Institute for Family Studies Blog https://ifstudies.org/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. As Wedding Costs Rise, Perhaps It’s Time to Invest More in Marriage Prep https://ifstudies.org/blog/as-wedding-costs-rise-perhaps-its-time-to-invest-more-in-marriage-prep https://ifstudies.org/blog/as-wedding-costs-rise-perhaps-its-time-to-invest-more-in-marriage-prep by Amber Lapp (@AmberDavidLapp)

I spot Beth, 30, and her husband Jim, 27, sitting in the back corner of Wendy’s, sipping soda. Jim greets us, and I can tell immediately that he has an eccentric flare—he is both a video game fanatic and a Southern gentleman. His longish dark brown hair, parted down the middle, flows outwards from the center part in a wave that matches his dark mustache, reminding me of Cogsworth in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Beth, dressed in black dress pants, and a white and black sequined tunic, looks like she came straight from her job as a receptionist at a doctor’s office.

At the age of 18, Jim got a job pushing carts at a grocery store. Nine years later, he is still there but has worked his way up as a senior member of their systems team, where he takes care of all computer-related problems for the store. Though neither he nor Beth has a four-year college degree, they make enough to pay the bills and recently purchased a two-bedroom ranch in a small town in southwestern Ohio.

Jim says that in their first few years of marriage, though, they felt buried by debt, including wedding debt. “It’s like we started off—we had a fair amount of digging to do, but…we managed to dig our way out, at least as far as we’ve gotten.”

To accommodate a large extended family for their wedding, they rented a conference center big enough for their 210 guests. Beth’s parents, a technician for a cell phone company and a school cafeteria worker, helped out a lot but couldn’t cover everything, so Jim took out a loan somewhere between $2-4K to pay for the DJ and flowers and “just for breathing room until we started getting regular paychecks going again.” Beth opened a credit card to pay for her dress, and she put other wedding odds and ends on her other credit card.

“We probably should’ve looked at the numbers for the wedding—that whole mess—more than we did,” Jim says. “That was a mess—mercifully, all that’s behind us.”

As USA Today recently reported, in the last 10 years, the average cost of weddings has increased significantly, from $16,000 for an 110-guest wedding in 2006 to $28,000 in 2016, according to a comparison from online wedding planning site WeddingWire, which collected data from 15,000 couples. Average engagement length also jumped from eight months to 13 months, perhaps to give time for the more demanding planning required by increasingly personalized weddings. "Today, couples want to differentiate their weddings from others with themes and more customized events," USA Today notes. "While only 17% of couples had a theme for their wedding 10 years ago, today nearly 50% have a theme, while 1 in 4 has a personalized cocktail."

My younger sister got engaged a few weekends ago, with her thoughtful boyfriend planning a surprise proposal on the top of Cincinnati’s Carew Tower, followed by a gathering of friends and family who traveled from six different states to celebrate with the couple. But after the fun of the engagement weekend, the pressure of wedding planning hit with a shattering thud. My sister has never been one to dream of wedding details and wishes that she could instead have more time to focus on just learning to be a couple and preparing for marriage, as well as a related move to a new city and a transition to a new job. We expect young couples to have skills and expertise in large-scale event planning, when practicing more basic skills like household budgeting and relationship conflict resolution would be time better spent.

It’s a shame that cultural norms surrounding weddings have shifted so much in a generation. My parents, who married in the early 1980s recall that virtually everyone they knew got married in their church, followed by a small reception in the church basement with sandwiches and cake following the ceremony. Church ladies helped with the food and costs were minimal. There was even less ado about weddings in my grandparent’s generation, with some couples marrying in the church at the end of the usual Sunday morning service.

For working-class couples like Beth and Jim, the norm of extravagant weddings can be a stumbling block to marriage. For some couples that my husband David and I interviewed for the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, it was a factor in the decision to postpone marriage, something which I’ll explore in detail in my next post.

Others proceeded with a wedding but got into debt in the process. Not everyone fared as well afterwards as Beth and Jim, who thankfully had other supports to both prepare them for marriage and help them get out of debt.Beth’s dad had insisted, much to the couple’s chagrin, that they do premarital counseling and recommended Les and Leslie Parrot’s Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts. Although they did it only to satisfy her father, Jim says he learned some helpful concepts through the process—including the idea that “People have to choose to be happy where you’re at.” The couple also enrolled in a Dave Ramsey course and credits that with helping them to keep a budget and pay down their debt.

About a month after they were married, Jim worried that he was “falling out of love” with Beth, and for a week battled internally about that. However, he came to the conclusion that “love comes in a variety of flavors”—different seasons call for different feelings, in other words—and says it hasn’t been an issue for him since. He says that he and Beth “are a great team,” and that he trusts her, and that they’re sensitive to each other’s feelings. They also try to have the same goals: for instance, buying a home and getting out of debt. In the end, he took the advice that he got from the Parrots and chose to be happy where he was at.

While wedding planning brought stress and debt, it seems that Beth and Jim’s marriage preparation was part of securing their commitment to one another. That is why premarital counseling is so important. If wedding planning is beginning to crowd out time and resources that could be better used helping couples actually prepare for marriage, it’s time for a new version of engagement—one that is driven less by commercial concerns and is more about establishing the kinds of supports most helpful to the couple in their new life together.

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Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Married Parents: One Way to Reduce Child Poverty https://ifstudies.org/blog/married-parents-one-way-to-reduce-child-poverty https://ifstudies.org/blog/married-parents-one-way-to-reduce-child-poverty by W. Bradford Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP)

On June 20, IFS senior fellow W. Bradford Wilcox testified before the “Committee on Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 Years,” an ad-hoc committee of experts convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to study child poverty in the United States. Below is an edited version of his testimony.

Many factors influence the persistence of comparatively high levels of child poverty in the United States—from relatively low spending on government transfers1 to declines in real wages for men without college degrees.2 But we cannot lose sight of the role that changes in family structure, especially among Americans without college degrees,3 have also played—first, in fueling increases in child poverty and, second, in keeping rates of child poverty higher than they should be.

Research by Robert Lerman of the Urban Institute4 and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution,5 among others, suggests the growth of child poverty from the 1970s to the 1990s was driven, in part, by the rise of single-parent families and family instability over this time period. For instance, in 1970, 12% of children lived with a single parent; by 1990, 25% of children lived with a single parent. Their work indicates that more than half of the increase in child poverty over this period can be attributed to the decline of stable marriage as an anchor to family life in America. Since then, the retreat from marriage has slowed, which means that family structure has been less salient in the ebb and flow of child poverty. Nevertheless, this research suggests that child poverty would be markedly lower in the United States if more American parents were stably married.

In fact, the continuing relevance of marriage to economic well-being can be seen in two recent studies, both of which suggest that marriage per se is strongly related to poverty. My own recent research with the Institute for Family Study’s Wendy Wang indicates that Millennials who have formed a family by marrying first are significantly less likely to be poor than Millennials who have formed a family by having a child before or outside of marriage. After controlling for education, race, ethnicity, family-of-origin income, and a measure of intelligence/knowledge (AFQT scores), we find that Millennials who married before having any children are about 60% less likely to be poor than their peers who had a child out of wedlock. In fact, as shown in the figure below, 95% of Millennials who married first are not poor by the time they are in their late twenties or early thirties. So, even for the latest generation of young adults, it looks like marriage continues to matter.

Given the trends for adults noted above, it is no surprise that children from single-parent families are more likely to be poor than children from married-parent families. For instance, as the figure below indicates, since the 1970s, children in single-mother-headed families (who make up the clear majority of single-parent families) are over four times more likely to be poor, compared to children in married-parent families.6 And because more than one-quarter of American children are in single-parent families, this elevates the child poverty rate above what it would otherwise be if more children were living in married-parent families. Sawhill’s research suggests that if the share of children in female-headed families had remained steady at the 1970 level of 12.0%, then the 2013 child poverty rate would be at 16.4%, rather than a rate of 21.3%.7 In other words, the current child poverty rate would be cut by almost one-quarter if the nation enjoyed 1970-levels of married parenthood.

In addressing marriage, family structure, and child poverty now, one additional point needs to be made. Today, a rising share of children are being raised by cohabiting parents. In 2014, 7% of children were living in homes headed by cohabiting parents.8 Might these children benefit financially as much as children from married-parent families by living with two adults?

The answer is no. Not only are cohabiting parents less likely to pool their income and put aside money for family savings, they are also much more likely to split up than are married parents.9 One recent study finds, for instance, that children born to cohabiting parents are almost twice as likely to see their parents break up, compared to children born to married parents, even after controlling for a number of socioeconomic factors.10 This means that children in cohabiting families are more likely to end up in single-parent families or complex families without both their biological parents, which increases their risk of being in poverty.11 All this suggests that cohabitation does not protect children from poverty as much as marriage does.

Why Marriage Matters for Economic Well-Being

Why does marriage matter for the economic well-being of children? First, children raised by their married parents are much more likely to enjoy access to the economic support of their father over the course of their childhood, compared to children raised by single or cohabiting parents.12 Second, married parents are more likely to enjoy economies of scale, compared to single parents, and to pool their income, compared to other types of families.13 Third, stably married parents who do not have children with other partners do not incur child support obligations or legal expenses related to family dissolution that reduce their household income.

Overall, the economic value of marriage for children should not be underestimated. One recent study suggests that having stably married parents is worth about an extra $40,000 in annual family income to children while growing up, compared to children being raised by a single parent.14

Unfortunately, despite the economic value of marriage for children—not to mention its social, educational, and psychological value15 —marriage has been in retreat since the 1970s, especially among poor and working-class families. In fact, there is a growing marriage divide, such that children from college-educated families continue to enjoy high levels of family stability, whereas children from less-educated families face higher levels of family instability and single parenthood.16 For instance, as the figure below indicates, the share of children with less-educated mothers living in single-parent homes has grown steadily since the 1960s, whereas it has actually fallen for children of college-educated mothers since the 1990s.17 This leaves many children in less-educated homes doubly disadvantaged—they have markedly less income, along with less time and attention from their parents than children in more affluent and college-educated homes.18

What’s Driving the Marriage Divide?

The growing marriage divide is driven in large part by four developments. First, men without college degrees have seen their real wages decline and spells of unemployment increase, both of which make them less attractive as marriage partners.19 Second, changes in public policy and law have made marriage less financially advantageous, especially for lower-income Americans who often face marriage penalties associated with a range of means-tested policies offered by the federal government.20 Third, the erosion of marriage-related norms governing sex, childbearing, and marital permanence, along with the rise of a soulmate model of marriage that increases men and women’s expectations for high-quality marriages, has left lower-income Americans more vulnerable to premarital childbearing, family instability, and divorce—partly because they face fewer opportunity costs for having children out of wedlock, and partly because they face more economic stresses that can undercut the quality of their marriages.21 Finally, civic participation has fallen most among Americans without college degrees; this matters because civic groups—especially religious organizations—have long lent moral and social support to marriage and family life.22

Policy Recommendations

To bridge the marriage divide between less-educated and college-educated Americans, and thereby reduce child poverty, policymakers, business executives, philanthropists, civic leaders, educators, and culture shapers should consider the following four recommendations:

  1. On the educational front, strengthen vocational education and apprenticeship programs, so as to increase the vocational opportunities of the majority of young adults who will not get a four-year college degree.23
  2. On the policy front, work to minimize marriage penalties facing lower-income families, perhaps by offering newly married Americans a “honeymoon” period of three years where their eligibility for means-tested programs would not end if they marry—so long as their household income is below a threshold of $55,000.
  3. On the cultural front, launch local, state, and federal campaigns on behalf of what Haskins and Sawhill have called the “success sequence,”24 where young adults are encouraged to get at least a high school degree, work full-time, and marry before having any children—in that order.
  4. On the civic front, encourage secular and religious organizations to be more deliberate about targeting Americans without college degrees.

The alternative to taking measures like these is to accept a world where college-educated Americans enjoy stable and strong families, and the economic benefits that flow from such families, and everyone else faces increasingly unstable families and high rates of economic insecurity and poverty.

W. Bradford Wilcox is a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.  


1. Rainwater, Lee and Timothy M. Smeeding. 2005. Poor Kids in a Rich Country: America’s Children in Comparative Perspective. New York: Russell Sage.

2. Autor, David, and Melanie Wasserman. 2013. Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Education and Labor Markets. Washington, DC: Third Way.

3. Cherlin, Andrew J. 2009. The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today. New York: Vintage. Wilcox, W. Bradford. 2010. State of Our Unions 2010: When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America. National Marriage Project and Institute for American Values.

4. Lerman, Robert. 1996. Helping Disconnected Youth by Improving Linkages Between High Schools and Careers. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

5. Sawhill, Isabel and Adam Thomas. 2005. “For Love and Money? The Impact of Family Structure on Family Income.” The Future of Children 15(2): 57-74.

6. Haskins, Ron. 2015. "The Family is Here to Stay—or Not." The Future of Children 25(2): 129-153.

7. Sawhill, Isabel. 2014. How Marriage and Divorce Impact Economic Opportunity. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

8. Pew Research Center. 2015. Parenting in America: Outlook, Worries, Aspirations are Strongly Linked to Financial Situation. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

9. Wilcox, W. Bradford. Et al. 2011. Why Marriage Matters: 30 Conclusions from the Social Sciences. New York: Institute for American Values and National Marriage Project.

10. DeRose, Laurie, Mark Lyons-Amos, W. Bradford Wilcox, and Gloria Huarcaya. 2017. The Cohabitation Go Round. New York: Social Trends Institute and Institute for Family Studies.

11. McLanahan, Sara. 2009. "Fragile Families and the Reproduction of Poverty." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621(1): 111-131.

12. Sawhill, Isabel and Adam Thomas. 2005. “For Love and Money? The Impact of Family Structure on Family Income.” The Future of Children 15(2): 57-74.

13. Wilcox, W. Bradford. Et al. 2011. Why Marriage Matters: 30 Conclusions from the Social Sciences. New York: Institute for American Values and National Marriage Project.

14. Lerman, Robert, Joseph Price, and W. Bradford Wilcox. 2017. "Family Structure and Economic Success Across the Life Course." Marriage & Family Review: 1-15.

15. McLanahan, Sara, and Isabel Sawhill. 2015. "Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited: Introducing the Issue." The Future of Children 25(2): 3-9.

16. Wilcox, W. Bradford. 2010. State of Our Unions 2010: When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America. National Marriage Project and Institute for American Values.

17. Putnam, Robert D. 2015. Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. New York: Simon and Schuster.

18. McLanahan, Sara. 2004. “Diverging Destinies: How Children are Faring Under the Second Demographic Transition.” Demography 41: 607-627. Putnam, Robert D. 2015. Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. New York: Simon and Schuster

19. Autor, David, and Melanie Wasserman. 2013. Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Education and Labor Markets. Washington, DC: Third Way. Wilcox, W. Bradford. 2010. State of Our Unions 2010: When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America. National Marriage Project and Institute for American Values.

20. Besharov, Douglas and Neil Gilbert. 2015. Marriage Penalties in the Modern Welfare State. Washington, DC: R Street Institute. Wilcox, W. Bradford, Joseph P. Price, and Angela Rachidi. 2016. Marriage, Penalized: Does Social-Welfare Policy Affect Family Formation? Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute and Institute for Family Studies.

21. Cherlin, Andrew J. 2009. The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today. New York: Vintage. Edin, Kathryn, and Maria Kefalas. 2011. Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Wilcox, W. Bradford. 2010. State of Our Unions 2010: When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America. National Marriage Project and Institute for American Values.

22. Wilcox, W. Bradford. 2010. State of Our Unions 2010: When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America. National Marriage Project and Institute for American Values.

23. Lerman, Robert I. 2014. Proposal 7: Expanding Apprenticeship Opportunities in The United States. Washington, DC: Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.

