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 265 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Breaking the Link Between Mental Health and Poverty
Julie Hersh, InsideSources

ASPIRE: Serving Two-Parent Families in the TANF System
OFA Webinar: Feb. 26, 2019: 2:00-3:00 PM
Office of Family Assistance

For Your Military Marriage
Worldwide Marriage Encounter

Try Something New Together: Engaging in "Self-Expanding Activities" Rekindles the Sexual Desire of Long-Term Couple
Christian Jarrett, The British Psychological Society Research Digest

Early Childhood Book Challenge: How Might We Inspire Children and Their Caregivers to Read Together?
William Penn Foundation

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
The Sandwich Generation on Wheels: Tips for Long-Distance Family Caregivers by Naomi Cahn (@NaomiCahn) and Amy Ziettlow (@RevAmyZ)

Stacy is a full-time teacher, wife, and mother, who is also a full-time caregiver for her 88-year-old father and his second wife who live in Illinois, and for her 83-year-old mother who lives in Pennsylvania. Because Stacy lives in Indianapolis, she is also a member of what we call the “sandwich generation on wheels,” or a long-distance caregiver. 

Stacy’s father recently had a heart attack. She wanted to drop everything to go help, but she could not find someone to cover her classroom with such short notice. Then, a few weeks later, Stacy’s mother slipped on the ice, breaking her hip.  A neighbor drove her to the emergency room and waited with her; Stacy was with her fifth-graders and didn’t find out about her mother’s accident until her lunch break. She wanted to head to Pennsylvania right away, but she was on carpool duty for her two teenaged daughters that evening because her husband was out of town. 

Stacy’s husband and her two daughters need her. But Stacy’s parents and stepmother need her, too. Like many adult caregivers, Stacy is sandwiched between the needs of both the older and younger generations of her family. How, Stacy wonders, can she manage to be in four places at once:  her classroom, her minivan, her father’s hospital room, and her mother’s physical therapy session?

Stacy is not alone. As a recent Congressional report noted, 68% of those retiring had a child living within 10 miles of them in 1994, but 20 years later, that number has decreased to 55%. More than one in ten family caregivers live at least an hour away from the person for whom they are caring. While there are sources of advice for long-distance caregivers, ranging from AARP to the Mayo Clinic, our field experience and work in elder law (Naomi) and faith communities (Amy) has taught us that it is helpful for family caregivers to define the "sandwich" layers they face in order to proactively plan for what role they can and should play. 

Layer 1: The Older Generation

First, clarify who in your older generation depends on you in some way. List your parents, stepparents, in-laws, grandparents, aunts or uncles, etc. In conversation with them, formalize your caregiving role. This is particularly important in stepfamily situations, as we have noted in previous posts (see here or here, for example). Willingness and ability to care must be taken into consideration. For example, Stacy is willing to care for her parents, but distance limits her ability. However, what about her stepmother? Stacy may not be willing to care for her, even if distance were not a factor. Conversely, some families may include half-siblings (the biological child of a stepparent) or stepsiblings who may be willing and able to do more of the caregiving, but clear divisions of labor and expectations for communication can help blended families avoid conflicts. Deciding in advance on caretaking roles (such as who pays for things, who is consulted in making medical decisions, who drives dad to the ER, etc.) can help make the process less stressful for families. 

Additionally, a care recipient can assign a power of attorney and/or medical power of attorney, and complete a living will that will formalize expectations for care. For example, a POLST form can be completed with a physician. This form remains in the medical file and communicates the wishes of the care recipient as regards to end-of-life treatment. The POLST form is especially helpful if the long-distance caregiver is the only person who can legally make decisions for the care recipient. 

Then, acknowledge that by living at a distance, you cannot be available 24/7 to everyone, in person. Determine your trigger points for travel. For scheduled procedures, is there an acuity level that must be met before you fly or drive to be present? A major surgery? Yes. A physical therapy appointment? No. For emergencies, what is a reasonable expectation for arriving? Next, plan for how you will manage planned or emergency travel. We know this sounds a little advice column-y, but it’s good to be prepared for that 2 A.M. phone call that requires you to drive several hundred miles. 

When you cannot be physically present, consider how you will stay connected and whether technology may help. Entire industries are developing applications that connect to smart homes, surveillance cameras, and interactive devices, such as Google’s Alexa, to meet the needs of elders and their family caregivers. Personal health monitors, as well as smart home technology, can monitor for falls and track weight gains and losses, play a favorite television show, or adjust thermostats, and thus contribute to the safety, entertainment, and comfort of older or ill adults. Already, senior-living residences have considered adopting “Addison,” a robot caregiver, who rewards residents when they meet goals, monitors changes in movement, and talks to the residents with screens strategically placed around the apartment or room. Technology can help connect when a loved one lives at a distance.

Layer 2: Your Job

Full- or part-time employment adds another layer of complexity for the long-distance caregiver to manage. Does your employer provide paid leave for family care? If so, learn what the eligibility requirements are and what the wage-replacement percentage is. If your employer does not provide paid leave, do you reside in one of the six states or District of Colombia that provide access to paid family leave? If not, is your employer covered by the federal Family Medical Leave Act? Although there are some restrictions (only employers with more than 50 employees are mandated to provide leave, only employee’s who meet a certain threshold of hours worked in the previous year, and uncompensated leave may not be feasible), the federal FMLA benefit does offer job protection for up to 12 weeks of leave. 

In addition to extended leave, what type of intermittent leave is available? Can you use sick leave to care for a loved one? Some states, such as Illinois, have enacted laws where an employee can use accrued sick leave days to care for a relative. Who are the colleagues who will cover for you when you are out? Are there ways that you can plan ahead to lessen the burden of your absence on your co-workers? 

Layer 3: Your Spouse and Children

What role do you play in your immediate family? Communicating with your spouse and your children about your goals for this season of life is critical. Acknowledging how you will be dividing your time, and why, will help them feel engaged and involved. You will need their moral support in your role as caregiver. If you carpool, cook, clean, etc. in your home, who will pick up those tasks in your absence? If you must miss semi-major life events (school assemblies, work parties), how will you compensate for not being there? 

The role of family caregiver is complex, potentially overwhelming, and yet routinely ranked as “highly meaningful.” Many of us, like Stacy, will answer the call to be a long-distance caregiver but worry about how to be in several places at once. Staying connected at a distance can be done—and done well—when expectations are clearly defined with every layer of the sandwich.  

Naomi Cahn is the Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School. Amy Ziettlow serves as pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church. They are the co-authors of, Homeward Bound: Modern Families, Elder Care, & Loss (Oxford University Press 2017).  


Thu, 21 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
The Case for American Solidarity by David Lapp (@AmberDavidLapp)

America is polarizing. Our racial and political polarizations understandably occupy a lot of the nation’s attention, but we suffer from three other big divisions that also deserve our attention: the fraying of marriage in working-class America, the increasing divide between rich and poor in communities all across our land, and the coming apart of blue-collar and white-collar employees. To heal these three areas of disunity, we need to return to a source that has sustained America through past social divisions: American solidarity. 

American solidarity is what Alexis de Tocqueville observed when he visited this land: a strong ethic of individualism complemented by a vigorous network of civil society institutions that encouraged Americans to cooperate with each other. You can see it all the way back in 1727 when Benjamin Franklin founded the Junto club, a forum for mutual improvement that was a springboard for many mutual benefit projects: the first volunteer firefighting force in America, lending library, and volunteer militia. As Walter Isaacson writes, Franklin

seemed ever eager to organize clubs and associations for mutual benefit, and it was also typically American. As the nation developed a shopkeeping middle class, its people balanced their individualist streaks with a propensity to form clubs, lodges, associations, and fraternal orders.

For much of our history, solidarity has been a reality without a name. But it inspired the American labor movement and has been an animating force among ethnic groups for generations, including my own people, the Old Order Amish. (I can’t think of anything that better shouts solidarity than an Amish barn raising.)

American solidarity enlists self-help and mutual aid, and individual grit and social cooperation. It encourages the pursuit of happiness within the horizon of a more perfect union. 

Today, we’re still long on self-help messages, and we’re still pursuing happiness like it’s a second American revolution. But we’re shorter on grit and our unions are dissolving—labor unions, marital unions, and neighborhood unions. We’re losing sight of our bonds with each other; we’re forgetting that we’re neighbors and fellow citizens in a shared American experiment forming a more perfect union. We prefer, instead, to associate almost exclusively with those who look like us and share the same social status. 

The task now is to apply American solidarity to the divisions that sunder the American body politic in 2019. The new (but old) American solidarity responds to three needs that our divisions have exposed. 

First, we need to tell a grittier story about love and happiness that makes it easier to win lifelong marriage and enjoy gender cooperation. The story many of us inherit today emphasizes happiness—period. But the story we need draws from psychologist Carol Dweck’s insight about the difference between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset: those with a fixed mindset think that if you’re unhappy or feel that you’ve fallen out of love, you should end the relationship or divorce. In contrast, a couple with a growth mindset see love and happiness in a more dynamic way: they see life as a summons to shape their love into something growing and enduring with time. Obviously, many relationships and marriages suffer from deeper problems—abuse and addiction come to mind—that can’t simply be helped with a different story about love and happiness. But it could make a difference for many couples. 

Because when individuals pursue relationship happiness without concern for perfecting the marital union—without being mindful of the obligations spouses promise each other—we get what we have now: gender polarization. This is especially clear in working-class communities, where divorce is high and subsequent generations are delaying marriage. Why? In part because the young hear their elders say, “I hate men,” and “Women are just out to get your money.” A grittier story about love and happiness could help to rebuild trust and cooperation between the sexes, especially among those who need it most. 

Second, we need economic practices that make it easier for people to be good parents and spouses. It’s not just ideas about love and happiness that are at fault; our ideas about work and money are also to blame. As Steven Pearlstein argues in Can American Capitalism Survive?, globalization and automation don’t share all of the blame for the fact that when it comes to inequality, America is “pretty much the world champs” compared to the rest of the world. Rather, Pearlstein argues that an elaborate shareholder-first ideology is responsible for much of what ails American capitalism. 

When companies pursue shareholder profits at the expense of ordinary workers—without being mindful of the relationship between employer and employees—we get what we have now: economic polarization. We get a society in which we:  justify low wages for a large chunk of workers by devaluing their labor (though the reality is we can’t live as we do without the labor of cooks, home health aides, retail workers, and the like); lock out the two-thirds of American adults without bachelor’s degrees from many of the most stable and best-paying jobs; and distribute 60% of profits to stock buybacks that enrich corporate executives. We get a society in which the richest 1% of households hold more wealth than the bottom 95 percent—and ordinary employees who say, “We’re screwed.”

Economic polarization benefits the upper class and hurts the working class. As Eduardo Porter of The New York Times recently reported about high-tech growth in Phoenix, “Despite all its shiny new high-tech businesses, the vast majority of new jobs are in workaday service industries, like health care, hospitality, retail, and building services, where pay is mediocre.”

Today, we’re still long on self-help messages, and we’re still pursuing happiness like it’s a second American revolution. But we’re shorter on grit and our unions are dissolving—labor unions, marital unions, and neighborhood unions. We’re losing sight of our bonds with each other; we’re forgetting that we’re neighbors and fellow citizens in a shared American experiment forming a more perfect union. 

Economic polarization also undermines working-class families through unpredictable schedules, no paid sick or parental leave, and part-time jobs at part-time wages. 

In short, the economy we have today makes it harder to be a virtuous parent or spouse, especially if you’re part of the working class. Our leaders should renew a solidarity relationship between employers and employees, such as through paid family and sick leave, fair scheduling legislation, allowing unions to thrive, and wages that enable individuals to provide for their families or build a foundation for marriage.  This kind of relationship between employers and employees would not only boost wages and increase financial stability for working-class Americans; it would also rebuild trust between ordinary workers and bosses. 

Finally, we need to remember that we’re all in this together, rich and poor and everyone in between. Sometimes, our battles have been about labor versus capital. The working class has had their fair share of Mr. Potters to fight through the decades. But we have also had fantastically wealthy American capitalists who helped to create new institutions of cooperation and mutual aid. For instance, as my friend David Blankenhorn points out, department store magnate Edward Filene sent the organizer Roy Bergengren on a campaign to introduce credit unions to America. In the late 1800’s, John Wanamaker instituted a profit-sharing plan in his company. And Andrew Carnegie founded hundreds of libraries, those great centers of self-help with a cooperative hand. 

Often, we need a bottom-up movement that demands our leaders and systems let “justice roll down like waters,” as Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as labor leaders, did. The best of these movements usually found a way to craft their call as a summons for Americans to realize the dream of a more perfect union, consisting of equality and justice for all. The new American solidarity should do the same: never to nurture disdain for the richest Americans, but to call them to steward their resources and imagination for a new era of mutual aid and broader prosperity—and to challenge them when they don’t get it.   

In our own lives, the challenge is to open our hearts and spaces to our generation’s “freedom’s orphans”—all those, especially the young, who bear the brunt of our social and economic divisions. Like the depressed and unemployed young man estranged from his divorced parents with no home and no community to help get back on his feet. And the young parents taking classes to get the skills they need, while also struggling to maintain their low-wage job and hold their family together. Or the young woman who moves to a city where opportunities beckon but with no friends or community to accompany her. For some of us, this could mean keeping a bedroom available for free or for rent at a discounted rate. For those who are part of a religious congregation, it could mean ensuring that our congregations are hospitable to the working class.

Politically, the moment is ripe for American solidarity—for leaders who will craft a pro-family and pro-worker coalition. Culturally, we’re seeing movements that seek to bring people from different ideological stripes together to solve our problems. As David Brooks points out, across the nation, there are ordinary people helping to re-weave the social fabric of their communities. The smashing success of J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy,  suggests, in part, that many people are concerned about a portion of the country they’d like to better understand. It seems as if we’re in a moment in which a critical mass of us are hungry to connect with and better understand the “the other.” 

America has always been about freedom. But at our best, we’ve been about exercising our freedom for solidarity: neighbors helping neighbors, citizens forging bonds of respect and affection. To solve our most pressing social problems today, we need a course correction toward solidarity.  

David Lapp is a co-founder of Better Angels, a bipartisan citizen’s movement to bridge the political divide, and a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. Along with his wife, Amber, David serves as co-investigator of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project. 

Wed, 20 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
When Less Is More: Implications of the ‘All-or-Nothing Marriage’ for Relationship Education by Alan J. Hawkins

It took a while for Eli Finkel’s recent book, The All-or-Nothing Marriage to rise to the top of the book stack on my desk, but I finally finished it a few days ago. I read the book through the lens of a marriage and relationship educator, always trying to understand better how we can help couples form and sustain healthy, stable marriages and relationships in contemporary society. And while Finkel’s book doesn’t directly address the formal practice of strengthening marriages through relationship education, it certainly is relevant. 

Finkel’s basic thesis is that marriage has undergone dramatic shifts across history, changing from an institution tasked with helping people meet basic needs, to one that nurtures companionship (albeit within pretty traditional gender roles), to one that is now oriented toward achieving greater self-fulfillment, self-discovery, and personal growth. Marriage has been subsumed within the zeitgeist of individualism.

Finkel argues that this new orientation creates a more fragile basis for life-long marriage and is a major force behind family instability rates. Despite the challenges and risks, however, he asserts that contemporary marriage is primed for people to find the most satisfying relationships that married couples have ever been able to enjoy—to achieve summit marriages with exhilarating vistas that regularly inspire us. To find these summits, we are free to structure our paths in a myriad of ways that will help us get there. Strong norms for what marriage is and how we should act in it are incompatible with “all-in” marriages that must cater to individual personal growth needs. Finkel devotes much of the book to strategies to help couples achieve high-altitude marriages. But, importantly, he also explores how to cope when we can’t reach or stay at the summit. 

