples seemed to respond the most to contextual factors while marrieds were relatively unaffected, the cohabitation gap was larger in countries where the authors assumed it would be smaller.

My cousin's wife believed there was something about marriage and resource pooling that went hand-in-hand. This new study indicates that she’s not alone. There is no doubt that the meaning of cohabitation varies among cohabitants and across countries, but focus groups in 10 countries have all described marital relationships as more committed than cohabitations. I suggest that commitment is part of the definition of marriage, and that financial pooling is an expression of that commitment that can’t be easily jettisoned. Frank might have thought he was protecting his house by not sharing it legally with his new wife, but she found their legal union status incompatible with not sharing their home.

I am not denying that some cohabiting couples seem almost indistinguishable from marrieds. In fact, the authors of the current study found that cohabiting couples who had been together longer or who had children together behaved more like married people in their financial arrangements. However, I am suggesting that marriage changes most people and their expectations for sharing every part of their lives. I think that’s why Präg and his co-authors found that relationship duration and children did not affect most married people’s financial management: marriage was probably sufficient to change these things on its own.


Tue, 27 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Reconstructing a Life and Finding Home After the Devastation of Divorce by Beverly Willett (@BeverlyWillett)

Like my parents and grandparents before me, I had no doubt my husband and I would still be together when our silver and golden anniversaries rolled around. Not that any of us had perfect marriages. But we’d all made it through difficult times. After 20 years of marriage, however, my husband left, disassembled our family, and never returned. A decade later, I would disassemble our dream house and, in so doing, unexpectedly find the strength to begin again. 

In 1997, my husband and I and our two young daughters moved into our new home. From modest beginnings, we had achieved the American dream: college educations, marriage, family, good jobs, growing retirement accounts, and the capstone—a title to our own house in Brownstone Brooklyn. A few years later, he had an office romance and sued me for divorce. The dream imploded.

New York was the only state in 2003 that hadn’t yet adopted no-fault divorce. Hoping to save my marriage, I opposed his false allegations. Perhaps his girlfriend would disappear, allowing us to heal our rift and reunite our family. Besides, what greater gift could I give my children than modeling a marriage that had overcome one of the worst kinds of betrayal?

He and the family court had other plans. Divorce is about money, not saving families, my attorney warned me. I’d once practiced law in the big leagues, but when it came to family court, I couldn’t have been more naïve. The harder I fought for my marriage, the more judges, lawyers, and my husband opposed me.

People have often wondered how I could still love a man who’d done what my husband had done. Of course, I was in pain; I even contemplated suicide at times. Of course, infidelity was unacceptable. But my grandfather, the minister who’d married us, said this at the altar: “We are willing to give in proportion as we love.” I placed no limits on love and ordered my heart around my grandfather’s words.

I successfully opposed the divorce action, and the court dismissed my husband’s charges. But he merely moved to a state that had adopted no-fault divorce. Out of options, I now fought for my house. Relocation is the third biggest stressor in life, behind death and divorce. The children and I deserved some stability.

I got the house, but within a few years, could no longer afford the mortgage. One daughter had already graduated from college and the other was on her way. So, I set about hauling out the lifetime accumulations of our family. Selling our dream house entailed taking inventory of my possessions; I didn’t realize how deep an examination it would trigger of myself.

Wife, stay-at-home mom, ex-lawyer, Brooklyn, my home, and every one of the thousands of possessions around me in my four-story house had served as reference points for decades. And I’d clung to each one of them. Remove them and what could possibly be left for me, especially at midlife?

The Supreme Court has said that marriage is an entity greater than just the two persons who unite in matrimony. That was true for me and my husband. After our children came along, we interlaced our lives even more. As if the task of cleaning out wasn’t enough, how could I untangle the threads we’d woven over decades?

Perhaps that’s why the cultural messages I kept getting to simply hurry up and “move on” baffled me. One divorce judge had even ordered me into chambers. Frustrated with my talk of marriage and motherhood, she offered her antidote to my anguish—another law job, a nice condo, and a boyfriend.

Whenever I thought I’d made progress exorcising my husband’s ghost—finally tossing his stocking one Christmas, ridding the closets of his clothes, returning his mother’s menorah and the Father’s Day cards he’d left behind—I’d inevitably unearth something else, some thing, some memory, or merely see the reflection of his brown eyes in those of my children, and break down all over again.

“Mix your emotions with wisdom. And concentrate on what’s important. Try letting the rest go.” That’s what a meditation teacher had told me when I’d gone to him for advice early on in the divorce. Intellectually I understood, but my heart hadn’t been ready, my grief so raw.

Wife, stay-at-home mom, ex-lawyer, Brooklyn, my home, and every one of the thousands of possessions around me in my four-story house had served as reference points for decades. Remove them and what could possibly be left for me, especially at midlife?

I mourned and grieved on my own timetable and accomplished what I set out to do. I honored my vows and stood up for my marriage and myself as a woman and mother. I raised girls into women and saved our home in order to allow my children to grow up there.

A decade after my husband left, however, it was time for the real work of digging up my buried pain. Facing a completely empty nest, at last, I focused on my own future. I’d done a little house painting over the years and bought myself a new bedroom set, but most everything in our home had remained as it was—stuck in time.