24. Haskins, Ron and Isabel Sawhill. 2009. Creating an Opportunity Society. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

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Wed, 21 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
10 Surprising Findings on Shared Parenting After Divorce or Separation https://ifstudies.org/blog/10-surprising-findings-on-shared-parenting-after-divorce-or-separation https://ifstudies.org/blog/10-surprising-findings-on-shared-parenting-after-divorce-or-separation by Linda Nielsen

What is the most beneficial parenting plan for children after their parents separate or divorce? Are children better off living primarily or exclusively with one parent in sole physical custody (SPC) and spending varying amounts of time with their other parent? Or are their outcomes better when they live with each parent at least 35% of the time in a joint physical custody/shared parenting (JPC) family? Furthermore, is JPC beneficial when parents have high, ongoing conflict? In fact, isn’t shared parenting only chosen by, and suitable for, a very select group of parents—those with higher incomes, lower conflict, and more cooperative relationships who mutually and voluntarily agree to share from the outset?

To answer these questions, I reviewed 54 studies that compared children’s outcomes in shared and sole physical custody families independent of family income and parental conflict. In another recent study, I examined all the studies that compared levels of conflict and quality of co-parenting relationships between the two groups of parents. Ten findings emerged from my research, many of which refute commonly held beliefs that can lead to custody decisions that are often not in children’s best interests.

1. In the 54 studies—absent situations in which children needed protection from an abusive or negligent parent even before their parents separated—children in shared-parenting families had better outcomes than children in sole physical custody families. The measures of well-being included: academic achievement, emotional health (anxiety, depression, self-esteem, life satisfaction), behavioral problems (delinquency, school misbehavior, bullying, drugs, alcohol, smoking), physical health and stress-related illnesses, and relationships with parents, stepparents, and grandparents.

2. Infants and toddlers in JPC families have no worse outcomes than those in SPC families. Sharing overnight parenting time does not weaken young children’s bonds with either parent.

3. When the level of parental conflict was factored in, JPC children still had better outcomes across multiple measures of well-being. High conflict did not override the benefits linked to shared parenting, so JPC children’s better outcomes cannot be attributed to lower parental conflict.

4. Even when family income was factored in, JPC children still had better outcomes. Moreover, JPC parents were not significantly richer than SPC parents.

5. JPC parents generally did not have better co-parenting relationships or significantly less conflict than SPC parents. The benefits linked to JPC cannot be attributed to better co-parenting or to lower conflict.

6. Most JPC parents do not mutually or voluntarily agree to the plan at the outset. In the majority of cases, one parent initially opposed the plan and compromised as a result of legal negotiations, mediation, or court orders. Yet in these studies, JPC children still had better outcomes than SPC children.

7. When children are exposed to high, ongoing conflict between their parents, including physical conflict, they do not have any worse outcomes in JPC than in SPC families. Being involved in high, ongoing conflict is no more damaging to children in JPC than in SPC families.

8. Maintaining strong relationships with both parents by living in JPC families appears to offset the damage of high parental conflict and poor co-parenting. Although JPC does not eliminate the negative impact of frequently being caught in the middle of high, ongoing conflict between divorced parents, it does appear to reduce children’s stress, anxiety, and depression.

9. JPC parents are more likely to have detached, distant,  and “parallel” parenting relationships than to have “co-parenting” relationships where they work closely together, communicate often, interact regularly, coordinate household rules and routines, or try to parent with the same parenting style.

10. No study has shown that children whose parents are in high legal conflict or who take their custody dispute to court have worse outcomes than children whose parents have less legal conflict and no custody hearing.

These findings refute a number of popular myths about shared parenting. One among many examples is a 2013 study from the University of Virginia that was reported in dozens of media outlets around the world under frightening headlines such as: “Spending overnights away from mom weakens infants’ bonds.” In the official press release, the researchers stated that their study should guide judges’ decisions about custody for children under the age of four. In fact, however, the study is not in any way applicable to the general population. The participants were impoverished, poorly-educated, non-white parents who had never been married or lived together, had high rates of incarceration, drug abuse, and violence, and had children with multiple partners. Moreover, there were no clear relationships between overnighting and children’s attachments to their mothers.

My review of 54 studies on shared parenting finds that, independent of parental conflict and family income, children in shared physical custody families—with the exception of situations where children need protection from an abusive or negligent parent—have better outcomes across a variety of measures of well-being than do children in sole physical custody. Knowledge and understanding of these findings allow us to dismantle some of the myths surrounding shared parenting so we can better serve the interests of the millions of children whose parents are no longer living together.

Dr. Linda Nielsen is a professor of Adolescent and Educational Psychology at Wake Forest University. She has written numerous articles on shared parenting research and is frequently called upon to share the research with legislative committees and family court professionals. For copies of her research articles contact nielsen@wfu.edu.

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Tue, 20 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Sex in Red and Blue America https://ifstudies.org/blog/sex-in-red-and-blue-america https://ifstudies.org/blog/sex-in-red-and-blue-america by Nicholas H. Wolfinger (@NickWolfinger)

Sex—who does it, how often, and with whom—occupies a central place in the public imagination. And rightly so: Sex plays an important role in the quality and stability of men and women’s lives and relationships. Politics are also on our mind a lot, especially given an era of mega-partisanship and a uniquely divisive president in office. Our two parties offer divergent views about the role of sex in American society. Does this translate into different sexual behavior for Democrats and Republicans?

Previously in this blog, W. Bradford Wilcox and I described political differences in family life: Republicans tend to have happier marriages than do Democrats. We showed this finding could be explained by two factors, race and church attendance. On average, whites have happier marriages than African Americans, and the former are much more likely to be Republicans. Republicans are also more likely to be churchgoers, which in turn leads to happier relationships.

This finding left me curious about how specific components of relational bliss might be affected by political leanings. The answer is surprising: Republicans have more sex than Democrats and cheat less on their spouses. Political independents have sex even more often than Republicans but cheat at the same rate Democrats do. Republican sexual frequency is entirely explained by the fact that they’re more likely to be married than are Democrats. On the other hand, there’s no obvious explanation for the partisan difference in adultery.

I explore the effects of party ID on sexual behavior using 25 years of data from the General Social Survey, an omnibus survey that’s been conducted annually or biennially since 1972. I rely on a somewhat vague question about sex: “About how often did you have sex during the last 12 months?” This may or may not refer to vaginal intercourse, but that probably doesn’t matter much for the non-procreative benefits of sexual activity. Slightly over half (53%) of my sample reports having sex at least once a week.

As Figure 1 shows, this is especially likely to be true for independents and Republicans. My baseline statistical model controls for basic demographic differences between respondents: age, race/ethnicity, sex, and the calendar year the survey was completed. The results show that independents and Republicans are, respectively, 22% and 11% more likely to have weekly sex compared to Democrats (in other words, independents have the most sex and Democrats have the least). The absolute differences in sexual frequency aren’t large—only a few percentage points—but they are large enough to be statistically significant.


Note: * indicates the gap in sexual frequency between Republicans or independents and Democrats is statistically significant.

The more active sex lives of Republicans are entirely the product of political differences in marriage: married Americans are more likely to be Republicans, and anyone with a live-in relationship has more sex than does an otherwise comparable single person.

It’s harder to understand why independents have more sex than do their peers without stronger partisan leanings. Socioeconomic status (SES)—measured by education, employment, and family income—accounts for about a third of the independent-Democrat sex gap. Further analysis indicates that education is the component of SES most responsible for the gap. Why might that be? Weirdly, Americans with four-year college degrees are far less likely to have weekly sex—about a quarter less likely, according to the GSS—and independents are less likely to have college degrees than are either Democrats or Republicans. There is certainly a lot to think about here, but in short, education is part of the story behind sexually-active independents.

Even after adjusting for differences in relationship status—single, married, cohabiting—and SES, independents are still more likely to have weekly sex than are Democrats or, for that matter, Republicans. What gives? Political science suggests that a relatively small number of independents are probably responsible. Published 25 years ago, The Myth of the Independent Voter showed that most independents are really just crypto-partisans in their beliefs. As such, we would expect them to behave more like either Democrats or Republicans. True independents, small in numbers, are generally detached from political beliefs, let alone political participation. Why these independents may be especially sexually active awaits future inquiry.

It’s not that much easier to understand the strong effects of party identification on marital infidelity. Democrats and independents cheat on their spouses at equal rates, but Republicans have starkly lower rates of infidelity. Controlling only for survey year and basic demographic differences between respondents (age, sex, race/ethnicity), Republicans have 23% lower odds of cheating than do Democrats. The adultery gap between independents and Republicans is nearly as large.


Note: * indicates that the gap in extramarital sex between Republicans and Democrats is statistically significant.

Measured respondent attributes can explain approximately half of the partisan gap in infidelity. Socioeconomic status doesn’t make any appreciable difference, but marital status and church attendance do matter. Marital status measures whether respondents remain in potentially adulterous marriages at the time of the survey (obviously, adulterous marriages are far more likely to dissolve). Given the strong association between marital status and party identification, it’s not surprising that current marital status can help explain the association between political beliefs and being in or having been in an adulterous union. Church attendance also has predictable effects on the relationship between adultery and party ID. Republicans go to church more, and churchgoers cheat less.

Last year, Bradley Wright looked at adultery by political orientation on this blog. He didn’t conduct multivariate analysis in an attempt to understand why Democrats cheat more, but nevertheless shed some light on the topic: the political gap in adultery is driven by the 31% of party affiliates who consider themselves “strong” Democrats. It’s not impossible that some of these Democrats might have different ideas about sex than other Americans. This speculation is abetted by the broad General Social Survey measure of extramarital sex: “Have you ever had sex with someone other than your husband or wife while you were married?” Although this probably means adultery the vast majority of the time, the wording doesn’t rule out polyamory or other forms of consensual nonmonogamy.

No authoritative estimate of nonmonogamous relationships in the United States exists. On the basis of extrapolation, one researcher estimated a consensually nonmonogamous population of 9.8 million. Based on my decades as an American family scholar, I’m inclined to view that figure as a ceiling. Even if it’s several times too high, it still implies that a small but noteworthy percentage of Americans would be producing what amounts to falsely positive results if the GSS is presumed to be measuring adultery per se.

Could this be contributing to the propensity for higher rates of extramarital sex among strongly partisan Democrats? I have no way of knowing with these data, but it’s certainly possible. But it’s not the whole story. In the unlikely event there really are almost 10 million polyamorous Americans, it’s still not enough to explain the partisan gap in extramarital sex (indeed, presumably some polyamorists are Republicans). Finally, I shouldn’t overlook the most basic explanation: Republicans might be simply more inclined to lie about adultery than Democrats. More insight here could be gained from a survey that asked both spouses about their politics and their sexual behavior.

Very few of us would deny that sex is important in myriad ways. It’s a noteworthy component of satisfaction in romantic relationships. To this end, this blog post is an incremental contribution to the scientific literature on relationship satisfaction. It also speaks to our understanding of partisan differences in our politically riven country. To this end, the actual findings here—particularly more independent sex and less Republican cheating—say less about sex in and of itself than about considerably more amorphous differences between Red and Blue America.

Nicholas H. Wolfinger is Professor of Family and Consumer Studies and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the University of Utah. His most recent book is Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love, and Marriage among African Americans and Latinos, coauthored with W. Bradford Wilcox (Oxford University Press, 2016). Follow him on Twitter at @NickWolfinger.


Notes: Results expressed as odds ratios. Data are weighted to make sample nationally representative.
Standard errors adjust for clustering and other design effects. Source: General Social Survey, 1989-2016; N = 28,768


Notes: Results expressed as odds ratios. Data are weighted to make sample nationally representative.
Standard errors adjust for clustering and other design effects. Source: General Social Survey, 1991-2016. N = 19,605.

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Mon, 19 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Friday Five 183 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-183 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-183 by The Editors

What the Research Says About Dad and How One BYU Researcher Dad Tries to Live Up to It
Lois Collins, Deseret News

Are Commuter Marriages Healthy?
Anna Medaris Miller, U.S. News & World Report

Progress in Women's Well-Being Stalled in Recent Generations
Population Reference Bureau

Elder Care is a Looming Crisis: Hawaii is Facing it Headon
Christina Cauterucci, Slate

6 Facts About American Fathers
Kim Parker & Gretchen Livingston, Pew Research Center

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Fri, 16 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Daughters, Father Loss, and Longing: An Interview with Regina R. Robertson https://ifstudies.org/blog/daughters-father-loss-and-longing-an-interview-with-regina-r-robertson https://ifstudies.org/blog/daughters-father-loss-and-longing-an-interview-with-regina-r-robertson by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

For Regina R. Robertson, the journey to publishing her new book, He Never Came Home: Interviews, Stories, and Essays from Daughters on Life Without Their Fathers (out this week from Agate Publishing), began 15 years ago, early in her journalism career, when the features editor of Honey magazine advised her to “write what you know.” Regina, who is now the West Coast editor of Essence magazine, had grown up without her father, so she decided to write about that. Instead of focusing on her own story, though, she interviewed three fatherless women, which resulted in her first national story, “Where’s Daddy?” being published. But after the article ran, she began hearing from several female friends and colleagues who wanted to know why she had not interviewed them about their experiences with father loss.

“That was the first time I realized that there were many more women out there who had stories to tell,” Regina says. That realization eventually led to He Never Came Home, a collection of 22 essays and interviews from women of different ages, races, religions, and social classes who share one thing in common: they lost their fathers to abandonment, divorce, or death.1

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Regina about the book, her hopes for it, and what she learned about fathers and daughters from the women who were brave enough to share their stories of father loss, longing, and healing. 

Alysse ElHage: What’s striking about your book is how women from a variety of backgrounds experienced the absence or loss of their fathers in similar ways. What were some of the similar themes you heard from the women who contributed to the book?

Regina Robertson: One of my primary goals with creating this anthology was to include women from all walks of life. Writing and editing the stories showed me how similar so many of us are, no matter where we grew up, the name of our God, or our financial standing.

For a few women, the question of their worth came into play when trying to understand why their father wasn’t present or didn’t show up when he promised. For the daughters of divorced parents, there seemed to be such a longing for life to return to what it once was, especially after being told by one, or both, parents that things wouldn’t change so much. And for the daughters whose fathers have died, there was a sense of sadness, of course, as well as questions about what might have been.

Our experiences shape who we are, and although each contributor’s circumstance is different, every woman featured in the book is dealing with issues of loss. That was the main thread.

Alysse ElHage: When the book arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago, the story I was most looking forward to reading was yours. You previously shared with me the details about never knowing your father and then learning about his death, and how that made you feel. Share with us a little bit of your story—how difficult was it for you to write about your own loss in the book?

Regina Robertson: At times, it seems so odd to say that I never met my father, but that’s the truth. That is a fact of my life. As an adult, I know that’s not normal, though. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

I wrote the first draft about seven years ago and spent quite a bit of time editing, tweaking, and over-thinking it. Along with including that first draft in my book proposal (which was rejected several times, of course!), I tried submitting it to a few women’s magazines in the hopes of gaining some interest. Some magazine editors didn’t respond at all. Others wanted me to rework the piece, yet again. But there was one editor who replied, “This is an interesting, moving essay—and, I know, a difficult one to write.” While my essay never ran in a magazine, getting that feedback let me know that I was on to something.

Once I signed the book deal, I figured I’d just “punch up” my story when I was done with the rest. During the process, I learned that my father died, and while I know it might be hard to believe, I didn’t have much of a reaction. Because I didn’t know him, it was like hearing that a stranger had died. It still feels that way.

So, my essay went from needing to be “punched up,” to needing to be reworked to include his death. Also, because I asked my contributors to be honest—whether they wrote their own stories or if I did the interviewing, writing, and editing—I knew that I had to be honest, too. So, I just spoke my truth.

At times, it seems so odd to say that I never met my father, but...that is a fact of my life. As an adult, I know that’s not normal, though. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. 

Alysse ElHage: You’ve described He Never Came Home as a book that's about more than just the sadness of father loss but also about healing. Give us some examples of how the women featured in the book overcame father loss and started on the path to healing?

