Institute for Family Studies Blog The Institute for Family Studies (IFS) is dedicated to strengthening marriage and family life, and advancing the well-being of children, through research and public education. In Europe, Cohabitation is Stable, Right? by Laurie DeRose and W. Bradford Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP)

What matters for the well-being of children is family stability, rather than marriage per se. This is the view of some scholars today. They note that children who see the end of their parents’ relationship and additional partners coming in and out of the home are more likely to act up in school, end up pregnant as teenagers, and be delinquent. The damage caused by instability has been described by many scholars of all political inclinations, including Wendy Manning and Andrew Cherlin.

Marriage Equals Stability…

It is easy to see why some conclude that marriage per se does not matter. But here’s the thing: marriage is itself strongly associated with family stability. U.S. children born to cohabiting parents are twice as likely to see their parents’ relationship end compared to children born to married parents:

Our new report from the Social Trends Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, The Cohabitation-Go-Round: Cohabitation and Family Instability Across the Globe, shows that the “stability premium” associated with marriage holds even among highly educated families. Almost half of cohabiting college-educated mothers will break up with their partner before their child turns 12, compared to less than one-fifth of mothers who were married when the child was born.

…Even in Europe

The marriage-stability connection is pretty clear in the U.S. But there is a prevailing view that the story is different in Europe. Indeed, Cherlin’s own work on family instability suggests that cohabitation and marriage are functional equivalents in Scandinavia and France, where he suggests there “are many long-term cohabiting parents who maintain families that are little different from lasting marriages.”

But it turns out that even in Europe, cohabitation is markedly less stable for children than marriage. Analyzing data from 16 countries across Europe, we find that children born to cohabiting couples are about 90 percent more likely to see their parents break up by the time they turn 12, compared to children born to married parents.

In France, for instance, children are about 66 percent more likely to see their parents break up if they are born to a cohabiting couple. The gap is again visible even for highly educated couples:

Continue reading at The Brookings Institution . . .

Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Social Trust and the Heroin Epidemic by Amber Lapp (@AmberDavidLapp)

Since I first moved to southwestern Ohio five years ago, the heroin epidemic has gotten worse. As the Washington Post reported last week, some counties in Ohio have had to resort to temporary “mobile morgues” due to the high number of overdose-related deaths.  

In my working-class town, it is hard to miss the daily signs of this epidemic. There are the sirens, the police cars, the billboards soliciting information about dealers, and the “Go Fund Me” pages shared on Facebook to raise money for funeral expenses. There are the people who walk the streets “looking like death” as my neighbor put it—their bodies gaunt and ghost-like, hollowed out. Recently, I found a needle in the street close to where I park our family minivan.  

On my kitchen table is a vase with a large white rose and a cluster of smaller pink ones, a memento from a funeral I attended a few weeks ago. The woman, age 29, died of an overdose and left behind a four-year-old daughter, who on the day of the funeral went twirling about from family member to family member, her long blonde curls whipping in the wind at the gravesite, too young to really comprehend her loss.

In the span of two weeks in our small town, there were three funeral processions winding their way up cemetery hill, the culprit of each an opioid overdose. Lynn, 25, and a recovering addict herself, estimates that she has been to at least one heroin-related funeral per month in the past year.

The credit union around the corner—the one that I walk to regularly with my sons who love to beg the tellers for lollipops while I make a deposit—was robbed twice by the same suspect in the course of a week. Talk is that it was a man looking for drug money. 

To hear people talk, drugs have transformed the community from a town in which no one locked their doors to one in which you can no longer trust your neighbor.

Lynn feels that the world is getting worse, that her generation is all but hopeless, that the government doesn’t care about addicts dying on the streets and perhaps is even to blame for dropping fentanyl in heroin as a form of population control. As she talks, a dark portrait emerges. She shares this pessimistic worldview with some other young adults in her town, like the young man who posted on Facebook, “What’s this world coming to?!” with the hashtag #littlefaithleft.  

I was with Lynn on inauguration day as she sat in her grandma’s garage watching Fox News, and I’ve wondered since if the harsh realities she sees in her community made her more amenable to Donald Trump and what many media reports described as his “dark” tone. As Christopher Caldwell points out in his recent First Things piece, “American Carnage,”

A willingness to at least talk about opioid deaths (among other taboo subjects) surely helped Donald Trump win last November’s election. In his inaugural address, President Trump referred to the drug epidemic (among other problems) as ‘carnage.’ Those who call the word an irresponsible exaggeration are wrong.

In the case of the heroin epidemic, the “carnage” is literal, resulting in death, but it is also social, as in the loss of trust. The heroin epidemic is most severe among poor and working-class whites, and this same demographic has significantly lower levels of social trust than their college-educated counterparts. The heroin epidemic is surely not the only or even the main cause of this trust gap, but I wonder if it is not part of the story.

Perhaps it is little surprise that amid this backdrop of low social trust and dark realities, this demographic of young adults is struggling to form stable relationships and families. As I reported in my last post, “Casual Sex and the Crisis of Trust,” 71 percent of the non-college-educated young adults my husband and I interviewed in southwestern Ohio described some form of “trust issues” in a romantic relationship. And as Lynn told me, she wants to believe that love exists, but she says that “having a loving family is not guaranteed.” You never know if your spouse will “be gone tomorrow.” Of her experiences with heroin and the way it has robbed those closest to her, she says, “I was already an agnostic person about everything, and now I’m even more so. I feel like I’m questioning everything.”

To be sure, the crisis of trust is partly the legacy of the sexual and divorce revolutions, not just the drug revolution. But there seems to be a relationship that goes both ways between social distrust and family breakdown, with trauma in the family contributing to low levels of social trust, and low levels of social trust making it more difficult to form stably attached families. Beating the heroin epidemic could help to strengthen families, both because of the spillover effects of stronger social trust and because it would help individual families struggling with addiction. Likewise, a thriving marriage ecosystem could help alleviate the heroin epidemic in the long run, if it is true that trauma makes a person more susceptible to addiction.  

This is where Christopher Caldwell’s otherwise fascinating analysis fell somewhat flat for me. “Moral condemnation,” he writes, “is an incomplete response to the addict. But it has its place, because it does the addict the compliment of assuming he has a conscience, a set of thought processes.” He sees “the deeper problem” of the heroin epidemic as the cultural renunciation of “our allegiance to anything that forbids or commands.” But in small towns across America, the stigma against users is already strong. To paraphrase what one longtime resident once told me, towns are divided by those who go to church, and those who use drugs. And, for recovering addicts like Lynn, that is part of the problem. Others judge her with phrases like “once an addict, always an addict” and for her to break back into the social fabric of her town, to regain trust, even the trust of family members, is difficult.

Lynn would agree that she needs tough love and accountability, but she also stresses the need for grace and for genuine second (and third and fourth) chances. Mostly, she wants people to start noticing the crisis in a way that allows them to begin to understand the “roots” of addiction, the reasons an addict does what she does. She wants people to stop simply blaming the addict and instead start seeing the addict’s need for healing and community. Sermonizing does little to actually stop the problem if the failed attempts of programs like D.A.R.E.—“Just say no!”—are any indicator.

The other day, as she sat in the passenger seat of my minivan, which was somewhere in the middle of the funeral procession, Lynn grew angry as she watched cars whizzing past. “Don’t they know that it is a sign of respect to stop and honor the dead?” she demanded, adding that in the Kentucky town she once lived, people know better. “Not many respectable people left in the world,” she sighed.

The cry I hear from young adults like Lynn is for their struggle to be noticed, affirmed, and honored. As Caldwell says, we must pay the addict “the compliment of assuming he has a conscience,” and we must “reckon with why addicts go to such lengths to continue suffering.” To do so will require something different than moral condemnation. It will require stopping—stopping to listen, learn, and strategize solutions together—instead of whizzing by an inconvenient crisis.

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Friday Five 172 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Preventing the Negative Effects of Poverty on Child Development
National Prevention Science Coalition To Improve Lives

Family Trajectories and Wellbeing of Children Born to Lone Mothers in the United Kingdom  
Elena Mariani, Berkay Özcan, & Alice Goisis, Families and Societies, Working Paper Series

Promoting Resilience in Military Families: March 17 Lecture Series
National Council on Family Relations

Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century
Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton, Brookings Institution

Work-Family Policy in Trump’s America: Addressing the Concerns of Working-Class Families
March 28, 2017, 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM 
David and Amber Lapp, American Enterprise Institute

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0400
How Multiple Partner Fertility Influences Child Well-Being by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

If I had to describe my family life when I was a child, it would be complicated. I am the only child of my parents, who divorced when I was two. By the time I turned five, both my parents had remarried. From their new unions, I gained five half-siblings—three from my father’s marriage and two from my mother’s. Her new husband also had two sons from a previous union, so until they divorced, I also had two step-brothers. I love my half-siblings very much, but our relationship has sometimes been complicated by the reality that I have a different biological mother and father. Although both my parents went to great lengths to blend me into their new families, I always felt like a bit of an outsider in both.

I grew up in a community where this type of family complexity was common: many of my relatives also had remarried parents, half-siblings, step-parents, and distant (or absent) biological fathers, and some of my family members grew up to form complex families of their own. Perhaps that’s why I did not consider it all that unusual for my parents to “have biological children with more than one person”—a phenomenon family scholars call “multiple partner fertility” or MPF—nor did I connect the complexity of my family to the instability I experienced as a child.

While MPF is certainly not new, it is increasingly common today due to the rise in divorce and nonmarital childbearing. Just how common has been difficult for researchers to track, mainly because of the complexity and instability associated with it. To better estimate its prevalence, a new U.S. Census Bureau research brief relies on data from the 2014 Survey of Income and Program (SIPP) Participation, the first nationally-representative survey to include a specific question about MPF.

The SIPP allowed the Census Bureau to examine the prevalence of MPF among different populations: adults (age 15 and older), parents of biological children, parents of two or more biological children, mothers and fathers, and cohabiting and married-parent families. The report notes that MPF is defined by biological children, not by custody, the living arrangements of the child, or the child’s age, and includes single, divorced, married, and cohabiting parents.

According to the report, one in 10 U.S. adults, or 10.1 percent of individuals aged 15 and older, has experienced MPF. The prevalence of MPF increases among parents (“adults with biological children”), where 15.7 percent have MPF. It is even higher (and possibly more accurate) among parents of two or more biological children: 20.6 percent have MPF (see figure below). Among men and women with two or more children, 21.6 percent of mothers have MPF, while 19.3 percent of fathers have MPF.

A Profile of the MPF Parent

While MPF does occur after divorce and remarriage, it is more common among unmarried couples. According to the Census report, 19.2 percent of married opposite-sex couples include “at least one partner” who has a biological child from another union, while in 27.6 percent of cohabiting opposite-sex couples, "one or both partners" has MPF. 

A 2014 study by Karen Benjamin Guzzo found that men and women with MPF also tend to start having children earlier in life, and are significantly less likely to have an intended first birth and to have their first birth in a co-residential union. Moreover, a study by University of Wisconsin sociologist Marcia Carlson and Frank Furstenberg found that MPF is more common among low-income and less educated parents, Black/non-Hispanic men and women, parents who grew up in single-parent families, and fathers who have been incarcerated.

What Impact Does MPF Have on Children?

An extensive body of research has linked MPF with negative child well-being. One reason is that MPF can diminish a parent’s ability to parent well. For example, a recently published study by Paula Fomby found that mothers with MPF are more likely to experience depression and parenting stress than mothers who have biological children with only one father.

As to why mothers with MPF tend to be more stressed and prone to depression, it might be partly due to how having children with multiple partners can divide a mother’s loyalty. If her new partner mistreats her child from a previous union, or if the child and stepdad simply do not get along, the mother is understandably conflicted. If she sides with her child over her new man, it could cause problems between them, or, worse, result in her other children (the biological kids of her new partner) losing their father. Sadly, I’ve watched this division of loyalty lead stressed-out mothers to stay too long with men who are a danger to at least one of their children.

Another consistent finding related to child well-being in MPF families is that these children tend to have less involved fathers. In a presentation about her study, Marcia Carlson explained that the MPF fathers often spend less time and resources on their biological children from former unions:

Some people have called this 'swapping families,' the fathers have moved on in a certain way. There's less incentive to invest in your kids when you don't live with them; you don't know how the money you give is spent; you are not involved with your children daily.

Sometimes, a father’s relationship with his biological child is inhibited by the child’s mother and her new partner. I’ve seen mothers push their child’s biological father away (often under pressure from their new boyfriend or husband) so their partner can be the child's "new daddy." In addition to disrupting the child’s vital connection to his or her biological father, this can backfire when the mother’s new relationship ends, or if her partner does not end up being the stepfather she hoped he would.

For children, MPF is associated with a greater risk of behavior problems, poor academic performance, adolescent drug use, and depression. A recent study by Cynthia Osborne and Paula Fomby using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study found that MPF was “robustly related to self-reported delinquency and teacher-reported behavior problems” among children born to married mothers.

Another study found that the presence of half and step-siblings in a family is associated with a greater risk of depression, delinquency, and poor academic performance for children. Finally, a study by Karen Benjamen Guzzo and Cassandra Dorius found that a mother’s MPF has a “significant direct and moderated effect on adolescent drug use and sexual debut net of cumulative family instability and exposure to particular family forms like marriage, cohabitation, and divorce.”

Of course, MPF does not impact all children in the same way, and not every child growing up in an MPF family will experience these adverse outcomes (thankfully, I avoided most of them). But as I saw in my family, MPF can complicate parent and sibling relationships.

When we read that 1 in 6 U.S. parents has biological children with more than one person, we should remember the children behind those numbers—children growing up in often unstable families where they must navigate the complexities of their parents’ romantic relationships and the birth of half-siblings, while also potentially dealing with the loss of relationship with their other biological parent, often the father. Multiple partner fertility might be a reality for many families today, but it is one with troubling implications for the social and economic well-being of future generations.

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 10:00:00 -0400
Why the Little Moments in Marriage Matter by Anna Sutherland (@annams59)

It’s 5:30 p.m. when your spouse walks in the front door. What’s the first thing you do? a) Ask him/her to do something, b) Complain about how cranky the kids have been or about your tough workday, or c) Smile and say hi.

Option C might not come naturally at the end of a long, stressful day, but an increasing amount of research implies that mundane positive interactions lay the foundation for strong, lasting marriages. It’s not just that we all prefer everyday pleasantries to complaints and chore assignments; it’s also because the moments of mutual connection protect marriages from the negative interactions we all confront from time to time.

The latest piece of evidence for this theory comes from a report by University of Texas at Austin researchers Courtney Walsh, Lisa Neff, and Marci Gleason. Published in the Journal of Family Psychology, the study examined the links between recently married couples’ shared positive experiences, negative behaviors, and marital satisfaction. The 171 participating couples recruited into the study were all in their first marriage, had been married less than six months, and had no children at the time the study began. Their relationship experiences and happiness were measured over a three-year period in a series of three 14-day daily surveys.  

The results largely echoed earlier work and mirrored the researchers’ expectations:

individuals who generally reported accumulating more emotional capital over each diary period exhibited lower reactivity to their partner’s daily negative behaviors compared with individuals who generally reported accumulating less emotional capital within the relationship.

That is, the daily marital satisfaction of people who regularly enjoyed more positive exchanges with their spouses—building up “emotional capital”—was less vulnerable to negative experiences. Your spouse’s occasional impatience and criticism hurt your day-to-day marital happiness less if the two of you have emotional reserves to fall back on.

