Institute for Family Studies Blog https://ifstudies.org/blog The Institute for Family Studies (IFS) is dedicated to strengthening marriage and family life, and advancing the well-being of children, through research and public education. Friday Five 201 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-201 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-201 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Happier Mealtimes, Healthier Eating for Kids
Mary Elizabeth Dallas, HealthDay

HHS Draft Strategic Plan FY 2018-2022 ( Comment Period Open Until 10/27/2017)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Children With Unfaithful Parents Are More Likely to Cheat Themselves
Lindsay, Dodgson, Business Insider

Who is Poor in the United States? A Hamilton Project Annual Report
Jay Shambaugh, Lauren Bauer, and Audrey Breitwieser, Brookings Institution

Family Members Play an Important Role in Managing Chronic Illness
Penn State, ScienceDaily

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Fri, 20 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Pornography Use and Relationship Quality: An Interview with Samuel Perry (Part 1) https://ifstudies.org/blog/pornography-use-and-relationship-quality-an-interview-with-samuel-perry-part-1 https://ifstudies.org/blog/pornography-use-and-relationship-quality-an-interview-with-samuel-perry-part-1 by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

While there are a number of forces threatening the quality and stability of family life today, one of the major hazards to marital well-being is the widespread availability and use of pornography. Some research has linked regular porn use to sexual attitudes and behaviors that can be harmful to long-term intimate relationships, leading well-known marriage therapist John Gottman to reverse his previous stance on porn use for couples and declare it “a serious threat to couple intimacy and relationship harmony.” Still, as Nicholas Wolfinger has pointed out on this blog, there a number of unanswered questions in the research connecting pornography to negative relationship outcomes.

I recently discussed these issues with a scholar who is seeking to answer some of these questions: Samuel Perry, an assistant professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Oklahoma. Professor Perry has authored or co-authored a number of large-scale studies on pornography use and relationship stability, and he is currently finishing up a book that considers the consequences of pornography for conservative Protestant individuals, families, and communities.

In part 1 of my interview with Professor Perry (part 2 will be published next Monday), he summarizes the research on pornography use and relationship quality, including findings from his own recent studies. For those who want to dig further into this research, please note the hyperlinks to various studies in his answers.

Alysse ElHage: An increasing number of studies have examined the impact of porn use on relationships. Give us a brief summary of what the research shows, so far, about how porn use might negatively impact relationship outcomes?

Samuel Perry: While there are a number of important gaps in the literature, the vast majority of studies that examine the connection between pornography use and relationship outcomes find that men who view pornography more often tend to report lower relationship quality by a variety of different measures. This tends to be the case whether men are in marriages or otherwise committed romantic relationships. The findings are often different for women, however. Most research, including my own, finds that pornography use tends to either be unassociated or even positively associated with women’s relationship quality.

There should be nothing controversial in what I just stated. Most people well-versed in this literature would, I think, agree with my summary. And notice that I haven’t said anything about causality yet. That’s because one of the key limitations of most research is that the vast majority of studies have been cross-sectional and therefore unable to determine what’s causing what here. Specifically, is it pornography use that contributes to poorer relationship outcomes? Or do people who are already in struggling relationships tend to seek out pornography because they’re frustrated or dissatisfied with their sex lives? Or perhaps both?

The few studies we do have that use experimental or longitudinal data find that there does seem to be a directional “effect” of pornography use on relationship outcomes, particularly for men. Not so much for women.

Alysse ElHage: What are some of the theories about why porn use is associated with negative relationship outcomes, and why is this more true for men than women?

Samuel Perry: Much of the theorizing about this argues that there are a few possible pathways. First, “scripting theory” suggests that porn use might shape our conscious or unconscious expectations about body image and how sexual relationships actually work in ways that might make us dissatisfied with our actual romantic partner. In this case, porn use may influence men more because they’re viewing it more often than women and thus, perhaps, are more susceptible to its influence. A second argument suggests that it’s really all about the discrepancy in porn use within the couple. The issue is perhaps not so much that porn use changes people but that couples don’t talk about it and perhaps hold different opinions on it. So, it becomes a tremendous source of tension and conflict. Most likely, some combination of both is happening.

The vast majority of studies that examine the connection between pornography use and relationship outcomes find that men who view pornography more often tend to report lower relationship quality by a variety of different measures.

Alysse ElHage: Religious belief and pornography use was the focus of one of your studies. What impact does religious belief have on pornography use and marital stability?

Samuel Perry: My own contribution to this ongoing conversation, and what is ultimately a large part of my forthcoming book, is that porn use is particularly damaging for the marital relationships of deeply religious Americans (I focus on conservative Protestants), primarily because of what porn use means to those men and women.

Several recent studies (mine included) show that the negative association between pornography use and marital quality is a lot stronger (or we could say worse) for those who (1) are more connected to church and the Bible and (2) are married to spouses who are more conventionally religious as well. And there’s also some data that suggest conservative Protestant women are twice as likely to report divorcing their husband because of his porn use compared to women who are not conservative Protestants. How can we explain these findings? Isn’t conventional religion supposed to make marriages stronger?

Conservative Protestants don’t view pornography more often than anyone else. In fact, the really devout ones tend to view it a lot less. So it’s not because they’re all “porn addicts.” But rather, because pornography use is such a fundamental violation of their own sexual ethic, conservative Protestant men who view pornography with any sort of regularity (even if it’s infrequent by the standards of other American men) often experience significant guilt and shame associated with it that ends up impacting their intimate relationships in negative ways. They hide. They lie. Especially if they’re married to a spouse who draws a hard line about pornography use. There is little communication about pornography use because it’s a complete non-starter for conservative Protestants. It’s morally unjustifiable to them and therefore serious enough to become a deal-breaker for a number of conservative Protestant women.

By contrast, a lot of my research suggests that among married couples who are not very religious, pornography use doesn’t have quite the dramatic effect on their relationships. I’m not saying that pornography is a great thing for these couples. It probably isn’t on the whole (though situations vary). But they don’t seem to experience the guilt and hiding and conflict that deeply religious couples do over that issue.

Alysse ElHage: Your latest study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, is the third in a series of three studies focused on the impact of pornography use on relationship stability. Tell us briefly about all three studies and what you found?

Samuel Perry: These studies examined the potential influence of pornography use on relationship stability, from three different angles. The studies were an attempt to overcome the problems of previous research by using panel data, where we could try to isolate whether porn use temporally preceded the relationship outcome in question. In this case, all studies were interested in some form of relationship dissolution or breakup.

The first is published in the Journal of Sex Research and in that study, my co-author and I use General Social Survey panel data finding that married Americans who began pornography use between survey waves were basically twice as likely to get divorced by the next survey wave. We also find that married women who stopped using pornography between waves were significantly less likely to get divorced than those who kept on using it.

The second study, published in the journal Sexuality & Culture, used panel data from the 2006-2012 Portraits of American Life Study (PALS). In that article, my co-author and I found that Americans who used pornography more frequently in 2006 (and particularly men) were more likely to experience some sort of romantic breakup within the next six years. Even though we couldn’t necessarily demonstrate that the earlier pornography use was the “cause” of the breakup, the finding itself was fascinating because it was almost perfectly linear. In other words, with every increase in porn viewing frequency earlier on there was a corresponding increase in the likelihood that a male respondent would experience a romantic breakup in the next six years.

The third and most recent study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior also uses the 2006-2012 PALS data and focuses on Americans who were all married in 2006. Here, I find that pornography use in 2006 predicted a greater likelihood that a respondent would experience a marital separation in the next six years. This was even after controlling for how happy they were in their marriage earlier on and even how satisfied they were with their sex lives. In other words, the association I observe between pornography use and marital separation doesn’t seem to be due to the fact that these respondents were already in bad marriages or dissatisfied with their sex lives. So it’s more likely to have been something about the porn use itself (and all that potentially goes with it).

Look for the remainder of our interview with Samuel Perry next week.

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Thu, 19 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Are We Asking Too Much of Our Marriages? https://ifstudies.org/blog/are-we-asking-too-much-of-our-marriages https://ifstudies.org/blog/are-we-asking-too-much-of-our-marriages by Anna Sutherland (@annams59)

“We’re asking a lot of our marriages today, but few of us are asking for life itself,” psychologist Eli Finkel notes in his new book, The All-or-Nothing Marriage. Over time, he argues, we have come to expect marriage to fulfill needs that rank higher in Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy. Americans no longer need to get married to avoid poverty, homelessness, or starvation. Instead, we want our partners not only to love and cherish us, but also to accompany us on our journey toward self-actualization—the summit of Mount Maslow, in Finkel’s term.

His basic thesis is that “the pursuit of self-expression through marriage simultaneously makes achieving marital success harder and the value of doing so greater. Consequently, the average marriage has been getting worse over time, even as the best marriages have been getting better.”

Keep in mind that these trends have developed even as divorce has become more accessible. One would expect marital satisfaction to have risen in recent decades since unsatisfactory marriages (which became more likely to end in divorce) would stop dragging down the average happiness of existing marriages. Yet Americans have managed to achieve the opposite: While 67.2% of married Americans reported “very happy” marriages in 1973, only 59.9% reported the same in 2014. Why would that be so?

Essentially, Finkel warns, we are demanding more of our marriages without increasing our investment in them. Married Americans see their parents, siblings, neighbors, and friends much less frequently than the unmarried, and less frequently than they did in the 1970s, making the spousal relationship all the more central to their well-being and personal development. Thus, amid its decline, marital satisfaction has become more closely linked to overall life happiness over the last few decades. Yet married Americans are spending less time alone with their spouses. In 1975, childless American couples spent 35 hours per week in one another’s company, and those with children spent 13 hours per week, while the figures stood at 26 and nine hours, respectively, in 2003.

After providing an overview of the evolution of American marriages and explaining the paradoxical effects of today’s “self-expressive” marital ideal, Finkel devotes the last third of his book to advice. Many of his tips are laudable: prioritize spending time together, celebrate one another’s successes, maintain a broader network of friends, lower your expectations of marriage during the early years of parenting or other rough patches, etc. But other ideas he deems helpful in certain cases (living apart from one’s spouse permanently, leaving monogamy behind) are more likely to destroy a marriage than to bolster it.

And I found myself recoiling from Finkel’s suggestion to “generate a new, more deliberate plan” for meeting the needs I currently expect my marriage to fulfill. It may have been the businessman-meets-therapist prose that did me in (“if we and our spouse leverage our social networks and personal skills more efficiently, our marriage will consist of two better-adjusted people”), or the utilitarian viewpoint it reinforces, in which our most intimate friends become mere vehicles for serving our needs.

My objections to The All-or-Nothing Marriage do not end there. In the course of arguing that the era of “separate spheres” for the genders is dead and gone, Finkel exaggerates the extent to which men and women’s roles in the workplace and family have converged. He also presents as a fact the debatable claim that “marriages characterized by greater gender equality—greater parity in earning, housework, and parenting—are more satisfying, more sexually fulfilling, and at lower risk of divorce.” Ashley McGuire, Laurie DeRose, and the scholars behind the 2015 World Family Map report all provide reasons to doubt this claim.

Similarly, it is premature to declare, as Finkel does, that “a new equilibrium has emerged” for marriage since divorce rates skyrocketed in the 1970s. The divorce rate may have dropped since then; however, the marriage rate is hitting historic lows, and cohabitation shows no signs of becoming a functional replacement for marriage.

To return to Finkel’s main point—that contemporary Americans look to marriage to express and expand their deepest selves—it may be significant that Abraham Maslow believed just 2% of people would accomplish self-actualization. Asking a spouse for love, emotional support, and practical assistance in raising a family is one thing. Expecting him or her to “sculpt [us] in ways that elicit [our] authentic self” is another. To achieve such sculpting, Finkel writes in one place,

Our spouse must understand our psychological constitution, recognize the opportunities and pitfalls dictated by the circumstances we’re confronting right now, accurately assess his or her support skills and domain-relevant expertise, take account of the current emotional tenor in the marriage, and so forth.

Complicating these efforts is the fact that “A marriage that successfully facilitates its spouses’ personal growth changes the marriage itself, ultimately altering the spouses’ ways of relating to each other.” If navigating these waters proves an arduous and at times impossible task for a relationship expert with a Ph.D. in psychology, like Finkel, perhaps we should let ourselves off the hook. Marriage may well help us to grow and develop as individuals, but it is unwise to make that its primary purpose.

Anna Sutherland is a writer and editor living in Michigan. 

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

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Wed, 18 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
What Tax Reform Owes Families https://ifstudies.org/blog/what-tax-reform-owes-families https://ifstudies.org/blog/what-tax-reform-owes-families by Josh McCabe (@JoshuaTMcCabe)

Is it possible to enact pro-family tax reform? As pressure to expand the child tax credit (CTC) intensifies, it has become apparent that tax reform is really impossible unless it includes pro-family reforms. While many pundits and policymakers find this surprising, a closer look reveals that pro-family considerations were central to the 1986 tax reforms, which saw the dependent exemption doubled and indexed for inflation. The story of how and why these changes were made to the dependent exemption in 1986 offer lessons for reforming the child tax credit in 2017.

The story begins with Eugene Steuerle, an economist in the Tax Analysis Division of the U.S. Treasury. In 1981, the American Enterprise Institute held a one-day conference on “Taxing the Family” and tasked Steuerle with writing a paper on the tax treatment of families with children. Having never examined the data prior to this, Steuerle was amazed by what he found. Because personal exemptions were not indexed for inflation, their real value had declined by 50% between 1948 and 1981 despite nominal adjustments over the years. As a result, the tax burden on a married family with two children earning the median income jumped from 0.3% of their income in 1948 to 11.3% by 1981—an increase much higher than that for taxpayers without children.

The conference proceedings were eventually published in 1983. Steuerle’s findings, which were quickly picked up by the media, shocked the public. Based on this new data, an unlikely coalition of pro-family conservatives and anti-poverty liberals coalesced around a proposal to increase the dependent exemption as a way to reduce pressures on working and middle-class families. It directly led to the Reagan administration’s decision to double the dependent exemption as part of what would become the 1986 tax reforms. One of Reagan’s advisors later wrote to Steuerle:

Had I not read your paper… I would have missed what became the core argument for the family initiative which I had urged on the President, and which he adopted—and there never would have been a Presidential decision to double the personal exemption in the tax code. Regardless of the fate of the tax bill this fall, the tax exemption portion, I predict, will survive—and it’s all due to your insightful analysis.

Rather than assuage the coalition of pro-family and anti-poverty groups, the success of the 1986 expansion mobilized them to continue to work for family tax relief. They had stemmed the rising tax burden on families but had yet to reverse the trend. It was not until 1997 that they finally scored another victory with the introduction of a $500 child tax credit. Between 2001 and 2003, the Bush administration doubled the CTC to $1,000 and made it partially refundable for the first time. This change was crucial. Although the federal income tax burden was declining, family payroll tax burdens continued to climb, becoming the primary source of tax liability for most working-class families. Refundability helped reduce payroll tax burdens for families without income tax liabilities. Building on this, the Obama administration further reduced the refundability threshold, making more working-class families eligible for much-needed tax relief.


Source: Tax Policy Center, "Historical Combined Income and Employee Tax Rates for a Family of Four," 2015. 

The bipartisan expansion of the child tax credit (CTC) has done a lot to provide relief to American families, but total tax burdens are still above the mid-century levels Steuerle used as a baseline. Among tax reformers, there is a debate about how much they would need to expand the CTC to make up for the loss of the dependent exemption. This is where Steuerle’s insights about choosing the appropriate baseline and accounting for the effects of inflation are critical. Because the CTC was not indexed when it was expanded in 2003, it has lost 25% of its value in real terms, as the figure below shows. Had it been indexed like the dependent exemption, it would be worth about $1,350 today. Additionally, according to the Department of Agriculture, the cost of raising children has increased 6-7% during this same period.


Source: Author’s calculation using CPI index

What are the implications? Proposals to eliminate the dependent exemption and increase the CTC from $1,000 to $1,500 would actually make most families worse off than they were in 2003. The loss of the dependent exemption, erosion of the child tax credit, and rising cost of raising children mean that policymakers need to increase the CTC closer to $2,500 if they want to ensure that middle-class families are better or no worse off.

Furthermore, it is imperative that policymakers continue the trend that started with the Bush administration of continuing to expand refundability to cover the payroll taxes falling most heavily on working-class families. As Robert Stein has argued, this would further reduce the anti-parenting bias built into Social Security and Medicare financing. Proposals to make the expanded portion of the CTC nonrefundable would leave these families high and dry.

Tax reform offers a once in a lifetime chance to make the tax code work for American families. Policymakers may be tempted to shortchange families in favor of other priorities but, as was the case in 1986, the data reveals what families are really owed in tax reform.

Joshua T. McCabe is a sociologist and assistant dean of social sciences at Endicott College.​​​​​​

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Tue, 17 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
A Closer Look at the Jobs with the Highest and Lowest Divorce Rates https://ifstudies.org/blog/a-closer-look-at-the-jobs-with-the-highest-and-lowest-divorce-rates https://ifstudies.org/blog/a-closer-look-at-the-jobs-with-the-highest-and-lowest-divorce-rates by Naomi Cahn (@NaomiCahn) and June Carbone

A recent report on which occupations have the highest and lowest divorce rates intrigued us. The study analyzed data from the 2015 American Community Survey, and, based on the number of people in a particular occupation who had married at least once, calculated the percentage of people who divorced. We had fun discovering the likelihood of divorce for a variety of occupations: for example, librarians have about a 28% chance of divorce, while phlebotomists have approximately a 46% chance, according to this study.

But as researchers who have looked at the role of economics and race in marriage and divorce, we wanted to see if the data, broken down by occupation, supported other studies on the relationship between money, marriage, and divorce.

People with less income are less likely to be married in the first place, and more likely to be divorced, as a recent IFS study discussed. About 25% of “poor” adults (in households with income below the 20th percentile) aged 18 to 55 are currently married, compared to 39% of working-class adults (in households with income between the 20th and 50th percentiles), and 56% of middle- and upper-class adults (above the 50th percentile). Furthermore, while under one-third of ever-married middle- and upper-class people have ever been divorced, 40% of working-class and poor men and women who have ever been married have also been divorced.

We also know that wealthier people report being happier in their marriages than low-income individuals: as Bloomberg recently reported, 53% of those who describe themselves as lower class rate themselves as happy in marriage, compared to 70% of those who rate themselves as upper class.