Because we expect our marriages to fulfill so many high-order needs and wants, this puts a lot of pressure on them, as Finkel points out. And when they don’t seem like Lexus-quality vehicles for powering personal growth, there is pressure to abandon them and seek that fulfillment elsewhere. When the “all-in” marriage falls short, we are left with a “nothing” marriage, or at least a “not-good-enough” one. I think Finkel comes up a little short in his analysis here. I don’t think he considers adequately how many couples find rich personal growth and fulfillment through an epigenetic transformation of two lives and souls into one (to use a biblical metaphor) or by creating a unified “we” that is more satisfying and fulfilling than two connected “me’s” (to borrow marriage guru, John Gottman’s useful terms). But I’ll leave that critique for another day and keep my focus on the strategies Finkel recommends for surmounting contemporary marital challenges. 

Finkel spends a lot of time in his book explaining that we don’t need to embrace the false dichotomy of the “all-or-nothing” marriage, and that is where I think he makes his best contribution to our understanding of 21st-century marriage and how we can help people find stable and satisfying marriages. He explores three general strategies to strengthen marriages given the puzzling pickle we’ve gotten ourselves into. One of them—going all in—is where the field of marriage and relationship education is already making a valuable contribution. High-altitude, summit marriages need a lot of oxygen. They need a lot of time, effort, communication skill, and interpersonal aptitude to find the depth and growth and soul-level connection we seek. Marriage and relationship education, with its focus on a deeper understanding of ourselves and of each other, is a good outfitter for these ascents.

Parenthetically, Finkel devotes a chapter to the reality that many less-advantaged couples will struggle to achieve a summit marriage because their relationship bandwidths are narrowed by real social and economic disadvantages that produce chronic stress. However, he does not address controversies surrounding current social policy attempts to provide disadvantaged couples with free relationship-strengthening programs and whether this is a good idea.1

Relationship educators are trying so hard to help people ascend to their summit marriages that we miss the fact that sometimes, they just need some simple "love hacks" to keep things good enough to make it through a stressful season of life together.

 Instead, Finkel focuses more on advantaged couples who don’t always have the time and psychological bandwidth for peak marriages, either: young children deprive them of sleep, demanding periods of work suck their time and energy, and stressful external experiences roadblock their efforts to focus on their romantic relationship. Finkel has two other strategies to help deal with the reality that we usually can’t stay at marital peaks for long periods of time. During those stressful times when we can’t give our marriages the full resources they require, we can still do small things to show that we value each other and the marriage and help keep the relationship good enough for now by making small but meaningful efforts to “hold the marriage afloat until life gets simpler.” 

Finkel calls these small efforts “love hacks,” which have three characteristics: 1) they don’t take much time, 2) they don’t require coordination with our spouse (they are unilateral efforts), and 3) they don’t require us to lower our ultimate relationship expectations. Here, he dives into the abundant social-psychology research documenting how minor behavioral and cognitive shifts can produce disproportionate benefits. For instance, giving our spouses the benefit of the doubt (or as social psychologists would say, making external and temporary attributions about our partner’s seemingly problematic behaviors) yields big gains in terms of avoiding conflict and negative thoughts. Or, maybe we can’t invest the time right now to help our spouse work through some deep issues and frustrations, but at least we can take 10 minutes at the end of the day to reconnect and hear about her or his day. Little efforts that don’t require a lot of energy can still communicate that we care and want to keep things from getting moldy.

I don’t think marriage and relationship education does as good of a job here. We are trying so hard to help people ascend to their summit marriages that we miss the fact that sometimes, they just need some simple love hacks to keep things good enough to make it through a stressful season of life together. In fact, I worry that we sometimes might even do some damage when we try to stuff couples’ heads with relationship skills that take a lot of time and effort to do well, when what many couples may really need—and what they can handle—are simple love hacks. 

Which brings us to Finkel’s third general strategy of “recalibration”: adjusting our expectations a little, asking a bit less of our marriage for a season. This strategy is more controversial. Settling for less than we want seems downright un-American! This is the age of everything. But he rightly points out that maybe we can slake our thirst for adventurous travel with a sibling or good friend when our spouse is a DNA-encoded homebody. Is mind-blowing sex twice a week really a requirement for a satisfying marriage, or is comfortable intimacy and rich friendship just as satisfying and perhaps even more growth-promoting? If an all-in, summit marriage requires that our spouse be all and do all for us, then we are sure to end up disappointed and resentful. 

Now, you can run off the rails with this, as Finkel does when he extends his recalibration strategy to a somewhat queasy approval of consensual nonmonogamy when spouses’ desires for sexual adventures are substantially misaligned (as often they are). But I can rip the pages of that section of chapter 11 out and still appreciate the basic premise that we don’t need to have a single individual meet all our crucial needs and wants—that subtracting a few expectations from our marriage can rebalance the equation to a more sustainable level over the long term. 

I wonder how well marriage and relationship education achieves this. Can we help couples recalibrate their expectations without seeming to ask them to settle for less than they really deserve? “Make more of your relationship by asking for less” doesn’t sound like an appealing marketing campaign to draw motivated couples to our classes. Yet, a clever Madison-avenue version of that strategy—“When less is more”—might be just what many couples need, sometimes temporarily but maybe as a permanent readjustment. Realism may be harder to market, but it’s a good basis for effective interventions. 

Relationship educators need to devote more attention to teaching couples these two strategies that Finkel suggests for helping not-quite-all-in-all-the-time marriages—love hacks and recalibrating. We can’t devote all our efforts to the six-session, 12-hour programs aimed at helping couples reach a marital Mt. Everest, even if we could get more frazzled and frustrated couples to stumble through our program doors. Perhaps it’s time for us to aim a bit higher and assist more couples by teaching them the long-term value of lowering their expectations for what it takes to make a marriage good enough and strong enough to go the distance. 

Alan J. Hawkins is the Camilla E. Kimball Professor of Family Life at Brigham Young University.

1. For a critical perspective on this issue, see J.M. Randle, Proposing Prosperity: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America, (New York: Columbia University, 2017). And see my critique of this book here. Or, read my blog about the book here

Tue, 19 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
How Childless Are America’s Cities? by Patrick Brown (@PTBwrites)

After decades of decline, the ongoing renaissance of urban life in many American cities has been accompanied by skyrocketing rents, gentrification tensions, and “not-in-my-backyard” fights over development projects. Seemingly caught in the crossfire? Kids. 

Last October, Axios featured a clever data visualization showing the noticeable decline in the share of households with children in the largest U.S. cities. The hottest metropolises—the Bay Area, Boston, the Washington, D.C., metro area—seem to be the ones with the fewest number of children present. “Our great American cities, from New York and Chicago to Los Angeles and Seattle, are evolving into playgrounds for the rich…[while] the middle-class family has been pushed to the margins,” wrote Joel Kotkin, one of the fiercest critics of contemporary urbanism. 

What’s wrong with this narrative? It’s not just U.S. cities that are seeing a decline in households with children—it’s everywhere. 

Yes, cities have seen a decline in the number of children—there are, famously, as many dogs as children in San Francisco, and the fraction of households in major cities with children is down 7% from 2009 (32.3 to 30.1%). 

But the decline in childrearing is not limited to urban centers. Let’s look at data from the American Community Survey, which breaks out households made up of married-couple families with a child under 18 at home according to the type of area they live in—in Metropolitan Statistical Areas (around an urban cluster of 50,000 or more), in Micropolitan Statistical Areas (an area of 10,000 – 50,000 people), or in rural America. The likelihood that your home has a child in it is falling—regardless of whether you live in a principal city, one of its suburbs or exurbs, or in the country: 

These data start at the Great Recession, so the time-series story we can tell is somewhat limited. Even in this short time frame, all households became less likely to have a child at home as the Millennial generation age out and birth rates continue to fall. For example, in 2017, a family made up of a married-couple with at least one child accounted for 19.1% of all households in the U.S. The dark green line showing households with a child present in metropolitan principal cities (about one-third of the U.S. population) even had a flatter decline than households in micropolitan areas, while the share of households with children in rural America has plummeted, as many of the young leave and the remaining population ages. 

The percentage of households in metropolitan principal cities that consisted of a married couple with a child fell by 9% (from 17.8 to 16.2%), less than the drop among households in metropolitan suburbs and exurbs (an 11.4% drop, to 21.7% of all households). 

The suburbs continue to be more popular for families with children, and richer on a per capita basis than the city cores they surround, which we see evidence of when we look at the fraction of children present in U.S. cities, broken out by median household income deciles (at left, below.) At right, we see the same categorization, this time by population, indicating that the narrative of our largest cities being especially hostile to families is not necessarily borne out in the data. 

Much of this, of course, reflects self-selection. Many couples leave the city for the suburbs upon having a child, preferring the stability of home ownership over renting in the city. But other parents wished they could afford city life with a child, and maybe some city dwellers who would like to have children are less likely to do so in the face of high city rents. 

But is it the high cost of rent that is causing families to avoid cities? Or could it be something like the lack of space? Even the hardiest of parents wanting to hack it in the big city might be tempted to reconsider the green fields of suburbia with a 3-year-old in a one-bedroom apartment. Kotkin would argue that “density drives families away from urban cores,” though anecdotes abound of parents committed to making life in the city work for themselves and their children. 

High-demand cities have a higher percentage of housing units with one (or fewer) bedrooms, and they are also more likely to have a higher percentage of residents renting rather than buying. I looked at American Community Survey data on the 500 largest U.S. principal cities by population, a higher percentage of the population renting is associated with fewer children around, and higher rents (not shown) are associated with fewer households with children. At the same time, cities with higher overall monthly housing costs (including rents and mortgage payments) have higher fractions of households with children, indicating the impact of the wealthy, child-rich suburbs. 

When we normalize the monthly cost of housing by the median household income, the relationship between the fraction of income spent on housing and children present largely goes away. As seen in the bottom left graph, the fraction of households with children present in a city barely falls, even as larger portions of monthly income go toward paying for a family’s housing. High-income families spend a lower fraction of their income on housing, but overall, the additional cost burden doesn’t lead to dramatically lower percentages of households with children. 

The unavoidable truth spelling trouble for young families is that in high-demand urban areas, smaller apartments are more profitable than larger ones. Developers can make more money off of two, 1-bedroom apartments than by using the same physical space to build a unit that can house a family. I’ve criticized “hysterectomy zoning” before, but there’s only so much blame to be allocated to building restrictions and heavy-handed zoning codes that directly prevent family-friendly apartments from being built. Rather, the unfriendliness of urban housing markets to families is partly a function of how in-demand a city is, which is associated with having more housing units with fewer bedrooms.

Cities and suburbs artificially restricting housing supply should reduce those barriers as a matter of reaching a more efficient equilibrium, but the fundamental dynamics of high demand and inelastic supply mean we should not expect that to necessarily translate to more housing that is affordable and appropriate for families. In-demand cities might experience better luck reducing market rents by allowing more housing to be built, whatever the size. Seattle, for example, has seen housing costs stabilize after a decade of skyrocketing rents thanks to a flood of new market-rate housing.

A reminder that this data is looking at all children under 18 in the home, not fertility. As IFS’ own Lyman Stone found last year, increases in housing costs coupled with a higher fraction of renters in cities might be curbing realized fertility. A 2014 study by the Federal Reserve’s Lisa Dettling and University of Maryland economist Melissa Kearney found that a short-term rise in home prices leads to an increase in fertility for people who own a home—but a decline in births among renters. And since more young adults are working in cities today than in prior decades, we might have expected more children to be born in urban centers were it not for those high rents. At the same time, however, households with children are falling in the suburbs, exurbs, or rural America. We are right to worry about how to make cities more friendly to families, but we must also realize that these problems are not unique to urban life. 

There’s also an immigration story at play—of the top 100 largest cities in America, 18 of the top 20 cities with the highest percentage of households with families are in heavily-Hispanic portions of California, Texas, and Arizona. The ACS data show that Los Angeles (30.4% of households) and New York City (29.6%), far from being childless, are similarly buoyed, coming in just around the median in this subset.

High rents are a symptom of high demand for hip downtown neighborhoods and may lead young, would-be parents to put off having children. But there are plenty of neighborhoods in America’s cities—especially, but not limited to, those with high immigrant populations—in which children are still seen on a daily basis. At the same time, the streets are quieter than ever in an increasing number of suburbs. 

Patrick T. Brown (@PTBwrites) is a graduate student at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. 

Mon, 18 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
Friday Five 264 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

The Unique Contributions of Fathers to Their Children's Development
Webinar: February 20, 2019, 2:00-3:00 PM Eastern
Tova Walsh, The Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Couples Creating Art or Playing Board Games Release ‘Love Hormone’—but Men who Paint Release Most
Baylor University

Annual Update of the HHS Poverty Guidelines
Office of the Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services

Taking Relationship Education to the People
Hailey Palmer, The Relationship Educator

Protecting Me, Harming Us? Why Individuals of Lower Socioeconomic Status Experience Lower Romantic Relationship Quality
Rebecca Horne, Character & Context, Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Fri, 15 Feb 2019 08:00:00 -0500
Resources for Building a Marriage that Lasts by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

In honor of Valentine’s Day and to help mark National Marriage Week USA, we’ve compiled some of the best marriage advice we’ve featured on the Family-Studies blog over the years. The following list, while not exhaustive, is meant to serve as an easy-to-digest resource for individuals, couples, researchers, and therapists to read, use, and share on Valentine’s Day and beyond in their efforts to promote and strengthen healthy, life-long marriages (find even more helpful resources under our "Marriage and Relationship Education" category).

1. Make the little moments count.

One of the most important tips we’ve covered on this site is pretty simple: our daily habits and interactions have the greatest impact on our marriage over the years. In “Daily Rituals Cultivate Lasting Love,” IFS research fellow Amber Lapp wrote about her grandparents’ lasting marriage, noting: “The secret to their success was the habits they formed together—habits that prioritized their marriage.” And in “Why the Little Moments in Marriage Matter,” our founding editor, Anna Sutherland, built on this theme in a summary of a new study that “confirms that mundane positive interactions lay the foundation for lasting marriages,” and that in successful marriages, positive interactions outnumber negative ones. 

2. Take time to relax together.

When Valentine’s Day rolls around, many of us who are married with kids begin to panic, realizing just how long it has been since we’ve had a night out with our spouse and wondering how we are going to find a decent sitter so we can make that happen this year. While it doesn’t matter so much when we spend time together, a consistent research finding is that strong marriages are built on cultivating a friendship that includes shared leisure time. As Dr. Jason Whiting pointed out in “True Love is Passion Rooted in Friendship,” there is “more to love than the fires of passion. Love in its complete form also includes friendship.” And we maintain that friendship by relaxing together. In his post,“ Leisure Time and Marital Happiness,” IFS senior fellow Scott Stanley reviewed some of the research on the positive effects of just having fun as a couple, emphasizing: “To help keep your marriage, strong, try to do things that you both enjoy during leisure time.” Finally, Harry Benson of the UK-based Marriage Foundation wrote about, “The Benefits of Monthly Date Nights for Married Couples” based on new research, which found that “monthly date nights bring added stability to the relationship between new parents.”

