Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you and your family (slightly early).

The whole Gruntled clan will be visiting family from now to the new year.

I have created an alphabetical index of the first 100 posts.

More indices to follow in 2006, as well as a new year of gruntling.

See you then!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Good News: College Graduates Twice as Likely as High-School Dropouts to Marry Before they Have Kids

Most college graduates cohabit before they marry.

But, three quarters of college graduates are married at the time of their first birth.

This compares with barely half of the non-high school graduates who are married when their first child is born.

(A holiday quickie from the National Survey of Family Growth.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Good News: More Unplanned Kids Get Born, Anyway

In the early 1990s, 9% of “unwanted pregnancies” got born. By 2002, that number had risen to 14%. This seems like good news to me. These kids are prime candidates for abortion, but they were born, and borne, anyway. Sure, there are problems that come with unwanted kids. Of course, there are problems that come with wanted kids, too. And most moms who have surprises like that, even very unwelcome surprises, come to love that child. They might still have done it differently if they had it do to over again, but they don’t. So, having made one mistake, as I see it, they made an honorable, if difficult choice.

In the reporting about this story, I have been interested that two story lines have emerged. One says “more unwanted kids get born,” while the other says “more unwanted kids get born.” The first thinks this report is bad news; the latter, including me, thinks this is good news.

A larger point struck me, too – that is, what exactly does “unwanted” mean? Here is the way the CDC report from which these figures come listed the frequency of births from different kinds of pregnancy:

Overall, about 65 percent of recent births were intended at time of conception, 14 percent were unwanted, and 21 percent were mistimed. The 14 percent of recent births that were unwanted represents an increase from the 9 percent seen for recent births in the [early 1990s]

So, of all the kids who got born in America in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, 2/3rds were planned at the time of conception. That seems to me to be a pretty good number. Another 1/5th were mistimed, meaning that the mother planned to have kids sometime, just not that time. This leaves the 1/7th who were unwanted at the time of conception.

Katherine Edin and Maria Kefalas, in their study of poor single mothers, Promises I Can Keep, found that about half of the first children these teen moms bore were the result of pregnancies which were not exactly planned or unplanned. Most of the women they talked to were poor teenagers when they had their first child. They knew they wanted to stay with their boyfriends, and probably wanted to marry them, or someone else, someday. Even more strongly, they knew they wanted to have children. So, despite the fact that having a child in the middle of high school was a very bad idea and not what they planned, they didn’t plan against it, either. That pregnancy was both unwanted, and wanted. And, without exception in Edin and Kefalas’ study, the children born of those unwanted pregnancies were wanted children.

This number comes from a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reporting on the latest wave of an excellent longitudinal study, the National Survey of Family Growth. A longitudinal study follows the same people over time, unlike a normal, one-shot survey. Practically speaking, only the government has the resources and stick-to-itiveness to keep up with a nationally representative longitudinal study. It does take even them a few years to get the data analyzed and reported out, as with these data from 2002, but I honor and appreciate the work they do. When it comes to long-term data collection, you can’t beat big government.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Good News: Teen Smoking and Drug Use Down

“Cigarette smoking is at lowest levels in the history of the survey and overall drug use among teens and adolescents is continuing to decline.”

Those are the words of Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, commenting on their annual survey of youth health, “Monitoring the Future.” Since 1975, the National Institutes of Health has surveyed youth about all kinds of drug use.

In 1977, the peak year in the survey, 75.7% of twelfth graders reported that they have ever smoked. This year it was down to exactly half – 50.0%. Next year, perhaps, we will pass the threshold, and my year-end headline can be “Most teens have never smoked.” In that peak year of 1977, nearly a fifth (19.4%) of high school senior smoked half a pack or more a day. Today, it is down to 6.9%. Teen attitudes toward smoking have improved, too. Whereas at the beginning of the survey barely a majority (51.3%) of teens disapproved of smoking, now a solid three quarters (76.5%) disapprove – also a new record.

This compares to an adult smoking rate of 20.9%. Since most smokers started as teenagers, today’s much lower teen smoking results bode well for the future.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Good News: Teen Pregnancy is Down, and for Good Reasons

The teen pregnancy rate has been declining for more than a decade. This is good news. And this is not just a decline in the teen birth rate; if that were all, that might mean that the pregnancy rate was the same, but more of them ended with abortions, which not be so good. No, the actual pregnancy rate has gone down steadily.