The key word in that last sentence is “occasional.” According to other scholars, pleasant interactions vastly outnumber negative ones in successful marriages. Renowned relationship researcher John Gottman, who has observed hundreds of couples as they converse and spend time together, believes that the “magic ratio” for a stable marriage is five to one. “As long as there is five times as much positive feeling and interaction between husband and wife as there is negative,” he wrote in Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, “we found the marriage was likely to be stable.” (Walsh, Neff, and Gleason did not focus on this question, but they reported that their findings imply that negative experiences weigh more than positive ones in individuals’ assessments of their relationships.)

So what does the abstraction of emotional capital look like in real life? When they discuss “emotional capital” and “positive interactions,” scholars have in mind simple things like spouses enjoying a leisure activity together, complimenting and expressing appreciation for each other, laughing together, and responding generously to each other’s “bids” for conversation and connection. (Brett and Kate McKay recently suggested even more ideas at The Art of Manliness.) In the metaphor of Gottman and others, positive shared experiences such as these are like deposits in a bank account. Negative behaviors and interactions—criticism, broken promises, conflicts that turn nasty—are like withdrawals. Without frequent deposits of emotional capital, withdrawals will leave your relationship bankrupt.

Unlike an earlier study, this one did not find a link between emotional capital on one day and reactivity to negative spousal behavior on the next. Here it was only chronic emotional capital, measured as the average daily capital in a 14-day survey phase, that mattered. The study results remained significant when general marital satisfaction was controlled for. Walsh, Neff, and Gleason recommend that future research investigate other factors that could influence the links they found, such as individuals’ personality traits and attachment style, and test whether their findings hold not just for happy newlyweds but also, say, couples confronting serious problems in their marriages. In the meantime, as unromantic as the bank account metaphor may sound, most of us could surely use the reminder that devoting energy to the little moments in marriage pays off in the long run.

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 09:00:00 -0400
Yesterday’s Love Stories: The Gray Divorce Phenomenon by Rhonda Kruse Nordin

It was a dark and stormy night. The rain came down in torrents, beating against my windshield, slowing my drive. I arrived at the community center later than intended, but still in time to visit with the young mothers who had gathered to hear me speak. 

Despite the weather, their mood was jovial, in anticipation, I suspect, of my message about sex and intimacy. Their unrestrained chatter revealed a desire to hear immediate and magical solutions—not unlike most couples with whom I speak, who want to build or restore a lasting marriage.

This wasn’t the first time I’d addressed such a crowd; over nearly 30 years, I have dedicated my efforts to researching and writing on family formation, and sharing that information with young couples.

That night, as on many other occasions, I doled out my wisdom, drawing upon anecdotes from hundreds of committed couples, sharing intricate workings of my own long-term marriage, and honing in on “time-honored solutions” offered by doctors, psychologists, family therapists, and clergy members. 

Yet, for the first time, my heart just wasn’t in it. Secretly, I questioned my effectiveness. Did I really have any ideas for these eager young women? There are no guarantees, after all, that doing just the right thing, at just the right time, assures marital longevity. Clouded in skepticism, I doubted I could inspire one mother, even one iota.

And if they were looking to my generation for a blueprint of a lasting marriage, well, perhaps we didn’t have one. Just that morning, I’d read the recent report by the Pew Research Center on “gray divorce.” Based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau, Pew reports that the divorce rate among adults age 50 and older “roughly doubled” between 1990 and 2015. During this same timeframe, the divorce rate nearly tripled for adults over age 65. 

These numbers simply hit too close to home. I know firsthand many real-life situations that led to the dissolution of these later-in-life unions. The men and women that have fueled this rise in divorce are, after all, my contemporaries—Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964. They were certainly old enough to be the parents, and maybe the grandparents, of those in my audience that night. Statistically, many of the young mothers before me may have experienced this so-called “graying of divorce” that had doubled in their lifetime. 

I mentally shuffled through the long list of divorces I knew intimately—those of family members and friends and the many couples I’d come to know professionally. Despite differences, their stories were the same. Each had once cared for the other fiercely, yet failed to overcome less than affable qualities that emerged since they married, or to forge the unbreakable bond that keeps couples tethered together forever.

We were the generation that married. Inspired by the on-screen romance between Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal in Love Story, we walked cross-stage for our diploma one day, and through church doors the next. Our marriage rate was roughly 40 percent higher when I left high school in 1972 than was recorded some 40 years later. We also married earlier, beating today’s couples to the altar by a good six years, on average.

While Love Story led us to believe that “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” we learned that simply wasn’t true. One in four marriages ended within five years, a dissolution rate nearly a third higher than estimates for that same time span following marriage in 2014.

Few couples labored over whom to blame for a marriage that wasn’t working: by then, the “No Fault Divorce Law” was enacted in California and adopted thereafter in most states, thus fueling a jump in divorces by 20 to 25 percent, followed by a gradual rise in ensuing years.

Ever believers in the institution of marriage, the bulk of Baby Boomers that divorced, went on to remarry, have children and grandchildren, and for many, live happily ever after—at least for a decade or two.

Marriages flourish only when we find a way to learn from and work through the times we really don’t feel like doing those things that make a marriage work.

Researchers now link this earlier pattern of marital instability among Baby Boomers to today’s rising divorce rate for those over the age of 50. Nearly half of divorces among those over 50 involve men and women in remarriages, which, according to Pew, “are less stable than first marriages.” Among all adults 50 and over who divorced in 2015, 48 percent were in their second or later marriage.

Couples that remarry later in life also face a greater risk of divorce. Among adults 50 and older who have been married for less than 10 years, the divorce rate is roughly a third higher than for couples married longer at 20 to 29 years, according to the Pew report.

Of course, these generalities don’t hold for all remarriages or for all later-in-life unions. I know of many rock-solid remarriages and an equal amount of flimsy firsts.

No marriage appears to be home free. Even long-term marriages like my own, involving men and women that have been married 30, 40, even 50 years, aren’t immune from gray-divorce. In fact, Pew notes that a sizable share of gray divorces (34 percent) occur among couples that have been married for over 30 years, and one-in-10 couples (12 percent) have been married for more than 40.

The reasons that possess men and women to end a marriage after what seems “a lifetime together” are as varied as the couples themselves. We may think we know what causes the rift between a man and a woman: It’s her cooking, his drinking, her carousing. Maybe she swears, or he snores. Perhaps it’s the house, or their jobs, or the kids, or all three. No one really knows what goes on within the four walls of a home. So really, none of us can judge, nor should we.

That night, though, I shoved my concerns over gray divorce to the back of my mind and refocused on the women before me. Fresh-faced, wide-eyed, and giddy at the prospect of gleaning some bit of wisdom to apply to their marriages, they were waiting for the magic. 

So, not holding back, I sifted through a mental file that housed details of many long and successful marriages I’ve known. I told them that happily-married couples do certain things each day to live together successfully. I expounded on the so-called “behaviors of love,” the common courtesies and everyday exchanges that add sparkle to a marriage or tarnish it with their absence. We touched upon the art of the simple smile, and identified trigger points of conflict and how to deflect them. The ideas I shared weren’t flashy or new, or—as I reminded the women—foolproof.

I chose not to share the results from Pew haunting me that evening. Divorce is less common for the young mothers in my audience. And the college educated (as most of them were) are less apt to divorce than their counterparts who are less educated. I wanted these young mothers to bask in the glow that yes, they could and they will succeed at marriage.

Being a husband or wife—regardless of age or time together—requires hard work, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice in a common project. Every couple is different, just as what makes them happy in their relationship varies greatly. Marriages flourish, I believe, only when we find a way to learn from and work through the times we really don’t feel like doing those things that make a marriage work—whether at 50, 60 or any stage of marriage.

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:30:00 -0400
The Power of Hospitality to Strengthen Families by Luma Simms (@lumasimms)

I don't remember my parents ever going out on dates, per se, when I was growing up. I do remember they spent a lot of time together, and with me and my sister. Even now in my late 40's, one of their greatest joys is when I visit, or when I take my children and we all gather at their home. As a matter of fact, we're in the process of moving houses so we can live within walking distance of my parents.

I'm an Iraqi immigrant; our marriage/family culture is so different from American marriage and family life that my family went through a dramatic culture shock when we came to America in the late 1970s. I was convinced that to be a well-assimilated and integrated American woman, I had to reject everything about my Iraqi-Christian culture. I've said before that I found assimilation to be more of a revolution than an adaptation. In some sense, I had to “revolt” against who I was before in order to enter into a new social order. It took me many years to understand and to practice well the art of bringing two cultures together within myself—and eventually in my family life.

In a recent article here at the Institute for Family Studies, Alysse ElHage compared the shared time of parents in the U.S. with parents in Spain and France. It was not surprising to me that parents in France and Spain spent more time per day with their partners than their U.S. counterparts. The study also found that the way parents spend time together is not strictly bound by work hours. Rather, it had more to do with the parenting norms of the studied cultures. This makes sense. Even after we came to America and our life became different—my parents worked longer hours per day and we had no extended family to care for us children—overall, we still spent more time together as a family than most American families. If there was one exception it would be those families who had a stay-at-home mom.

For a long time, I've tried to decipher the key differences between American family culture and my Iraqi-Christian sub-culture and the Arab culture in general. Although this is anecdotal because I don't have specific data on it, overall, I would say American parents do a better job at playing with their children and attending to a child's individual needs. That makes sense given the individual orientation and the liberal democratic principles of this culture. Liberal democratic principles (equality of personhood, respect for individual human rights, religious freedom, equal treatment before the law, non-violent civil disobedience, political and economic space for growth, etc.), coupled with a tempered individualism have the potential of producing a space for human flourishing. In harmony, these qualities can help parents see their children as their own persons with a soul which must be nurtured into good, mature, responsible members of society. But when these good cultural qualities become disordered and out of equilibrium, they can create a cultural atmosphere that acts against the well-being of the family.

In contrast, the Iraqi culture—indeed the whole of the Middle Eastern culture—tends to downplay the individual for the sake of the entire family, household, and clan. One of the first lessons I learned is “life isn't just about you,” but “you are connected to others and what you do affects many around you.” This rule applied to significant life decisions, such as which career path to choose or who to marry, all the way down to seemingly trivial practices like not eating the last apple in the refrigerator until everyone in the house has been asked if they want it first. As an aside, this was the area that caused me the greatest agitation and difficulty after I came to America, where I was surrounded by a different message: “think of yourself and your desires first.”

This constant consideration of others was most evident in the very generous and hospitable Arabic culture. Growing up, our weekends were full of gatherings—someone was always coming to our home or we would go visit other families—even though we lived 30 miles or more from most Arabic people. This cultural quality was manifested in multi-family picnics and camping trips; day trips to local lakes; formal Arabic parties with Middle Eastern entertainers; a variety of feast days and celebrations. Eventually, a critical mass of Arabs began to form closer to our home. Once the distance gap closed, the frequency of these hospitable practices increased: weekday gatherings over meze and a drink, or evening tea-time (a custom Arabs adopted from the British) became almost a daily occurrence. We lived in community to the fullest extent possible, so much so, that I used to quarrel with my mother over it. I was becoming more individualistic, fiercely jealous of my "me-time." My mother on the other hand—so given to hospitality—was forever saying “yes” to people dropping by for chi or qahwi (tea and Arabic coffee).

It's not that Arab people don't have hardships such as depression, marital problems, rebellious children, and so on. They do, but their response to these difficulties is more often eased by hospitality rather than Zoloft.

The hospitable quality of our culture plays an important role in the mental and physical health of individuals and families. It's not that Arab people don't have hardships such as depression, marital problems, rebellious children, and so on. They do, but their response to these difficulties is more often eased by hospitality rather than Zoloft. The social aspect of the hospitable act helps tremendously; loneliness is constantly alleviated. The men will interact with one another, discussing and arguing, while the women will gather, giving each other advice and support. These acts help to distract from the temptation of constant introspection.

If your idea of hospitality is restricted to a formal or semi-formal dinner party with no children within earshot, allow me to disabuse you of that thought. By hospitality, I mean a particular expression of love, an openness to other people, and a generosity of spirit. At the heart of hospitality is an orientation toward the other.

Many times, when we experience marital or family problems in this contemporary culture, our first response is to turn in on ourselves and focus on our own needs and wants. In contrast, hospitality exercises the habit of coming out of ourselves; it forces us to turn toward others, to serve, to prefer others above ourselves, and to avoid the temptation to turn inward.

I witnessed the healing effects of hospitality in my parents’ marriage. It was more than just having a temporary distraction from marital problems. Many times, when a hospitable act by one or the other came in the midst of a marital rift, my parents came toward each other later with a fresh perspective, a calmness, renewed openness, and a more controlled self-will. I've even seen fighting couples come to a party in evident discord with one another, only to be nudged by friends and family into reconciliation. The tangible healing effect of hospitality in my Arabic culture is imprinted upon my soul.

At the heart of hospitality is an orientation toward the other.

Doing acts for one another—from cooking a meal to giving the gift of time or service—often forms habits of the heart. The habit of loving and serving others and each other through hospitality is built not only in husbands and wives, but also acts as an example to children. It, in turn, helps your orientation toward your own family.

Hospitality includes suffering, yet another quality we need to do well in family life. My parents practiced hospitality even when we were poor immigrants. Many times over the years, in response to my questions of why we made the best food when we had guests, my mom would answer that we offer our best to others, even if we must skimp on ourselves during the week. That is the idea of putting others before yourself; it disabuses us of the me-centeredness prevalent in our culture.

This practice of hospitality may be one reason why there is less divorce in the Middle Eastern culture. In his IFS piece, Most Immigrant Families Are Traditional Families, Nicholas Zill reports on a study comparing immigrant families with native-born families. More immigrant couples stayed together, even those living below or close to the poverty line. He reports that “75 percent of immigrant children live in married-couple families, compared to 61 percent of children of U.S.-born parents.” With few exceptions, I found this to be true in my own immigrant community.

There are wonderful things about America, including liberties beyond imaginings. But there is also much we can learn from other cultures, beginning with the immigrants that live among us. This includes my own Middle Eastern culture, which has much to teach us about hospitality. The practice of hospitality in our communities and our homes is another way to strengthen family life and our nation.

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Friday Five 171 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Multiple Partner Fertility Research Brief
Lindsay M. Monte, U.S. Census Bureau

Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female (Live Stream)​
Friday, March 17, 12 PM 
Ashley McGuire, The Heritage Foundation

A Millennial Takes on Marriage
Kristin Eck, The Western Journal

Marriage No Longer Means Giving Up Autonomy, But That May Be Its Downfall
Katherine Lindemann, ResearchGate

The Impact of Fathers on Children's Mental Health
Word on the Streets

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0400
Lean In’s Biggest Hurdle: What Most Moms Want by Steven E. Rhoads

Academia is replete with efforts to help women advance in their careers by encouraging more equal patterns of male and female parenting and work. Several of these efforts have been striking failures. 

For example, gender-neutral tenure-extension policies at the nation’s 50 leading economics departments hurt female faculty. Rather than leveling the playing field, one study by a group of economists found that they “led to a 19 percentage-point rise in the probability that a male economist would earn tenure at his first job. In contrast, women’s chances of gaining tenure fell by 22 percentage points.” The study suggested that many men had used the stopped clock to conduct research, while the women concentrated on parenting duties.

Similarly, my own research (with my son Christopher) on gender-neutral parental leave found that fathers on the tenure track did less infant/toddler care than mothers on the tenure track, even if the men took parental leave after the child’s birth and the women did not. Moreover, when new parents were asked who did more when it came to 25 specific infant and toddler care tasks, on average, the spouses of the male professors did all 25 more often, while the female professors did all 25 more often than their spouses. These findings likewise imply that gender-neutral parental leave may give male faculty an extra boost toward tenure: the temporary break from teaching and other academic tasks allows them to devote more time to research—time that their female counterparts devote instead to their children. One explanation for these findings could be that in the parental leave study, the female professors reported that they enjoyed doing most of these tasks, and they enjoyed them more than their male counterparts. 