3. Make worship and prayer a priority.

Research consistently shows that shared religious practices, like prayer and attending religious services, are tied to marital quality and happiness. Writing in the post, "Religious Service Attendance, Marriage, and Health,” Harvard University professor Tyler J. VanderWeele explained his research on the link between religious service attendance and a lower likelihood of divorce. And in “Faith and Marriage: Better Together?” IFS senior fellow W. Bradford Wilcox reported that married couples who pray and worship together have happier marriages than those who do not.

4. Share your marriage with others.

Another powerful message that we’ve tried to communicate on this Family-Studies blog is the value of sharing our imperfect-but-mostly-happy marriages with younger couples or marriage-minded singles. Journalist Ada Calhoun made this point in her book, Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, where she wrote that “[b]y staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope.” And, as I explained in “Please Don’t Hide Your Happy Marriage,” one of the dangers of "hiding" our happy marriages from others is that “the unhealthy relationships in our culture can begin to drown out the happy marriages all around us,” which is “why we need more happily married individuals and couples who are brave enough to be open about their blissful unions, including celebrities.”

5. Seek out older, wiser couples for support.

Just as we can offer hope to others through our marriages, we can also gain hope from the seasoned married couples in our lives, who too often are an untapped resource for couples who are struggling. Harry Benson and his wife Kate addressed this in their book, What Mums Want, when they shared how their own troubled marriage was saved by the wisdom and guidance of other married couples in their lives. “Without the love and help of these wise friends,” Benson wrote, “I am certain that our marriage would have continued its downward drift and eventually come to a confused end that neither of us wanted.” As the Bensons found, spending time with older and wiser married couples can be a lifeline for a troubled marriage.

6. Don’t be afraid to get professional help.

Even in the best marriages, professional help is sometimes necessary. This is something that Michelle Obama writes about in her new book, as IFS contributor Ashley McGuire recently pointed out. However, many struggling couples don’t seek help, as marriage therapist Steven Harris noted in his post, “In Marriage, If You See Something, Say Something." Harris found that “in a sample of married Americans considering divorce, less than two-thirds had spoken to anyone about it.”

For couples who might wonder if their relationship needs outside help, Dr. Jason Whiting highlighted six relationship “red flags.” Additionally, IFS senior fellow Scott Stanley offered 8 suggestions for avoiding divorce, where he pointed out that: “Most couples in serious trouble wait far too long to get professional help. If both of you know something is seriously amiss, seek help now. When both partners are motivated, a lot of good things can result from seeing a skilled counselor.”

7. Keep on keeping on.

Finally, and most importantly, a consistent theme we’ve shared on this blog is don't give up on your marriage. Ada Calhoun put it this way in Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give: the key to a lasting marriage is to “stay long enough to see things change, for good and for ill and for good again.” Her message is borne out in new research that found that for most couples, marriage tends to get better with time—and perseverance. In an interview with IFS about his latest study, sociologist Paul Amato put it best when he shared: “Contrary to what many people think, marital quality does not inevitably decline—it tends to remain high or even improve over the decades.” 

Thu, 14 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
Why Young People in South Korea are Staying Single Despite Efforts to Spark Dating by Yue Qian (@yueqian_soc)

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

Recent reports about a sex recession among young Americans aside, the concept of dating and mating is reasonably engrained in daily life in the West. In sharp contrast, in South Korea, 40 percent of people in their 20s and 30s appear to have quit dating altogether.

Today, many refer to young Koreans as the sampo generation” (literally, “giving up on three”) because they have given up on these three things: dating, marriage, and children.

Although Confucian culture originated in China, many scholars believe South Korea is even more influenced by Confucianism. Confucian values emphasize the importance of marriage and carrying on the family bloodline.

Getting married is considered a social responsibility. But young Koreans are increasingly leaving marriage behind.

The Marriage Package

Demographers have used the term “marriage package” to illustrate the idea that marriage in East Asia entails much more than just a relationship between two people.

In traditional Asian families, numerous intra-familial roles are bundled together, especially for women. Generally speaking, marriage, childbearing, childrearing and taking care of the elderly are linked. Hence, marriage and family roles are a package.

South Korea is no exception to endorsing this cultural idea of the “marriage package.”

Nevertheless, Western individualistic ideologies are increasingly influencing young Koreans. Despite a strong traditional emphasis on marriage, they have begun to postpone and even forgo marriage.

The average age at first marriage in South Korea jumped five years for both men and women from 1990 to 2013. Related to this is the rising number of people who stay single. In 1970, only 1.4 percent of women between the ages of 30-34 were never married. In 2010, that percentage increased to almost 30 percent.

Note: Since 1970, the number of singles in South Korea has increased 20-fold. Author provided.

For Women, Marriage is Not an Attractive Option

In the last decade, The Economist has published articles about the decline of Asian marriage. One of them from 2011, “Asia’s lonely hearts,” discussed women’s rejection of marriage in Asia and looked to gendered family roles and unequal divisions of housework as culprits.

Once women decide to get married, they are generally expected to prioritize familial responsibilities. Women take on a much greater share of the housework and childcare burden and are chiefly responsible for their children’s educational success.

My research shows that in 2006, 46 percent of married Korean women between 25 and 54 were full-time housewives; Korean wives, many of whom are working outside of the home, did over 80 percent of the housework, whereas their husbands did less than 20 percent.

Women have gained more opportunities outside marriage, but within marriage, men have not correspondingly increased their contribution to housework and childcare. As a result, for many women, being married is no longer an attractive option. With diminishing returns to gender-specialized marriage for highly educated women, they are likely to delay or forgo marriage.

Precarious Economy and the Overwork Culture

Another important reason young Koreans are giving up on dating, getting married and raising kids is the growing economic uncertainty and financial hardships. Many young Koreans work at precarious jobs, with low pay and little job and income security.

Moreover, the culture of long working hours prevails in South Korea. Among the OECD countries, South Korea has the longest work hours.

In 2017, Koreans worked an average of 2,024 hours per year, 200 hours less than they did in the previous decade. To put this number into perspective, Canadians worked 300 hours less a year than Koreans and the French, who are even better at work-life balance, worked 500 fewer hours.

Recently, the South Korean government has passed a law, which cut the maximum weekly hours to 52, down from 68, hoping that Koreans could still have some personal life after work.

Lowest Fertility Rate in the World

It is rare for single women to have children: 1.5 percent of births were to unmarried mothers in Korea, as compared to the overall OECD average of 36.3 per cent. Therefore, there are real consequences of marriage forgone.

South Korea is among the countries with the lowest fertility in the world. Countries need about 2.1 children per woman to sustain their population. In Korea, the average births per woman were slightly above one in 2016.

Note: In Korea, the average births per woman were slightly above one in 2016, down from 6.1 in 1960 and 4.5 in 1970.

Birth rates are extremely low. However, people are living longer. South Korean women will likely soon have the highest female life expectancy; South Korean women born in 2030 are expected to live longer than 90 years. Therefore, the Korean population is aging rapidly.

A shrinking population will create a labor crisis, limiting economic development. The New York Times called this demographic doom “South Korea’s most dangerous enemy.”

The Korean government, attempting to increase birth rates, enforced a policy that all the lights in the ministry’s building should be turned off at 7 p.m. sharp once a month, with the hope that employees would get off work early and go home to make love and more importantly, babies.

But will forcefully switching off lights work? Maybe changing the culture of long working hours and abolishing gendered work and family roles would be more effective.

There are likely additional reasons behind the rise of the sampo generation in Korea, but young people’s job precarity, the overwork culture, and a lack of equal divisions of labor at home are vital issues.

In South Korea, Valentine’s Day is generally a big deal, and it is one of many holidays celebrating love. It would be great if young South Koreans could “afford” dating and family lives so they can get into the celebrations.The Conversation

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

Wed, 13 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
Maybe Parents Matter After All by Robert VerBruggen (@RAVerBruggen)

Just before New Year’s, we lost the great Judith Rich Harris, author of The Nurture Assumption, the 1998 book arguing that parenting doesn’t affect kids’ outcomes very much. Parents are similar to their kids, and siblings are similar to each other, she argued, predominantly because of genes, not because parents shape how their kids turn out. We can see this most strikingly in the twin and adoption studies of behavioral genetics, which show striking similarities between identical twins even when they’re reared apart, but modest similarities between adoptive siblings sharing the same household.

new paper, while not mentioning her by name, argues strenuously that Harris got it wrong, if not when it comes to kids’ personalities in general, then at least when it comes to their “social capital”—measured by whether they passed a matriculation exam indicating that they’re college-ready. It demonstrates convincingly that, at least in the cohort of Israeli students it analyzes (born in 1974 to 1991), kids do become more like the parent they spend more time with. It also reconciles some different findings from other research, including those twin studies. For reasons we’ll get to in a bit, it would be a stretch to call this a wholesale refutation of The Nurture Assumption, but it’s a nice reassurance to parents that they do matter. Well, except for those of us who don’t want our kids to turn out like we did.

Familial resemblance is a hard thing to study, simply because most people get both their genes and a lot of their environment from their parents. Parents who invest a lot of time and effort in their children might be genetically different from those who don’t, and even within families, parents might spend the most time with kids who share their interests for genetic reasons. Morbidly, but ingenuously, the paper gets around such problems by looking at cases where a parent died and thus was abruptly prevented from interacting with the child at all.

Looking at children who did not lose a parent, the authors find the unsurprising result that children’s chances of passing the exam (which only 57% do overall) is correlated with their parents’ education levels and incomes. For instance, for each year of schooling the father has, the child’s probability of passing goes up 1.7 percentage points, and for each year of schooling the mother has, it goes up another 1.8 points.By itself, of course, this says nothing about whether it is genes or the environment that transmits the parents’ abilities to the kids.

But then they look at cases where a parent died. When it’s the father who passed away, each year of the father’s education increases the chance of passage only 0.9 points, while the mother’s education grows in importance, to a 2.2-point increase in passage for each year. Crucially, the opposite happens when it’s the mother who dies: Each year of her schooling adds just 0.9 points, vs. 1.9 for the dad. This is pretty clear evidence that parental influence does matter; if genes were the only reason kids resembled their parents, dead parents would have the same impact as living ones, and we wouldn’t see influence patterns flip genders depending on which parent passed away.

Things get complicated from there, as the authors provide a bunch of complicated results littered with statistical “interactions,” not to mention assorted ways of restricting the data to rule out alternative explanations. (There are separate results for cases where Dad didn’t remarry, where Mom is less educated than Dad or vice versa, where the kid has two or fewer siblings . . .) But some of the main lessons are that the effect gets stronger the younger the child was when the parent died, that girls are more affected than boys, and that the effect is stronger in families where the parents have lower levels of education.

This last part is important when it comes to reconciling the results with those of twin studies. Twin studies tend to involve better-educated parents, so they might be missing effects at the lower end of the distribution. Studies that look at changes to compulsory-schooling laws, by contrast, tend to focus on this lower end and find stronger effects: Forcing someone to stay in school a little longer seems to have good effects not just on them, but also on their kids in the future, another sign that familial resemblance isn’t purely genetic.

Then, they look at families where the parents divorced. Since moms usually get the kids, the effect of moms’ traits should be relatively stronger here. Indeed, that is what they find.

They then return to families in which both parents survived, comparing households with different numbers of kids, which purportedly disentangles whether parents influence their kids by spending time with them, or just by earning a certain amount of money and providing an environment of that quality. Here’s their reasoning: If money is what matters, “the effects of parental education should be declining in family size because financial investments must be spread across more children,” but if time investment is what counts, “mother’s education becomes more important relative to father’s education"—because moms tend to spend more time with kids as families get bigger. (I found something similar in U.S. data: The more kids, the more likely a mother is to stay home entirely.)

This is more tenuous. Differences in family size don’t happen randomly, and while mothers may spend more time with kids in larger families, they also have to divide their attention up more, the same way that income is stretched thinner. I found the regression-result tea-leaf-reading far less compelling on this one, simply because the theory they set out to test is fuzzier.

More broadly, if the point here is simply that parenting matters, it’s well-taken. Yet this study works less well as a measure of how much parenting matters, especially for purposes of comparing the results to those of twin studies and the like.

Against the baseline of a 57% passage rate for the exam, parenting-based changes in the ballpark of 1 or 2 percentage points per parental year of education are considerable—especially if comparing, say, a couple of high-school grads with a couple of college grads, in which case there’s an eight-year education gap—but far from overwhelming. And these regressions include a variety of controls, including the socioeconomic status of the locality, which school the child attended, the number of siblings the child has, and how old his parents were when he was born (though these effect sizes are not reported). These things are, in part, the result of parental decision-making, which like everything about humans is partly genetic. So, the changing connections between parents’ education and income and their kids’ test-passing abilities are measured only after some genetic influence has been removed from the equation.

Twin and adoption studies, reductive as they are, conveniently end with a finding of “X percent genetic,” “Y percent shared environment,” and “Z percent who knows.” Few if any of this study’s results can be interpreted in an analogous fashion.Indeed, since behavioral genetics doesn’t categorically deny parental influences on something like test-taking ability or college readiness—the effect of the “shared environment” is perhaps 16% for IQ in adulthood and 36% for educational attainment, according to one recent review—it’s not even clear exactly how great of a difference there is.

As researchers try new methods and genetic science advances, we’re learning a lot about why kids turn out the way they do. This paper serves as another piece of the puzzle, scrounged up improbably from deep within the couch cushions.

1. Yes, you read that right: They’re using linear probability models!

2. A possible exception is a result suggesting that “the effect of a mother’s education is essentially zero if she dies right after the child is born,” though, which suggests a very big difference indeed.

Tue, 12 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
The Case Against Boredom by Justin Coulson (@justincoulson)

Recently, there has been a groundswell of popular opinion extolling the value and importance of letting your kids be bored. A New York Times article argued, 

Boredom teaches us that life isn’t a parade of amusements. More important, it spawns creativity and self-sufficiency.’ The popular arguments are that kids are overscheduled these days; life is too busy; it’s not your job to entertain your children; there’s no downtime anymore.

It’s tempting to jump on the boredom bandwagon and encourage everyone to stop stimulating their kids with so many opportunities, gizmos, and classes. Enough enrichment already!

But I can’t. It’s bad blanket advice, and the research bears that out. Here’s what it tells us.

Boredom Makes Us Feel Bad

While “experts” claim that being bored will teach our kids to figure out how to amuse themselves, be creative, and just get on with it, there isn’t any actual evidence to support that idea. In fact, after a detailed search of PSYCinfo, a leading psychology research paper database, I haven’t found a single study where boredom in our kids was studied at all.

I’m not sure where these experts are getting their data from, but it doesn’t seem to be science.

What data does exist comes from adult or young-adult studies. But even assuming these adult studies should be applied to our kids, there is still another problem: they support the opposite conclusion—that boredom is unpleasant and unsatisfying, and leaves those suffering it with a craving for relief.

In fact, boredom is so powerful that in one study, participants who were forced to spend time alone, only with their thoughts, were willing to self-administer electric shocks rather than deal with the boredom. Pain was preferable to the problem of boredom!

Boredom is Associated with Negative Outcomes

Worse even than how boredom makes us feel is how it affects us over time. Boredom is associated with negative outcomes and well-being and can lead us to make unhealthy and unsafe choices.

Specifically, research indicates that students who are bored perform poorly at school, are at risk for shallow information processing (when we only remember things for a short time), have low attentiveness, and put in less effort. There is even an increased likelihood of quitting school altogether in the later years.

Teens who are often bored are also 50% more likely than their peers to take up smoking, drinking, and illegal drugs. And it is one of the most frequent triggers for binge eating.

Adults who are prone to boredom have an increased risk of depression and anxiety, and a diminished sense of life satisfaction and purpose. They also drive at higher speeds and take longer to respond to unexpected hazards on the road.

