Institute for Family Studies Blog The Institute for Family Studies (IFS) is dedicated to strengthening marriage and family life, and advancing the well-being of children, through research and public education. Friday Five 245 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Why Churches Matter in the Fight Against Addiction
Ericka Andersen, ERLC

What Makes a Good Life? 3 Lessons on Life, Love, and Decision Making from the Harvard Grant Study
Six Seconds

Research4Reform Content Collection: Immigration Crisis

Trauma-Informed Approaches for Programs Serving Fathers in Re-Entry: A Review of the Literature and Environmental Scan
OPRE, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. DHHS

Child Welfare and Poverty in America: How Welfare Policies Have Created an Intergenerational Cycle of Poverty and Dysfunction
Thursday, September 27, 2018 | 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
American Enterprise Institute

Fri, 21 Sep 2018 08:00:00 -0400
When Grandparents Divorce, Everyone Hurts by D. Scott Sibley (@dscottsibley)

This summer, I experienced a painful and somewhat unexpected experience while visiting my recently-divorced mother’s house for the first time in three years with my wife and four children. It was quickly evident that my oldest two children had a strong recollection of some of the happy memories that we had experienced in this home while their grandparents were still married. This was where we had enjoyed large family dinners during holidays such as Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and where fireworks were lit for the Fourth of July. In this house, engagements had been announced, babies had crawled on the floor, and cousins had formed lifelong friendships. Interestingly, my mother has kept many of the pictures featuring these memories in frames throughout the house: a reminder of the way things were. This was emotionally overwhelming for my 11-year-old son who sobbed on my shoulder as we sat and talked together on the couch. When I asked him about that moment recently, he explained, “I remembered how things used to be, and that I will never see them [grandpa and grandma] together again.”

My 14-year-old daughter has also struggled with this difficult transition. It came as a surprise to me when she shared: “I felt depressed for a few months after I learned that [our grandparents] had divorced. It’s not the same when you see them. It’s not as special.” My 9-year-old son was probably the most emotionally shaken when he first heard the news, requiring additional support for several weeks after he learned about the split. Although it is difficult for him to verbalize, my 6-year old son can also become sad when we talk about my mother and father, or when he looks at an old family photograph. And I will always remember the difficult conversation we had together driving home in our van when I tearfully promised that we were going to work hard to stay strong as a family. My wife and I have done our best to provide an emotional buffer for our children by reassuring them that we are not going to divorce. Unfortunately, I imagine that not all children are provided with this type of reassurance from their parents when their grandparents decide to divorce. 

I have long understood from educational, research, and clinical experience that parental divorce has a substantial impact on children. What I had not considered to the same extent was how grandparental divorce can also be detrimental. As I have written previously on this blog, my parent’s divorce has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. The month of September is in many ways a sad reminder of what could have been and probably should have been for my family of origin. This very month three years ago, my mother made the decision to leave my father. And two years ago, they finalized their divorce, signing and submitting their divorce papers on what would have been their 39th wedding anniversary.

The Overlooked Effects of Grandparental Divorce

Although a variety of different media outlets have written about gray divorce— such as here and here—the research specifically on grandparental divorce is rather sparse compared to the substantial literature on parental divorce. For instance, in a 2004 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, Valerie King investigated grandparent-grandchild relationships. King’s results indicated that the negative effects of divorce were stronger for grandfathers as well as paternal grandparents. Also, the negative effects of grandparental divorce were influenced by the strength of the grandparent-parent relationship.

Paul Amato and Jacob Cradle studied the long reach of divorce across three generations using longitudinal data during a 20-year timespan. This study by Amato and Cradle is unique since it was able to explore how grandparental divorce specifically impacts grandchildren across a variety of variables (education, marital discord, divorce, relations with parents, and well-being). Interestingly, fewer than 10% of grandchildren in the study had been born during the time that their grandparents divorced, and yet the effects of the divorce still seemed to have a significant impact on this generation.

Excellent research on the intergenerational transmission of divorce has been provided by researchers such as Paul AmatoAndreas DiekmannNicholas Wolfinger, and many others (for a thorough and comprehensive look at this issue, I would recommend Dr. Wolfinger’s book, Understanding the Divorce Cycle, about how the divorce cycle impacts children of divorce in their own marriages).

We should not assume that grandparental divorce does not negatively impact grandchildren and the way they view marriage and the sustainability of relationships. As I wrote earlier this year in a blog post for IFS:

While we may be finally seeing a decrease in gray divorce, I think the mistaken assumption often made by parents in their 50s, 60s, and 70s is now that their children are grown and have left the nest, divorce simply won’t be as hurtful or disruptive. Having experienced this myself, I would encourage older couples considering divorce to slow down, seek therapy, and consider the long-term consequences to their adult children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. The greatest gift parents can give their children and their grandchildren is a loving and committed marriage.

As a parent of children who have experienced the divorce of their grandparents, and as marriage and family therapist, I would recommend the following in a situation where grandparents decide to divorce:

1. Reassure children about the strength of your own marriage and your personal commitment to their mother or father. If your marriage is feeling flat, then work on making it vibrant again. After all, most marriages do not decline over time.

2. Listen to your children and learn to recognize their perspectives. Your children are observant and may be feeling anxious about relationships, especially if they recognize how much emotional pain you have experienced from parental divorce.

3. Finally, be willing to talk to your children about your parent’s marriage and what went wrong. Each of us can become more resilient when we recognize what not to do in relationships.

A Word to Older Couples Headed for Divorce

Not all marriages can be saved, and abuse, addiction, or serial infidelity are certainly reasons when divorce can be the best option. However, many studies indicate that most divorces actually occur in low conflict marriages in which spouses have become emotionally distant, with a tendency to blame their former spouse, not themselves, for the problems they faced. Any relationship, if it is not nurtured and cared for, can dwindle and die. However, when partners are dedicated and united in making their marriage work, problems that once seemed insurmountable can be overcome.

For those contemplating a potential divorce now that the children are grown, it is important to carefully consider the short and long-term consequences of that decision. Talk with your spouse about the relational legacy that you want to leave with your children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. If you choose to get divorced today, how might this impact their lives? 

So many of the couples I have worked with in therapy that have chosen to divorce later regret that decision. Oh, how I wish that my divorced parents had taken the steps to overcome and repair the issues they faced as a married couple. It is worth the effort to protect the investment you have made in your marriage. There is hope: according to new research from Paul Amato and Spencer James, for most couples who stay the course, marriage tends to get better over time. 

For the future of marriage and the strength of family relationships, each of us should be consciously aware of how our actions can impact future generations. May we stay committed to our own relationships and have the courage and foresight to strengthen our children so they are prepared for their own marriages.

D. Scott Sibley, Ph.D., LMFT, CFLE is an Assistant Professor in Human Development and Family Sciences at Northern Illinois University. He researches commitment in couple relationships and romantic relationship formation. Learn more about Dr. Sibley and his research team at


Amato, P. R., & Cheadle, J. (2005). The long reach of divorce: Divorce and child well-being across three generations. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 1, 191-206.

Amato P.R., James S.L. (2018). Changes in spousal relationships over the marital life course. In: 

Alwin D., Felmlee D., Kreager D. (eds) Social Networks and the life course. Frontiers in Sociology and Social Research, (Vol. 2). Cham. Springer International Publishing.

Amato, P. R., & Patterson, S. (2017). The intergenerational transmission of union instability in early adulthood. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 79, 3, 723-738.

Diekmann, A., & Schmidheiny, K. (2013). The Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce: A Fifteen-Country Study with the Fertility and Family Survey. Comparative Sociology, 12, 211-235.

Cui, M., Fincham, F.D, & Durtschi, J. A. (2011). The effect of parental divorce on young adults' romantic relationship dissolution: What makes a difference?. Personal Relationships, 18(3), 410-426. 

King, V. (2003). The legacy of a grandparents divorce: Consequences for ties between grandparents and grandchildren. Journal of Marriage and Family,65(1), 170-183.

Schmidt, A. E., & Sibley, D. S. (2018). Contextual therapy for family health: Clinical applications. New York, NY: Routledge.

Wolfinger, N. H. (1999). Trends in the intergenerational transmission of divorce. Demography, 36, 3, 415-20.

Wolfinger, N. H. (2011). More evidence for trends in the intergenerational transmission of divorce: A completed cohort approach using data from the general social survey. Demography, 48, 2, 581-592.

Thu, 20 Sep 2018 07:30:00 -0400
The Welfare State Climbs the Income Ladder by Robert VerBruggen (@RAVerBruggen)

Richard V. Reeves and Christopher Pulliam of the Brookings Institution have a new report about the “middle-class safety net,” pointing out that a rising share of means-tested spending is directed at people between the 20th and 80th percentiles of income.

It draws attention to a phenomenon that others have noted before, and that ought to inform thinking about future welfare reforms: America’s focus on encouraging work and boosts to the safety net, such as Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, have entailed directing aid to the working poor rather than the extremely poor. Whether this is good or bad depends on what effects one thinks these policy changes have—whether work requirements successfully induce people to get jobs, whether aid to the working poor comes at the expense of helping the truly needy, and whether it creates intolerably large marriage penalties.

Reeves’ report sticks to the basics, mainly providing a series of charts that break down total spending from a combined set of programs (including health care, nutrition, cash assistance, housing, etc.). This is one of the most striking, showing the percentage of spending directed at each income quintile:

Before the 1990s, the safety net overwhelmingly targeted the bottom fifth of the income distribution; now, about half of the spending goes elsewhere.

And here’s a somewhat different perspective, showing welfare spending as a percentage of total income for each of these groups. Since higher-income groups make more of their own money and get less in welfare benefits, the gap is far bigger this way:

Of course, both of the above charts could mean very different things depending on what’s happening to overall means-tested spending—which the Reeves' study does not report. However, he points to a previous Brookings report that focuses on children and fleshes out some of the key details (though it counts a somewhat different set of programs, including tax credits).

Here is one important chart from that report, depicting per-child spending on kids based on their poverty level. Spending increased by comparable dollar amounts for all kids under 150% of the poverty line. But kids in wealthier families saw much bigger percentage increases—and while virtually no welfare spending reached above 150% of the poverty line before, today some welfare spending does.

Source: Hoynes and Whitmore-Schanzenbach, Safety Net Investments in Children,
Brookings Papers on Economic Activity: BPEA Conference Drafts, March 2018.

The difference is starker looking at families with and without earnings. The latter still get far more help per child—hardly surprising because families with earnings include the middle class and rich—but the amount has actually fallen, while per-child spending on families with earnings has grown substantially.

Source: Hoynes and Whitmore-Schanzenbach, Safety Net Investments in Children,
Brookings Papers on Economic Activity: BPEA Conference Drafts, March 2018.

These findings also gel with poverty researcher Robert Moffitt’s widely cited 2014 Population Association lecture, in which he pointed out that welfare spending had been redistributed, with less going to the non-employed and single-parent families, and more going to the working, elderly, and disabled.

Reeves’ piece, by the way, comes amid two important semantic debates, over how to define the “middle class” and “poverty.” Regarding the former, Reeves (as mentioned) uses the middle 60% of the income distribution, which seems fair enough. But then again so does Pew’s definition, which defines middle class as making two-thirds to twice the median income.

Both definitions have their advantages. For example, if you want to know whether the middle class is “growing” or “shrinking,” Reeves is not your guy, because his middle class is always exactly 60% of the population—no matter how much inequality grows (or doesn’t). But Pew’s definition has some weird statistical quirks, such as that the median income of the middle class is quite different from the median income of the general population (which was used to determine who was in the middle class to begin with!).

On “poverty,” meanwhile, experts generally agree that the official poverty measure is garbage—it counts some safety-net programs but not others as income—but there’s a heated debate about which alternative is best. Bruce D. Meyer and James X. Sullivan of the American Enterprise Institute, for example, have touted a consumption-based measure that shows dramatic reductions in poverty in recent decades (a measure employed by the Trump administration’s Council of Economic Advisers), while others prefer income-based measures such as the Supplemental Poverty Measure. Reeves does not define poverty, though he implicitly treats the bottom 20% of income-earners as below the middle class.

But regardless of which measures we use, as Republicans push for changes to the safety net, we should bear in mind the existing trend toward directing aid to the working poor and think about how we want the safety net to work.

Robert VerBruggen is a deputy managing editor of National Review.

Wed, 19 Sep 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Religious Upbringing and Adolescence by Tyler J. VanderWeele

Growing up in today’s world can be complicated. Parents are often worried about how their children will navigate the social, behavioral, and developmental challenges of life, especially during adolescence, which can be a particularly difficult time. Our research, which was recently published out of Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health and co-authored by Ying Chen at the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard, suggests that a religious upbringing can profoundly help adolescents navigate the challenges of these years. We also found that a religious upbringing contributes to a wide range of health and well-being outcomes later in life.

Our study used a large sample of over 5,000 adolescents, followed them up for more than eight years, and controlled for many other variables to try to isolate the effect of religious upbringing. We found that children who were raised in a religious or spiritual environment were subsequently better protected from the “big three” dangers of adolescence. 

For example, those who attended religious services regularly were subsequently: 

  • 12% less likely to have high depressive symptoms
  • 33% less likely to use illicit drugs

Those who prayed or meditated frequently were:

  • 30% less likely to start having sex at a young age
  • 40% less likely to subsequently have a sexually transmitted infection

Moreover, a religious upbringing also contributed towards to a number of positive outcomes as well, such greater happiness, more volunteering in the community, a greater sense of mission and purpose, and higher levels of forgiveness. For example, those who attended religious services were subsequently: 

  • 18% more likely to report high levels of happiness
  • 87% more likely to have high levels of forgiveness

Those who prayed or meditated frequently were subsequently: 

  • 38% more likely to volunteer in their community
  • 47% more likely to have a high sense of mission and purpose 

These are relatively large effects across a variety of health and well-being outcomes. Religious practice and prayer or meditation can be important resources for adolescents navigating the challenges of life.