Ignoring the stronger female inclination to nurture seems certain to thwart feminist efforts well beyond academia. Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In has spawned lasting initiatives meant to spur the progress of women to positions of power in major corporations. To the same end, late last year, 27 CEOs of major corporations joined a new organization that seeks “gender parity at the top of major companies by 2030.” 

Such efforts should benefit the many women, mothers included, who want full-time work and aim to rise to the top in their professions. Yet, as this essay will show, most women who have dependent children don’t want to work full-time, much less to put in the hours required of corporate titans. We should listen to these women, too.

Initiatives aimed at changing historic male and female parenting and work patterns are based on the view that these historic patterns are socially constructed. But pregnancy and childbirth are not gender-neutral activities. They are biologically constructed and can be exhausting. Pregnancy is often accompanied by nausea and fatigue, and two different studies found that six months after giving birth, more than 75 percent of mothers have not achieved full functional status.

Even the roots of gender differences in parenting run deeper than societal norms and go beyond the simple fact that it is women who breastfeed. Women’s greater inclination to nurture infants and toddlers is also rooted in hormones and in brain structure. Women’s bodies have more receptors for the nurturing hormone oxytocin than men’s, especially in pregnancy and during breastfeeding. More recent imaging research shows that mothers’ brains change during pregnancy and after birth in ways that seem to increase their “emotional attachment to their babies.”

Initiatives aimed at changing historic male and female parenting and work patterns are based on the view that these historic patterns are socially constructed. But pregnancy and childbirth are not gender-neutral activities.

Evolution, too, helps explain the sex differences in nurturing inclinations. Helen Fisher puts it this way:

Surely ancestral women . . . needed to coordinate emotionally with their young. Those who suffered when they saw a sick or unhappy infant devoted more time and energy to keeping this child alive. Emotionally attuned mothers raised children who were well adjusted. These children disproportionately lived—gradually selecting for women’s superior ability to express sadness, pity, empathy, compassion, and other nurturing emotions.

But women don’t nurture children only out of anxiety and guilt. They also tend to enjoy it. In 2004, a 60 Minutes feature on highly educated, stay-at-home mothers attracted attention, in part, because the women seemed so happy with their choice.

Anne-Marie Slaughter has accomplished as much in her career as any woman of her generation. From a professor at Harvard Law school to President and CEO of New America, she has gone from one important position to another. But she may be best known for her 2012 Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” After its publication, according to one official biography, it “quickly became the most-read article in the history of the magazine and helped spark a renewed national debate on the continued obstacles to genuine full male-female equality.” 

A year later, dismayed by the increasing numbers of highly-educated women in their twenties who were declaring that they never wanted to have children, Slaughter took to The Atlantic again to emphasize the “sheer delight, pleasure, and wonder that child-rearing often affords” before concluding that “having children is the best thing I’ve ever done, by a mile.”

Slaughter’s thinking has continued to evolve.  Just last year, the Washington Post reported that she has had “some pretty significant changes of heart.” As the Post reports: “'When people say, ‘I’m home with my kids,’ I say, ‘You’re doing really important work,’ and I mean it,' she says. 'Whereas before, I was the classic woman that said, ‘Oh, what a pity.’ Like, ‘You’re not doing the real thing.’”

One can’t read this interview without seeing how hard it has been for Slaughter to have spent so little time with her children. She vividly remembers the “deep dismay” she felt the first time her child woke up at night and called for daddy, not mommy. Her sons are more likely to call her husband rather than her for advice or to share some good news. Looking back, she says:

Knowing what I know now, I wish I had taken one day a week when they were between 0 and 5 to be with them. I could have said, ‘Every Friday, instead of daycare, every Friday is a mom day.’ We would have done fun things. It would have mattered. And it would have been a pleasure for me.

Many young women seek Slaughter’s advice and mentorship. Her advice: “Don’t drop out, defer…. If you keep your hand in the workforce while you are devoting more of your time to care, it will be easier to ramp up than to get back in.”

That sounds a lot like part-time work to me. To be sure, Slaughter would likely give similar advice to men should they ask, and she would prefer to see an increase in the time men spend caregiving.

But differences in the inclination to nurture can help us understand why women are more torn about work-family issues than men, and why mothers are much more attracted to part-time work than fathers. In a 2013 Pew poll on modern parenthood, mothers with children under 18 were far more likely than fathers to say that ideally, they would work part-time or not at all. In 2015, Gallup reported similar findings

The Pew findings show that the higher the socio-economic status of their families, the more likely mothers were to prefer not to work full-time. Elizabeth Becker and Cotton Lindsay note that the most intelligent married women work less than other women outside the home; they think assortative mating best explains the underrepresentation of female workers among top earners. That is, the brightest women marry the brightest men, who usually make very good incomes. When these women have children, they are more likely than other women to drop out of the labor force or cut back dramatically on paid work outside the home. When a husband’s high income allows women to arrange their work-family choice in the absence of significant financial constraints, bright women especially choose to spend more time with family.

Differences in the inclination to nurture can help us understand why women are more torn about work-family issues than men, and why mothers are much more attracted to part-time work than fathers.

More recent research shows that even now—when more women are obtaining college degrees than men—women still marry men whose income exceeds their own. Indeed, the tendency for women to marry up in income is greater when the wife’s education level is higher than her husband’s than when it is lower.

Additional recent research by Joni Hersch shows that “Married MBA mothers with a bachelor's degree from the most selective schools are 30 percentage points less likely to be employed full-time than are graduates of less selective schools.” Hersch believes that “Graduates of elite institutions are likely to have a greater range of workplace options,” so inflexible workplaces cannot explain her research results. It seems choice could. Since very bright people tend to marry each other, women with bachelor’s degrees from selective institutions are more likely to marry men with better incomes, which allows them to spend more time with their children without a huge financial sacrifice. 

Would similar patterns hold in academia? The work of a team of researchers led by Camilla Benbow and David Lubinski suggests the answer is yes. They have published a series of important articles following children with high aptitude for science and math into their 30s. Many have ended up in research, often at universities. Among other things, Benbow and Lubinski investigated how much these talented Americans would be willing to work each week if they could work at their ideal job. On average, the men in the study were more willing to work 50, 60, or 70 hours a week at their ideal job than the women. The women were more than four times as likely as their male counterparts (30% versus 7%) to want to work less than 40 hours a week—even if they held their ideal job.

These talented men and women held some different values and interests when they were young teenagers. And their values were still different in their thirties: "Men as a group valued full-time work, making an impact, and earning a high income, whereas women as a group valued part-time work more often, as well as community and family involvement and time for close relationships."

What might be done to help women in academia while enabling them to maintain the significant day-to-day time with their children many desire? One suggestion is to create half-time tenure-track positions available to both sexes. But such a policy might end up benefiting male professors more than female professors. The previously-mentioned parental leave study found that spouses of male professors worked a median of about 8 hours a week, while spouses of female professors worked about 35 hours. The wives of male faculty are unlikely to object if their husbands’ “half-time” careers become full-time in practice if the additional time they allocate to research boosts their chances of tenure. Female faculty in a half-time role, who can seldom rely on a spouse to do the majority of childcare and housework, are unlikely to enjoy the same benefits.

Instead, what universities could do is discontinue their gender-neutral parental leave and tenure extension policies. If this requires legal changes, work to make them. Preferential treatment of women is justified even if one considers only the requirements of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. It would certainly be reasonable to grant only female professors a semester of paid leave after the birth of a child. Male professors in highly unusual situations could petition for exceptions to this general policy.

Universities could also create some better-paid, more interesting part-time teaching and research positions with five-year contracts. These should be available to both women and men, but I would predict that a disproportionate number of women would end up in these jobs because a higher proportion of talented women than men will want part-time jobs.

Some years ago, a Harvard Ph.D. student in economics told me that Harvard would pay for full-time daycare for her baby, but she did not want to put her baby in daycare. She asked that the university, instead, provide a research assistant to do coding (a much cheaper proposition than full-time daycare) so that when she had time to work, she could do thinking and analysis. They refused. Given women’s preferences regarding work and family, and the public’s belief that parental care is best for babies, this sort of refusal is unfair to mother, child, and society.

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. Proponents of “leaning in” have no reason to believe they speak for most women or that they have a better understanding than women themselves of what’s good for them. Why not try to accommodate the life preferences women in fact have? 

Steven E. Rhoads is Professor of Politics Emeritus at the University of Virginia and the author of  Taking Sex Differences Seriously.

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0400
Modern Marriage: For Our Kids by Richard V. Reeves (@RichardVReeves)

What is marriage for?

This may seem like an odd question to ask. But an institution is a manifestation of an idea (at least according to Samuel Taylor Coleridge). Understanding the idea that animates the institution of marriage today is an important step towards identifying the complex marital trends of 21st-century societies.

In particular, we should look to the people who are still getting and (largely) staying married. They turn out, disproportionately, to be the most affluent and most educated. It is a striking fact that arguably the most economically powerful group of women in human history—female American college graduates—are the ones who are most likely to get and stay married.

These women do not need to get married for sex; the average American woman now has a decade of sexual activity before her first marriage at the age of 27. They do not need to get married for economic survival; their own earning potential is high enough to do without a husband if necessary. They do not need to get married for status; unmarried women can ascend the heights of the occupational and social ladder. They do not even need to get married to have children, given the sharp reduction in the stigma attached to non-marital births. The Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinoski once described marriage as a means of tying a man to a woman and their children. Nowadays, women don’t need to be tied to a man.

The revolutionary implications of these changes are great. The economic independence of women, a critical battle-cry of the feminist movement, has in large part been achieved. Women with money don’t need men in the way that their mothers may have. (One intriguing study of winners in the Florida state lottery found that single women who won more than $25,000 were less likely to get married in the next three years than those who won less than $1,000.)

Very often, we ask why people are opting out of marriage, either by not marrying or by not investing sufficiently in their marriage to make it last. Given the wide class gaps in marriage trends, it might be more instructive to ask the opposite question: why are so many powerful, educated, independent women still opting for marriage?

My answer, in one word, is childrearing. Educated parents are highly motivated to give their children the best chance in life. They know because they read a lot that—other things being equal—children raised within stable families do better in life. Having two parents means that the responsibilities of caring and earning can be shared more easily. It doesn’t make much sense, given the rise in the economic power, to think of a single “Head of Household” (even though government surveys still do). As it turns out, two heads are better than one. As Ashley McGuire writes on these pages, “married couples today typically share responsibility for earning money, keeping up their home, and raising their children.”

Childrearing has always been one of the ideas behind the marital institution. But today it is the principal one.

Marriage is no longer principally an economic institution, but almost exclusively a social one—centered on a commitment to having and raising children together. Of course, childrearing has always been one of the ideas behind the marital institution. But today it is the principal one.

Marriage is becoming, in the words of Shelly Lundberg and Robert Pollak, a "co-parenting contract" or "commitment device" for raising children. As they put it:

The practical significance of marriage as a contract that supports the traditional gendered division of labor has certainly decreased... for college-educated men and women, marriage retains its practical significance as a commitment device that supports high levels of parental investment in children.

It is true, as McGuire points out, that men and women still divide the earning and caring along gendered rather than symmetrical lines, with dads doing roughly two-thirds of the earning, and moms two-thirds of the caring. But the symmetry lies in the power relationship rather than the specific tasks undertaken by each parent. The women in these relationships are choosing their role, not having it forced upon them by economic circumstances. And that role is not about keeping house; it is about raising kids. Work by economist Jane Leber Herr finds that new mothers with college degrees stay out of the labor market longer than is “economically rational.” Why? Leber Herr doesn’t know. Nor do I, but I’m willing to speculate. Well-educated mothers want more time with their children because they know it’s good for the child’s development. And they really, really, really care about that.

I’ve called these institutions High Investment Parenting (HIP) marriages, which contrast strongly with both the old-fashioned inegalitarian model, with strong economic dependency on the part of women, and with the romantic, “you complete me” model favored in most Hollywood movies.

Children are the glue of these modern, egalitarian marriages. This may in part explain the rise in “gray divorce,” with rates doubling among the over 50s in the last 25 years, and couples honoring their commitment to raise their children together but then going their separate ways—less “until death us do part,” than “until our last High Schooler departs.”

Parents are right to choose their mate carefully, plan their births, and commit to staying together while they are raising their children. Their children will, other things equal, have a better start in life as a result. Against the predictions of most social commentators, in 2017, marriage still acts as a commitment device to help achieve these goals. Modern marriage is not principally about money, sex, or status. It is about children.

Richard V. Reeves is a senior fellow in Economic Studies and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at The Brookings Institution. He is the author of the new book, Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That's a Problem, and What to Do About It (Brookings Institution Press, June 2017).

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0400
Boys in Crisis: An Interview with Warren Farrell (Part 2) by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

Last week, we published part one of our exclusive interview with best-selling author, educator, and activist, Warren Farrell, Ph.D., on his forthcoming book, The Boy Crisis (Jan. 2018). This is the second installment of that interview, which focuses on solutions to the crisis facing boys.

Alysse ElHage: One area where boys are really struggling today is in the classroom: they are less likely than girls to graduate high school on time and to earn a college a degree. You argue that one reason boys are falling behind is the lack of male teachers. Why do boys benefit from male teachers? And why don’t we see more of them?

Warren Farrell: Boys in divorced families often go from mother-only homes to female-dominated elementary schools, sometimes seeing no constructive male role model who specifically sees something special in him. With this void, when a gang leader takes an interest, the fatherless boy sees a male role model who wants him and is vulnerable.

We don’t see more men as teachers, in part, because we don’t have a cultural push for males to feel they are needed as kindergarten or elementary school teachers. Males go where they are told they are needed—even if it’s to die. However, the young man who does contemplate becoming a kindergarten or elementary school teacher is often afraid for fear that holding a crying child on his lap, or even holding a child to comfort her or him, could lead to an accusation of molestation that will stick in everyone’s memory even if he is found innocent. He’ll go to war to risk death because he wants to be thought of as a hero; he will avoid being a kindergarten teacher because he never wants to be thought of as a villain.

AE: You offer fathers a lot of advice in the book, writing that: “The pathway to your son becoming a healthy hero is nurtured by dad as a crockpot, not dad as a microwave.” Explain what you mean by that.

WF: Yes, children need time with dad—especially hang-out time, rough-housing time, game-playing time, time to be teased and knowing how to appropriately tease back, and in cases of divorce, equal time (rather than visitor time) with approximately equal overnights. Dads tend to encourage more risk-taking, but when a boy takes a risk at his dad’s encouragement, he needs his dad there to process the risk, not to just feel he was pushed out there and then dad disappears.

Dads need to be aware of what I call the three C’s: Consistency; Consistency, and Consistency. Add lots of time to consistency, and you have the crockpot, not the microwave!

AE: You also suggest family dinner nights as a way to help boys. And by this, you don’t just mean simply eating together as a family but a sit-down dinner. Tell us more about family dinner nights and why they matter for boys especially?

WF: Family-Studies readers already know that families that often have dinner together do better together. But while togetherness is important, a family dinner night can sometimes become a family dinner nightmare. So in The Boy Crisis, I outline six essentials to maximize family dinner night effectiveness.

And it isn’t easy. Parents encounter a Gordian Knot with boys: preparing him to “be a man,” yet allowing him to be the open, curious, sensitive boy that you know is under his mask of masculinity.

