Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Most Babies Ever to Unmarried Moms

The Census Bureau announced that a record number of American children – nearly 1.5 million – were born to unmarried women. This represents more than a third of all babies born in the country last year.

Most of those babies were not born to teenagers. Teen moms only accounted for a quarter of the births to unmarried mothers. In fact, the teen birthrate has been declining significantly for some years.

Most of those million and a half babies were born to women in their twenties. Most are done their preparation for adulthood, and have begun it – babies first, husbands maybe. Many of them (the Census Bureau did not report how many) are living with the fathers of their babies. We have good reason to think from other research that many of those cohabiting mothers believe that the baby puts them a giant step closer to marriage. The fathers of their babies, on the other hand, are more likely to think that if she didn’t insist that they get married before the baby was born, the pressure is off to ever get married – or even to stay permanently.

A third of all babies born last year are born without legal ties to their fathers. A large proportion of them – half is probably a safe guess – will not have much of a relation with their fathers in 2025, when they become full adults in the eyes of the law. That is a huge and scary proportion of all the new adults to have come up fatherless.

Here is a worthwhile centrist family goal: by 2010, let’s get the number of out-of-wedlock births down to a mere million. That will serve hundreds of thousands of children better, and serve society as a whole.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Family Values: Rap vs. Country

Today I looked at the top five rap songs versus the top five country songs, according to the Billboard singles charts. I was looking for what they had to say about love, sex, marriage, and children.

The rap songs are:
Soul Survivor, by Young Jeezy Featuring Akon
Gold Digger, by Kanye West Featuring Jamie Foxx
Like You, by Bow Wow Featuring Ciara
Girl Tonite, by Twista Featuring Trey Songz
Play, by David Banner

The country songs are:
Better Life, by Keith Urban
Skin (Sarabeth), by Rascal Flatts
Probably Wouldn't Be This Way, by LeAnn Rimes
Who You'd Be Today, by Kenny Chesney
Redneck Yacht Club, by Craig Morgan

All the rap songs are sung by, and from the perspective of, men, though one is an unbalanced duet.

“Soul Survivor” is about unrepentant armed drug dealers. There is nothing about love, or even sex, in this one, but it portrays a very bleak world.

“Like You” is a straight love song, though the marks of his care for her are not a promise of marriage and children, but letting her drive his Benz and go on shopping sprees. Still, this is the most hopeful of the bunch.

“Girl Tonite” is an extremely vulgar sex song. “Play” is a pornographic sex song, including an invitation to group sex with her friends. He calls himself a pimp and the other women hoes. This one is truly disgusting.

The most interesting rap song is Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” which Maggie Gallagher wrote about recently. This is a gold mine (so to speak) of relational disaster and ambivalence. The woman he describes is a gold digger, though he says he won’t call her that. She has four children, some by other named stars. She wants him to pay for them, too. He offers as general advice that if a woman has your child you have to pay her child support for 18 years. He has a friend, an NFL star, who paid child support, but the woman spent the money on herself – and after 18 years he discovered that the child is not his, anyway. Yet the singer claims that he loves her anyway.

The key lines are:
“If you ain’t no punk holla We Want Prenup
It's something that you need to have
Cause when she leave yo ass she gone leave with half”

Note that he says when she leaves, not if.

He urges another woman to stick with a poor but ambitious young man who will make it one day – but then the punch line is “But when you get on he leave yo ass for a white girl”

This is a tragic view of the relations of men and women, and truly horrid for the children they casually and incidentally produce.

The country songs are, not surprisingly, a different story altogether.

“Better Life,” like “Like You,” is a man promising a woman to stay with her and provide a better life for her – with none of the ambivalence of “Gold Digger.”

“Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way,” and “Who’d You Be Today,” are both about grieving for a dead loved one, the first by a widow, the second by, I think, a father. They are tender and straightforwardly grateful for the loving relationship that they had, before the early death of the other person.

“Redneck Yacht Club” is just a genial, working class hoot. Whereas the rappers brag about how expensive their things are, the country singers emphasize how modest their lives are materially. The good ol’ boys who tie their houseboats together for some low-key summer fun suggest nothing more risqué than “than checking out the girls on the upper deck.”

The most interesting song of this set is Rascal Flatts’ “Skin.” A teenage girl with cancer, supported by mom and dad, worries about the embarrassment of going to the prom bald, and thus disappointing her first love. When he picks her up for the dance, however, he has shaved his head in solidarity with her.

I read both sets of top-selling songs as telling us more about the audience than the performers. The audience for country songs wants a world of married parents taking care of their kids, and encouraging young love, in a life in which material things are secondary. The rap audience, on the other hand, wants to feel the feeling of a bleak world of sex, money, and impermanence in all relationships.