Some might wonder if these associations truly imply that religious and spiritual practices really cause the health and well-being outcomes. Could it be that those who are already happier or who refrain from drug use, are those who are naturally drawn to religion? Might this explain the associations, rather than a causal effect of religious and spiritual practices on subsequent health and well-being?

We attempted to deal with this issue in several ways. First, the religious upbringing variables were measured 8-14 years before the health and psychological well-being outcomes were evaluated. This more rigorous longitudinal design helps establish the temporal ordering of the relationships, and in this way is superior to most prior studies on this topic, which used cross-sectional data (where everything is measured at the same time). Second, wherever possible, we controlled also for the health and psychological characteristics of the adolescents at the time that the service attendance and prayer/meditation was assessed to try to rule out that it was just positive health or psychological states that was leading to greater religious practice. Third, we controlled for numerous other social, demographic and health characteristics at the time of adolescence to try to rule out that these might explain the relationship. Finally, for each and every outcome examined, we reported a new measure, called the E-value, that assesses how robust or sensitive results are to potential unmeasured variables, and thereby helps evaluate the evidence for causality (see endnote below for examples).1 Although it is difficult to prove “causality,” with the sort of observational data we used, the evidence for the effects of a religious upbringing on some of the health and well-being outcomes is, in fact, here quite strong.

But what are the implications of this research? Here, some additional nuance is probably needed. People generally do not make decisions about religious involvement based on health, but rather on beliefs, values, truth claims, relationships, experiences, and so forth. However, for parents and children who already hold religious beliefs, such religious and spiritual practices could be encouraged both for their own sake, as well as to promote health and well-being. 

Modern life is very busy, and it can take a strong commitment to participate in a community, or to set time aside for prayer or meditation, and to encourage children in these practices. Our study suggests that for those who already hold these beliefs, setting such time aside in parenting, and for adolescents to engage in these practices, is worthwhile.

Although it is difficult to prove “causality,” with the sort of observational data we used, the evidence for the effects of a religious upbringing on some of the health and well-being outcomes is, in fact, quite strong in our study.

There has also been some concern expressed in various settings about whether being raised religiously might be harmful. The sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have led some parents to question whether their children should be present in such settings at all. Certainly, these instances of sexual abuse need to be addressed, and some progress has already been made in that regard, though more work still needs to be done. Those who covered up the abuse cases need to be held accountable; and for the victims of abuse, their harmful and horrifying experiences need to be acknowledged and addressed. 

Our own research is based on averages: the statistics average over all of the positive experiences and also all of the negative experiences, too.  The research indicates that, on average, the effects of a religious community are profoundly positive. This does not in any way excuse the incidents of harm by religious leaders or institutions, but it does make clear the substantial benefits of religious practice overall. Ceasing those practices will, on average, likely lead to worse health and well-being outcomes.

Some have gone even further in expressing concern that a religious upbringing may be harmful. Recently, the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins likened a religious upbringing to child abuse, going so far as to claim in a lecture that, “Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.” The point was reiterated in his book The God Delusion (p. 356), and he has even gone on to write another book on Atheism for Children, which he plans to publish this fall. 

Our study shows that on a number of important health and well-being outcomes, Dawkin’s claim just isn’t true. It is disrespectful of those who have experienced sexual abuse, and it is just plain wrong with regard to the average effects on health and well-being that religious practice brings. Religious upbringing is of positive benefit for many health behaviors and psychological well-being outcomes. Before making his claims, it would have been good if Dawkins, the scientist, had actually looked at the science. At the very least, parents who bring up their children religiously can be reassured that, on average at least, they are creating important psychological and behavioral health benefits that their children will carry with them into adulthood.

Questions are sometimes raised as to why these positive effects are present and why they are so substantial. This is a more difficult question and goes beyond what we have in the data. My own speculation would be that, for religious service attendance, we observe these effects, in part, because of the benefits of a shared set of beliefs, and practices, and values; and also, because the adolescents have other adult members of their community, beyond their parents, who can serve as mentors and role models. As for the positive effects of prayer and meditation, as I recently shared with IFS, my speculation would be that an integrated spirituality gives rise to an experience of God or of transcendence so that an adolescent need not turn to drugs or risky sexual behaviors in their search for something more. Moreover, that experience of God may fundamentally make a person more other-oriented, leading to greater volunteering, forgiveness, and a sense of mission, and these things ultimately make one happier and protect against depression. Adolescence is a particularly critical time of development and self-understanding, and the establishing of these practices may shape health and well-being throughout life.

Too often in public health, we do not think very much about religious community or parenting practices. However, the results of our new study suggest fairly substantial positive effects on a number of different health and well-being outcomes. Religious practices, such as attending religious services and engaging in prayer, do shape the health of populations and need to be discussed and considered more frequently. Religion and spirituality are important resources for parents and adolescents alike.

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

1. For example, we reported in our study that for an unmeasured variable to explain away the association between religious service attendance and subsequent volunteering, that unmeasured variable would have to be associated with 1.9-fold higher service attendance, and 1.9-fold higher volunteering, above and beyond everything we already controlled for (which was already a lot). It would thus take quite a lot of confounding to explain away that result. Similarly, to explain away the association between prayer/meditation and the much lower likelihood of subsequently have a sexually transmitted infection, an unmeasured variable would have to be associated both with a 2.7-fold higher likelihood of prayer and a 2.7-fold lower likelihood of a sexually transmitted infection to explain away the results.

Tue, 18 Sep 2018 07:30:00 -0400
How the Texas Model Supports Prosperous Families by Vance Ginn (@VanceGinn)

“But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers are also missing—missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

Though these words were spoken just 10 years ago, they seem dated in our world of enforced tolerance. The speaker was former President Barack Obama, then a U.S. senator running for the office. He spoke on Father’s Day before the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, where he also explained the consequences of family breakdown:

We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled — doubled — since we were children. We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.

What Obama and economists like me realize is that you can’t separate prosperity—or the lack of it— from family structure. Why? Because institutions matter and our most fundamental institution is the family.

While the numbers have changed some in the decade since Obama’s speech, they aren’t much better. According to the Pew Research Center, the share of children living with an unmarried parent has more than doubled since 1968, reaching 32% of all U.S. children in 2017. 

Another disturbing trend is the number of children living with cohabitating parents—a household that lacks the stability and permanency, however imperfect, of marriage. About 7% of kids live with cohabitating parents, a percentage that has doubled in the last 20 years. As the Institute for Family Studies notes, this amounts to about three million children living with unmarried parents.

These trends reflect a decline in marriage. Pew says that about half of all U.S. adults are married, and though that number has been relatively stable in recent years, it’s down significantly from the high of 72% in 1960.

Institutions, like the family, provide the structure for society and protection from the caprices of life. There are big institutions—things like economic systems such as capitalism and socialism—and there are smaller, though not less important, institutions of civil society, like churches, communities, and charities. 

People build their lives with a collection of such institutions and leave a legacy to their children and grandchildren. When institutions are strong and inclusive—intact and supportive families, solid civil society, and economic freedom—people prosper. When institutions are weak and extractive—broken families, poor civil society and government dependent—people suffer.

The problem is that for too long, many of our nation’s leaders have attempted to use the power of federal bureaucracies to address these disturbing trends. But that doesn’t work because most often government is a big part the problem. Federal institutions have become far more extractive over time. For example, the Fraser Institute ranks the U.S. the 11th most economically free nation, after ranking it the fifth most free in 2007. This weaker economic position was from years of rising government spending, higher taxes, and stifling regulations. The result was the slowest economic recovery since WWII. 

Slower economic growth hit working families hard. As the population increased 8% since 2007, food stamp recipients increased 60%, poverty level increased 16%, and disability recipients increased 23%

With so many people becoming more dependent on government, Chicago economist Casey Mulligan called the last national recession the “Redistribution Recession,” with years of continued dependency thereafter. Clearly, the institutional framework in D.C. has long not worked for many families as government weakened our institutions.

What does work, as we have seen in Texas, is the exact opposite. In fact, there is much the government can do to strengthen other institutions that help to fuel our economy by simply getting out of the way.

Texas’ economic success has often been called the “Texas miracle.” But calling it a miracle implies that success came by coincidence (or providence) and will be short-lived. The Texas miracle is neither. It is, instead, the result of the consistent application of the principles on which this country was founded, and which we at the Texas Public Policy Foundation like to call the Texas Model.

Texas keeps taxes and regulations relatively low, which allows businesses to prosper. In fact, the Fraser Institute’s measure of economic freedom for the states ranks Texas the second most economically free, based on relatively low levels of government spending, taxation, and labor market regulation—a stark contrast with the entire nation. This includes having the 14th lowest state-local spending per capita that contributes to the fifth least state-local tax burden nationwide and the 13th best business tax climate, according to the Tax Foundation.  

When employers prosper, they hire more people and raise wages. This pro-growth climate also attracts new entrepreneurs to the state. Texas has been America’s jobs engine, creating one of every four new civilian jobs added nationwide in the last decade.

And jobs strengthen the institution of the family in many ways, including enabling self-sufficiency and supporting civil society. For example, the Family Prosperity Institute uses a number of economic and family-related measures to create an index of family prosperity. Texas ranks seventh best in the overall index in 2018, improving from a ranking of 11th in 2012. This is a function of ranking in the top 20 in sub-indices of the economy (fourth), demographics (second), family health (seventh), and family structure (17th), while not doing as well in family self-sufficiency (28th) and family culture (33rd). 

With first being the best, Texas is also fourth in fertility (75.5%), 14th in the marriage rate (0.81%), 18thin the divorce rate (0.34%), and 19th in unwed motherhood (38.9%), while ranking 26th in the nation in married-couple households (67.9%). 

While there’s room for improvement in Texas’ family prosperity, as in most states, many of these family stability issues are consequences of policy at all levels of government along with demographic factors that are unlikely solved by policy—and potentially made worse. In fact, the improving family prosperity in Texas as the economy continues robust growth over time is evidence that a limited government philosophy supports family prosperity.

But it also works the other way around. Strong families strengthen the economy. As the Sutherland Institute notes

Marriage protects children from poverty and motivates employees to work harder, longer and smarter to support and improve the economic situation of their family...Research has found that if rates of married parenthood were the same today as they were in 1980, median income for families with children would be 44 percent greater.

The Texas Model of inclusive institutions—with a relatively low tax-and-spend burden, no individual income tax, and sensible regulation—provides an institutional framework supporting families through more job growth, higher wages, lower income inequality, and less poverty. 

The Trump administration has taken steps toward following the Texas Model, and the positive results are numerous. But there’s more work to do to let families prosper in Texas and beyond by reducing their dependence on government. 

In Texas, this means reining in government spending, reducing welfare for individuals and businesses, eliminating the business margins tax, cutting property taxes in nearly half, and getting rid of government barriers to opportunity throughout society (for more on this, see the TPPF's Legislator’s Guide to the Issues). 

These measures should give the federal government a playbook within which to provide an inclusive institutional framework for families to flourish. As we have seen in Texas, by limiting government to securing liberty, the justice system, and a few public goods that include assistance to only the neediest among us, the economy can grow and families can become more self-reliant and better able to create a vibrant civil society. 

Vance Ginn, director of the Center for Economic Prosperity and senior economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Mon, 17 Sep 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Friday Five 244 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Resources for Weathering Hurricanes and Other Disasters
National Council on Family Relations

FSU Research Highlights the Love-Hate Relationship Between Testosterone and Marriage
Dave Heller, Florida State University News

Understanding Change in Violence-Related Attitudes for Adolescents in Relationship Education
Rachel Savasuk-Luxtona, Francesca Adler-Baedera, & Megan L. Haselschwerdtb, Journal of Adolescence 

Waiting to Have a Baby Can Lead to Having Many at Once
Molly Rappe-Brown, Futurity

Webinar To Discuss Mentoring Children and Youth Affected by Opioid Misuse and Substance Abuse
Monday, September 17, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Fri, 14 Sep 2018 08:00:00 -0400
The Power of Prayer for Families by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

My husband was 15 years old when his father moved in with him following the death of his grandmother, who had raised him since he was a preschooler. Although his dad had always been involved in his life, this was the first time in many years that they had lived under the same roof. Almost overnight, his father went from being a divorced bachelor living on his own to a full-time single parent raising a teenager. To help him focus more on his son, he made some immediate changes to his lifestyle, including staying home at night instead of going out and no longer keeping alcohol in the house. He also began a ritual of nightly prayer that sometimes made his teenage son feel awkward but also safe and loved. Over the next decade that they lived together, his father continued to pray with him every night before he went to sleep. That father-son prayer time left a big impression on my husband, and he continues the practice with our children.

We tend to think of prayer, and rightly so, as communion with God, with the spiritual connection and benefits it entails. But when we pray with other people—especially with our spouse, parents, or children—it can also be a special form of communion with one another. While it’s difficult, if not impossible, to measure the spiritual effects of prayer, research continues to reveal the powerful benefits for individuals, couples, and even entire families.  

We know from a large body of research that prayer and religious service attendance are linked to stronger marriages. One 2012 study found an association between shared prayer and greater levels of relationship trust among married couples. Furthermore, IFS senior fellow W. Bradford Wilcox’s research with Nicholas Wolfinger concluded that “shared prayer is the most powerful predictor of relationship quality among black, Latino, and white couples, more powerful than denomination, religious attendance, or shared religious friendships.”

As to why prayer is linked to more positive relationships for couples, Dr. Wilcox has explained here that

prayer helps couples deal with stress, enables them to focus on shared beliefs and hopes for the future, and allows them to deal constructively with challenges and problems in their relationship and in their lives.