Regina Robertson: There is some sadness on the pages of the book, but there’s also a lot of hope and triumph. For many of the contributors, there seems to have been a moment of awakening—a moment when each woman made a conscious choice to accept the past and move forward with life. For some of the women, prayer has been the balm. For others, therapy has been helpful. Overall, I’d say that time has served (or is still serving) everyone well. Time is essential to the healing process.

Alysse ElHage: As you worked on this book, what did you learn about the importance of fathers in the lives of girls that perhaps you were not aware of before?

Regina Robertson: Speaking with the women whose fathers are deceased was quite eye-opening. From them, I learned what it meant for the first man in a girl’s life to not only love and cherish her but also have dreams for her. Because that was not my experience, I was especially moved by many of those stories.

Many of those women had such vivid memories of their fathers—from the smell of his cologne, the jewelry he wore, or even the fact that he was the world’s best tickler. And although they’re still grappling with grief, they also carry so much of the hope and love bestowed upon them by their fathers. It was amazing to hear about how much they loved their dads and all of the beautiful reasons why.

Alysse ElHage: Who do you hope will read He Never Came Home—who is your target audience?

Initially, I wanted to write the book that I wished I’d had as a teenager. My plan was to focus on women who were abandoned by their fathers, but over time, that idea expanded to include women who’d lost their fathers via divorce and death. Overall, I wanted the book to follow the journey of the fatherless woman, no matter the reason for his absence.

Having the conversation about a parent who is not present isn’t the easiest conversation to have. Perhaps these stories can also offer single mothers a peek into the thoughts and feelings that their daughters might be experiencing. I’d be honored if the book served at the first step toward getting that conversation started.

Alysse ElHage: I think it’s also a great book for fathers—especially divorced or unmarried dads who often have to navigate a number of obstacles to stay involved in their kids' lives, and who may wonder, at times, whether all the extra effort is worth it. 

Regina Robertson: Honestly, I’ve been very surprised by the reactions I’ve heard from men—some of whom are fathers, others are not. I spoke with one man who said that reading the stories made him want to be a better man. I’ve also been told that the book will make men aware of the ways in which their absences and actions affect their daughters in the long run.

I think the book is important for dads because the stories shed light on how necessary their presence is. As actress Regina King stated so eloquently in her essay, “Redefining Family: "A lot of people think that girls need their mothers and boys need their fathers, but kids need both of their parents. Girls need their dads in their lives for so many reasons. There are certain things about life and relationships that only a father can teach his daughter."


1. I had the honor of contributing an essay to He Never Came Home.

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Thu, 15 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Marriage, Parenthood, and Millennial Success https://ifstudies.org/blog/marriage-parenthood-and-millennial-success https://ifstudies.org/blog/marriage-parenthood-and-millennial-success by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

Millennials are taking longer than previous generations to reach two traditional milestones of adulthood: marriage and parenthood. Not only are young adults delaying marriage longer, but they are more likely to cohabit and have children outside of marriage, often in cohabiting unions. And as Pew reported a few years ago, Millennials are less likely than older generations to connect marriage to parenthood, particularly when it comes to child well-being.

But how does the order of marriage and parenthood in Millennials’ lives—or whether young adults marry before having children or have children before marriage—affect their future financial success? A new report released today by the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) tackles that question and finds that Millennials who pursue a sequence of steps that include putting marriage before parenthood are more likely to be on track to achieving the American Dream.

The report, The Millennial Success Sequence: Marriage, Kids, and the “Success Sequence” among Young Adults, was authored by IFS research director Wendy Wang and IFS senior fellow W. Bradford Wilcox. They analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics panel data on young adults born between 1980 and 1984. They found that Millennials who follow the “Success Sequence” (earn at least a high school degree, get a job, and marry before having children—in that order) are significantly more likely to avoid poverty and be on a path to financial success than those who do not. In fact, the overwhelming majority (97%) of Millennials who follow the “success sequence” are not poor by the time they reach ages 28-34.

As the figure below indicates, 86% of Millennials who either followed all three steps, or are “on track” to do so, are in the middle or top income groups in their prime adult years (ages 28-34). However, only 29% of young adults who missed all three steps are in the middle or higher-income groups. (In the study, “on track” is defined as “those who have no children and are unmarried by ages 28-34, but have followed the education and work steps.”)

That education and hard work are linked to better financial outcomes in adulthood is perhaps a no-brainer for most of us, but in a society with increasing cohabitation and unmarried parenthood, the link between marriage and financial well-being is not quite as clear. It’s a particularly hard sell for young adults, who, as noted earlier, are more likely to cohabit and have children before or outside of marriage.

Indeed, the report finds that 55% of Millennial parents had their first child outside of marriage—more than double the share of Baby Boomers when they were young adults. Although 25% of these Millennial parents married after the baby was born, 30% did not.

But getting married before having children is as essential to young adults’ future financial success as following the education and work steps, according to Wilcox and Wang, who note: “Millennials’ economic fortunes differ depending on which comes first in their lives: marriage or parenthood.”

They found that Millennials who marry before having children are twice as likely to be in the middle or upper-income groups as those who have children outside of marriage, even after controlling for factors like race/ethnicity, education, and family income growing up.

The figure below shows that 36% of "marriage-first" Millennials are in the middle-income bracket when they reach adulthood, and 50% are in the top third. But almost half of young adults who had a baby before or outside of marriage are in the bottom third of the income distribution.

The strong link between economic success and married parenthood holds for Millennials from all racial/ethnic and family income backgrounds—especially non-white adults. As the report explains:

Among black young adults, those who married before having children are almost twice as likely as those who had a baby first to be in the middle or upper-income groups (76% vs. 39%). In contrast, white Millennials who followed the ‘marriage first’ sequence are about 1.5 times more likely to achieve financial success as their counterparts who had a baby first (87% vs. 60%).

Having a baby within marriage is also a key to avoiding poverty (see figure below). In fact, the report notes that getting married before having a first child reduces the odds that young adults will be in poverty by a striking 60% (compared to having a baby first).

 

So, what is it about marriage that helps boost the odds of financial success for young adults? According to Wilcox and Wang, “Stable marriage seems to foster economies of scale, income pooling, and greater work effort from men, and to protect adults from the costs of multiple partner fertility and family instability.”

They conclude the report with several policy recommendations aimed at making the “three pillars of the American Dream” (education, work, and marriage) more “attractive” and accessible to young people, especially those from lower-income families. Importantly, this includes the development of public and private social marketing campaigns promoting marriage and the "success sequence" to youth.

Such a campaign seems to be particularly timely, considering Millennials' desire for more direction on how to form healthy relationships. As we reported last week, a recent Harvard survey found that 70% of young adults wish they had received more information and guidance about finding lasting love from their parents (presumably this would include marriage). A strong and consistent message on how following the “success sequence,” including delaying parenthood until marriage, is linked to their economic well-being just might be a message that young adults are ready to hear. And given the myriad of benefits of married parenthood for adults, children, and society that extend beyond financial success—including success in school and greater family stability—it is certainly a message Millennials and younger generations need to hear.

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Wed, 14 Jun 2017 07:40:00 -0400
Young Women Who Prioritize Family Over Career Deserve Respect https://ifstudies.org/blog/young-women-who-prioritize-family-over-career-deserve-respect https://ifstudies.org/blog/young-women-who-prioritize-family-over-career-deserve-respect by Nora Sullivan

In a recent study, economists Leonardo Bursztyn, Thomas Fujiwara, and Amanda Pallais posed an interesting question: “Do single women avoid career-enhancing actions because the actions signal undesirable traits, like ambition, to the marriage market?”

The researchers were interested in examining how ambitious young women deal with the “trade-off” of career and marriage: the trade-off being that certain actions and traits could be an asset to a woman’s career and help her towards professional success, while at the same time could potentially hurt her chances in the marriage market.

There is some evidence to support this position. A 2006 study involving speed dating found that most men preferred women who were less professionally ambitious than they were. Additionally, other studies suggest that men are more likely to avoid relationships with women who have achieved higher education levels than themselves or women with a higher position in the workplace. Conversely, another recent study found that higher-educated women still prefer to marry men who make more money than they do.

Bursztyn, Fujiwara, and Pallais conducted their investigation at an unnamed “elite U.S. MBA program.” This setting was ideal because, as the authors point out, many young people in graduate school are not only working towards professional success but are also at the point in life where they’re seeking a future spouse.

The first part of the experiment looked at how single women expressed their ambition when they were in full view of their classmates, including single men. Questionnaires were passed out to the students, asking questions regarding desired compensation, the number of hours they were willing to work, and about their willingness to travel. Students were also asked to rate their leadership abilities and professional ambition. In one group, the students were told that these answers would be seen only by the career services department, while the other group was told that they would be discussing their answers in class. Students were told that this information would be used in placing them in important summer internships.

The results were compelling. When the single female students believed that their answers would only be viewed by a career counselor, they responded similarly to the married women in the program. However, when they thought their answers would be discussed in class, single women’s answers were markedly different. According to the authors:

They lowered their desired yearly compensation from $131,000 to $113,000, on average, and reduced their willingness to travel from 14 days per month to 7 days. They also reported wanting to work four fewer hours per week. Finally, they reported significantly lower levels of professional ambition and tendency to lead.

The second part of the experiment asked students to make choices about hypothetical jobs and choose which job they would prefer. Students were told that they would discuss their answers in groups of their peers—some groups were entirely female and some included men and women.

When placed in all female groups, 68% of the single female students reported that they would prefer a job that paid a higher salary and required 55–60 hours of work per week to a position that required a lower salary and fewer hours. However, when placed in a mixed group, only 42% of the single women chose the higher-earning option.

From these findings, the researchers drew the expected conclusions. “Single women are changing their answers because they think it’s going to hurt them in the marriage market,” said study co-author Amanda Pallais, Professor of Political Economy and Social Studies at Harvard. “They’re worried that their actions are sending a signal about their marriageability… Because they’re interested potentially in dating these men, they would not want to send that signal of ambition or assertiveness.”

The authors describe this behavior as “acting wife”—acting less ambitious to appear better suited for a marriage relationship. They imply that the choices these single female students made need to be corrected in some way.

While there are several interesting aspects to this study worth delving into, the media coverage seems to have extrapolated only one talking point. Essentially, as one Slate article put it, “men still aren’t comfortable with ambitious women” (and women know that), and (as another article argued) this is an issue of inequality between the sexes.

However, I’ve heard little discussion about another point that is, perhaps, equally worthy of consideration. There is almost no recognition of the possibility that these young women—and many other professional women throughout society—may prioritize marriage and family life over their careers.

This is perhaps incomprehensible in a society that glorifies career success, while frequently dismissing women who choose to stay at home with their children. For example, a recent New York Times article on the gender pay gap expressed incredulity that marriage and children are parts of life that might impact some women’s career choices.

But this seems to ignore the fact that for most women—whether they are “elite” MBA grads or not—a career is a part of life but not all of it. Consider a 2013 Pew Research report that found that the majority (76%) of married mothers would prefer to work either part-time or not at all. Additionally, 42% of employed mothers said they would prefer to be home but need the income, and 10% of highly-educated mothers (those with Masters degrees or higher) chose to stay home with their children.

As Professor Steven E. Rhoads recently explained on this blog: "To help women thrive and achieve happiness as they see it, we must first acknowledge that most mothers—inside or outside academia—want to avoid full-time work, at least while their children are young… "

Marriage and family are components of human life generally treasured above material success, and pursuing these things with ambition and drive does not seem to merit condescension, scorn, or the flippant claim of “acting wife.” The single young women in this recent study were intelligent and ambitious, and probably more likely to take advantage of a singular opportunity to attain an important life goal. If that goal is marriage, then it should be respected as entirely valid.

Nora Sullivan is a freelance writer and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

 

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Tue, 13 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Honoring a Stepfather https://ifstudies.org/blog/honoring-a-stepfather https://ifstudies.org/blog/honoring-a-stepfather by Amy Ziettlow (@RevAmyZ) and Naomi Cahn (@NaomiCahn)

In 1910, the first Father’s Day was celebrated. Today, more than 40% of Americans have at least one step-relative in their family. This new normal in modern families means that many children will send more than one card this Sunday to celebrate the father and stepfather in their lives.

Fatherhood is challenging enough, but a stepfather faces unique challenges. He may not have a life-long history of shared experiences and shared values with his stepchildren, so he needs to make extra effort to create a positive relationship. Although parents generally feel more responsible for their own children than for their stepchildren, and stepchildren feel less responsible for their stepparents than their own parents, many stepfathers and stepchildren have figured out how to reinforce their responsibilities to one another.

In our research on blended families, elder care, and loss, we observed critical ways that stepparents step in, step up, and step alongside their stepchildren that led to working together gracefully as a blended family for many years. The key element to this choreography was that the stepparent took the lead.

Stepping In

Stepfathers who step in to connect to their stepchildren, whatever their age, develop a lifelong relationship, even if the marriage eventually dissolves. Sociologists, such as Vern Bengtson, stress that the key to establishing strong, life-long bonds between generations is “warmth.”

When a father acts in warm and nurturing ways toward his children, the likelihood of on-going, life long relationship is high. This finding may seem like a no-brainer, but putting it into practice can be challenging, especially for a stepfather who may not receive a warm reception from his stepchildren.

Destiny, a manager at a Baton Rouge fast food restaurant, came to our interviews to talk about her ex-stepfather, Albert. When she was a child, he would walk her and her brothers to and from school because they did not live in a safe neighborhood. When she played softball, he rearranged his work schedule to watch her play and escort her home safely. The care he showed her in childhood was returned years later when he became terminally ill. She adjusted her work schedule to spend time with him in the hospital during his final days, even though he and her mother had been divorced for many years. Albert had stepped in for her as a child, so she stepped in for him at the end of his life.

Stepping Up

In times of family crisis, a stepparent can be a critical source of support. Jeremy’s mother had issues with substance abuse, which led to her divorce from Paul, his stepfather. His mother’s addiction ultimately led to an overdose and her death. As he sat in shock, waiting for the coroner to arrive at her apartment, Jeremy called his stepfather, Paul, who came right away. Paul helped Jeremy plan his mother’s funeral, sitting next to him during the service, and even helped Jeremy settle her estate. Paul had no legal obligation to step up and help his ex-stepson, but when Jeremy cried out for help, Paul answered.

Stepping Alongside

Dancing gracefully as a blended family requires stepparents who invite a stepchild to walk alongside them, especially when a crisis happens. For those stepfamilies in our research that cared together gracefully, the stepparent took the lead in including the stepchild in caregiving and burial decisions.

Phillip’s parents divorced when he was in elementary school, and his father quickly remarried Cheryl. Decades later, when Phillip’s father was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and his cognitive abilities began to fail, Phillip worried that Cheryl might exclude him from making decisions about his father’s treatment. Cheryl assured him that she would keep him in the loop through text, email, and phone calls. They stood side-by-side in the ER after his father’s death. Cheryl deferred to Phillip in choosing a casket. She invited him to sit next to her during the funeral. The two remained family a year following his father’s death because of their shared experience.

Stepfathers may have to work hard to dance gracefully as a blended family, but when they do, their stepchildren express gratitude. It’s these types of stepfathers who truly deserve those cards.

Rev. Amy Ziettlow is a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is the former COO of The Hospice of Baton Rouge and Naomi Cahn is a Law Professor at George Washington University. They are the authors of Homeward Bound: Modern Families, Elder Care & Loss (Oxford, 2017).