Being bored is NOT good for our health.

The Argument: Boredom Leads to Creativity

There has been limited research that indicates how boredom can lead to creativity. And anecdotally, as parents, we know this is true. Think about a bored three-year-old who gets his hands on the permanent markers, or a bored five-year-old who finds a pair of scissors and fancies a mohawk on his little sister, or even a bored 15-year-old who thinks he could probably manage to drive the car up and down the driveway.

Being bored can lead to creative outcomes. But whether they are positive, safe, and healthy creative outcomes is dependent on the personality of the bored person. People with high levels of self-control may motivate themselves to find optimal creative outlets for their boredom. But not everyone responds to boredom wisely. There are clear individual differences that make boredom adaptive for some people and maladaptive for others. Environmental factors almost certainly play a part as well. (As an aside, I got up to more mischief as a teen when I was bored than I ever did when I was occupied. Boredom spurred action that was not enriching, safe, or wise.)

And what about our young kids? A bored preschooler will certainly express his “creativity” differently than an older child or a teen. We cannot expect them to perform well in a situation they are not developmentally ready for.

Should We Let Them Be Bored?

It seems that whenever we have an issue, opinions become polemic. ‘Uber-parents’ that over-stimulate and over-schedule their kids are overdoing it. There is plenty of evidence that this is not helpful for our kids. So now others have created this argument that children need to be bored.

Neither extreme is healthy. Neither extreme is optimal. 

I suggest a more moderate approach. Evidence supports enriching activities for our children. These activities add purpose and meaning to life. They add color and clarity. They build competence, capability, and competence. They offer opportunities to explore and expand relationships. We should encourage a wise level of participation. (And if our child is passionate about participating in an activity, and it leads to genuine recreation, we should continue to encourage them!)

Parents who are intentional about their children’s well-being will recognize the value of “downtime.” But note, this is not boredom. Downtime is a time where activities are not scheduled, and where device usage is reduced. During downtime, children can autonomously choose how to recreate themselves. Recreation comes from the Latin, recreare, and literally means create again, renew. Since it’s not 1983, and we typically no longer let them recreate themselves by riding their bikes around the neighborhood, we can foster their recreation by having playdates, or setting up a table for painting and drawing, pulling out the Lego box, providing a smorgasbord of books, or inviting their creativity in the kitchen. A playhouse, a sandpit, and shovels, or a box of dress-up clothes can be well utilized when we allow things to slow down for our children.  

In short, we can offer them unstructured time where they can recreate themselves. This doesn’t mean that they have an activity every afternoon, but that they have the space, time, and opportunity to develop the emotional and cognitive resources that will enable them to pursue their own creative interests in a safe and beneficial way.

Moreover, we would do well to remember that screen usage degrades the quality of life and relationships. We should set wise limits around screen access, based on what our child wants to do on the screen and what other priorities exist in his or her life, so that life is balanced and whole.  

Easy downtime is certainly not the same as unrelenting boredom, and there are absolutely no benefits to thrusting boredom on them. In contrast, slowing down and being intentional about recreational time is tremendously valuable. And providing our children with the skills to adapt and be resourceful when they have nothing to do is important.

Let’s stop pushing our kids too hard or giving them something to swipe or stare at every time they complain that they lack stimulation. But let’s also stop encouraging boredom. There’s no evidence to support it. And what evidence does exist suggests it’s harmful.

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


Mon, 11 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
Friday Five 263 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

National Marriage Week USA: Calendar
National Marriage Week

Testing Times: Supporting Fathers During the Perinatal Period and Early Parenthood
The Centre for Social Justice

The American Family Today
Karlyn Bowman, Forbes via AEI

How to Stop Romantic Comedies from Ruining Your Love Life
Tchiki Davis, Greater Good Magazine

U.S. Mothers Long-Term Employment Patterns
Alexandra Killewald and Xiaolin Zhuo, Demography

Fri, 08 Feb 2019 08:00:00 -0500
Cohabitation Doesn’t Compare: Marriage, Cohabitation, and Relationship Quality by W. Bradford Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP), Jeffrey Dew and Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

After 10 years of on-and-off again dating and eventually moving in together, celebrity couple Liam Hemsworth and Miley Cyrus recently tied the knot in a small ceremony in their home surrounded by family and a few friends. In an interview, Hemsworth talked about the couple’s decision to wed and what it feels like to be a married man, which he described as the “same but different,” adding:

We’ve been together for a long time and it felt like it was the right time to do it…Not much about the relationship changes [after marriage], but you kind of have…the husband and wife thing, it’s great. I’m loving it.

Hemsworth and Cyrus are following an increasingly popular romantic path for young adults today: date, cohabit awhile, then (maybe) get married. The Census Bureau reports that the percentage of cohabiting adults ages 25 to 34 increased—from 12% a decade ago to 15% in 2018, while the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds who are married continues to decline. Whereas 59% of 25 to 34-year-olds were married in 1978, only 30% are married today. As IFS senior fellow Scott Stanley reported on this blog, cohabitation is now “normative”: the vast majority (67%) of currently-married adults report that they cohabited with either their current partner or another partner prior to getting married.

Not surprisingly, cohabiting is now accepted by most Americans as either a step toward marriage or the equivalent of it. And three-fourths agree that raising kids in a cohabiting relationship is acceptable. In fact, “shotgun cohabitations” are quickly overtaking “shotgun marriages,” and the majority of unmarried births today are to a cohabiting couple, not a lone mother.

So, in a world where most people are shacking up, one might assume that the relationship quality gap between cohabitation and marriage is closing—that, as Hemsworth put it, there is not much of a difference between a committed cohabiting relationship and a married one. This is a prevailing theory among some experts, too, who suggested that as cohabiting became more prevalent and accepted in the U.S., it would begin to look more like marriage. However, research continues to confirm key differences between cohabiting and married relationships—including new research released today from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University. This research brief is based on an analysis of the December 2018 YouGov “iFidelity Survey” of 2,000 American adults, which found categorical differences between marriage and cohabitation on three relationship health factors.

As the figure below shows, married individuals were 12 percentage points more likely to report being in the high relationship satisfaction group, 26 percentage points more likely to report being in the highest stability group, and 15 percentage points more likely to report being in the highest commitment group. These findings confirm previous research showing that cohabiting relationships have lower levels of commitment, higher rates of infidelity and conflict, and are significantly more likely to end than married relationships.

Notes: Unadjusted frequency count. Differences tested using simple binomial logistic regression.

Here are three key findings from the NMP/Wheatley Institution analysis that highlight the differences between cohabitation and marriage when it comes to relationship quality:

1. Married adults are more likely than cohabiting adults to report relationship satisfaction. In the survey, married adults were more likely to report being “very happy” in their relationship, even after controlling for education, relationship duration, and age.1 In fact, after adjusting for these variables, the married women had a 54% likelihood of being in the highest relationship satisfaction group and married men had a 49% likelihood. For cohabiting women and men, those likelihoods were 40% and 35%, respectively. These group disparities are statistically different.

Notes: Logistic regression model with education, relationship duration, and age controlled.
Assumptions for the predicted likelihoods are someone who has earned an associated degree
or had some college, a relationship duration of 5 years, and an age of 32. The p-value for differences
between married and cohabiting 
were statistically significant at p < .05 or lower.

2. Married adults are also more likely to report higher levels of relationship commitment than cohabiting adults. Overall, 46% of married adults were in the top relationship commitment group, compared to slightly over 30% of cohabiting adults (commitment was defined using three items that measured the extent to which individuals valued their relationship and wanted it to continue). Figure 3 below shows that even after adjusting for different life circumstances, married women and men were more likely to report the highest levels of commitment compared to cohabiting individuals. Again, these are statistically significant differences.

Notes: Logistic regression model with education, relationship duration, and age controlled.
Assumptions for the predicted likelihoods are someone who has earned an associated degree
or had some college, a relationship duration of 5 years, and an age of 32. The p-value for

differences between married and cohabiting were statistically significant at p < .05 or lower.

This finding is consistent with other research showing that cohabiting relationships are associated with lower levels of commitment than married relationships. This makes sense when we consider some of the top reasons people give for moving in together, such as convenience, financial benefits, or to “test a relationship.” These are very different from the reasons most people get married. Furthermore, research by Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades has shown that cohabitating tends to change how people view marriage. As Rhoades explained, “by living together already, both parties have likely developed a thought pattern of ‘what if this doesn't work out,’ thinking you could just move out and move on, which can undermine that sense of commitment that is essential to a thriving marriage, and that most women seeking marriage want.”

3. Finally, married adults are more likely than cohabiting adults to report higher levels of relationship stability. Overall, 54% of married adults in the survey were in the top perceived relationship stability group, vs. 28% of cohabiting adults (this top category was defined as how likely respondents were to say they thought their relationship would continue). Figure 4 shows the differences after adjusting for age, education, and relationship duration. The differences that remain are statistically significant.

Notes: Logistic regression model with education, relationship duration, and age controlled.
Assumptions for the predicted likelihoods are someone who has earned an associated degree
or had some college, a relationship duration of 5 years, and an age of 32. The p-value for
differences between married and cohabiting were statistically significant at p < .05 or lower.

Indeed, cohabitating relationships are significantly more likely to break up than married relationships, including cohabiting unions that include children, and this holds true even in places, like Europe, where cohabitation has been an accepted practice a lot longer. The 2017 World Family Map found that married couples still enjoy a “stability premium” even in countries like Norway and France.

As cohabiting becomes more commonplace in our society, the lines between getting married and just moving in together can begin to blur, making it harder for young people to recognize what is so special about the marriage vow. But despite prevailing myths about cohabitation being similar to marriage, when it comes to the relationship quality measures that count—like commitment, satisfaction, and stability—research continues to show that marriage is still the best choice for a strong and stable union.

W. Bradford Wilcox is director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, Jeffrey Dew is an Associate Professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University and a National Marriage Project fellow, and Alysse ElHage is editor of the Institute for Family Studies blog.

1. We initially also controlled for household income and race/ethnicity. Neither variable was associated with the relationship outcomes. Further, they did not change the association between relationship status and the outcomes, so we dropped them from the models

Thu, 07 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
Are Smartphones and Social Media Hurting Our Kids? by Charles Fain Lehman (@CharlesFLehman)

Editor’s Note: The following article was originally published by the Washington Free Beacon and has been reprinted here with permission.

Should Congress ban kids from owning smartphones? According to a recent monologue by television firebrand Tucker Carlson, the answer is yes. In his nightly speech, the Fox News host inveighed against the effect smartphones are having on adolescents, arguing that "smartphone use makes your kids sadder, slower, and more isolated, and over time can kill them." Carlson called on Congress to regulate smartphone usage in the same way that it has regulated cigarettes, keeping them out of the hands of vulnerable youths with minds still moldable by exposure to not as-of-yet understood technology.

With his monologue, Carlson has brought to mainstream attention an ongoing academic debate over how smartphones and social media are affecting America's teens. The conclusions of that debate are by no means as unequivocal as Carlson was. But it is clear from research that something bad is happening to American adolescents, and that smartphone use has spread much faster than our understanding of its long-run impact on developing brains.

There is almost certainly something wrong with America's teens. Data show that young people are increasingly at risk for depression, mental illness, and suicide.  A survey of pediatric hospitals found that hospitalizations of 5- to 17-year-olds for suicidal ideation or attempts doubled between 2008 and 2015; the CDC's research indicates that suicide has increased especially among teenage girls.

These increases go hand-in-hand with a decline in teen socialization. Forty-five percent of 12th graders now say that they never go on dates, compared to 14 percent as recently as the early 1990s. Teens are having less sex, a trend likely linked to rock-bottom teen abortion rates, but also indicating that teens spend less time on romance. Teens are even working less frequently than before, according to the Pew Research Center.

W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia who has written on the social implications of smartphones and screen time, told me that the teen mental health crisis may be linked to the rise of smartphones.

"There's clearly a link between changes in depression, suicide, shifts in socializing. You have to ask yourself, what's happening in the social environment that's different from a decade and a half ago?" Wilcox said. "One of the obvious candidates here is the introduction of smartphones, social media, and the screen culture more generally."

There is clear evidence that kids do indeed spend a lot of time on devices and on line. A frequently-cited survey from Common Sense Media showed 13- to 18-year-olds spend an average of nine hours a day "using media for their enjoyment"; kids eight to 12 spend about six hours a day on average. A 2018 Pew study found that 54 percent of teens say they "spend too much time on their cellphone," and another that 45 percent say they are online "almost constantly."

The same phenomenon is clear for teen social media use. Essentially every teen uses one or more social media sites, according to a 2018 survey from Pew, with YouTube being the most popular (85 percent using), followed by Instagram (72 percent) and Snapchat (69 percent). These figures, in general, represent an increase over the 2015 rendition of the same survey.

Still, it is apparent that teens are depressed and disconnected, and also hooked on their phones and social media. The question is does one cause the other?

That question is the source of much of the debate. Social phenomena like teen suicide are invariably complicated and multi-factorial, and sometimes have counter-intuitive explanations (for example, the increase in 2004 was almost certainly caused by a change in the FDA's required labeling on anti-depressants).

What is more, there is an open question of the direction of the relationship—social media and smartphone use might encourage depression and suicidal ideation, but the latter might also induce more of the former; or another factor might determine both. Research, cited by Carlson, links social media us to depression and abstinence to its alleviation. Other research, however, finds this claimed link wanting, and connects social media use to increased life satisfaction—suggesting that social media's emotional impact may be contingent on a number of other associated factors.

Unsurprisingly, there is copious analysis on both sides of this question. Much of the most popular work has been done by Dr. Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University known for her work on intergenerational trends. In a much-read 2017 Atlantic article, Twenge argued that the current generation of teens are hooked on phone use, leaving them trapped in their rooms and exposing them to the toxic effects of social media.

In her scholarly work, Twenge has connected data from the nationally representative Monitoring the Future and Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Surveys to paint a picture of the relationship between screen time, depression, and suicidal ideation.

"The results show a clear pattern linking screen activities with higher levels of depressive symptoms/suicide-related outcomes and nonscreen activities with lower levels," Twenge and her coauthors write.

[A]dolescents using electronic devices 3 or more hours a day were 34 percent more likely to have at least one suicide-related outcome than those using devices 2 or fewer hours a day, and adolescents using social media sites every day were 13% more likely to report high levels of depressive symptoms than those using social media less often.

Twenge has used the same datasets to link increased screen time to less sleep among teens. Other research finds related effects: a 2016 meta-analysis found a connection between "problematic" smartphone usage and depression severity and anxiety, and a 2018 study found digital media use was associated with subsequent ADHD symptoms in teens.

But such a controversial topic will invariably see disagreement. For example, a recently released longitudinal analysis, which explicitly responded to Twenge's work, surveyed 600 adolescents and 1,100 college students for two and six years respectively. Its authors found that "among both samples, social-media use did not predict depressive symptoms over time" for either boys or girls. In fact, the study found a link in the opposite direction, i.e. that symptoms of depression predicted higher social media use among teenage girls.

Causal direction is just one issue for researchers; another is the question of effect size. Remember that social pathologies like teen suicide are basically always multi-causal. Just being able to say that screen time or social media use is related to increased suicide risk does not tell us how much of an effect (the magnitude) one has on the other—it is possible for a relationship to pass the test of statistical significance while not having a very big impact in terms of magnitude.