Every year about 100 out of every 1000 teen-age girls gets pregnant. That is still a large number. But a decade or so ago, it was 120. This represents a significant improvement. A report done in 1999 for the Allan Guttmacher Institute made an educated guess at which factors contributed to the decline most. By the estimates of Jacqueline E. Darroch and Susheela Singh:

1/4th of the drop came from increased rates of sexual abstinence;

1/4th of the drop came from sexually active girls having sex less often;

1/2 of the drop came from sexually active girls using more effective birth control.

- More of them reported using some kind of birth control the first time they had sex.
- An increasing number of girls are using the new, longer-lasting methods of birth control that are injected or implanted.

Further good news is that the abortion rate for pregnant teens also went down.

Darroch and Singh do not speculate on why, exactly, each of these good causes improved. On the face of it, though, it would appear that a combination of improved birth control, improved education about birth control, and an improved level of self-control by teenagers, all worked together to make the lives of these teens, their families, and the children they prudently waited to have, better.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Church of Millions Will Never Be Pure

The Presbyterian Church (USA), like all the mainline denominations, is torn by an ideological and theological competition. A small left and a larger right compete with each other for the hearts and minds of the center. The center is more amorphous. They are mostly conservative, like the conservatives, but they also are mostly tolerant of extremes, unlike the conservatives (and also unlike most of the liberals). What the center folks are most committed to is preserving the church. They are loyalists to the actual church, not to the hypothetical church of either the left or the right.

The issue of the moment dividing the Presbyterian Church is the ordination of homosexuals. To the left, this is about equality and civil liberties. To the right this is about staying faithful to the Bible. To the loyalists, the overriding issue is preserving the church with minimal injustice to everyone.

The history of the Presbyterian Church has always been divided by competitions like this. The issues change; the structure of the competition does not. For more details about this history, see my books Presbyterian Pluralism and Leading From the Center. Moreover, I think the Presbyterian Church always will be divided by competitions like this, until Jesus returns and ends history as we know it. And this is true of every large church. And always has been, and always will be.

After decades of fighting, the church created a Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church in 2001. The Task Force made its report a few months ago, and will be voted on at the General Assembly next June. The Task Force took a loyalist line: they kept the traditional views already embodied in the church’s constitution, but called on everyone to trust the local ordaining bodies to apply those standards correctly. The local ordaining bodies -- the regional presbyteries in the case of ministers, the local congregations (session) in the case of lay elders – have been trusted with this authority, with a few exceptions, since the Presbyterian Church codified the rule in 1729. This means that different ordaining bodies will apply those standards a little differently.

Liberals have rejected the Task Force report because it keeps the current constitutional standards. Conservatives have rejected it because it allows some leeway in applying those standards. Loyalists will now have to choose.

When liberals were in the saddle in the 1970s, they ended the church’s longstanding practice of trusting the local ordaining bodies, in order to insist that every church body, at every level, ordain and hire women. It was the liberals who ended what is called “local option” – or more properly, local application – of the constitutional standards. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, it is the liberals who want local application, and the conservatives who don’t. Conservatives have rejected the Task Force report because it sacrifices the purity of the church in the interests of peace and, in an attenuated sense, unity. Just as the liberals would have done if they had been faced with a similar report thirty years ago.

The attempt to make every congregation and every presbytery follow the same standard will fail. And if it does not fail, it would produce a schism in which pure (or purer) congregations pull out to form a new sect. Yet the history of such sects is that they are soon split again and again to try to make them really pure, and then really, really pure. And the schisms are always much smaller than their proponents think they will be. One of the pro-schism organization in the Presbyterian Church, newPCUS, which wants to revive the old Southern Presbyterian Church, has been having a debate about what would happen if 500 or 1000 out of the 11,000 congregations in the PC(USA) withdrew. But this is not what would happen if the Task Force report is adopted. I think that if there were a schism, it would be closer to 50 congregations that would actually withdraw. Sure, most Presbyterians are conservative. But most of them are loyalists. They aren’t liberal, but they are willing to live in a mixed, impure church, with liberals.

A church of millions will never be pure.