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Mon, 12 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Friday Five 182 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-182 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-182 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

The Global Culture Each Child Needs
Patrick F. Fagan, Mercatornet

The Socio-economic Determinants of Repartnering After Divorce or Separation in Belgium
Inge Pasteels and Dimitri Mortelmans, Demographic Research

Tax Reform for Working-Class Families
Josh McCabe, National Review

​​​Non-cohabiting Relationships Mainly a Transitional Situation in France
Arnaud Regnier-Loilier, NIUSSP

Among U.S. Cohabitors, 18% Have a Partner of a Different Race or Ethnicity
Gretchen Livingston, Pew Research Center

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Fri, 09 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
What Happens at Home Doesn’t Stay There: It Goes to School https://ifstudies.org/blog/what-happens-at-home-doesnt-stay-there-it-goes-to-school https://ifstudies.org/blog/what-happens-at-home-doesnt-stay-there-it-goes-to-school by Nicholas Zill and W. Bradford Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP)

As of 2016, less than 65% of the 50 million school-aged children in the United States were living in households with two married parents.1 As shown in Figure 1, more than 12 million—24%—were living with their mothers only as a result of birth outside of marriage (10%), parental divorce (9%), or separation (5%). Moreover, 2.2 million (4.5%) were living with their fathers only for similar reasons. Another 2 million (4%) were living with neither birth parent, but with other relatives or in a foster family. And 1.3 million (2.6%) were living with two parents who had not (yet) married. How does the fact that so many students today come from non-intact or unmarried families affect their progression through school?

Students from unconventional family forms pose a challenge to teachers and school administrators who are striving to give all students the same opportunities to succeed. Single parents are often less able to devote as much time, attention, financial support, and consistent discipline to their children as married couples.2 Marital disruption is often accompanied by conflict, turmoil, and parental anger or depression. Parent education and family income levels are typically lower in single-parent and step-families than in married two-parent families, and poverty rates are higher.3 Furthermore, the racial and ethnic identities of students from non-traditional families are more likely to be African-American or Hispanic-American, whereas those of students from married two-parent families are more likely to be European-American or Asian-American.4 So, long-standing ethnic gaps in achievement, concerns about unequal opportunity, and racial sensitivities come into play as well.

Children’s conduct and performance in school are profoundly affected by the emotional support, intellectual stimulation, guidance, and discipline they receive at home. And they are more likely to get the attention, affection, and direction they need to thrive in school when they come from an intact, married family. A long line of studies, beginning with the 1966 Coleman Report, have shown this to be the case.5 More recently, our own analysis of trends in Arizona and Florida indicates that school districts tend to be more successful and safer when more of their families are headed by married parents.6 In this research brief, we examine data from a recent federal survey to explore the influence of family structure and family functioning on student achievement.

Data and Methods

The survey in question was the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, a nationwide telephone survey of parents of some 96,000 children—61,000 of whom were of elementary and secondary school ages (6-17 years old).7 Three indicators of academic progress and classroom conduct were measured in the study:

  • whether the parent had been contacted by the child’s school due to learning or behavior problems the child was experiencing at school;
  • whether the child had repeated one or more grades; and,
  • whether the child seemed positively engaged in his or her schoolwork by “caring about doing well in school” and “doing all required homework” “always” (as opposed to “usually,” “sometimes,” “rarely,” or “never”).8

We analyzed the extent to which each of these school performance indicators was associated with the type of family in which the child lived, dividing families into six types depending on whether the child lived with:

  • two married parents;
  • two parents who were cohabiting;
  • a biological parent and a stepparent;
  • single mothers who were separated or divorced;
  • single mothers who had never married; or,
  • single biological fathers, other relatives, or foster families.9

We also examined how the school performance indicators were associated with the:

  • education level of the child’s parents;
  • family income and poverty status;
  • child’s race and ethnicity;
  • child’s age in years; and,
  • child’s sex.

We carried out multiple logistic regression analyses to adjust the relationship between each of the independent variables and the dependent variable for its association with the other predictors. We repeated these analyses with the national sample for each of the school performance indicators.10

Children Who Live with Married Parents Do Better in School

Our analyses showed that schoolchildren who live with both married parents do better on each of the three educational progress indicators. Family income and parent education were significantly associated with student performance as well, but children from married-couple families do better even after controlling for socioeconomic and demographic correlates of family structure. Here are our findings for each of the indicators in turn:

Parents contacted by school

Nearly a third of U.S. parents of students ages 6-17 reported that they had been contacted by the child’s school at least once due to conduct or learning problems that their child was exhibiting in class. School contact is an indicator of student maladjustment and often foreshadows more serious disciplinary issues or learning failures to come. It may also be an indication that the student’s behavior is interfering with an orderly classroom environment, thus reducing other students’ opportunities to learn.

Forty-five percent of students living with never-married mothers had their parents contacted by their schools, compared with one-quarter of children living in married, two-parent families.11 Rates of school contact were also significantly higher among students living with separated or divorced mothers (40%), among those living in stepfamilies (37%), and among those living with unmarried fathers or other relatives or in foster families (42%). Even students living with cohabiting parents (i.e., unmarried biological parents) had higher rates of school contact (38%). The differences among single-parent and stepparent family types were not statistically significant, except that students in stepfamilies had significantly lower rates of school contact than did students living with never-married mothers.

After taking demographic and socioeconomic disparities into account, differences in school contact rates between students in intact families and those in unmarried, disrupted, or reconstituted families were reduced in magnitude but remained substantial (see Figure 2). The odds of school contact were between 1½ and 1¾ times higher in unmarried, disrupted, and reconstituted families than in married birth-parent families. The differences in school contact rates among the various forms of non-traditional families were not statistically significant, after adjusting for child age, sex, and race, and parent education, income, and poverty status.

Grade repetition

Being held back a grade in school is not only an indicator of current learning difficulties, it is also an early warning sign for later non-achievement and for dropping out of school. Among all U.S. elementary and secondary school pupils, 9% had to repeat one or more grades in school. The proportion of students who had repeated a grade was nearly four times higher among students from never-married families as among those growing up in intact, married two-parent families: 19% versus 5%. It was twice as high among students from formerly-married families, such as those living with separated or divorced mothers (12%), or in stepfamilies (13%). Children living with single fathers, other relatives, or in foster care were three times more likely to have repeated a grade (15%). Even children living with cohabiting biological parents had an elevated rate of grade repetition (10%). All of these differences were statistically significant.

Grade repetition differences were reduced somewhat when the figures were adjusted for demographic and socioeconomic disparities across family types, as shown in Figure 3. However, compared to students in intact married families, the adjusted odds of having to repeat a grade were still more than twice as high among students living with never- married mothers, in stepfamilies, and with fathers or other relatives. The adjusted odds were 1½ times higher among students living with separated or divorced mothers, and nearly as high among those with cohabiting parents. All these elevated odds ratios were statistically significant, except for cohabiting families, where it was only marginally significant.

Consistent engagement in schoolwork

One of the key indications that a student is on a path to success in school is showing interest and engagement in schoolwork. Based on their analysis of several longitudinal studies, economist Greg Duncan and his colleagues found that a positive approach to learning activities in the early grades was one of the best predictors of future academic achievement as well as of later occupational advancement and earnings.12 School engagement was measured in the National Survey of Children’s Health by asking parents how often in the past month the student “cares about doing well in school” and how often he or she “does all required homework.” Only about half of all American schoolchildren (52%) “always” both cared about doing well in school and completed all required homework.

Among students living with both married parents, a 55% majority displayed consistent engagement in schoolwork. A majority of students living with cohabiting parents were also reported to be consistently engaged in schoolwork. Less than half of those living with separated or divorced mothers, in stepfamilies, or with other relatives showed similar engagement with their studies. These differences were statistically significant. Students living with never-married mothers were not statistically different from students in intact families in this regard.

After adjusting for demographic and socioeconomic differences across family types, students from married two-parent families showed more engagement than students from other family types, as shown in Figure 4. The odds of consistent engagement were from 65% to 71% lower among students living with never-married or formerly married mothers, in stepfamilies, or with other relatives. Students with cohabiting parents were not significantly different from those with married biological parents. Differences in schoolwork engagement among the various forms of non-traditional families were not statistically significant.

Student performance cannot be understood apart from the family.

Student success is predicated on staying out of trouble in school and on remaining meaningfully engaged in class and with homework. Our analysis of the National Survey of Children’s Health indicates that children from intact married families are more likely to avoid detours that can derail their educational performance and to be successful students, compared to children from unmarried or non-intact families. Specifically, children from unmarried or disrupted families are more than 1½ times more likely to have their parents contacted by their school for problem behavior, about twice as likely to be held back in school, and only two-thirds as likely to be engaged in class and with their homework, compared to children from intact married families—even after controlling for a range of sociodemographic factors. We also find that poverty and low parent educational attainment are associated with higher rates of schools contacting families and with a student being held back in school. Taken together, our results indicate that student outcomes across the U.S. are strongly associated with three important family factors: family poverty, parent educational attainment, and family structure.

In general, then, our results suggest that student performance cannot be understood apart from what’s happening in American families. Families struggling with material want, conflict, or instability appear to be less able to give children the resources, consistent attention and affection, and stability they need to avoid trouble and to thrive in school. Thus, policymakers, educators, business executives, and philanthropic leaders seeking to improve the educational fortunes of children must not lose sight of the ways in which strong families are seedbeds of educational success. To improve education, we also need to enhance the material and marital fortunes of American families. Policymakers, educators, and civic leaders should consider measures—such as a refundable child tax credit, a social marketing campaign on behalf of marriage, and a family life curriculum that explains the importance of marriage to schoolchildren—to strengthen and stabilize American families.

Nicholas Zill is a research psychologist and a senior fellow of the Institute for Family Studies. He directed the National Survey of Children, a longitudinal study that produced widely cited findings on children’s life experiences and adjustment following parental divorce. W. Bradford Wilcox is a senior fellow of The Institute for Family Studies and the Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. 


1. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey. (2016). Table C3: Living arrangements of children under 18 years. (Authors’ analysis of data in table.) Figure cited includes children living with married adoptive and stepparents.

2. Paul Amato, “The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Well-Being of the Next Generation,” Future of Children 15, no. 2 (2005): 75-96; Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1994); Nicholas Zill, “Family Change and Student Achievement: What We Have Learned, What It Means for Schools,” in Family-School Links: How Do They Affect Educational Outcomes?, ed. Alan Booth and Judith F. Dunn (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1996).

3. For example, in 2016, the proportions of U.S. children with college-graduate parents were 53% in married-couple families, 31% in divorced-mother families, 17% in separated-mother families, and 10% in never-married mother families. The proportions of children living below the poverty line were 10% in married-couple families, 28% in divorced-mother families, 46% in separated-mother families, and 47% in never-married mother families. These figures are from the Current Population Survey Annual Supplement, Table C3, cited in Note 1, and are based on all children under 18 years of age.

4. For example, in 2016, children in married-couple families were 59% non-Hispanic white, 23% Hispanic, 8 percent black, and 7% Asian. By contrast, children living with never-married single mothers were 22% non-Hispanic white, 28% Hispanic, 46% black, and less than one percent Asian. These figures are from the Current Population Survey Annual Supplement, Table C3, cited in Note 1, and are based on all children under 18 years of age.

5. James Coleman, et al., Equality of Educational Opportunity (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966); Anna J. Egalite, “How Family Background Influences Student Achievement, EducationNext 16, no. 2 (2016): 71-78; Ariel Kalil, Rebecca Ryan, and Michael Corey, “Diverging Destinies: Maternal Education and the Developmental Gradient in Time With Children,”Demography 49, no. 4 (2012): 1361-1383; Barbara Schneider and James Coleman (eds.), Parents, Their Children, and Schools (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996).

6. W. Bradford Wilcox and Nicholas Zill, Stronger Families, Better Schools: Families and High School Graduation Across Arizona (Charlottesville, VA: Institute for Family Studies, 2016), and Wilcox and Zill, Strong Families, Successful Schools: High School Graduation and School Discipline in the Sunshine State (Charlottesville, VA: Institute for Family Studies, 2016). 

7. 2011/12 National Survey of Children’s Health, Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative (CAHMI), “Child Health Indicator and Subgroups SAS Codebook, Version 1.0,” 2013, Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health, sponsored by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, www.childhealthdata.org; National Center for Health Statistics, “Design and operation of the National Survey of Children’s Health, 2011-2012.” 

8. National Survey of Children’s Health, 2011-2012: Questionnaire (CDC/National Center for Health Statistics, 2014), http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/slaits/nsch.htm.

9. Adopted children who lived with two married adoptive parents were included in the “two married parents” group in this analysis. An earlier study examined the school adjustment of students adopted from foster care and compared it with that of students who remained in foster care, using the same data set. See: Zill, N. & Bramlett, M.D. (2014). Health and well-being of children adopted from foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 40: 29-40.

10. For more details, see: Nicholas Zill & W. Bradford Wilcox, Strong Families, Successful Students (Charlottesville, VA: Institute for Family Studies, 2016).

11. Percentages cited in the text are observed relative frequencies for students in different types of families. Percentages shown in graphs are adjusted for demographic and socioeconomic disparities among family types

12. Greg Duncan, et al.,“School Readiness and Later Achievement,” Developmental Psychology, 43 (2007): 1428–1446.

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Thu, 08 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Millennials Are Looking for Parental Guidance on Love https://ifstudies.org/blog/millennials-are-looking-for-parental-guidance-on-love https://ifstudies.org/blog/millennials-are-looking-for-parental-guidance-on-love by Kat Talalas (@KatTalalas)

A new Harvard study about the dating habits of young adults, ages 18-25, reveals that most Millennials are looking for guidance on how to form loving relationships. The survey, which included over 2,000 young adults, found that about 70% of Millennials described wishing they had received more information from their parents about finding and keeping love.

Yet older generations "are failing ... miserably to prepare young people for romantic love, probably the most important thing they will do in life," according to study author Richard Weissbourd. As one 27-year-old respondent in the study said: “there’s this idea that somehow you develop a relationship naturally. But it doesn’t happen naturally. It’s incredibly hard.”

Millennials Need More Help Than Other Generations

In her book Generation Me, author Jean Twenge reiterates that more than any other generation, Millennials “spend their 20s (and sometimes 30s) in pointless dating, uncertain relationships, and painful breakups.” Even worse, this “cycle of meeting someone, falling in love, and breaking up is a formula for anxiety and depression.”

Parents and educators might misunderstand the severity with which romantic confusion affects Millennials. But “although previous generations also went through these relationship ups and downs, they did so for a much shorter time,” Twenge notes.

Much changed during the decades when Millennials were growing up. Marriage is no longer seen as an economic or social necessity, especially for women—who are more educated and more prevalent in the workforce than before. Moreover, 24% of Millennials experienced their parents’ divorce or were raised in single-parent homes. The widespread availability of birth control, including long-acting contraceptives and the morning-after pill, has heightened expectations for casual sex-without-strings. Media has become more sexually aggressive, and pornography more widely available. Relationships have been complicated by technology, including the pressures of social media and the illusion of constant contact.

All of these shifts create a relationship landscape that is confusing—with competing interests and expectations, and the lack of a recognizable pattern for relationships or even life progression. Unlike earlier generations, who learned from clearer relationship scripts, the lack of social norms about how to find a partner add to the sense of romantic bewilderment felt by Millennials. Only 8% of 18-25-year-olds surveyed report having ever casually dated. Although most Millennials desire marriage, they are marrying later, if at all. This later and less trend is at least in part caused by the uncertainty Millennials have about how to get to the loving, stable relationships suited for marriage.

Millennials’ difficulty in finding committed love—along with the pervasive view that “hookup culture” is the norm—may be related to the significantly lower levels of trust that young adults have compared to previous generations. A 2014 Pew survey found that just 19% of Millennials say most people can be trusted, compared with 31% of Gen Xers, 37% of Silents and 40% of Boomers.

Older Adults Can Help

Unlike their characterization as self-seekers looking to “hook up,” Millennials genuinely desire long-term partnership. But to get there, young adults need both guidance and confidence from their parents. The majority of Millennials in the Harvard study who described wanting their parents’ help sought insight about “how to avoid getting hurt in a relationship,” “how to have a more mature relationship,” “how to deal with breakups,” and “how to begin a relationship.” This is advice that any caring parent, or trusted adult, can provide.

What about parents of Millennials who have divorced, or are in a troubled marriage, and feel unable to offer their wisdom? The study suggests that even parents who have experienced relationship failures can and should give “insight into the ingredients of healthy relationships” if they have learned from their experiences.