“I’m horrified by divorce,” a friend from church told me one night over dinner. “It’s a cutting, only you can’t really tear marriage asunder particularly when you have children. So, there’s this constant agitation over what can’t be done.” He’d put into words the unease I felt trying to deconstruct the evidence of our union. And yet how else could I finally heal without depriving all that we’d assembled of its meaning? All except for the children, that is.

Every item in our house passed between my fingers. I stared each one down. The wedding photos that had been locked away in a cupboard. My wedding gown, still pristine in a long blue garment bag at the back of my daughter’s closet. I split up all our collections and separated out each constituent part—the Art Deco furniture, the masks from our trips abroad, the china cabinet chock-full of wedding gifts.

I’d exhausted myself for so long trying to grab the floating pieces of my past and patch them back together. The only way to make peace with my losses was to let my dreams go.

For years I’d kept the profile my youngest had written of me in second grade—the year her father left—pinned to my bulletin board. She’d called me “strong and brave.” With the reference points I’d lived with for so long now falling away, once again, I too began to recognize the woman my daughter had seen. And as floor space emerged, I envisioned the possibility of a new beginning for myself, suddenly realizing that my happiness would always come from where it always had—inside.  

In the end, I sold my house, paid off bills, and simply left town.

But first, I walked through my home and said goodbye. As I did, I heard the echoes of empty rooms, the same sound I’d heard years ago after my husband had moved out and called me from his new apartment. Then it was the echo of his new life. This time, the sound was the echo of mine. 

 Beverly Willett is the author of the new book, “Disassembly Required: A Memoir of Midlife Resurrection.” She now lives in Savannah, Georgia. 

Mon, 26 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Friday Five 290 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

What’s Driving More Women to Drink?
Iowa State University

Marriage Rate Dropping in China, 200 Million Adults are Single
Ryan Gandolfo, That's Tianjin

Nurturing Resilience Through a Strong Community
Free Webinar: Aug. 27, 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Military Families Learning Network

Secondary Analyses of Strengthening Families Datasets (Funding Opportunity)
OPRE, Administration for Children & Families, U.S. DHHS

Continuing the Dialogue: Learning from the Past & Looking to the Future of Intimate Partner Violence & Sexual Violence Prevention
Jenny Dills, Kathryn Jones, & Pamela Brown, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Fri, 23 Aug 2019 08:00:00 -0400
What My Daughter With Down Syndrome Taught Me About Happiness—and Love by Amy Julia Becker (@amyjuliabecker)

Our daughter Penny is 13 years old. She is in seventh grade. She loves Taylor Swift and Fuller House and wedding dresses. She says her most embarrassing moment in life was when she found out the boy she has a crush on didn’t like her back. The first question she asks every morning when I wake her up is, “Did anyone text me?” She’s a middle school girl who applies too much makeup when she wants to look fancy, who begs for a smartphone, and the latest copy of Vogue when she sees it on the rack at CVS.

Penny also has Down syndrome. When she was an infant, I remember a friend saying (as if it were a consolation), “At least she won’t know if she’s being left out when she gets older.” My friend was assuming that Penny’s intellectual disability would inhibit her understanding of social rejection. Over the years, I’ve heard other versions of the same line: “They are all so happy, so sweet, such angels.”

When Penny is viewed from the outside, those statements might seem to apply. She is ready with a hug for anyone who will receive it. She’s quick to write a note of encouragement, quick to express concern for anyone in pain, and quick to forgive. She still grabs my hand whenever we walk anywhere together, and I am always struck by how small and soft it is. She still has the hand of a child.

And yet, Penny wept over the loss of a friend earlier this year. She wrote about the anger she feels when her younger brother doesn’t listen to her. Fear courses through her body whenever she hears a dog bark. She knows the hurt of adolescence. She reported the sting of overhearing an older kid say, “You’re such a retard”—even though the words weren’t directed at Penny herself. She has felt the ache of loneliness. She tells me how hard the lunch table can be: “I just don’t know when it’s the right time to say what I’m thinking.” She sits in silence most of the time. Penny is rarely, if ever, mocked. Most of her peers are kind to her, if not welcoming. But it hurts to be passed over.

Most people with Down syndrome report a high level of happiness with their lives. I suspect that their happiness, like Penny’s, doesn’t come from a failure to understand pain or rejection. Penny is happy in the midst of pain and rejection. Her attitude does not arise out of a lack of emotional depth or from an inability to feel rejected, abused, or depressed. Rather, it emerges out of an ability to hold onto hope in the midst of suffering, redemption in the midst of pain, and forgiveness in the midst of hurt. Penny embodies the great poem about love penned so many years ago by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians—that love is patient and kind, always believing, always forgiving.

Penny's attitude emerges out of an ability to hold onto hope in the midst of suffering, redemption in the midst of pain, and forgiveness in the midst of hurt.

If this is what love looks like, then I have spent much of my life rejecting love. I have been too busy and too careless to be inconvenienced, challenged, slowed down by it. I have been too ready to grab knowledge rather than receive wisdom. I have been too eager to prove myself, to receive accolades rather than turn my gaze beyond myself to the beauty of my neighbors.

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities in which people with and without intellectual disabilities live side by side, has reflected upon the “smallness” of Jesus’ love. This kind of love, he says, is often visible in people with intellectual disabilities. In Signs: Seven Words of Hope, Vanier writes,

We are discovering that those who are rejected by society on account of their weakness and their apparent uselessness are a presence of God. If we welcome them, they lead us progressively away from an over-competitive world where people need to accomplish great things, toward a world of hearts in communion, a simple and joyful life, where you accomplish little things with love.