One reason is a lack of judgment. When it comes to emotions, few boys are good self-starters. Boys need parents to “kick the ball into play” and give their son time to see if it is safe for him to join the game—to have an opinion that varies, or is even outrageous. If he feels he won’t be judged for his input, then he’ll share what rings true and false, and his own story will unfold. However, if parents give advice—even excellent advice—he’ll often experience that as judgment, a lack of trust in him, and withdraw.

So, I explain the importance of everyone at the table making it part of the routine that anyone posing a problem is asked to give the advice he or she would give if someone else had that problem. That starts with the assumption that within the person sharing the problem is a “best guess” as to a solution. And if the boy is first asked, and has no answer, then he’s more willing to hear others’ answers.

While family dinner nights need to delay advice-giving, they need to be fearless when it comes to discussing “the elephant in the room” or tough topics. Kids are attracted to videos that deal with plenty of tough stuff and are turned off by boredom and euphemisms, which they often label as hypocrisy—especially boys. So make the family dinner nights something his friends would beg to come to because the conversations are so interesting and real.

For our children to not fear marriage, they need to see that their parents have learned how to do what does not come naturally: sustain love.

AE: Can mentoring help boys—particularly fatherless boys?

WF: Yes, yes, and yes. Both being mentored and being rewarded by becoming a mentor. A boy who becomes a mentor begins to become an adult as he watches himself vigilantly to see if he is a good role model. Being mentored and mentoring is important for all boys, but it’s crucial for boys raised by single moms.

I outline in The Boy Crisis how the Boy Scouts have honed over the decades an almost-perfect developmental program to develop the best of masculinity. They introduce character and then solidify it through ritual. Their merit badges reward boys for learning by doing—the way boys tend to learn.

The Cub Scouts, Boys’ Clubs, and the Mankind Project offer very well-vetted programs for boys. Many faith-based communities also offer much-needed support, and if yours doesn’t, consider helping them create that support.

If you are vetting for an individual as a mentor, vet for consistency. If long-term consistency is not available—for example, an older boy who will be going to off to college in a year or so—let your son know that ahead of time, so he won’t feel he wasn’t good enough to retain his mentor’s interest.

AE: Another solution to the boy crisis that you suggest is to make marriages better. What do healthy marriages have to do with how boys are doing?

WF: Boys are even more vulnerable to broken families than girls. In addition to it usually being their role model who is disappearing, studies of children years after divorce report moms of divorce are five times as likely to bad-mouth the dads as vice versa. So a boy’s attachment to his role model often becomes precarious.

Making marriages better serves everyone. Many couples with children who are legally married are psychologically divorced. Divorces are due less to problems with money, sex or children, and more to each partner feeling that her or his perspectives on money, sex, or children are rarely heard. When our partner airs her or his perspective, we often take it as criticism, and the Achilles’ heel of human beings is our inability to handle personal criticism from a loved one without becoming defensive.

That is, we have a “love dilemma”: while “falling in love” is biologically natural, sustaining love is biologically unnatural. For our children to not fear marriage, then, they need to see that their parents have learned how to do what does not come naturally: sustain love.

This creates the greatest single opportunity for the most radical solution to the boy crisis: parental modeling of how to sustain love. I introduce in The Boy Crisis my “Altered Mindsets Method of Non-defensive Communication,” which has allowed couples to emotionally associate their partner’s criticism as an opportunity to deepen their love. It’s a method I have honed over two decades via couples’ communication workshops… [E]mpathy communication skills need to be part of every elementary school’s core curriculum… This is the most important single global change for love in our families and peace in the world.

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 07:30:00 -0400
How Faith Influences Divorce Decisions by Steven M. Harris (@steveharris65)

Jasmine was sitting on the couch in my office, leaning forward with her elbows resting on her knees, and talking through her hands, which were covering her face: “I just don’t think God ever wanted me to go through this,” she said. “I mean, I take my vows seriously, but I had no idea how ‘worse’ things could get.”

She always thought that if her husband ever cheated on her, his bags would “be packed and waiting” for him on the front doorstep. But with the recent news of his three-year affair, her marital vows were being tested to their limits. She was tormented by the fact that everything she thought about her marriage was now “a lie.” 

Jasmine wanted to leave her husband because of how hurt and betrayed she felt.  She wondered if she could ever trust him again. But she was also a religious person and wanted to honor the vows she took to stay married “for better or for worse.”

Jasmine is not unlike so many others who make marital vows before God and their family, friends, and religious community and view their marriage as a sacred, covenant relationship. But the crucible of marriage and the reality of committing one’s life to another person can really test one’s convictions to stay married.

As a clinician, I’ve seen men and women alike wrestle with the decision to stay married for religious or spiritual reasons when everything inside them was screaming to leave the marriage. In our research with the National Divorce Decision-Making Project, we found that religion and spirituality were on the minds of many of the divorce-minded men and women we interviewed. In fact, it was so much on their minds that without prompting from us, almost half (14 of the 30) shared that religion, spirituality, or their relationship with God, was a major factor in how they were thinking about the future of their marriage. 

After reviewing the data, we discovered four specific themes related to how religion, spirituality, and a belief in God influence the divorce decision-making process. 

“Staying married is the right thing to do.” When confronted with the realities of a difficult marriage, many of those we interviewed felt as though staying married and honoring the marital commitment to stick together “in sickness and in health” and “for better or for worse” was the moral thing to do. A 43-year-old mother of five, married for 22 years, summed it up this way: 

“I believe it is the right thing to do (to stay married). I believe that’s what God wants me to do and… that it’s the morally right thing to do… to stay in a commitment.”

The dilemma of religious beliefs.  The second most mentioned theme in our interviews was based on an analysis of a variety of dialectical statements interviewees made. They talked about the tensions they experienced between their religious beliefs as a reason to stay married on one hand, and a competing belief that God would also want them to be “happy” and that the current health of their marriage was an impediment to that. In essence, their religious beliefs compelled them to stay in the marriage, but their desires to be out of the marriage caused them to engage in an intellectual “back and forth” process of trying to reconcile these competing views and feelings. A 40-year-old father of one married 11 years, said,

I had some religious convictions (against) divorce, and at the same time, I’ve come to the conclusion that God wouldn’t want me to … be a doormat … or to continue to be treated this way.”

Religious social network. But the decision-making process wasn’t just a struggle between knowing God’s will for one’s personal happiness vs. understanding that religious doctrine was against divorce. Sometimes, the decision to divorce was “heavily influenced by the religious social network to which the participants belonged. These concerns seemed to go in two different directions.

People were concerned with the judgments they would receive for proceeding with a divorce and the potential to be ostracized. One man suggested it would be easier for him to be accepted in his religious community if he were to rob a bank than to be someone who divorced his wife.

Participants were also concerned with the impact their divorce would have on the religious community. Many worried that their friends and close associates would suffer or feel uncomfortable, and ultimately that these friendships could be lost due to a divorce.

Religious practice. Finally, it was also clear that participants’ religious practices informed their decision-making process.  These practices included prayer, forgiveness, and regular church attendance.

Prayer was especially important. As one 48-year-old woman, married seven years, put it: “I know [God] answers prayers. He’s answered mine and saved my neck a number of times.” Another, a mother of three, married 12 years, said,

“Honestly? When I’m faced with a difficult decision, I just stop and pray about it and pray for direction.  I can talk to [God] any time of the night, any hour.”

Forgiveness, as a practice, also helped provide some grounding in favor of staying married and was presented as a crucial ingredient toward reconciliation. “I think forgiveness has a lot to do with whether we stay together or not,” a 30-year-old mother of one, married nine years, told us.

Finally, regular church attendance was presented as something that helped strengthen individuals struggling with a tough decision in their marriage. One 38-year-old mother of three, married 12 years, said: “Going to church…that’s definitely where I find my strength. I feel like I come out a better person.”

It is important to note that not all 30 people we interviewed presented themes of religion, spirituality, or deity as being instrumental in their divorce decision-making process. So, we should not assume that faith is important to everyone who is considering a divorce. At the same time, it was clear from our interviews that these concepts—and the strong feelings many associate with them—are in play for many individuals who are considering the future of a marriage, simply because half of our sample brought these up specifically without being prompted.

Surprisingly, when we followed up with our participants a year after the first round of interviews, one man, who identified as being currently agnostic but who had grown up in a divided religious family (he attributed differing religious ideas as the root cause of his parent’s divorce), said he was surprised that we were not more specific in talking about the role of religion in divorce decision-making. Perhaps his observation can serve as a mild call to repentance for other family therapists and researchers to intentionally seek out how thoughts, beliefs, and manifestations of the divine influence the decision-making of couples on the brink of divorce.

Mon, 13 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0400
Friday Five 170 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Americans Are Having Less Sex, Even With the "Marriage Advantage"
The Washington Post via

Why Couple Relationships Are Difficult, But Why They Matter (Video)
Mary Morgan, Tavistock Relationships

CFLE Continuing Education Opportunity: Family Violence Prevention Course
National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage & Families, National Council on Family Relations

Providing Financial Support for Children: Views & Experiences of Low-Income Fathers in the PACT Evaluation
Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation, Administration for Children & Families

Researcher Who Interviewed Hundreds of  Married Women Found the Happiest "Never Bought Into" a "Dangerous Fantasy"
Shana Lebowitz, Business Insider


Fri, 10 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0500
Boys in Crisis: An Interview with Warren Farrell by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

When IFS contacted Warren Farrell, Ph.D., to request an interview for Family-Studies about his forthcoming book, The Boy Crisis (scheduled for release in January 2018), he not only said yes but graciously provided us with the book’s first draft to review. Dr. Farrell is an award-winning educator, speaker, and activist, who chairs the Coalition to Create a White House Council on Boys and Men. The author of seven books on men’s and women’s issues, he is probably best known for his 1993 book, The Myth of Male Power. He has been described as the “intellectual father of the men’s rights movement,” but his 30-year focus on the issues facing men and boys actually began with the women’s liberation movement, where he played a key leadership role.

In the following interview, Dr. Farrell talks about the journey that led to his focus on men’s issues and to his deep concern for today's boys, who often struggle with a sense of hopelessness and a lack of purpose, which he links (at least in part) to family breakdown and dad-deprivation. Note: this interview will run in two parts and has been edited for clarity.

Alysse ElHage: You went from playing a key role in the women’s liberation movement and being a leader of NOW, to being deeply concerned about family breakdown and what you saw happening to men, especially fathers. How did that journey come about?

Warren Farrell: When the women’s movement surfaced in the late sixties, I felt it was so important that I changed my Ph.D. dissertation (at NYU) to focus on it; formed some 300 men’s and women’s “consciousness-raising” groups (one of which was joined by John Lennon); and was elected three times to the Board of NOW in NYC. This led to my traveling the world trying to get the sexes to understand each other. I soon discovered that getting the sexes to understand each other made Don Quixote look pragmatic, but was at least a formula for perpetual full employment!

But as divorces became common in the 1970s, and I saw families suffering from fatherlessness, I beseeched NOW to support the equal involvement of dads after divorce. But NOW feared losing the support of women who wanted the option of having primary custody. 

As the women’s movement went mainstream, I loved the options for women it created, but also felt there was a demonizing men, an undervaluing of the family, and a blindness to how boys and men were being harmed that would have profound effects on families, boys, addiction, careers, women wanting children without the involvement of failure-to-launch dads, male unemployment, the global economy, and so on. When I uncovered reasons that were not part of the public consciousness, I felt I had something to contribute—which led to The Boy Crisis.

AE: You’ve argued that boys are basically a “national afterthought” compared to our focus on girls. Why don’t we focus more on boys, and how has this lack of focus contributed to the boy crisis you describe?

WF: It starts with how we’ve used our sons historically. Every society that has survived has done so by training its boys to be disposable—disposable in war, in work (coal mines, oil rigs, firefighting). This means the survival of our sons conflicts with our survival. And it is hard to become psychologically attached to someone we might lose. And to train our sons to forfeit their lives in war and hazardous jobs (92 percent of workplace deaths are male), we had to train them to act tough and not express feelings. We don’t pay attention to the wheel that doesn’t squeak. And women can’t hear what men don’t say. Which is also why boys and men’s weakness is their façade of strength.

Second, we’ve assumed males had the power and made the rules, so if they had a problem, they could just change the rules. The Boy Crisis explains a different type of powerlessness boys and men often experience. For example, a boy’s dream to be an actor, writer or mountain climber often becomes, if he has children, a reality of selling product X that he doesn’t believe in—or, in brief, feeling obligated to earn money his family spends while he dies sooner. We’ve cast men’s higher pay as privilege and power, as opposed to understanding that the road to high pay is a toll road. When we discount a gender’s contribution—as we used to when women said “I’m just a housewife”—it’s easier to make them an afterthought.

All of this contributes to our caring less about boys, and the closer they get to becoming men, the less we care. What we care little about can easily become an afterthought. And it isn’t just a national afterthought. The boy crisis exists in the 61 largest developed countries.

We’ve cast men’s higher pay as privilege and power, as opposed to understanding that the road to high pay is a toll road.

AE: You argue that the number one cause of the boy crisis is dad deprivation. And you write that the gap between dad-deprived boys and the dad-enriched boys will “become the single biggest predictor of the gap between boys who become economically poor versus economically rich.” What happens when boys do not have their father in their life, for whatever reason?

WF: Boys with minimal or no father involvement often look to their dads as role models, but because they don’t have much time with their dads, their role models are more “straw men” or “straw dads.” These boys don’t benefit from overnights, hang-out time, and the many hours it takes for boys to bond with their dads, and trust that their feelings won’t be dismissed. Dads tend to build bonds with their sons by, for example, playing games and rough-housing, and then use the resulting bond as leverage for their sons to “get to bed on time” lest there be “no playing tomorrow night.” This boundary enforcement teaches boys postponed gratification. Boys with minimal or no father involvement more frequently suffer from an addiction to immediate gratification. For example, with minimal or no father involvement there is a much greater likelihood of video game addiction, more ADHD, worse grades in every subject, less empathy, less assertiveness (but more aggression), fewer social skills, more alienation and loneliness, more obesity, rudderlessness, anger, drugs, drinking, delinquency, disobedience, depression and suicide.

AE: Hopelessness is one problem you talk about in your book. And I’ve certainly seen this hopelessness in my family with my brother and a nephew, who both have absent fathers. My single mom would tell you she often felt helpless to fix this for her son. Why does dad-deprivation cause a sense of hopelessness in boys?

WF: I appreciate your sharing about your younger brother and nephew, and also the hopelessness many single moms feel. Single moms are among society’s most devoted, giving people. So for their sons to often have so many problems is heart-breaking. Here’s why it is not the fault of the mom, but there is something crucial moms can do.

A boy looks at his dad and sees the man he could become. If his dad is minimally present, that doesn’t give him much hope that marriage with children will lead to him having the emotional satisfaction of being a fully-involved dad. Some dad-deprived boys see their dad living in a small apartment after divorce, and having to fight in court to be more involved with them, even as their dads are working a job they don’t like to pay for the children they can’t see as much as they’d like. That reinforces their purpose void and an abyss of hopelessness.

The solution is for a mom to become a pioneer in understanding what dads contribute, and why their more-frequent propensities toward rough-housing, tough-love, boundary enforcement, and letting boys work it out on their own often seem like insensitive parenting when in fact they are a crucial balance to a mom’s contribution to children’s development in general, and to boys’ development in particular. The Boy Crisis gives a lot more detail, but I hope this gives a clue.

Dads' more-frequent propensities toward rough-housing, tough-love, boundary enforcement, and letting boys work it out on their own often seem like insensitive parenting when in fact they are a crucial balance to a mom’s contribution.

AE: One of the most powerful topics you address in the book is how hurting boys ultimately hurt others or themselves. And you cite several recent examples of school shooters who were essentially dad-deprived young men. This is a factor in the school shooting crisis that is often overlooked or ignored.