In light of these findings, we decided to dig deeper into the data on divorce and occupation, looking at the minimum education level and the median income for the 10 occupations most and least likely to have high divorce rates. We were also intrigued by the outlook for job growth in each occupation based on a hypothesis about hope—that is, if the individuals expect even more employment opportunities, then a break-up might be even less likely.

What we found, as shown in the following two tables,* is that there is a divorce rate of at least 48.8% in the occupations most likely to experience divorce; the divorce rate is under 22% in the 10 occupations least likely to be subject to divorce. Focusing on what is occurring within each profession, we found that none of the professions with the highest divorce rates require more than a high school diploma, and in 7 of those 10 occupations, the projected number of new jobs is expected to decline. By contrast, each of the 10 occupations with the lowest divorce rates required at least a bachelor’s degree, and all of them had at least a small projected growth rate.

                   Occupations with the Highest Divorce Rates in the U.S.


Sources: Fessler, Leah, "The occupations with the highest and lowest divorce rates in the US," Quartz, 9/6/17; 
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 12/17/15. 

Apart from gaming managers (who are the group most likely to divorce) and rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders, the 2016 median income for the occupations with the highest divorce rate was less than $35,000. On the other hand, all of the occupations with the lowest divorce rates, apart from clergy and “directors” (of religious activities and education), had incomes of at least $75,000.

                  Occupations with the Lowest Divorce Rates in the U.S.


Sources: Fessler, Leah, "The occupations with the highest and lowest divorce rates in the US," Quartz, 9/6/17; 
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 12/17/15. 

Of course, as responsible researchers, we must note that correlation is not causation. We can’t tell you which bartenders are likely to stay married or divorced, nor give advice on choosing a profession based on the divorce rate. Nor with composite figures like this can we tell you about selection effects: that is, those who choose to become bartenders may be less likely to have stable marriages for reasons other than their choice of profession.

What is striking about these numbers, however, is that the income effects appear to be stronger than differences in the nature of the occupations. Bartenders may be at high risk of divorce in every era; rolling machine setters, operators, and tenders seem to be in the same category today more because of their declining employment prospects than because of increased temptations to stray.

One question that does not command enough attention is why the correlation between relationship stability and employment prospects is so strong. We suspect that employment instability, as opposed to low income per se, may be part of the explanation. For those who are not wealthy, marriage has risks as well as benefits. In the United States, the median working-age household has approximately $5,000 in retirement savings, and more than half of Americans have less than $1,000 in the bank. Commitment to a partner with an unstable income—someone who runs up the credit card bills, incurs large health care expenses, or needs to be bailed out of jail—can diminish family savings. The commitment marriage entails requires a willingness—legally, financially, and emotionally—to share the couples’ joint resources. For couples with unstable finances, this commitment may be a source of peril (Carbone & Cahn, 2018).

We recognize there are no easy policy prescriptions for increasing family stability: the interaction between economic changes and cultural norms is multi-causal, dynamic, and interactive. New research by Melissa Kearney and Riley Wilson shows that this connection is even more complex; increased earnings from fracking booms did not lead to more marriage. We suspect once again that the issue involves not the sheer amount of money, but the degree to which new jobs interact with community norms to promote economic and relationship stability. Indeed, we wonder whether fracking jobs would be close to bar tendering positions in their association with divorce rates. Nonetheless, we should do everything possible to mitigate the negative consequences of economic instability on the family and to cushion the harmful effects of increasing economic inequality on children’s life chances.

Naomi Cahn is the Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School.  June Carbone is the Robina Chair of Law, Science, and Technology at the University of Minnesota Law School. *The tables in this article were prepared by George Washington University law student Mohammad A. Zaheerudin.

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

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Mon, 16 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Friday Five 200 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-200 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-200 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

What is Your Phone Doing to Your Relationships?
Emma Seppala, Greater Good Magazine

3 Things You Can Do Right Now to Make Your Marriage Happier
Jill Sieracki, Brides.com

Year-Round Outdoor Play Can Boost Kids' Performance in School
Child Trends

Nonprofit View: MREC Helps Couples Prepare for Marriage
Amy Gilford, Baltimore Sun

The Surprising Link Between Marriage and Heart Health
Amanda MacMillan, Time

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Fri, 13 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
How Divorce May Spread Between Siblings https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-divorce-may-spread-between-siblings https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-divorce-may-spread-between-siblings by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

Those of us who grew up as an older sibling probably recall our parents reminding us on numerous occasions to “Watch what you do because your little sister (or brother) looks up to you!” Whether we wanted the job or not, we were expected to be role models, and for many of us, that responsibility followed us into adulthood.

A new study from the Netherlands provides another reason to “watch what we do” when it comes to our marriages: divorce may spread between siblings.

The infectious nature of divorce between generations is well established: adults with divorced parents have a significantly higher risk of divorcing themselves—a risk that increases with each parental relationship transition they experienced as a child. As Nicholas Wolfinger explained on this blog about the intergenerational effects of divorce, “The established insight is that every family structure transition a child experiences in his or her family of origin cumulatively increases the likelihood of negative outcomes for that child.”

There is also evidence that divorce may spread among friends. Luma Simms recently reflected on the “infectious” nature of divorce, with one U.S. study finding that “The contagion of divorce can spread through a social network like a rumor, affecting friends up to two degrees removed.”

A new study published in Archives of Life Course Research (in press) builds on this research to show that the divorce of one sibling can increase the divorce risk of another sibling—with the effects as strong as having a divorced parent. The study by Elise de Vuijst, Anne-Rigt Poortman, Marjolijn Das, and Ruben van Gaalen found that even after controlling for a number of factors, “having a divorced sibling is associated with an increased likelihood of having a divorce oneself.”

The authors used nationwide registry data in the Netherlands and selected individuals ages 30 and up from five different birth cohorts, limiting their sample to married individuals with one full married sibling. They focused only on those in heterosexual marriages and did not include cohabiting couples. They then followed the married adults (total: 64,677) and their married siblings from 2000 to 2012.

According to the authors, the study is only the second to examine the cross-sibling effects on divorce and the first to consider if specific relationship characteristics between siblings might impact the divorce risk, especially characteristics related to role modeling. Their main theory is that “there is a direct association between siblings’ decisions on divorce because of the role model relationship siblings have.”

They acknowledge that establishing this connection is difficult since siblings share genes, family characteristics (like parental divorce), and income—all of which can impact the risk of divorce. So they controlled for a long list of demographic variables associated with an increased risk of divorce, including age at first marriage, education, income, and more. Additionally, they controlled for shared family background characteristics also known to increase the risk of divorce, such as the divorce of one’s parents. To address the possibility of genetic influence, they included a small sample of same-sex and opposite-sex twins. And they looked at whether the cross-sibling divorce effects changed over time.

The study considered whether certain “sibship” characteristics increase or decrease the effects of divorce between siblings, including: 1) level of contact (measured by geographical distance between siblings); 2) similarities, such as education, income level, and employment status; 3) gender (or whether same-sex siblings might have more influence than opposite-sex siblings); and 4) age (or that the divorce of older siblings would have a stronger effect than the divorce of younger siblings).

Overall, there was a 21% increased risk of divorce for individuals with a divorced sibling compared to individuals in the study with a married sibling. After introducing the controls, the cross-sibling effects on divorce decreased but remained "highly significant."

The study did not find evidence to support the theory that geographical distance, similarities, or gender moderate the effects on divorce. In their twin study, they found no evidence of genetic effects but note that their sample “was too small to draw any definitive conclusions.”

However, they did find support for their theory that the cross-sibling effects on divorce are linked to role modeling. That’s because an older sibling's divorce had a stronger effect than a younger sibling’s divorce. Moreover, the effects of a sibling's divorce significantly weakened over time. The authors explain:

As genetic or other family background influences on divorce would be static over time, these results strengthen our core expectation of a causal association between sibling’s divorce risks, not merely due to shared background and family characteristics, but additionally due to effects arising from a sibling role model mechanism.

Importantly, other background characteristics, from education level to the presence of children in the home, had a larger effect on divorce risk than a sibling’s divorce. Even so, the authors note, the “sibling effect is not negligible or even small: it is just as strong as the effect of parental divorce.”

While they underscore that their results do not explain “the causal influence” of the sibling effects on divorce, the authors speculate that sibling role modeling plays a major role:

The transmission of divorce behavior between siblings could be due to behavioral imitation, or perhaps a change in one’s norms on divorce when witnessing it in a close peer. Also, the divorce of a sibling could raise questions on one’s own relationship quality or send a ripple through the family when spouses ‘take sides’.

Whether the cross-sibling effects on divorce are due to family background or sibling role modeling, or a little of both, the study’s findings are a reminder of the power of individual marriages to negatively or positively influence the marriages around them. Marriage is indeed a "community affair," impacting not only the married couple and their children, but also their extended family, friends, and neighbors. Whether we realize it or not, other couples, especially those within our own families, are watching what we do, so let's strive to model marriages that last.

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

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

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Thu, 12 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
In Georgia, a Religiously-Inspired Baby Boom? https://ifstudies.org/blog/in-georgia-a-religiously-inspired-baby-boom https://ifstudies.org/blog/in-georgia-a-religiously-inspired-baby-boom by Lyman Stone (@lymanstoneky)

In 2007, Patriarch Ilia II of the Georgian Orthodox Church made a decision: facing a country with a declining population, low birth rates, and high abortion rates, the church leader announced that he would personally baptize and become godfather to any third-or-high Orthodox child born to a married couple in Georgia and formally registered with the government. Georgia is almost 90% Georgian Orthodox, Patriarch Ilia II is widely trusted and respected, and Georgians are the most likely of any Orthodox-majority country to say their religion is about personal faith. In other words, Georgia is an ideal test-case to see if national leaders can use social or cultural capital to effect targeted social changes. Since the first mass-baptisms in late 2007, Ilia has baptized over 30,000 babies, about 5.8% of the total births in Georgia over that time, or about 34.5% of the third-or-higher births, so his baptisms are of a demographically-significant scale.

Recently, I wrote about how using financial incentives to boost fertility may cost a lot more than policymakers expect. This could reasonably lead a reader to think that any boost to fertility will be very expensive. But that’s not necessarily the case. It is widely demonstrated, for example, that a woman’s fertility desires are closely associated with religious belief—with more religious people usually desiring more children—and yet religious belief has no direct fiscal cost for the government.

It stands to reason, then, that cultural or social changes might impact fertility as well. However, cultural and social changes are very hard to discuss because they are rarely tracked with sufficiently detailed data to allow rigorous analysis, and it’s often hard to show causality: is fertility impacting culture, or culture impacting fertility?

Fortunately, Georgia, a small former Soviet republic of just 3.4 million people wedged between Turkey and Russia, undertook a radical experiment. Can a popular social figure alter birth rates by bestowing special honors on high-birth-order children? Georgia’s official statistical agency tracks the data we need to answer this question. We can start simply by looking at the number of births in Georgia:
 

As you can see from the figure above, there’s a sharp spike in births in 2008. News reports and politicians at the time attributed this rise to the patriarch’s pro-fertility, anti-abortion campaign. However, the official Georgian statistics slightly undercount births; I will instead use the adjusted statistics shown above, in keeping with the methods used by leading experts on Georgian demographics.

But was Patriarch Ilia’s campaign really the cause of this rise? The simplest way to test this theory is to see if that increase was mostly among third births or higher, the babies who would be able to be baptized by the patriarch.
 

In this figure, we can see that from 2007 to 2008, births rose for every birth parity. From 2008 to 2009, they rose again for every birth parity. But from there, first births declined, second births stayed flat, while third births continued to rise. This is suggestive evidence that Patriarch Ilia’s campaign may have worked: third-order births nearly doubled between 2007 and 2010, and then continued to rise over time. Crucially, it is possible that his campaign could boost even first or second births if parents hope to have more babies later to take advantage of the offer of special baptism for future children. They may push the timing of their planned births forward, as Patriarch Ilia is not a young man and his successor might not commit to the same schedule of mass baptisms.

But is the spike in first and second births really about couples accelerating fertility to get the patriarchal baptism? Well, it’s hard to say for sure, but we can also subdivide fertility by marital status. The offer of baptism was only officially extended to married couples, so one might expect married fertility to spike upwards, while unmarried fertility should be unaffected.
 

As the figure above indicates, the entire observed fertility increase occurred in married fertility, while unmarried childbirth actually fell. Now, married childbirth was rising slightly even before 2008, the first year when Ilia’s policy can really be expected to have had a significant effect, which suggests there may have been an underlying trend upwards. But the divergence is so large and persistent that, combined with the birth-order data shown above, it seems extremely likely that much of this jump was due to Patriarch Ilia’s offer of baptism.

Social commentators sometimes wonder how much societal problems may depend upon questions of what we call social capital, which basically means the extent to which people trust each other and can intentionally influence each other. It’s often hard to put our finger on how these less quantitative factors matter. But the case of Georgia is pretty clear and shows that the presence of social capital—meaning a non-state actor who can influence the behavior of others without coercion—can be an enormous asset to a society, enabling them to make demographically-significant changes with a comparatively low price tag.

But there’s a twist ending to this story. In 2013, Georgia greatly expanded its financial incentives for childbearing. Paid parental leave was extended from 126 to 183 days and unpaid leave from 477 to 730 days. Likewise, the government increased the “baby bonus,” a one-time payout for having a child, from about $250 to about $400 (Georgia’s GDP per capita is only about $9,000), and they increased the bonus for a fourth child to nearly $800. Then, in 2014, they launched another expansion, offering parents of three or more kids in low-population regions an $850 annual payment.

So if moderately-sized financial incentives boost fertility, we should expect that, in 2013 or 2014, childbearing generally should rise, and fourth or higher childbearing should rise even more. And in 2014 or 2015, third or higher childbearing should rise.
 

Fertility for first and second children continued to fall despite the new incentives, perhaps suggesting many families had shifted their births earlier to take advantage of the baptism offer, and the share of women who could have a first birth was smaller than in previous years. But higher-parity births did continue their rise (see figure above).

However, the effect is inconsistent: despite having a bigger incentive offered a year earlier, fourth childbearing rose less than third. Financial incentives may have boosted fertility in these groups, but the observed trend doesn’t quite match what we’d expect if those incentives were the sole cause. Plus, the effect is substantially smaller than the effect observed from Ilia’s baptism offer, and, of course, the price tag far, far higher, with these programs costing Georgia an appreciable share of its budget.

Nonetheless, it seems plausible that the continued rise of higher-order birth after 2013, while lower-order births fell, could reflect expanded financial incentives. Giving money for kids does have some effect, just not as much as encouragement from beloved religious leaders.

These effects turn out to have a large impact on Georgia’s national-level fertility trends.
 

Before Patriarch Ilia’s policy, Georgia had below-replacement-rate fertility: they weren’t having enough kids to keep the population stable. After the mass baptisms began, the fertility rate rocketed to above-replacement levels and has stayed there for nearly a decade, suggesting that there is likely to be a discernible impact on completed fertility as well.

Fertility changes of this magnitude are not extremely common; many governments would kill for the ability to engineer this kind of policy. But Georgia’s case is unique: comparatively homogenous societies where one highly-respected religious leader has the social capital to induce these kinds of changes are extremely rare. The United States has never had that kind of social homogeneity, nor will it ever.

But there are subgroups in the United States where the exertions of still-respected institutions to promote childbearing and ease family life may matter. The choices made by universities determining whether childbearing is compatible with being a student or professor almost certainly impacts fertility. The views, attitudes, and enthusiasm for childbearing displayed by ministers likely have an impact on their parishioners’ marginal odds of having kids. The ability of social organizations to give honors and instill in their members a sense of familial pride almost certainly influences fertility. When we consider the puzzle of American fertility, these factors, not just economics, are a vital component: do family members discourage having the fourth child a family may want? Do churches celebrate children, or relegate families to cry-room isolation-chambers? Do universities subtly avoid advancing the careers of women with or expecting children, depriving students of role models who achieve their professional and familial ambitions? These questions are likely to drive fertility trends as much, if not more than, a few more bucks of government support. And although they may be cheaper to change, that does not mean the change is any easier.

Lyman Stone is an economist who blogs at In a State of Migration, and a proud Kentuckian. Lyman also works as an agricultural economist at USDA. His views are not endorsed by, supported by, or in any way reflective of the US government.

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

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Wed, 11 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
His Standards or Hers? How Men and Women Define Success https://ifstudies.org/blog/his-standards-or-hers-how-men-and-women-define-success https://ifstudies.org/blog/his-standards-or-hers-how-men-and-women-define-success by Susan Pinker

Editor’s Note: The following essay is based on a contribution to European Parliament member, Teresa Giménez Barbat's project Euromind, and to the related event “Gifted Women, Fragile Men,” which was held at the EU parliament buildings on March 28, 2017.

When I was in Amsterdam in 2008 to talk about my recently published book, The Sexual Paradox, I was interviewed by a senior editor of a major daily newspaper. She had reached the age when she was unlikely to have small children at home and as the executive editor of a major daily, she was at the pinnacle of her career. Despite this executive status, she worked part time and had always worked less than a full week. I asked why. "Wednesdays are for my family and friends," she told me, "and Friday is piano day. Practicing the piano is essential to my happiness and I want to make sure I have time for it."

I was stunned. Working full time—if not at least 60 hours a week—is de rigueur for professionals in North America. Not so in the Netherlands, where almost half of the population works fewer than 40 hours a week. This is especially true for Dutch women, over 76% of whom work part time. Legislation enacted in 2000 protects the jobs of anyone who wants to work part time in the Netherlands. If they move from full to part-time for any reason, they can neither be fired, nor refused benefits. Yet even if this arrangement is open to women and men alike, the number of women who take advantage of it eclipses the number of men. While three-quarters of all women in the Netherlands work part time—two-thirds of whom have no children at home—that figure is only one-quarter for men.1

It is one of the most egalitarian societies in Europe, yet most Dutch women want something different of their working schedules than most Dutch men. The assumption that women would always choose what men choose—if it weren't for the social and cultural forces holding them back—is a presumption I question in The Sexual Paradox. Nine years after its publication and 50 years after the sexual revolution of the 1970s, I'm wondering what has changed. Do we still expect the majority of women to adopt male-determined goals as their own? Or do most women in industrialized nations have something else in mind when they make life decisions?

We should look at other measures of success aside from the male-typical indices of sheer earnings and positions of power when we consider what women want. 

I propose that we look at other measures of success aside from the male-typical indices of sheer earnings and positions of power when we consider what women want. Astronomical salaries and C-suite positions are grand if those are one's life goals. But what if other values are front-and-center for many women? What if we shift our lens from money to measures of personal happiness, feelings of belonging, personal health, and the health and well-being of children?