In the morning, I hurry Penny to the front door, and I receive a hug. She walks herself to the bus stop, all four feet, five inches of her plodding a deliberate rhythm. I know that every moment of the day—the icy sidewalk, the big backpack, and the steps onto the bus, the lesson about cell membranes in science class, the rapid-fire conversation in the cafeteria—will be more challenging for her than it ever was for me.

Yet, despite the very real challenges she faces, I celebrate our daughter in the midst of the hardships and beauty of who she is. I’m confident that she will navigate the challenges, the rejections, and the giddy energy of middle school. She will navigate it all with love. And I will hold onto the promise that love never fails.

Editor’s NoteCopyright © 2019 by the Christian Century. This article, originally titled "Learning what happiness is (and isn't) from my daughter with Down syndrome," by Amy Julia Becker is reprinted with permission from the March 2019 issue of the Christian Century. To read the original article, click here.


Thu, 22 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Online Dating is Becoming the Norm by Robert VerBruggen (@RAVerBruggen)

My wife and I met as freshmen in a small college astronomy class in the spring of 2003. Neither of us even had a cell phone, and smartphones weren’t yet on the market. At the time, it was rare to find a romantic partner online: state-of-the-art communication tools, such as AOL Instant Messenger, were mainly used to talk to people you already knew. (My screen name was “loudguitars1.”)

Young people today are doing things differently, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. (There’s an ungated draft here.) Combining the results of surveys conducted in 2009 and 2017, three researchers led by Stanford’s Michael Rosenfeld were able to plot the ways people met their partners against the years in which the meetings took place.

Source: Rosenfield, Michael J., et al., Disintermediating your friends: how online dating in the United States
displaced other ways of meeting
PNAS, August 2019.

As the figure illustrates, meeting online is up, up, up, while pretty much everything else is trending downward. Don’t let “bar or restaurant” fool you: The answers aren’t mutually exclusive, and this category’s skyward trend is driven purely by people who connected online and got drinks or food for their first in-person meeting.

As the authors note, these findings end a debate about whether the Internet and especially smartphones would function socially the same way that previous innovations, such as landline telephones, did. It used to be that technology just helped us communicate more efficiently with our preexisting acquaintances, family, and coworkers. Now it helps us find and connect romantically with total strangers. In the 2017 survey, 90% of those who started their relationships online had no other connections to each other. Increasingly, it’s not our friends, siblings, and churches that serve as mediators between us and potential partners; apps and websites and their algorithms do.

So, is this a good or bad trend? The new paper doesn’t dwell on the question too much, but it’s worth asking.

In theory, it could go either way. On the one hand, sorting through potential partners online could help people find better matches more quickly, both with the help of algorithms and just by speedily ruling out possibilities on the basis of the information provided. A lot of pointless dates, and even some doomed relationships, can be avoided if you know the deal-breakers before you even, say, look into their eyes and say hi—things like whether someone is looking for a serious relationship, whether they want kids, etc.

On the other, it could be a bad thing for relationships to start completely outside of existing social connections, and perhaps there’s such a thing as too much choice—especially if it leads people to waste a lot of time sampling the possibilities. In Cheap Sex, Mark Regnerus notes that online dating might work as an incentive to end existing relationships as well, by making new partners easily available. It’s further possible that online information can’t predict the romantic chemistry that it takes to get a relationship off the ground and keep it going. And just in general, given all the ways that smartphones can degrade our personal interactions and relationships, including by keeping married people in touch with their exes, we certainly shouldn’t assume that the good will win out in the specific case of online dating.

However, while the research in this area is hardly dispositive, in general, it suggests that online dating might be a good thing, or at least a neutral development. A 2013 study, also in PNAS, found that “marriages that began on-line, when compared with those that began through traditional off-line venues, were slightly less likely to result in a marital break-up (separation or divorce) and were associated with slightly higher marital satisfaction among those respondents who remained married.” A 2017 study by Rosenfeld similarly found that “meeting online does not predict couple breakup,” even though it did predict “faster transitions to marriage for heterosexual couples.” There’s also some evidence that online dating increases interracial marriage.

In the first two studies mentioned in the paragraph above, though, it’s difficult to rule out “selection effects.” In other words, it’s possible that people who date online disproportionately have other, unmeasured traits that make them less likely to have fragile marriages—and the studies may be picking up the effects of those traits rather than the effect of online dating itself. (The interracial-dating study, by contrast, looked at the rollout of broadband technology, treating it as a natural experiment, a somewhat stronger method.)

But even if we can’t definitively rule out the possibility that online dating increases the risk of tumultuous relationships, certainly there is little actual evidence in favor of it. If anything, the correlation seems to run in the opposite direction.

It’s worth studying the issue much more, and also looking at the many other outcomes that online dating could affect—including promiscuity, age at first marriage, divorces among older people wanting to play the field, etc. But for the time being, there’s no need to fret about your 24-year-old’s OKCupid account. Perhaps it will even lead to a happy marriage and grandkids one day.

Robert VerBruggen is an Institute for Family Studies research fellow and a deputy managing editor of National Review.