This insight underlies an analysis from two University of Oxford professors, who used three very large data sets (two from the United States, one from Great Britain) to exhaustively examine the relationship between screen time and well-being among adolescents. They found a statistically significant relationship between the two—but also that increased screen time explained at most 0.4 percent of the variation in well-being when with other variables. In other words, statistically significant—but also very small in absolute impact.

"In fact, regularly eating potatoes was almost as negatively associated with well-being as was technology use," Nature noted in summarizing the paper, "and the negative association between wearing glasses and well-being was greater."

If all of this back-and-forth has you confused, you are not alone. Perhaps the most responsible conclusion is that the science is simply not settled, one way or the other, on how smartphones and social media affect teens, especially in relation to the myriad other variables that might explain the surge in adolescent depression. Neuroimaging research on the topic (which Carlson cited) is still in its infancy—while a major NIH study suggests a connection between social media use and adverse effects on developing brain, the scientists working on it emphasize that their work will need another decade to come to fruition.

Still, a lack of scientific consensus does not mean that no action is merited. That we do not understand the effect of smartphones on developing brains might recommend more caution—where 95 percent of teens having a smartphone suggests a lack of appropriate restraint.

What is more, there are vital differences between some screen time and a lot of screen time. Research suggests that there is some linkage between excessive screen use—around four hours per day—and worse mental health outcomes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents explicitly limit the times and types of media use their kids engage in, including designating "media-free" times together.

Wilcox suggested that while the case for a federal prohibition is not yet strong enough, government and private actors both could do more to empower parents to limits their kids' smartphone usage. This could include phone service providers making it easier for parents to shut off kids' access after certain hours, or app designers introducing more effective parental controls. As the internet becomes more centralized in a few major sites—Facebook and Instagram, for example—constraining kids' use becomes substantially easier.

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

Wed, 06 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
When It Comes to the Link Between Religion and Well-Being, Participation Matters Most by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage)

Around the world, adults who regularly attend religious worship services tend to be happier and more engaged in their communities compared to those who attend less frequently or not at all, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center that analyzed several cross-national surveys of adults in over two dozen countries.

In the report, Pew divided survey respondents into three groups: 1) the “actively religious,” or those who not only identify with a religious group but also report attending religious services at least once a month; 2) the “inactively religious” or those who identify with a religious group but attend religious services less often; and 3) the “religiously unaffiliated,” those do not identify with any organized religion. Overall, it found that “people who have a religious affiliation and attend worship services at least once a month tend to fare better on some (but not all) measures of happiness, health, and civic participation.”

First, the actively religious were happier across the globe. In the U.S., 36% of religiously-active U.S. adults reported being "very happy" compared to one-quarter of both inactive and unaffiliated Americans. In the other countries, as shown in the figure below, “actives report being happier than the unaffiliated by a statistically significant margin in almost half (12 countries), and happier than inactively religious adults in roughly one-third (nine) of the countries.” In fact, Pew found that "there is no country in which the data show that actives are significantly less happy than others."

Religiously-active adults were also more likely to report being active in their communities (or in non-religious groups and voluntary organizations, like sports clubs, charity groups, or labor unions). This was especially true in the U.S., where 58% of actively religious adults reported being active in “at least one other (nonreligious) kind of voluntary organization,” compared to 51% of inactively religious adults, and 39% of unaffiliated adults. Pew found a “similar pattern” for 11 of 25 other countries studied.

Additionally, religiously-active adults in the U.S. were more likely to vote in a national election. As for other countries, Pew explains:

“actively religious adults are more likely than “nones” to report voting in national elections in half the countries (12 out of 24) for which data on this measure are available; in the remaining countries, there is not much of a difference. Actives also are more likely than their inactive compatriots to say they vote in nine out of 24 countries, while the opposite is not true in any country for which data are available.

Although religiously-active adults were more likely to report some healthier behaviors, such as not smoking, the results on overall health were “mixed,” with Pew finding no “clear link” between overall self-rated health and active religious participation in most countries around the world, except the U.S., Mexico, and Taiwan.

Importantly, the Pew findings are based on self-rated health. Several longitudinal studies using more objective health outcomes have identified a strong association between religious participation and depression, suicide, and mortality. As Harvard University Professor Tyler J. VanderWeele reported on this blog, “research on this topic at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health links religious service attendance to…longer life, lower incidence of depression, and less suicide.” New research, also from Harvard, has connected a religious upbringing to better health outcomes for adolescents and young adults, including being less likely to use illicit drugs. And numerous studies have found that religious activity is associated with better mental health.

"The teachings, the relationships, the spiritual practices, over time, week after week, taken together gradually altars behavior, creates meaning, alleviates loneliness, and shapes a person in ways perhaps too diverse to document. Such things alter health" — Tyler J. VanderWeele

The Pew report cautions that its findings "do not prove that going to religious services is directly responsible for improving people’s lives."  However, in an email to IFS, Dr. VanderWeele said that a weakness of this Pew report is that it is based on cross-sectional data, "which makes it difficult to assess the direction of causality," and he noted that Pew's discussion of the causal effects "is about 5-10 years behind where the research literature currently stands." He emphasized that, 

There are now, at least in the United States and Europe, much stronger methodological studies on many of these outcomes. With regard to the outcomes Pew reported on, there are in fact strong longitudinal studies that provide considerable evidence for an effect of religious service attendance on higher happiness, less smoking, less frequent drinking, greater social support, and greater civic engagement. 

As for why religious participation is consistently linked to well-being, Dr. VanderWeele addressed this in a chapter in the 2017 book, Spirituality and Religion Within the Culture of Medicine, explaining that religion contributes to health by "shaping behavior, creating systems of meaning, altering one’s outlook on life, building community and social support, supporting moral beliefs, and through an experience of the transcendent."

In light of this research, we should be alarmed by reports of declining religious service attendance, particularly among young people. The Pew report found that only a minority of adults in most countries are “actively religious,” and it warns that “societies with declining levels of religious engagement, like the U.S., could be at risk for declines in personal and societal well-being.” Certainly, the well-established connection between religion and human flourishing should encourage us to more clearly acknowledge, promote, and protect the gifts that shared religious activities, like prayer and worship, bestow on personal and community well-being.

And perhaps, as Dr. VanderWeele put it during a lecture at Harvard University, the research on religious service attendance and health is an “invitation back to the communal religious life” for those who currently identify as religious but do not regularly attend worship. He continued:

Where else today does one find a community with a possibility of a shared moral and spiritual vision, a sense of mutual accountability, where a central task of the members is to love and care one another? The teachings, the relationships, the spiritual practices, over time, week after week, taken together gradually altars behavior, creates meaning, alleviates loneliness, and shapes a person in ways perhaps too diverse to document. Such things alter health.

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

Tue, 05 Feb 2019 08:55:00 -0500
Five Stages of Demographic Transition in Taiwan by James C.T. Hsueh

Taiwan has experienced rapidly declining fertility since 1950. The total fertility rate (TFR) was 7 in the early 1950s and fell to the replacement level of 2.1 in 1984. Surprisingly, the TFR dropped again quickly in the first decade of the new century and a new historic low emerged of 0.9 in 2010. Although there was a rebound in the next five years, the TFR dropped again (see Figure 1 below). In 2018, the TFR was 1 and only 182,000 babies were born.

Note: The birth numbers shown on the red line are during the year of the Tiger and Dragon. The TFRs
on the blue line are the beginning of each stage. Source: 
Dept. of Household Registration Affairs, Ministry of the Interior.  

The theory of demographic transition (DT) was proposed by Warren Thompson for describing the decline of fertility and mortality from high to low levels. The driver of these changes, which primarily occurred after World War II, was industrialization, which resulted in the increase in the survival chances of children and their living costs to parents. The speed and time of the changes might differ among countries; however, this theory seemed inevitable and irreversible.

The second demographic transition (SDT) was coined by Lesthaghe and van deKaa more than 30 years ago for examining a new scenario of the population in recent decades. The SDT theory depicted the continuous declining of fertility to replacement level and the prevalence of some demographic features particularly occurring in the western world. First, the weakening of marriage resulting from high divorce rates and a rise in cohabitation. Second, a shift in family relations from king-child to king-couple. Third, a shift from preventive contraception to self-fulfilling contraception. Fourth, the uniform conjugal family starts giving away to more pluralistic forms of families.1

With these socio-economic and political factors in mind, I grouped Taiwanese demographic transitions into five stages for the period from 1951 to 2025. Each stage covers 15 years of the time frame (see Table 1 in the Appendix). I discuss the fourth and fifth stages in relative detail because of the demographic challenges happening in the new century.

1. Self-adjusted Childbearing Stage (1951-1965)

In 1951, the TFR in Taiwan hit the mark of seven persons and took a continuous dive, dropping to 4.5 in 1965. The average of 400,000 babies born annually during this stage were dubbed the “Taiwanese Baby Boomers.” The reason for more children in the 1950s mainly reflected the parents' childhood experiences of high mortality rates during the early decades of the 20th century. Improvements in sanitation and medicine and the concurrent diminishing of contagion diseases (i.e. malaria) resulted in the decline of infant mortality, in particular. Therefore, additional childbearing was not needed for the supplement of early deaths. Women began to reduce unnecessary births mainly by ending childbearing at ages 35 or above, as shown in Figure 2.

Source: Dept. of Household Registration Affairs, Ministry of the Interior.  

This stage coincided with SD theory. The crude death rate (CDR) rapidly dropped from 11.6 per thousand to 5.5, while the crude birth (CBR) rate also declined from 50 per thousand to 33. The gap between CBRs and CDRs were still significant and resulted in high natural growth rates of more than 30 per thousand. The total population size thus increased from 7.9 million to 12.6 million during this stage.

2. Family Planning Stage (1966-1980)

Just a few years before 1969, when the Taiwanese government decided to stipulate family planning into policy guidelines, some contraception programs had already been carried out island-wise.2  "Two kids just right for a family" was the major slogan advocated by the government. The government also carried out economic plans toward industrialization and expanded compulsory education from six to nine years in 1968. The increasing chances of being able to obtain schooling and enter the labor market made late fertility more rational for a better life.

Facing a global oil crisis in 1974 and 1978, the government was valiant and bravely launched the big-ten constructions, which lasted for more than a decade. In addition, Taiwan had also experienced diplomatic defeats during this stage, such as withdrawing from the United Nations in 1971, and breaking off the relations with the UK and Japan the next year, followed by the United States in 1979. This stage was characterized as the most turbulent period for the government and the people of Taiwan.

As a result, the TFR dropped from 4.5 to 2.6 and the decline occurred in all childbearing ages. The population growth began to slow down; however, the total population still experienced a 5 million person increase during this stage.

3. Modernization Stage (1981-1995)

In Taiwan, economic growth took off in the late 1970s and persisted for around 20 years. The average economic growth rate was over 8% annually in the 1980s with the decline of income inequality—the so-called “Taiwanese Economic Miracle.” Accompanied by industrialization, urbanization resulted in the migration of youth from rural areas to cities, where they were likely to get jobs and to get married. Due to the rising cost of child rearing, a family of two working parents with one or two children was more welcome for new generations, especially in cities. With the prevalence of the nuclear family, the TFR continuously dropped to replacement level in 1984 and further fell to under replacement level during this time.

It is worthwhile to note that the government terminated martial law (initiated in 1949) in 1987. Freedom and autonomy on college campuses became one of the popular catchwords of that time. The government expanded higher education rapidly due to the growing economy, the upgrading labor market, and the rise of the college-aged population in the 1990s.

The college net enrollment rate was 20% in 1980, and it climbed to 50% in 2000. Thus, young people spent more time in school, which delayed getting married and having children. Besides, the government policy began to shift from a family-centered one to a government-centered one, and some important welfare acts were promulgated during that time. The ideas of gender equality and feminism also become prevalent on college campuses.

4. The Lowest-low Fertility Stage (1996-2010)

Not surprisingly, the TFR dropped to 1.47 in the tiger year of 1998, and it rebounded to 1.68 in the Millennium dragon year. In 2003, the TFR dropped to 1.24, which was below the threshold of "lowest-low fertility rate."In 2010, the TFR even dived to a historic low of 0.9 with less than 170,000 births.

According to SDT theory, the postponement of childbearing has emerged as a crucial determinant among developed countries.The reasons for such rapid delay of childbearing include ideational change, the rise of women’s education, and the increasing uncertainty during young adulthood, and the emergence of “latest-late” transition to adulthood.5

What happened in 2010 in Taiwan? In the second half of 2008, the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers engulfed the world in a global financial crisis and the depression lasted for a few years. Unfortunately, the Typhoon Morakot also lashed Taiwan in August 2009, which worsened the economic situation of the country. All these events resulted in fewer marriages in 2009 and fewer births in 2010. According to Chinese zodiac heritage, births also fell because people were unwilling to get married and have children in the year of the Tiger (see Figure 1 above and Figure 3 below).

Source: Dept. of Household Registration Affairs, Ministry of the Interior.  

Modernization effects, as the SDT theory described, occurred in Taiwan during this stage. In addition, despite the declining college-aged population that began in 2000, the government still expanded higher education in the early twenty-first century. A large share of the youth enrolled in higher education and experienced rising unemployment due to the economic depression. The new generation (i.e. the Millennials) was not only spending more time on higher education but also learning progressive ideals such as individualism.

In this stage, the mean age at first marriage moderately increased among Taiwanese females by 1.3 years, from age 28.1 to 29.4, and the mean age at first birth significantly increased by 3.7 years, from age 26.2 to 29.9. Unlike countries in the West where nonmarital births were high, Taiwan, like Japan and Korea, had a low rate of nonmarital births (less than 4%), although it slightly increased in this stage.

On the other hand, divorce rates dramatically increased, as Figure 4 shows. The crude divorce rate was below 2 per thousand in the third stage and it rose to 2.8 per thousand—a record high—in 2002, surpassing the average divorce rate in OECD countries, and it dropped to 2.1 in 2010.

Source: Dept. of Household Registration Affairs, Ministry of the Interior.  

Thus, new groups emerged from these unstable marital relationships, such as the increasing number of single-parent families.

Despite being listed as one of the lowest fertility countries by the U.N. since 2004, the government hesitated to boost fertility mainly due to concerns about a high-density population (650 persons per square kilometer) in Taiwan. Even by the year 2010, some cabinet members continued to welcome our falling population size for the sake of limiting the land usage and energy consumption.

5. The Time-to-Change Stage (2011-2025)

Beginning in May 2008, when Kuo Min Tang(KMT) took power, the government launched some pro-natal measures. These measures included: a 6-month parental leave policy with 60% payment for both parents, a tax reduction for families rearing children ages 0 to 5, a nursing and childcare subsidy, sound daycare and babysitting systems, education privileges or subsidies, and low-interest housing loans or rent subsidies for new parents, and more—all enacted in or after the year 2010.

Between 2011 and 2015, the TFR in Taiwan rebounded to 1.2 and the number of births soared to 210,000, on average. Although Taiwan's TFR was still listed as one of the lowest in the world, the bounce back showed some important explications for Taiwan with respect to the long-term decline of fertility. The policy also emphasized the value of family and might result in the decline of divorce rates between 2011 and 2015.

As Figure 3 illustrates, the number of marriages rapidly dropped from 155,000 couples in 2008 to 117,000 couples in 2009, the year of Taiwan’s abysmal depression, which resulted in very low fertility in 2010. The government, therefore, encouraged young people to get married when the economic situation began to show signs of recovery, which successfully resulted in over 21,000 more marriages in 2010 than in 2009, plus an additional 26,000 marriages in 2011. Of special importance was the increase in marriages in both 2010 and 2011 that resulted in recuperating births in both 2011 and 2012. In sum, the recuperation of fertility during 2011-2015 could be attributed to the recovery from the economic depression and the implementation of pro-natal measures, as well as the influence of Chinese traditional culture (such as the dragon year in 2012).