When we do that it, becomes clear that women in many industrialized nations are still stymied—not necessarily by the patriarchy—but by the expectation that they should "lean in," and always choose what a man would, whether it's a STEM career or the number of hours one wants to consecrate to it. Let's take Silicon Valley as an example. Extreme workaholism characterizes work in the high tech sector. "Working 18 hours a day. Every day. No vacations, no going on dates, no watching TV," is how the Silicon Valley work ethic was described in the New York Times by Dan Lyons, one of its former denizens.2 No matter how much they might earn in IT, the evidence shows that the majority of educated women put a premium on other life priorities.3 But suggesting as much is to be vilified publicly and to commit professional suicide, as former Google software engineer James Damore discovered when his memo was leaked about why uneven sex ratios persist in Silicon Valley. Fifty years after the birth of second-wave feminism, it is still taboo to express the idea that many women find happiness and fulfillment in ways that might diverge from the male norm.

***

"Money is not the only thing affecting people’s happiness; it's not remotely the whole story," said British economist Baron Richard Layard in 2014. "People must understand that they would do well to preserve their human relationships; they should give them a higher priority than how much they earn.”4 As I point out in The Village Effect, this is more commonly a female perspective than a male-typical one.5 And when we do put our lens on happiness, the countries with the highest average scores include Denmark and the Netherlands.6

So let's return to the Netherlands for a moment. The legal and social thumbs-up given to part-time work may be one reason why Dutch women and children are happier than those in other industrialized countries, where women's levels of happiness have fallen since the 1970s even as their professional opportunities and material lives have improved.7 The expectation that women succeed on all fronts, which often means mimicking if not surpassing many men's extreme work schedules, producing "perfect" children who live in flawless, immaculate homes, not to mention maintaining a youthful figure and dressing elegantly, has created impossible standards that women cannot meet—thus creating levels of satisfaction that can be the inverse of their earnings.8 With no time for their relationships, children, or other interests, their levels of happiness plummet. But as we have seen, Dutch women, the majority of whom work part of the week, have more time for activities and interactions that they find fulfilling.

Dutch children are better adjusted, too. When asked, 95% of Dutch children rate themselves as happy; the Netherlands is among the top-ranked countries on Unicef's 2017 report card on child well-being and health in rich countries. Indeed, when the United Nations assessed the health and welfare of children in industrialized nations in 2013, it found that the Netherlands was one of the best places in the world for children to grow up. This year's 2017 report card showed that of 41 countries, the Netherlands is still among the top 10 for children. Portugal, Iceland, and Spain now take the top three spots.9 Considering that the United States places #36th (Canada is 29th and the UK 15th) when rated on the well-being, health, safety, and education of their children, it is perhaps time to reassess our definitions of success. The idea that the male model—of career and what constitutes a happy and balanced life—should be the default setting for all women and families in all countries is not supported by the evidence about what people want most.

Yet stating that the majority of women might want something different of life from the majority of men seems even more explosive than it was in 2008 when The Sexual Paradox was first published. Indeed, whether any differences between male and female behavior exist at all in nature has become a highly politicized topic, with many arguing for complete gender fluidity across the human species.10 Observable group differences between the sexes are instilled by societal norms, the argument goes, and by stamping out gender norms we will eliminate any differences between male and female. We will become a gender-neutral society—even if, paradoxically, the default is still assumed to be male for both sexes.

Only in a world that values men's choices more than it does women's would working as a physician, behavioral scientist, or judge be considered a less worthwhile endeavor than working in tech.

This is an aspirational view. Though gender discrimination does exist and shouldn't be allowed to persist in a just society, the idea that we are all fungible is not supported by the weight of the evidence. Indeed, the latest scientific data tell us that there are powerful group distinctions between most women and most men, ranging from greater propensities toward overt aggression, zero-sum-game competitiveness, autism, alcoholism and suicide (men), versus covert aggression, wider interests, and a greater propensity to depression and PTSD (women).11 Given the choice, not many people would opt for the other sex's frailties.

And these biologically influenced differences help to form distinct life goals and preferences, among the rank and file, as well as among stratospheric achievers. A 2014 study on the careers of 1,600 intellectually gifted 13-year-olds—identified in the 1970s as being in the top 1% of mathematical ability—found that there were many similarities between the adult men and women when the researchers followed up on them four decades later. But there were also some fascinating and important differences. The gifted men were more likely to have gravitated to IT, STEM, and CEO positions. The gifted women were more likely to have chosen careers in health, education, business, finance, medicine, and law. (Only in a world that values men's choices more than it does women's would working as a physician, behavioral scientist or a judge be considered a less worthwhile endeavor than working in tech).

In addition to the type of career this gifted cohort chose, there were also remarkable sex differences in values that affected what type of work people wanted to do and how much time they wanted to devote to it. Overall, men as a group valued full-time work, making an impact, and earning a high income, whereas women as a group more often valued part-time work, along with the time for close relationships, family and community involvement. Gifted men devoted 11 more hours to work per week, for the last 15 years than did women, even when both worked full time. If they had their druthers, 30% of the women but just 7% of the men wanted to work less than full time at their ideal job, a finding echoed by other studies of educated women and men working in top drawer careers.12

"Both men and women overwhelmingly considered their families to be more important than their work and careers,” write the authors, Camilla Benbow, David Lubinski, and Harrison Kells, but:

[M]en, on average, were more concerned with being successful in their work and feeling that society should invest in them because their ideas are better than most people’s, whereas women felt more strongly that no one should be without life’s necessities. Collectively, men were more focused on their personal advancement and on the creation of concrete products, whereas women were more interested in keeping society vibrant and healthy.13

Both perspectives have value, that is, unless one reflexively prizes men's preferences over women's. And an increasing number of studies are being published showing subtle but perceptible differences in the ways men's and women's brains are wired.14 These studies are often criticized, not as part of the expected scientific vetting process but because they document the existence of findings that many people cannot tolerate. This may be because such research reminds them of the very real injustices of the past. Still, charges of "neurosexism," leveled at behavioral scientists are a way to denigrate results one does not like. Even if we don't like the existence of global warming, for example, we cannot wish it away or diminish its existence by calling it something else. Similarly, name-calling does not negate empirical findings that make us uncomfortable.

In the face of data emerging from new technologies, genome studies, social neuroscience, animal studies and hormonal influences—which alter our brain architecture as much as they sculpt our bodies—denying the existence of any biological sex differences is tantamount to denying the existence of science. Moving from science to fashion and culture, if there were no differences between male and female, why would insisting that women act like men, indeed why would the fashion of cross-dressing persist and continue to engage us? Why adopt the habits of a different sex if they are no better or no different than another? When it comes to sex, a world without differences is not only a fiction. It is a more intolerant, unhappy—and ultimately a less democratic place.

Susan Pinker is a psychologist, author, and columnist whose recent books are The Sexual Paradox and The Village Effect. She writes about human behavior and lectures widely.

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


1. Eurostat Employment Statistics from June 2017: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Employment_statistics#Part-time_work. See also: "Why so many Dutch people work part time," The Economist, May 12, 2015.

2. Lyons, Dan, "In Silicon Valley, 9 to 5 is for Losers," The New York Times, September 3, 2017. 

3. Hakim, Catherine. Work-Lifestyle Choices in the 21st Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000; Hersh, Joni. "Opting out among women with elite education." Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 13-05; Martinez, Sylvia. "Women's Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations for Working," in Being Together, Working Apart, ed. Barbara Schneider and Linda J. Waite. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005; Pinker, Susan. The Sexual Paradox: Extreme Men, Gifted Women, and the Real Gender Gap. New York: Scribner, 2008; Rhoads, Steven E. "Lean In's Biggest Hurdle: What Most Moms Want," National Review, March 23, 2017.

4. Blackhurst, Chris. Richard Layard: "Money is not the only thing affecting people's happiness." The Independent, July 13, 2014.

5. Pinker, Susan. The Village Effect: How Face to Face Contact Can Make us Happier and Healthier. Toronto: Penguin Random House, 2014.

6. Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., and Sachs, J. World happiness report, 2012. 

7. Stevenson, Betsey,& Wolfers, Justin. "The paradox of declining female happiness." National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 14969, May 2009.

8. Stevenson & Wolfers, 2009.

9. Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries. Unicef Report Card 14, June 2017. 

10. I cannot list all the publications with this point of view here, as they constitute the mainstream of academic publishing on sex differences, or the lack thereof. But for a recent discussion see Bielert, Craig and Geary, David C. "Is Sex a Dirty Word?" Quillette, Sept. 19, 2017.

11. Geary, David. Evolution of Vulnerability: Implications for Sex Differences in Health and Development. Amsterdam: (2015). Academic Press; Geary, David. Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences. Washington, DC(2010): American Psychological Association. See also: Schmitt, David P. Long, Audry E. et al. "Personality and gender differences in global perspective." International Journal of Psychology, 2016.

12. Lubinski, David, Benbow, Camilla P. and Harrison J. Kell. "Life Paths and Accomplishments of Mathematically Precocious Males and Females Four Decades Later." Psychological Science, 2014: Vol 24 (12), 2217-2232; Ceci, Ginther, Kahn, & Williams, in press.

13. Lubinski, Benbow, and Kell, 2014.

14. Goldman, Bruce. "How Men's and Women's Brains Are Different," Standford Medicine, Spring 2017; Cahill, L. (2010) "Sex Influences on Brain and Emotional Memory: The Burden of Proof has Shifted." Progress in Brain Research (I. Savic, Ed) 186: 29-40; Cahill, L. (2012) "A Half Truth is a Whole Lie: On the Necessity of Investigating Sex Influences on the Brain." Endocrinology. 2012 Jun; 153(6): 2541–2543; and Cahill, L. "Why Sex Matters for Neuroscience." Nature Reviews. Neuroscience; LondonDescription: https://search.proquest.com/assets/r20171.7.0.370.1992/core/spacer.gif7.6Description: https://search.proquest.com/assets/r20171.7.0.370.1992/core/spacer.gif (Jun 2006): 477-84.

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Tue, 10 Oct 2017 07:30:00 -0400
Friday Five 199 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-199 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-199 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Divorce Runs in Families and Could be Genetic, Study Finds
Dave Maclean, The Independent

The 2016 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates Now Available
U.S. Census Bureau

Nine Charts About Wealth Inequality in America (Updated)
Urban Institute

Coping in the Wake of the Las Vegas Shooting, and Incidents of Mass Violence and Terrorism
National Council on Family Relations

Understanding Strategic Thinking in Children and Adolescents
Isabelle Brocas and Juan Carrillo, VOX—CEPR's Policy Portal

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Fri, 06 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
The Porn Gap: Gender Differences in Pornography Use in Couple Relationships https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-porn-gap-gender-differences-in-pornography-use-in-couple-relationships https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-porn-gap-gender-differences-in-pornography-use-in-couple-relationships by Jason S. Carroll (@DrJasonCarroll) and Brian J. Willoughby

Perhaps the most consistent finding of pornography studies to date is that there is a sizeable gap that exists between men and women when it comes to their personal use and acceptance of pornography. Dozens of studies have shown that men are more likely than women to view pornography, and this is particularly true of viewing pornography regularly on a daily or weekly basis.

This “porn gap” raises a number of questions about dating patterns and the relationship dynamics that arise between men and women related to pornography use, such as:

  • What happens to men’s and women’s pornography patterns when they enter committed romantic relationships?
  • Do men decrease or stop their pornography use as they enter into committed romantic relationships?
  • Do men keep using pornography, but hide it from their partners?
  • Do women start or increase their use of pornography when they become romantically involved with a man who uses pornography?
  • Does a new pattern of pornography use emerge during the coupling process that shifts from individual use to couple use?

The answers to these questions are not well understood in the pornography and couple formation literature. In all likelihood, the answers differ from couple to couple. The patterns that emerge as couples navigate these issues surrounding pornography use likely influence future couple patterns and outcomes—for better or for worse.

In this research brief, we summarize the findings from a study we recently published that examines romantic partners’ pornography use rates, patterns of viewing pornography alone or together, relationship boundaries related to pornography acceptance, and pornography-related conflict among committed couples. We used a nationally representative sample of individuals who are in committed heterosexual couple relationships and a subset of almost 1,500 matched heterosexual couples.1

Data and Methods

The study examined pornography use rates, patterns of viewing pornography alone or as a couple, partners’ values related to pornography, and the frequency of pornography as an area of conflict in couple relationships. Two of the main research questions we sought to answer included:

  1. What are men and women’s pornography patterns at different stages of relationship commitment?
  2. How aware are partners at different stages of relationship commitment of their partner’s pornography use?

The study involved two samples, both of which came from participants who completed the RELATE Questionnaire (Busby, Holman, & Taniguchi, 2001)2 during 2011–2013. The primary sample consisted of an individual data set that was weighted to be as close as possible to census norms in terms of gender, race, religion, and education. It consisted of 21,555 participants who reported they were in a casually dating (n= 655), serious dating (n=6,167), engaged (n=8,720), or married (n=6,013) heterosexual relationship.

The second sample was used to answer our second research question and consisted of a matched heterosexual couple data set, where both partners completed RELATE and indicated that they were in a serious dating, engaged, or married heterosexual relationship (only committed couples are a part of the matched couple data set). These selection criteria resulted in a sample of 1,486 couples where 23% were seriously dating, 57% were engaged, and 20% were married (see the full study for a full description of the samples used).

Pornography Patterns at Different Stages of Commitment

Pornography Use. When it comes to pornography use, there appears to be a difference between men and women across relationship commitment levels. When compared to men on the basic pattern of pornography use, women were about twice as likely to report that they “never” use pornography as men in the same level of commitment. The percent reporting “never” on personal pornography use were:

  • 57% of casually dating women vs. 25% casually dating men
  • 60% of seriously dating women vs. 25% of seriously dating men
  • 61% of engaged women vs. 38% of engaged men
  • 65% of married women vs. 37% married men

The pornography gap deepens extensively, however, when the frequency of pornography use is examined—with casually dating men being 42 times more likely to report viewing pornography at least weekly or more than casually dating women. While men’s pornography use was substantially less in more committed relationships—with a nearly 50% difference in the level of frequent use between dating men and engaged or married men—we found a consistent pattern of many women who report little or no use being partnered with men who regularly use pornography (see Figure 1).

 

Together or Alone? Furthermore, it appears that many of the couples who have similar pornography use patterns are those in which both partners refrain from using pornography. On the other hand, as individuals who use pornography enter into couple relationships, the question arises as to whether they view pornography alone or together as a couple. We found a similar pattern of together versus alone use across relationship types.

Specifically, we found that men across relationship types who view pornography are about three to four times more likely to report viewing pornography always alone (i.e., 100% alone, 0% with a partner) compared with women in similar relationships who view pornography. The percent reporting that the view porn “always alone” were:

  • 45% of casually dating men vs. 13% of casually dating women
  • 49% of seriously dating men vs. 15% of seriously dating women
  • 47% of engaged men vs. 14% of engaged women
  • 45% of married men vs. 11% of married women

As noted in Figure 2, women who view pornography were about three to four times more likely to report a pattern of use that was primarily or completely couple-based in viewing pornography together with their partner (i.e., 25% alone, 75% with a partner or 0% alone, 100% with a partner). When coupled with the finding that approximately 60% of women in all relationships types reported never viewing pornography, this means that approximately 70 to 80% of women reported either not viewing pornography at all or have a pattern of only using porn with a partner.

 

Pornography Acceptance and Conflict. In terms of pornography acceptance, it is clear that pornography is a debated topic across relationship types, with anywhere between one-third to one-half of both men and women in our sample expressing disapproval of pornography depending on which value question is examined. Nearly one-third of engaged and married women reported that they view pornography as a form of “marital infidelity,” and a sizeable portion of men and women (between 35% and 52%) agree that pornography “objectifies and degrades.”

In engagement and marriage, approximately 1-in-5 partners believe that pornography use is only acceptable when it is viewed together. With regard to conflict about pornography, a portion of individuals in all couple commitment types reported that they agreed that pornography had been a source of conflict in their relationship. A notably high amount of casually dating men (45%) reported that pornography had been a problem in their relationship. This is striking given that this is the relationship type where women seem to misjudge the amount of high pornography use among their partners. Perhaps dating men sense that the women they are starting to date often disapprove of frequent pornography use, and they are worried about it being a problem, even before their partner knows about it. For committed couples, less than 10% of partners in seriously dating relationships reported pornography conflict; whereas between 1-in-8 to nearly 1-in-5 engaged and married partners reported that pornography had created conflict in their relationships.

How Aware Are Individuals of a Partner’s Pornography Use?

The amount of awareness that romantic partners have about each other’s pornography use is one of the most critical, yet understudied, relationship dynamics of pornography in couple relationships. In our study, the number of women that reported that their partner was not using pornography was notably higher than the number of men reporting no use in the corresponding relationship commitment type. Again, these differences are substantially greater when frequency reports are examined.

For example, only 4% of women in casually dating relationships reported that their partner uses pornography weekly or more often, but 50% (13 times as many) of casually dating men reported weekly or more frequent use. In fact, none of the casually dating women reported that their partner uses pornography almost daily or every other day, but 43% of casually dating men in our sample reported this level of heavy use.

How aware are individuals regarding their partner’s pornography use? To obtain a baseline understanding of pornography awareness between partners, we collapsed all relationship commitment types and then subtracted each partner’s reported level of pornography use from their partner’s perception of their use.

For women (see Figure 3), there was only a 46% congruent awareness level where their male partner reported using pornography at the same level she reported; with 37% of men reporting more pornography use than she was aware of, and 17% reporting less use than she believed was occurring.

For men (see Figure 4), there was a 69% congruent awareness level of their female partner’s pornography use, with only 16% of female partners using pornography more than he knew and 15% using less than he perceived. Much of the higher level of congruent awareness for men of their female partner’s use came from the fact that more than 60% accurately reported that their partner never uses pornography.