WF: Yes, boys who hurt, hurt us. School shootings—which are both homicides and either direct or de facto suicides—are just one example of dad-deprived boys both being hurt and hurting us—in essence, blaming their schools for not being adequate substitute dads.

I was impacted by the evidence I discuss more in-depth in The Boy Crisis of the degree to which ISIS recruits have in common their being dad-deprived boys. I recalled then that Hitler Youth also searched for recruits among boys who were fatherless.

Fatherless boys are far more likely to be molested, recruited by gangs, and to join the military—each of which often produces its own form of PTSD, whether depression, isolation and/or alienation. Boys with dad-deprivation often experience a volcano of festering anger. Anger is vulnerability’s mask, and with boys’ much greater tendency to act out, the boys who hurt will be the ones most likely to hurt us.

AE: You argue that boys today suffer from a lack of purpose, and you referred briefly to this earlier. How has this lack of purpose contributed to the boy crisis?

WF: The boy crisis is a crisis of developed countries. Developed countries have in common the luxury of divorce. Divorce often leads to dad-deprived children. Which leads to boys not having a role model to give them a sense of purpose as a future role model.   

Prior to the surge in divorce, young boys and girls learned Mars and Venus-type senses of purpose: women: raise children; men: raise money. Women: risk life in childbirth; men: risk life in war.

The women’s movement helped our daughters prepare for divorce—or being single—by expanding the options for our daughters’ sense of purpose: work full-time, children full-time, or do some combination of both. This created what I call “The Era of Multi-Purpose Women.”

However, there was no “Era of Multi-Purpose Men” for our sons. If your son is reasonably successful, marries and has children, he has three “slightly different” options for a sense of purpose: work full-time, work full-time, and work full-time.

When “work full-time” meant a young man had a unique role—sole breadwinner—he felt he had a unique contribution to make. However, once our daughters could also define themselves by their work, being the sole breadwinner could no longer uniquely define our sons as men.

The solution involves guiding our sons to seize the opportunity to find more meaningful senses of purpose in work and parenting—ones tailored to their unique self. We have to develop “The Era of Multi-Purpose Boys and Men.” Dads and male mentors are crucial in this process, as are women who understand how to not throw out the baby of masculinity with the bathwater. 

Thu, 09 Mar 2017 07:30:00 -0500
Married Parenthood Remains the Best Path to a Stable Family by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

My friend Grace (not her real name) is a beautiful, smart, and driven young woman, who overcame a difficult childhood to be one of the first women in her family to graduate college. She has a good job and has been living with her long-term boyfriend for nearly a decade. Although she proudly wears the sparkling engagement ring he gave her a few years ago, they still haven’t set a wedding date. Lately, as she watches most of her friends getting married and starting families, Grace has been thinking more about having kids. She’s getting older and doesn’t want to run out of time, so while she’s not trying to get pregnant with her boyfriend, she is no longer trying to prevent it either. Grace is in a stable, cohabiting union with a long-time partner she plans to marry, so the possibility of getting pregnant before marriage doesn’t seem like a huge gamble to her.

With an estimated 70 percent of women today cohabiting with their husband prior to their first marriage in the U.S., Grace’s relationship status is certainly not uncommon, nor is her acceptance of unmarried parenthood. According to a 2016 National Center for Health Statistics report, 74.7 percent of American women and 75.9 percent of American men in 2011-13 agreed: “It is okay to have and raise children when the parents are living together but not married.”

If Grace does have a child before she walks down the aisle, she will be part of the increasing share of unmarried women who give birth while cohabiting. In fact, three out of five children born to unmarried women in recent years were born in a cohabiting union, according to new research from the National Center for Family & Marriage Research (NCFMR), which notes that “[t]he source of growth in nonmarital childbearing for most women is cohabitation.”

After more than doubling between the early 1980s and 2005-2009, the share of births to unmarried mothers declined from 43 percent in 2005-2009 to 41 percent in 2010-2014. As shown in the figure below, the share of births to single mothers increased from 15 to 18 percent between the early 1980s and 2005-2009 but fell by three percent in the most recent time period. In contrast, births to cohabiting mothers “more than quadrupled” between 1980 and 2014.
Changes in the Shares of Births to Single and Cohabiting Mothers Under Age 40
Source: National Center for Family & Marriage Research, "Trends in Births to Single and Cohabiting Mothers, 1980-2014,"  2017.

While the increase in cohabiting births occurred among Hispanic, White, and Black women, the NCFMR notes that cohabiting births are more common among unmarried Hispanic and White mothers, where 7 out of 10 children in recent years were born in cohabiting unions. The story is a bit different for Black women: 4 in 10 children in recent years were born in cohabiting unions. 

When it comes to mother’s education, this blog has documented that nonmarital births are more common among less educated women where marriage is in retreat than among the college educated who are more likely to marry and give birth in marriage. The NCFMR confirms that “the share of births to unmarried mothers with less than a high school education climbed to 70 percent in 2010-2014, whereas unmarried births account for only 12 percent of births to mothers with at least a Bachelor’s degree.”

Still, as the figure below indicates, nonmarital births have increased among women of all education levels since the 1980s—with one exception: among both single and cohabiting women with a high school diploma/GED, the share of births decreased between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014 (more so among single mothers).

Source: National Center for Family & Marriage Research, "Trends in Births to Single and Cohabiting Mothers, 1980-2014,"  2017.

Because my friend Grace is well educated and in a stable cohabiting union, some would argue that if she has a child outside of marriage, her child will fare better than a child born to a less educated cohabiting mother, and certainly better than if Grace were trying to raise a child alone. Even so, her future children would be best served if she and her partner delay getting pregnant until after they marry. That’s because, as the 2017 World Family Map shows, children born to a cohabiting couples are about twice as likely to experience a parental breakup by age 12 as children born to married parents. This is true even for children born to more educated cohabiting mothers (see figure below for U.S. figures).

But what about cohabiting parents who get married following the birth of their child? As Laurie DeRose has reported, a 2014 study found that while biological parents who marry after giving birth enjoy more marital stability than step-father marriages, these unions still have a higher risk of breaking up. And according to a UK study, couples who married before a birth were significantly less likely to break up by the time their child turned 14 or 15 (24 percent divorced) compared to both couples who married after a birth (56 percent divorced) and cohabiting couples who gave birth but never married (69 percent split up).

In addition to being more likely to undergo a parental breakup and more family transitions as one or both parents re-partner, children born to cohabiting parents are also more likely to experience poverty, child abuse, and a host of other negative outcomes, compared to the children of married parents.

Grace probably doesn’t want my advice, but if she did, I’d urge her to heed the social science evidence and delay having a child with her partner until after they are married. Of course, marriage does not guarantee that a child’s parents will stay together. But, as W. Bradford Wilcox and Laurie DeRose put it in a recent essay, “marriage comes with a substantial stability premium for children.” Despite the increasing prevalence of cohabitation, it still can’t compete with marriage when it comes to creating the most stable family environment for children. 

Wed, 08 Mar 2017 07:35:00 -0500
Sex in the Modern Marriage by Ashley McGuire

The attempt to stamp out sex difference has affected marriage, too.

It’s no secret that marriage has evolved in radical ways over the past half century. Men and women meet romantic partners in different settings,1 value different traits in prospective spouses,2 and marry at significantly later ages than they did before the Sexual Revolution.3 And while marriage in the U.S. once featured relatively rigid gender roles, and especially before the twentieth century, gave husbands greater rights than wives,4 married couples today typically share responsibility for earning money, keeping up their home, and raising their children.

Yet the extent to which men and women play the same roles in marriage is sometimes overstated,5 presumably because many contemporary scholars and journalists are ideologically committed to a version of gender equality in which men and women are effectively identical. Even today, married American parents typically split up paid and domestic work along gendered lines because that’s what most of them want to do.

Consider, for example, how mothers and fathers spend their time. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of 2011 data from the American Time Use Survey, mothers of children under eighteen devote, on average, fourteen hours a week to child care, whereas fathers devote seven hours to it. Mothers spend eighteen hours a week doing housework, while fathers spend ten. And fathers engage in paid work thirty-seven hours a week, compared to twenty-one for women. In other words, fathers contribute roughly two-thirds of their household’s hours of paid labor, and mothers shoulder roughly two-thirds of the housework and child care, making their total weekly work hours essentially equal.

Much has indeed changed since 1965 when mothers spent just eight hours a week performing paid work and fathers devoted a paltry 2.5 hours to the care of their children.6 But little has changed in the past twenty years,7 not because inequality between the sexes persists in marriage today, as many would have you believe, but because sex difference is stubborn. Most Americans still don’t desire a marriage in which both spouses work full-time and all other tasks are divided on a fifty-fifty basis.

Despite unprecedented economic opportunities for women and equally unprecedented levels of domestic involvement among men, studies continue to find that we want different things out of marriage and family life.

A 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center reveals that the majority (fifty-three percent) of married mothers say their ideal situation would be to work part time. Other married mothers are as likely to prefer staying at home as they are to desire full-time work (twenty-three percent each). Fathers, in contrast, generally value full-time employment. Three-quarters say a full-time schedule is ideal for them, while only fifteen percent prefer part-time work and ten percent would like not to work at all.8

The extent to which men and women play the same roles in marriage is sometimes overstated.​

Of course, many if not most mothers—even those with employed husbands—are not able to achieve their ideal. One 2000 survey showed that only forty-nine percent of married mothers with college degrees and forty-four percent of those without college degrees were able to live out their labor force preference. Among those whose work schedule did not align with their ideal, more than seven in ten wanted to work less, not more.9 As feminist psychologist Eleanor Maccoby concluded in The Two Sexes: Growing Up Apart, Coming Together, even in a society that seeks to minimize the penalty women pay in the workplace for becoming parents, “there is no reason to expect that men and women will want to make exactly the same choices about the way they invest their time.”10

If dividing labor along gendered lines remains the societal norm and the average American couple’s preference, might it also be linked to greater marital satisfaction and individual happiness? The scholarly literature does not provide a simple answer. As one 1998 study documented, “the relationship between wives’ employment and marital satisfaction has changed over the last 30 years.” Wives’ employment predicted lower marital quality in the 1960s, but not in subsequent decades, and by the 1980s, some studies suggested working women were happier in their marriages.11 Women’s full-time employment may even be linked with lower divorce rates, according to another study,12 or only increase the risk of divorce when a marriage is already unhappy.13 A 2015 study using more recent survey data from thirty-two different countries, including the U.S., concluded that how couples with children divide paid and domestic work is unrelated to individuals’ overall happiness in almost all regions of the world.14

On the other hand, a 2006 study using a large, nationally representative sample of Americans found, to quote a press release, that “women whose husbands earn the lion’s share of income, who don’t work outside the home, or who share a strong commitment to lifelong marriage with their husbands report the highest levels of marital happiness.”15

Perhaps the most natural way to make sense of these contradictory findings is a common-sense hypothesis: different couples prefer different work-family arrangements, so their happiness may depend more on whether they can fulfill their personal ideal than on the precise division of their labor. Researchers have marshaled some support for this theory. For example, in a 2013 analysis, W. Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew found that “no one work-family strategy is linked to higher reports of marital happiness—that is, reporting that one is ‘very happy’ in one’s marriage—among married mothers with children under eighteen.” The fulfillment of individual preferences, however, mattered quite a bit: “Wives who are working full-time or who are at home in violation of their preferences are, respectively, 46 percent less likely and 39 percent less likely to be very happy in their marriages, compared to stay-at-home wives who prefer to be at home.” Whether wives’ preferences are fulfilled also affects their husbands’ satisfaction.16

An earlier study on the same topic arrived at similar conclusions. The effects of the division of labor on both spouses’ marital satisfaction “are largely explained by the mediating variables of perceived unfairness and perceived empathy,” the researchers concluded. And “personal preferences regarding the division of both domestic and paid work significantly influence marital satisfaction for both wives and husbands.”17 The actual division of labor appears to matter less than dividing it the way a couple wants to—and that usually means the husband will take the lead in paid work and the wife in parenting and domestic labor.

Seemingly, in the minds of both men and women, holding down a job is a crucial part of a husband’s role, while labor force participation remains optional for wives.

While the question of how traditional versus gender-neutral arrangements affect couples’ happiness does not have one clear answer, the research is more straightforward in cases where traditional gender roles are reversed. When a husband works fewer hours or earns less money than his wife, as is the case for about one in four dual-earner married couples today,18 he is less happy and the marriage is more likely to dissolve. According to some studies, his wife’s happiness also declines.

In Wilcox and Dew’s study, the only work-family arrangement that predicted the marital satisfaction of men with children was working less than their wives. Married fathers whose wives worked more than they did were sixty-one percent less likely to be very happy in their marriage than men whose wives stayed home.19 Even when the wives preferred this non-traditional arrangement, these husbands were less happy. Husbands whose wives worked more also showed a higher level of “divorce proneness”—a measure of “how far into the process of considering or pursuing a divorce [they] had ventured” that has proven to predict divorce likelihood—than other men.20

Drawing on some of the same survey data, other researchers recently looked at how men’s and women’s relative incomes affected various aspects of relationships. They found that aversion to wives’ out-earning their husbands had widespread effects, impacting “marriage formation, the wife’s labor force participation, the wife’s income conditional on working, marriage satisfaction, the likelihood of divorce, and the division of home production.” Couples in which the wife’s income was higher than the husband’s were six percentage points less likely to say their marriage was happy, and six percentage points more likely to have discussed separating in the past year.21 Other research has shown that in couples where women earn more money, and especially when they are the sole breadwinner, men are more likely but women are less likely to cheat.22 A 2013 study of Danish couples even suggested that a counter-traditional balance of income undermines men’s sexual performance and causes anxiety in women.23

Studies of employment and job loss likewise show that marriages in which the husband is not employed are more likely to end in divorce. One longitudinal study published in 2011 showed that when married men are not working, both they and their wives become more likely to initiate divorce. The authors attributed this finding in part to expectations about what marriage should look like. (Women’s employment did not affect men’s odds of seeking a divorce, and only made women more likely to seek divorce if they assessed their marriage negatively.)24

A 2014 study incorporating recession-era data on job loss, and focusing solely on “involuntary displacement resulting from reduced business demand or firm closing” rather than terminations, indicated that job loss only produces a higher divorce risk if it is the husband rather than the wife who was displaced.25 Seemingly, in the minds of both men and women, holding down a job is a crucial part of a husband’s role, while labor force participation remains optional for wives.

The studies make clear that while there is no one-size-fits-all model that maximizes marital happiness for all couples, there are clear preferences that break down by sex. Ignoring those fault lines and exalting an androgynous vision of marriage undermines the supportive role that men clearly value and takes away the choice that women prize most.

This essay is an excerpt from Chapter 8 of Ashley McGuire’s new book, Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female (Regnery, 2017). It is reprinted here with permission.

1. Roberto A. Ferdman, “There Are Only Three Ways to Meet Anyone Anymore,” Washington Post, March 8, 2016.

2. David M. Buss et al., “A Half Century of Mate Preferences: The Cultural Evolution of Values,” Journal of Marriage and Family 63 (May 2001): 491–503. 

3. Diana B. Elliott et al., “Historical Marriage Trends from 1890– 2010: A Focus on Race Differences: SEHSD Working Paper Number 2012–12,” United States Census Bureau, 2012. 

4. “Married Women’s Property Laws,” Law Library of Congress.

5. W. Bradford Wilcox argues convincingly that Brookings Institution scholar Richard V. Reeves (in “How to Save Marriage in America,” Atlantic, February 13, 2014) “obscures the extent to which the cast of modern American family life remains gendered.” Wilcox, “Surprisingly, Most Married Families Today Tilt Neo- Traditional,” Family Studies, February 26, 2014.