New research measuring the effects of faith traditions on family life indicates that shared prayer may also benefit families in some of the same ways that it benefits couples. The recent study from researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) was published in the Journal of Family Psychology and included a sample of 198 religiously-diverse families from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths in 17 states. 

The researchers asked both parents and children a number of questions about their faith traditions and how these traditions impacted their family life, including: “How does your family overcome major stresses and problems?” and “How do you share your faith with your children?” In an effort to avoid bias, the word, “prayer” was not used in the interview questions; however, prayer was referenced by family members in 96% of their responses. 

Although the families prayed in different ways because of their diverse religious beliefs, there were similarities, including the timing of the prayers during specific family rituals or traditions, the priority families gave to prayer, and the relational processes the families shared. “For the 198 diverse families in our national study,” the BYU researchers wrote, “we found that ‘the family that prays together’ seems to benefit in more ways than just ‘staying together.’”

The study identified several common themes related to prayer and family relationships, including:

  • Families used prayer time as a way to transmit religious traditions to younger generations. 
  • Prayer enabled family members to address problems or stresses they were facing, as well as reduced tensions in their relationships.
  • Prayer helped family members bond with one another and created a sense of family unity. 

When parents pray with their children, they are not only teaching them how to pray but also modeling and emphasizing the importance of prayer in the hopes that their children will begin a practice of private prayer that they will carry with them into adulthood. And according to new research from the Harvard T.H. School of Public Health, the practice of prayer during childhood is linked to better physical, mental, and emotional well-being among young adults.  

Published in the America Journal of Epidemiology, the study from Professors Ying Chen and Tyler J. VanderWeele examined the effects of both regular religious service attendance and prayer/meditation on a sample of more than 5,000 adolescents whom the researchers followed for between 8 to 14 years. Dr. VanderWeele, who has written previously about how religious practice impacts marriage, told IFS that their new study "found profound effects of child and adolescent prayer on the big three dangers of adolescence—depression, substance abuse, and risky behaviors—as well as positive effects on happiness, volunteering, having a sense of mission, and forgiveness." 

Young adults in the study who prayed or meditated at least daily as children or adolescents were “16% more likely to report higher happiness as young adults, 30% less likely to have started having sex at a young age, and 40% less likely to have a sexually transmitted infection compared to those who never prayed or meditated.”

So, how do we account for the positive outcomes of prayer on adolescent well-being? Dr. VanderWeele told me this question was beyond the scope of their study, but he added,

my understanding would be that a life of prayer and an integrated spirituality give rise to an experience of God or of transcendence, and so an adolescent need not turn to drugs or risky sexual behaviors for this. Moreover, that experience of God may fundamentally make one more other-oriented, leading to volunteering, forgiveness, and a sense of mission, and these things ultimately make one happier and protect against depression.  

In most religions, the act of prayer is principally an intimate form of worship and communication with God. But it's also an important tradition that families use to help transmit core religious values to the next generation—a practice that research continues to confirm is beneficial to individual and family well-being. With the potential to strengthen marriages, unite family members, and boost adolescent decision-making and health, prayer is one of the keys to a flourishing family.

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

Thu, 13 Sep 2018 07:30:00 -0400
How Far Should the Government Go to Prevent Intergenerational Poverty? by Helen Alvaré

James Dwyer, a well-respected law professor and children’s rights specialist, has written a provocative book about what he thinks it might take to effectively ameliorate the lives of the poorest children and the racism that continues to affect black Americans of all socioeconomic groups. His book, Liberal Child Welfare Policy and its Destruction of Black Livesis the fruit of an academic career that has produced a significant body of scholarship considering both the welfare of children and situations wherein parents and children’s interests conflict. He applies his proposed solutions to families of every race, but in this book, he documents empirically that they will affect a higher percentage of black Americans who are more likely to be poor. His well-sourced demographic portrait of the poorest black Americans’ homes and neighborhoods—plagued by violence, stress, health crises, fatherlessness, family complexity often including step-siblings and unrelated adult males, gangs, chaotic schools, unemployment, and substance abuse—is unstinting and overwhelming.  

Dwyer’s conclusions flow from a variety of premises that are well-acknowledged by many family scholars. These include: that poverty and family dysfunction have intergenerational effects; that neighborhoods affect child outcomes; that early childhood experiences can determine later opportunities; that government programs intended to assist the poorest Americans are regularly ineffectual for various reasons, including their focus on intractable adult problems; that there is insufficient public and political interest in the poorest Americans; and that the country is not willing to spend dramatically more on these problems. 

But Dwyer is aware that no matter how well-accepted his premises are, his proposed solutions will be controversial, in no small part because he is assailing the continuation of policies that, he claims, “liberals promote and defend.” 

Here, I will attempt to briefly summarize two of his leading, and most controversial, recommendations. First, he recommends that the state should conduct a toxicology assessment of every newborn at birth to determine the presence of drugs and alcohol. He says the state should also scrutinize the available records pertaining to every biological parent to determine whether or not there are records of past behavior correlated with child maltreatment. While the biological parents remain the default legal parents, if an algorithm composed of these behaviors generates a prediction that the child is at high risk of maltreatment at the hands of the birth parent, the state should schedule a hearing to more fully examine the parent’s history and current circumstances, while the child is taken into state custody. During this custody, the child would be placed with a foster parent, with the state strongly preferring a foster placement with those who commit to adopt. One element of such a hearing includes consideration of the neighborhood in which the biological parent or parents live. If it manifests elements known to harm children’s development, it will count against placement with a parent who lives there. If a child comes into state custody after this hearing, the biological parent or parents have just six months to demonstrate the ability to care for the child, although even this will be constrained by the hearing’s determination that there are reasonable prospects of this occurring and that the parents have immediately demonstrated their intent to make a best effort. 

In short, Dwyer contends that children must “not begin life legally tethered to or in the custody of dysfunctional people living in horrible neighborhoods.”

Dwyer also claims that prior to a child’s seventh month, it is not highly important who provides his or her basic needs, so long as these needs are promptly and consistently met. After this period, on the other hand, it is important that the state not employ foster care and parent rehabilitation practices constantly disrupting the child’s attachment needs, and rather allow the child to stay with a parent or parents to whom he or she can securely attach. Again, as throughout the book, Dwyer emphasizes the priority of the child’s needs and timing. As part of this argument, Dwyer contends that there are a large number of available adoptive parents for newborns who would be removed from their biological families. He also claims that kin-care is not an effective large-scale answer for a wide variety of reasons. 

In support of his recommendations, and in order to characterize them as less controversial than they may at first appear, Dwyer makes two important moves. First, he argues that the state is profoundly morally and legally responsible for what becomes of the poorest children as a result of their families and neighborhoods, because it is the state that assigns legal parentage to a child’s biological progenitors, who also live in particular neighborhoods, some of which are plainly toxic to children. Second, he shows that there are many contexts in which the state already decides between better and worse custodial arrangements for children based upon predictions about a child’s future welfare in this or that home and neighborhood; he is simply arguing that the state should render such a judgment at birth. 

Furthermore, throughout the book, Professor Dwyer points out that neither the law nor liberals would require adults to endure legally-enforced relationships with persons or to live in neighborhoods that would certainly harm their prospects. They would never force an incompetent adult to have a legally appointed guardian who suffers drug addiction and lives in an extremely dangerous neighborhood. They would never insist that women suffering domestic violence remain in their situations during efforts to help their partners become less violent. Yet, he states, we leave children in dysfunctional homes while we insist—against volumes of experience—that we can change their parents and neighborhoods.

James Dwyer notes that there are many contexts in which the state already decides between better and worse custodial arrangements for children based upon predictions about a child’s future welfare; he is simply arguing that the state should render such a judgment at birth. 

Dwyer’s second major recommendation involves lawmakers generating algorithmic evaluations about which neighborhoods are categorically unsuitable for children—i.e. which neighborhoods are chaotic and dangerous because of a combination of factors that include, among other things, poverty, violence, gangs, substance abuse, vacant properties, single-parent households, unemployment, and poor school quality. Such neighborhoods would be zoned “adults-only,” and the government would provide assistance for relocation. He marshals an impressive array of recent studies showing either how neighborhoods possessing certain characteristics harm children, or that moving especially young children to better neighborhoods improves their life chances.  

At every step of his argument Dwyer—who self-identifies as a liberal—articulates the likely objections of progressive scholars and child-protection officials. He fully airs these objections and then offers a response. Summarized quite briefly, he writes that progressives fear that his policies will further demonize and demoralize black Americans, particularly the poorest. They will reprise awful historical episodes wherein children were forcibly removed from slaves and Native Americans. They will rip apart biological families and unglue black communities. They will legitimize eugenics. 

Dwyer responds to each point in far greater legal and empirical detail than can be described here. He documents the adult-centeredness of existing policies, and the inefficacy of programs hoping (he believes unrealistically) to alter entrenched adult problems over many years, all the while children are suffering. He proposes that some adult suffering is warranted in order to set the next generation on a more promising path and stop the flow of intergenerational family dysfunction, for a net benefit both for the black community and the future caseload and costs of child protective services. He also presents arguments for the constitutionality of each of his proposals. He also asserts that black Americans of every socioeconomic group will benefit when others no longer wrongly associate them with the violence of the poorest ghettos. He suggests that political conservatives, too, might be persuaded to support his ideas because they are not expensive and concern the welfare of blameless children.

There is a great deal to admire in Professor Dwyer’s book, particularly his passion for children’s rights, which is unassailable. He also provides well-sourced empirical arguments, demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. child-protection law, and willingly takes on the strongest forms of the social and constitutional arguments against his proposals, which remain powerful. 

However, there are a few additional elements constraining his proposals, which could benefit from additional reflection. First, while Professor Dwyer’s recommendations are undeniably logical given the widely-accepted premises on which he founds them, ironically, they may meet rejection largely because of the significant racial tensions existing today—tensions, he suggests, that his proposals would ameliorate. He is therefore likely correct when he writes at the end of his book that these proposals might meet a kinder reception if voiced by black Americans who have suffered the most under the current system.

Second, regarding his insistence on the government's responsibility to make radical changes because the state determines children’s parentage. This is tricky. On the one hand, the state’s assumption that biological parents have legal parenting rights is a form of state action. But on the other hand, it might be seen as a natural right that the state merely recognizes but does not invent. I say this not to adopt a “parents-first” perspective, but due to the fact that children would seem to possess a right to know and be known by their natural parents. I highlight this point, not only because this is part of U.S. family law, but also because I've recently experienced the re-connection of a family member who was placed for adoption over 40 years ago by one of my relatives. I have witnessed first-hand what it means to him to know his parents and his heritage. 

One sees this same dynamic play out in the thousands of children conceived by new technologies, who are searching intently for their biological parents. At the very least, then, a child’s wish and/or right to know his or her family might have to be factored into the equation. Would open adoption be part of the answer? Of course, a child’s interests might vary wildly with the level of dysfunction of his or her original family; it seems impossible to disagree with Dwyer on this. But in any children's rights proposal, some room needs to be made for a child’s interest in and natural desires for a link to his or her biological family.

Third, it is fair to ask whether there are genuinely enough adults in the U.S. willing to adopt the large number of minority newborns who might become available under his proposal. It is also fair to inquire further whether the literature on kin-care shows consequences as bleak as Dwyer describes.    

Professor Dwyer is correct that the current array of laws and policies designed to assist the poorest Americans are not working. He’s also right that the political will to undertake the expenses involved in making large structural changes does not currently exist. He is also undoubtedly correct about the cycle of problems disproportionately affecting black and lower-income Americans, and the need for the earliest possible interventions in the lives of children at the highest risk.

At the very least, therefore, his book shifts the burden of proof onto those who claim to care deeply about racial equality and poverty yet wish to continue with the status quo. This constituency will either have to acknowledge clearly that they are valuing adults’—or group-rights—over the rights of children, or that they have a better and more realistic proposal that does not involve new levels of state intrusion in order to give the poorest children new opportunities within healthier families and neighborhoods. 

Helen Alvare’ is a Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law and the author of Putting Children’s Interests First in U.S. Family Law and Policy: With Power Comes Responsibility.



Wed, 12 Sep 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Does Being Smart and Successful Lower Your Chances of Getting Married? by Yue Qian (@yueqian_soc)

The myth that educated women over 40 find it impossible to find a mate to marry prevails—but it has long been debunked. What are the actual impacts of higher education on a women’s "marriageability?" 

Having a committed partner and good family relationships are important to most people. Countless novels, fairy tales, and movies have told romantic stories about love that endear us to the idea of romantic love.

Sociologists, however, are less romantic. When it comes to falling in love, it’s not just fate or serendipity that bring people together—social factors matter. How so? My research illustrates how our attitudes towards Mr. or Ms. Right are filtered through the lens of social norms.

Though some of us are too young to remember, about three decades ago, the marriage prospects of highly educated women were the subject of headlines and made the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1986. The memorable media messages produced strong feelings of anxiety in a lot of women. The story as portrayed in the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle went like this: “It’s easier to be killed by a terrorist than it is to find a husband over the age of 40.”

The conventional wisdom was that women over 40 who had achieved a certain level of professional (and educational) goals had a lower marriageability. Is it actually true? Do women who spend years in school getting a good education sacrifice their chances of getting married?

Actually, no. Research has consistently found that American women with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely to get married and stay married than less educated women.

In fact, only a few years after the Newsweek story, family sociologist Andrew Cherlin debunked the misleading and incorrect messages about professional women’s marriage prospects.

Husband-Wife Education Gaps

In the United States, women lagged behind men in college completion before the 1980s, but by 2013, women earned about 60 percent of bachelor’s and master’s degrees and half of all doctoral degrees.

My research took data from the 1980 U.S. Census and the 2008–2012 American Community Surveys to examine spousal pairings, and looked at education and income levels among newlywed couples. I found that between 1980 and 2008–2012, women were increasingly likely to marry men with less education than they had.