To some extent, Taiwan completed the first demographic transition in the 1980s and soon fell into SDT in the 1990s. Unfortunately, the trend of declining fertility in Taiwan seems to have no end in sight in the near future. For instance, compared with females of the 1960 cohort and 1980 cohort, of the former 83% married and having 1.9 birth by age 30 but only 60% married and having 0.8 birth for the latter. 

The SDT theory might not correctly apply to Taiwan in the new century; nevertheless, the lowest-low fertility was indeed associated with the rapid postponement of marriage and childbearing. Since the late 1990s in particular, the increasing cost of raising children, high unemployment rates for the youth, and low wages for college graduates have resulted in the postponement of marriage and childbearing in Taiwan. Finally, and maybe more importantly, the individualism and couple-focused thought and lifestyles have undercut the traditional family values that once emphasized conjugal-and-natal responsibilities. Despite the government’s recent efforts, Taiwanese fertility is unlikely to recuperate in the near future.

James C.T. Hsueh is a professor in the Department of Sociology at National Taiwan University.

1. Zaidi, Batool and S. Philip Morgan 2017. "The Second Demographic Transition Theory: A Review and Appraisal." Annual Review of Sociology43:473-492.

2. Chang, Ming-Cheng 2003. "Demographic Transition in Taiwan." Journal of Population and Social Security (Population), Supplement to Volume 1, 611-628.

3. Kohler, H.P., F.C. Billari and J.A. Ortega 2002. “The Emergence of Lowest-Low Fertility in Europe During the 1990s.” Population and Development Review28(4):641-680.

4. Billari, F.C. and H.P. Kohler 2004. “Patterns of low and lowest-low fertility in Europe.” Population Studies 58(2):161-176.

5. Billari, Francesco C. 2008, " Lowest-Low Fertility in Europe: Exploring the Causes and Finding Some Surprises." The Japanese Journal of Population6(1):2-18.



Mon, 04 Feb 2019 07:30:00 -0500
Friday Five 262 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Parental Involvement: How Much is Too Much?
Child Trends

Questions to Bring You Closer
Christine Carter,

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant: Responses to Frequently Asked Questions
Congressional Research Service

Request for Information (RFI): NICHD Strategic Plan Fiscal Years 2020-2024
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

China's Demographic Outlook to 2040 and Its Implications: An Overview
Nicholas Eberstadt, AEI

Fri, 01 Feb 2019 08:00:00 -0500
The Case for Decluttering as a Form of Marriage Therapy by Ashley McGuire

Can decluttering be a form of couples’ therapy? The new Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” would suggest so.

The show is a series of episodes featuring Marie Kondo, whose book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has sold over 10 million copies, and who has people everywhere feverishly tossing their belongings. In each episode, Kondo guides a couple or individual through the process of reducing their belongings, keeping only the things that “spark joy,” a phrase she coined.  

I wasn’t expecting the marriages of the couples who hired Kondo to feature so prominently in the show, or if anything, I was expecting to see bickering about what to toss and what to keep. Yet I was surprised to find that in the first two episodes, both couples said they grew closer through the process of decluttering their homes. The two couples couldn’t be farther apart in life—the first are the busy parents of young children, their kitchen counters are littered with bottles and their floors with toys and tiny socks. The second couple are empty-nesters in a home that feels like a mausoleum filled with dusty photos and heirlooms. Both felt completely overwhelmed by their possessions and recognized the need to change.

They aren’t alone. One-in-four Americans admit they have a “clutter problem.” According to a survey by The Huffington Post, 84% of Americans report worrying about their home’s cleanliness and organization. A third of those people said that the stress they felt about their home was “extreme.” One-in-seven Americans report being unable to use a room because of clutter, and nearly three-fourths of Americans agree they could stand to get rid of some possessions. 

In fact, Americans have so many possessions that renting out storage space is now common (there is currently 7 square feet of storage for every American), even though home sizes have tripled in the last 50 years while family size has significantly decreased. Spaces we once filled with children, we now fill with stuff. And it’s causing some couples angst.

All the while, we know that happiness is linked with having fewer possessions, not more. One recent study tested children in two different rooms, one with 16 toys and one with four, and concluded that when children are surrounded by less toys, “they have a  happier, healthier playtime.” Researchers at UCLA discovered a link between a “high density of household objects” and cortisol levels, the hormone that regulates stress, in women. And a Cornell study found that clutter-induced stress can result in unhealthy coping strategies like overeating and binging on television.

We also know that one of the most common areas of couple conflict involves the division of household chores (and who does more). It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Marie Kondo’s clients would come out of the process of decluttering feeling empowered in their lives and more united in their marriages. They have just removed a significant source of mutual stress from their life, opening up more space, literally and metaphorically, for each other and their children.

My husband and I adopted the KonMari (the Marie Kondo method) approach a couple years ago and experienced similar results. Rather than fighting about what to get rid of, we wound up teasing each other and laughing about how silly it was that we hadn’t gotten rid of one thing or another. We laughed as we took not one, but two car loads of books to the local library as wide-eyed librarians watched us unload. For weeks, we would wait until our kids went down for a nap and then tackle one slice of our possessions. It turned into quality time that I looked forward to. Life with three children in a 1500 square foot apartment made tidying a necessity for us, and it’s something we work at constantly. Our next project is the utility drawer in our kitchen, and rather than dread it, I look forward to the chance to spend a quiet hour decluttering it over coffee with my husband.

More and more social science proves that clutter and possessions are an albatross. Couples looking for a marital boost, and a little extra room, might give KonMari a try.

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

Thu, 31 Jan 2019 07:30:00 -0500
A Snapshot of Millennial Births by Samuel Sturgeon

Several news stories have covered the delay in childbearing among Millennials (see herehere, and here). Some Baby Boomer parents even wonder when or if they will have grandchildren. It is true that Millennials are on track to have fewer children than previous generations and fertility rates are currently at an all-time low.  Moreover, Millennials are indeed waiting longer to become parents, and the average age at first birth has risen by more than two full years in the past two decades. However, despite these delays, Millennial women continue to have babies, and more than half of the children that will eventually be born to Millennial women are already here.  

There are about 40 million Millennial women in the United States (defined as those born between 1981 and 1998.)1 Across their lifespan, these women will give birth to approximately 75 million children. The first Millennials gave birth at age 10 in 1991, while the last Millennials will give birth in their early fifties, sometime around 2050 (assuming there are no major advancements in reproductive technologies that allow women to give birth at much older ages). However, these ages represent the extreme edges of the reproductive years. 

The following chart shows the composition of births by generation from 1990 to 2050.  Between 1991 and 1996, when the oldest Millennials were still only 15 years old, Millennials mothers gave birth to 1% or less of all children that were born. In the year 2000, when the oldest Millennials were 19, mothers in their generation gave birth to more than 10% of all children born that year (the final total was 11.8%). From there, the percentage of all children born in a year to Millennial mothers steadily increased, reaching more than 25% in 2003, more than 50% in 2008, and more than 75% in 2013 before peaking at 88% in 2018. 

In 2018, Demographic Intelligence estimates that approximately 5% of all births were to women younger than the youngest Millennials, and 7% of births were to women older than the oldest Millennials. Though 2018 was the peak for the percent of children born to Millennial mothers, the highest number of actual births most likely occurred in 2017, with 3.38 million. Because total births are expected to decline, total births to Millennials are set to decline, as is the proportion of births to all Millennial women. From now on, Demographic Intelligence projects that the proportion of births born to Millennial women will steadily decline, falling below 75% of all births in 2023, below 50% of all births in 2028, below 25% of all births in 2032, and below 10% of all births in 2035.

Another way to look at Millennial births is to examine when Millennial women themselves have given birth compared to other Millennials, not other generations. As a generational cohort, Demographic Intelligence predicts that Millennial women will give birth to approximately 75 million children (assuming current birth and immigration trends continue for the foreseeable future). The chart below shows when Millennial women will give birth to these roughly 75 million children. 

In the 1990s, few Millennial women were of childbearing age, and some of them were not even born yet since the final year of Millennials being those born was 1998. As a result, very few of the children that would be born to this generation were born in the 1990s. In fact, by the end of 1999, Millennial women had given birth to less than 650,000 children (less than 1% of the anticipated 75 million total). However, by the end of 2000, when the oldest Millennials mothers were 19 years old, Millennial women had given birth to about 1.1 million children, but still only about 1.5% of the total number of children they are estimated to have. By 2006, these mothers had given birth to over 8 million children, just over 10% of all the expected births, and it quickly increased from there to just under 20 million children in 2011 (or 19.7 million), which was more than one-fourth of the children they are estimated to ultimately have (26%). Sometime in the latter half of 2017, Millennial women reached the expected midpoint, having given birth to approximately 37.5 million children. What does this mean?  

Demographic Intelligence estimates that more than half of all children that will eventually be born to Millennial mothers (56%) have already been born as of 2018. Though Millennial women will give birth to the majority of children born in any given year until around 2027, more than half of their children have already been born. Moreover, by 2023, more than three out of four children who will eventually be born to Millennial mothers will have already been born, and by 2028, we estimate more than 90% of the children of Millennial mothers will have been born.  

The largest cohorts of Millennial women are currently in their peak childbearing years (ages 25-34).  However, all peaks eventually turn to valleys, and we estimate that Millennial women are now on the downhill slope of that peak. Even though the younger generation only gave birth to about 5% of all children in 2018, their numbers will grow and they will slowly begin to overtake Millennials. That means, according to our estimates, that 10 years from now, in 2028, more than half of all births will occur to women younger than the youngest Millennials. 

Samuel Sturgeon is president of Demographic Intelligence, a full-service demographic consulting firm that specializes in fertility and marriage projections.

1. There is no standard definition of what birth cohorts are considered to be part of the Millennial generation. Depending on the report you read, Millennials could be born as early as 1977 and as late as 2005. Pew and others have tried to standardize the years, but as of yet there is no consensus. The most common starting year is 1981, so we have chosen to use that as our starting year. For the ending year, 1996 (Pew) and 2000 (several others) seem to both be popular choices. For this report, we elected to split the difference and choose 1998 as the final year for Millennials.

Wed, 30 Jan 2019 07:30:00 -0500
Is Family Complexity Passed Down from Parents to Their Children? by Laurie DeRose

My best friend from college used to attend church with her never-married boyfriend, who sometimes brought his son; the son didn’t attend every other Sunday when he was with his mother and stepfather (and older half-sister from his mother’s previous union and younger half-sister born to his mother and stepfather). I wrote that sentence carefully in the hope that you would only have to read it once, but it wasn’t easy—having children with more than one partner creates complex families.

It is commonly known that children of divorce have more fragile marriages than children from intact families. Trude Lappegård and Elizabeth Thomson add a layer to what we know about how much family behaviors are passed from parents to children by investigating whether children with half-siblings are themselves more likely to have children with more than one partner. If you prefer jargon, they investigated the "Intergenerational Transmission of Multipartner Fertility."

Don’t let either the jargon or the complexity fool you into rolling your eyes and dismissing an investigation of multipartner fertility as some esoteric academic endeavor. 

First, it matters in the lives of kids with half-siblings. They have disadvantages that cannot be explained by the circumstances leading to multipartner fertility. That means a child whose parents have divorced and whose mom has remarried is at higher risk of negative outcomes, plus the kid whose mom has another child after remarrying is still at higher risk of things like aggressive behaviordelinquency, school detachment, and depression in adolescence

Second, a lot of kids have half-siblings. Divorce and remarriage is only one of the many pathways. Consider also lone motherhood followed by a union with a different man, and childbearing in cohabitations that subsequently dissolve. In short, half-siblings don’t come only from messy circumstances like a parent’s affair that did (or didn’t) lead to divorce; they also come about from fairly common paths through early adulthood. About 20% of all births in the United States are to cohabiting couples, and a majority of children who experience maternal cohabitation will also see it end—possibly to be followed by another partnership that may or may not produce more children. One-third of women in the U.S. with more than one child have a child with more than one man.

The fact that children are increasingly likely to have a half-sibling or two led Lappegård and Thomson to ask whether multipartner fertility (also known as multiple partner fertility) is “passed down” from parents to children the way divorce and early childbearing (and education and church-going and even toothbrushing) are passed down. None of us are clones of our parents, but our behavior is often more like theirs than we would sometimes like to believe. Do kids who experience half-siblings recreate that situation in their own family lives?

The short answer is yes, but the most important nuance to that answer is that only a small part of the intergenerational association is explained by social class. There is a huge class gap in American marriage with college graduates being much more likely to marry than those with less education. This means that those with less education (and less earning power) are more likely to experience some of the life events that enhance the probability of multipartner fertility, like childbirth while cohabiting. So, it could be that the story is all about social class, and if so, it would read something like this: men without secure employment are less likely to marry, and therefore their children are both less likely to get a college degree and more likely to have half-siblings. In the next generation, the lack of a college degree could lead to the same employment insecurity, lack of marriage, and multipartner fertility. In short, poor economic prospects in the first generation could lead to half-siblings in both the second and third generations.

But that isn’t what Lappegård and Thomson found. Education mattered, but it explained only a small fraction of the intergenerational transmission of multipartner fertility. Socialization and stress seemed to explain more. For instance, those with only younger half-siblings were more likely to have children with more than one partner than those with only older half-siblings. Those with younger half-siblings are like my two sons, now adults—young men who have been through a parental divorce and maternal repartnering, and who now have three half-sisters in elementary school. Lappegård and Thomson’s research indicates that even though my three daughters are disadvantaged relative to kids whose parents have had children only with each other, they are at a lower risk than my sons of having multipartner fertility—provided that neither their father nor I have children with anyone else. Kids with both younger and older half-siblings are at the greatest risk of producing complex families themselves, according to the study.

In short, some combination of what kids see their parents do, and the stress from relationship transitions and resulting household configurations explains most of the likelihood that kids will grow up to have children with more than one partner. For the reproduction of unequal family lives, this is relatively good news: it indicates that multipartner fertility doesn’t seem to contribute much to the growing gap between rich and poor. For the quite large pool of children with half-siblings, however, it means that they are likely to hand down disadvantages they have experienced.

Lappegård and Thomson argue that their initial evidence on the intergenerational transmission of multipartner fertility might reveal a general process because the results were very similar for Norway and Sweden. In fact, another recent study using U.S. data validates that claim. It also found strong evidence for kids’ family building patterns resembling their parents, and with little of the association explained by socioeconomic status. The authors of the U.S. study concluded that mothers may pass on personality traits and relationship skills that contribute to unstable partnerships. 

What all this means for me is that I must remain a work in progress. My kids have been dealt hands that seem to predict unstable family lives in their futures, but, just like in 5-card draw, I can do my best to replace some of their weaker cards with stronger ones by compensating for some of my weaker traits and continuing to build my relationship skills. Lappegård and Thomson’s study documents that my kids are at a higher risk for multipartner fertility, but in the end, their ability to create a stable family life for their children is up to them.

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.

Tue, 29 Jan 2019 07:30:00 -0500
Drug-Addicted Mothers and Child Well-Being by Naomi Schaefer Riley (@NaomiSRiley)

A few weeks ago, The New York Times issued a massive mea culpa on its editorial page:

News organizations shoulder much of the blame for the moral panic that cast mothers with crack addictions as irretrievably depraved and the worst enemies of their children. The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek and others further demonized black women “addicts” by wrongly reporting that they were giving birth to a generation of neurologically damaged children who were less than fully human and who would bankrupt the schools and social service agencies once they came of age.