6. Kim Parker and Wendy Wang, “Modern Parenthood: Roles of Moms and Dads Converge as They Balance Work and Family,” Pew Research Center, March 14, 2013. 

7. The most notable change since the mid-1990s is an increase in the hours per week that both mothers and fathers spend on child care. Mothers’ hours in paid employment have actually declined. “Parental Time Use,” Pew Research Center. 

8. “Changing Views about Work” in Parker and Wang, “Modern Parenthood.” 

9. The 2000 Survey of Marriage and Family Life. The work categories were staying at home, working part time, and working full time. See W. Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew,  “No One Best Way: Work-Family Strategies, the Gendered Division of Parenting, and the Contemporary Marriages of Mothers and Fathers,” in Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives, ed. W. Bradford Wilcox and Kathleen Kovner Kline (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), p. 283, table 10.2.

10. Eleanor Maccoby, The Two Sexes: Growing Up Apart, Coming Together (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 314. 

11. Jane Riblett Wilkie et al., “Gender and Fairness: Marital Satisfaction in Two-Earner Couples,” Journal of Marriage and Family 60:3 (August 1998): 579.

12. Robert Schoen et al., “Wives’ Employment and Spouses’ Marital Happiness: Assessing the Direction of Influence Using Longitudinal Couple Data,” Journal of Family Issues 27:4 (April 2006), 506–28. 

13. Liana C. Sayer et al., “She Left, He Left: How Employment and Satisfaction Affect Men’s and Women’s Decisions to Leave Marriages,” American Journal of Sociology 116:6 (May 2011): 1982–2018; Robert Schoen, “Women’s Employment, Marital Happiness, and Divorce,” Social Forces 81:2 (2002): 643–62. 

14. Laurie DeRose, “Essay: No One Best Way: Work, Family, and Happiness the World Over,” World Family Map, 2015. 

15. But the top determinant of women’s marital happiness was their self-reported satisfaction with the love, affection, and understanding their husbands gave them. “University of Virginia Study Finds Commitment to Marriage, Emotional Engagement Key to Wives’ Happiness,” University of Virginia News, March 1, 2006; W. Brad Wilcox and Steven L. Nock, “What’s Love Got to Do with It? Equality, Equity, Commitment, and Women’s Marital Quality,” Social Forces 84:3 (2006), 1321–45.

16. The researchers controlled for race/ethnicity as well as for “number of marriages, marital duration, education, family income (logged), and age of youngest child.” W. B. Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew, “No One Best Way: Work-Family Strategies, the Gendered Division of Parenting, and the Contemporary Marriages of Mothers and Fathers,” conference at the University of Virginia, 2008. 

17. Wilkie et al., “Gender and Fairness,” 589. 

18. “Wives Who Earn More than Their Husbands, 1987–2014,” 
U.S. Census Bureau, April 6, 2016.

19. Wilcox and Dew, “No One Best Way,” 287. 

20. Ibid., 289.

21. Marianne Bertrand et al., “Gender Identity and Relative 
Income within Households," Quarterly Journal of Economics (2015): 571–614,

22. Cristin L. Munscha, “Her Support, His Support: Money, Masculinity, and Marital Infidelity,” American Sociological Review 80:3 (June 2015), 469–95.

23. Lamar Pierce et al., “In Sickness and in Wealth: Psychological and Sexual Costs of Income Comparison in Marriage,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 39:3 (March 2013), 359–74.

24. Liana C. Sayer et al., “He Left, She Left: How Employment and Satisfaction Affect Men’s and Women’s Decisions to Leave Marriages,” American Journal of Sociology 116:6 (May 2011), 1982–2018.

25. Melissa Ruby Banzhaf, “When It Rains, It Pours: Under What Circumstances Does Job Loss Lead to Divorce,” The Society of Labor Economists, p. 2.

Tue, 07 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0500
Casual Sex and the Crisis of Trust by Amber Lapp (@AmberDavidLapp)

Last week, I wrote about how the sexual culture in small town America differs from hookup culture on campus. Yet I was also struck by the similarities.

The first similarity I noticed is the mind-boggling ambiguity that young adults face when it comes to relationships. In the small town in southwestern Ohio where my husband and I conducted interviews, couples often had difficulty describing how their relationships began. “It just kinda happened” was a common explanation. Sometimes, it was a drunken “one-night stand” at a party; or a friendship that became physical; or something that began with a meeting through mutual friends, in person, or via social media. But, however it started, the path from first meeting to official relationship status was usually complicated. As one 20-year-old man who worked at Rent-A-Center said when describing the confusion he observes in relationships today, “Some of them say like ‘we’re dating.’ Some of ’em say ‘we’re together.’ Some people that are in a relationship say ‘we’re just talking.’ I don’t know.”

For those in college, the path from casual encounter to an exclusive relationship can be similarly convoluted. In her book, American Hookup, sociologist Lisa Wade observes of college students,

Between the hookup and a monogamous relationship is 'talking,' 'hanging out,' being 'exclusive,' 'dating but not in a relationship,' and a whole host of other statuses. 'I just don’t know if, like, we hook up sometimes or like, we’re ‘hooking up,’ wondered a male student one day about a girl he liked. 'Hooking up' implies an ongoing arrangement, while 'hooking up sometimes' suggests that any further hooking up is random instead of intentional. 'Talking' and 'hanging out' suggest that two people who are hooking up may also be seeing each other on purpose, in daylight, when they’re sober. To be 'exclusive' is to be hooking up only with each other but without emotional attachment or accountability. As far as I can tell, 'dating but not in a relationship' is an actual monogamous relationship between two people who don’t want to use the word, or it might be a pre-relationship status. Most of these terms are purposefully vague.

The working-class young adults I interviewed used many of these phrases and had a similar reluctance to attaching labels to a relationship too soon. The story Wade tells below could have been something I heard in small town Ohio:

[S]ometimes, students don’t communicate about the state of their engagement at all. One of my students watched a couple form and have a lovely relationship without ever admitting that that was what they were doing. She observed that they ‘sleep in the same bed every night and dote upon each other affectionately even in front of their friends.’ They were quite clearly in love, but they never described their arrangement as anything other than casual. ‘It is as if the conversation about making their relationship serious is preposterous,’ she wrote, so it never occurred. She thought it quite odd, but characteristic of hookup culture. ‘It is as if they are dating in secret,’ she wrote insightfully, ‘except that the secret is only to themselves, as the entirety of the outside world sees it for what it is.’

In one sense, the problem is the loss of a courtship script, and yet if we look closely we see an elaborate set of new social cues evolving. Hookup culture itself is a “feat of social engineering,” as Wade notes. After outlining in detail the various steps and behaviors associated with a hookup, Wade says, “its aim is a fun, harmless romp, a supposedly free expression of one’s sexuality, but within oddly strict parameters. It’s spontaneous but scripted; order out of disorder; an unruly routine.” She adds, “And while students can always break the rules or rewrite the scripts, in general hookups follow the logic of the institution: they occur at predetermined places and on particular days of the week, allowing students to fit sex into their schedule in a way that is compatible with the college’s needs. Sex is now a part of how students do higher education. That’s why it can feel inevitable.”

So perhaps it is more accurate to say that the problem is not that we have no scripts, but that we have an overly intricate one—making for more of a maze than a map. Is this a hookup? A regular “meaningless” hookup, or one that ends in a relationship? (Wade reports a recent statistic that traces one-third of new marriages to a hookup, although she speculates that estimate is high.) Is he your friend? Or “friend with benefits”? Are you exclusively together? Or dating lots of people? Are you marriage-minded? Or dating just for fun? There are few obvious markers for men and women to figure out which script the people around them are following. The same act—casual sex—can end in nothing, or in a relationship, or even a marriage. It’s difficult to figure out which path you are on, and this ambiguity seems to plague young adults regardless of education level.  

A second similarity in the relationship landscape for young adults, both on campus and elsewhere, is the risk of sexual assault. We’ve (rightfully) heard a lot about the crisis of sexual violence on college campus, and it’s even higher for college-aged women who are not students. It’s possible that the often precarious living arrangements of these young adults—sometimes moving in with multiple people of both sexes whom they barely know in order to split the rent check, or couch surfing from friend’s house to friend’s house, or living in the same home with their mom and her live-in boyfriend—might contribute to the high rates of sexual assault.

The same act—casual sex—can end in nothing, or in a relationship, or even a marriage. It’s difficult to figure out which path you are on, and this ambiguity seems to plague young adults regardless of education level.  

The third similarity is not surprising given the context of relationship ambiguity and sexual violence: young adults live in a culture of distrust, particularly gender distrust. A 2014 Pew survey found that just 19 percent of Millennials say most people can be trusted, compared with 31 percent of Gen Xers, 37 percent of Silents and 40 percent of Boomers. As one young man told us, the first thing he assumes about someone when he meets them is that they might be wanted by the law.

It’s interesting (and heart wrenching) to think how hookup culture and serial monogamy may contribute to these statistics. Wade notes that several students told her that hookups lead to “trust issues,” and she quotes another student who said, “Like most girls I want to hook up with, I don’t trust her.” Another commented that there is “an inherent lack of trust in everyone and everything.”

When my husband and I asked young adults who did not go to college about the challenges in their relationships, over and over again we also heard about “trust issues.”

Dan, 20, was talking with his ex-girlfriend about moving back in together after a long break. Both he and his girlfriend had been with other people, and they agreed, “This isn’t gonna be easy for either of us.”  They told each other that they trusted each other, but it was difficult for those words to feel true:

[T]here’s always a little thought in the back of your head, even when we were together it’s always just a little thought like, ‘I wanna go out with my girlfriend to the bar.’  Well, what if she gets too drunk and ends up doin’ somethin’ with a guy?”  There’s always gonna be that thought, but time–I don’t wanna say I’m gonna be naïve, but I’m pretty much gonna be naïve.  I’m just gonna be like, “All right.  Well, if it happens again I’m sorry to say I just can’t do it.” It’s like, “It obviously doesn’t mean anything to you, so I just can’t do it.”  But, fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me. Right? So, it’ll never happen again, but that’s what I believe. I believe that will never happen again. But, like I said, there’s no guarantee.  I trust her. We’ve both been with other people.  And, she’ll have the same issue with me. She’s gonna have to trust me when I go out with my friends that I’m not gonna revert back to my old self and try to sleep with somebody.

Dan vacillated from “I believe it will never happen again” and “I trust her” to “there’s no guarantee.” As much as he wanted to trust, he also didn’t want to be naïve or fooled. The existence of hookup culture at the local bar scene and he and his girlfriend’s past dalliances were enough to rattle his confidence in her fidelity. Likewise, he acknowledged the possibility that she struggled to trust that he wouldn’t “revert back” to his “old self”—the self that partied hard and slept around. Likewise, Rob, also in his twenties and living with his girlfriend and their two sons, described how he didn’t trust himself to be faithful. “My mind,” he said, was the biggest obstacle to marriage.

In our sample of 75 non-college educated young adults, 71 percent described some form of “trust issues” in a relationship, even though this was not typically something we specifically asked about. Forty-three percent said they believed they had been cheated on, even while only 16 percent said they had cheated. My guess is that—just as students tend to overestimate how often their peers are hooking up—working-class young adults tend to overestimate how often their partners are cheating. That suspicion is a symptom of distrust, and the distrust seems a symptom of a sexual culture that tends towards objectification of the person, as well as an ambiguous relationship script that blurs lines, devalues clear communication and makes cheating easier because it is sometimes unclear what the expectations are.  

In this context, the path to a committed relationship is one marked by the struggle to trust. When asked about the most important ingredients for a healthy relationship, trust rolled off the tongue. But young adults we spoke with were quick to blame the prevailing relationship culture for creating an environment of low trust. They sometimes also blamed the kinds of technology—social media, dating apps—that they saw as facilitating casual sex and cheating.

As Wade notes of college students,

Students do sometimes navigate the transition from a hookup to hooking up to talking to hanging out to exclusivity to dating but not in a relationship to a relationship to the heights of relationship seriousness—making it Facebook official—but it’s not easy. Students have to be willing to express emotional attachment to a person in a culture that punishes people that do so, and they have to be capable of responding positively to that kind of vulnerable confession, too.

Some of the students Wade followed up with post-graduation expressed confusion about how to date, and had difficulty being vulnerable. They had so long conditioned themselves to be cold and dismissive towards their sexual partners that for them handholding and sharing emotions was more difficult—and more intimate—than the act of having sex. Farah, a young woman Wade interviewed was “thriving” in her career, but “still trying to melt down the cold shell that she’d built around herself to survive hookup culture.” She had recently made a breakthrough after meeting a nice man and was learning “to not be so afraid of holding hands. Because it’s not scary and it actually feels wonderful.”   

Wade notes that this difficulty adjusting seems different than what Katherine Bogle found in her landmark study of hookups 10 years prior. Wade wonders if things are changing fast. Which makes me wonder—is it possible that the trust deficit, in part caused by hookup culture, could mean that the relationship struggles of young college graduates will begin to look more similar to those of their working-class peers, whose low social trust has been well documented? Or will college students—so good at compartmentalizing in other areas of life—be able to isolate their experiences of hookup culture and move on to form healthy relationships despite their sexual habits?

Only time will tell, but one thing we do know: young adults of all education levels say they would like an easier path to committed relationships. We as a culture must commit to that sort of change.   

Mon, 06 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0500
Friday Five 169 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Happy Marriage and a Healthy Life
Cleveland Clinic

Community Cafés in Alaska Discuss Strengthening Families Initiative
Children's Bureau Express

Father Involvement in the UK: Trends in the New Millennium
Ursula Henz, Families & Societies Working Papers Series

Family Inequality: Diverging Patterns in Marriage, Cohabitation, and Childbearing
Shelly Lundberg, Robert A. Pollak, and Jenna Stearns, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group

Breaking the Intergenerational Cycle: Partner Violence, Child–Parent Attachment, and Children’s Aggressive Behaviors
Shao-Chiu Juan, Heather M. Washington, and Megan C. Kurlychek, Journal of Interpersonal Violence

Fri, 03 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0500
Raising Children to Love, Not Fear by Justin Coulson (@justincoulson)

“I’m in my 40’s, and I’m still afraid of my old man.

The comment came from a wiry, suntanned farmer sporting a fresh crew-cut. He was seated in the back row of a parenting seminar I was running. We were talking about discipline, and he was insisting that the ‘old-school’ parenting styles were far superior to the softer, gentler, kinder ways of working with our children that I was espousing.

He continued, “If my kids aren’t afraid of me, they’ll never do anything I tell ‘em.”

We discussed the issue and, eventually, the conversation moved on, but the comments stuck with me. Do we want our children to fear us? Is fear the best motivator, or is there something better?

Motivation Through Fear

It is undeniable. Fear is a strong motivator. And it is incredible just how effectively we can ‘motivate’ our children using fear.

“If you do that ever again, this is what I’ll do to you.”
“Do you want me to smack you?”
“Do that one more time and I’ll get your father.”

Even if we haven’t used lines like these, we have all witnessed them. And typically, children fall into line fast. No one wants a smacked bottom, a time-out, the loss of a cherished item or privilege, or some other punishment. So, parents feel as though the fear of punishment works. And it does.

But why does it work? And what does it actually do?

The Problem with Fear

Since people don’t like being hurt or punished, they are strongly motivated to avoid doing things that will lead to pain. Making our children afraid of us is a sure-fire way to dominate them and get what we want. But there are some issues with motivation through fear.

First, the quality of our relationships suffers. Trust is harmed. People avoid those they fear.