By 2013, women in the U.S. earned 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees. The proportion of couples in which the husband had more education than the wife dropped almost 10 percentage points, from 24 percent in 1980 to 15 percent in 2008–2012. During the same period, the share of couples in which the wife had more education than the husband increased from 22 percent to 29 percent. So, during 2008–2012 in the U.S., women were more likely than men to be the more educated spouse in marriage.

Since men have historically been expected to be the breadwinner and “the head of” the family, I wondered if these education pairings changed their breadwinner roles?

Does Education Equal More Power in Marriage?

The pairing between a better-educated wife and a less-educated husband does not mean that the wife is the person with greater resources or power in marriage. In general, women continue to marry men whose income exceeds their own. This is not surprising, given that women still earn less than men, and the husband breadwinning norm persists.

My research found that the tendency for women to “marry up” in terms of income was greater when they “married down” in education. In other words, men and women still tend to form marriages in which the wife’s socioeconomic status does not exceed that of the husband.

Although men have placed more importance on the financial prospects of a potential spouse over time, they may value women’s high status only up to the point where their partner’s status exceeds their own. In this way, men may hesitate to marry women who have both more education and higher income than they do.

Meanwhile, since income inequality has increased dramatically in recent decades, women may have more to lose if they marry down economically.

In the U.S., highly educated men and women are already more likely than their less educated peers to get married. By contrast, in China, highly educated women (but not highly educated men) may face great challenges finding a spouse.

"Left-Over Ladies" in China

So, in the U.S., highly educated men and women are already more likely than their less educated peers to get married. By contrast, in China, highly educated women (but not highly educated men) may face great challenges finding a spouse.

Chinese women have outpaced men in college enrolment as well. My previous research on contemporary urban China found that as education increases for women, the likelihood of them finding a match for marriage decreases, whereas the possibilities increase for men.

Chinese media and the public use a derogative term, “leftover ladies,” to describe these urban, highly educated single women. In China, the low marriage prospects of highly educated women are closely linked to the roles that husbands and wives are supposed to play in the family.

As education levels increase for women in China, their chances of finding a mate decreases. 

The breadwinner role of the husband and the homemaker role of the wife remain firmly in place in Chinese families. In this context, career-oriented women are commonly criticized as “selfish,” “non-feminine” and “irresponsible to household needs,” whereas husbands’ failure to fulfill the provider role is often the primary source of marital conflict.

Unlike the U.S., where men now tend to marry women more educated than themselves, the traditional practice of men marrying women with less education than they have persists in China.

Although both China and the U.S. witnessed the gender-gap reversal in higher education, the U.S.-China contrast in marriage patterns suggests that structural factors, such as gender norms in society, play an important role in shaping individual marriage prospects.

It was a widely held social norm that men should marry women who were less educated than themselves. This norm worked well in the past when a college education was uncommon and men generally had more education than women. In the U.S., the cultural evolution of mate preferences corresponds to changes in men’s and women’s educational attainment.

But in urban China, this is not the case. The movement toward egalitarian gender roles does not go hand-in-hand with rapid social changes. Highly educated Chinese women gain little from the male breadwinner-female homemaker marriage; instead, they are likely to delay or even forgo marriage.

Since the reversal of the gender gap in education is happening almost globally, it would be great to get more information so we can understand how the growing female advantage in education will impact marriage and family lives.

When it comes to marriage, it’s not fate and love that bring people together—social factors, like education and prevailing gender norms, matter.The Conversation

Yue Qian is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of British Columbia.

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

Tue, 11 Sep 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Did Congress Really Eliminate the Marriage Tax Penalty? Part 2 by Erik Randolph

My last blog ended with two points: Congress has more work to do if it wants to eliminate the marriage penalty in the tax code, and there are more severe marriage penalties in the welfare system that need to be addressed. As I explained last time, fewer taxpayers will encounter marriage penalties in 2018 because of changes in the way tax liabilities will be calculated in 2018 on line 44 of IRS Form 1040 (using the 2017 form). 

However, tax credits are determined after the tax liability is calculated.

For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), also called the Earned Income Credit, is one of those tax credits, and it is refundable, meaning that taxpayers who qualify can receive the credit even if they end up paying no income taxes at all. In other words, the tax system provides them with subsidies. The EITC makes the U.S. income tax system truly a negative income tax system, and it is one of the largest means-tested welfare programs, and the largest cash assistance program in America.

The EITC introduces its own marriage penalties, which can negate the elimination of marriage penalties in the computation of tax liabilities. For example, if two childless persons each earn only $11,000 a year, they would lose $658 in the EITC if they marry. If they have children, the penalties are more severe. 

Because of the phaseout characteristic of the EITC, taxpayers qualify for the credit far above what would be considered impoverished levels of income. For unmarried individuals, they can receive the credit with up to $40,320 in earnings if they have one child, up to $45,802 if they have two children, and up to $49,194 if they have three or more children.

When it comes to non-Tax Code means-tested programs, it is more difficult to define marriage penalties. If we define them the same way as with taxes—the simple difference in the benefits from the means-tested assistance program when the couple is married and not married—then there will almost always be marriage penalties when both persons have earnings. The reason is simple enough. When the earnings of two persons are summed together, it increases their means and almost always lowers their benefit.

This fact alone incentivizes the misreporting of circumstances. For example, benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as the food stamp program, should be the same for a couple whether they are married or cohabit. Food stamp rules stipulate that benefits are determined based on living together, purchasing food together, and preparing meals together. However, the rule is not uniformly enforced by the states, and recipients are incentivized to report themselves as purchasing food and preparing meals separately because they will receive more in benefits. This practice discourages marriage because married couples—unless they are separated—are regarded as a single SNAP household.

Misreporting of circumstances is difficult to control, and it requires the states, who administer the program, to be vigilant in enforcing it. However, the states do not have a financial incentive to control costs, because the federal government pays the entire cost of the benefits issued. States share only in the administrative costs of running the program.

Therefore, the federal government needs to issue explicit guidelines to the states to enforce this intention of the law. Still, it will be difficult to eliminate all incidences of misreporting, such as when a woman, with or without children, is living with her boyfriend who is not on the lease and uses another address as his permanent address. 

Alternatively, Congress could redesign SNAP to require states to match the federal dollars of benefits issued. This alternative construct would incentivize states to do a better job at enforcing this provision of the law, although this alternative promises to be controversial. 

A more effective approach, that is not mutually exclusive, would be to revamp the maximum allocation tables and income deductions to favor—or at least not penalize—married couples. Currently, a cohabiting couple and a married couple are treated the same. If the maximum allocation tables and deductions were redesigned to favor the married couple, it would incentivize marriage for those who report their circumstances honestly. 

Finally, when it comes to marriage penalties, it is the cumulative impact that matters. It is necessary to look at the complete picture as it impacts real people. Analyzing one tax program or one means-tested program individually is not enough, although the solution will likely come from an incremental approach of fixing one program at a time. For more detailed analysis, check out my reports for the Georgia Center for Opportunity that used computer programming to calculate marriage penalties and bonuses over a matrix of wage combinations, giving a more complete picture of the penalties and the severity of those penalties.

The best way to eliminate these cumulative penalties would be for Congress to allow states to systemically reform welfare programs through consolidation and coordination, while mandating that those reforms work toward eliminating marriage penalties. Congress can start this process with SNAP by inserting such language into the 2018 Farm Bill before sending it to President Trump.

Erik Randolph is a contributing scholar to the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO), a senior fellow with the Illinois Policy Institute, an adjunct instructor of economics for York College of Pennsylvania, and owner of Erik Randolph Consulting.  His marriage penalty paper “Deep Red Valleys” can be found here

Mon, 10 Sep 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Friday Five 243 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

The 2018 AEI-Brookings Project on Paid Leave
Friday, Sept. 7, 1:30 PM-4:45 PM
American Enterprise Institute 

Close Ties With Fathers Help Daughters Overcome Loneliness
Ohio State University via Science News

Highlights and Resources from The Power of Family Meals: Strategies to Promote Health and Well-Being
Robin Allen, Military Families Learning Network

Failing Marriage Rates of Young Adults
Chang Se-moon, The Korea Times

American Middle Class Is Stable in Size, But Losing Ground Financially to Upper-Income Families 
Rakesh, Kochhar, Pew Research Center

Fri, 07 Sep 2018 08:00:00 -0400
Prioritizing the Value of Work in a Celebrity-Obsessed World by Naomi Schaefer Riley (@NaomiSRiley)

In a culture that prizes youth, beauty, and celebrity over just about everything else, what do we expect people to do when they are older and perhaps not as photogenic? This is one question that arises from the recent social media shaming of Geoffrey Owens, a former Cosby Show actor, who was spotted working at a Trader Joe’s. 

In response, Owens went on Good Morning America and offered one of the most spirited defenses of hard work since Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs, got on the talking-heads circuit. Owens told GMA’s, Robin Roberts: 

This business of my being this 'Cosby' guy who got shamed for working at Trader Joe's, that’s going to pass...But I hope what doesn’t pass is this idea...this rethinking about what it means to work, you know, the honor of the working person and the dignity of work. And I hope that this period that we're in now, where we have a heightened sensitivity about that and a re-evaluation of what it means to work, and a re-evaluation of the idea that some jobs are better than others because that’s actually not true…Every job is worthwhile and valuable.

Indeed, by any objective measure, it’s not clear why parading around on a sitcom set acting as the butt of Bill Cosby’s jokes should be considered somehow superior to helping customers with their groceries. Sure, there are some skills that are rare in the general population, but that doesn’t mean the jobs that require them are somehow more worthwhile. 

Still, it is one thing to want to be really good at a particular profession, to cultivate a rare gift—to be one of the best basketball players in the world or to be a great actor—but we live in a society that prizes fame for its own sake. Kids grow up wanting to be one of the Kardashians. Perhaps the real reason for the shaming of Owens is that he went from being famous to being just an average guy like the rest of us. If there were a reality show about working at Trader Joe’s, everyone would have thought Geoffrey Owens was the coolest guy around. 

But Owens acknowledges he has also received an outpouring of support since the shaming incident. Tyler Perry even offered him a job, tweeting: “I have so much respect for people who hustle between gigs. The measure of a true artist.”

This is not surprising. As my AEI colleagues Karlyn Bowman and Eleanor O’Neil recently notedAmericans think of work as something more than just getting a paycheck: 

When Pew asked working adults in a 2016 survey which of two different ways of looking at one’s job best described how they felt, 57 percent said their job provided them a sense of identity, compared to 40 percent who said their job was just what they did for a living. Large majorities of Americans (70 percent in NORC’s 2016 General Social Survey) say they would enjoy having a paying job even if they didn’t need the money.  

But the paycheck still helps. Owens says he started working at Trader Joe’s more than a year ago to help make ends meet for his family. He touted the flexible hours the store offered so that he could still pursue acting gigs. It probably also helps that Trader Joe’s has a reputation for treating employees well, offering good benefits and opportunities for promotions, etc. 

The store’s website tells potential employees: “We behave with integrity—we treat others as we would like to be treated.” 

If that’s true, it makes you wonder why Owens didn’t look beyond Hollywood for work sooner.  

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. 

Thu, 06 Sep 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Did Congress Really Eliminate the Marriage Tax Penalty? Part 1 by Erik Randolph

The additional tax burden a couple must pay if they are married is known as the marriage penalty. It incentivizes cohabitation and disincentivizes getting married. Now, however, because of Congressional action, fewer taxpayers will be subject to this penalty.

Signed into law by President Trump last December, Public Law 115-97 extended the number of taxpayers who will not be subject to the marriage penalty. The following characteristics virtually guarantee that a couple will not pay a marriage penalty in 2018:

  • Neither partner can claim children as dependents.
  • Neither partner qualifies for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Neither partner qualifies for food stamps or any other welfare program.
  • The combined income does not exceed $600,000.

For all others, however, the chances are good that the marriage penalty still applies.

That’s because, in addition to other changes, the new tax law eliminated deductions for personal exemptions and continued the practice of keeping the standard deduction for unmarried individuals (with no children) as equal to one half of the amount for married couples who file jointly. 

Revised Standard Deductions for 2018 (Internal Revenue Bulletin “IRB” 2018-10)

Keeping the standard deduction for unmarried individuals at one half of that for married couples is an important first step in eliminating the marriage penalty. It equalizes the calculation for taxable income. In other words, if the standard deduction for unmarried individuals were more than half of that for married couples, then less of unmarried partners’ incomes would be subject to income taxes. Likewise, if the standard deduction for individuals were less than half, then more of the unmarried partners’ incomes would be subject to income taxes. 

However, if a couple has children, they still get a higher standard deduction from cohabiting than from being married. The reason? Unmarried individuals with children who qualify as dependents for tax purposes do not file their tax returns as unmarried individuals. They file their returns as Heads of Households.

Revised Standard Deductions for 2018 (IRB 2018-10)

The standard deduction for Heads of Household is more than half of that for a married couple. In fact, it equals 75% of the deduction for a married couple. If a couple has one child to claim as a dependent on its tax form, then it will have $6,000 more in income that is not subject to federal income taxes if they cohabit. If the couple has two children, they can split the children among the two tax returns and have $12,000 more in income that is not subject to federal income taxes. 

One important change Congress made in Public Law 115-97 is to extend the number of tax brackets where the income thresholds for unmarried individuals are equal to half that of married couples. Previously, only the first two tax brackets followed that rule. Now six of the seven tax brackets do.

Source: IRB 2016-45 and IRB 2018-10

For taxpayers filing as Heads of Households, the new tax law reduced three bracket limits to equal half of the thresholds for married couples. Although this change moves toward eliminating the marriage penalty for those with children in those three tax brackets, it does not actually get there. Recall that cohabiting couples have less of their income subject to federal income taxes rate than do married couples. 