Both audiences, we know from other research, are predominantly white. The country singers, though, are popular because they reflect the lives and aspirations of an audience that is like the singers themselves. The appeal of rap songs about brutal, criminal, misogynist black men to the white boys who buy most rap music is that rap portrays a life they don’t live, but are darkly attracted to. Most of them will get over it, and live a life more like a country song. Still, the rap world, as portrayed in its best-selling songs, is all threat to marriage and family life, and no help.

But it is an effective way to annoy your parents. And that may be the main point.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Parents Support School Vouchers

In the same Survey on Faith and Family in America that I wrote about yesterday, another question was asked that we have not been hearing so much about lately: school vouchers. There was only one question about it on the survey, and the answers have not been reported in any of the press accounts of the survey. I think it shows strongly the appeal of vouchers to parents, and is worth wider discussion.

The survey asked:

Q.52 Please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statement. Parents should get tax-funded vouchers they can use to help pay for tuition for their children to attend private or religious schools instead of public schools?

This wording should push the answers in an anti-voucher direction – the choice of the words “tax-funded” and “instead” are favored by opponents of vouchers. By contrast, a pro-voucher wording might be “Parents should be able to choose the best school for their children, using their portion of the taxes collected for education,” or something like that.

Therefore, it is doubly interesting that despite wording that should suppress a pro-voucher response, nearly two-thirds of parents support having the choice of vouchers.

Nearly half (49%) of all respondents favor vouchers, and most of them (31% of the total) favor them “strongly.” When we move from all respondents in general, to parents in particular, the proportion favoring vouchers leaps from half to two thirds, with most of them favoring vouchers strongly.

What is even more interesting is that single parents, who generally are more liberal than married parents, take the conservative, pro-voucher view even more strongly than the marrieds do. Whereas 40% of married parents strongly favor vouchers, 45% -- almost half -- of single parents do.

By contrast, barely a fifth of parents strongly oppose vouchers – 21% for married parents, and only 17% for single parents.

I will revisit this question when the full dataset is released, to see how other groupings – by race, class, sex, and religion – feel about vouchers.

Until then, we have this strong finding to ponder: when it comes to schools, parents are strongly pro-choice.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Married Parents Really Are Happier

The new Survey of Faith and Family in America conducted for the PBS show Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly asked a national sample of Americans whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “Married people are generally happier than unmarried people.” 30% of married parents strongly agreed, while 35% of single parents strongly disagreed. It is not surprising that married people would think married people, as a group, are better off, and unmarried people would not.

The survey itself contains a reality check, though. The respondents were also asked to rate how happy they were themselves. The analysts then compared these self-reports of happiness for the married parents and the single parents. The result:

The married were well over twice as likely to report themselves “completely happy” as the singles, 29% to 11%.

Nearly half of the marrieds (46%), but only a third of the singles (32%), called themselves “very happy.”

Nearly half the singles (44%) chose the next level down, only “fairly happy” to describe themselves.

Only one percent of the marrieds would even call themselves neither happy nor unhappy, and none of them said they were unhappy. By contrast, over ten times that many singles (11%) called themselves less than definitely happy.

While singles don’t want to believe that married people are happier, their own reports of their feelings shows that the marrieds are really happier – and know it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Promoting Marriage is a Public Good

Over at the Family Scholars Blog, David Blankenhorn comments today on the PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly poll on “Faith and Family.” He writes:

“here to me is the most striking statistic — 82 percent of respondents say that government should NOT “start up programs that encourage people to get and stay married.” I’ve supported the Administration’s Healthy Marriage Initiative since the beginning, and I still do, but these numbers (and yes, I know, the wording of the question could be better) strongly suggest that, in the public mind, the basic idea is going nowhere.”

The same survey reports that most people strongly support marriage. The resistance, I think, is to the government supporting marriage. I expect there would be less resistance to other, voluntary, institutions supporting marriage.

Americans think of marriage as a good thing. However, a rising fraction of us have come to think of marriage as a private good. This is a dangerous notion. Marriage is, of course, good for private citizens. But it is also a very important public good. Society as a whole has a stake in the strength of marriages in general, and of each marriage. This means that the state does have an interest in promoting marriage.

I think that more people are adopting the view that marriage is a private good. They are not taking this view because they think any less of marriage. Rather, they are trying to avoid making a moral judgment that there is anything wrong with not valuing marriage. I don’t think the issue is about other kinds of marriage besides the traditional one. It is not the existence of alternatives to marriage which pushes people to moral privatism. It is a desire to avoid conflict with other people about the possibility of their having other judgments.

I think everyone should be willing stand up for what they think is right. Once again, we would all be greatly helped if most people were comfortable talking about the good, and the good enough. I am convinced that most people will privately choose the good, which will benefit society. Some people will have to settle for the good enough, sometimes for reasons beyond their control.

The real battleground is whether people who might get or stay married don’t do so, because people they respect have not had the nerve to say “marriage is better.”