And other older adults can also step in to fill the gap. The Harvard study found that 65% of young adults wished they had received guidance “on some emotional aspect of romantic relationships” from a health or sex-ed class at school, indicating their openness to hearing from other elders.

No matter how this important conversation begins, older generations have a responsibility to guide young people in making their most important and transformative life choices, including how to form healthy romantic relationships. And with Millennials more likely than older generations to still be living at home with their parents, there is still time to have those conversations. Millennials are ripe for the listening.

Kat Talalas is communications director for Women Speak for Themselves, a grassroots organization made up of nearly 70,000 women dedicated to reconnecting sex with marriage and children for the good of all people.

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Wed, 07 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Dorothy Day: A Saint for the Working Class https://ifstudies.org/blog/dorothy-day-a-saint-for-the-working-class https://ifstudies.org/blog/dorothy-day-a-saint-for-the-working-class by Amber Lapp (@AmberDavidLapp)

I’ve felt oddly connected to Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, which is perhaps best known for its houses of hospitality for those on the margins, ever since I discovered an obscure entry in her diary from the year 1944 written during her visit to the small town of Foster, Ohio. Once a thriving place known for its summer island resort and dance hall, today, Foster is unknown except to the small number of people who live riverside in the old cottages and homes. Although I grew up just two miles away, I only recently discovered it, tucked out of sight from the new developments and likely to stay that way because of its location in the floodplain.

But I’m drawn to the place, so whenever I can, I drive the detour, stealing glances to my right at the muddy water and admiring the arcing trees, vibrant green in spring, that make me feel as if I’m driving through a wooded tunnel.

“The world will be saved by beauty,” Dorothy Day liked to say. In her diary, she described reaching Foster and getting off the Greyhound bus “right at the edge of a meadow on the other side of a long bridge…There is the sound of rushing water over a dam and now the river is swollen and turbulent from much rain.” I like to imagine her marvel at the common beauty of Foster—nothing terribly out of the ordinary, and yet when the sun illuminates the tree leaves or the wind sends shivers across the water’s surface, it is enough to take one’s breath away.

“The world will be saved by beauty” is also the subtitle of a recent book about Day, written by her youngest granddaughter, Kate Hennessey. For those looking to better understand Day’s spirituality or the ins and outs of her work, this book may not be the best place to start, but it is a breathtaking and intimate portrait of Day’s young adult life and family relationships, particularly her relationship with her daughter, Tamar. As other reviewers have noted, the book is “cinematic,” and its images “kaleidoscopic.” For me, it had the emotional power of a film. I did not read so much as “see” the book, which seems fitting given Day’s own predilection for the sensory—music, particularly opera; nature especially the sights and sounds of the Staten Island shore where she and Tamar’s father shared a cottage by the sea; a good cup of coffee (“coffee and a radio—it is hard to imagine Dorothy without either one of them,” Henessey writes, describing how during the Depression her grandmother served the men on the line the best quality coffee she could afford, and recalling how Day would drink a cup each morning while reading the Psalms).

But Day’s love of beauty coexisted with, and was perhaps deepened by, a life of suffering—a “long loneliness” as she called it in her autobiography. Day did not like to talk about her pre-conversion life, skimming over it somewhat vaguely even in her autobiography. “Least said, soonest mended,” Hennessey remembers Day saying. This is perhaps the greatest contribution of Hennessey’s book—she brings before us a part of Day’s story that was heretofore only cursory, which, though painful, makes her even more relatable and her conversion all the more incredible.

While reading, I was struck by how true it is that Day is a figure for our times, a saint, perhaps, for the plight of the working class in an America “coming apart.” For what do they suffer that she did not? As a young woman, she sat in a New York City café and held an acquaintance as he died of a heroin overdose. During her early twenties, she wandered through a revolving door of jobs and romantic relationships characterized by ambiguity and lack of commitment. She knew what it was like to live paycheck to paycheck and to move from place to place. She was arrested multiple times, and during the “Night of Terror” was violently attacked by three guards. She loved a man who held a gun to her head in a jealous rage—and yet still loved him despite the abuse, as Hennessey describes so well, “knowing what it means to love a man against all reason and intelligence, loving without blindness but in full knowledge of your madness.” When Day became pregnant, “she walked the streets and peered in the windows of families in their homes. ‘Why couldn’t I too have home, [a] husband and babies?’ she wondered.”

But instead, she got an abortion, which left her with both physical and emotional complications. She made two suicide attempts, married another man “on the rebound” and for his money, but then left him. She lived with another man, Forster Batterham, whom she loved deeply, gave birth to their daughter, and after a few years of back and forth, raised her as a single mother.

In short, if Day were alive today, she would feel in her bones many of the challenges facing working-class America. Day’s daughter, Tamar, might also understand something of this pain, for though she loved her Catholic Worker family, she felt keenly the loss of not having an intact biological family. Hennessey describes an elderly Tamar finding a stack of letters between Dorothy and her father, Forster, and writes,

In these letters, Tamar found what she had longed for—love between her mother and father, Dorothy the saint and Forster the scientist, the two halves of her heart…. I want to know what happened to bring these two people—Forster and Dorothy—together and what drove them apart. I want to know why Tamar would always feel this father-loss, missing him even when she was too young to know what that meant.

The pain of “father-loss” was something my husband David and I heard about often in our interviews with working-class young adults—something that, no matter their other beliefs about men, women, and marriage, was often experienced as an emptiness. As one young man said, regarding his parents' split:

they would always drop me off at Denny’s and trade me off, and it just seemed wrong from very, very early. And I’m seeing this other family structure in society of how it’s supposed to be, and you know, I think we all kind of want—that’s what’s shown to us, this is what’s going to bring you security and happiness.

Though she felt this loss, Tamar, too, was a lover of beauty, particularly natural beauty. She was a gardener her whole life long, planting seeds in small containers even from her wheelchair. These two women, Day and Tamar, knew a life of beauty and suffering intermingled—as do we all this side of heaven. I wonder at the connection between the two, for something can be so beautiful that it hurts. Both beauty and suffering evoke that heart-tugging longing, a deep, deep restlessness that feels right and uncomfortable simultaneously—right because it is so human, but uncomfortable because it marks incompletion.

And while I don’t claim to know how to unravel the tangled knots of fragmented family life in America, of instability and the kind of poverty that Day knew at times and worked to alleviate, I do wonder if there is something to be said for making peace with the “long loneliness” and seeking beauty amidst the suffering—striving for wholeness but not resenting the complexity of incompletion.

In places like Foster, Ohio—overlooked and having seen better days—perhaps that means recognizing both the problems and the potential. This includes seeing as assets the sunlit waters and arching greens of the natural landscape, but also the beauty of real love, of friendship and family that has the power to capture the imagination of a generation. If young adults are given the opportunity to witness loving marriages, faithful friendships, and to participate in the life of a community, renewal—both personal and communal—can happen.

For if the world will be saved by beauty, love is the way that beauty is brought to the world. As another one of Day’s favorite quotes goes, “Where there is no love, put love—and you will find love.”

Amber Lapp is a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, an Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for American Values, and co-investigator of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project.

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Tue, 06 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Youth Who Age Out of Foster Care Face Many Challenges https://ifstudies.org/blog/youth-who-age-out-of-foster-care-face-many-challenges https://ifstudies.org/blog/youth-who-age-out-of-foster-care-face-many-challenges by Naomi Schaefer Riley (@NaomiSRiley)

The statistics for young people who age out of foster care are grim. Take this recent Midwest Study, a collaborative effort among the public child welfare agencies in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, as well as researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin. Starting with baseline interviews in 2002 and 2003 of 17- and 18-year olds, researchers followed these young people over the course of a decade.

It has been widely known for years now that youth aging out of foster care fare worse than other young people, but also much worse than their counterparts who have been adopted—even at older ages. Not only are those who age out of foster care more likely to have drug and alcohol problems and less likely to graduate high school, they are even more likely to be victims of sex trafficking.

The Midwest Study finds that homelessness is a large problem in this group, noting: “Almost half of the Midwest Study participants who had been homeless since their most recent interview had been homeless more than once, including nearly one-quarter who had been homeless four or more times.” Which is not surprising. Most young adults have a childhood home to which they can return if things are not working out for them financially or personally. But for these young adults, there is no safety net.

And it’s hard to imagine how many of them will ever get the footing they need to start a life for themselves. “Compared with their Add Health counterparts, Midwest Study participants were three times more likely not to have a high school diploma or GED,” the study reports. Nor do they have the kind of support networks that will allow them to get closer to their educational or professional goals. When asked about whether they had “people to help you meet your goals,” 4 in 10 said they had too few people or no one at all. The numbers were similar when asked whether they had people available to listen to them or help them with favors.

Whether it’s low rates of unemployment or high rates of incarceration, the questions for this population are so difficult that the solutions will have to be more radical. For some reformers, the answer lies in getting kids out of the system—making them eligible for adoption—much sooner. How long should a child languish in temporary homes while they wait for biological parents to get sober or leave an abusive boyfriend? The subject of a recent story on NPR about kids who age out of foster care interviewed a young woman who had been in 36 homes and 26 schools from the age of 10 to the age of 18.

Another alternative is thinking about how to get more older kids adopted. Colorado has been very successful in getting older kids off the foster care roles through Project 1.27, for instance. Focus on the Family’s Wait No More Program has collaborated with various states to encourage more adoption of older children (as well as sibling groups). Obviously, this is not a population that many adoptive parents are thinking about, but the kind of permanency that adoption offers, even for a teenager, is invaluable.

Barring the social support provided by an adoptive family, is there any way to get these young adults on track to leading independent, fulfilling lives? I wrote recently about efforts by a program called America Works to offer job training and placement for former foster youth. To be successful, any such program should also provide wraparound services—counseling, education, even help with basic financial decisions—but after the way we have already let these young adults slip through the cracks, it seems like the least we can do.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and a columnist for the New York Post. Her most recent book is The New Trail of Tears: How Washington Is Destroying American Indians.

 

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Mon, 05 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
A Vow Worth Keeping: A Review of Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give https://ifstudies.org/blog/a-vow-still-worth-keeping-a-review-of-wedding-toasts-ill-never-give https://ifstudies.org/blog/a-vow-still-worth-keeping-a-review-of-wedding-toasts-ill-never-give by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

What would you tell newlywed or engaged couples about marriage if you could be as honest as you wanted? What advice would you offer them about how to stay married in a world that seems to work so hard against “happily ever after”? Journalist Ada Calhoun would say that marriage is often boring, change is inevitable, and the vow we make on our wedding day to reject all others for only each other is really hard to keep. But she’d also say that marriage is a gift and monogamy, though difficult, is indeed the better way. She says all of this and more in her frank and humorous new book, Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, which provides a much-needed dose of reality about the ups and downs of married life, along with wisdom from experts and long-married couples on what it takes to make a marriage last.

In the first of many intimate stories she shares about her marriage, Calhoun describes a visit she and her husband made to see the priest who married them, hoping that he would “remind us, again, why [getting married] had been a good idea.” He answered with a question he described as “vital” for every married couple: “Do you know why you’re here?” He added that while most couples today are focused on how to get married, “no one’s spending any time on how do you stay married.”

Calhoun spends her book attempting to answer that question in a series of seven “toasts” that include quotes from priests, marriage therapists, and her own mother, who told her the secret to staying married is simply “don’t get divorced.” Calhoun’s advice on how to stay married is a bit more comprehensive, including the following noteworthy insights.

Stay together through the boring times. In of my favorite toasts, Calhoun acknowledges a reality of marriage most of us who’ve been married a few years have experienced but may be ashamed to admit: marriage is really boring sometimes.

She has no qualms admitting that her marriage has been through weeks and even months of boredom. “Dating is poetry. Marriage is a novel,” she writes. “There are times, maybe years, that are all exposition.”

During the boring times, we may be tempted to stray from our spouse, give up on marriage completely, or on occasion, “run screaming from the house,” as Calhoun puts it. However, she assures us that the boring parts are temporary and could be the prelude to something richer. “Exposition establishes the plot,” she explains. “The boring parts don’t last forever. In retrospect, they aren’t even boring.”

Stay together during the seasons of change. Calhoun also stresses the necessity of change in marriage, pointing out that too often, couples who are faced with changes in their spouse or themselves look outside their marriage or contemplate a divorce. “What I see happening with many of my divorcing friends is that they feel betrayed by change,” she laments. “They fall in love with one person, and when that person doesn’t seem familiar anymore, they feel he or she has violated the marriage contract.”

But just our bodies change with time, change in marriage is inevitable. Instead of looking elsewhere, she suggests that “being happy with the same person forever requires finding ways to be happy with different versions of that person, and avoiding panic when the person you’re with becomes someone you dislike.”

And sometimes, our feelings about our spouse change—only to change again for the better. Calhoun recalls a miserable family road trip to a Civil War museum, where she spent most of the drive resenting her husband. But it turned out to be one of their best trips ever, with their son declaring it “the best day of his life,” and Calhoun falling more in love with her husband as they toured a cemetery and later shared French fries and wine over dinner. She writes that this is “part of what marriage means: sometimes hating the other person but staying together because you promised you would. And then, days or weeks later, waking up and loving him again, loving him still.”

According to Calhoun, the key to dealing with change in marriage is to stay. "[W]e stay in it long enough to see things change, for good and for ill and for good again," she writes. "As married people, we dwell on a spectrum between happy and unhappy, in love and out of love, and we move back and forth on that line decade by decade, year by year, week by week, even hour by hour."

Stay together by resisting the temptation to stray. When her husband admitted he had feelings for another woman that he wasn’t sure what to do with, she responded, “Kill them with fire.” Another time, he suggested it might make him feel less guilty if she “occasionally fooled around with other people,” an idea she initially rejected. But the idea sounded a bit more promising when, on tour for her first book, she found herself making out with an attractive colleague in his apartment. She left before things went further because she just couldn’t forget she was married. “I don’t belong to this man in this other town,” she reflects later. “My husband is my husband and other men are not.”

Although Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give is not exclusively about monogamy, it’s an issue Calhoun addresses in two essays. What’s most striking about her take on monogamy is that it comes from a woman in an unconventional marriage—one who admits to struggling with “lust” and to kissing other men. While, at times, it seems like she is debating with herself about the merits of marital fidelity, she clearly respects and desires it.

She shares stories of friends in open marriages, but describes herself as “nowhere near this evolved,” adding that the idea of kissing other men gives her a “thrill,” but the thought of her husband kissing someone else makes her “want to start throwing things off tables.”

Calhoun also compares extra-marital activity to Russian roulette, warning that “for every five times an extramarital flirtation makes you feel extra alive, there’s one crush that kills you.” Likewise, she uses terms like “lust” and greed” to describe her desire for other men, noting that she doesn’t want to be “selfish, confused, greedy. I want to be better than that.”

Ultimately, Calhoun concludes that while she enjoys fooling around, she loves her husband and marriage more. She writes:

When we choose someone to marry, part of what we promise is that we will not forget that at some point, in the glow of a parking lot far from home, someone else is sure to look like a god or goddess. Maybe I need to remember that when it comes to monogamy, opening the door a crack makes it hard to keep the wind from blowing it all the way ajar, letting in more bad metaphors about doors and windows.

Stay together to give others hope. In a powerful analogy, Calhoun compares a monogamous marriage to an oak. "Perhaps avoiding affairs is a little like pruning back a tree to help it grow," she muses. "If you’re fooling around too much, your marriage might make a pretty hedge, but it will never be an oak. Friends and colleagues can’t make a refuge beneath a shrub."

That image of a marriage like an oak reminded me of an older couple that my husband and I met through a marriage group we attend. Celebrating 50 years of marriage this June, they have raised two children with mental or physical challenges, taught countless classes on marriage for engaged couples, and even co-authored a marriage enrichment book. Through their five decades of faithfulness, they have provided wisdom, safety, and hope to others.