The Porn Gap and Relationships

The findings reported in this research brief confirm and extend other studies that have found that there is a persistent difference in pornography patterns between men and women across relationship commitment levels. While these differences may have little or no practical significance for some couples, emerging research suggests that discrepancies in pornography use at the couple level are related to negative couple outcomes. Specifically, in one of our previous studies (see Willoughby et al, 2016), we found that pornography differences may harm specific couple interaction processes such as communication and sexual desire, which, in turn, may negatively influence relationship satisfaction and stability.3

The findings of this study also support our previous claim that the amount of awareness that romantic partners have about each other’s pornography use is likely one of the most critical, yet understudied, aspects of pornography use in couple relationships. While scholars continue to debate the direct consequences of pornography use on individuals’ attitudes and behaviors, pornography concealment may be an equally critical variable. Research suggests that patterns of concealment in close relationships contribute to feelings of exclusion, reduced trust, and increased conflict, which, in turn, negatively affect relationship outcomes.

Pornography acceptance and conflict are connected with awareness patterns in couple relationships, although the exact relationship between these processes is not well understood. We found that as much as one-half of women in romantic relationships disapproved of pornography to some degree and that nearly one-third of engaged and married women considered pornography a form of marital infidelity. These findings are particularly noteworthy given that it appears that in early couple formation, many women may have little understanding of how often their male counterparts view pornography.

As much as one-half of women in romantic relationships disapproved of pornography to some degree and that nearly one-third of engaged and married women considered pornography a form of marital infidelity.

This level of a gap also calls into question what behaviors women are referring to when they report whether they find pornography use acceptable. Are they envisioning the infrequent dabbling that is present among their female peers or the habitual use patterns common among the men available in their dating circles? Are there certain types of pornography content these women view as more or less acceptable for their male partners? These patterns deserve further investigation.

Implications for Couples

When pornography is viewed as a part of a couple relationship, rather than simply a personal behavior, couples are better equipped to explore the fuller meanings of pornography in their relationship. It is important for couples to discuss several aspects of pornography, especially what pornography means to each partner and how pornography use may influence their feelings of trust and attachment with each other. It’s also important for couples to set mutually agreed-on boundaries in their relationship.

Relationship satisfaction is a result of partners developing a secure attachment with each other, where each partner trusts that the other will be physically, emotionally, and psychologically responsive to his or her needs. Behaviors that are interpreted as disrupting or eroding this trust could have a significant negative impact on couple communication, intimacy, and satisfaction. Scholars and therapists have noted that partner differences in pornography use and acceptance may influence the partners’ sense of trustworthiness and security in the relationship (Butler & Seedall, 2006).4 As Zitzman and Butler (2009) explain:5

Pornography scripts expectations and behavior that place it on a collision course with the requisite dynamics for secure attachment and authentic intimacy in the pair-bond relationship … the detached, objectifying, exploitive sexuality of pornography directly impacts attachment trust, eroding any safe expectation of one’s partner being faithfully for the other.

If a partner sees pornography as an untrustworthy act that turns her or his partner’s attraction toward others or as an indicator that he or she approaches sex from a self-centered, rather than an other-centered orientation, the partner’s sense of security will likely diminish in the relationship.

However, as we have described in our previous research, the “structure of security” in pair-bond relationships may be somewhat subjective and can vary from relationship to relationship (see Willoughby et al, 2016).6 Differences in pornography use and acceptance will likely influence whether pornography is seen as a violation of relationship trust or attachment threat, thus influencing overall relationship satisfaction. Couples need to explore the trust and attachment issues “behind the behaviors,” so to speak, to see if such discrepancies have created attachment threats or injuries. Our current study’s findings suggest that couples should discuss several different aspects of pornography, including use, acceptance, and concealment.

Perhaps the most significant, yet difficult dynamic to address as a couple is pornography concealment or the degree that partners are open with each other about their frequency, duration, and content of pornography viewing. While scholars continue to investigate the effects of pornography use for individuals and couples, one significant way that pornography harms relationships is that it often happens in secret. As our study suggests, many users of pornography typically hide, or at least minimize, their use of pornography from everyone, including their romantic partners.

If this pattern develops, there are two critical threats to the relationships. First, when people engage in this type of self-concealment, it not only often hurts their relationships and leaves them feeling lonely, but also makes them more vulnerable to depression, poor self-esteem, and anxiety. Also, when romantic partners keep secrets from each other, their trust in each other erodes and their confidence in their relationships starts to struggle.

Jason S. Carroll, Ph.D. is a professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University and a Fellow of the Wheatley Institution. Dr. Carroll recently received the Berscheid-Hatfield Award for Distinguished Mid-Career Achievement from the International Association for Relationship Research. Brian J. Willoughby, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University and an international expert in the field of couple and marital relationships, sexuality, and emerging adult development.

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


1. Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., Willoughby, B. J., & Brown, C. (2017). The Porn Gap: Differences in Men’s and Women’s Pornography Patterns in Couple Relationships. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 16 (2), 146-163.

2. Busby, D. M., Holman, T. B., & Taniguchi, N. (2001). RELATE: Relationship evaluation of the individual, family, cultural, and couple contexts. Family Relations, 50, 308–316.

3. Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., & Brown, C. (2016). Differences in pornography use among couples: Associations with satisfaction, stability, and relationship processes. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 145–148.

4. Butler, M. H., & Seedall, R. B. (2006). The attachment relationship in recovery from addiction. Part 1: Relationship mediation. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13, 289–315.

5. Zitzman, S. T., & Butler, M. H. (2009). Wives' experience of husbands' pornography use and concomitant deception as an attachment threat in the adult pair-bond relationship. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 16, 210–240

6. Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., & Brown, C. (2016). Differences in pornography use among couples: Associations with satisfaction, stability, and relationship processes. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 145–148.

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Wed, 04 Oct 2017 22:57:00 -0400
When Your Spouse is Addicted https://ifstudies.org/blog/when-your-spouse-is-addicted https://ifstudies.org/blog/when-your-spouse-is-addicted by Jason Whiting (@Jason_Whiting)

Robert Downey Jr. is one of the world’s highest paid actors known for his blockbuster roles and ability to mix comedy and drama in a riveting fashion. However, Marvel Studios initially refused to cast him in his best-known role of Iron Man, because of his history of uncontrolled addiction. Downey started smoking marijuana at age eight with his father and became entangled in the fast and unhealthy lifestyle of a teen actor. Although his talent was prodigious, his work became erratic and his addiction led to dangerous behavior, including drunk driving, weapons, and a dazed night entering a neighbor’s house and falling asleep naked in one of the children’s beds. Eventually, he was arrested and imprisoned in 1999.

Although he was in and out of rehab many times, it took several more years of treatment until 2003, when Downey stayed clean for good. There were many factors in his recovery, but he gives special credit to his second wife, Susan Levin Downey.

Addiction can be especially brutal on marriage. Spouses often feel helpless watching the one they love self-destruct, and they also feel angry about their partner’s deception and betrayals. When addiction strikes a marriage, spouses need to face the reality of addiction and be careful not to become an enabler.

The Chains of Addiction

Addiction manifests in a variety of ways, from the most severe heroin junkie to the compulsive spender. It can include drug or alcohol dependence, compulsive pornography use, gambling, obsessive eating, lying, toxic relationships, or even Netflix. When does a habit become an addiction? Any behavior can begin as pleasure or escape, but in the case of addiction, the actions become demands. Addictions are secretive habits the person has unsuccessfully tried to stop, and that have disrupted work and home. An addiction takes an outsized role in the addict’s life and affects those they love.

Facing the Hard Truths

Addiction is embarrassing. It is easier to hide addictive behaviors than to admit them, and the layers of denial build up until the truth is completely lost. Cravings overpower reason, and getting a fix becomes more important than being honest. This is why 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous begin with overcoming denial. As author Stephen King writes,1 “[Addicts] build defenses like the Dutch build dikes.” King knows this from his own years of alcohol and drug use. It wasn’t until his wife and family confronted him with a garbage bag of evidence (beer cans, cocaine spoons, cigarette butts, Valium, Xanax, Robitussin, and mouthwash bottles), that he finally faced the truth.

Loved ones get caught in the same kind of fog as their addicted spouses. It is easier to ignore warnings (she keeps coming home late plastered), or deception (that story just changed again) than to have difficult conversations, but this avoidance leaves problems free to grow.

Enabling

Of course, spouses should have compassion, but sometimes giving the benefit of the doubt can be like putting one’s head in the sand, and bailing someone out can dig them deeper into a hole. If a spouse is making excuses for their loved one, giving them money against their better judgment, or taking on extra responsibilities for them, they are likely enabling. Rather than heal the addict, enabling worsens the addiction.

Some spouses enable out of a need to be a savior, but this belief of “If I am a good enough, I can save my spouse,” may be more about being a martyr or hero than it is about helping. In this case, the enabling can itself become addicting. Literally, one becomes co-dependent or dependent on the need to help, to feel good. Of course, many who enable are not doing it for their own benefit but are desperate to cope and find answers.

What can be done to avoid enabling an addicted spouse and help them recover?

Choosing Honesty and Setting Boundaries

A key to avoiding enabling is being honest and facing reality. Stephen King’s wife and family had the hard conversation about their concerns, backed with evidence. This prevented minimization and excuses. When something is wrong, it needs to be brought up in a clear and loving way, and not swept under the rug.

Another key is to set boundaries, which may include expectations of abstinence, treatment, and recovery groups. In Robert Downey Jr.’s case, his wife, Susan insisted that he give up drugs completely; if he didn’t, she would leave. This may not be realistic in every case since relapse is often a part of recovery, but there needs to be an active recovery program and agreed-upon plan. Structure is a key part of recovery, and commitment from both partners is essential. If either partner makes excuses, makes questionable choices, or avoids certain topics, it is a time to return to reality.

A Healthy Recovery

A healthy recovery includes healthy living, and this is important for both spouses. Robert Downey Jr. attends 12-step programs and therapy and practices yoga and meditation. But even if the addict isn’t choosing recovery, self-care is important for the spouse. Some find support through church groups, therapy, and Al-Anon meetings, all of which can be done regardless of whether the addicted spouse is getting clean.

Ideally, both the addict and his or her spouse work together on wellness, which becomes a lifestyle that supports the recovery and strengthens their marriage. In one of my research projects, we found that when couples chose sobriety, they made dramatic improvements in their relationships, and some even stopped being violent.2

Regardless of where the recovery is at, love is a powerful tonic that strengthens couples in their journey through addiction. "Whatever I was hungry for when I met Susan,” Downey said in an interview. “I couldn't have known how much more satisfying what I got would be." True love includes honest conversations and high expectations that help couples grow toward a healthy life together.

Jason B. Whiting, Ph.D., LMFT is a Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Brigham Young University. He researches deception, communication, and abuse in relationships and is the author of the book Love Me True: Overcoming the Surprising Ways We Deceive in Relationships (2016). For more information visit drjasonwhiting.com.

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


1. King, S. (2000), On writing: A memoir of the craft. New York: Scribner Books, p. 94.

2. Merchant, L. V., & Whiting, J. B. (2018). A grounded theory of how couples desist from intimate partner violence. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.

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Wed, 04 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Moving Upstream With Relationship Education https://ifstudies.org/blog/moving-upstream-with-relationship-education https://ifstudies.org/blog/moving-upstream-with-relationship-education by David Simpson and Alan J. Hawkins

Relationship education is designed to provide participants with knowledge and skills that can help them form and sustain healthy romantic relationships and strong marriages by preventing serious problems before they arise or become serious.1 Most relationship education has focused on committed or married couples—more than 80% of research in this field has focused on education for committed couples—but we think the field can benefit by placing more focus on educating younger individuals.

Elsewhere we have outlined arguments for shifting the field of relationship education to give priority to relationship literacy education for youth.2 To summarize, serious problems are common in adolescent and young adult romantic relationships. Also, increasing numbers of youth follow paths from adolescence to marriage that make it harder for them to form and sustain a healthy marriage. One study suggests that in two-thirds of marriages, at least one spouse had premarital doubts about the future success of the marriage.3 Many couples today begin marriages at low-to-modest levels of satisfaction, with challenging problems already embedded in the relationship. Not surprisingly, they are at greater risk for divorce than couples who begin their marriage happily and later experience serious problems.4 Moreover, most couples who are struggling in their marriage do not seek out professional help, and if they do, it is often after a crisis, which makes repairing the marriage more difficult. In short, we need to help individuals begin their marriages with less baggage and stronger, happier relationships.

This is where increased and improved relationship literacy education for youth would be beneficial. While there is much more empirical work to do, the early evidence on the effectiveness of individually-oriented youth relationship education provides some reason for optimism. In our recent study “Learning about Love: A meta-analytic study of individually-oriented relationship education programs for adolescents and emerging adults,”5 we set out to determine if relationship education programs tailored to teens and young adult individuals (rather than committed couples) have positive impacts on outcomes that may correlate with future healthy relationships. The goal of these programs is to help improve attitudes that can lead to relational unhappiness, such as attitudes about waiting for a soulmate, love conquers all, or even that living together is the best way to prepare for marriage. Additionally, they try to increase knowledge about unhealthy relationship expectations, and they typically teach skills for conflict resolution and positive communication patterns.

Most couples who are struggling in their marriage do not seek out professional help, and if they do, it is often after a crisis, which makes repairing the marriage more difficult. 

In our meta-analysis of 30 studies focused on relationship education for younger individuals, we looked at these programs and found that overall, they are having small-to-moderate positive impacts on two sets of outcomes: 1) knowledge and attitudes about healthy romantic relationships and marriages (e.g., unrealistic expectations), and 2) effective communication and problem-solving skills, including avoiding the use of aggression and violence. The outcome effects were a little stronger for programs that targeted emerging-adults (compared to teens), but these differences were not statistically significant. Also, we found some evidence that programs with at-risk, lower-income participants had larger impacts than programs with a mix of lower-income/middle-class participants (although this needs further confirmation).

The biggest shortcoming in this body of research, however, is the lack of long-term investigations; no rigorous studies to date have followed participants long enough to confidently infer that early relationship education leads to healthier trajectories toward marriage and stronger marriages down the road. A few studies had followed up with their participants a year or two later, but these studies usually had problems with sample attrition (participants dropping out of the study) which limits confidence in any conclusions. Studies that are able to follow an intact sample of youth for a decade or more are needed. The challenges and expense of this kind of longer-term study call for federal support, perhaps from the Administration for Children and Families, which has funded two rigorous, large-scale studies of relationship education for lower-income couples already in a serious married or unmarried relationship.

Nevertheless, the results from our study on relationship literacy education for young people give a reason for some optimism. Young people can learn about love and healthy relationships from these programs, which may encourage more schools, churches, communities, and states to invest resources in relationship education for their youth and emerging adult populations. Additionally, this early evidence may help expand the resources needed for researchers to better understand a field that is still young.

Continued work with adults in committed romantic relationships is needed, but for many adults, it may be too late to wait until they settle into a serious romantic union to provide them with sound education about maintaining a healthy relationship. We need to prioritize our efforts upstream to prepare young people to make better decisions about romantic relationships and provide them with tools that can make their romantic relationships more satisfying and longer lasting. While this is only part of a larger portfolio of programs and policies that could help our youth attain more satisfying and productive adult lives, it is one that deserves more attention. The field of relationship education needs to get back to its roots—preventing problems before they begin.

David Simpson is a Ph.D. student studying Educational Inquiry, Measurement, and Evaluation at Brigham Young University. Alan Hawkins is the Camilla E. Kimball Professor of Family Life at Brigham Young University.


1. Halford, W. K. (2011). Marriage and relationship education. What works and how to provide it. New York: Guilford.

2. Hawkins, A. J. (in press, 2017). "Shifting the relationship education field to prioritize youth relationship education." Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy. 

3. Lavner, J., Karney, B., & Bradbury, T. (2012). "Do cold feet warn of trouble ahead? Premarital uncertainty and four-year marital outcomes." Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 1012–1017.

4. Lavner, J., Bradbury, T., & Karney, B. (2012). "Incremental change or initial differences? Testing two models of marital deterioration." Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 606–616. 

5. Simpson, D. M., Leonhardt, N. D., & Hawkins, A. J. (2017). "Learning about love: A meta-analytic study of individually oriented relationship education programs for adolescents and emerging adults." Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

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Tue, 03 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
What Hugh Hefner Did to Marriage https://ifstudies.org/blog/what-hugh-hefner-did-to-marriage https://ifstudies.org/blog/what-hugh-hefner-did-to-marriage by Naomi Schaefer Riley (@NaomiSRiley)

If the Pill separated marriage from procreation, Hugh Hefner and the pornography industry he spawned helped to separate marriage into its component parts—the physiological from the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

Hefner, who died last week at the age of 91, has been eulogized in various ways—mostly bad—by those on the left and right. His pajama-clad sliminess did not age well. Feminist author Jessica Valenti wrote, "Hugh Hefner is rightly remembered for rebelling against right-wing moralism before most people, but please don't forget he treated women like garbage to do it." And Ross Douthat described Hefner as “a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism, and the exploitation of women.”

While there are those who have extolled his business sense and his intellectual aspirations—getting writers like James Baldwin and other luminaries to write for Playboy—his legacy is one of normalizing smut.

Just how normalized has smut become?

Thanks to Hugh Hefner and his legacy on the Internet, some respectable marriage counselors and even academics recommend porn as a way of creating a happier marriage. Take, for example, Northwestern Professor Eli Finkel in his new book, The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work. Finkel suggests that we expect too much from our spouses and it may be time to dial things back a little:

We Americans increasingly look to our spouse to be our best friend and close confidant, to provide sizzling sex, to help us grow as individuals—the list goes on. At the same time, we spend less time with friends, parents and siblings and we are less engaged in organized civic activities outside the home.

How can we ease this growing stress on marriage? In addition to spending more time with our spouses and trying to think about them more charitably, Finkel offers ways to, ahem, relieve sexual expectations that may go unmet. You could experiment with consensual non-monogamy, he suggests, or you could try some porn: "One spouse’s disappointment with the other’s lack of desire is likely to be much more acute if he or she has no other outlet for orgasm. Masturbation won’t quell the feelings of rejection, but it can make the sexual deprivation more bearable."

Finkel goes on to note with some excitement that we are “on the cusp of a pornography revolution.” Thanks to virtual reality porn and “sexbots,” pornography will be more immersive and place a “staggering range of pornographic options… within reach.”

It would be naïve to suggest that there was once a time when spouses fulfilled all of each other’s needs. And Finkel is right that there were once fewer needs that spouses were supposed to fulfill. At one point, marriage was more about survival. Later, it was about love and belonging. But today, we want a husband or wife who will help us become better versions of ourselves.

While doing so, the question is whether we can or should lower our expectations for the other parts of coupling. Should we assume that a spouse can help us develop emotionally if we have lost a physical connection to them?