Monday, October 24, 2005

Mainline Church Marriage: The Middle Way

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) takes a middle way on marriage, between a secular minimum and a sacramental maximum. The Presbyterian position is representative of most mainline Protestant denominations, and really of Protestant denominations in general. Catholic practice is not that far from this standard, though the Catholic theory of marriage is a little different.

“Marriage – A Theological Statement” was adopted by the church in 1980. A Q and A section makes clear that the church’s view of marriage is high in its aspirations, but reasonable in its actual requirements.

1. Should everyone be married? No. Marriage is good, but so is singleness. Jesus and Paul weren’t married.

2. Is divorce legitimate? Yes, but bad. It is a concession to sin.

3. Is intimacy outside marriage legitimate? Yes, but marriage is best. Intimacy without sex is possible and good. Sex within a merely private commitment is not really marriage.

4. What is the appropriate structure of marriage? This is the headship question. Husbands model what Christ does for church, wives model what Christians do with God. Both husbands and wives are supposed to submit to God and lead by service to others.

5. Is a wedding ceremony necessary for marriage? No, but something like it before the Christian community is.

6. Must a marriage involve the intention to have children? No. God wants humanity to be fruitful and multiply, but this does not mean that every marriage must be.

7. Is monogamy the necessary form of marriage? No, but only barely – if polygamy is the local norm and the mission church accepts that the married partners are trying to live in intimacy, fidelity, and forgiveness. But these will be “strained” by multiple spouses.

8. Must both partners be Christian? No, but we should encourage everyone to Christian commitment, and marriage is a powerful way to do that.

Sometimes Christians, especially conservative Christians, elevate the importance of marriage almost to the point of idolatry. It is important, therefore, to see how modest the actual requirements of Protestant marriage really are.

The Presbyterian marriage statement argues that God made men and women different, but created marriage so that they might unite in love and become one flesh. Yet sin infects even marriages, and sometimes they dissolve, especially due to adultery, desertion, or relations that actually harm the people in the family. This is not good, but the church works together with the divorced to encourage them to give and accept forgiveness and to maintain fidelity in their other relationships. And marriage, though a very good state, is not better than singleness, and will not be continued or repeated in the life to come.

Marriage is, for Protestants, primarily a social institution. The main rules of marriage are made by the state. Being married within the church can sanctify the marriage, calling on the aid of the Christian community and of God to help the couple. But marriage is not a sacrament.

The mainline Protestant standard for marriage is a modest, workable, and centrist approach. Knowing that may take some of the fear out of “Christian family values” for liberals and secularists.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Marriage vs. “Close Relations” Matters to the Church

Today, contemporary family law theorists are bent on hammering this new theory into law, usually using the avenue of constitutional law. What is striking is the breathless speed of these developments in the absence of any real scholarly or public debate. A particular school of thought openly aimed at re-conceptualizing marriage first took root in the academy in the 1980s. By the late 1990s it had come to dominate fashionable academic theorizing on sexual intimacy. That school of thought is successfully urging family law scholars to think in radically new ways about family law. Much of the new thinking centers on ways to transform family law from its historic role as the protector of marriage into something very close to its antagonist.

- Dan Cere, The Future of Family Law

Dan Cere, in his review of the current trends in family law, notes that in the past generation the legal discussion has changed from the traditional concern with marriage, to a wholesale substitution of the concept of “close relations.” Marriage is treated as a subset of close relations, at best. This change reflects the political movement to normalize both cohabitation and same-sex unions. Indeed, the “close relations” movement may go beyond putting other pairings on a par with marriage. The longer-term effect may be to treat marriage just as a private lifestyle choice of some individuals, rather than the basic unit of society’s foundational building block. Nor need the revolution stop there: any sort of “close relation,” involving any number, age, and configuration of people, might come to be treated as just as good as any other, as long as it is important to the participants.

The church, though, has a different standard. In the Biblical understanding, marriage is not simply the close relation of two individuals, but makes them “one flesh.” A married couple is not literally one person. But neither are they simply two separate individuals who have made a voluntary and temporary tie.

In the debate about same-sex unions that I discussed before, Maggie Gallagher pointed out that many of the tangles that Protestants get into over this issue happen because Protestants are prone to a more individualistic analysis of everything. Catholics, on the other hand, are more prone to talk about marriage as making the couple “one flesh” in the first place. Both branches of the church have a stake in how secular family law develops.

The law now treats marriage as a unique status. There is nothing else like it, not even the parent-child bond. Our law coincides with the church’s understanding because they both share an underlying – and very high – view of marriage. This is important to say – the law treats marriage as a unique, and uniquely important, relationship for good secular reasons. It is not simply a holdover from a previously religious era.

This is why we need a status of the “good enough” relationship, which is still not the same as the social ideal. Marriage is not just a close relationship like others. But saying that marriage is unique does not mean that all other close relationships are bad.