Wed, 21 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Five Questions With Family Studies: Russell Moore on Marriage, Family Life, and the Church by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

When asked about the title of his latest book, The Storm-Tossed Family, Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has pointed out that family can be both "the source of life-giving blessing but also of excruciating terror, often all at the same time.” Dr. Moore, who, along with his wife Maria, is raising five boys, knows firsthand about the highs and lows of family life. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Moore about his new book, including why he describes family life as “humiliating,” why he frowns on couples writing their own wedding vows, and how becoming an adoptive parent reshaped his understanding of family. The following interview has been edited for clarity.  

Alysse ElHageIn The Storm-Tossed Family, you describe family life as “humiliating." You write, “As part of a family, it is almost impossible to maintain the image of ourselves we so carefully construct for the world, and for our own sense of meaning. Perhaps you, like me, have looked at all your family failures and wondered, ‘Why does this have to be this hard?’” That’s a question that has often crossed my mind regarding both raising a family and just being a part of one—why is it so hard and why does it hurt so much and cause so much harm when we fail in our families or when our families fail us?

Russell Moore: Well, I think that family has a unique way of getting through all our structures of self-protection, and we live in a time where so much is about image and about winning on the basis of how we define winning. And that illusion is, frankly, impossible to maintain. When you’re dealing with people in that close of a relationship, and especially in a family relationship where we’re so dependent upon one another, it’s impossible to keep those illusions up. And so I find a lot of times, people think that they’re failing in terms of their family relationships because of the humiliation of it. You can’t treat family relationships the way that you would an algorithm or a work project. It doesn’t work that way. And so people sometimes think they’re failing, when actually they’re just living in family and learning to love. 

You can’t treat family relationships the way that you would an algorithm or a work project. And so people sometimes think they’re failing, when actually they’re just living in family and learning to love.

Alysse ElHageYou share very openly in the book about your honeymoon, which was basically a disaster compared to what you expected. And you point out that as a society, we idealize not only the honeymoon but the wedding and marriage in general. And we see this even in how Hollywood portrays marriage. Why is it dangerous to idealize our marriages? And would you say this might be one reason why many young people are putting off marriage today? 

Russell Moore: It definitely is. One of the things I’ve noticed when I talk to people who are delaying marriage is they’re in a cohabitation situation. When I ask them why, at first, I was expecting a low view of marriage. And sometimes you will [see that].  In my evangelical Christian context, many times people will say, "Well, the reason that marriage rates are as low as they are is that people don’t think that marriage matters." [But] I’ve actually found in talking to people that I rarely come across that sort of attitude of “marriage is just a piece of paper, we don’t need it.” Instead, what I find is a really high view of marriage that assumes that everything should be in order, and that the marriage itself should happen after the struggle, and after all the ambiguities and mysteries of life—that marriage happens when you know that this person is your soul mate, and when you know that the marriage is going to be idyllic.  

That doesn’t apply to anyone. And so I think one of the reasons that we see weddings often costing inordinate amounts of money, being huge productions in a given community, really, I think has less to do with our expectations about weddings and more to do with our expectations about marriage. The marriage itself is seen as a kind of production that has to be maintained. And, of course, that’s not what any marriage is, and that’s not what happens. So often I find that when those really high expectations disappoint, and they always do, people conclude, “Well, what I’m missing is the kind of marriage that I’m meant for which would meet those expectations.” And they either simmer in disappointment or they leave. And I think that leads to a great deal of misery. 

Alysse ElHageSince we are on the topic of marriage, in the book, you explain that when you do a wedding, you do not allow couples to write their own vows, and you get a lot of pushback for this from some couples. Why not let couples write their own vows—what is it about the age-old wedding vows that are so important?

Russell Moore: Well, I think there’s an assumption behind the mentality of writing one’s own vows that is really dangerous to a marriage. And the assumption is that the wedding is a celebration of the couple’s love. So, in the wedding, the couple will construct and articulate how they feel about each other, which I think has very little to do with what a wedding ceremony should be about. A wedding ceremony is about the making of vows and about a community pledging to help a couple in keeping their vows and to hold them accountable for those vows. That’s why there are so many aspects of a North American wedding that are almost vestigial organs that point back to a previous time but that don’t really make much sense on their own. For instance, in many weddings, the officiant will still ask if there is anyone who can show just cause why this couple should not be joined together let him speak now or forever hold his peace. No one expects anyone to say anything at that point, and any time that we can even imagine it, it’s out of a romantic comedy in which an old boyfriend or girlfriend stands up and says, “I still love you,” and the wedding comes apart that way. But the reason that that part of the older ceremony is there is because it’s a reminder to the gathered community: you have a responsibility to help this couple and to walk with this couple in [their] marriage. So the point that I’m trying to get across to couples in premarital counseling is that they actually don’t know yet what to vow. Because the feelings that they have for each other right now are good and important, but what they’re committing to are a whole series of life directions that they can’t anticipate at all. And those are built into the traditions of the community.

Alysse ElHage: Related to the idea of community support for marriage, what is the responsibility of the church toward the marriages in their midst? And beyond the church doors, does the church have a responsibility and a role in facilitating the health of marriage and family life for those in the broader community? 

Russell Moore: Well, the church has a responsibility for pointing to the goodness of marriage, but there’s a different sort of responsibility when it comes to the outside world as opposed to those on the inside. So, we bear witness to the goodness of marriage to all people. As a Christian, I believe that marriage is a creation structure, so it’s not only for people who are Christians or who are religious but for all people. And so I would want to say that to anyone. 