Finkel suggests that marriage is like a mountain with physiological needs on the bottom and “self-actualization” needs on the top. Sexual intimacy falls somewhere in the middle. The “higher altitudes” require more of our time and energy. (Who knows how much energy the achievement of self-actualization needs?) But if marriage is, in fact, a mountain, then removing the needs that are lower down will actually cause the rest of the structure to crumble.

For Hugh Hefner, of course, creating strong marriages was never the goal. He had three marriages (all of them consensually non-monogamous, we assume). But his ultimate goal was to tempt men’s baser needs. And the effects are clear: a half-century of widely available pornography did not create (at least if Finkel and his colleagues are to be believed) more happy marriages but more needy ones.

Meanwhile, as Mark Regnerus argues in his new book, Cheap Sex, the pervasiveness and diversity of pornography has left some men, at least, less likely to get into relationships with real people and less likely to pursue marriage at all. Hefner was never without a coterie of scantily clad women, but the life he made possible for other men—both married and single—seems characterized by a lot of loneliness.

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

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

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Mon, 02 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Friday Five 198 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-198 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-198 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Six Secrets to a Healthy Marriage (from Old Couples)
John Miltimore, Intellectual Takeout

Declining Prime-Age Male Labor Force Participation
Scott Winship, Mercatus Center

Playgroups in Australia: Building the Evidence Base
Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies

Family Change and Co-parenting in Resident Couples and Children's Behavioral Problems
Elizabeth Karberg and Natasha Cabrera,  Journal of Family Studies

Three Reasons Why We Are Addicted to Smartphones
Jaco J. Hamman, The Conversation

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Fri, 29 Sep 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Can Uncle Sam Boost American Fertility? https://ifstudies.org/blog/can-uncle-sam-boost-american-fertility https://ifstudies.org/blog/can-uncle-sam-boost-american-fertility by Lyman Stone (@lymanstoneky)

In light of new numbers just released by the CDC indicating that fertility fell again last year, American fertility rates remain at or near record-low levels even as a growing chorus of politicos on the left and the right call for increased government aid to families. The United States has seen below-replacement-rate fertility for nearly a decade now, meaning that the average woman who reaches reproductive age is expected to have fewer children than is necessary to maintain a stable population in the United States without including immigration. As a result, immigration now represents the vast majority of U.S. population growth.

And while there has been some hand-wringing, calls in the United States for policy aimed at boosting fertility remain more implied than explicit. Abroad, however, such “pro-natalist” policy is a common feature in many countries. The question, however, is if any of it works. If we give money or leave time to families, will it actually boost fertility?

But even people who don’t think falling birth rates are bad in and of themselves may have reason to think boosted fertility is a good indicator. The logic behind this rests on what demographers call “desired” or “wanted” or sometimes “intended” fertility. That is, we can simply ask women how many kids they think would be ideal. Women are surveyed at many different ages, but one simple thing to do is to look at what women who are done having kids and compare that to how many kids they had. Using data from the OECD, we can do this, directly comparing completed fertility to the fertility those women think would have been ideal, had their life and family choices played out the way they wished. For the United States, I use “intended fertility” of women over 35, which probably understates this gap versus the European countries included.

As the above figure indicates, throughout the developed world, women are unable to obtain the fertility they desire. This is a crucial point, as all too often the politics of childbearing are phrased to suggest that the only policy goal a woman might have would be to reduce childbearing, when in fact most women probably only want to reduce accidental childbearing, and many women may have an interest in enabling higher fertility. Unsurprisingly, this fertility gap varies with educational levels, with more educated women more likely to experience a fertility shortfall, and less educated women more likely to experience more-than-desired fertility. In the United Kingdom, all educational levels experience a fertility deficit, perhaps owing to wider access to contraceptives among lower-income women in the UK than the US.

Why don’t women achieve their childbearing desires? There are many reasons, including the lack of a suitable partner and diminished biological fertility thanks to delayed first birth (which is itself largely a function of a higher educational system that is often incompatible with motherhood). However, any current or prospective parent will tell you one important reason: money! Having kids can be expensive. And unfortunately, the gap between realized and desired fertility is growing throughout the developed world. Thus, it stands to reason that if a policy change actually eases the financial situation for families, then fertility would almost certainly rise as families are more able to achieve their fertility goals. Closing this “fertility gap” by boosting fertility to its desired level is a vital test of whether a policy actually achieves pro-family goals in the real world. If the problem families face is money, then more money should mean more babies for at least some families, pushing observed fertility upwards.

Unfortunately, most policymakers don’t have a serious enough proposal to tackle this question. To see why, we can take a spin through the academic literature on pro-natal policy. We know China successfully reduced its fertility through policy tools, and at least one study suggests that legalized no-fault divorce also reduces fertility, and another study suggests that removing an educational subsidy reduced Taiwanese fertility, so there’s a good reason to think that policy can impact fertility.

But can we push fertility up? Some research says yes: 0.3% of GDP dedicated to an unconditional cash transfer to French families may have boosted short-run total fertility by 0.3 children per women. That’s a big effect! Another study of France, this one much longer-run, showed that its very family-friendly tax bracket structure boosts fertility as well. Research on a monthly child allowance in Israel suggests that each dollar per child per month boosted fertility about 0.01%. A one-time cash transfer ranging from $500 to $3,000 in Quebec may have caused a 10.7% to 25% increase in births for families in Quebec. A study of British welfare systems showed that a 50% higher per-child welfare outlay yielded 15% higher births. A “baby bonus” in Australia boosted fertility, but at the cost of over $100,000 per child. A special subsidy to have a second or third child in Russia boosted second childbearing by 2.2%. Meanwhile, various increases in the generosity of “maternity pay” in Romania and Germany increased childbearing as well. Finally, a study of pro-natalist policy throughout Europe suggested that while family allowance spending had little impact, family leave could boost first childbearing, and subsidized childcare could boost later childbirth.

But there’s a problem. Most of these studies looked at short-run fertility. That is, they show that after policy implementation, childbearing rises. But this could just be a timing shift. Maybe people have kids earlier but don’t increase total childbearing, so the true effect on fertility could be zero. Several studies addressed this in the above list, but the one to do so most persuasively was the study of German maternity pay. That paper showed that fertility rose even for women near the end of childbearing years, which seems likely to mean their completed fertility was pushed higher. However, the effect size for these older women was only about one-fourth as large as for younger women, so perhaps as much as 75% of the total fertility increase could be fleeting.

Another study of programs throughout the OECD, reviewing other papers, suggests most observed effects can be written off to shifted birth-timing: fertility policies may have no effect. An additional study of that British welfare change mentioned above suggests that all that really happened was births were shifted forward, so at least that one study result was probably invalid. A study of a Canadian family allowance shows an increase in short-run fertility, but shows no change in completed fertility. A more recent study of the Quebec program I mentioned earlier shows that the one-time cash bonuses had no impact at all on completed fertility which suggests, again, that fertility policy may have no durable impact at all. And perhaps most devastating of all, a study of the U.S. EITC program suggested that greater generosity to families may have slightly reduced fertility. So while some research suggests financial incentives boost fertility, other research suggests effects may be small, transitory, or perhaps may not exist at all.

The academic literature, then, is decidedly mixed. While policymakers can readily engineer a short-term baby-boom easily enough, their ability to boost long-run fertility and actually help families achieve their desired fertility level is far more constrained.

But let’s say the optimists are right and pro-natal policy works. If we plug in the implied elasticities from a few of these papers to the U.S. case, how much would it cost to boost our fertility just up to replacement rate? All such estimates will be fraught with error and should be taken with a heap of salt, but they can at least give us a general idea of what kind of program scale we’re talking about.

Across countries and policies used, there is an enormous difference in estimates of how much money it takes to boost fertility. For somewhere between $50 and $340 billion, U.S. total fertility rates could be temporarily boosted to replacement-levels. To boost completed fertility, you’d need to shell out between $170 and $950 billion; quite a bit more. And of course, surveys of women’s intended fertility in the United States show that, in every year, every age group of women actually wants to experience above replacement fertility, with intentions ranging as high as 2.5 births per woman. So even those high figures won’t actually give American families the fertility they really want, just the fertility necessary to stave off long-run population decline.

If we conceptualize these outlays as a “monthly child allowance” paid out for the first 6 years of a child’s life, then the minimum possible allowance would be nearly $200 per month or $2,400 per year, while one estimate suggests it would take as much as a $3,300 per month subsidy, or $40,000 per year, to boost completed fertility. That figure is an outlier, but it’s plausible to suggest that it might take substantially more than $1,000 per month per child to boost long-run fertility to replacement levels.

So, what proposals are on offer from pundits and politicians? A sampling of a few of the biggest proposals I’ve encountered advertising themselves as pro-family should give a sense of the upper limit of what U.S. policymakers are considering. None of these policies advertise themselves as attempting to boost fertility, but they are all structured in such a way as to reward childbearing, and thus plausibly increase fertility. Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) proposes a huge increase of the EITC to support working families. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) would like to expand the child tax credit and make it refundable against payroll taxes. Congresswoman Rosa De Lauro would also like to expand the child tax credit, adding a second credit paid out monthly to families for kids under age 6. The Center for American Progress proposes a monthly refundable credit, but only for kids under age 3. Finally, researchers at UW-Madison have suggested a monthly child allowance paid directly to families. Some of these proposals have other components as well, either removing some existing supports or restructuring those programs. But for my purposes, I want to make a rough model of what impact implementing these policies might have if we didn’t make any other changes.

The chart below summarizes each proposal, has calculated out a rough estimate of how much it might cost to implement, then re-packages that cost as if the proposal on offer were actually a monthly allowance given to parents for the first 6 years of a child’s life. In other words, I’ve taken the total dollar amount in question, and applied it to an imaginary “child allowance” policy, in order to enable easy comparison, and because child allowances have the most extensive academic literature surrounding them.

With some basic estimates from these programs in hand, we can then compare to the estimates available for the impact of financial incentives on fertility.

As shown in the figure above, all of the proposed policies manage to at least get a participation award: they’re within the realm of policies that, using benchmarks from foreign countries, might boost fertility to replacement rates in the short run. Even Senator Marco Rubio’s comparatively diminutive tax credit proposal is bigger than necessary to boost short-run fertility to replacement if you use the very optimistic estimates from the UK or Australia as your baseline. And several policies on offer from left-leaning groups are large enough that they really ought to push fertility to near-replacement levels if the literature showing a fertility impact from financial incentives is true.

But alas, boosting completed fertility is much, much harder. The two graphs below show a plausible range of effects for each policy on current and completed fertility. That is, these graphs answer the question: if the policies in question had the same effects as other policies that have been studied in the papers that do show impacts on fertility, what would happen to American fertility? Would it end up at, above, or still below replacement rates?

It’s clear from this figure that all of these policies offer a near-guarantee of boosting short-run fertility by some amount if optimistic academic literature is to be believed, but the possible upper limit to that increase is uncertain. At least three of these policies show a central estimate of total fertility rising to replacement levels or above, and, if you believe the most optimistic forecasts, they could all boost short-run fertility above replacement. However, we probably shouldn’t believe those forecasts, as they’re anomalously high for the existing academic literature. Plus, for simplicity I’m treating all of these as monthly cash grants, where effects are most clearly demonstrated. For Congressman Khanna’s policy, for example, this choice overstates any likely pro-fertility impact, as working tax credits do not have as well-demonstrated fertility impacts as cash grants.

But when we look at completed fertility, which is what really matters for determining if women will be able to achieve the family life they envision, likely outcomes are even less hopeful (see figure below).

The central estimate for completed fertility doesn’t reach replacement rate for any of these policies. Even under a very optimistic scenario, several policies fall short of replacement. In other words, the very biggest policy proposals still don’t give what I would call a better-than-even chance of boosting fertility to replacement levels in the long run, and none of them get even close to helping women achieve their stated level of desired fertility. That is to say, the most generous “pro-family” policies on offer will still probably fall woefully short of helping families actually obtain their goals. And remember, this is assuming that the impact sizes measured in the academic literature are correct, when, in fact, many more skeptical papers suggest there may be no effect at all.

All of the policies discussed in this article would probably do something. Even the smallest of these pro-family policies would help families more than the status quo and would be likely to result in more women getting closer to having as many kids as they want. But the point is that our politicians have critically underestimated the scale of the fertility collapse in the United States, along with the price tag they’ll face if they want to fix it using financial incentives.

Lyman Stone is an economist who blogs at In a State of Migration, and a proud Kentuckian. Lyman also works as an agricultural economist at USDA. His views are not endorsed by, supported by, or in any way reflective of the US government.

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

 

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Thu, 28 Sep 2017 08:00:00 -0400
One-in-Four Millennials in their 30s Are Unmoored from the Institution of Family https://ifstudies.org/blog/one-in-four-millennials-in-their-30s-are-unmoored-from-the-institution-of-family https://ifstudies.org/blog/one-in-four-millennials-in-their-30s-are-unmoored-from-the-institution-of-family by Wendy Wang (@WendyRWang)

Throughout history, marriage and parenthood have been defining milestones of adulthood. But for today’s millennial generation, these social institutions are not only loosely linked, but also beginning to lose ground.

At ages 30 to 34, more than a quarter of Millennials (26%) have not yet started a family—meaning they have neither been married nor had any children, according to a new analysis of government data by the Institute of Family Studies. Another 18% of Millennials have children but have never been married. Only a narrow majority—56%—have been married before. And most of these ever-married young adults (78%) have children.


Source: IFS analysis of National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997. Note: Based on adults surveyed in 2013-14.
The group who has been married (with and without children) are included but not shown.

Millennials’ delay in “settling down” marks a clear distinction from earlier generations. When the Baby Boomers (specifically, the late cohort born between 1957 and 1962) were the same age, only 13% had not formed a family. And only 10% had never married but had children.

At the same time, Millennials’ family formation pattern fits in the bigger trend in American society today. Since 1970, the median age of first marriage in the U.S. has risen by about seven years. And the average age of first-time mothers jumped by about five years, from age 21 in 1970 to 26 in 2014.

Young adults of all groups today are postponing marriage and/or parenthood to some extent, but there is a clear divide across race/ethnicity, education, and gender. Some young adults are more likely to delay marriage but not childbearing, while others are delaying both.

Among the major racial and ethnic groups, Asian American young adults are mostly likely to delay both marriage and childbearing. In their early 30s, more than half of Asians (55%) have never been married and are childless, compared with about a quarter of young adults in other racial groups. This may be linked to the fact that Asians tend to have higher educational achievements so it takes them longer to finish their education, which delays their start of a family.

At the same time, young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely than others to delay both marriage and childbearing. About one-third of college-educated young adults ages 30 to 34 have never married or had children, compared with only 14% of their counterparts who haven’t graduated from high school. In addition, young men are more likely than young women to delay starting a family (32% vs. 19%).

In contrast, black and Hispanic young adults are more likely than others to delay only marriage but not parenthood. At ages 30 to 34, some 41% of blacks and 23% of Hispanics have never been married but have children, compared with 8% of Asians and 11% of whites. And young adults with less education are also more likely to only delay marriage but not parenthood: nearly 40% of young adults without a high school diploma had children but have never been married, compared with only 5% of young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Never-married Young Adults with Children are More likely to Live with a Partner

Never-married young adults are not necessarily “single.” In fact, about one-third of never-married young adults in their early 30s (32%) live with a partner.

Having children is linked to a higher chance of cohabitation among these young adults. About 4-in-10 never-married parents ages 30 to 34 (43%) live with a partner, which almost doubles the share among their counterparts who do not have children (24%).

Never-married and childless women in their early 30s are more likely than their male counterparts to live with a partner (30% vs. 21%). However, the gender pattern goes the other way among never-married young adults with children. Nearly half of never-married dads ages 30 to 34 live with a partner (49%), compared with only 37% of never-married moms in the same age group.


Source: IFS analysis of National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997. Note: Based on adults surveyed in 2013-14.

The racial patterns of cohabitation among the never-married also vary by the presence of children. For example, among never-married and childless adults in their early 30s, whites (29%) are more likely than blacks (14%) or Hispanics (15%) to live with a partner. On the other hand, among never-married young adults with children, Hispanics have the highest share of cohabitation (58%), followed by whites (48%) and blacks (25%).

Never-married and Childless Young Adults are Ranked in the Middle Economically

Family arrangement is often linked to financial well-being, and young adults are no exception. When ranked by the poverty rate, never-married and childless adults in their early 30s stand in the middle—13% of them are in poverty. This is slightly lower than the average rate among this age group (15%).

Never-married and childless young adults are much less likely than their counterparts who have children to be in poverty (13% vs. 34%). But financially, this group is not doing as well as married young adults. Only 2% of married young adults who delay having children are in poverty, the lowest rate of all young adults. And married young adults with children are also doing relatively well: only 8% are in poverty.


Source: IFS analysis of National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997. Note: Based on adults surveyed in 2013-14.

Cohabitation makes a difference in young adults’ financial status. Among never-married and childless young adults, those who live with a partner are much less likely than those who live by themselves to be in poverty (6% vs. 16%). Similarly, among young adults who have never been married but have children, the poverty rate of cohabiters is a lot lower than that of non-cohabiters (23% vs. 42%).

Will Today’s 30-somethings Eventually Settle Down?

No one has a crystal ball to predict the family pattern of today’s young adults. When it comes to marriage, we may get some hints from the pattern of previous generations. According to an earlier projection that I conducted at the Pew Research Center, there has been a steady increase since 1970 in the share of young adults who have never married by the time they reach ages 45 to 54. Assuming the current trend continues, when today’s never-married young adults reach their mid-40s and 50s, a quarter of them are likely to have never tied the knot.

In the case of parenthood, recent data shows that women who delay childbearing may “catch up” their fertility somewhat later in life. With the rise of birth rates for women ages 30 and older, today’s 30-something women have more babies than women in their 20s. Birth rates for unmarried women in their 30s are also rising. In 2015, unmarried women ages 30 to 34 had 60 births per 1000 people, reaching a historical record for this age group.

However, after age 35, there is a sharp decline in the birth rate. Only 34 births occurred among 1,000 unmarried women ages 35 to 39 in 2015. And birth rates for unmarried women are much lower than that of married women.

Given these demographic trends, we expect that while many of today’s 30-somethings may eventually marry and become parents, a significant share will remain unmarried and/or childless when reaching older ages. The demographic and economic divide between young adults who postpone both marriage and parenthood and those who only postpone marriage but not parenthood will further contribute to economic inequality in the United States. Moreover, the combination of delayed childbearing with the declining marriage rate is likely to lead to a steady drop of the overall fertility rate among U.S. women.