How do we build a marriage that’s strong enough to withstand change, boredom, and temptation? We build it by choosing one another over all others during the boring times and seasons of change, by forgiving each other when we fail, and by deciding to love even when we dislike our spouse.

And in doing so, we encourage other couples that lasting love is still possible. “By staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope,” Calhoun reminds us. “Hope that in steadfastly loving someone, we ourselves, for all our faults, will be loved; that the broken world will be made whole. To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being—what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift." 

Alysse ElHage is editor of the Institute for Family Studies blog.

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Fri, 02 Jun 2017 13:00:00 -0400
Friday Five 181 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-181 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-181 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Commuter Marriages Actually Strengthen Some Relationships, Study Finds
Daniel Steingold, Study Finds

Selling the Men's Wedding Ring
Livia Gershon, JSTOR Daily

Penn State Named Site of National Child Abuse Prevention Center
JoAnn Blake, Psychiatric News

Social and Emotional Learning
Princeton-Brookings, Future of Children

A New Warning for Families: You May Be Trading a Full Life for Facebook Likes
Louis Collins, Deseret News

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Fri, 02 Jun 2017 07:00:00 -0400
“Shared Parenting” Hurts Many Victims of Marital Abandonment https://ifstudies.org/blog/shared-parenting-hurts-many-victims-of-marital-abandonment https://ifstudies.org/blog/shared-parenting-hurts-many-victims-of-marital-abandonment by Hilary Towers

“If we value dad soothing his fretful baby at 3 a.m. or reading “Goodnight Moon” to his toddler while the parents are living together, why deprive the child of these expressions of fatherly love just because the parents no longer live together, or just because the sun has set?”

Thus concludes an article published this week in which shared parenting after divorce is presented as a boon; a welcome change of paradigm in a system which has for too long treated parents unequally and unfairly.

Indeed, our family law bureaucracy is in dire need of reform. And fathers have been the greatest victims of this unjust system—because more women file for divorce, and because the courts tend to grant custody to mothers, regardless of their behavior.

But contrary to the sentiment expressed in the excerpt above, the dynamics of parenting change drastically once divorce occurs and parents live apart, and our guiding principles in family law should reflect those changes. Divorce reform should be focused on parental behavior, not on gender, or allotment of time with children, or any other variable. In cases of marital abandonment (we don’t know how many of all divorces meet this description), one parent often exposes the children to people and experiences that threaten their moral, spiritual, and emotional development and well-being. The responsible parent in these cases is already at an extreme disadvantage in our family courts.

Under “no-fault,” any systemic, morally destructive behaviors engaged in by one spouse throughout a contested divorce are virtually ignored by the court. “Shared parenting” guidelines render such behaviors even more irrelevant if that’s possible. An underlying premise of shared parenting is that parental behaviors and choices, so long as they are legal, should not guide the decisions of family judges. Thus, equal time with each parent is the goal.

My observation is that when marital abandonment occurs, it is most often the faithful parent who has the emotional bandwidth and maturity to carry on the commitment the couple made to raise the children in the moral context to which they were accustomed prior to the divorce. In those cases, it would seem wise from a practical perspective for the court to provide preferential support to such spouses, who may be indispensable resources in helping to break the generational cycle of divorce.

Guided by the knowledge that law shapes beliefs and behaviors over time, courts should reward spousal and parental behavior (via alimony, child support, division of property, and visitation) that supports the development of children into mature, morally upright adults of integrity. Ones who are more likely to sustain healthy, committed marriages themselves and become responsible citizens. (I have written about this before at IFS).

I am a psychologist who receives a steady stream of emails and phone calls from, or about, men and women whose spouses divorced them to move on with an affair partner (I once kept a running list, but stopped when the numbers became overwhelming). From my vantage point, focusing on “time equity” in family courts not only makes things worse for responsible parents who have been abandoned by an unfaithful spouse, but it avoids addressing the real problem with family law today.

The fundamental flaw in the current system is the court’s enforcement and ultimately encouragement, over generations, of unilateral, “no-fault” divorce. The partner who does not want a divorce has no recourse under our law, no mechanism of defending what are often years of emotional, financial, physical and psychological investment and sacrifice. An unfaithful spouse can single-handedly—and with the court’s stamp of approval and aid—end a marriage and swiftly “move on” with the adultery partner and half or more of all the family income and assets—pulling the children along with him or her (at least part-time).

What many children of marital abandonment experience in this netherworld of hedonism and adolescent pursuits is—well, let’s just say a far cry from snuggles and Goodnight Moon.

  • It’s waking up Saturday mornings to fend for yourself until around noon when dad and his girlfriend emerge from a dark bedroom in the dumpy, dingy apartment that is now your temporary home.
  • It’s being left high and dry when mom forgets to pick you up because she’s getting it on with her boyfriend at their new place together.
  • It’s regular exposure to pornography and troubling shows like “13 Reasons Why” in the vacuum of parental supervision under a new Disney mom or Disney dad regime.
  • It’s subsisting on too-little sleep, junk food, and soda two weekends a month and coming home exhausted and grumpy to the responsible parent who suffers the consequences for days.
  • It’s the repeated and prolonged (court-ordered) exposure of a preteen girl to mom’s burly new boyfriend who vacillates between ignoring and ogling her—the very man responsible for the constant pain she is experiencing at the loss of her family.
  • It’s the tummy aches and nightmares that won’t go away.
  • It’s the teen boy with the sparkle in his eye and love for his faith who in the wake of his father’s abandonment and remarriage hates God and speaks of suicide.
  • It’s the daughter, who once contemplated religious life, who now posts half-naked photos of herself on social media, slathered in makeup as if to mask the anguish of innocence lost in the emulation of her mother’s behavior.
  • It’s feeling the guilt and sadness of knowing that church is important, but having to watch TV sitcoms every other Sunday morning instead; the knowledge that to raise the issue with daddy would bring that sickly, torn apart inside feeling to the surface again.

Where do the children above (each of whom is real) fall in the shared parenting paradigm of “post-divorce equality leads to better adjustment?” What about the responsible parents who wish to protect not only their children’s physical but moral and spiritual well-being?

These matters are not just a quandary for those who believe adultery is wrong. Children living with a parent’s new sex partner— especially when the partner is a man—are at significant risk of sexual and physical abuse. Record numbers of divorcees are cohabiting.

So, how do we have an honest discussion about where children should spend the most time after divorce without accounting for the impact of infidelity (and all its negative behavioral correlates)—and the marital abandonment and subsequent cohabitation or remarriage that so often accompanies serial infidelity—on their moral and physical well-being, in childhood and beyond?

Professionals in every sphere of influence on this matter (family courts, social science, counseling) seem reluctant to acknowledge and investigate the distinction between consensual and unwanted divorce. Somehow abandoned spouses and their children are not represented in our representative studies of divorce.

Just this week, I learned of a mother of five children whose husband without warning announced he had a girlfriend and was seriously “contemplating divorce.” It seems he’s been spending their family money on the girlfriend for some time, a commonplace occurrence in cases of marital abandonment.

The mother, who was abandoned by her own father as a child, is rightly terrified that the court will order her young children to spend more time with her husband and his mistress, not less. It is precisely the prospect of “equal” parenting time that causes her to shudder.

What will she do to protect her babies? How can she afford a lawyer to defend herself and her children when he’s taken hold of their finances? Who is the “other woman,” and how can she minimize her time with the children?

What are their future plans? Cohabitation? Remarriage? Where will her husband, in his new role as footloose and fancy-free, take the children? To clubs? Adult parties? Where will her children sleep?

At night, she buries her head in her pillow and sobs as she considers the longer-term consequences of her husband’s fateful decision. What message will her children internalize about the value of fidelity and marriage? About the existence of God? Will they be able to sustain their own marriages as adults?

Our culture usually encourages the momma (or papa) bear instinct. These are our progeny— our job is to nourish and love and protect. How is it that just because one parent decides to shut down this instinct as part of his or her quest for self-actualization, the other must now follow suit or face legal consequences for resisting?

The real challenge is that little I’ve described so far would cause a family court judge to bat an eye. It’s all par for the course. Shared parenting, especially in situations involving infidelity, not only doesn’t help these families, it further constrains the ability of one parent to protect his or her child in situations which by any reasonable standard is destructive and fraught with moral and physical danger. Shared parenting makes a presumption of sameness—of "equality." When it does, it hampers the ability of moms and dads who have legitimate concerns to defend the real best interests of their child.

Over generations now, we have communicated to children of divorce that “no one has done anything wrong. It just didn’t work out” under the pretext of somehow protecting them from harm. But children are not protected by this false assertion. Research on the generational character of divorce suggests that their pain and confusion is only heightened and extended into adulthood by this message, where they are at increased risk of casting the same spurious judgment upon their own marriages. Children whose parents cheat are also more likely to cheat in their own future relationships.

And new work by Margaret Harper McCarthy and colleagues on children’s ontological experience of divorce suggests many of its most far-reaching and consequential effects are not amenable to our scientific tools and methods. This is because divorce strikes directly at the essence of one’s being, and may not be reflected in measurements of one’s doing.

A contributor to McCarthy’s book writes:

..there was the feeling that the ground had opened at my feet revealing a vast abyss underneath it. I felt that I was being extinguished, that I would fall into that abyss and disappear from the face of the earth. I did the only thing I thought I could do, the thing most children of divorce do. I tried not to think about it.

The walking wounded among us—adult children of divorce—have been silent for decades. Many of us have attributed to them “resilience” in the face of parental infidelity and abandonment, under the pretense of furthering their “best interests.” Many of them are now ready to convey the uncomfortable truths on their hearts, no matter how painful it is for us to listen.

We have an obligation to protect our children—not only from physical harm that meets the threshold of legality but from the moral harm associated with many divorces. “Shared parenting” after divorce isn’t the main problem, but it is a symptom of two tragic trends we adults must now work to reverse: our failure to listen, and our failure to protect.

Dr. Hilary Towers is a developmental psychologist and mother of five children. A non-resident scholar at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR), she writes and speaks on the subjects of marriage and spousal abandonment.

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Thu, 01 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Marriage, Economics, and Culture https://ifstudies.org/blog/marriage-economics-and-culture https://ifstudies.org/blog/marriage-economics-and-culture by Melissa Langsam Braunstein (@slowhoneybee)

In recent decades, the face of the American family has changed considerably, along with our understanding of marriage. Consider that over 40% of all U.S. births occurred to unmarried mothers in 2014. The rate was even higher among non-college-educated mothers, at 62%. Given that numerous studies have shown children typically do best in households with two married parents, this poses a two-part question for family policy makers: What is driving this change, and what, if anything, can be done to nurture a reversal?

Liberals and conservatives have long argued about whether economics or culture has primarily fueled this shift. Melissa Kearney, an economics professor at the University of Maryland, and graduate student Riley Wilson recently published “Male Earnings, Marriageable Men, and Nonmarital Fertility: Evidence from The Fracking Boom, a study that addresses the heart of that debate.

By looking at various regions across the country where fracking could happen, geologically speaking—whether or not it has been authorized by local authorities—the two tested a hypothesis about whether low marriage rates are related to non-college educated men’s poor economic prospects. With fracking representing a catalyst for economic growth, the study’s authors asked: when a region sees economic growth and rising wages for men (making them “marriageable”), is there a corresponding increase in the birth rate? And do more women wed before bearing those children?

The short answer is yes, and no. In studying young mothers (women ages 18-34), the study’s authors observed an increase in the number of births. For every additional $1,000 “of fracking production per capita,” there is “an increase of 5.96 births per 1,000 women.”

However, rising wages for men seemingly do not change women’s connubial calculus in the 21st century. While areas with economic growth saw a rise in fertility, babies were born to both married and unmarried mothers, and there was no corresponding rise in the rate of marriage. “During our period of analysis,” the authors write, “over 71 percent of these births were to single women, consistent with the general finding that births to young women are births to less-educated women.” Further, areas where non-marital births were already common, saw more of them.

The authors compared these findings to Appalachia’s coal boom in the 1970s and 1980s. That earlier boom sparked an increase in both marriage and marital childbearing, along with a decrease in non-marital childbearing (page 4). In an emailed response to a question I posed, Professor Kearney noted, “We interpret the evidence as showing similar marital birth effects across periods. Those numbers are not statistically different [from] one another.”

However, there is a clear uptick in non-marital births associated with the fracking boom, mirroring recent decades’ uptick in non-marital births. Given that, Kearney’s emailed response about the demographics of the studied population is also worth noting: “In fracking areas, 64.1% of 18-34-year-olds are white non-Hispanic, as compared to 62.7% in non-fracking [regions].” The white working class, which would heavily populate the data from both energy booms, was overwhelmingly traditional in its family patterns 30 or 40 years ago. That is no longer the case.

But what explains the different reactions to similar economic events? The authors note that not only are there now more women in the workforce but that women saw their wages rise this time around, “albeit to a lesser extent than for men.” They also speculate that women might not seek spouses from a pool of men laboring in fracking because “fracking jobs are particularly onerous.” For this writer, the most convincing explanation was the authors’ observation that “Social context partially determines the family formation response to a positive income or earnings shock.”

In that sense, Kearney’s recent remarks about Raj Chetty’s study on mobility and culture, published here on this blog, would seem to apply:

[F]inally, the thing that really makes economists squirm when we look at these results, if we’re honest with ourselves, is that the factors that seem to be correlated—again, these are the clues as to what we might need to be pushing on—they are really more about culture than are policy levers. And this keeps coming up.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan and other early Neocons would have agreed that culture is powerful. Now, the question for policymakers interested in strengthening fragile families is what to do about it.

Melissa Langsam Braunstein, a former U.S. Department of State speechwriter, is now an independent writer in Washington, D.C. She frequently writes about culture, religion, and issues affecting families. She shares all of her writing on her website.

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Wed, 31 May 2017 08:00:00 -0400
What The New York Times Gets Wrong About Marriage, Health, and Well-Being https://ifstudies.org/blog/what-the-new-york-times-gets-wrong-about-marriage-health-and-well-being https://ifstudies.org/blog/what-the-new-york-times-gets-wrong-about-marriage-health-and-well-being by Tyler J. VanderWeele

Last week, a New York Times 0p-ed, “Get Married, Get Healthy? Maybe Not,” called into question a large body of research indicating marriage is associated with better health, less depression, and greater well-being.1-16 From a rigorous research perspective, some of the earlier studies were indeed methodologically weak, but in the past two decades, that has changed. There are now a number of strong studies that reinforce and demonstrate that marriage—in addition to being a good in and of itself—is associated with better health.5,6

In her New York Times piece, psychologist Bella DePaulo uses a new study out of Switzerland17 to argue that the effects of marriage on health are, in reality, negligible. A closer examination of the Switzerland study, however, indicates that DePaulo did not tell the full story about the Swiss research. Actually, the study begins by reporting that entry into marriage for unmarried men and women is associated with subsequently lower depression, while divorce is associated with subsequently higher depression. The study also notes even larger effects of moving into marriage on increasing life satisfaction, as well as larger effects of divorce on decreasing life satisfaction. The New York Times article seems to try to sidestep these results, instead drawing attention to the findings on “self-rated health.” In this case, the results from the Switzerland study show that marriage is associated with slightly worse self-rated health compared to always being single and that divorce is associated with worse self-rated health compared to being married.

But self-rated health is not necessarily synonymous with health itself. If one examines more objective measures studied elsewhere in the research literature, marriage is in fact protectively associated with more objective health measures.5,6,11,13,14,16,18 In my own research at Harvard University, in a paper using data from the Nurses’ Health Study that followed over 74,000 participants for over 16 years, marriage was associated with 14% lower mortality during the following 16 years (see Supplement eTable 12 of my study),18  even after controlling for numerous social, demographic, and baseline health variables (see figure below). While the study focused on religious service attendance, it also examined marriage. Although the effect of marriage is not huge, it is protective, and similar effects on mortality have been reported elsewhere.5,6,13,14


Source: Manzoli et al. (2007; Reference 13) and Li et al. (2016, Reference 18) for Married vs. Divorced;
Manzoli et al. (2007; Reference 13) for Married vs. Never Married.