It is certainly true that the dire predictions about the outcomes for babies born to crack-addicted mothers turned out to be overblown. Some crack-addicted mothers did indeed give birth to babies with severe neurological and organ damage. But it was hard to isolate the effects of in-utero exposure to cocaine from all of the other behaviors that drug-using mothers were engaging in—poor diets, smoking, etc. At least part of the reason that this crack baby panic ensued in the 1980s was the public was starting to learn for the first time how a mother’s alcohol consumption could cause severe problems for babies. It wasn’t until 1973 that researchers officially diagnosed fetal alcohol syndrome. 

But what does the exaggeration of the problems that babies born to crack-addicted mothers experience actually mean for policymakers, child welfare workers, and the media today?

For the Times, the answer is to tread more carefully: “We now grapple with questions about whether opioids or even legal marijuana are harmful during pregnancy, not to mention the thousands of breathless studies on drugs like alcohol, caffeine, or Tylenol. But the science around pregnancy needs to be approached with humility and humanity.”

Even as we have begun to better understand the connection between a mother’s activities during pregnancy and the biological effects on a child, we have also become much more attuned to how the early years of a child’s life have a significant effect on brain development and the acquisition of intellectual, social, and emotional skills. Even if a child manages to exit the womb relatively healthy from a mother who has a drug or alcohol problem, the question of how he or she will fare in those first years at home is an open one. No one who has ever tried to watch a toddler for a few hours would think it’s possible to do so safely while high or drunk. 

But in their rush to suggest that women who were addicted to crack should not have been vilified for abusing their children, the Times seems to skip over the question of the lasting damage that is done to children by mothers who abuse drugs regularly while their children are small. If the lesson from the crack epidemic is that we should do more to sympathize with those who suffer from addiction and help them find the path to treatment and support, that’s great. But if we take from that period in our history the notion that mothers abusing drugs can be expected to raise children who develop normally, we are in for a rude awakening.

The results of substance abuse on the lives of young children are clear. For every five incidents in which a child is removed from his or her home, two to four of them have to do with a family member’s substance abuse. And there are some experts who think that social workers are being too blasé about the presence of drugs in a home. 

A few months ago, Melinda Gushwa of the Simmons College School of Social Work spoke to me about that question. Her job involves analyzing reports of child fatalities, and she says that child-welfare workers are not paying enough attention to parental substance abuse. “The number one reason kids die is neglect,” she told me. “It’s because the parents are impaired and not providing adequate supervision.” She added that caseworkers are not asking questions about the parents’ drug use, or when they last met with a counselor or went to a meeting. There may be any number of reasons for this—a deficiency in training or a lack of experience may be to blame. It may also be that these caseworkers have heard too much from the media and their colleagues about the overreaction to the crack epidemic and don’t want to repeat past mistakes. But that won’t prevent us from making new ones. 

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

Mon, 28 Jan 2019 07:30:00 -0500
Friday Five 261 by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin)

Don't Fear the Sex Recession
Hope Reese, JSTOR Daily

The Involvement in Child Care of Married and Cohabiting Fathers: Evidence from Italy
Silvia Meggiolaro and Fausta Ongaro, Genus

Married People Walk Faster and Have a Stronger Grip, Study Says
Emily Dixon, CNN

Too Many Americans Will Not Be Able to Retire
Noah Smith, Bloomberg

Seeing is (Not) Believing: How Viewing Pornography Shapes the Religious Lives of Young Americans (Open Access)
Samuel Perry and George M. Hayward, Social Forces

Fri, 25 Jan 2019 08:00:00 -0500
Honoring Richard Brake by W. Bradford Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP)

At the end of this month, the Institute for Family Studies must bid a fond farewell to Dr. Richard Brake, the man who has led our team with excellence for the last four years. As he hands the reins to incoming executive director, Michael Toscano, we cannot thank Rich enough for his dedicated efforts on behalf of IFS. He leaves us in strength, health, and with a bright future to join St. Michael Academy in Michigan as principal, where he will pursue his first love of teaching and education.

Since Rich joined IFS in 2014, our institutional budget and staff doubled and our Family-Studies blog increased from about 3,000 visitors per month to approximately 180,000. Under his leadership, we also launched a beautiful new website, and we now enjoy regular media appearances in The AtlanticNew York TimesWall Street JournalNational Review Online, and many other media outlets. During his tenure, we published a number of groundbreaking reports on the family, including:

  • The World Family Map 2017 by W. Bradford Wilcox and Laurie DeRose, which was covered by the BBC, Real Clear PolicyChristianity TodayThe WeekDeseret NewsThe Washington Times, Brookings Institution, AEI, and more.
  • The Millennial Success Sequence by W. Bradford Wilcox and Wendy Wang, which was featured in The Washington PostThe New York Times, CNBC, and the Administration for Children and Families.
  • Black Men Making it in America by W. Bradford Wilcox, Wendy Wang, and Ronald B. Mincy, which was covered by David Brooks in The New York Times and by Deseret News,, and the Washington Free Beacon, among others.

This is, of course, only a small sampling of the products we have produced under Rich’s leadership at IFS and does not include the numerous research briefs we have published, which are similarly covered by media outlets. Thanks in large part to Rich’s excellent leadership over the last several years, the word is getting out that strong families make stable societies.

One of Rich’s greatest strengths is his eye for talent and trust in people. He hired, among others, Alysse ElHage, our blog editor, and Wendy Wang, our Director of Research. They are themselves wonderful colleagues and indispensable to our work.

As his close collaborator since 2014, I personally want to thank Rich for his leadership and diligence. He is a shrewd mind, steady hand, and a kind, believing soul. America’s understanding of marriage today has been strengthened due to his efforts.

On behalf of the IFS board, staff, fellows, and contributors, we want to thank Richard Brake for his successful efforts to help grow IFS over the last four years. We wish him well in his important new task of molding and shaping the leaders of tomorrow, and we pledge to make him proud for many years to come.

Thu, 24 Jan 2019 10:30:00 -0500
The Real Housewives of America: Dad’s Income and Mom’s Work by Robert VerBruggen (@RAVerBruggen) and Wendy Wang (@WendyRWang)

Devotees of reality TV may think that stay-at-home moms are more common among the rich—think the “ Real Housewives” of Orange County, of Beverly Hills, of Atlanta, and so on. By contrast, close observers of American family life may think stay-at-home moms are more common among the poor.

It turns out they are both right, according to a new Institute for Family Studies analysis of the 2017 American Community Survey. Among mothers married to husbands who work full-time and year-round—the population most likely to have the option of staying home—there is a U-shaped curve between a mother's chances of being out of the labor force and her husband's earned income. That is, the real housewives of America are most likely to be found among women married to men earning just a little or quite a lot.

Close to half of mothers whose husbands earn $250,000 or higher a year (46%) are not in the labor force. On the other end of the income spectrum, 35% of mothers whose husbands make less than $25,000 a year are stay-at-home moms. Mothers married to husbands with an income between $50,000 and $75,000the group that includes the median husband’s income of $60,000are the least likely to stay at home; only 25% of them are out of the labor force.

We’re not showing up at the “mommy wars” to support a certain side—VerBruggen is the son of a stay-at-home mom and the husband of a working one, so he’s not allowed to say anything judgmental about either arrangement, while Wang is a working mom who is sometimes envious of her stay-at-home friends. But when we noticed this pattern, we couldn’t resist exploring these data further, both to sort out the relationship between husbands’ income and wives’ working decisions and to see if it has changed in recent years, especially because breadwinner moms have become more common in today’s families.

So why would we see a U shape rather than a linear relationship between men’s income and women’s labor force participation? After all, economic theory might predict a simple rising line, because as one’s spouse makes more money, the returns to additional income diminish and thus staying at home becomes more attractive to at least some women.

A couple of factors are at play. First of all, people with similar educational and economic backgrounds tend to marry each other—a phenomenon known as “assortative mating.” Lower-income men often partner with women whose potential earned income is also lower. When children are in the picture, the high childcare costs often outweigh that (potential) second income. For these couples, it often makes more financial sense, given high childcare costs and her low potential earnings, to have someone stay at home, usually mom.

But on the other hand, higher-income men tend to marry women with higher education and higher earnings. For these mothers, opting out of the workforce carries a higher opportunity cost. Therefore, only when the husband’s income reaches a certain level, can the family start to “afford” to have these women stay at home.

Of course, we are only talking about raising children in economic terms here. Despite parenting being time-consuming and exhausting work, parents actually find the time they spend taking care of their children more rewarding than the time they spend at work, according to Wang’s earlier research using time-use data. Moreover, in an age of helicopter parenting, raising children often feels like more than a full-time job today. It is no surprise that some women may want to or feel like they need to trade their professional jobs for a full-time (unpaid) job at home.

One way of testing this is to look at the impact of education on the married mothers in our sample because education is a rough proxy for earning capacity. And what makes this complicated is that it really is the case that higher-earning dads have higher-educated wives. The higher the father’s income, the more likely it is that the mother has a BA or more—above 75% when the father’s income tops $250,000. So, the education dynamic may straighten out the curve somewhat for more educated women.

We wouldn't expect to fully straighten out the curve by accounting for this, because assortative mating happens within educational categories as well. (For instance, Ivy League grads are disproportionately likely to marry other Ivy League grads, not just to marry college grads in general.) But we should expect the left-hand side of the shape to be less pronounced when women are separated by education.

Indeed, that is what we see. A 10-point drop in labor-force opting-out among married mothers in our initial chart is cut down by half or more within educational categories.1

This theory, then, is a good fit for the data and makes a great deal of intuitive sense. Further, our results are strikingly similar when the same analyses are run on the 2010 ACS instead of the 2017 ACS, suggesting that these patterns are reasonably stable over the short run. It appears there has been little change in the relationship between men’s income and women’s moves to stay at home among married parents over the course of the last seven years.

To be sure, there is a difference between a commonsensical theory consistent with the facts and an ironclad causal inference. There are other ways to interpret these findings, some of which are probably another part of the story and deserve further exploration. There may be a selection effect in which higher-earning men seek out women willing to stay home, for example, or differences in values among women of different skill levels. In previous work, Wang found that lower-income women are more likely to say their ideal arrangement would be to work full time.

Further, while education is a proxy for earning capacity, it’s also an indication of a woman’s intention to work; a college education is, after all, largely an investment in one’s future ability to make money.

And as it happens, a new survey conducted by IFS and the Wheatley Institution sheds even more light on the factors related to women’s labor-force participation.

The “Ideal” Work Situation for Mothers

Having children is a major life-changing event for both men and women. And priorities in life can also change because of parenthood. When asked what their ideal work situation would be, only 28% of American married mothers say it is full-time work, whereas 43% of married women without children say so, according to our new survey.2

Meanwhile, 40% of married mothers consider working part-time to be their ideal situation, which makes part-time work the most popular choice. And more than one-in-five married mothers prefer not to work for pay at all. (The rest, 9% of married mothers, haven’t made up their mind yet.)

Children’s age also plays a role in mothers’ preferences. Among married mothers with children ages 0 to 3 at home, only 17% prefer to work full time, and 34% consider staying at home as their ideal situation. In contrast, 31% of married mothers with children ages 4 to 17 prefer full-time work, and 21% prefer not to work outside the home. The share of married mothers who prefer part-time work is around 40%, regardless of their children’s age.

Overall, mothers are more likely than non-mothers to express a stronger desire to either work part time or not at all, regardless of their marital status. Findings from the new IFS/Wheatley Institution survey suggest that 37% of mothers with children under age 18 prefer part-time work, and 21% prefer not to work outside the home at all (32% prefer full-time work). And among women without children under age 18, only 28% prefer to work part time, 10% prefer not to work, and 51% consider full-time work their ideal.

Given that the survey was conducted online and allowed respondents to report “don’t know” in their responses, the results are not directly comparable to those of previous telephone-based surveys on the same topic. Nevertheless, they are broadly consistent with what previous surveys found. For example, in a 2012 Pew Research Center telephone-based survey, 53% of married mothers said that part-time work was ideal and 23% preferred not working for pay at all.

It is important to note that the “ideal” situation does not always align with reality. Despite a strong preference for part-time work, only 26% of married mothers ages 18-50 work part-time, according to our analyses of the 2017 American Community Survey. In contrast, 45% of married mothers work full-time, and 30% do not work for pay.

Marriage just by itself today does not seem to have an impact on women’s labor-force participation. In fact, among women without children under age 18 at home, married women are more likely than unmarried women to work full-time. This could be because highly-educated women today are more likely than their less-educated peers to marry, and also more likely to work full time.

However, parenthood still matters. Married mothers are more likely to be out of the labor force than other women. For women ages 18-50, the group most likely to not be working is married mothers (30%).

On the other hand, a mother's work status differs sharply by her children’s ages. Only 38% of mothers with infants and toddlers work full time, regardless of their marital status. And 36% of married mothers with children ages 0 to 3 do not work outside the home. The share among unmarried mothers with children at this age is somewhat lower (26%).

Mothers are much more likely to work full-time when their children are older. Close to half of married mothers with children ages 4 to 17 at home (48%) work full time, and a majority of unmarried mothers with children of similar ages work full time (56%).

It is not surprising to see that mothers of children ages 0 to 3 are the group who are most likely to stay at home. Children at this age demand an enormous amount of parental care, and it is very expensive to outsource this job. The annual child-care cost for a young child now exceeds $12,000, on par with college tuition, in many states in America. Given current costs, for many parents (not only mothers), staying at home makes more economic sense.

In the end, what we see in the data is that different families divide work and family responsibilities in different ways—sometimes because of how much money a spouse is bringing in, sometimes because of the cost of child care, and sometimes simply because different people value different things. But what this research brief tells us is that her education, his income, and their child’s age all loom large in shaping who does what in contemporary American married families.

Robert VerBruggen is a Research Fellow of the Institute for Family Studies and deputy managing editor of National Review. Wendy Wang, Ph.D., is Director of Research of the Institute for Family Studies and the lead author of Breadwinner Moms(Washington, DC: Pew, 2013). Download a copy of this research brief here.

1. A logistic regression predicting the labor-force participation of the wives in our sample is consistent with this story as well. When the women’s race, nativity, and age are controlled, along with a dummy variable indicating whether any children are under age 5, paternal incomes are positively correlated with being out of the labor force, while higher levels of maternal education are negatively correlated.

2. The survey was conducted on Sep 13-25, 2018, with a nationally representative sample of 2,025 adults ages 18-50 in the U.S. via the Knowledge Panel of Ipsos. It is part of the IFS/Wheatley Institution 2018 Global Family & Gender Survey (GFGS).

Wed, 23 Jan 2019 07:30:00 -0500
Culture Matters: What Holidays, the White Working Class, and the Chinese Zodiac Can Tell Us About Fertility by Lyman Stone (@lymanstoneky)

With American fertility in freefall, demographers and journalists have been looking for explanations. Many focus on the usual suspects: employment, childcare costs, lack of parental leave, housing costs, etc.

These factors do matter. But there’s another set of factors many analysts struggle to wrestle with: culture. The cultural question has grown in prominence as fertility continues to decline amid an extended economic boom. Politics has had a role in amplifying the debate as well: in a now widely-discussed monologue, Fox News host Tucker Carlson bemoaned the state of the American working class, focusing particularly on the inability of ordinary Americans to form families.

So, does culture matter?

Short-Run Cultural Effects Are Easy to Spot 

The first trick is to define “culture.” For my purposes, culture is any set of beliefs, norms, or behaviors people have that do not seem to be strictly tied to discernible material interests.