Wendy Wang is director of research at the Institute for Family Studies and a former senior researcher at Pew Research Center, where she conducted research on marriage, gender, work, and family life in the United States. 

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

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Wed, 27 Sep 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Cheating Then and Again https://ifstudies.org/blog/cheating-then-and-again https://ifstudies.org/blog/cheating-then-and-again by Scott Stanley (@DecideOrSlide)

If someone cheats on their partner in one relationship, what are the odds they will do so in another relationship? That’s the question addressed in a new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior,1 titled “Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater? Serial Infidelity Across Subsequent Relationships.” The researchers found that those who were unfaithful in one relationship had three times the odds of being unfaithful in the next relationship, compared to those who had not been unfaithful in the first one. Let’s look deeper.

This research was conducted by a team from our lab at the University of Denver; the study was headed up by Kayla Knopp along with colleagues Shelby Scott, Lane Ritchie, Galena Rhoades, Howard Markman, and yours truly. It used our national sample of individuals first recruited when aged 18 to 34, who were in unmarried, serious, romantic relationships.2 Thus, while most of the literature on infidelity focuses on marriage, this new study focused on those mostly at pre-marriage stages of life. That is one of the advances from this work but not the only one. The other is that the sample and methods allowed for assessing infidelity across two relationships within the context of this longitudinal sample that followed individuals for five years, focusing on their romantic relationships.

Historical Findings

There is an extensive literature on infidelity in married relationships with a growing literature on what is often called extra-dyadic sexual involvement (ESI) in unmarried relationships. The literature on infidelity inside and outside of marriage is well summarized in the new paper. I will describe a few highlights here.3

An overwhelming majority of people have the expectation of fidelity of sexual and, often, emotional connection in monogamous relationships. That is especially obvious in marriage, but it’s also true in serious, unmarried relationships. Sure, there have always been some who seek “open” relationships, where partners agree that it is okay to have sex outside the relationship under some conditions, but that is not very common.

While the lifetime risks for infidelity in marriage have generally run around 20%,4 rates of sex with someone outside a current relationship are much higher among those who are unmarried.5 This should not be shocking since both the norms about fidelity as well as average commitment levels are higher for marriage than other relationships, on average. The possibility of fidelity is simply not as high for those who have not settled down to make a long-term (or lifetime) commitment to a particular partner. Nevertheless, while people may not have settled down to committing to another for the long haul, they tend to expect faithfulness.6

Knopp and colleagues note some of the most common risk factors for infidelity based on prior research. Those include:

  • Low commitment to the present relationship
  • Low or declining relationship satisfaction
  • Accepting attitudes about sexual relations outside the relationship
  • Attachment insecurity: both avoidant and anxious
  • Differences in individual levels of sexual inhibition and excitement
  • Being a man versus a woman, though this may be changing.

Those findings are mostly from the literature on marriage with some findings from unmarried relationships. If you want a deeper review of factors associated with greater odds of cheating in unmarried relationships, I wrote about that subject here and here based on an earlier study drawing from the same project sample as the new study. The new study does not focus on predictors of infidelity but on the likelihood that it will be repeated, and it uses particularly strong methods for doing so.

Following People Through Two Relationships

Most studies of infidelity are retrospective and cross-sectional, focusing at single points while asking about present and past relationships.7 To my knowledge, this new study is unique because people were followed in real time (or close to it) from one relationship into the next, completing comprehensive surveys about their relationships at each time point during the longitudinal method. Contrast that with a method where, for example, you asked a sample of middle-aged people if they had ever had sex outside of one or more relationships in their past. That would be a different study, and, while interesting, would be subject to retrospective bias. People are believed to remember things better—and typically to report them more accurately—when asked closer in time to when those events occurred. That’s what Knopp and colleagues did.

For the new study, the overall national sample from the project started with 1,294 individuals. However, the analyses for this new study had to be based on those who were surveyed across two relationships over the course of the five years that the sample was followed. That means that only those who had broken up from one relationship and then entered another during that period would be analyzed. That left 484 individuals. If you are used to studies in sociology with thousands of people, that may seem like a smallish sample, but for the questions addressed here, it’s large and more than sufficient.

The average duration of the first relationships was 38.8 months while the average duration of the second was 29.6 months. Thus, the relationships studied were mostly serious and of substantial duration. No one was married at the start of the project but some would have married that first partner or the second during the time frame of the study. For the most part, however, it is best to think about these findings in the context of the stage of life where people are often seriously involved but not yet married—a stage of life that has grown substantially in the past few decades.

At each time point (which tended to be every four to six months), participants were asked, “Have you had sexual relations with someone other than your partner since you began seriously dating?” In this project, participants were also asked if they had either known or suspected their present partner of having sex with someone else. Obviously, there are biases when people are self-reporting such behavior. That’s a problem for the whole literature. Further, the specific questions used in this study may exclude emotional affairs as well as some online affairs where there is some sexual aspect but the respondent tells themselves they are not actually having sex. Also, in such a sample there would be some small percentage of people who would have been in some sort of consensual non-monogamous arrangement, where having sex with someone outside the relationship would be the same thing as cheating because there was some agreement about this. Knopp and colleagues note that there is no way with this data set to isolate such relationships, but there are strong reasons to believe that such open relationships are a very small percentage in the overall sample.

Knopp and colleagues controlled for some of the variables known to be associated with greater and lower risk of being unfaithful, net of other factors like relationship quality and commitment to one’s partner. That is, the study controlled for age, gender, socioeconomic status, and race.

Then and Again

Forty-four percent (44%) of this sample reported having had sex with someone other than their present partner in one or both of the relationships studied. Further, 30% reported that they knew at least one of the partners in the two relationships had cheated on them. That seems to me like quite a bit of infidelity in these unmarried relationships. Nevertheless, keep in mind that this is not a good estimate of the odds that someone will be unfaithful in an unmarried relationship. To be in this sample, a person would have had to have broken up in at least one serious relationship and entered another. Thus, this result does not mean that 44% of those under 40 in the U. S. have been unfaithful to a partner, and it certainly does not mean that such a high percentage who are married in a similar age range have or will be unfaithful. Getting that percentage measured correctly would require a different type of sample and method to yield the best estimate of how likely it is that people will have cheated on any partner before eventually settling down in marriage among those who have married. Closely related to that question, Galena Rhoades and I found in a previous study that 16% of those followed into marriage in the study’s parent project described here reported that they had cheated on their eventual spouse sometime before marriage.8

In this new study, 45% of those who reported cheating on their partner in the first relationship reported also doing so in their second. Among those who had not cheated in the first, far less, 18%, cheated in the second. While the odds of cheating on a partner were far greater if one had done so in the past, it is also true that a person cheating in one relationship was not destined to do so in the next relationship. In fact, slightly more people who had cheated in the first relationship studied did not report cheating in the second.

The study also found that those who were certain that their partner in the first relationship had cheated were twice as likely as those not reporting this to experience a cheating partner in the second relationship. Again, history was not destiny, but history did speak to greater odds of a repeat experience.

Implications

It would be incorrect to assume that one is destined to endlessly repeat painful relationship patterns. And yet, some people are at much greater risk than others for negative outcomes in romantic relationships (and marriage), and they are at greater risk for repeat experiences. Some people are simply more likely than others to cheat on their partners and more likely to choose partners who cheat on them and to do so in more than one relationship. This touches on the complex subject of selection into risk, which Galena Rhoades and I have written about more than a few times (for example, here and here).

The study described here was not designed to address complicated questions such as how the risk of infidelity might be lowered in relationships and marriage, or how it could be prevented from happening again. Future research could examine what predicts whether or not someone who cheated on one partner does so again; however, most of the same predictors of ever cheating will predict repeatedly cheating quite well. Among all of the factors associated with cheating, some are surely more amenable to change than others. Variables that are biological (e.g., differences in proneness to sexual excitement) or cultural (and thus impacting individual values) are in the mix, but so are other factors, like commitment, that I believe people have some control over.

Galena Rhoades and I have described how relationship histories may play an important and causal role in eventual relationship quality in marriage (or not in marriage, for that matter). Specifically, while having more experience in various aspects of life is usually a good thing, having more experience in relationships may not be so good when those experiences include serious involvements that alter one’s odds of succeeding in finding and keeping lasting love. Nevertheless, behaviors of the past do not have to be the definition of one’s future.

Scott M. Stanley is a research professor at the University of Denver and fellow of the Institute for Family Studies.

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


1. Knopp, K., Scott, S.B., Ritchie, L.L., Rhoades, G.K., Markman, H.J., & Stanley, S.M. (2017). Once a cheater, always a cheater? Serial infidelity across subsequent relationshipsArchives of Sexual Behavior. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-017-1018-1

2. The Relationship Development Study. For a description of the sample and basic methods, see Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2010). Should I stay or should I go? Predicting dating relationship stability from four aspects of commitment. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(5), 543-550.

3. Since the literature is so well cited in the recent paper (and in papers cited in the recent paper), I will make no attempt here to cite each point regarding prior findings in this piece.

4. Allen, E. S., Atkins, D., Baucom, D. H., Snyder, D., Gordon, K. C., & Glass, S. P. (2005). Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and contextual factors in engaging in and responding to extramarital involvement. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 12, 101-130.

5. Treas, J., & Giesen, D. (2000). Sexual infidelity among married and cohabiting Americans. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 48–60.

6. Maddox Shaw, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., Allen, E. S., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2013). Predictors of extradyadic sexual involvement in unmarried opposite-sex relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 50(6), 598 - 610. DOI:10.1080/00224499.2012.666816

7. There are also a few studies that look at what factors earlier in following a longitudinal sample predict eventual infidelity, e.g.: Previti, D., & Amato, P.R. (2004). Is infidelity a cause or a consequence of poor marital quality? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 217–230.; Allen, E. S., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., Williams, T., Melton, J., & Clements, M. L. (2008). Premarital precursors of marital infidelity. Family Process, 47, 243-259.

8. Rhoades, G. K., & Stanley, S. M. (2014). Before “I Do”: What do premarital experiences have to do with marital quality among today’s young adults? Charlottesville, VA: National Marriage Project.

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Tue, 26 Sep 2017 08:00:00 -0400
The Marriage Divide: How and Why Working-Class Families Are More Fragile Today https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-marriage-divide-how-and-why-working-class-families-are-more-fragile-today https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-marriage-divide-how-and-why-working-class-families-are-more-fragile-today by W. Bradford Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP) and Wendy Wang (@WendyRWang)

Editor’s Note: This research brief is an edited version of a research brief prepared for the Opportunity America-AEI-Brookings Working-Class Group. Go here to read or download the full brief.

When it comes to marriage and family life, America is increasingly divided. College-educated and more affluent Americans enjoy relatively strong and stable marriages and the economic and social benefits that flow from such marriages. By contrast, not just poor but also working-class Americans face rising rates of family instability, single parenthood, and life-long singleness. Their families are increasingly fragile and poor and working-class Americans pay a serious economic, social, and psychological price for the fragility of their families.1

The Fragility of Working-Class Marriages and Families

Before the 1970s, there were not large class divides in American family life. The vast majority of Americans got and stayed married, and most children lived in stable, two-parent families.2 But since the 1960s, the United States has witnessed an emerging substantial marriage divide by class. First, poor Americans became markedly less likely to get and stay married. Then, starting in the 1980s, working-class Americans became less likely to get and stay married.3 The current state of marriage and family life and the class divisions that mark America’s families can be seen by looking at contemporary trends in marriage, cohabitation, nonmarital childbearing, divorce, children’s family structure, and marital quality.

One of the most dramatic indicators of the marriage divide in America is the share of adults age 18–55 who are married. Figure 1 indicates that a majority of middle- and upper-class Americans are married, whereas only a minority of working-class Americans are married. This stands in marked contrast to the 1970s, when there were virtually no class divides in the share of adults married, and a majority of adults across the class spectrum were married.4 At the same time, Figure 1 indicates that working-class Americans fall almost halfway between poor and middle- and upper-class Americans when it comes to the share who are married.*

When it comes to coupling, poor and working-class Americans are more likely to substitute cohabitation for marriage. Figure 2 shows that poor Americans are almost three times more likely to cohabit, and working-class Americans are twice as likely to cohabit, compared with their middle- and upper-class peers age 18–55.

Taken together, these figures suggest that lower- income and less-educated Americans are more likely to be living outside of a partnership. Specifically, about six in 10 poor Americans are single, about five in 10 working-class Americans are single, and about four in 10 middle- and upper-class Americans are single.

However, when it comes to another fundamental feature of family life—childbearing—working-class and especially poor women are more likely to have children than their middle- and upper-class peers (see Figure 3). Estimates derived from the 2013–15 National Survey of Family Growth indicate that poor women currently have about 2.4 children, compared with 1.8 children for working-class women, and 1.7 children for middle- and upper-class women. Poor women, in particular, start childbearing earlier and end up having markedly more children than more affluent women.

But the fact that working-class and poor Americans are less likely to be married also means they are more likely to have these children outside of wedlock. In fact, as Figure 4 indicates, children born to working-class mothers are almost three times as likely to be born outside of wedlock, compared with children born to middle- and upper-class mothers. Children born to poor mothers are about five times as likely to be born out of wedlock.

Two points are particularly salient here. First, nonmarital childbearing is comparatively rare among more affluent and educated women. Second, it is still the case that a majority of babies born to working-class mothers are born in wedlock. In other words, marriage is still connected to parenthood for most working-class parents having a baby.

Divorce is also more common among working-class and poor adults age 18–55, provided that they have married in the first place. Figure 5 shows that less than one-third of ever-married middle- and upper-class men and women have ever been divorced. Among working-class and poor men and women who have ever married, more than 40 percent have ever been divorced.

High rates of nonmarital childbearing and divorce among working-class and poor adults translate into more family instability and single parenthood for children in working-class and poor communities. Figure 6 indicates the vast majority of middle- and upper-class teenage girls grew up in an intact home headed by two biological parents, whereas 55 percent of working-class girls lived in such a home at age 14, as did 55 percent of poor girls.5 The bottom line: The greater fragility of marriage and family life in poor and working-class families means that fewer children in such homes live with two biological parents. Children are more likely to thrive educationally, socially, and professionally when they are raised by married, biological parents, compared with being raised by a single parent or a stepfamily.6

When we look at trends in marriage and parenthood for young adults in particular, we also see marked differences by class.7 Figure 7 indicates that poor and working-class millennials age 28–34 are much more likely to have children before or outside marriage. In contrast, middle- and upper-class millennials are markedly more likely to marry before having any children or to have postponed or avoided marriage and parenthood altogether. For instance, 44 percent of working-class millennials have had a child before marriage, whereas 51 percent of middle- and upper-class millennials have married first.

Family structure is an important predictor of the economic, social, and psychological well-being of adults and children.8 But the relationship quality of marriages also matters, both for adult outcomes and children’s outcomes.9 Is there also a class divide in marital quality? As Figure 8 indicates, there is indeed a difference in marital quality by class, but this difference is not as striking as most of the demographic differences previously noted. On the other hand, the share of working-class and poor Americans who are married is markedly lower, which means they are a more selective group.

Finally, as the figures in the appendix (see full report) indicate, the class divide in marriage and family life is more marked when we exclude immigrants from our analysis. For instance, the share of working-class married adults is somewhat lower, and the share of divorced adults is somewhat higher, when we exclude immigrants from our calculations. Figure A5 indicates that the share of working-class adults who are married falls from 39 percent to 35 percent when we focus only on native-born Americans. And the share of working-class adults who are divorced rises from 41 percent to 45 percent when we focus only on native-born Americans, as illustrated by Figure A8.

In other words, the class divide between middle- and upper-class Americans and working-class Americans in family life would be bigger were it not for the presence of immigrants. That is because immigrants are disproportionately likely to be married, especially in the ranks of the working class and even more so the poor (see Figure A10). Still, the basic story this research brief tells about the differences between middle- and upper-class Americans and working-class Americans remains similar when we limit our analysis to native-born Americans.

In sum, when it comes to the structure and quality of marriage and family life, America is increasingly divided by class. Middle- and upper-class Americans are more likely to benefit from strong and stable marriages; by comparison, working-class and poor Americans increasingly face more fragile families. This family divide, in turn, often leaves poor and working-class men, women, and their children doubly disadvantaged: They have more fragile families and fewer socioeconomic resources.10

What Explains the Marriage Divide in America?

Given the class divide in marriage and family patterns, concluding that this divide is driven solely by economic factors is tempting. But as Brookings economist Isabel Sawhill has observed, a “purely economic theory falls short as an explanation of the dramatic transformation of family life in the U.S. in recent decades.”11 Consider, for instance, that there was no marked increase in divorce, family instability, or single parenthood at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s. A different policy, cultural, and civic context in that era meant that economic distress did not automatically lead to greater family instability.

By contrast, a series of interlocking economic, policy, civic, and cultural changes since the 1960s in America combined to create a perfect family storm for poor and working-class Americans.12 On the economic front, the move to a postindustrial economy in the 1970s made it more difficult for poor and working-class men to find and hold stable, decent-paying jobs.13 See, for example, the increase in unemployment for less-educated but not college-educated men depicted in Figure 9.14 The losses that less-educated men have experienced since the 1970s in job stability and real income have rendered them less “marriageable,” that is, less attractive as husbands—and more vulnerable to divorce.15

But it is not only economics. For example, Cornell sociologist Daniel Lichter and colleagues have looked carefully at economic and family change in the 1980s and 1990s; they found that changes in state and national economic factors did play a role in fueling the retreat from marriage in this period.16 They note, however, that shifts in state-level employment trends and macroeconomic performance do not explain the majority of the decline of marriage in this period; indeed, the retreat from marriage continued in the 1990s even as the economy boomed across much of the country in this decade. In their words: “Our results call into question the appropriateness of monocausal economic explanations of declining marriage.”17

The decline of marriage and rise of single parenthood in the late 1960s preceded the economic changes that undercut men’s wages and job stability in the 1970s.18 Shifts in the culture weakened marriage before shifts in the economy directly affected working-class families. The counterculture, sexual revolution, and rise of expressive individualism in the 1960s and 1970s undercut the norms, values, and virtues that sustain strong and stable marriages and families. In other words, marriage-related culture shifted before the economic changes that often garner more attention.19

But why would these cultural changes disparately affect poor and working-class Americans? These shifts ended up disparately affecting poor and then working-class men, women, and their children for three reasons.