The Nurses’ Health Study population was also somewhat older than the study population in Switzerland. Rather surprisingly, the Switzerland study excluded anyone above the age of 65, where health problems are most likely to develop, and consequently where marriage may be most protective.

DePaulo criticizes research of the sort we reported in the Nurses’ Health Study for not distinguishing between the transition from singlehood to marriage, versus from marriage to divorce. And indeed, the Nurses’ Health Study participants were married upon study entry so that the estimate reported above is more reflective of the adverse impact of divorce compared to marriage. DePaulo argues that if you marry, you are also more likely to divorce. That is, of course, true: the effects of continuous marriage on health are going to be more protective than marriage followed by divorce.

But DePaulo seems to suggest that the right way to avoid divorce is to not marry. A more sensible solution would be to develop support resources to work through marital difficulties, when appropriate. Marital counseling, maintaining commitment, online marriage support resources,19 and the passage of time can pay off.16 One study indicated that among those who were married and rated their marriage as “very unhappy” but stayed married, 77% said that five years later the same marriage was either “very happy” or “quite happy.”16

Beyond the question of divorce, however, a vast literature now exists (in addition to the Switzerland study) on the objective health effects of marriage,5,6,11,13,14,16,18 including studies that have examined never-married populations: these studies find similar protective effects of marriage.3,5,6,13,14

In fact, about 10 years ago, there were two systematic reviews of this literature using longitudinal data and objective health measures that suggested strong evidence for the protective effects of marriage on health and longevity. 5,6 A meta-analysis of 53 studies likewise found protective effects of marriage on the rate of mortality with a 14% reduction in mortality for married individuals compared to divorced individuals, and a 10% reduction in mortality for married compared to never-married individuals13 (see figure above).

Was the study from Switzerland wrong? Perhaps not—the health measures in the study are different. Again, the study uses measures of “self-rated” health. Someone who marries, and perhaps subsequently has children, may end up sleeping less, exercising less, or gaining weight, and might then score “self-rated health” lower (and here, having been married for three years with an 18-month-old son, I also speak from my own experience).

However, is that person, on the whole, less healthy? That is less clear. The evidence suggests that, on average, those who are married are less likely to die in the next 10 to 20 years, are less likely to become depressed, and are more likely to be satisfied with life.1-18 On more objective measures of health, such as mortality, and on states of mental well-being, the married person is likely better off. The potentially worse sleep and exercise, and perhaps ambivalent “self-rated health” appear to be more than offset by the psychological and behavioral benefits of marriage. That is what the best research indicates.

In fact, the study from Switzerland actually grants most of this. The New York Times op-ed, sadly, does not. It is a piece of poor and selective reporting that completely ignores the overall state of the research on this topic. The author’s hubris is also remarkable. She writes: “Now that we know that’s just not so [that marriage causes health], maybe we should celebrate our newfound wisdom.” There has been a great deal of media attention of late on the “replication crisis” in science—the failure of results to replicate across studies. My own view is that while research practices could certainly be improved, much of the problem lies in the reporting of the research, and in the over-reporting of a single study with what often seems to be total ignorance of the cumulative evidence of the research literature. DePaulo’s New York Times article is a sad illustration of this.

The existing research indicates that marriage is associated in longitudinal studies with higher life satisfaction,1,2,17 greater affective happiness,3 better mental health, physical health, and longevity, even controlling for baseline health.4-14,18 It’s also linked to higher level of personal growth,3 a reduction in crime for those at high risk,15 higher levels of meaning and purpose in life,3 higher levels of positive relationships with others, higher levels of perceived social support, and lower levels of loneliness,3,16 and better financial outcomes, even controlling for baseline financial status and education.4

Certainly, single persons occupy an important place in society, and other communal involvements can also be important and protective for health, but to deny marriage a fundamental role in health and well-being, now and throughout history, is to ignore where the evidence points. Moreover, here we have only been discussing the effects of marriage on individual health. The effects of marriage on children, and consequently on the next generation and thereby all of society, are the focus of an entire additional body of research literature. The contribution of marriage to human flourishing is substantial, a fact that The New York Times and Bella DePaulo, unfortunately, seem to miss.

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.


References:

1. Stutzer A, Frey BS. (2006). “Does marriage make people happy, or do happy people get married?” The Journal of Socio-Economics 35:326–347.

2. Uecker JE. (2012). “Marriage and Mental Health among Young Adults.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 53(1):67–83.

3. Marks, N.F. and Lambert, J.D. (1998). “Marital status continuity and change among young and midlife adults longitudinal effects on psychological well-being.” Journal of Family Issues, 19:652-686.

4. Wilcox, W.B. (2011). Why Marriage Matters: 30 Conclusions from the Social Sciences. 3rd Edition. New York: Institute for American Values/National Marriage Project.

5. Wilson CM, Oswald AJ. (2005). “How Does Marriage Affect Physical and Psychological Health? A Survey of the Longitudinal Evidence.” IZA Bonn Discussion Paper No. 1619. The Institute for the Study of Labor.

6. Wood RG, Goesling B, Avellar S. (2007). “The Effects of Marriage on Health: A Synthesis of Recent Research Evidence.” Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

7. Horwitz, AV, White HR, and Howell-White S. (1996). “Becoming Married and Mental Health: A Longitudinal Study of a Cohort of Young Adults.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 58:895-907.

8. Kim, H.K., and McKenry, P. (2002). The Relationship Between Marriage and Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Family Issues, 23:885-911.

9. Lamb, KA, Lee GR, and DeMaris A. (2003). “Union Formation and Depression: Selection and Relationship Effects.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 65:953-962.

10. Simon, RW. (2002). “Revisiting the Relationships Among Gender, Marital Status, and Mental Health.” American Journal of Sociology, 4:1065-1096.

11. Lillard, LA, and Panis CWA. (1996). Marital Status and Mortality: The Role of Health. Demography, 33:313-327.

12. Williams, K and Umberson, D. (2004). “Marital Status, Marital Transitions, and Health: A Gendered Life Course Perspective.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 45:81-98.

13. Manzoli, L, Villari P, Pirone GM, and Boccia A. (2007). “Marital Status and Mortality in the Elderly: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Social Science & Medicine, 64:77-94.

14. Kaplan, RM. and Kronick RG. (2006). “Marital Status and Longevity in the United States Population.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60:760-765.

15. Sampson RJ, Laub JH, Wimer C. (2006). “Does marriage reduce crime? A counterfactual approach to within-individual causal effects.” Criminology 44:465-508.

16. Waite, L.J. and Gallagher, M. (2000). The Case for Marriage. New York: Doubleday.

17. Kalmijn, M. (2017). “The ambiguous link between marriage and health: a dynamic reanalysis of loss and gain effects.” Social Forces 95:1607-1636.

18. Li, S., Stamfer, M., Williams, D.R. and VanderWeele, T.J. (2016). “Association of religious service attendance with mortality among women.” JAMA Internal Medicine, 176:777-785.

19. Doss, B.D., Cicila, L.N., Georgia, E.J., Roddy, M.K., Nowlan, K.M., Benson, L.A., and Christensen, A. (2016). “A randomized controlled trial of the web-based OurRelationship program: Effects on relationship and individual functioning.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 84:285-296.

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Tue, 30 May 2017 07:00:00 -0400
Friday Five 180 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-180 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-180 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Are Daddy's Little Girls Treated Better Than Little Boys?
Margaret O'Malley, NBC News

There Are Three Warning Signs a Couple's Relationship Could Be At Risk After Having a Baby
Shana Lebowitz, Business Insider

If You Want Teens to Thrive, Teach Them to Avoid Sexual Risks
Valerie Huber, MercatorNet

Happy Couples Focus on Each Other's Strengths
Kira M. Newman, Greater Good Science Center

Millennials and the Success Sequence: How do education, work, and marriage affect poverty and financial success among Millennials?
W. Bradford Wilcox and Wendy Wang
Wednesday, June 14, 9:00 to 11:30 AM Eastern, American Enterprise Institute

 

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Fri, 26 May 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Technoference in Parenting: Is Your Mobile Device Distracting You From Your Child? https://ifstudies.org/blog/technoference-in-parenting-is-your-mobile-device-distracting-you-from-your-child https://ifstudies.org/blog/technoference-in-parenting-is-your-mobile-device-distracting-you-from-your-child by Brandon McDaniel (@btmcdaniel.com)

Have you ever taken your child to the park and looked at the parents around you? What do you see?

If you’ve managed to look up from your own device, you’ve probably seen a lot of parents looking down at their devices. Indeed, observational research has found that 35 percent of parents spend about 1 in every 5 minutes of their time (or even more) on their phone while at the playground with their child.1 But really, what is the harm in that? I mean, the kids are safe and busy playing, right? Keep reading.

Now, most of us are really trying to be good parents, and parenting can be demanding, tiring, and even downright boring at times! And for those of you thinking, “Oh how could he say that?! Doesn’t he love his kids?” Yes, I do love my kids. I love them enough to watch the same TV show 500 times a week (ok, maybe slight exaggeration there), to spin around in circles over and over again while my kids hold onto my hands until I feel sick, to make them dinner while simultaneously saving the baby from climbing on the table every 30 seconds, to sweep and pick up the floor (I’m not sure why I do this, since the cereal will be back on the floor before I even get up in the morning), to…I think you get the picture.

We deserve some downtime, an escape, something more intellectually stimulating at times, and I know we’ve already seen the headlines such as “Parents, Wired to Distraction,” “How Technology Can Ruin Your Love Life,” and “The Phones We Love Too Much.” We feel guilty enough.

Yet, it’s important to consider how “technoference,” or minor everyday intrusions or interruptions of technology devices in our interactions with our family members, is impacting us as parents.2,3 Sadly, I don’t think we are always paying much attention to what is happening.

It’s so easy to do. Most of us have our phone with us all the time and rarely turn it off,4 and we use it for practically everything—it’s our clock, connection to work, connection to the web, social hub, map, doctor, teacher, and can even listen to and talk with us. (“Ok Google…how do I write an engaging article about phones?” “Hi Brandon, let me search the web for you…).”

Indeed, we use our phones and other devices so much that many of us would feel anxious if we had to disconnect or if we—Heaven forbid!—forgot our phone at home.5 Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

Scenario 1: Your phone vibrates while you are playing with your child. You check it. Nope, no important message, but you end up on Facebook, then Instagram. About 10 minutes later, you look up, and your child has wandered off to play by herself.

Scenario 2: “Mom, mom, mom, mom, can I have a snack?” your child asks [repeat for two minutes, growing more intense over time]. The child then touches your phone, and you look up. “What?” you ask in an irritated tone.

Scenario 3: “Time to brush your teeth!” The kids run into the bathroom giggling and pushing each other. You hear the water turn on, so you’re satisfied they are probably brushing their teeth; you pull out your phone to check it. An email just came in from a friend, so you read it. When you finish, the kids are already out of the bathroom, the sink is a mess, and they’re running around in the family room. You scold them for making a mess and ask if they really brushed their teeth (as you feel the dry toothbrushes).

I would say that these sorts of occurrences are becoming increasingly common. In one of our recent studies, 65 percent of mothers stated that technology devices interrupted their interactions with their child during playtime sometimes or more often, and 22 percent said this happened at least sometimes even during disciplining their child.

Of course, parents have had tons of things distracting them for ages, so what’s the big deal? Well, smartphones and mobile devices have been designed to absorb your attention. They are better at keeping and rewarding you for your continued attention than most other distractions. Thus, some researchers have found parents distracted by phones (as opposed to other types of distractions) are less likely to respond to a child’s attempts to get their attention. Distraction with a device could potentially influence every aspect of parenting quality, leading you to be less in sync with your child’s cues, to misinterpret your child’s needs, to respond more harshly than usual, and to respond much too long after the need arose.

Distraction with a device could potentially influence every aspect of parenting quality, leading you to be less in sync with your child’s cues, to misinterpret your child’s needs, to respond more harshly than usual, and to respond much too long after the need arose.

In a sense, these often little distractions (that as we saw in the earlier scenarios can sometimes turn into longer ones) can alter parenting sensitivity and quality. As a parenting researcher, I often look for whether parents are interpreting their child’s cues and needs correctly and then responding appropriately and in a timely manner. Distraction with a device could potentially influence every aspect of parenting quality, leading you to be less in sync with your child’s cues, to misinterpret your child’s needs, to respond more harshly than usual, and to respond much too long after the need arose. These are all components of parenting sensitivity, which are connected to the type of attachment (or emotional bond) a child forms with his or her parent. Children then go through life with an internal working model of what relationships should be like in terms of how they have been treated by their own parents or caregivers. In other words, these distractions could have very real meaning for how the rising generation begins to see the world around them and what it means to love and be loved.

My coauthor, Jenny Radesky, and I recently examined whether technoference in parent-child time was linked with child behavioral problems (see study in Child Development here). We asked a sample of 170 U.S. couples with young children about their mobile device use behavior, how often technoference happened during time with their child,and their child’s behavior.

Overall, we found that parents with problems managing their mobile device use were more likely to experience technoference during time with their child, and this technoference in the parent-child relationship was linked with more child internalizing (e.g., anxiety, depression) and externalizing (e.g., hyperactivity, disruptive behavior) problems. These links persisted even when taking into account factors like parents’ stress and depression levels. In brief, these findings suggest that parent technology use and child behavior are intricately connected, and also add to previous work, showing associations between technoference and potential relationship problems in couples and parenting.

Although it’s not clear yet whether parents are responding to difficult child behavior by using mobile devices more around the child, or whether the mobile device use leads to more child behavior problems (in reality, it is likely both), this study is the first to show links between parent technology use, technoference, and child behavior. Parents should critically examine their device use and seek to minimize distractions and time spent on technology while interacting with young children, as our new study suggests that even minor, everyday interruptions in parent-child interactions—even in fairly high functioning families—are intricately linked with child behavior.6

What Can Parents Do to Avoid Technoference?

1. Be mindful of your phone and other technology use. Most of us don’t even realize how much we are using our devices. There are apps we can download that will track our use and let us know how we are doing. This can be really eye opening! For instance, you might notice that you are most tempted to look at your device during certain times of the day and so forth.

2. Develop strategies to keep yourself “present” with your children. You can get creative with these, but I might suggest at least coming up with some technology free zones and/or times in your home. You can also set a goal for yourself to put your phone down or look up from your tablet/computer immediately when your child or other family member walks into the room—in a sense, you want to show them that they are the most important thing to you at that moment.

3. Try to ask yourself the following question every time you pull your phone out while with your children: Can this wait until later? If the answer is yes, then practice re-engaging with your child instead of pulling out the device. Our research suggests that the fewer technological interruptions, the better behaved your child will likely be over time. Also, as you actively re-engage with your child, this will help to create a new habit to replace your old phone habit.

4. If you are married or have a romantic partner, make sure you are on the same page. Our research has linked technoference with lower relationship and co-parenting quality, and the quality of your relationship will inevitably spill out into your parenting relationship with your children. Work together as a team as much as you can, and start out from a place of love. You love one another and want to do better, although realize you may have different opinions, so be sensitive and take the time to really listen to your partner’s ideas too as you create your technology strategies.

5. Finally, please don’t beat yourself up over this! Let’s just work on being a little better each day.

Brandon T. McDaniel, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Illinois State University. His research tends to focus on family relationships and influences on the well-being of these family relationships, and he teaches classes on parenting and child development. Click here to see more about his research.


1. Hiniker, A., Sobel, K., Suh, H., Sung, Y. C., Lee, C. P., & Kientz, J. A. (2015, April). Texting while parenting: How adults use mobile phones while caring for children at the playground. In Proceedings of the 33rd annual ACM conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 727-736).

2. McDaniel, B. T., & Coyne, S. M. (2016). “Technoference”: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5(1), 85-98.