Second, we teach our children that power, fear, and domination is how they can get what they want, thus training them to dominate and bully others.

Third, we divorce our children from their emotions, demanding they keep a “stiff upper lip,” and desensitizing them to their own and others’ feelings, just as we are insensitive to theirs.

The fourth and final reason is most important.

The dad in my presentation said, “It’s the only way they’ll do what I tell them.” It is true that our children will do whatever we tell them when they fear us (so long as we are present or there is a chance they’ll get caught. Surveillance is key!) If our only objective is compliance, then fear is fine. But most parents have a deeper goal in mind for their children than mindless, strict obedience.

Fear is what we might call an “extrinsic motivator.” Our children are only doing the right thing because of what will happen to them if they don’t. This means that if we aren’t there to “catch them” doing the wrong thing, they have nothing to be afraid of and no reason to avoid doing that thing we don’t want them to do. Most children work out—very fast—how to manipulate a system: behave when the parent I fear is present, and do what I want when they’re not.

In simple terms, unwanted behavior is pushed underground, and kids become sneaky. We want our children to do the right thing for the right reason. And this is where fear fails.

Most parents want more from their children— and for them. We want them to do what’s right because they want to, and because they understand the reasons why. This is internal regulation. Compared to external regulation, internal regulation is associated with better school outcomes, improved social skills and relationships, enhanced moral development, and higher wellbeing.

What gets us to internal regulation? Kindness, respect, and understanding combined with clear limits worked out together where possible.

Researchers have demonstrated time and again that when we spend time building our relationships, our children trust us, and with trust comes incredible influence. It’s the kind of influence that lasts even when we aren’t there to watch our children. Our children are doing the right thing, not because they fear us, but because they love us and they trust us. No fear.

Dr. Justin Coulson is a parenting researcher, author, and speaker. He is the author of the new book, 21 Days to a Happier Family. Find him on Twitter @justincoulson. This post originally appeared on and has been reprinted with permission.

Thu, 02 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0500
Does Hookup Culture Exist Off Campus? by Amber Lapp (@AmberDavidLapp)

After reading Lisa Wade’s American Hookup, which I reviewed here, I found myself wondering if young adults who do not attend college navigate the “fog” of hookup culture that Wade’s students describe. After reviewing the interviews my husband, David, and I did with 75 non-college educated young adults in southwestern Ohio, I think that the answer is both yes—and no.

On the one hand, one-third of our sample reported having sex outside of a relationship. They sometimes said things like, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that—we’re sexual people, everybody is…. As long as the people are consenting and know where they’re at in the relationship, it’s fine.” Or “people are gonna have one-night-stands and stuff like that, and I think that's just part of growing up.” Or as Jessica, the waitress whom I wrote about here, said,

Sex is sex, regardless of who it’s with. You can make it mean something if you want it to mean something, but other than that if you just want it to be a f***--excuse my language—then it’s not gonna mean anything, and you don’t have to call that person the next day.

Others, like Stephanie, a single mother of two, reported that when she started online dating, she felt a lot of pressure to hook up. She’d regularly get messages from guys asking to have sex, and she eventually decided to delete her email account because her inbox was flooded with hundreds of such messages.

On the other hand, these young adults are not part of a “total institution” like students at a four-year college. As Wade points out, the nature of college as a total institution means that it is difficult for students to escape the dominant culture on campus, and she reports that two-thirds of college students participate in hookup culture. (“Hookup” is an intentionally ambiguous term that can refer to anything from a making out to actual intercourse, so this number does not easily compare with the one-third figure I mention above.) Campus conversations and friendships revolve around the hearsay of hooking up, and to opt out is to risk feeling marginalized. The only students Wade spoke with who did not feel enveloped by hookup culture were those at commuter colleges.

It’s also interesting to note that the vocabulary of “hooking up” did not surface much in our interviews with working-class young adults, even though asking about sexual experiences and attitudes was a significant part of our interviews. Young adults not on the college scene more often described uncommitted sex as “friends with benefits” or a “one night stand.”

It’s possible that those non-college educated young adults who have had a foray into the world of higher education are the ones most likely to participate in hookup culture, even after they’ve dropped out of college. Of those we interviewed, several of the most enthusiastic about casual sex had attended a four-year college for some time.

The vocabulary of “hooking up” did not surface much in our interviews with working-class young adults.

Jessica studied psychology at a large state university, and it was there that she first had sex. “I racked up a few numbers while I was in college,” she says, “It’s kinda like a slutty thing, but I mean, it’s college, right? Whatever you’d like.” Jessica eventually dropped out because she was concerned by her growing drinking habit.

Mark, 29, also dropped out after attending a state school known for its party scene. Mark graduated high school in the top 10 percent of his class and became the first in his family to go to college, but flunked after a couple semesters because he partied too hard. He said that he wishes he “would’ve stayed close to home ‘stead of goin’ to school…. I feel like I would be in a lot different position right now if I’d a stayed close to home.”

Did these students, like those described in sociologist Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton’s book, Paying for the Party, get the worst of all worlds—student debt, no degree, and a harmful sexual culture to boot? As Ross Douthat argued in the New York Times, is this largely “a story about the socioeconomic consequences of cultural permissiveness”?

Christa, a few years younger than Mark but from the same small town, credits her success in college to the fact that she stayed home, living with her parents. “I never moved on campus, so that kept me out of trouble 'cause I never did like get into the drinking scene or anything like that,” she told us. Some of Wade’s working-class students had similar stories.

It seems that for young adults who never go to college or who live at home while attending commuter colleges, though casual sex is common and a bar/club scene exists, there is another strong and competing script about sex. This script prizes sex as an expression of love and commitment and—whatever you think about its practical wisdom—values finding a spouse and starting a family over launching a career as the first adventure of adulthood.

This script is in the cultural air in the small town where I live. You can hear it in the country music blaring from a passing car’s speakers. It’s preached from the pulpits of the town’s 10 churches. The elderly who sit on their porches are witnesses to it, with their wedding rings and the golden anniversary knickknacks in their curio cabinets.

As Tricia, a 22-year-old in a serious relationship who stayed in her hometown instead of going off to college, explained:

I think that another reason people wait longer [to get married is that] they just wanna keep living the college life and, like, going out and stuff and hangin’ out with friends, and I think it’s just, like, too much fun that would get, like, ruined by marriage.

But for Tricia, that order of priorities is a bit backward. She doesn’t see anything wrong with pursuing a committed relationship at a younger age, explaining, “You can still have fun with like, you know, your husband or wife.”

Heidi, 20, was shocked to read a story in Cosmopolitan about a 38-year-old woman who never wanted kids. “Okay, I understand where you’re coming from, but you’re crazy. Because that’s kind of the biggest point in life,” she said “More than falling in love, more than your house, more than your money, more than anything is keeping your family alive, keeping the world going. That’s what you’re put on this earth to do.”

Or as Julia, a 22-year-old mother of two boys, said, “I want a college degree and stuff, but I’ve always wanted a family besides anything.”

Given the emphasis on pursuing love and family in working-class communities, it is no surprise that many respondents expressed the idea that while premarital sex is fine, sex without some kind of love and commitment is risky and less than ideal.

Of casual sex, one young man said:

It's fleeting, it's pointless, and it has nothing to do with the actuality of relational dynamics…It doesn't make logical sense from any standpoint other than you are only trying to fulfill your own need, lustful need, whatever.  You want to feel better about yourself that day, so you want to suck the life out of somebody else. That has nothing to do with love or relationships as far as I'm concerned.

Twenty-year-old Arianna described “an episode” in which she slept with someone she met at a bar. She said it was:

nice knowing that that guy wanted me like that, but it was not a good feeling of, like, there's nothing gonna come of that. You're not going to talk to this person. It's kinda like giving away your body for nothing, you know? And that is a gift. That is – should be something that's, like, treasured. 

She went on to say that she has a friend who sleeps with guys as a “self-esteem thing” but is adamant that for her, it had the opposite effect: “That honestly makes me feel less about myself.”

Nicole, who got pregnant with her daughter right after high school and then married the father, said:

To me, [sex is] very private, very personal; it’s a big commitment.  Some people are just kind of like, ‘It’s just sex.’  So, for them, I guess having sex early in a relationship is just kind of like going out for ice cream. It’s just what you do together. I don’t want it to be that way for my kids.

Other women talked about emotional and psychological risks. Monica, 22 and a single mother, warned other young women to:"make it be somethin’ serious not just the whole one-night-stand thing.” She explained from her own experience:

I mean it affects you emotionally. You can get STDs. You could have a lot of unplanned pregnancies or if you – you know, some people have abortions ’cause it was a one-night stand. That affects you emotionally and that can affect you for the rest of your life. ’Cause I feel like you’re just – you’re pretty much just handing out something that not everybody’s worthy of having.

And 25-year-old Pam summed up a common attitude when she said that while there are “temporary benefits” to casual sex, “part of everybody's heart wants to love somebody. And obviously, you can't love ‘em if you're just using 'em for a hook up.”

These comments are a far cry from the outright celebration of hooking up that Wade heard from some college students. Instead, the young adults we spoke with—though many of them acknowledge that they went through a “party stage” in their late teens and sometimes into their early twenties—expressed a desire to settle down and start families, and this shaped their views on sex.

That’s not to say that young adults who opt out of college have fewer sexual partners. Serial monogamy—the high rates of dissolution of cohabiting unions and higher divorce rates for the non-college educated—could help to explain why the non-college educated have slightly more sexual partners on average, even if hookup culture is less prevalent. In other words, the ideal of committed sex might be stronger in working-class America than it is on college campuses, but those same young adults, for a variety of reasons, are struggling to live up to their own ideals.

Hookup culture might not exist in the same form off campus as it does on campus—in part because of differing cultural values and priorities surrounding family and career—but there are startling similarities between the sexual cultures in both places. I will explore those similarities, including distrust of the opposite sex, ambiguity in relationships, and the risk of sexual assault, in my next post.

Wed, 01 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0500
How Far Should Government Go to Encourage Couples to Reproduce? by Naomi Schaefer Riley (@NaomiSRiley)

How do you get people to make babies? It’s safe to say that this is not a question the leaders of most human nations have faced. In the past, there was some sense that people have a natural will, not only to survive, but also to create another generation. If nothing else, the desire to engage in sexual relations meant that babies were going to be a natural byproduct.

But today, in an era of birth control and easy access to abortion, the pleasure of sex does not guarantee reproduction. And so now some governments are trying to persuade people that we need a next generation. Most recently, in Sweden, where the fertility rate is 1.8, politicians are beginning to get desperate.

Recently, Per-Erik Muskos, a councilman from the northern Sweden town of Overtornea, proposed offering the municipality’s 550 employees the right to use an hour of the workweek allotted for fitness activities to go home and have sex. Because, you know, sex is good exercise and, well, there are not enough babies.

Muskos has some silly ideas about why it is that people don’t have babies. “I believe that sex is often in short supply. Everyday life is stressful and the children are at home," he said. "This could be an opportunity for couples to have their own time, only for each other.”

There is not a great deal of evidence that couples in Western Europe are having less sex. And even if they were, why would this possibly be the reason? Why is daily life more stressful today in Sweden or Italy or France than it was at any time in the past? The continent that has seen war and devastation and deprivation on an astonishing scale during the past century, but somehow, today, these Swedish parents are too stressed to engage in intercourse? Or they can’t get enough time away from their children?

Of course, nothing creates intimate moments like government bureaucrats encouraging you to use your lunch break for sex.

Last year, following a public backlash, Italy pulled ads for a national “Fertility Day” campaign that was aimed at encouraging Italians to have more babies to boost the country’s dismal fertility rate (1.6). According to one report, the campaign included a poster “picturing a woman holding an hourglass in one hand—the other one on her stomach—next to the words: ‘Beauty has no age limit. Fertility does.’"

Countries like Russia have created financial incentives for women to have babies. And certainly, the generous family leave policies and affordable childcare available in countries like Denmark and France should relieve parents of any potential economic stress that might come from having more children. But those things are apparently not enough.

These policies remind me a little of the “What’s the matter with Kansas?” argument. Policymakers and pundits look at people and wonder why it is that they don’t act in their economic interests? But just like the folks in Kansas, the people in Sweden are not simply rational economic actors. They are people—people who have time to have sex, who are not worried about having enough leave from work to spend with their children, and who know someone will mind these children when they do return to their jobs.

The real problem is a literal existential crisis. In a world where we can achieve total material comfort and satisfaction—the Danes are obsessed with getting cozy, of all things—but are lacking in a more spiritual or religious purpose, the question is why should we have more children?  And that is something for which no government bureaucrat has the answer.

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 07:00:00 -0500
How Trade With China Hurt Marriage Prospects for Low-Skilled Men by Robert VerBruggen (@RAVerBruggen)

For decades, sociologists have argued that a lack of jobs for young men can reduce their “marriageability.” Call it sexism, culture, biology, or whatever you want, but a man without a job is a far less desirable partner. Therefore, when work dries up for men, women put off marriage or give up on it entirely, leading to an uptick in out-of-wedlock births and the attendant social ills.

This is intuitively plausible, and it’s hard to deny that communities with high male unemployment tend to have high rates of nonmarital childbearing as well. But it’s a difficult hypothesis to prove. Is a lack of work for men really a root cause of family disintegration, or are the two correlated for some other reason?

groundbreaking new study by David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson gives us the best evidence to date for this theory. Trade with China has increased markedly since the 1990s, and especially since 2001 (when China became a member of the World Trade Organization), contributing to the decline of American manufacturing jobs—jobs that pay well and are disproportionately held by men. This sets up a natural experiment: If male job loss causes family breakdown, this effect should be easily visible in the areas most exposed to new competition from China, and it should vary depending on how male- or female-dominated the targeted jobs were. That is exactly what the study found.

The first link in the chain here is that men, especially lower-wage men, suffered disproportionately in the areas (more specifically, “commuting zones”) hit by a trade shock. When import penetration rose by a point—roughly the average change over a decade in the U.S.—the male-to-female earnings advantage fell by 2.2 percent at the median and almost 17 percent at the 25th percentile.

In addition to earning less, men in these areas responded with a variety of behaviors, some more adaptive than others. Some joined the military and left the area. Deaths from drug overdoses, poor diet, and smoking increased. It’s possible that others turned to crime and were incarcerated, though the available data make it hard to say for sure. (We know a lot of men disappeared from these areas, but not where they went. The Census tracks prisoners where they are incarcerated, not in the areas they came from.)

Men’s interactions with women also changed. A one-point import shock slightly reduced the percentage of women who were married. It also reduced births, but this effect was concentrated among older and married women, meaning that the percentage of children born to single mothers rose. As the authors write, “a decline in male earnings spurs some women to curtail both motherhood and marriage while spurring others to exercise the option of single-headedness (curtailing marriage but not fertility), thus raising teen and out-of-wedlock birth shares.”

The authors were further able to confirm that it’s male earnings that create this effect because the trade shocks varied in how much they targeted male vs. female employment. Shocks to female employment had the opposite effect, increasing fertility and marriage rates.

These changes, in turn, affected children. A one-unit trade shock increased child poverty by 2.2 points and decreased the percentage of children living with married parents by 0.4 points.

This doesn’t mean we can blame China for the fall of the two-parent family; indeed, the trend began long before Chinese products started making inroads in the U.S. market. The authors estimate that trade with China reduced:

marriage prevalence among young women by 0.75 to 1.25 percentage points; rais[ed] the share of teen and non-marital births by approximately one-half a percentage point each, decreas[ed] the fraction of children living in married two-parent households by roughly a half percentage point, and substantially hik[ed]—by 2.2 percentage points, a 13 percent increase—the fraction of children living in poverty.