Love brings with it the possibility of hurt, and of risk, but also joy.

But there’s a unique responsibility that comes within the [church] community to bear one another’s burdens. I think that starts with really clear and coherent teaching on marriage that both points to the joys and goodness of marriage and shatters those impossible idealizations. And then, it comes into place with congregations that are willing to care for people as they’re going through difficulties in marriage. I’ve seen congregations do this really well with, among other things, mentoring programs where a married couple who’ve been married to each other for many decades will then mentor a young couple that’s starting to go through some difficulty. And in many of those cases, 90% of it has to do with simply reassuring the younger couple that these sorts of struggles are normal. And so it’s not a time to panic. It’s a time to love each other and to work through it.  

Alysse ElHage: You have children through both adoption and through birth. How has the process of adopting a child into your family, and all the struggles and joys that come with that process, shaped your understanding of family and your experience of family life, perhaps even in ways you did not expect?

Russell Moore: I wrote a book, Adopted for Life, that really came out of my own struggles when we were faced with adoption. We went through years of infertility and miscarriages, and my wife said to me, “I think the Lord might be leading us  to adopt.” And I found that I was very reluctant, even though I had been, at the policy level, an advocate for adoption for years. I was really reluctant. And I located that reluctance in an idea that adoption was somehow not quite real,  and also in a sense of fear, a sense of unpredictability when it comes to children who maybe have experienced trauma. What I found, as I worked through that, is that my assumptions about adoption were wrong. They were pointing me to other problems that I was having in terms of the way that I saw myself, the way I saw family, and the way I saw the church, for that matter. And so it really caused me to understand [being] “adopted” not as an adjective, but as a past-tense verb. So, sometimes people will ask, “Which ones are the adopted children, and which ones are the biological children?" And the truth is we generally do not think in those terms in terms of status within the family. Of course, we know who was adopted, and there are unique challenges and struggles that come with it that have to be kept in mind. But in terms of status, that is not the case. And so what I found, as someone who was teaching and preaching an evangelical doctrine of adoption and about how people come into the family of God, I was actually misunderstanding that. That showed up in the way that I was approaching adoption. So that is one part of it. 

The other part of it is, I spend a lot of time asking people within evangelical churches to consider how God would have them minister to orphaned children and their families. That does not necessarily entail adoption. I do not believe that everybody is called to adoption, and I do not think everyone is equipped for adoption. We are all called to, as the Bible puts it, care for widows and orphans in their distress. But that can show up in a variety of ways. So often, when I am counseling with people who are considering adoption, I will look for a sense of risk aversion. Sometimes people will want to eliminate any sense of risk when it comes to adoption. And what I have to say to them is no child is predictable and without risks. No love relationship is predictable and without risk. So I will often say to couples, “If you want a family that does not bring with it the possibility of having one’s heart broken, then do not adopt, do not have children biologically, do not date, do not have friendships, and just live in an insulated, protective cover." [Because] love brings with it the possibility of hurt, and of risk, but also along with it, joy.

*Photo credit: Courtesy of ERLC

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Back to Romance by Joe Malone (@ULifePrep)

In my many years of teaching, I have found that the hookup culture is the number one negative issue with a majority of college-age students, and especially young women. Only about 15% of students, many of them fraternity males, say they enjoy hookup culture. About a third don’t participate in hooking up at all, and around 50% of students take part because they falsely believe “everyone is doing it,” according to research by sociologist Dr. Lisa Wade. In many cases, young people are going against the values they arrived on campus with.

Relationship researchers Drs. Justin Garcia and Chris Reiber may have put it best: they point out that findings show a majority of both college-age women and men who are motivated to take part in hookups actually desire a more romantic relationship. This view is consistent with a nuanced perspective that takes into account changing social expectations, new developmental patterns, and the cross-cultural and biological importance of the pair bond.

I advocate for an even stronger movement away from hookup culture. It is time for a romantic renaissance on college and university campuses.  

This romance movement may already be starting. As Chelsea Samuelson reported in The New York Post, the website,, has been asking their customers personal preference questions since it started over 10 years ago. The 21st-Century media culture trend has been moving steadily towards more celebrity risqué behavior, porn, and an overall sex-saturated media where hookups are portrayed as the norm, as STD rates skyrocket. 

At least until 2016. 

In 2016, as Samuelson explained, OKCupid users’ personal preferences began to change as the site continued asking the same questions. The answers to two particular cases were the most telling. One asked, “Would you consider sleeping with someone on the first date?” Compared to 2005, every single demographic group was more likely to say no. When asked, “Would you date someone just for sex?” again, a larger share of every demographic group said no compared to 2005. There was an overall decline of about 10 percent. 

Relatedly, a large U.S. national research study of over 3,000 young adults and high school students was released in 2017 by Harvard University. It found that a large majority of young adults are overestimating how many other young people are hooking up. They also discovered that 85% of young adults would prefer other options over hooking up, such as hanging out with friends or having sex within a committed relationship. The study agrees with Garcia and Reiber, who say that when this overestimation occurs, young people can feel ashamed or embarrassed to not be a part of the casual sex scene they perceive as the norm. 