3. McDaniel, B. T., & Coyne, S. M. (2016). Technology interference in the parenting of young children: Implications for mothers’ perceptions of coparenting. The Social Science Journal, 53(4), 435-44

4. Rainie, L., & Zickuhr, K. (2015). Americans’ views on mobile etiquette. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2015/08/2015-08-26_mobile-etiquette_FINAL.pdf

5. Bianchi, A., & Phillips J. (2005). Psychological predictors of problem mobile phone use. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 8, 39-51.

6. McDaniel, B. T., & Radesky, J. S. (2017). Technoference: Parent Distraction With Technology and Associations With Child Behavior Problems. Child Development.

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Thu, 25 May 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Women’s Expectations About Unplanned Births https://ifstudies.org/blog/womens-expectations-about-unplanned-births https://ifstudies.org/blog/womens-expectations-about-unplanned-births by Anna Sutherland (@annams59)

According to a recent survey, more than six in ten 18- to 44-year-old mothers in the U.S. report that one or more of their births was unplanned. It may seem strange to mention this fact so soon after a national holiday honoring moms, as unintended pregnancies are seldom cause for celebration. Yet American women who have experienced an unintended birth are more likely to report that having a child unexpectedly had mostly neutral or no effects on important areas of their lives than to report mostly negative impacts.

These findings come from a recent Urban Institute report, “Prevalence and Perceptions of Unplanned Births,” which drew on a nationally representative survey of nearly 2,000 women ages 18 to 44 and on more detailed interviews with 26 survey respondents. When participants were asked how an unplanned birth would affect various areas of a woman’s life, their responses were generally negative.

About two-thirds of women thought an unplanned birth1 negatively affects a woman’s education and income, and almost six in 10 said the same for a woman’s job and mental health. However, more than half of women thought that an unintended birth would have either no effect or a positive effect on a woman’s physical health. And women were more likely to say an unintended birth would boost a woman’s relationship with her partner and her motivation to achieve goals than to predict negative effects in those areas. Overall, just over half of women (52 percent) anticipated that an unplanned birth would negatively impact at least four of these seven areas of life. (The other 48 percent of women fell into three groups of roughly equal size, anticipating mostly positive effects, mostly neutral effects, or mixed effects.)

Certain demographic traits predicted different views of the consequences of an unintended birth. Women who were white, had at least some college education, and had a family income about 138 percent of the federal poverty line were more likely to say an unintended birth would have mostly negative consequences than respondents who were black or Hispanic, had a high school diploma at most, and had low household income. In short, women who statistically faced a greater risk of unintended pregnancy had less negative expectations about how it would affect a woman. (Marital status and age, however, generally were not linked to respondents’ views.)

Finally, women who had actually experienced an unplanned birth held more positive perceptions about how such an event impacts a woman’s life. When asked specifically about how their unintended birth changed their lives, their views were surprisingly varied, as the below figure indicates.


*This figure is adapted from Figure 4 in Emily M. Johnston, Brigette Courtot, Jacob Fass, Sarah Benatar, Adele Shartzer, and Genevieve M. Kenney, “Prevalence and Perceptions of Unplanned Births,” Urban Institute, March 2017. Source: Survey of Family Planning and Women’s Lives 2016. Note: n=764 women with an unplanned birth.

These women were more likely to report that their unplanned birth had no effects on most major aspects of their lives (36 percent) than to report primarily negative (29.6 percent), primarily positive (20.4 percent), or mixed effects (14 percent).

If you pause to consider the financial, logistical, and personal demands of caring for a new baby, these claims might seem overly rosy. Perhaps women are loath to admit—to researchers and even to themselves—that the child they love has made them worse off in any way. Without discounting this possibility, I believe unintended pregnancies may offer both challenges and opportunities to many women.

In their 2005 book, Promises I Can Keep, Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas record what some young, disadvantaged single mothers told them about how their children changed their lives:

In these decaying, inner-city neighborhoods [of Philadelphia], motherhood is the primary vocation for young women, and those who strive to do it well are often transformed by the process. Nineteen-year-old Shonta, an African American with one child who became a mother at only fourteen, says she knows motherhood “has its ups and downs, [but] I never felt my daughter held me back from anything. If anything she taught me how to be responsible and mature.” Nineteen-year-old Adlyn declares that if she were childless, “I would be on the street…because I used to be out on the streets getting high. And look at me now! I’m going to school, doing what I got to do. I’m telling everyone, watch me when I’m done!”…

Over and over again, mothers tell us their children tamed or calmed their wild behavior, got them off the street, and helped put their lives back together. Children can banish depression, calm a violent temper, or serve as do-it-yourself rehab from alcohol or drugs. Children—and the minute-by-minute demands they make on their mothers’ time, energy, and emotions—bring order out of chaos.

Joy Pullmann’s experience of becoming a mother was much different from Shonta and Adlyn’s. Married, college-educated, and launching a career that she loved, Pullmann was devastated when she became pregnant years before she had planned to. Becoming a mother, she wrote for The Federalist, “ruined my world to remake it.” Motherhood made her life harder—but she likes the person it is turning her into.

What about a woman’s career? Heather Havrilesky at The Cut has argued that having kids actually improved her career (without specifying whether her pregnancies were planned). Once you’re a parent, she says, “the time you spend at work—which is probably a little shorter now—feels less meaningless somehow”:

Work constitutes a break from wiping someone else’s butt, doesn’t it? So work starts to feel worth savoring, too. But since you probably have far less time to spend at work now, guess what? You become more efficient... You are more productive and you enjoy your work more—which, in turn, makes you even more productive.

Maybe that’s why so many women in the Urban Institute study who had experienced an unintended birth said that it had had no effect (or a positive effect) on their education and job, and why over half of these women said their unplanned birth increased their motivation to achieve their goals. Whether planned or not, the birth of a(nother) child often causes women and men alike to re-evaluate their priorities and focus on what matters most to them.

None of this is meant to downplay the long-term difficulties many couples face when a pregnancy test is unexpectedly positive, nor to imply that the government and private sector are doing enough to accommodate and support parents. My point is simple: If we trust the women who speak from experience, an unexpected birth is not always the catastrophe we might imagine.


1. Unlike some of the literature on unplanned pregnancies and births, the Urban Institute report did not distinguish between mistimed pregnancies (to women who wanted to have a baby at some point in the future, but not at the time they became pregnant) and unwanted pregnancies (to women who did not want to become pregnant at that point or any time in the future).

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Wed, 24 May 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Chinese Couples Are Right to Choose Marriage Over Cohabitation https://ifstudies.org/blog/chinese-couples-are-right-to-choose-marriage-over-cohabitation https://ifstudies.org/blog/chinese-couples-are-right-to-choose-marriage-over-cohabitation by W. Bradford Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP)

Across the West—from the UK to the US, and from Canada to Chile—cohabitation is on the march and marriage is in retreat. One indication of cohabitation’s advance: in all these countries, more than 20 percent of children are born to cohabiting couples. As of now, however, cohabitation has not established a major beachhead in East Asia, especially when it comes to childbearing. The share of children born to cohabiting couples in East Asia— including mainland China and Hong Kong—is negligible. That’s good news.

We can debate the merits of cohabitation for adults. Some believe it’s a good way to maximize your freedom before settling down or to test the waters before marriage, all in ways that pose no risk to your future marital prospects. Others think it can prematurely lock you into a suboptimal relationship or degrade your capacity to commit to a marriage down the road.

But if we put aside thinking about adults and focus instead on the welfare of children, the case for not combining cohabitation and children looks strong. That’s because, at least in the West, cohabitation has proved much less stable than marriage as a context for the bearing and raising of children. In a recent report for the Social Trends Institute and Institute for Family Studies, “The Cohabitation-Go-Round: Cohabitation and Family Instability Across the Globe”, my co-authors and I found that children born to cohabiting couples in Europe and America are about 90 per cent more likely to see their parents break up, compared to children born to married parents, even after controlling for a range of background factors. Moreover, this general pattern holds true in countries as different as the United States, Britain, Italy, and Norway.

What’s more, when we looked at trends in more than 60 countries across the globe—from South Africa to Mexico—we found that family instability generally increases in countries as cohabitation advances. In these countries, over the past two decades or so, every percentage point increase in the share of children born to cohabiting couples was linked to a decline of 0.27 percentage points in the share of children living with both biological parents around the age of 12. In other words, as marriage loses ground, boys and girls are more likely to be exposed to family instability and single parenthood.

Continue reading at the South China Morning Post . . . .

 

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Tue, 23 May 2017 08:00:00 -0400
What Does Culture Have to Do With the American Dream? https://ifstudies.org/blog/what-does-culture-have-to-do-with-the-american-dream https://ifstudies.org/blog/what-does-culture-have-to-do-with-the-american-dream by Melissa Kearney (@kearney_melissa)

In recent years, Stanford economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues have pioneered the study of economic mobility in American life. His work indicates that certain types of communities are significantly more likely to foster rags-to-riches mobility for poor children over the course of their lives than other communities. In short, his work suggests that communities with less racial/economic segregation, better schools, more income equality, more social capital, and more two-parent families are more likely to promote the American Dream for poor children. So, for instance, Salt Lake City is more conducive to mobility than Atlanta.

Chetty recently presented his work at the American Enterprise Institute, where University of Maryland economist Melissa Kearney was one of several panelists to reflect on the significance of his research. Because her remarks at the AEI event are particularly noteworthy, we are providing an edited transcript of those comments here.

[T]his work by Raj Chetty and his team is truly astounding and groundbreaking. The findings are incredibly important and have just yielded such insight that we couldn’t possibly have obtained without…Raj and his team’s access and careful work with this data.

But as an economist, when you look at what they’ve put out, it’s extremely challenging from the perspective of economic analysis in economic policy. There are three key reasons why I say that.

The first is that this is sort of irrefutable data, showing us that there are real differences across places in prospects for upward mobility. But we’re left with the question of why. And the “mover” studies are even more challenging because, in two of the studies, Raj and his coauthor show us that kids who move to different places have better outcomes. So now we know that places themselves have causal impacts on kids’ outcomes.

But, again, we don’t really know why. The correlates are important, but it’s really important for us to realize, as researchers and policy observers, that the correlates are just clues as to what might be going on and where we should look. But as Raj pointed out, those are not necessarily where the solutions lie. So, we really need to keep pushing to figure out the mechanisms.

The second challenge that I take from this body of work is—what do we do with this information? The answer can’t be, in my mind, just to get everyone to move. And this is one of those things academic economists and urban economists will frequently say. If you ask, “What should we tell the mayor of a declining city?” a typical academic economist’s response (public finance economist, urban economist) is [to] give the people who live there vouchers and tell them to move. That might work in our utility maximizing model, but this is why people don’t like talking to us, right, because what mayor is going to say, “Here, everyone in Detroit, take your voucher and go to the promised land”?

Another reason I’m worried about the moving idea is because…if we think about what Raj showed us: social capital is built when people invest in their communities. And so, if we come in and say, “Hey, folks who are looking for better opportunities, you should leave,” that explicitly undermines social capital. So, I worry about that as our policy prescription as well.

Finally, on this point, I’ll make the obvious observation that it seems that a lot of what is a place is the people who live there. If we take everyone from Atlanta and move them to Salt Lake City, it’s no longer Salt Lake City. And so, at best, giving people vouchers or opportunities to move to better cities or better places is a partial solution to the problem, and we really need to figure out how to achieve better outcomes in a broader swath of the country.

Nine out of 10 poverty scholar economists that I talked to didn’t like that book [Hillbilly Elegy]. Why? Because it tells you the story is about family, this is about culture, and this is about things that we don’t understand or really know how to change.

And, finally, the thing that really makes economists squirm when we look at these results—if we’re honest with ourselves—is that the factors that seem to be correlated—again, these are the clues as to what we might need to be pushing on—they are really more about culture than are policy levers. And this keeps coming up.

We saw this last year in the bestselling book Hillbilly Elegy, and I’ll be honest: nine out of 10 poverty scholar economists that I talked to didn’t like that book. Why? Because it tells you the story is about family, this is about culture, and this is about things that we don’t understand or really know how to change.

This figure below is from Raj’s early paper with this coauthors in 2014. And I want to pull this up because this is really the figure that sort of took my breath away three years ago. I think it’s important to see the factors that are highly correlated with rates of upward mobility, as well as the ones that aren’t.

If you look at the factors in yellow, these are the things that are highly correlated with rates of upward mobility. We’ve got the way our communities and our cities are organized. Residential segregation, that really matters. Social capital index, fraction religious, the fraction of households headed by single moms, and married and divorce rates. The middle one—tests and high school dropout [rates]—I think of those more as sort of behaviors that respond to the conditions.

The things that are policy levers that, as public finance economists, we might have wanted to pull to make things better, those come in really low on this chart. [Things like] state EITC exposure, tax progress, CVT, college per capita, and college tuition. The data is suggesting that those are not the clues for the things that really matter. And just for fun, I’ll point out in green that this is not about Chinese imports or a share of foreign-born. Those are not highly correlated.

So, I think this is really challenging. And it suggests culture matters. And, again, as an economist, I can’t even write “culture” without putting in quotes because we don’t know what it really is. But I think one way, as social scientists, we can think about it is this doesn’t just fall from the sky. It’s in part a reaction—a response of individuals—to their world around them and the economic conditions and opportunities that they’re seeing. So, their economic experience, their childhood experiences shape their behaviors—their decision to stay in school, to get married, or to have a birth outside of marriage. And then these things affect their rates or their likelihood of upward mobility or being in a stable or unstable relationship. And so, we’ve got this cycle of behaviors responding to conditions reflecting behaviors, and that’s what we need to figure out how to address.

I’ve become really interested in this idea of the culture of despair, which fits with what we’re seeing in sociology, ethnography, and development psychology. I think it’s something that, as economists and policy observers and policymakers, we have to think more seriously about. And this is consistent with Chetty, Hendren, and Katz' findings about MTO: the kids who move when they’re younger get the biggest effect. And that suggests that it’s consistent with the idea that somehow, we’re changing who they see themselves as, who they’re interacting with, and their worldview.

So, I think the question that this really poses for us is: How do we improve the life chances and perceptions of low-income individuals and kids, without simply moving them to live with more high-income people? Let me just list the four buckets that I would like us to hopefully talk about.

  1. We need to address residential segregation, and to do that seriously, will be really hard and will require much larger disruptive policy interventions than I think we’ve considered previously.
  2. We need to address the outlook and attitudes of these low-income kids growing up in disadvantaged areas. I think there are a lot of low-cost ways to do that, which don’t require federal legislation or even a lot of federal money. There are things that local groups, private-sector groups could do, so that’s encouraging.
  3. We need to leverage higher education as an engine of upward mobility. I love this latest paper that Raj Chetty and his coauthors have put out, and for me, the message that screams from that data is we need much more investment in our public universities. If legislatures and big donors want to get bang for their buck, that’s where they should be putting the money.
  4. And sort of underlying all of this, we need a real, dedicated investment in human potential, and that’s going to require a very well-funded, well-structured social safety net.

Melissa S. Kearney is a Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Maryland. She is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); a non-resident Senior Fellow at Brookings; a scholar affiliate and member of the board of the Notre Dame Wilson-Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO); and a scholar affiliate of the MIT Abdul Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), and co-chair of the J-PAL cities and states initiative.

 

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Mon, 22 May 2017 10:26:00 -0400
Friday Five 179 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-179 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-179 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Intermarriage in the U.S. 50 Years After Loving v. Virginia
Gretchen Livingston and Anna Brown, Pew Research Center

Male Earnings, Marriageable Men, and Nonmarital Fertility: Evidence from the Fracking Boom
Melissa S. Kearney & Riley Wilson, National Bureau of Economic Research

What We Know and Don't Know About Declining Labor Force Participation: A Review
Eleanor Krause and Isabel Sawhill, Brookings Institution

Lessons in Love: How a Hong Kong Marriage School Can Teach Couples to Live Happily Ever After
Kate Whitehead, South China Morning Post

Dads Need More Family Time, Study Shows
David Sharaz, SBS News

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Fri, 19 May 2017 08:00:00 -0400