Source: IRB 2016-45 and IRB 2018-10

Both rules for standard deductions and tax bracket income thresholds boil down to two lines on IRS Form 1040: lines 43 and 44 (for tax year 2017). Line 43 is the taxable income after adjustments and deductions, including the standard deduction. Line 44 is the tax liability based on the tax tables using the seven tax brackets before credits are considered.

Congress has more work to do if it is serious about completely eliminating the marriage penalty. The standard deductions for non-married individuals, as well as the tax bracket thresholds, must be equal to half of those for married couples in all cases, not just in some cases.

Finally, one might assume that individuals or couples who do not earn enough money to pay income taxes or to even fall within the lowest tax brackets will not encounter a marriage penalty. But this is simply not the case because it ignores the more severe marriage penalties that still exist in the welfare system, which will be the topic of my next blog.

Erik Randolph is a contributing scholar to the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO), a senior fellow with the Illinois Policy Institute, an adjunct instructor of economics at York College of Pennsylvania, and owner of Erik Randolph Consulting. His marriage penalty paper, “Deep Red Valleys,” can be found on the GCO website

Wed, 05 Sep 2018 07:30:00 -0400
The Other Side of Foster Care by Jason Johnson (@_jasonjohnson)

Editor’s NoteThis article originally appeared on the author's personal blog and has been reprinted here with permission.

We met her for the first time in a downtown courtroom—the same place we would see her for the last time nearly one year later. And even if we never see her again beyond that, a piece of her will always be a part of us, literally.

It was the first court hearing since her baby girl had been removed from her custody by Child Protective Services and placed in our care a few weeks earlier. Given the particular circumstances of the case, the judge would soon inform her she was on track to losing her parental rights over her child. While the law was right and just that day, the emotions were equally raw and real. She was devastated—the strongholds in her life she could not get out from under were deep and destructive to both her and her baby. We were overwhelmed—wondering how our world could be so broken that an entire legal system must be set up to protect children from those who seem to love them yet still harm them. Files lined the courtroom that day, each representing a case in which a child needed to be protected and a parent needed to be disciplined. Stacks of broken stories filled the room. We were there to participate in just one.

A Collision of Two Worlds

Difficult doesn't describe it—standing for the first time with the mom of the baby the state had placed in our home, the baby we were now loving and raising as our own. Wondering what she was thinking and feeling, what her life was like that led her to that point and bothered by the fact that nothing, and no one, had been there or been capable of preventing her from being in the position she now found herself in.

Our worlds couldn't be more different. The contrast between the two was magnified that day as they collided for the first time. One of relative ease and privilege and opportunity now standing with one full of brokenness, struggle, and now tragedy. 

How could we live in the same world but come from two very different ones at the same time? Why was this cold, sterile courtroom the first time our worlds were ever intersecting? 

These questions haunted us. Not simply because they reveal something wrong and broken about the world we live in—but because they also revealed something wrong and broken about us. The question wasn't how come no one was there for her to help prevent this from happening—but instead, how come we weren't there for her, or there to help any of the other hundreds of stories stacked around the room that day from ever getting to that point? Who was doing that? Why weren’t we? How do we do that? What kind of small, insulated, isolated, and comfortable world had we created around ourselves that allowed us to live in such a divergent, disconnected world from hers?  

Two worlds collided that day, and we saw in real and raw ways how really, at the end of the day, we’re all a part of the same world—in this thing called life together. Or at least, we should be.

The Other Side of Foster Care

Fostering abused, neglected, and vulnerable children is by nature reactionary—a necessary response to circumstances often requiring swift, immediate, and sometimes severe measures to protect the rights of the vulnerable. It is a good and right and just solution to a very real problem—but it is not the only solution, neither is it the ultimate one.

On one side of foster care is the need for us to respond to the plight of vulnerable kids and intercede on their behalf. It's right and honorable and a reflection of the heart of God to secure and protect the rights of the helpless. On the other side of foster care is the need to proactively respond to the brokenness of families and intercede on their behalf to prevent their children from ever becoming foster kids in the first place. This too is right and honorable and a reflection of the heart of God to bring healing to what is broken and hope to what otherwise is headed towards destruction. 

In 2012, we stood in a cold, sterile courtroom for the first time on one side of foster care; four years later we would sit in our very own living room deeply entrenched in the other side.

It started with a text, and then more texts, a series of phone calls and ultimately an impromptu meeting at our house. Close friends had been keeping us up to speed on an emergency situation as it unfolded. A young girl they had known for quite some time was now 23 years old—we’ll call her “Kay.” Kay is the strong and brave product of a very hard and difficult life. With essentially no home, now no job, and virtually no support she sat in a hospital room having just given birth to beautiful twin baby girls. Child protective services had already begun delivering their ultimatum—find a job and a place to live or you’re losing the babies.

On one side of foster care is the need for us to respond to the plight of vulnerable kids and intercede on their behalf. On the other side of foster care is the need to proactively respond to the brokenness of families and intercede on their behalf to prevent their children from ever becoming foster kids in the first place.

The question between our friends and us that evening in the living room was not should we do something—that answer was clear—under no circumstances are any of us allowing these babies to go into foster care. It was really more a question of how. That was a bit more complicated. Where would Kay live? For how long? Are we crazy for doing this? Can we really handle it?

The longer we discussed potential solutions, the more clear the inevitable became—neither of us could care for Kay and her babies alone, but maybe, just maybe, if we banded together we could handle it together. 

So that’s what we did. Kay and the babies had a room in each of our homes. A meal calendar was set up that friends, acquaintances and even total strangers from our church helped provide for. We took turns with the middle of the night feedings, running Kay to different appointments, helping get her social services set up, a new apartment secured and a plan of action for transitioning back into her new normal as a single mom of newborn twins on her own. Some days were as sweet as rocking precious little newborn twins to sleep in our arms. Other days were quite the opposite—messy, complicated and downright bad. The kind of hard we could have never handled on our own. But in walking this journey out in the context of community we knew we could love and care for Kay and the babies better together than we ever could have alone. 

Kay is not without struggle today. She continually needs the support of the community around her that was forged on her behalf in the midst of a potentially catastrophic situation. It’s by no means a happily ever after at this point, but those baby girls have not spent one second of their young lives in foster care. That alone is a success worthy of great celebration. We are forever indebted to our friends for inviting us into the gift of caring for this brave mom and her precious girls. 

It was our privilege together to welcome Kay and the babies into our homes for several months, give her the time she needed to adjust to life with two newborns, get back on her feet, and ultimately stand for herself. Our lives are inextricably linked now forever—and I'm convinced we're all better together because of it. 

This is the “other” side of foster care.

A Joy Not Void of Heartache

The new reality of our family, having now adopted that little girl that was once a file on top of a stack, is that we live with the forever joy of her calling us mommy and daddy—a joy that is never void of the heartache that maybe, just maybe, all of this in an ideal sense could have been avoided in the first place. The first time we met our baby girl's mom should not have been in a courtroom chaperoned by lawyers and standing before a judge. Perhaps long before our worlds collided that day our worlds should have collided in a different way on a different day—perhaps in our living room as well, or better yet, in hers. Then, maybe, just maybe something could have been done to prevent that day from ever happening.

Perhaps, rather than simply responding to the consequences of other people’s brokenness, we have a responsibility to proactively engage them in the midst of it—to help bring healing and hope and to help minimize, if not render null and void altogether, repercussions perpetuating themselves any further. Church happens in those places—not just in our Sunday spaces.

In the end, perhaps the call of the Church is not just to foster kids but also to help prevent them from ever becoming foster kids in the first place. Let's be both the backdoor response to the need for children to be placed in permanent families, while at the same time proactively work to close the front door on any new children being removed from their homes and adding to the stacks of files that, I absolutely believe, should never exist in the first place.

This is the “other” side of foster care.

There's no easy solution to this, but maybe that's the point. It's not supposed to be easy. It's not a fairy-tale. It's a tragedy. One that, at a minimum, demands we consider the other side.  A joy not void of heartache—this is where the Church thrives. 

Jason Johnson is Director of Church Ministry Initiatives with Christian Alliance for Orphans and the author of  ReFraming Foster Care: Filtering Your Foster Parenting Journey Through the Lens of the Gospel. He blogs at

*The 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.

Tue, 04 Sep 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Friday Five 242 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Experiences of Parents and Children Living in Poverty: A Review of the Qualitative Literature
Janet Quint, Katherine M. Griffin, et al., OPRE, Administration for Children & Families, U.S. DHHS 

On and Off Again Relationships Might Be Toxic for Mental Health
MU News Bureau, University of Missouri

Emerging Adults Relationships with Their Parents
Jacob Goldstein, The Family Institute of Northwestern University

Looking for a Family Man? Norms for Men are Toppling in Heterosexual Relationships
Loes Meeussen, Colette Van Laar, & Marijke Verbruggen, Sex Roles

Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education: Strengthening Family Bonds and Increasing Economic Independence
Clarence H. Carter, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Blog

Fri, 31 Aug 2018 07:30:00 -0400
How Our Education System Fails Most Students by Oren Cass (@oren_cass)

Watching students move through it, America’s education system can seem to be functioning passably well. Most students complete high school on time. Most high school graduates go on to college. Most college enrollees will complete a degree. Most college graduates find their degrees useful in the labor market.

But gazing back along the pipeline’s length yields a starkly different, distressing picture. The share of students falling by the wayside accumulates higher at each juncture. As I show in a new report published by the Manhattan Institute, How the Other Half Learns, fewer than one-in-five manage to smoothly travel the high school-to-college-to-career pipeline that we take to be the system’s goal.

Source: The Manhattan Institute, 2018

Nor, despite a generation of intensive reform efforts and spending increases, is the situation getting much better. In 1970, 79% of public school students were graduating from high school within four years. In 2010, that figure was 78%. The past several years have seen increases in the rate, but also troubling evidence that those increases are driven by declining standardsdata manipulation, and outright fraud. Standardized test scores have not improved since the 1970s, and SAT scores have declined.

High school graduates enroll in college at higher rates than they used to, but that has not translated to a surge in college graduates. The vast majority of community college enrollees drop out. Four-year schools perform better, but still fewer than 60% of students complete degrees within even six years at the schools where they first enroll. As Harvard University’s David Deming observed in a 2017 report for the Brooking Institution’s Hamilton Project, “Although college attendance rates have risen steadily, bachelor’s degree attainment by age 25 has been relatively flat for the past two decades.”

Finally, even for college completers, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports a consistent trend of labor market frustration going back decades. Every month since 1990, between 37 and 47% of recent graduates report working in jobs that do not require a college degree.

At some point, we have to stop faulting the system for its failure to produce more graduates, and stop expecting the next policy intervention or funding increase to solve the “problem.” The reality is that most students are not going to complete the college pathway as we have defined it, and the actual problem we need to solve is that the education system provides few attractive pathways for the non-college student to travel. 

High schools oriented entirely toward college preparation, for instance, fail to engage students lacking the aptitude or interest to pursue that course. Those who continue through graduation find themselves ill-equipped to enter and succeed in the labor market, or in life in general. They watch society lavish resources on their peers headed for college but find no support available to them. The largest segment of the population—those who start college but don’t finish—are perhaps the worst served of all. They have little to show for their efforts except for lost years and enormous debts. An attitude of college-or-bust is producing too few college graduates and too many busts.

If college were truly the necessary and sufficient “ticket to the middle class,” then perhaps we might justify a system that pushes as hard as possible in that direction, even at the expense of those who fall short. But the reality of our labor market is quite different. Yes, the most successful college graduates are the economy’s top earners. But the bottom half of the earnings distribution for college grads—not just enrollees, but graduates—sits lower than the top half of the earnings distribution for those with only a high school education. And that’s before we even invest in helping to set that high school graduate on a successful path.

Good vocational programs exist in the United States that use the teenage years to prepare students for productive work and then launch them into careers after high school graduation. In other developed economies, such programs are the norm. But here, they are few and far between, underfunded and deprioritized, and too many Americans consider such pathways to be only “for other people’s kids.” Those kids are most people’s kids, including some of your kids, and it is long past time to design our education system for serving them too. 

Oren Cass is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the forthcoming bookThe Once and Future Worker (Encounter Books, November 2018).

Thu, 30 Aug 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Factors That Shape Parent-Child Reunification After a Parent is Released From Prison by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

“Bobby” is a young Puerto Rican father whose daughter was only 4 years old when he was incarcerated for selling drugs. During the two years he spent behind bars, Bobby maintained a connection with his little girl, who spent several nights a week with his mother, Isabel, and sometimes traveled with her to visit him. After his release, Bobby returned to his mother’s home to live. Although he struggled to find a stable job, he continued to see his daughter and to provide some financial support for her—largely thanks to his mother’s stable home, support, and encouragement. According to sociologist Bruce Western and Natalie Smith, co-authors of a new study on parent-child relationships after prison:

With stable housing and in frequent contact with her granddaughter, Isabel helped Bobby stay in contact with his daughter’s mother and maintain a close relationship with his daughter. Unemployment left him with little income, but his mother’s house provided a venue for his daughter’s overnight visits and an informal shared custody. 

Bobby’s story is one of three shared by Western and Smith in their report, “Formerly Incarcerated Parents and Their Children,” which was published in June in the journal Demography. It draws on findings from the Boston Reentry Study (BRS), a research project led by Dr. Western, that “records the material life conditions of formerly incarcerated parents and their children.” The BRS followed 122 men and women released from the Massachusetts prison system for one year after their release. The sample included 95 parents and their 270 children. One-quarter of the children were living with their parent prior to his or her incarceration, but only 10% were living with that parent after release. However, the vast majority (60%-70%) of former inmates reported “weekly contact” with their children after they got out of prison. Of the formerly incarcerated parents in the sample: 78% had at least one biological or social child. Of those with two or more biological children, 68% had children with at least two partners. 