If these findings can be extrapolated to other situations, though, the impact could be far more substantial. By one estimate, trade accounted for just 13 percent of the total manufacturing job losses; automation was a much bigger factor. And the male earnings advantage has been eroded from the other side as well, as women have made advances in the labor force.

The idea that married men should be breadwinners still looms large in the collective psyche, in other words, and lower-skilled men are having ever more trouble filling that role.

Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative.

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 01:29:00 -0500
Friday Five 168 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

The Growing Success of Parents as Partners
Philip and Carolyn Pape Cowan, Tavistock Relationships (UK)

55 Marriage Questions to Break the Military Marriage Radio Silence
Amanda Anderson,

Serial Cohabitation in Young Adulthood: Baby Boomers to Millennials
Kasey J. Eickmeyer and Wendy D. Manning
Center for Family & Demographic Research

Family Stability and Instability Among Low-Income Hispanic Mothers With Young Children
Elizabeth Karberg, Natasha Cabrera, Jay Fagan, Mindy E. Scott, & Lina Guzman, Child Trends/Hispanic Research Center

When Work Disappears: Manufacturing Decline and the Falling Marriage-Market Value of Men
David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson, National Bureau of Economic Research

Fri, 24 Feb 2017 20:07:00 -0500
From “16 and Pregnant” to “30-Something Grandma” by Ian Rowe

When I was a Senior Vice President at MTV, my job was to lead the network's efforts to use its “superpowers for good.” This meant to leverage the globe’s (then) most powerful youth media brand to mobilize tens of millions of young people to take action on the issues of most importance to their generation. We frequently debated whether our campaigns—like encouraging young adults to have safe sex—were actually helping them make better decisions or were normalizing bad behaviors. I concluded that the answer was both.

Now that I have spent seven years running Public Prep, a New York City-based network of single-gender public charter schools, I have an even greater appreciation for how a culture that divorces childbearing from marriage can shape young people's attitudes regarding family formation, and why the education reform movement must play a role in combating that culture.

16 and PregnantTeen Mom, and 30 Something Grandma are an actual trilogy of television shows, capturing the dysfunctional cycle of young women who get pregnant, become unprepared parents too early, typically get abandoned or under-supported by their equally unready male counterparts, and then witness their young children repeat the behavior less than twenty years later. What's amazing about these shows is the racial diversity. Black, Hispanic, and white girls are all represented, underscoring that widespread fatherlessness and the explosion in out-of-wedlock births are now their own equal opportunity tsunami, leaving children of black, brown, and increasingly white single mothers in its destructive wake.

When Democratic Senator Pat Moynihan issued his now famous report The Negro Family: The Case For National Action in 1965, he warned that “at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.” Moynihan acknowledged that the root of family disintegration then was our nation’s legacy of slavery and institutional racism, but cautioned that the disintegration of the family itself was powerful enough alone to grow even without those external forces. “Three centuries of injustice have brought about deep-seated structural distortions in the life of the Negro American. At this point, the present tangle of pathology is capable of perpetuating itself without assistance from the white world,” Moynihan wrote more than 50 years ago.

In 1965, when racism was more pervasive than it is today, Moynihan sounded the alarm that 23 percent of all black babies were born out-of-wedlock. Since that time, more than 70 million Americans twice elected a black President and the 115th Congress will be the most racially diverse in history with record numbers of Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and women of color serving in the next legislative session. Despite this racial progress, according to the 2017 National Vital Statistics Report, the out-of-wedlock birth rate in the black community is now 71 percent, a tripling of this woeful trend.

The white community has seen its own out-of-wedlock birth rate climb from 5 percent in 1965 to nearly 30 percent today, exceeding the 23 percent crisis levels Moynihan thought were catastrophic five decades ago. Hispanics have seen their out-of-wedlock rate balloon to 53 percent.

Because percentages often mask the magnitude of the problem, in raw numbers, the Centers for Disease Control reports that in 2015, there were 1.1 million babies born to women aged twenty-four and under. This is made up of 232,000 births to teenage girls aged 13 through 19, and 851,000 births to young women aged 20 to 24. While the teen birth rate in the U.S. is at a record low due to the great work of organizations like the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, it is important to note that of women aged twenty to twenty-four, nearly 50 percent (419,000) of the births were to women who were having at least their second through eighth child.

Regarding out-of-wedlock births, in 2015, 767,000 babies of all races were born to unmarried young women aged 13 through 24. The implications of children, barely adults themselves, raising children is irrefutable. While there are always exceptions, young mothers and children in single-mother families are five times as likely to be poor as those in two-parent families.

No society can endure such a complete breakdown of its family structure without experiencing devastating social consequences. And no one should understand these consequences more than principals and teachers who see children in our classrooms every day who are victimized by family instability. These issues are intertwined and complex, and cannot be explained by a single factor.

Yet rarely do education leaders and researchers admit openly that a primary root cause of the challenges our schools face to achieve student learning is the wholesale collapse of the families of the children we seek to educate. Our collective silence is capitulation. It's as if we assume that rampant out-of-wedlock birth rates are inevitable in the neighborhoods we serve. Or that we can't talk about it because that would further stereotype already marginalized populations. Or that we cannot risk blaming the victim by suggesting the pain felt in our communities is self-inflicted by poor choices rather than the result of only poverty or racism. Whatever the reasons, simply not talking about a problem does not make it go away.

When nearly 800,000 babies are born each year—by choice or chance—to unwed, unprepared and usually poorly educated young women under the age of 24, it's time for a new conversation and call to action.

In order to confront the enemy, step one is to have the courage to actually name it.

Rarely do education leaders and researchers admit openly that a primary root cause of the challenges our schools face to achieve student learning is the wholesale collapse of the families of the children we seek to educate.

For example, the Preventing Missed Opportunity report detailed that more than 6.5 million students missed three or more weeks of school in 2013–14. Children can't benefit from a curriculum or great teaching if they aren't there to experience it. Half of the nearly 7 million students were enrolled at just 4 percent of the nation’s school districts, with a concentration in largely low-income communities. The cause? The report details that the places with the highest rates of chronic absenteeism have experienced “inter-generational poverty, residential segregation, substandard housing, exposure to industrial and automotive pollutants—both of which drive higher rates of asthma—limited health and dental care, food insecurity, evictions and greater exposure to violence.” Certainly, these forces have some degree of causality.

But note that there is no explicit mention of how skyrocketing rates of out-of-wedlock births, or how the time and life demands of stressed single parents, could significantly and adversely affect student attendance. More than half of chronically absent students are in elementary or middle school. This isn't surprising, particularly in the early grades when a child’s ability to arrive at school on time or at all is 100 percent dependent on the stability of the adults in their lives.

As another example, take two important new reports recently released to improve the lives of boys and young men of color in New York and California: (1) My Brother’s Keeper Guidance Document: Emerging Practices for Schools and Communities; and (2) The counter narrative: Reframing success of high achieving Black and Latino males in Los Angeles County.

Both reports present evidence-based strategies currently being implemented in schools across the country, like mentoring and recruitment of racial/ethnic minority teachers, which have shown some promise to improve academic outcomes for young men. The counter narrative report takes a particularly refreshing approach in highlighting “young men who are the products of high expectations...and who are thriving in their homes, taking on leadership roles in their schools, and making a difference in their communities.”

Both reports present extensive data that show “boys of color are conspicuously overrepresented on most indicators associated with risk and academic failure.” The question is why.

Excerpts from each report cite that “boys of color experience variations of discrimination, community violence, limited academic opportunities, trauma, poverty, family distress, and social stigma” or that black and brown young men “have a host of accumulated disadvantages brought about through structural inequality, historical exclusion of certain groups, poverty, racism, sexism, and a host of other social toxins.”

While these symptoms are familiar and often repeated, the 200-page My Brother’s Keeper Guidance Document never mentions the stratospheric rise in non-marital birth rates, despite the overwhelming research of the negative impact of fatherlessness on children, especially boys.

To its credit, The counter narrative report does address the issue of households with absent fathers:

While a narrative has emerged where large numbers of children of color grow up in fatherless homes, this data demonstrates that although fathers were not always present in the home, there were other men who played prominent roles; uncles, grandfathers, cousins, and older brothers were mentioned often. This is important to note because much has been made about the tragedies of Black and Latino males who do not have positive male role models in their lives. While some might view the absence of fathers as a deficit, to be clear, many of the participants stressed that there were still important men in their lives.

Ironically, this admission underscores the importance of having two parents by celebrating the resiliency of successful boys with absent fathers who were lucky enough to have another positive male figure to step in.

In 1965, Moynihan’s report concluded that “at the center of the tangle of pathology is the weakness of the family structure. Once or twice removed, it will be found to be the principal source of most of the aberrant, inadequate, or antisocial behavior that did not establish, but now serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and deprivation.” While Moynihan wrote these prescient words with the black community in mind, they now apply to American children of all races whose families are in despair. We in the education reform community can't achieve the outcomes we seek unless we confront this reality.

We can't control the decisions the parents of our students have made. But it is within our control to influence the family structure for the next generation because we decide what we teach children today about family formation and the likely paths toward life fulfillment. Phrases like “Who’s your daddy?” do not need to be commonplace in the communities we serve. It does not have to be this way.

I hope to mobilize the education reform community to wage a new campaign—an unapologetic, tough-minded, pro-stable family agenda that recognizes that strong, supportive families can take many forms. Please join me in this effort. Share your ideas. Our country, and the future of its children, depends upon our ability to summon the collective strength and courage to speak these truths.

Ian Rowe is a senior visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the CEO of Public Prep. A version of this essay was originally published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 02:26:00 -0500
Should Couples in Unhappy Marriages Stay Together? by Harry Benson (@harrybenson6)

Almost exactly 22 years ago, I got home from work to find a letter lying on my bed. It was addressed to ‘Harry’ in my wife Kate’s handwriting.

I had no idea what it would say. But since Kate was sitting next door, I figured that whatever she wanted to say was best said on paper, rather than in person.

A few weeks earlier, Kate had confronted me that our marriage was in trouble. I wasn’t the friend she needed me to be and unless I got my act together, our marriage would be over in a year.

I sat down to read the letter with some trepidation. It was written as a rather bland ‘job spec’ of what it was to be Harry’s wife: terms, conditions, perks, travel, pay, etc. I didn’t really know what to think. But the last couple of lines changed everything.

“What I really want is a friend,” she wrote. “Will I ever get it, who knows. WHO CARES.”

Those last two words, in capitals, knocked me to the core. The despairing tone was obvious. What have I done, I thought. I’ve neglected her so badly. In my mind, it was as if a tiny switch flicked across. Suddenly, I knew I needed to make our marriage work for Kate.

I walked next door to find a closed and distant wife. I dropped to my knees and said, “I’m so sorry. You’ve no reason to believe I will change. But I will.”

That tiny change of attitude, a mental shift, to put Kate first, to have her at the forefront of my mind rather than an afterthought, had seismic consequences.

Today, we have been married over 30 years and have six children. Both of us would readily admit that it has subsequently been far from plain sailing. More of a roller-coaster at times. But we’re still here and our kids are OK so must be doing something right …

But how typical is our experience?

The Marriage Foundation recently published a report by me and Professor Steve McKay at the University of Lincoln that looked at what happens to unhappy couples. We analyzed data from a Millennium Cohort Study sample of some 10,000 mothers who had babies in the year 2000 or 2001. We looked at what happened to the mothers, as couples, between the first and last of these waves, i.e. over a period of just over 10 years. At the initial wave, mothers and partners—if present—were asked, “how happy are you in your relationship?” Answers were scored from 1 to 7 where 1 = very unhappy and 7 = very happy. Mothers were also asked if they suspect they are on the brink of separation. The answers were scored from 1 to 5 where 1 = strongly agree and 5 = strongly disagree.

We found that some 5 percent were unhappy in their relationship soon after the baby was born. Just under a third of these then split up. Of the majority who stayed together, only 7 percent (of the 5 percent, so that’s 0.3 percent of the total sample) were still unhappy by the time their child was aged 11, whereas 68 percent said they were now happy (see figure below).


Source: H. Benson & S. McKay, Couples on the Brink, Marriage Foundation, Feb. 2017.

American studies mirror our findings. A 2002 study found that two-thirds of unhappy adults who stayed together were happy five years later. They also found that those who divorced were no happier, on average, than those who stayed together.

In other words, most people who are unhappily married—or cohabiting—end up happy if they stick at it. Like Kate and I, they find ways through.

Our study shows that:

  • Unhappiness is, thankfully, much rarer than people imagine. It affects just one in 20 parents with newborns.
  • Unhappiness is usually temporary. Staying unhappy is incredibly rare. Just one in every 400 parents in the entire study was unhappy at both time points, soon after their child was born and then again when their child was 11.
  • Furthermore, we found that the small minority of married parents who suspect their relationship is on the brink have a similar breakup rate—just under 30 percent—as couples who do not think they are on the brink. That’s not the case for cohabiting parents with newborn children, who, regardless of how secure or insecure they are in their relationship, are more likely than married parents to split up during the next 10 years.

How did my wife and I do it?

It turns out that our experience of growing apart after the children arrive on the scene is very typical indeed.

When couples become parents, everything changes. Forget Mars and Venus. The difference between men and women that matters most is that women have babies. That long experience of pregnancy automatically and subconsciously tunes a woman’s mind toward her child. So, when the baby appears, it’s not surprising that mom tends to take charge and make the decisions.

Like many dads, I loved being involved. But it was all too easy to take a back seat—whether willingly or not—and leave mom to take the initiative. Our conversations gradually deteriorated into a series of functional questions “can you do this?” and “can you do that?” That was fine for a while. But slowly, eventually, it began to grate. Kate became frustrated at being responsible for everything. I withdrew and focused on work. Kate then felt neglected and micromanaged me.

We drifted apart. It was very subtle and very common.

Somebody has to look after the relationship. With mom’s focus on the child, that has to be dad.

If we men can get into our heads that our first task is to love mom, to notice her, to have her in the forefront of our thoughts, our marriage will be terrific.

Happy wife, happy life. Believe it or not, there’s research to support this. It’s much less true the other way around. For example, in one study of 722 older husbands and wives, husbands reported that they were happier with both marriage and life when their wives were also happy with their marriage. Happy husbands didn’t seem to have the same effect on their wives.

Is this putting an unfair burden on men? Doesn’t it take two to tango? Not at all. It’s a tiny shift in thinking that recognizes human nature. When a woman becomes child-oriented, dad needs to become mom-oriented. Somebody needs to take responsibility for the relationship. Remember that this is not about who does what role. Couples can take on whatever roles they like.

So, how do you turn around an unhappy marriage?

  • Have hope. When you’re in a bad place, you can’t imagine ever getting out. But remember you felt the same in reverse when you were in love. You couldn’t imagine that things could ever go bad. Yet they did. Unhappiness is rarely permanent. Your marriage can and will get better.
  • Seek wise friends. Wise friends won’t take sides and say ‘I never liked him/her anyway’. They’ll want you to succeed. Without wise friends to support and guide us as a couple, I doubt we would ever have made it. Ask an older couple what they think. They will almost certainly tell you that they’ve been through the same thing.
  • Be kind. Kindness is an especially attractive quality. We men need to be particularly careful to be kind. Husbands, love your wives. And they will love you right back. In that order. Then, and only then, will you get all you ever wanted.

Trust me, I’ve done it. Now it’s your turn.

Harry Benson is Research Director of the UK-based Marriage Foundation and co-author with his wife Kate Benson of What Mums Want (And Dads Need to Know)which will be released in the U.S. in April 2017. An earlier (and shorter) version of this post appeared on the Marriage Foundation blog.

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 02:22:00 -0500