First, because working-class and poor Americans have less of a social and economic stake in stable marriage, they depend more on cultural supports for marriage than do their middle- and upper-class peers.20 For example, middle- and upper-class Americans are more likely to own a home, and home ownership stabilizes marriage apart from whether homeowners have a strong normative commitment to marital permanence.21 By contrast, when marriage norms become weaker, working-class and poor couples—who are much less likely to own a home together—have fewer reasons to avoid divorce. So, the decline in normative support for marriage has affected working-class couples more because they have a smaller economic stake in marriage and have depended more on marriage-related norms to get and stay married.

Second, working-class and poor Americans have fewer cultural and educational resources to successfully navigate the increasingly deinstitutionalized character of dating, childbearing, and marriage. The legal scholar Amy Wax argues that the “moral deregulation” of matters related to sex, parenthood, marriage, and divorce proved more difficult for poor and working-class Americans to navigate than for more educated and affluent Americans because the latter group was and remains more likely to approach these matters with a disciplined, long-term perspective.22 By contrast, poor and working-class Americans were more likely to take a short-term view of these matters and make decisions that were gratifying in the short term but hurt their long-term well-being, or that of their children and families.

Sociologists Sharon Sassler and Amanda Miller interpret this dynamic somewhat differently: They argue that the stresses facing poor and working-class young adults leave them with a diminished sense of efficacy, which in turn makes it more difficult for them to navigate today’s choices related to sex, contraception, childbearing, and marriage than their better-educated and more affluent peers.23 But the bottom line is similar: Today’s ethos of freedom and choice when it comes to dating, childbearing, and marriage is more difficult for working-class and poor Americans to navigate. For instance, young adults from less-educated homes are less likely to consistently use contraception than are young adults from more educated homes, as Figure 10 indicates.

Third, in recent years, middle- and upper-class Americans have rejected the most permissive dimensions of the counterculture for themselves and their children, even as poor and working-class Americans have adapted a more permissive orientation toward matters such as divorce and premarital sex.24 The end result has been that key norms, values, and virtues—from fidelity to attitudes about teen pregnancy—that sustain a strong marriage culture are now generally weaker in poor and working-class communities.25

Figure 11 is illustrative, for instance, of the ways in which norms against teenage childbearing are weaker in poor and working-class communities than they are in middle- and upper-class communities. It shows that adolescents from more educated and affluent homes are more likely to report they would be embarrassed by a teenage pregnancy than are their peers from less-educated homes. This figure is indicative of the ways in which class norms, ideals, and expectations are more marriage-friendly in the middle and upper class.

Moreover, these cultural differences seem to matter in structuring current patterns of family formation. One analysis of nonmarital childbearing found that family income growing up explained about 15 percent of the difference in nonmarital childbearing between young women from college-educated homes and those from less-educated homes, whereas cultural factors—for example, an adolescent woman’s orientation toward college, her history of sexual activity, and her attitudes to single parenthood—accounted for about 20 percent of the class difference in nonmarital childbearing.26 At least for this family outcome, then, economics and culture both appear to be important in explaining the class divide in nonmarital childbearing. Moreover, these economic and cultural dynamics reinforce one another in different, class-based social networks among today’s young adults.

Starting in the 1960s, the policy context also changed in ways that have undercut marriage and stable family life, especially in poor and working-class communities. Authorizing no-fault divorce, eliminating man-in-the-house rules, and passing more generous welfare programs in the 1960s and 1970s all weakened the legal and economic importance of marriage and two-parent families.27 Poor and working-class families were and continue today to be affected more by these changes because they have more contact with the state for material support and assistance. Now, because many means-tested programs have expanded, more than 40 percent of families with children receive support from at least one transfer program—such as Medicaid, food stamps, and Pell Grants; many of these programs penalize marriage.28

Such penalties may currently play a modest role in discouraging marriage among poor and working-class couples.29 In fact, one national survey found that 31 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who chose not to marry for fear of losing a means-tested benefit.30 More broadly, shifts in family law and the expansion of the welfare state since the 1960s seem to have played a modest role in undercutting marriage among the poor starting in the late 1960s. In more recent decades, public policies may now be undercutting marriage among working-class families, insofar as marriage penalties related to programs such as Medicaid and food stamps are now more likely to affect working-class families than poor families.31

Finally, the civic fabric of America has frayed since the 1960s in ways that have disparately affected poor and working-class Americans—and their families. Membership and involvement in secular and religious organizations have declined across the board, but they have fallen more precipitously among poor and working-class Americans.32 This matters because such organizations have tended to support families over the years. This is particularly true for religious institutions, which often offer psychic, social, and moral support to marriage and family life. Indeed, Americans who regularly attend religious service are more likely to marry, have children in wedlock, avoid divorce, and enjoy higher-quality relationships.33 Nevertheless, as Figure 12 indicates, religious attendance has fallen most among Americans with less education.

Moreover, many of these religious institutions have been less likely to clearly and regularly address issues related to marriage and family life since the 1970s. Because of demographic changes in the pews and changes in the broader culture and the churches, pastors, priests, and lay leaders have become more reluctant to address topics related to sex, marriage, divorce, and nonmarital childbearing.34 This means that all Americans, including working-class men and women, are less likely to receive direction and guidance about marriage and family life that might otherwise strengthen and stabilize their families.

In sum, the nation’s marriage divide is rooted in economic, cultural, policy, and civic changes that all undercut the normative, financial, and communal bases of strong and stable marriages and families in poor and working-class communities across America.

Conclusion

This Opportunity America–AEI–Brookings research brief documents major differences in marriage and family life between working-class and middle- and upper-class Americans. Moreover, the roots of the marriage divide between the middle and upper class and the working class in America are clearly varied. No single panacea will bridge this divide. Policymakers, business leaders, and educators need to pursue a range of educational and work-related policies to shore up the economic foundations of working-class and poor families. They also need to eliminate or minimize the marriage penalties embedded in many of our means-tested policies. And the country’s secular and religious civic leaders should do more to engage and involve working-class and poor Americans—especially poor and working-class men who tend to have the weakest ties to our civic institutions.

Finally, leaders need to pursue a strategy to extend norms around marriage and childbearing—which remain strong among the middle and upper class—to working-class and poor women and men. The alternative to taking steps like these is to accept a world where middle- and upper-class Americans benefit from strong, stable families while everyone else faces increasingly fragile families, and where high rates of economic inequality and child poverty are locked in by a marriage divide that puts working-class and poor Americans—and their children—at a stark disadvantage.

W. Bradford Wilcox is a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.  Wendy Wang is director of research at the Institute for Family Studies and a former senior researcher at Pew Research Center.


*In Figures 1 through 8, “working class” generally refers to adults whose (adjusted) family income is between the 20th and the 50th income percentiles and who have a high school degree or some college education but do not have a bachelor’s degree. Currently, this covers about 21 percent of the adult population age 18–55. “Poor” refers to men and women whose (adjusted) family income is below the 20th percentile or who are high school drop-outs. This covers about 22 percent of the adult population age 18–55. “Middle and upper class” refers to men and women who have a college degree or whose (adjusted) income is greater than the 50th percentile. This includes about 57 percent of the adult population age 18–55. Income is adjusted for family size.


1. David Autor and Melanie Wasserman, “Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Education and Labor Markets,” Third Way, 2013, https://economics.mit.edu/ les/8754; Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011); Sara McLanahan, “Diverging Destinies: How Children Are Faring Under the Second Demographic Transition,” Demography 41 (2004): 607–27, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1515222?seq=1#page_scan_ tab_contents; and W. Bradford Wilcox, “State of Our Unions 2010: When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America,” National Marriage Project and Institute for American Values, 2010, http://nationalmarriageproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Union_ 11_12_10.pdf.

2. David Ellwood and Christopher Jencks, “The Spread of Single-Parent Families in the United States Since 1960,” in Future of the Family, ed. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Timothy Smeeding, and Lee Rainwater (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006).

3. Ibid; and Wilcox, “State of Our Unions 2010.”


4. Wilcox, “State of Our Unions 2010.”


5. Because of data limitations, Figure 6 is based only on maternal education, not family income.


6. Autor and Wasserman, “Wayward Sons”; Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994); and Sara McLanahan and Isabel Sawhill, “Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited: Introducing the Issue,” Future of Children 25, no. 2 (2015): 3–9, https://www.jstor.org/stable/43581969?seq=1#page_scan_ tab_contents.

7. Wendy Wang and W. Bradford Wilcox, “The Millennial Success Sequence: Marriage, Kids, and the ‘Success Sequence’ Among Young Adults,” American Enterprise Institute and Institute for Family Studies, 2017, http://www.aei.org/publication/millennials-and-the-success-sequence-how-do-education-work-and-marriage-affect-poverty-and-financial-success-among-millennials/.

8. McLanahan and Sawhill, “Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited”; and W. Bradford Wilcox et al., Why Marriage Matters: 30 Conclusions from the Social Sciences (New York: Institute for American Values and National Marriage Project, 2011).

9. Susan L. Brown, “Marriage and Child Well-Being: Research and Policy Perspectives,” Journal of Marriage and Family 72 (2010): 1059–77, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3091824/; Christine M. Proulx, Heather Helms, and Cheryl Buehler, “Marital Quality and Personal Well-Being: A Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Marriage and Family Life 69 (2007): 576–93, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2007.00393.x/abstract; and Wilcox et al., Why Marriage Matters.

10. McLanahan, “Diverging Destinies.”


11. Isabel Sawhill, “The Economics of Marriage, and Family Breakdown,” Brookings Institution, 2014, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-economics-of-marriage-and-family-breakdown/.


12. Ellwood and Jencks, “The Spread of Single-Parent Families in the United States Since 1960”; and Wilcox, “State of Our Unions 2010.”


13. Andrew J. Cherlin, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today (New York: Vintage, 2009); and William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

14. Figures 9 through 12 are based on education alone; they do not incorporate data regarding household income. 


15. Autor and Wasserman, “Wayward Sons.” 


16. Daniel Lichter, Diane K. McLaughlin, and David C. Ribar, “Economic Restructuring and the Retreat from Marriage,” Social Science Research 31 (2002): 230–56, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049089X01907288.

17. Ibid.

18. Andrew J. Cherlin, Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of Working-Class Family in America (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2014).

 19. Cherlin, The Marriage-Go-Round.

20. W. Bradford Wilcox, Nicholas Wolfinger, and Charles Stokes, “One Nation, Divided: Culture, Civic Institutions, and the Marriage Divide,” Future of Children 25 (2015): 111–27, https://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/marriagedivide.pdf.


21. Scott J. South and Glenna Spitze, “Determinants of Divorce over the Marital Life Course,” American Sociological Review 51 (1986): 583–90, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2095590?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.


22. Amy Wax, “Diverging Family Structure and ‘Rational’ Behavior: The Decline in Marriage as a Disorder of Choice,” in Research Handbook on the Economics of Family Law, ed. Lloyd R. Cohen and Joshua D. Wright (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2011), 15–71.


23. Sharon Sassler and Amanda Miller, Cohabitation Nation: Gender, Class, and the Remaking of Relationships (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017).


24. Wilcox, “State of Our Unions 2010.”


25. Ibid.


26. Wilcox, Wolfinger, and Stokes, “One Nation, Divided.”


27. Ibid.


28. W. Bradford Wilcox, Joseph P. Price, and Angela Rachidi, “Marriage, Penalized: Does Social-Welfare Policy Affect Family Formation?,” American Enterprise Institute and Institute for Family Studies, 2016, http://www.aei.org/publication/marriage-penalized-does-social-welfare-policy-affect-family-formation/.

29. Douglas Besharov and Neil Gilbert, “Marriage Penalties in the Modern Welfare State,” RStreet Institute, 2015, http://www.rstreet.org/policy-study/marriage-penalties-in-the-modern-social-welfare-state/; and Wilcox, Price, and Rachidi, “Marriage, Penalized.”

30. Wilcox, Price, and Rachidi, “Marriage,Penalized.”


31. Ibid.


32. Robert D. Putnam, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015); and Wilcox, “State of Our Unions 2010.”


33. W. Bradford Wilcox and Nicholas Wolfinger, Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love, and Marriage Among African Americans and Latinos (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).


34. W. Bradford Wilcox, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Wilcox and Wolfinger, Soul Mates.

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Mon, 25 Sep 2017 08:25:00 -0400
Friday Five 197 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-197 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-197 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Couples Weather Bickering with a Little Help From Their Friends
University of Texas at Austin, ScienceDaily

Tension with Mom and Siblings Predicts Midlife Depression
Angie Hunt, Futurity

The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy (Livestreamed)
Friday, September 22, 12-1:00 PM
The Heritage Foundation

The Decline in Adult Activities Among U.S. Adolescents, 1976-2016
Jean M. Twenge and Heejung Park, Child Development

Can You Cultivate a More Secure Attachment Style?
Elizabeth Hopper, Greater Good Magazine

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Fri, 22 Sep 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Reclaiming a Father’s Presence at Home https://ifstudies.org/blog/reclaiming-a-fathers-presence-at-home https://ifstudies.org/blog/reclaiming-a-fathers-presence-at-home by John A. Cuddeback

I would like to make what is perhaps a radical suggestion: we need to rethink, reimagine, and reinstate a different model of family life. At the center of this model is a husband and father whose very success in life is fundamentally, though not solely, seen and judged in terms of what he does in the home. Indeed, a central measure of his manhood is the quality of his presence in the home.

A New Look at an Old Understanding of Household

Let us go back to Aristotle. Setting aside some notable shortcomings in his understanding of the household, the man that Thomas Aquinas calls “the Philosopher” nonetheless expresses its fundamental principles with remarkable clarity. In life itself, as well as in the more particular areas of human action, the good man must put first what is truly first, that is, the end. In other words, his intention of the true end should be the driving and guiding energy behind what he does.

Oikonomia is the Greek word for the art of ruling or ordering the household (the oikos), and, at least traditionally, a father’s duty as head of the household was to excel in this art. The central question that Aristotle and Aquinas would have us ask about one who exercises the art of oikonomia is, what should he intend? What is the end the willing of which gives meaning and concrete direction to what the husband and father does in the household? In commenting on Aristotle’s Politics, Aquinas writes: “Aristotle infers that the chief intention of the householder concerns these two relations of persons in the household,” namely, the relation of husband and wife, and the relation of parents to children.1

It sounds so simple; but the power of this truth can shatter false conceptions of family and household. What is the principal concern of the husband and father of a family? His relationship with his spouse and their relationship with their children. Through his providence, his work, and his presence, he is the first principle of real human flourishing in its most foundational instance, namely, the flourishing relationships that are the core of a household. Aristotle’s profound assertion is rooted in the simple truth that a wife or child or husband who stands in such healthy relationships is verily an icon of human happiness.

We can be so bold as to ask, if a married man is not succeeding in these relationships, how can he be said to be succeeding as a man?

Our second point from Aristotle is his conception of the household community as, in the words of Aquinas, “a community constituted by nature for everyday life, that is, activities that have to be performed daily.”2 What at first seems a rather pedestrian point begins, on further examination, to shine like a diamond. Humans are made to live in relationships and in community. There is one community which, by its very nature, reaches into almost every corner of life. It knits together our days by being the place, the context for living together every day. The very notion is thrilling, even though the word “quotidian”—literally, “daily”—has the connotation of the pedestrian and mundane. We get to live with certain people, every day! When a young man and a young woman fall in love, what better can they imagine than being able (being allowed!) to be together every day—literally, to make a life together.

There are indeed human activities that require a broader community, such as the village or the state, but by and large, those activities are not daily ones. Eating and working, and the resting and playing that punctuate the working—these are done every day. And they are done together with those with whom we share a home. This is where life happens every day.

What is the principal concern of the husband and father of a family? His relationship with his spouse and their relationship with their children.

An Historic Transformation

If we are to grasp and address the situation of the family today, it is crucial that we note certain significant changes in family and home life that have been anything but random. There are certain readily discernible patterns in this transformation. And Aristotle and Aquinas can give us an excellent vantage from which to consider them.

Christopher Lasch was a noted historian and social critic who gave much attention to the plight of the traditional family. To many, his findings might be somewhat surprising. Lasch writes: “The history of modern society, from one point of view, is the assertion of social control over activities once left to individuals or their families.”3

Lasch sees what he calls the “socialization of production” as a fundamental, even if oft-missed, cause of the demise of the traditional structure and practices of the household. In essence, this “socialization” refers to how, on the whole, the day-to-day work that produces the material things needed for human existence left its native soil—the household. One can recall here how Aristotle and Aquinas conceived of the household as a place where precisely such work was done. A hallmark of this “socialization” was the migration from farm and workshop, themselves often attached to households, to employment in the factories of the industrial revolution. While in recent generations factory work has been largely replaced by other industries, the fundamental reality remains, as men—and also now most women—are engaged in work that is neither in the context of the household nor has any real connection, other than through the money it produces, to life therein.

It is the stock-in-trade of defenders of the traditional household to decry the general movement of women out of the household and into the “workforce.” Most, however, are mute on the issue of the parallel and prior male exodus. And yet the very notion of the “workforce” as something fundamentally outside of the household (significantly, women are said to “leave” the home to “join” it) exemplifies a fundamental shift from both the theory and practice of household life once standard in our civilization.

This change—the demise of the household as a center of production—is one that many defenders of the traditional family either dismiss with a shrug, or even approve with a nod in the direction of “economic progress.” Yet I think it is clear that, regardless of an admixture of genuine advantages, this shift was a blow to the very essence of the household community as, in Aristotle’s words, “constituted by nature for everyday life.”

Why? Work, especially in the sense of the production of things necessary for human life, is the very stuff of daily human life. Though not the most noble or important activity done in the household, it is naturally the skeleton around which other activities spring—be they meals, prayer, study, leisure, or play.

Here, history can be helpful. From time immemorial, the basic structure of the household included a man and woman working together on a daily, even hourly, basis. A significant amount of this work would have been done in close proximity to, and often with participation by, children. Such work in the household likewise afforded both parents the time and context for personal mentoring of children—formation in perhaps its most foundational sense: by presence and example. Are we to conclude that the chief intention of the man of the household—the flourishing of relationships, especially spousal and parental—is essentially tied to work in the home? This is a central issue about which we should be concerned. The work of Lasch and others points, in any case, to a key lesson from the last 200 years. History seems to establish a connection between the daily absence of the father and the general weakening of familial relationships. It behooves us to consider how we might take a practical approach to this conundrum, turning again to ancient wisdom for assistance.