One unique feature of the study is that in addition to the quantitative findings from the BRS, it also includes qualitative findings based on in-depth interviews with formerly incarcerated individuals, like Bobby. Overall, the authors report that “family support, economic security, drug use, crime, and criminal justice contact shape how formerly incarcerated parents reunite with their children.” Three factors from the study are particularly noteworthy. 

1. Stable Housing 

When it comes to parent-child relationships following a parent’s release from prison, Western and Smith show that housing stability is a major factor. One-half of the parents in the study were living in unstable housing at some point during the year following their release from prison. “Unstable housing” was defined as basically any temporary housing situation that makes it harder for children to stay with a parent, including living on the street, living in a shelter, living in transitional housing or a group rooming house, as well as “dividing time between two different residences.” 

In a multinomial regression analysis of the full sample of children, the authors found that “contact with children is only weakly related to monthly income but strongly related to housing.” Even after excluding housing from the model, they found that “income effects are mostly small and insignificant.” 

Western and Smith explain that “Having a place to stay seems more important than financial means for regular contact with children, at least in the year after prison release when incomes are very low.” Very few of the children in the study lived with their parents following their release, but those “whose parents were in continuously stable housing after prison were 50% more likely to be living with their parents than children whose parents were unstably housed.” In general, parents who had a stable place to live following their release were more likely to be in regular contact with their kids, leading the authors to conclude that “stable private housing appears to be a special type of resource for promoting parent-child connections.” 

“Having a place to stay seems more important than financial means for regular contact with children, at least in the year after prison release when incomes are very low.”

2. The Complexity and Supportiveness of Families

Family structure also has a powerful impact on parent-child relationships after prison. Formerly incarcerated parents who had children with multiple partners were less likely to be living with their children after their release. Regarding multiple partner fertility (MPF), the authors note: 

Multiple-partner fertility, biological and social parenthood, and the distinct bundle of relationships accompanying motherhood and fatherhood all index the complex structure of family relationships for parents who are sent to prison. With multiple-partner fertility, maintaining contact with children in different households depends on successfully managing relationships with several parental partners.

The study found that “each additional parental partner is associated with a 50% reduction in the odds of coresidence.” However, MPF was not associated “with reduced weekly contact for nonresident parents.” 

Additionally, the quality of the parent-child relationship after prison was affected by the level of parental involvement prior to imprisonment, as well as by the relationship between the incarcerated parent and the child's other parent. "Regular contact with children was much more likely for formerly incarcerated fathers and mothers who had a history of supporting their children, remained in contact during incarceration, and retained a good relationship with their parental partners," according to the study.

Another factor that contributed to the quality of the parent-child relationship was the support former prisoners received from other family members. In many cases, older women in the family, like Bobby’s mother, Isabel, served as a “bridge” between the parent and children.

“Grandmothers, in particular, provided places for visits with children and helped maintain contact between parents and children during parents’ incarceration,” the study notes. Isabel told the interviewers that the best thing about her son being out of prison was: 

the bond he has with his daughter. For me as a single parent, I feel good that I’ve taught Bobby that . . . His dad was really never in his life. So, to see the bond that he has with his daughter, the responsibility he feels as a father . . . It makes me feel good. I showed him that. That came from me.  

3. Drug Use and Crime

Finally, former inmates who continued using drugs and alcohol or who were involved in criminal activity in the year after release were less likely to be living with their children or to be in regular contact with them. 

Western and Smith also report from the BRS interviews that: “Housing security and family support often contended with the destabilizing effects of crime and drug addiction,” adding that “many respondents we interviewed spoke of drug addictions that threatened positive relationships with their children even after periods of sobriety.” Carla, a black mother in her 40s, is one example. Due to drug use and imprisonment, she had cycled in and out of her kids’ lives over the years and found it difficult to reconnect even after her release from prison, when she was sober and living with the children and their grandmother.

“Unstable housing, family complexity, crime, and drug use all tended to pull parents away from their children,” the authors conclude. “Staying sober and living steadily in a private household at least provided the conditions for parents and children to come together after incarceration.” But they also acknowledge the difficulties of rebuilding healthy family relationships after prison: 

Parents may share a household with their children or be in weekly contact, but the qualitative data show that family relationships can be suffused with distrust, anger, and unfamiliarity that are worn away slowly after incarceration. 

In a statement on Twitter, Dr. Western said of the study, "Our main finding was that formerly-incarcerated parents had regular contact with their children if they lived in a stable private household (often with their own mothers or grandmothers). Reentry has effects across three generations."

With over five million children in the United States experiencing the incarceration of a parent at some point in their childhood, this study adds to our understanding of the factors that influence how a parent and child reconnect following a parent’s release from prison. As I’ve written previously, strengthening the family relationships of incarcerated parents, both during imprisonment and after release, is not only important for child well-being but may also be key to helping these parents stay out of prison and rebuild their lives.

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

Wed, 29 Aug 2018 08:25:00 -0400
Tips for Establishing Healthy Screen Time Habits for Your Family by Justin Coulson (@justincoulson)

“Kids! We have an announcement. No limits on screens for this weekend!”

This was our friends’ announcement on a recent family weekend. An “experiment” if you will. Adam and Michelle needed a break. They felt like the whole family needed a break. So, they did something they had never done before. They gave the kids unfettered access to their screens.

“From the minute we got into the car, we had peace and quiet”, Michelle told me. “The kids had their headphones in and were glued to their screens. And they just didn’t get off.”

Adam and Michelle had rented a cabin at a caravan park on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. The weather was overcast and wet, but the ocean was warm, and the waves were small. It was perfect for the kids to swim and be outdoors. Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right.

“It was a disaster.” Adam described how he had to coerce the kids to leave the cabin to go for a walk, or a swim, or even to have a meal. “They were completely absorbed in their screens. It was like no one else existed. They completely forgot that they were hungry, thirsty, or that they even needed to go to the bathroom while they had their screens on.”

And sleep?

Michelle laughed out loud. “They were wrecks. They were up past midnight watching movies, texting friends, and playing games. And they were arguing when they woke up – so they got back onto their screens. It kind of numbed them, so when they were on their devices or staring at the TV, they weren’t at each other, which was kind of good.”

Was It a Worthwhile Experiment?

“We got lots of time together to talk,” Adam quipped. “No, it was a disaster.”

“It felt like the weekend was wasted,” Michelle admitted. “We had almost no family time. And even though it was great that Adam and I got time together, we really felt demotivated by the way it all became about the screens. There was just nothing from the kids. No feedback. Nothing. I had to tell them the deal was off on the last day because I just couldn’t handle how detached they were from everything.”

I asked how the children felt about the experiment. “Oh, they were pretty annoyed when we called it off,” said Adam. “But after a while, they told us they could see how bad it was, and we enjoyed our last day together before we packed up and headed off.”

I asked them what they would do differently with regards to screen time in the future. 

“We created a list with the kids, so they can make sure they’ve done all of these things before they have screen time—and so far it’s working," they told me. "They seem to be enjoying life more, and they get screens in moderation once they’ve done other things that are more important.”

What's On the List?

Hey kids, do you want some screen time? If yes, have you:

  • Played outside?
  • Spent time with a real person, face to face?
  • Done your chores?
  • Read a book?
  • Done some exercise (gone for a walk, or a ride, or been active in some way?)
  • Helped someone in the family?
  • Tidied your room?
  • Prepared things for school tomorrow?
  • Done your music practice?
  • Had a chat with your grandparents on the phone?
  • Done something creative?
  • Finished any projects or other schoolwork?
  • Baked or cooked something?
  • Taken a bath/shower?

Should kids do what’s on this list every day? Most parents wouldn’t require that everything be covered. This may be less of a “checklist” and more a prompt for things children might do instead of staring at a screen. By engaging in these activities, children will be experiencing a far more “whole” childhood and doing more for their brain and body than a child who sits and stares at a screen. They’ll be more engaged in life, and screen time will be less interesting when they do things on this list.

I asked Adam and Michelle if they’d be taking screens on their next family getaway. Of course, the reply was instant. “Uh, nope. No way!”

Six Questions to Consider for a Healthy Family Screen Use

The following questions, which are taken from my new book, 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know, may be helpful in determining how to use technology well in your home:

  1. What are the most positive screen and media experiences we have shared as a family? How can we encourage more of these experiences?
  2. When is it appropriate to use media and screens? When do we require screen-free time?
  3. What is our decision regarding the apps that our children will be allowed access to? And at what ages?
  4. How much screen time is reasonable? How will we encourage compliance?
  5. What exceptions to this plan might be reasonable?
  6. How can we set a positive and balanced example of technology use?

Dr. Justin Coulson is a bestselling author, husband, and father of 6. His new book is 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Dr. Coulson's Happy Families Blog and has been reprinted here with permission.

Tue, 28 Aug 2018 07:30:00 -0400
The Internet is for Misogyny (At Least for Some Men) by Andrew L. Yarrow (@ALYarrow)

When Kate, a lead character in the Broadway musical Avenue Q, sings, “The Internet is for porn,” she’s only telling—albeit lightheartedly—part of the story of how the Internet is widely used to degrade and attack women.

Cyber-misogyny comes in many forms: Sexting, revenge porn, gaming, men raging at specific women or women in general, “incels” and others in the darker corners of the “manosphere” describing grisly fantasies of rape, murder, and other violence against women. It can be found in posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit, on countless websites, in emails, and in online games.

Although some women attack men, and men “cyber-bully” other men, the vast, expanding universe of largely anonymous online misogyny bespeaks seemingly widespread antipathy—if not hatred—toward women. It also undermines male-female relations, marriage, gender equality, and politics. And it hurts young, unmarried men, who are less likely to work, more likely to engage in risky behavior, be in poorer health, and be drawn to alt-right politics.

One Internet warrior attacking “man-hating” women posted: "They all should be jailed for a minimum of two years in re-education camps, with special favors..." Quoting Schopenhauer, manosphere guru Roosh V posted a long essay, “Women Must Have Their Behavior and Decisions Controlled by Men.” The website, A Voice for Men, describes its mission as opposing misandry and “gynocentrism.” Others talk of “hate f**s.”  Female journalists, like former CNN correspondent Maria Reesa, are especially vulnerable to what she called “orchestrated trolling and instigated mob misogyny.” During the 2016 presidential campaign, a YouTube video, “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica,” was posted to sell a line of T-shirts that are still available on Amazon.

Even more extreme are “incels” (involuntary celibates) like this year’s Toronto mass murderer. They are angry and feel victimized because women won’t have sex with them. Four years earlier, mass murderer Elliott Rodger had published a 137-page online manifesto in which he told of his “struggle . . . against the female gender for denying me sex and love,” before his “Day of Retribution” when he shot 20 people in Santa Barbara. Sickeningly, he has become a hero to many incels and in his pre-rampage YouTube video, he declared that he wanted to “slaughter every single, spoiled stuck-up blond slut I see.”

Is abhorrent online behavior, like in these examples, the ugly tip of the iceberg of “toxic masculinity”? Men who embrace more traditional attitudes about masculinity—believing that men are superior to women, should control women, and have as many sexual partners as possible—were found to be six times more likely to harass women online or in person, according to a study by Promundo, a gender-equity organization. However, many men complain, with much justification, that they are whipsawed between conflicting ideas about what it means to be a man. Others say that feminism has done a lot for women but little for most men.

The relationship between traditional masculinity and misogyny is complicated. Although many such men may resort to putting down and harassing women online, many others see traditional ideas as reasons to be gallant, support and defend women, and be responsible to their wives and families. Traditional masculinity is not always “toxic” and is far from the only cause of increased misogyny. Technology, if not a cause, is certainly an enabler of men spewing vitriol about women.

Beyond the generic attacks on women or the trash talk about well-known women is a burgeoning world of what might be called personalized misogyny. There are no numbers of how many guys engage in “sexting,” but one survey found that at least one-fourth of teenagers and young adults say they have posted or received nude pictures of women they know, although some of the posts are done by women and teen-age girls.

All too often, sexting veers into “revenge porn”—ex-boyfriends and ex-husbands uploading photos and often addresses of their exes on Snapchat, 4chan, and other sites. A Minnesota man created a Facebook page with nude photos of his ex and sent them to her family and friends. Facebook received 54,000 complaints from women about revenge porn in just one month, and one anti-porn site makes the astonishing claim that 2.5 billion pornographic emails are sent every day.

Online dating sites have become scarier places for women, who report that men email them unsolicited photos of their genitals. Many say that Tinder is a hotbed of vulgarity and misogyny. As one woman recounted, “He only waited 22 words to mention his erection.”

Pornography has always existed, but the Internet has made it possible for men (and women) to find every imaginable and many unimaginable types of sexual images and videos with a few clicks, rather than having to drive to skanky sex shops.

Excessive and extreme online porn debases women, harms male-female relationships, and can be bad for men. “You don’t know what normal sex is,” Kimberly Young, a psychologist who founded the Center for Internet Addiction, said. “You just see graphic, lewd sex. Looking at porn makes people have problems with sexual involvement, and it’s a big factor in breaking up relationships.” According to many women I interviewed for my new book, Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life, the death knell for their marriages was when they discovered their often not-working husbands trolling porn sites late at night. In addition, many young men develop an unreal view of sex that makes them unable to perform, and several studies have found a statistically significant relationship between heavy porn use and erectile dysfunction.

The late former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who famously said he could not define porn but “I know it when I see it,” would undoubtedly recognize it in the massive, largely male world of gaming, where gamers see hyper-sexualized images of women. As one young man said: “All the girls have giant boobs.” For example, in Grand Theft Auto V, which has sold 90 million copies, gamers can have cyber-sex with prostitutes. In 2014, an online male mob threatened to rape or kill several female game developers in a months-long campaign known as Gamergate.