These insights are a step in the right direction of a romantic renaissance. I encourage young people, especially young women, to think carefully about this whole scenario and consider joining what I call a back-to-romance movement. This means going back to traditional courtship, where emotional relationships are developed first and then the relationship may increase in intimacy as opposed to the current norm that calls for sex without any relationship. 

As an example of what this looks like, consider the actions of Boston College professor, Dr. Kerry Cronin, who observed the hookup culture her students were participating in and, seeing the damage done, began giving them an important assignment. The assignment required them to ask someone out on a date face-to-face, without the use of electronic devices. The students were required to go to dinner or something similar, where they have to talk to each other throughout the evening. No hanging out, texting, or social media permitted. A time limit is enforced and no sex is allowed. Her class caused so much of a stir that it is now documented in the film, The Dating Project.  

The reactions from the participants in The Dating Project are very moving. One young man described that successfully asking a young woman out felt better than any hookup he had ever experienced. It seems that having respect for themselves and others leaves young people with a very happy and fulfilled feeling. I believe young people, in general, will experience this for themselves if they give dating a chance. Dating was a very efficient means of couple’s formation for decades prior to hookup culture. Sometimes, the old school turns out to be the best school.  

Joe Malone, Ph.D., is a relationship educator, who has taught for many years at Middle Tennessee State University. He is the co-author of the book, Battle of the Sexes

Mon, 19 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Friday Five 289 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

8 Must-Read Marriage Blogs
Morgan Cutlip, My Love Thinks

Growing Old and Back in the 'Bouncy House," More Grandparents Are Raising Grandkids
Robert Weisman, The Boston Globe

Love in an Age of Information Overload
Phillip Johnston, Convivium Magazine

Texas Tech Professor Says Parent Involvement Linked to Student Success in the Classroom
Katie Main, KCBD

FRPN Grantee Report: Considering Contextual Influences on Fatherhood Program Participants' Experiences in Alabama
Francesca Adler-Baeder, Julianne McGill, Ami Landers, et al., Fatherhood Research & Practice Network

Fri, 16 Aug 2019 08:00:00 -0400
What are the Social and Psychological Costs of Our Computer-Mediated Lives? by Clay Routledge (@clayroutledge)

The Internet is an incredible technological advancement that has allowed people to access information, products, and services, connect with others, and mobilize social causes in ways not possible in the past. And now with over 90% of Americans under the age of 50 and the majority of people in many nations around the world owning smartphones, we have this amazing power right in our pockets. Yet, there are reasons to believe this technology comes with serious social and psychological costs. While some dismiss concerns about our computer-mediated lives as little more than “kids these days” complaints, the evidence that these concerns are warranted is growing.

Psychologists have linked poor social and psychological well-being among young people to time spent in front of screens at the expense of time spent engaged in other activities that typically involve face-to-face social interaction. Though some have challenged the idea that screen time is harmful by pointing to the correlational nature of much of the data, new experimental studies are providing additional evidence that there are reasons for concern. 

For example, in a field experiment, researchers found that having cellphones present during a meal with family or friends decreased enjoyment of that social experience. Another experiment that involved pairs of college students waiting together with or without their cellphones found that those who were phoneless were far more likely to smile at and interact with one another than those with cellphones. And one study found that having college students severely limit their daily social media use over a three-week period decreased both loneliness and depression. In short, a growing body of experimental research is providing empirical evidence that cellphones distract us from fully experiencing the real world.

But are these issues really that big of a deal? After all, most people aren’t on their phones all the time, right? 

Surveys indicate that young people are increasingly devoted to having their social lives mediated by technology. For example, surveys conducted by Common Sense Media show that between 2012 and 2016, the leading choice for how teenagers prefer to interact with their friends changed from face-to-face interaction to texting. The majority of teens also reported that social media often distracts them when they should be paying attention to people in real life. Pew Research Center further reports that about 3 in 10 adults, ages 18 to 49, indicate being online all the time. More and more, humans are growing up in a world that privileges technology-mediated living over face-to-face interaction.

We tend to think about individual users when discussing the potential harm caused by smartphones; however, research is beginning to reveal how this technology is bad for family life. For example, in one recent experiment published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, psychologists Kostadin Kushlev and Elizabeth Dunn recruited parents at a science museum with their children and randomly assigned them to high or low cellphone use conditions. Parents in the high-use condition were instructed to spend as much time as they safely could on their phones while at the museum, and parents in the low-use condition were instructed to refrain from using their phones as much as possible. Prior to leaving the museum, parents completed questionnaires assessing their subjective experience of spending time with their children at the museum.  

The researchers found that parents in the high-use condition, compared to those in the low-use condition, reported feeling less attentive and less socially connected, and reported lower meaning in life while with their children at the museum. In a follow-up diary-based study focused on parent and child interactions at home, the researchers found additional evidence that when phones distracted parents, they felt less socially connected to their children. 

Regarding smartphones and family life specifically, a Pew survey found that around half of teenagers say their parents are distracted by their phones when they are trying to talk to them, and over 70% of parents report that their teenagers are distracted when they are trying to have a conversation with them. 

Smartphones may be a wonderful technological achievement that make our lives easier in many ways, but they also undermine the quality and meaningfulness of time spent with loved ones, including our children, and make even more casual social encounters less pleasant and less likely. 