Take holidays as an example. The United States has many holidays and observances. It turns out, people tend to avoid holiday birthdays. The graph below shows the percentage change in births on a given day versus 7 and 14 days before and previously.

As you can see, births are lesson common during the holidays. Nobody wants to mess up their social schedule or waste their vacation days by having a baby on Christmas Day. According to CDC data, lower births on holidays and weekends are closely associated with higher rates of C-sections in the surrounding days, so this really is about parents avoiding holiday births intentionally.

Things are different in other cultures. The graph below shows the daily birth difference around Easter, Christmas when it falls on a weekday, and Christmas when it falls on a weekend, in Poland and the United States. I use Poland because it has a similar religious background as the U.S. (Christianity), but generally of a more liturgical bent, and with greater uniformity (overwhelmingly Catholic).

As the figure illustrates, the U.S. and Poland have virtually identical hits to births on Christmas day. Both American and Polish parents seem to avoid having a Christmas baby, perhaps because, in both countries, there are very large Christmas festivities.

But the two countries show a divergence on Easter. In the U.S., births are only a little bit lower on Easter than the Sundays 1 and 2 weeks before; the effect is barely large enough to register. But in Poland, the effect of Easter Sunday is almost as large as the effect of a weekend Christmas on reducing daily births!

In other societies, radically different effects show up. For example, lucky and unlucky years on the Chinese Zodiac influence the timing of births. The graph below shows the average difference in total fertility rates between a year of a given zodiac sign and the year before and after it for a range of ethnically Chinese populations for which good-quality data is available.

The most reliable effects are a big bump in births in Dragon years, as well as a decline in Tiger years. But the point here is not to do a deep analysis of Chinese Zodiac signs, but just to observe that, from all appearance, arbitrary cultural beliefs about lucky and unlucky years do seem to influence fertility.

It's easy to find more examples of this kind of thing around the world. I found at least four holiday-fertility effects documented in a brief search, including Christmas and summer holidays in the Czech Republic, Ramadan observance among Muslims in Israel, New Year’s festivities in France, and the Ghost Month in Taiwan. All have all been shown to have a major role in shaping the timing of births.

So, do seemingly-arbitrary, non-economic factors related to beliefs and values have an influence on fertility? Yes, at least as far as timing is concerned. But does it influence the bigger question: how many kids people have? Research on fertility timing and level among immigrants and their children in the United States and France suggests that the extent to which culture matters for fertility depends on the economic costs of the culturally-prescribed behavior: shifting timing by a few days or months may be a relatively lower cost than shifting fertility completion, so it isn’t clear that these short-run impacts will show up in the long run.

Culture Matters in the Long Run

One of my favorite examples of “how culture matters” is documented in another article I’ve written here at IFS. In 2007, in response to a low birth rate, the enormously popular leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriach Ilia II, announced that he would personally baptize any third or higher parity child. This had a very simple effect: Georgian women had more babiesespecially higher-parity babies. This effect wasn’t driven by economic factors, wasn’t duplicated in other Soviet countries or regional neighbors with a similar pre-2007 fertility trend, and does appear to have been concentrated among Georgian Orthodox believers.

As you can see, the promise of baptism increased fertility substantially, and, combined with increases in child subsidies, fertility has remained above replacement. It is a near-surety that this effect, having now endured for a decade, and being targeted on higher-parity children, will result in higher completed fertility for Georgian women. In other words, a specific, arbitrary cultural decision (Patriach Ilia II’s promise of personal baptism for third children) yielded a durable change in fertility behavior.

But Georgia may be unique in this regard. Georgia is a 90% Orthodox country, and among Orthodox countries, one of the most devout. Can these results be extrapolated to bigger, diverse countries?

Some studies suggest that the answer may be yes. A study of American fertility demonstrated that higher viewership in an area of the shows 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and Teen Mom 2 resulted in lower teen pregnancy, associated with increased Twitter activity and Google searches related to birth control and abortion. There have been criticisms of this study, but, overall, its findings have held up pretty well. As I’ve shown elsewhere, reduced young pregnancies are not being compensated for by higher birth rates at older ages these days, and thus this reduction in teen births can be viewed as a durable reduction in the birth rate. In other words, even in a diverse, pluralist society like the United States, cultural effects seem to matter.

Similar effects of entertainment on fertility have been demonstrated in other contexts. In Brazil, the childbearing behaviors of popular soap opera characters altered the fertility behavior of viewers, including significant differences in how children were named: a durable, not temporary, effect. Around the world, higher prevalence of television viewership is associated with lower sexual frequency, which might reduce fertility; and of course in the United States, the rise of smart phones has been identified as a possible driver of lower American sexual frequency. These are not inevitable social or cultural choices. Societies have wide variety in TV viewership even in similar-income countries. TV show writers can alter how many kids their characters have and their attitudes toward those kids. Seemingly arbitrary societal choices about how to present families do actually matter for fertility.

Traditional fertility norms can be passed down by families for generations. Research by Bastien Chabe-Ferret (the same author cited earlier who modeled the culture/economic cost trade-off) shows that cultural norms can be inherited and conditioned. Controlling for socioeconomic status, African-American women in America born in states with higher historic African-American fertility completion are themselves more likely to have more kids. In other words, higher fertility is transmitted across generations and reinforced by certain environments. The strength of the association gets weaker the more educated a woman becomes, but it never vanishes entirely.

The same author studied fertility behavior among the Roma minority in Serbia and found that Roma living in homogenous enclaves had higher birth rates than those living around more ethnically different neighbors. In other words, living in communities that support traditional family norms makes it less costly for people to pursue and achieve those family norms. No surprise! This is related to my argument that one way to boost American fertility is to increase our voluntary, community-based support for parenting. Finally, Dr. Chabe-Ferret, using data on minorities from Indonesia, shows that the demographic position of a group can alter fertility: minority and threatened groups do actually appear to use the “weapon of the womb” to increase political power. Higher fertility rates among minorities may be a political tool. But crucially, while he looks at minorities, the same logic should apply to threatened majorities: status threat to a group can cause them to invest in a long-term strategy for political dominance—higher fertility. The specific effects here are perhaps less interesting than the wider implication that fertility rates respond to the social and cultural position of a group or an individual. In other words: culture matters.

Culture Matters in America

This kind of argument can be proven very easily in data for America as well. The General Social Survey (GSS) asks people about a wide range of cultural factors, as well as some questions about fertility. A recent paper by Samuel Perry using GSS data showed that, while fertility is declining for all Americans, it has by far declined the least among religiously-devout Americans. That is, the effect of regular church attendance on fertility, measured as the gap in completed childbearing between regular service attenders and those who do not regularly attend church is large (about 0.4 kids per woman!) and growing (see figure below).

This paper, of course, headlines its findings by showing that denominational affiliation with a conservative Protestant group no longer predicts high fertility. Being a member of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod doesn’t predict fertility well anymore. But church attendance does predict fertility, and the effect is getting stronger.

Looking at GSS data from 2010 to 2016, we can see to what extent religion predicts exceptional fertility behavior. The graph below shows how many children women say is ideal, broken out by the frequency of religious attendance, as well as the number of kids that women ages 45-70 actually had, by religious attendance.

Because I use far fewer controls than in the study described above, my measured effects are smaller. But the basic outcome is still the same: religious women want more kids, and they do end up having more kids.

The point is, religious people have more kids, and a big part of the driver for that is religious people wanting to have more kids. Crucially, if I restrict my sample to women ages 20 to 35, religious people don’t have more kids: religious attenders don’t show higher rates of young or teen births, just higher completed births.

Religion isn’t the only American cultural pattern that seems to matter. The graph below shows the total fertility rate by self-reported ancestry groups with at least 20,000 people, from 2010-2017, in the American Community Survey.

As can be seen, self-reported ancestries have huge variation in fertility rates. But perhaps just as importantly, reporting an ancestry at all is predictive of higher fertility. A woman in the average ancestry group turning 15 between 2010 and 2017 could expect to have about 2 children over her life if birth rates remain stable. But among women who did not report any ancestry, it’s just 1.74 children. In other words, many ancestry groups yield higher or lower fertility, but, on average, simply identifying with any ancestral community is associated with higher age-controlled birth rates. I don’t have a way to prove causality here, but it makes sense that self-identifying as being connected to some intergenerational ancestral heritage could be a good predictor of having an interest in perpetuating that heritage.

Culture and the Working Class

But returning to the question that inspired this post: might the poor state of family formation in America’s working class be somehow related to their cultural norms? Certainly many conservative writers have argued as much. One of the nation’s bestselling recent books, Hillbilly Elegy was a book-length accounting of the essentially cultural malaise afflicting the white working class. But is it possible to point to discrete social norms that may be inhibiting family formation?

The obvious candidate for such a norm is our attitudes about family income. Previous research has suggested that negative shocks to male income may reduce marriage rates, while negative shocks to female income may increase marriage rates. The presumed channel for this effect is that men and women both tend to have a revealed preference for a male-breadwinner family model.

The GSS asks respondents to agree or disagree with the statement that “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” Below, I show the share who are married, by question response and demographic group.

As you can see, people who agree to some extent with the male-breadwinner model are more likely to be married, even among the working class. This is striking because male working-class incomes have shown far weaker growth over the last decade or two than female working-class incomes. Thus, within demographic groups, greater belief in a male-breadwinner model is associated with higher marriage rates.

But the story gets more complicated.

When we look at the correlation between support for the male-breadwinner model and marriage rates across demographic groups rather than within them, the association reverses. In demographic categories with greater belief in the male breadwinner model, we observe lower marriage rates. Thus, while the people within a group who tend to get married tend to be the ones who believe in the male-breadwinner model, having more of those type of people in the group is not predictive of higher group marriage rates.

Precisely this kind of analysis has led some researchers to conclude that the path to greater family stability, more marriage, and more fertility is through more gender-egalitarian values. This claim that “Feminism is the new natalism,” that is, that promoting greater gender equality may increase birth rates, is worth taking seriously, given that groups with more belief in the male-breadwinner model have lower marriage rates. Plus, a cultural change towards more egalitarian values could probably be engineered through a variety of policies.

However, recent research ultimately discredits the idea that more feminism is the solution for families: shifts toward more egalitarian values have not been associated with any fertility increase anywhere in the world. Whatever cultural change could produce higher fertility, it won’t just be more progressivism.

I don’t have the answer today about whether there is a specific set of cultural norms or values among working-class Americans that drives weak family formation. It does seem like cultural beliefs are associated with different outcomes, which suggests there is some effect happening, but teasing it out is extremely challenging. For today, it’s enough to simply show that cultural differences probably do yield differences in key family outcomes.

The problem in America isn’t that people don’t want kids, it’s that they face barriers to achieving their desires. Thus, to the extent culture matters, it is less about changing the desire for children, and more about influencing other norms, behaviors, and assumptions.

Can We Change the Culture?

Culture matters. It is easy to find cases where cultural values, or even shocks to cultural expectations, seem to explain a large amount of variation in births or marriages. That raises a big question: can we change the culture, and thus change fertility? There have been attempts to do so, such as federal efforts to encourage marriage. And, while their advocates say they’re successfulthey have faced a lot of criticism on effectiveness grounds, as well. Efforts by East Asian countries to encourage procreation through cultural engineering have not worked well. Lecturing people about what they should do in the bedroom probably isn’t very effective. Plus, in a pluralist society like the United States, direct attempts at cultural engineering are likely to be resisted by the public.

And while many studies have shown examples of mass media and entertainment inducing lower fertility, nobody has yet found a case where it induced higherfertility. It’s possible there just isn’t demand for a TV show with pro-natal themes, however subtle. Even if we knew what message would be effective at changing fertility, it isn’t clear how it could be effectively communicated. My review of data on working-class Americans suggests that we don’t even really know what the cultural problem is.

To add more confusion, the specific type of cultural change America would need to increase fertility may not even be about babies! American women continue to report relatively high desired or intended childbearing. The problem in America isn’t that people don’t want kids, it’s that they face barriers to achieving their desires. Thus, to the extent culture matters, it is less about changing the desire for children, and more about influencing other norms, behaviors, and assumptions.

That said, there is at least one place where cultural choices could matter a lot: education, and especially sex and family education. As I’ve written elsewhere, abundant research has shown two key empirical facts: first, that men and women have a low degree of knowledge about fertility, and systematically underestimate their likelihood of having difficulty becoming pregnant or having children; second, that informing men and women about scientific facts of fertility (especially how rapidly biological potential declines in the late 20s) alters their stated preferences for when to have kids. In other words, the battle over American sex ed curriculum shouldn’t just be about contraception or abstinence: it should include an effort to include science-based fertility education. Women should be informed early in their childbearing years about their actual odds of being married at a given age, their actual likelihood of having a certain number of kids by a certain age, and the difficulties and costs associated with highly delayed childbearing. From middle school to the end of educational years, school counselors, nurses, and sex and family education teachers should include factual information about fertility in the curriculum.

Such a policy change is unlikely to radically alter American fertility. But it would be a step towards better informing young Americans about how to achieve their desired fertility.

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

Tue, 22 Jan 2019 07:30:00 -0500
Four Facts About the Economic Well-Being of Black Men in America by The Editors

Too often, much of the news about black men in America is sobering, if not depressing. But that's not the only story. A recent report from the Institute for Family Studies and the American Enterprise Institute features some good news about black men for a change.

In Black Men Making It in AmericaW. Bradford Wilcox, Wendy Wang, and Ronald B. Mincy used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 to track a cohort of men born between 1957 and 1964 from their early years to ages 50 and older in order to determine how many have made into the middle class or higher by midlife, and what institutional and cultural factors are behind their success.

Here are four encouraging findings from the IFS/AEI report:

1. A substantial share of black men in the United States are realizing the American Dream—at least financially—and a majority are not poor. Per a new analysis of Census data outlined in the report, more than one-in-two black men (57%) have made it into the middle class or higher as adults today, up from 38% in 1960.

And the share of black men who are poor has fallen from 41% in 1960 to 18% in 2016.

2. Education, work, and marriage are central to the economic success of black men in the United States. Black men who work full time, earned at least some college education, and married are significantly more likely to be members of the middle or upper class in their fifties. For example, about 70% of married black men are in the middle class, compared to only 20% of never-married black men and 44% of divorced black men.

3. Military service is also linked to higher odds of making it into the middle class or higher for black men. The report finds that black men who served in the military are more likely than those who did not to be in the middle class when they reach mid-life (54% vs. 45%).

4. Additionally, regular church attendance and a strong sense of personal agency are linked to upward mobility for black men. Black men who frequently attended church services at a young age are more likely to reach the middle class or higher in their fifties. For example, 53% of those who attended church as young men made it, compared to 43% who did not.

Moreover, black men who scored above average in their sense of agency as young men or teenagers in the late 1970s are more likely to be prosperous later in life, compared to their peers who did not have the same sense of agency (52% vs. 44%). "Agency" was measured by reports that they are directing the course of their lives versus feeling like they are not in control.

"The public conversation about race in America, and the fortunes of black men, in particular, has been sobering of late, and for reasons that are understandable," write Wilcox, Wang, and Mincy. "But, as our new report shows, there are also reasons for hope and models of success worth dwelling upon when it comes to how we think about and discuss race in America."

Read the full IFS/AEI report, Black Men Making It in America, and watch a panel discussion on the report’s findings hosted by AEI.

Editor’s Note: Portions of this article were taken from the executive summary of the report.

Mon, 21 Jan 2019 07:30:00 -0500