In short, the Internet—once seen as the best thing since sliced bread—has become a major platform for misogyny. The hatred and degradation have rightfully led the Southern Poverty Law Center to target misogynists as hate groups. But most are individuals. Whether perpetrated by young men who try to turn hating women into a muddled ideology, or by angry exes, porn addicts, or compulsive gamers, online misogyny corrodes efforts to achieve gender equity, healthy sexuality, and good male-female relationships and marriages.

Andrew L. Yarrow, a former New York Times reporter, an American historian, and a policy analyst, is the author of the new book, Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life.

Mon, 27 Aug 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Friday Five 241 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

For Better or Worse: The Marriage-Health Connection
Aaron Cheesman, Sacramento Magazine

U.S. Census Bureau Seeks Input on Its Data Products
National Council on Family Relations

Preliminary Evidence Suggests Women May Be Better Role Jugglers Than Men
Emma Young, BPS Research Digest

How (and Why) Government Should Invest in Marriage
Alan J. Hawkins and Hal Boyd, Public Discourse

Gender Gap in Repartnering: The Role of Parental Status and Custodial Agreements
Alessandro Di Nallo, Journal of Marriage and Family

Fri, 24 Aug 2018 08:00:00 -0400
A Simple Prescription for Child Well-Being: More Unstructured Play by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

Children today face a number of challenges to engaging in what many of us probably took for granted in our youth: good, old-fashioned, unstructured play—whether running around the playground at school recess, wrestling on the floor with dad, or getting dirty in the backyard with other kids from the neighborhood. These challenges include more emphasis on academics, less free time for working parents and over-scheduled kids, unsafe neighborhoods, and new technologies that constantly entice all of us to sit and stare at screens. That’s why a new clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises pediatricians to “write a prescription for play” for young children along with the advice they regularly offer parents on nutrition and developmental milestones.

Importantly, “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children,” does not include video games or computerized gadgets in its list of recommendations for play. Rather, it notes, “Real learning happens better in person-to-person exchanges rather than machine-to-person exchanges.” It defines play as “activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery,” and that includes objects (like traditional toys), is rough-and-tumble, takes place indoors and outdoors and with peers and alone, and involves make-believe. 

This type of unstructured play, which comes naturally to children, especially when they are deprived of distractions, “is not frivolous,” the AAP emphasizes, but “brain-building.” 

The lead author of this AAP clinical report is Michael W. Yogman, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. He told me that the report was motivated by a concern that “our culture has devalued play.” In his five years serving as chair of the Boston Children’s Museum, he observed many parents engaging in “joyful play” with their children. But he also noticed from conversations with parents that families face a lot of barriers to the kind of play that children need to thrive. 

“Children and their parents are pressured to engage in lessons and structured activities all the time leaving little time for play,” he said. “Some schools have eliminated recess, art, and music so that kids can be better prepared for tests. And preschools are dispensing with blocks and substituting didactic learning for playful learning.”

Dr. Yogman also pointed to digital media as a barrier to play. “For young children, digital media is often portrayed as educational when, in fact, it is often passive, not interactive and less conducive to learning,” he noted. “Older children substitute virtual interactions via texting for live, in-person interactions with friends.” He added, “This paper tries to restore a balance and points out the value of play.”

The report details a long list of research-based benefits of play, including improved executive functioning (i.e., cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, and working memory), early language and math skills, social development, physical and mental health, and personal agency. In particular, play facilitated by parents and adult caregivers may also help children deal with stress and trauma by helping “build the safe, stable, and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress; and build social-emotional resilience.” For example, it cites one year-long study involving disruptive preschoolers that found that spending one-on-one play sessions with a teacher "showed reduced salivary cortisol stress levels during the day and improved behavior compared with children in the control group time with a teacher." On the other hand, one study suggests that play deprivation may be associated with the "increasing prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.”

Both parents, according to the AAP, have equally important roles to play in helping children develop healthy play behaviors—starting in infancy. "Play facilitates the progression from dependence to independence and from parental regulation to self-regulation. It promotes a sense of agency in the child," the report states. "This evolution begins in the first 3 months of life when parents (both mothers and fathers) interact reciprocally with their infants by reading their nonverbal cues in a responsive, contingent manner."

While it is not specifically addressed in this report, we know from a 2016 AAP report on fathers that dads have a “unique and irreplaceable” role in healthy child development, particularly through physical play. Because Dr. Yogman also served as the lead author of that report, I asked him about the special role of fathers in encouraging play.

“Fathers are more likely to be the play partner with children,” he said, “and rough-and-tumble play with fathers provides a complementary learning experience to mothers.”

Most of us probably view wrestling on the floor with a preschooler or tossing a toddler into the air as fun but not necessarily developmentally beneficial. However, it is through a father’s unique style of play, Dr. Yogman explained, that: 

kids learn about motor skills and body movement and experience joyful exuberance; they are more comfortable taking safe risks and being more exploratory—testing their boundaries. Guided competition during rough-and-tumble play also helps children learn to negotiate, so that they can win and lose graciously. And it models the development of empathy because they are guided not to inflict harm. Physical play with fathers also encourages an active lifestyle and may have a role in preventing obesity.

The AAP report on the power of play is not only aimed at pediatricians and parents but also educators, who are reminded about the importance of creative play as a part of a child’s education experience beginning in preschool:

Instead of focusing solely on academic skills, such as reciting the alphabet, early literacy, using flash cards, engaging with computer toys, and teaching to tests (which has been overemphasized to promote improved test results), cultivating the joy of learning through play is likely to better encourage long-term academic success.

The report concludes by pointing out that although "many parents do not appreciate the importance of free play or guided play with their children and have come to think of worksheets and other highly structured activities as play," there are "playful moments" available everywhere, even in doing simple chores together. 

In our fast-paced, digitally-enhanced lives, perhaps we’ve lost sight of a much simpler tool for success that comes to our children naturally and brings cognitive, social, and emotional benefits that extend beyond the classroom. This timely reminder from pediatricians that one of the most powerful ways to help our children learn and thrive is to simply give them the freedom to play—with us, their peers, and on their own—is certainly one that parents, caregivers, and child educators should heed. 

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

Thu, 23 Aug 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Weighing the Costs: The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Marriage Decisions of Low-Income Single Moms by Laurie DeRose

Both of my parents were born during the Great Depression. Both also have master’s degrees in accounting; plus, my mom has an additional master’s in taxation. In short, I grew up in a household where knowledge of the tax code was a tool used in the service of saving money, and where such frugality was treated like a moral virtue. My own motto when preparing an income tax return is “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s—and not a penny more.”

Why, then, am I married despite the marriage penalties in the tax code? Quite simply, I’m married because I expected the benefits of marriage to far outweigh its tax costs. Others have found the expected costs high enough to eschew marriage, as Katherine Michelmore convincingly demonstrates in her recent article in the journal, Review of Economics of the Household. She found that single mothers who expect to lose benefits from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) upon marriage are 3.5 percentage points less likely to marry than those whose benefit from the EITC would stay the same or increase if they married.

Rational choices at the individual level depend on resources. Michelmore calculated that the average unmarried woman receiving EITC benefits would receive $1,300 less in the year following marriage. This is important considering that at lower income levels, $1,300 is much more likely to be spent on food or rent than on luxury goods. The delight that might come from treating the kids to an afternoon at the waterpark is rather irrelevant if there isn’t enough money to pay the water bill. In other words, you can’t really compare someone trying to decide if the marriage penalty is worth it to someone who can’t afford to consider taking a penalty at all. In fact, especially for working-class and lower-class individuals, $1,300 is a sizable enough sum to make marriage seem like a luxury good.

Michelmore doesn’t let us forget that information is also a resource: single mothers’ marriage decisions depended more on whether they faced a penalty of at least $500 than on the actual dollar amount of the penalty. Just as Review of Economics of the Householdprobably isn’t a widely read title among those who are not economists or scholars, details about the marriage penalty in the EITC aren’t widespread either. Some women actually see an increase in EITC benefits upon marriage, and most women don’t know exactly what changes they would face if married. That’s because as earned income rises, benefits phase in, plateau, and then phase out again. The phase-in period depends upon the number of children but not marital status, whereas the phase-out period depends on both. Michelmore made this complex structure accessible with this figure:

EITC benefits phase out more slowly for married couples than for singles—the married can get the same benefit level with higher incomes that singles can. However, there’s also a clear marriage penalty in that earnings for couples don’t have to be anywhere near twice as high before benefits phase out. Whether a single mother gains or loses income upon marriage depends upon where her income and her income summed with that of her potential spouse fall on these curves. Couples with unequal incomes typically receive marriage bonuses, while those with more similar earnings often receive marriage penalties. It is hardly surprising that many would not know the precise dollar impact of their decision. But even without what economists call “perfect information,” single mothers appear to have enough information about the marriage penalty in the EITC that it affects their relationship behavior. (Michelmore’s sophisticated analysis exploited differences in benefit levels over time and between states to show that benefits really mattered).

So, if facing a loss in EITC benefits makes single mothers 3.5 percentage points less likely to marry, how does the EITC affect cohabitation? According to the study, it increases the likelihood of cohabiting by 3.5 percentage points. Clearly, by moving in with a partner instead of marrying, single mothers retain some of the benefits of a partnership without incurring the tax penalty, but to consider this a wash would be inaccurate. Michelmore refers to “distortions” in marriage and cohabitation decisions caused by the EITC marriage penalty. Someone like me immediately jumps to thinking about the individual and social costs of substituting cohabitation for marriage, but Michelmore, who doesn’t mention these costs, still values removing distortions that result in behavior individuals would not otherwise choose. 

The individuals whose choices are distorted are not “average”: results were stronger among the least educated, among racial minorities, and among the never-married. Michelmore concluded that“eliminating the marriage disincentives in the EITC structure could have an impact on the marriage and cohabitation decisions of millions of low-income families.” Tax structures that help keep marriage a luxury good aren’t fair: they distance the poor from a basic human institution. 

I was doubly advantaged in my marriage decision by having the income level to absorb the cost of any tax penalty and a background that helped me make an accurate assessment of its relatively minor cost. Just knowing that there could be a cost might dissuade those living at lower earned income levels from marriage (particularly if they don’t know its size). 

Tax law changes are moving in the right direction, but they still have a way to go. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 eliminated the marriage penalty for most couples—the 2018 federal income brackets allow a married couple to make exactly twice as much as a single person and still have the same tax rate (as long as combined income is less than $400,000). However, the marriage penalty is only gone for determining at what rate adjusted gross income is taxed: the basic structure for the EITC remains the same, with its marriage penalty intact. 

I don’t want to be too pessimistic about the lack of recent changes with respect to the marriage penalty in the EITC, because there have been historical improvements. The penalty is far smaller now than when the EITC was introduced in 1975, with sizable reductions in the last decade. Momentum is in the right direction for removing distortions in marriage and cohabiting decisions. But if we don’t want marriage to be a luxury good, we need to continue to push for further changes in the EITC.

Laurie DeRose is a Research Assistant Professor at the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland at College Park and a senior fellow with the Institute for Family Studies. She is also Director of Research for the World Family Map project.

Wed, 22 Aug 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Fostering Marriage Readiness in a Culture of Marriage Preparation Paradoxes by Jason S. Carroll (@DrJasonCarroll)

How can we promote better marriage readiness among young people? For many, the answer to this question involves promoting three things: 1) encouraging the delay of marriage into the thirties or beyond; 2) endorsing the “sowing of wild oats” during the young adult years so that one is ready to settle down and get married later; and 3) insisting on cohabitation during courtship in order to properly test the relationship’s readiness for marriage.  

But do these patterns really deliver the later marital quality and stability they are expected to provide?  The fact is that the promoted path many young adults today are pursuing in an effort to be better prepared for a lasting marriage is actually producing the opposite of what they intend. 

Marriage Preparation Paradoxes

I believe that what we have in our culture today is the emergence of “marriage preparation paradoxes.”  These are behaviors believed to increase one’s chances of marriage success, which actually, on average, diminish one’s chances of having a loving and lasting marriage. The key here is that these behaviors are not being embraced as a departure from marriage or because young people are giving up on marriage, but rather because many young people mistakenly believe they will strengthen their future marriages. For these patterns to change, the faulty logic that undergirds them must be exposed and corrected.

Cohabitation. Perhaps the best example is the cohabitation paradox. The primary reason that young people, and their parents and families, give today for encouraging cohabitation prior to marriage is that it will be a “test drive.” In short, it is believed to be a way to lessen the risk and chance of a later divorce. 

In fact, many of our best and brightest minds in the social sciences back in the 1980s were claiming that we would see a huge reduction in the divorce rate because of the climb we were beginning to see in cohabitation. The belief was that cohabitation would act as a sort of Darwinian “survival of the fittest” mechanism that would weed out the weak relationships and only the strong ones would ultimately survive into marriage–and thus divorce rates would decline. 

Well, we now have 30 years of studies that have shown just the opposite. Cohabitation before marriage has historically been associated with greater odds of divorce. And while some of the more recent studies have shown that there may be a weakening of this association, no study to date has ever shown cohabitation to have a protective factor on divorce.

Sowing Wild Oats. Another example is what I call the sowing wild oats paradox. I see examples of this paradox all the time in my research on young adults. Many young people and their parents refer to the young adult time of life as a time to sexually experiment—to have a variety of sexual experiences with a variety of people. The central logic behind this way of preparing for marriage is that young people need to do this to “get it out of their system” so they will be ready “settle down” in marriage. There is ample evidence that what is happening is the exact opposite. Instead of settling down, we see people getting worked up. Sexual experimentation before marriage does nothing to get such attitudes and behaviors out of your system, rather it gets them into your system. Dozens of studies have shown that individuals with greater patterns of sexual promiscuity and more sexual partners actually have higher, not lower, chances of divorce when they marry. Again, it’s a paradox—the logic does not work.