Take for instance a new YouGov survey that finds that 30% of Millennials report always or often feeling lonely, and 22% report that they have no friends. Furthermore, Pew reports that over 70% of young adults believe that people just look out for themselves most of the time and that most people would try to take advantage of you if they had the chance; 60% believe most people can’t be trusted. Older generations, particularly those over the age of 65, are far less inclined to have such a pessimistic view of their fellow Americans. 

There are many other worrying trends related to our psychological and social health, such as rising rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Such trends undoubtedly have multiple causes, including the rise of individualism. As I discussed in an article for the New York Times, there are many reasons to believe that social and cultural changes that are at least partially rooted in individualism are contributing to a crisis of meaning in our society. And individualism may play an important role in how we think about and use technology. For instance, the more socially disconnected or alienated people feel as a result of the individualistic worldview that privileges personal freedom and independence over social duty and interdependence, the more they may look to social media to meet their basic social needs, even if online connections are poor substitutes for deeper in-person relationships. 

Regardless, there is a growing body of survey and experimental research that indicates that our online lives are harming our real lives, from our relationships to our mental and emotional well-being. Even as we celebrate our increasing technological advances, we should not ignore the real social and psychological tradeoffs that we may be making in the process.

Thu, 15 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400
Sex and the Single Evangelical by David J. Ayers (@GCCAyers)

Evangelicals share something in common with every other branch of conservative Christianity. They hold to a simple view of sex outside of marriage, rooted in many centuries of historical teaching and what appear to be the plain teachings of the Bible, especially the New Testament—don’t

Yet most self-identified Evangelicals1 engage in premarital sex. And doing so has become increasingly morally acceptable among them, regardless of what their churches teach. We have seen a long trend toward greater liberalization of sexual ethics among Evangelical laypersons over the past several decades, underscored in recent years by several prominent Evangelical leaders breaking ranks to embrace progressive views on sex. 

The recent, highly public defection of a superstar of the “sexual purity” movement, Josh Harris, is a dramatic case in point. Starting with the repudiation of his own best-selling books promoting courtship practices that promoted abstinence until marriage, on to pursuing his own “amicable” divorce, and then rejecting Christianity entirely—all on social media—Harris has become a poster-child for the “new” Evangelical sexual ethic. Unique, perhaps, only in indicating that his views are no longer Christian (rather than the more typical attempt to claim that Christianity allows for pre-marital sex), Harris is indicative of a larger shift away from traditional stances on sex within Evangelical circles.

For example, in the General Social Survey (GSS), in 2014 through 2018 combined, only 37% of “fundamentalist2 adults said that sex outside marriage was “always wrong,” while 41% said it was “not wrong at all.” From 1974 to 1978, the same percentages were 44% and 27%, respectively. 

Meanwhile, the GSS shows that among never-married fundamentalist adults between 2008 and 2018, 86% of females and 82% of males had at least one opposite-sex sexual partner since age 18, while 57% and 65%, respectively, had three or more. These percentages were even higher for those under 30.

In my recent book, Christian Marriage: A Comprehensive Introduction, I looked at data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), which provides a lot more detail on sexual activity and includes a larger number of respondents.3 In this article, and in the corresponding research brief, I incorporate the most recent NSFG cycle released in December 2018 to further explore the sexual practices of young, never-married Evangelicals, combining the surveys for 2013-15 and 2015-17. I summarize my findings below. 

The following figures compare the percentages of never-married respondents in these NSFG cycles, by gender and in two age groups and five major religious affiliation categories, who have ever engaged in sexual intercourse, as well as those who have ever engaged in any sexual activity (vaginal, oral or anal) with an opposite-sex partner.

As Figures 1 and 2 below show, by the time they are young adults, roughly two-thirds of Evangelical young people have engaged in sexual intercourse, and about three-quarters have engaged in at least one of three forms of sexual activity. Among those ages 15 to 17, those percentages were about one-quarter and well over 40%, respectively.

Although Evangelicals mostly compare favorably to respondents in the other religious groupings shown, the percentages are not very comforting to those Evangelicals who believe in premarital chastity.

“Looking under the hood” at specifics would be even more shocking to many Evangelical leaders. For example, roughly one-in-five never-married Evangelicals 18 to 22 years of age have engaged in sexual behavior as risky as anal sex (findings not shown here). 

Moreover, as Figure 3 below illustrates, for those who have ever engaged in sexual activity, the percentages who have had multiple sex partners is quite high. Focusing just on Evangelicals, we find that roughly one-third of those ages 15 to 17, and over 40% of females and over 50% of males ages 18 to 22, have had 4 or more opposite-sex partners. Overall, these percentages were not consistently lower than those of the other four Christian groups.

When those who had refrained from sexual intercourse were asked to identify their most important reason for abstaining, the response of Evangelical singles was not that encouraging, either. Among both age groups combined, 59% of young women said it was because they did not want to violate their religion or morals, but only 42% of young men cited this reason (figure not shown here). Other reasons were quite prominent, including simply not having the opportunity, or waiting for the right time, for premarital sex. Thus, even for many Evangelical abstainers, religious beliefs about premarital sex were not very relevant to their sexual behavior.

In further analysis (explored in the full research brief), it becomes clear that church attendance and the importance of religion to the respondents’ daily lives are both strongly associated with reduced involvement in premarital sexual activity. For example, looking at only Evangelicals ages 18 to 22, 51% of those who attended church weekly or more had engaged in sexual intercourse. Percentages for those who attended at least monthly and less than that were from 17% to 31% higher, and percentages for those who never attended church were even greater. 