Toward a Solution

Economic necessity today usually requires that at least one spouse work outside of the household. Allow me to be clear: I am not suggesting that men abandon their jobs outside the home. For the vast majority of us, that will not be possible, and for some, in any case, it would not even be desirable. We must find a way to live according to ancient wisdom in our current environment.

I suggest that we take as a starting point that the father whose main “work” is outside the household should realize that he has a handicap he must overcome, namely, the absence of substantial, daily work in the home. He does not have this obvious and natural context for contact and presence with his spouse and children. And it should be noted that “working from home” does not necessarily address this situation. Many who work from home are engaged in a labor that remains utterly distinct from and foreign to the household in every way other than bodily presence in a home office.

A central way a man loves and is present to his children is by loving and being present to his wife.

How then might fathers who work remotely seek to address this situation?

Investing in Home. The first and most significant action—one within the power of any father—is to take possession of his household by investing it with his intention and attention. The old saying should perhaps be taken as prescriptive, not descriptive: “Home is where your heart should be.” The words of Wendell Berry come to mind: "I do not believe that there is anything better to do than to make one’s marriage and household, whether one is a man or a woman."4

To be precise, this statement needs qualification, for there are some things a person can do that are better than making one’s household. Nonetheless, these striking words point to a wisdom that we need to recover in an age in which so many men, following the lead of society itself, measure themselves by their success in business or other such areas of life.

Loving His Wife. A critical feature of a man’s presence in the home is that it begins with his presence to his wife. When Aristotle notes that the spousal relationship is the source of the parental relationship, he is not simply referring to the fact of bodily generation. Rather, the character of the spousal relationship is especially determinative of the character of the parental relationship. A central way a man loves and is present to his children is by loving and being present to his wife. That is the natural order of the fabric of family life.

Since most of their work today is removed from the household, fathers will need to be creative in finding the time and the avenues of presence. Here are a couple more concrete suggestions.

  1. Home “Work.” A first avenue to consider is some kind of manual labor, preferably one requiring an art that can be learned and shared by family members. This includes specifically “home arts,” such as gardening, cooking, animal husbandry, etc., as well as more general arts, such as carpentry, carving, engine mechanics, plumbing, landscaping, etc. As children grow older, higher arts can be added and studied together, such as reading, writing, and the liberal arts. It is worth noting that while some of these latter arts are at times beyond the capabilities of households, some manual arts are within the competence of all.
  2. Real Leisure. As Josef Pieper has pointed out, good leisure and good work are closely tied through nourishing one another, so they should be addressed together. Here is an area where any father can take the lead, even when his work often removes him from the home, by putting a priority on shared, rich activities in the household. It will be arduous. Regular meals together, which should be a mainstay of presence and communion, too often fall by the wayside. Common custom now replaces real leisure with mass-produced amusement, and communication technology intrudes into all spaces, making simple together-time difficult to achieve. We are losing a sense of how to be together in deeper activities, and more and more we turn to some device any time we have a free moment. But real freedom is in having habits of being together in richer ways—reading, singing, hiking, praying. A father’s leadership here may well make all the difference.

I have suggested that we need to do more to rethink and re-form our family life. A deeply anti-household cultural environment should prod us to rediscover household life in its fullness. Households can still be a vibrant organ, even if the body politic is wasting with disease. To understand the ideal of true fatherhood—and the contemporary challenges to living that ideal—is already to be halfway to success. Issues concerning the role and presence of husband and wife in the household need to be considered with nuance, recognizing that particular conditions can warrant modifications and adaptations. Nevertheless, exceptions do not invalidate general principles; indeed, often they corroborate them. At the heart of a renewal will be husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, united in the intensity of their intention to focus on relationships in the household and to embody that intention in daily life.

John Cuddeback, PhD is chairman and professor of Philosophy at Christendom College. His writing and lectures focus on ethics, friendship, and household. His blog, Bacon From Acorns, is dedicated to the philosophy of household.

Editor’s Note: This essay is an abbreviated version of a longer essay originally published in the journal, Principles. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.


1. Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, I, 10.4

2. Ibid. I, 1.12

3. Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged (Basic Books, 1979), p. xx

4. “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine” in What are People For? (Counterpoint, 2010), p. 182

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Thu, 21 Sep 2017 07:00:00 -0400
Why Today’s Teens Aren’t in a Hurry to Grow Up https://ifstudies.org/blog/why-todays-teens-arent-in-a-hurry-to-grow-up https://ifstudies.org/blog/why-todays-teens-arent-in-a-hurry-to-grow-up by Jean Twenge (@jean_twenge)

Editor's NoteThis article was originally published on The Conversation.* Read the original article.

Teens aren’t what they used to be.

The teen pregnancy rate has reached an all-time low. Fewer teens are drinking alcohol, having sex or working part-time jobs. And as I found in a newly released analysis of seven large surveys, teens are also now less likely to drive, date or go out without their parents than their counterparts 10 or 20 years ago.

Some have tried to explain certain aspects of these trends. Today’s teens are more virtuous and responsible, sociologist David Finkelhor has argued. No, says journalist Jess Williams, they’re just more boring. Others have suggested that teens aren’t working because they are simply lazy.

However, none of these researchers and writers has been able to tie everything together. Not drinking or having sex might be considered “virtuous,” but not driving or working is unrelated to virtue – and might actually be seen as less responsible. A lower teen pregnancy rate isn’t “boring” or “lazy”; it’s fantastic.

These trends continued even as the economy improved after 2011, suggesting the Great Recession isn’t the primary cause. Nor is more schoolwork: The average teen today spends less time on homework than his counterparts did in the 1990s, with time spent on extracurricular activities staying about the same.

To figure out what’s really going on, it’s worth taking a broader look at today’s teens—a generation of kids I call “iGen”—and the environment they’re living in.

A Different Culture, a Slower Path

Working, driving, drinking alcohol, having sex and dating have one thing in common: They are all activities adults do. This generation of teens, then, is delaying the responsibilities and pleasures of adulthood.

Adolescence—once the beginning of adulthood—now seems to be an extension of childhood. It’s not that teens are more virtuous or lazier. They could simply be taking longer to grow up.

Looking at these trends through the lens of “life history theory” might be useful. According to this model, whether development is “slow” (with teens taking longer to get to adulthood) or “fast” (getting to adulthood sooner) depends on cultural context.

A “slow life strategy” is more common in times and places where families have fewer children and spend more time cultivating each child’s growth and development. This is a good description of our current culture in the U.S., when the average family has two children, kids can start playing organized sports as preschoolers and preparing for college can begin as early as elementary school. This isn’t a class phenomenon; I found in my analysis that the trend of growing up more slowly doesn’t discriminate between teens from less advantaged backgrounds and those from wealthier families.

A “fast-life strategy,” on the other hand, was the more common parenting approach in the mid-20th century, when fewer labor-saving devices were available and the average woman had four children. As a result, kids needed to fend for themselves sooner. When my uncle told me he went skinny-dipping with his friends when he was eight, I wondered why his parents gave him permission.

Then I remembered: His parents had six other children (with one more to come), ran a farm and it was 1947. The parents needed to focus on day-to-day survival, not making sure their kids had violin lessons by age five.

Is Growing Up Slowly Good or Bad?

Life history theory explicitly notes that slow and fast life strategies are adaptations to a particular environment, so each isn’t inherently “good” or “bad.” Likewise, viewing the trends in teen behavior as “good” or “bad” (or as teens being more “mature” or “immature,” or more “responsible” or “lazy”) misses the big picture: slower development toward adulthood. And it’s not just teens – children are less likely to walk to and from school and are more closely supervised, while young adults are taking longer to settle into careers, marry, and have children.

Adulting”—which refers to young adults performing adult responsibilities as if this were remarkable—has now entered the lexicon. The entire developmental path from infancy to full adulthood has slowed.

But like any adaptation, the slow life strategy has trade-offs. It’s definitely a good thing that fewer teens are having sex and drinking alcohol. But what about when they go to college and suddenly enter an environment where sex and alcohol are rampant? For example, although fewer 18-year-olds now binge-drink, 21- to 22-year-olds still binge-drink at roughly the same rate as they have since the 1980s. One study found that teens who rapidly increased their binge-drinking were more at risk of alcohol dependence and adjustment issues than those who learned to drink over a longer period of time. Delaying exposure to alcohol, then, could make young adults less prepared to deal with drinking in college.

The same might be true of teens who don’t work, drive or go out much in high school. Yes, they’re probably less likely to get into an accident, but they may also arrive at college or the workplace less prepared to make decisions on their own.

College administrators describe students who can’t do anything without calling their parents. Employers worry that more young employees lack the ability to work independently. Although I found in my analyses that iGen evinces a stronger work ethic than millennials, they’ll probably also require more guidance as they transition into adulthood.

Even with the downsides in mind, it’s likely beneficial that teens are spending more time developing socially and emotionally before they date, have sex, drink alcohol and work for pay. The key is to make sure that teens eventually get the opportunity to develop the skills they will need as adults: independence, along with social and decision-making skills.

The ConversationFor parents, this might mean making a concerted effort to push your teenagers out of the house more. Otherwise, they might just want to live with you forever.

Jean Twenge is Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University. She is the author of the new book, iGen: Why Today's Superconnected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.

 

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Wed, 20 Sep 2017 08:00:00 -0400
How Identity Shapes Divorce Decisions https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-identity-shapes-divorce-decisions https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-identity-shapes-divorce-decisions by Steven M. Harris (@steveharris65)

As a marriage therapist who primarily works with couples on the brink of divorce and as a researcher interested in the divorce decision-making process, I am often amazed at the things that people consider when they are thinking about leaving a marriage. When people begin to contemplate exiting a marriage, it is not uncommon for them to reflect on how the decision to divorce or to stay married might impact their identity. Just like agreeing to marry or deciding to propose marriage to someone says something about who you are (“I’m the marrying type” or “I’m looking to settle down”), deciding to divorce probably says something about you, too.

As part of a larger study, we interviewed 30 married people who were in the middle of deciding whether or not to divorce. Among other things, we specifically asked them if the decision to divorce or to stay married said anything about them personally or if they thought it might say something about them in someone else’s mind. Here’s some of what they said.*

Failure

In most marriage ceremonies, the officiator declares that the union will last until the death of one of the partners. Perhaps because of this, a majority of the participants reported feeling like they would consider themselves a failure if their marriage ended in divorce. Some reported believing that others might think of them as failures if they were to get divorced. This was especially the case where there was no significant history of divorce in the participant’s family or there was a strong religious ethic against divorce. This was a strong theme throughout the interviews; the idea that divorce was not the intended outcome for people who chose to marry would have a bearing on how the participants saw and thought of themselves.

What Others Think

An immediate answer for many was that they did not really care what others thought about their decision to divorce and that they wouldn’t let others’ opinions about them make the decision for them. However, many of the same people went on to express an understanding that in pursuing a divorce, they would be judged negatively by others and that they were aware of that fact.

Marriage Changed Me

Most of the folks we interviewed talked about how their marriage had changed them over the years. Most of the comments that gave momentum toward a divorce path hinged on the idea that their pre-married self was a much more upbeat and happy person than now: “I used to be more spontaneous, I used to dance…that doesn’t happen anymore.” Or a more general statement such as, “I’ve lost who I am,” reflected sadness that the marriage had taken a toll on their identity, or that living with their partner had dramatically changed who they were—and not for the better. Many commented that marriage, and the business of having and raising children, had changed them and that they were just no longer themselves.

As one participant told us, “I’m Jeremy’s father now, I’m no longer just ‘Mike.’” Mike (name changed) realized that in marriage and in fatherhood his identity was something much more multifaceted than it was when he first married. His decision to end a marriage would include understanding the impact divorce might have on his identity as a father. Others commented on the fact that they had been married for so long, they just couldn’t see themselves or their life outside the context of the marriage. “We have a life together, friends together, we raised our kids together, I can’t imagine what I would be like outside of that,” one person said. Even those who were unhappy in the marriage understood that their identity was going to be affected by the decision to divorce. “Who would I be if I wasn’t in this marriage?” another asked.

In an individually-oriented culture where personal happiness is the prevailing standard by which life decisions are judged and made, the marriage—and all that goes with it—often takes the hit.

How Marriage Changes Us and How We Perceive that Change Matters

One important takeaway from our findings is that how we see ourselves and how we think others see us play a part in how we approach the decision to divorce, especially our perception of change. Marriage plus time changes a person. Of course, we are no longer the spontaneous person we used to be! That person (mostly) only lived for him or herself. In many cases, that person’s brain was still developing and the choices that person made were often self-interested and motivated. Some of that spontaneity or carefree nature had to be sacrificed so that individual could be about the business of raising kids, earning a living, or finding out what it is he or she wanted to do with the rest of his or her life.

But those stories can get pushed to the margins when considering divorce. What tends to happen is a comparison of my pre-married life (carefree and exciting) to my current state of unhappiness where I have to be in a constant state of balancing my needs and desires against a host of needs and desires from those outside of me (spouse, work, kids, etc.). And in an individually-oriented culture where personal happiness is the prevailing standard by which life decisions are judged and made, the marriage, and all that goes with it, often takes the hit.

Yes, marriage over time does change a person, but none of the personal growth and development that comes with marriage and parenting were reflected in the stories of those we interviewed. Despite the fact that someone feels they’ve “lost” who they were, that is only part of the story. The reality is that most people who marry and stay married for a while, grow and develop in a variety of ways, and they pick up new parts of themselves that would not have been possible outside of marriage or parenthood. Keeping a child alive and physically and emotionally caring for another human being in an intimate way, and knowing another human being’s deepest thoughts, fears, and aspirations (either for one’s children or their spouse) are all new “parts” of that same person. You may not be the dancer you once were, but it is possible that you have become so much more. The fact that you don’t dance anymore may not be because you’re not that dancer anymore, it may be that you took on other roles and responsibilities, and you let dancing fade.

Unfortunately, this part of personal identity and the total picture of how marriage and parenthood changes a person did not seem to come out in our interviews. Most of the participants viewed the changes in themselves that were brought about by marriage as negative: “I’ve lost myself, I don’t know who I am anymore.” And they seemed quick to blame the institution of marriage or their spouse for this loss. No one seemed to look at married life as a time when they took on additional roles or garnered new skills and capabilities that were previously underdeveloped. And no one seemed to be aware of the role they played in neglecting to maintain previously developed skills and attributes (dancing, spontaneity) while nurturing a new set of skills that took into account the desire to have meaningful intimate relationships in their life.

Steven M. Harris, Ph.D. LMFT, is Professor of Family Social Science and Director of the Couple and Family Therapy program at the University of Minnesota. He is also the Associate Director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project and a member of the National Divorce Decision-Making Study research team.

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


*All text within quotes are paraphrased examples of how the respondents answered the interview questions. The results of this research are currently being prepared for publication in a peer-reviewed outlet where actual transcripts of direct quotes will be used.

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Tue, 19 Sep 2017 08:00:00 -0400
How Family Values Might Save Uber https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-family-values-might-save-uber https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-family-values-might-save-uber by Ashley McGuire

“A family man taking the wheel at Uber.”

So read a headline in a Financial Times article this month about the new head of the tech giant, which has been beleaguered by bad press about a hostile work environment and an outgoing CEO known for volatile outbursts, one of which was caught on camera with one of his own drivers. Dara Khosrowshahi—an Iranian immigrant who rose in the business world, eventually landing as CEO of Expedia—will be taking the wheel at Uber, with the hopes, no doubt, of steering the company in a new direction.

It’s not just Uber struggling with its image; much of August was consumed with Google’s public relations debacle after a leaked memo from an employee put the spotlight on the company’s issue with its own toxic work environment and hostility to women. Indeed, much of Silicon Valley is in a state of soul searching, after countless lawsuits and media blowups have revealed that sexism and negative work atmospheres seem almost endemic to the very companies whose public figures lecture us daily about equality, diversity, and respect.

Might hiring more family-oriented CEOs and adopting more pro-family policies be the solution? Some think so. As Leslie Hook wrote about Uber for the Financial Times:

Many of Uber’s shareholders see Mr. Khosrowshahi as the antidote for everything his predecessor Travis Kalanick was not—diplomatic, steady and a family man. (His office at Expedia was covered with pictures of his four children.) Its demoralized employees and disillusioned shareholders have become desperate for a savior who will restore the company to its former glory.

Dad to the rescue?

Jokes aside, there is something to the idea of putting a man in charge who is a father, especially one to a bigger family. Being a committed husband and father requires a kind of patience they don’t teach in business school, and the home is where men and women learn to set aside their selfish whims in order to nurture and care for a more vulnerable set of humans.

Pope Francis has fleshed this concept out in his writings, calling the family the first place “where we learn to live with others despite our differences.” He wrote for the 2015 World Meeting of Families:

In the family, we realize that others have preceded us, they made it possible for us to exist and, in our turn, to generate life and to do something good and beautiful. We can give because we have received. This virtuous circle is at the heart of the family’s ability to communicate among its members and with others. More generally, it is the model for all communication.

“Family is where we daily experience our own limits and those of others,” he continues. "It is the 'first school of communication.'”

Writing about the fallout at Google, Ross Douthat echoed this sentiment by suggesting that the company might help to fix its problems with workplace hostility and sexism by implementing more pro-family policies. “[S]ince the usual way to reintegrate the sexes is to have them marry one another and raise kids," Douthat wrote, "what Silicon Valley probably needs right now more than either workplace anti-microaggression training or an alt-right underground is a basic friendliness to family, pregnancy, and child-rearing.”

And who better understands those realities than someone who has just experienced it all first-hand? Khosrowshahi’s four children were all born in the last five years!

It’s easy enough to craft slogans about mutual respect, tolerance, and love for all, but the reality is that family life is where we first live out those challenges in real time, on a daily basis. The best place to learn respect is at home, and the best teachers will always be parents.

In choosing a man known for his family values to run the company, perhaps Uber will take its best turn yet.

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

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

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Mon, 18 Sep 2017 08:00:00 -0400
Friday Five 196 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-196 https://ifstudies.org/blog/friday-five-196 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

New Research Says This Kind of Daily Prayer Can Change Your Marriage
Calah Alexander, Aleteia

As U.S. Marriage Rate Hovers at 50%, Education Gap in Marital Status Widens
Kim Parker, Renee Stepler, Pew Research Center

U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking Releases Report
National Council on Family Relations

How Do Close Relationships Lead to A Longer Life?
American Psychological Association

State-Led Evaluations of Family Engagement: The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home-Visiting Program
Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, U.S. Administration for Children and Families

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Fri, 15 Sep 2017 08:00:00 -0400