Sexual Chemistry. The sexual chemistry paradox is an extension of this way of thinking.  The current dating culture often emphasizes that two people should test their “sexual chemistry” before committing to each other. This type of compatibility is frequently mentioned as an essential characteristic for people to seek out in romantic relationships, particularly ones that could lead to marriage. Couples who do not test their sexual chemistry prior to the commitments of exclusivity, engagement, and marriage are often seen as putting themselves at risk of getting into a relationship that will not satisfy them in the future—thus increasing their probability of later marital dissatisfaction and divorce. However, two published studies call into question the validity of testing sexual chemistry early in dating (see my previous IFS blog post for a review). These studies support the hypothesis that sexual involvement may lead to unhealthy emotional entanglements that make ending a bad relationship difficult. Again, the research shows that a pattern of sexual restraint—where commitment precedes sex—creates the best pattern for lowering the risk of relationship dissolution.

Older is Better. All of this can be tied together into what can be called the "older is better" paradox. Too many of our young people today are growing up with the view that marriage is a transition of loss, rather than a transition of gain. A number of years ago, I worked as a visiting scholar for the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. We conducted focus groups all across the country; and in these focus groups, young twenty-somethings talked about what marriage would ultimately “take from them," what they "would lose,” what they "would ultimately have to give up,” and what they "would have to stop doing,” rather than the historical pattern we have seen where individuals, and society as a whole, view marriage as a transition of gain. That it is something that adds to our lives, allows us to start doing meaningful things, and gives us a better and richer life. This line of thinking is paradoxical as well, given that numerous studies have shown that getting married and staying married is linked to several aspects of individual health and well-being, such as better financial status, improved physical health, enhanced mental health, and higher sexual satisfaction. Therefore, as marriage is delayed in order to avoid the perceived losses associated with it, many young adults begin to miss out on these known benefits of marriage—creating once again a paradoxical outcome. 

As marriage is delayed in order to avoid the perceived losses associated with it, many young adults begin to miss out on these known benefits of marriage—creating a paradoxical outcome.

Fostering True Marriage Readiness

How might we counter these marriage preparation paradoxes and foster a culture of true marriage readiness? 

1. Identify the Window of Opportunity.  First, we must help identify the optimal window of opportunity for forging enduring marriages. While the risks of teenage marriage have long been understood, the possible risks associated with age 30+ marriages are just beginning to be understood. There is a need for more attention to later marriages as the national median age of marriage continues to increase. We need to find ways to help young people appreciate the curvilinear nature of outcomes associated with the age of marriage in order to help counter the risks of early marriage, but not unintentionally replace this with the newly-identified risks associated with later marriage.

2. Acknowledge the Realities of the Dating Pool. It is highly likely that some of the benefits of marriage at later ages are offset by less than ideal matching due to a diminishing dating pool. Too many parents and others convey the mistaken idea to their young adult children that marriage readiness and spouse selection is simply a matter of personal preference and preparation. The dating pool is dynamic and shifts across the life course, making high-quality matches with marriage and family-centered individuals less likely later in life.

3. Rethink the Potential of Twenty-something Marriages. A notable finding across many datasets and dozens of studies is how well many marriages that started when couples were in their early-to-mid-20s are doing. This is particularly true when educational trajectories are maintained. The benefits of college education occur whether the degree is obtained before or after marriage. Rather than simply becoming overly concerned about later marriages, the data suggests we should be more open to and supportive of earlier twenty-something marriages.

4. Distinguish Between Choice and Constraint. While some might see the delay of marriage as proof that young people think marriage is obsolete or that they don’t believe in the institution anymore, the evidence does not support that conclusion. In the 2013 Knot Yet Report, my colleagues and I used the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to document that by age 25, nearly two-thirds of women are either married (33%) or wish they were married (30%); and nearly half of men by age 25 are either married (29%) or wish they were married (19%). These figures should remind us that while age of marriage is associated with the desired timing of marriage, it is not always a factor of choice. Many young adults are frustrated by the erosion of courtship in our culture and the difficulty they are experiencing in dating and getting married.

5. Promote the Importance of Individual and Couple Factors. After the teenage years, studies have shown that age of marriage is associated with marital outcomes, but it is not a particularly strong predictor of marital satisfaction or divorce proneness. We would do better to promote a greater understanding of the individual and couple factors that are strong predictors of marital quality and encourage young adults to pursue high-quality relationships when possible, rather than waiting for an arbitrarily selected age of marriage. 

Over 80 years of research on premarital predictors of marriage outcomes have shown that true marital competence or readiness involves helping young people develop the capacity to love and the capacity to communicate. Thus, the foundational factors of personal maturity, emotional readiness, commitment, forgiveness, religious devotion, sexual restraint, communication skills, and the management of conflict are far stronger predictors of marriage trajectories than a person's age at marriage. 

Finally, we should also stress the “success sequence” of family formation, which involves gaining maturity and education prior to marriage and marriage prior to childbearing. It’s time for the college-educated segment of our culture to start preaching what they practice when it comes to family formation patterns.

Jason S. Carroll, Ph.D., is a professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University and the Associate Director of the Wheatley Institution. In 2014, Dr. Carroll received the Berscheid-Hatfield Award for Distinguished Mid-Career Achievement, a biennial award given for distinguished scientific achievement by the International Association for Relationship Research.

Editor’s Note: This blog article is taken in part from an earlier article in The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy.


1. Busby, D. M., Carroll, J. S., & Willoughby, B. J. (2010). Compatibility or Restraint?: The Effects of Sexual Timing on Marriage Relationships.  Journal of Family Psychology, 24, 766-774.

2. Busby, D. M., Willoughby, B. J., & Carroll, J. S. (2013). Sowing Wild Oats: Valuable Experience or a Field Full of Weeds? Personal Relationships.  Personal Relationships, 20, 706-718.

3. Carroll, J. S., Badger, S., & Yang, C.  (2006). The Ability to Negotiate or the Ability to Love?: Evaluating the Developmental Domains of Marital Competence.  Journal of Family Issues, 27, 1001-1032.

4. Hymowitz, K., Carroll, J. S., Wilcox, W. B., & Kaye, K. (2013). Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America. A commissioned report sponsored by the National Campaign to Prevent Unplanned Pregnancy, the RELATE Institute, and the National Marriage Project.

5. Glenn, N. D. (2002). A plea for greater concern about the quality of marital matching. In A. J. Hawkins, L. D. Wardle, & D. O. Coolidge (Eds.), Revitalizing the institution of marriage for the twenty-first century (pp. 46 – 58). Westport, CT: Praeger.

6. Sassler, S., Addo, F. R., & Lichter, D. T. (2012). The Tempo of Sexual Activity and Later Relationship Quality. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 708-725

Tue, 21 Aug 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Body Weight, Work, and the Marriage Market: An Interview with Shoshana Grossbard by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

Heavier White women who are married generally work more hours than married women who are thinner because they tend to marry men who earn less money and appear to have "less access" to their husband's income. That's one of the findings in a recent study led by Dr. Shoshana Grossbard, a professor of economics at San Diego State University. A pioneer in the study of the economics of marriage and the household, Dr. Grossbard is a fellow at the IZA Institute in Bonn, Germany, and the founding editor of the journal, Review of Economics of the Household. One of her recent areas of research involves studying the association between body mass index (BMI) and hours of work to determine whether the marriage market is the main mechanism driving this association. Her study, “Marriage Markets as Explanation for Why Heavier People Work More Hours,” was co-authored by Sankar Mukhopadhyay and published in the IZA Journal of Economics in 2017. In the following interview with IFS, Dr. Grossbard explains the study and its findings. 

Alysse ElHage: Tell us about your study’s design and the key questions you sought to answer about how BMI impacts how many hours individuals tend to work and the link to marriage?

Shoshana Grossbard: Our research focused on the impact of BMI on market hours of work and whether this impact operates via mechanisms related to marriage markets, such as intra-marriage financial transfers, bargaining about access to consumption, or in the case of singles, marriage expectations or predicted spousal income and access to household income.

We used data from two cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth: the 1979 cohort and the 1997 cohort (NLSY79 and NLSY97) and examined the association between BMI and hours of work for men and women who are either married to their first spouse or are unmarried. Since NLSY interviews all eligible youths in an eligible household, we know the relevant information for the siblings of respondents as well. This allows us to use two strategies to establish causality: We use sibling fixed effects (FE) and instrumental variable (IV) regression with same-sex sibling BMI as an instrument to establish causality. Our data also includes relatively large samples of Blacks and Hispanics, thus allowing us to compare our findings for various ethnic groups. However, we do not have data on spouse’s BMI, which prevents us from testing predictions regarding the effects of a spouse’s relative weight on hours worked. 

Alysse ElHage: The study notes that higher body weight is more likely to affect women’s work than men’s work. Why is this the case, and what does it have to do with marriage? 

Shoshana Grossbard: We think that women’s value in the marriage market is affected more by looks and body weight than is the case with men’s value in the marriage market, and that variation in women’s value in the marriage market is more likely to translate into variation in hours of work (among heterosexuals, women are more likely to be paid for what I call WIHO by their husbands than men).

WIHO is derived from the words “Work in Household.” It consists of activities that the person considers work because she or he would rather do something else, but the person is doing it for the benefit of another adult in the household, possibly a husband or a wife. Many people get “paid” for their WIHO in the sense that their spouse gives them access to money or goods, and to some degree, that is compensation for the WIHO. If you make less money than your spouse and do more household production and the two of you share incomes you are de facto getting paid for your WIHO.

Alysse ElHage: You began with the theory that higher BMI men and women would work more hours than lower BMI men and women (for both married and single individuals). Let’s look at married individuals first. What did you find? 

Shoshana Grossbard: We found a one-unit increase in BMI leads to a 2.0% increase in hours worked among White married women; but no significant effect for men. In the case of men, changes in BMI are not associated with changes in hours worked. 

Alysse ElHage: What about singles—did you find an association between higher BMI and hours of work for single men and women?

Shoshana Grossbard: We found a one-unit increase in BMI leads to a 1.4% increase in hours worked among White single women. BMI is also positively associated with hours of work of White and Black single men. The result for White single men carries over when the IV method, or instrumental variable method, is used (we used the BMI of a sibling to capture the genetic tendency of the individual to be of a certain weight per height). The reason we did that is to control for the possibility that people who work more hours are larger because they may be moving less; the sibling’s hours of work are not taken into account so this just captures the causality of weight to hours of work (see columns 1 and 2 in Table 3, panels D and E), but that is not case for Black single men (see columns 3 and 4 in the study). As for Hispanics, we find no association between body weight and hours of work for either single men or single women. 

Alysse ElHage: The racial/ethnic differences in your findings, when it comes to BMI and hours of work, were quite interesting. For example, you found a positive association between BMI and hours of work for single Black and White men, as well as for Black and White women, but you did not find this at the married stage—except for White women. Why the difference here, particularly for White women compared to women of other races/ethnicities?  

Shoshana Grossbard: Previous literature suggests that the concept of beauty is culture dependent: it may be the case that thinness in women is a more desirable among Whites compared to Blacks or Hispanics. It may also be the case that given the tendency to marry within one’s race the marriage market circumstances of White women are more advantageous than those for Black or Hispanic women and married White women have more access to their husbands’ earnings, allowing them to work fewer hours.

Alysse ElHage: The second part of your study examined whether the relationship you found between BMI and hours worked is driven more by the labor market or marriage market. And for this part, you focused only on white women. First, define for us what you mean by “marriage market,” and what did you find among higher BMI married women in particular? 

Shoshana Grossbard: A marriage market is where people interested in marriage possibly meet. In the case of heterosexuals, these are marriageable men and women. It could include those who are already married and may possibly re-enter the marriage market. Demand and supply in these markets set prices for WIHO (or "work in the household") for the benefit of a spouse. 

Our results suggest that controlling for wages does not significantly change the association between BMI and hours worked, suggesting that the lower wage of high-BMI White women cannot explain the effect of BMI on hours of work. This leaves more chances that the explanation for the connection between BMI and hours of work is related to how BMI influences value in marriage markets.

Alysse ElHage: So higher BMI women who are married work more because they tend to marry down economically?

Shoshana Grossbard: Yes, that is one part of the story. For married White women, the coefficient of BMI is -0.112 (column 1), or in other words, a one-unit increase in wife’s BMI is associated with $1,120 reduction in annual husband income. Controlling for a spouse’s age and education has little effect on the estimate. The coefficient of BMI is not significant for married Black women regardless of the inclusion of age and education, and it is not significant for married Hispanic women when we include the husband’s age and education. This suggests that there is more of a material payoff for being thin in the case of White married women than in the case of Black or Hispanic married women. 

The other part of the story is even after accounting for lower income of their husbands, BMI has an additional effect on the work hours of White women. In other words, they receive a smaller share of their relatively low-income households. This suggests that high-BMI White women work more hours, not only because they are married to men earning less, but because they have less bargaining power in marriage, and can access less of their spouse’s income.

Alysse ElHage: For single White women, you sought to determine whether their expectation of marriage would impact their hours at work. Tell us what you found.

Shoshana Grossbard: We show that the positive association between BMI and hours of work of White single women increases with the self-assessed probability of future marriage and varies with expected cumulative spousal income. These findings reinforce the rational expectations interpretation according to which singles take future prospects of in-marriage transfers into account when determining their hours of work. The more likely singles were to marry, the more we found a positive connection between BMI and hours of work while single because we figure that the ones who are thinner are counting more on getting married and on getting more money from a spouse if they do.  

Editor's Note: To learn more about Dr. Grossbard's work, visit her website,, or follow her on Twitter @econoflove.

Mon, 20 Aug 2018 07:30:00 -0400
Friday Five 240 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

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Whether a Husband Identifies as a Breadwinner Depends on Whether He Respects His Wife's Career
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Fri, 17 Aug 2018 07:30:00 -0400