Differences between those who regarded their religion as “very” or only “somewhat” important were similar.4 Among 18 to 22-year-olds, for example, 54% of young women who regarded their religious beliefs as “very important” had ever had intercourse, versus 82% of young women who said their religion was only “somewhat important.” Among young men, it was 56% versus 76%, respectively.

Unfortunately, for both age groups combined, only 55% of young women and 48% of young men attend religious services at least weekly, while 25% and 31% (respectively) do so less than monthly or never. Moreover, 70% of young women and 61% of young men consider their religion to be “very important” to their daily lives—majorities, but still not too impressive. This certainly helps explain why being Evangelical is, in itself, not as correlated with lower levels of premarital sexual activity as we might expect given the substance and importance of Evangelical teaching on this issue.

Although we must be careful about making any kind of causal claims from data such as this, given all we know about the impact of commitment and social support, teaching young people to prioritize church attendance and to keep religion central in their daily lives will most likely help them to be more faithful to their churches’ sexual teachings. It is certainly hard for religious leaders to effectively instruct their members on these matters if most are not present in church or committed to applying their faith. This is especially true in a culture where classical Christian teaching on sex is increasingly rejected. Casual, lax Christianity is not going to encourage young people to swim against the currents of their time and the influence of their peers.

David J. Ayers is currently Professor of Sociology and Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania. His latest book is Christian Marriage: A Comprehensive Introduction(Lexham Press, February 2019). Dr. Ayers has taught college-level classes in Marriage and Family for well over 30 years. 

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.

1. By the term ‘Evangelical’ I am referring specifically to a definition consistent with the National Association of Evangelicals understanding of this term, and what denominations who are part of the NAE generally embrace. See full research brief for the complete definition.

2. Fundamentalist” and “conservative Protestant” in the GSS both match typical understandings of “Evangelical.”

3. Op cit., see especially Chapter 7.

4. There were few who identified with an Evangelical Protestant church who said their religious faith was “not at all” important to their daily life, hence that category was excluded.

Wed, 14 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400
This Tax Credit Wasn’t Meant to Help with Housing, but That’s Exactly What It’s Doing by Natasha Pilkauskas

Editor's Note: This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As rents rise and wages stagnate, many families struggle to find affordable housing in the U.S. This is especially true for low-income households who often spend more than half their income on rent.

The U.S. has a number of housing policies to help low-income families find and afford housing, but only about one-quarter of eligible households got assistance in 2018.

Thus, my colleague Katherine Michelmore and I considered whether a different type of policy—the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)—might help improve families’ access to housing by giving parents more disposable income. We wanted to know if further expanding the credit might help address the housing affordability crisis.

Getting Money Back

The EITC is a refundable tax credit that provides a subsidy to mostly low-income working parents.

Although people without children can get the EITC, fewer are eligible. The EITC allows low-income workers to both reduce their total tax liability and get money back – on average about $3,000 a year – even if they do not owe taxes.

This means that for a low-income family who makes about $20,000 a year, the EITC can increase take-home earnings by more than 15%.

The EITC began in 1975 as a temporary credit aimed at helping low-income parents. The goal was to reduce payroll taxes these parents paid and help them with the rising costs of basic goods, like food and gas.

The EITC was made permanent in 1978 and has been expanded a number of times since then. For example, in 1993 the benefit was expanded to give families with two or more children a larger credit.

In 2009 it was again made larger for families with three or more children. Our study looked at all of the expansions from 1990 through 2016.

In the U.S., about 26 million families a year got the ETIC. Many studies have shown the EITC increases employment and reduces poverty, but we could find no previous studies that had looked at its impact on housing.

On Their Own

Our study focused on low-income unmarried mothers, who are most likely to get the EITC.

Using information from two large U.S. Census datasets and a study of low-income families, we examined whether policy expansion—both federal- and state-level changes in the EITC—affected mothers’ housing.

Essentially, we calculated the average EITC each unmarried mother with a certain number of children could expect to receive in a particular state in a given year.

We then compared similar families before and after EITC expansions to estimate the effects on their housing. By using data that covered a 26-year period, we captured many changes in EITC policy at the federal and state level.

We found that getting additional money from the EITC reduced mothers’ housing cost burdens, or the share of their earnings that was spent on rent. In other words, the EITC helped make housing more affordable.

We also found that getting a larger EITC led mothers to move out of shared living arrangements where they were living with other adults who were not their partner.

Better still, after getting a higher EITC, these mothers were more likely to move into a home with their name on the lease or mortgage.

Owning or renting a home rather than living with someone else leads to more stable housing, which is generally better for children because studies show that frequent moves, which are more common when people live with others, are linked with poorer school outcomes.

Because these mothers were no longer doubled up, they were also less likely to live in a crowded household, which is also better for children.

A Number of Proposals

Overall, our study suggests that expanding the EITC might be an effective way to combat some pressing housing issues. But increasing it won’t fix all housing problems.

Our study also found that EITC expansions had no effect on homelessness or eviction, likely because families cannot get the EITC if they are not working.

Currently, there are a number of policy proposals to expand the EITC. These proposals aim to combat poverty and reduce economic inequality.

As our study suggests, the EITC just might also help families improve their housing too.

Natasha Pilkauskas is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Tue, 13 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400