Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Thicker the Make-up, the Thicker the Drama

This is the third women-watching aphorism from Mark Mallman.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Planned Parents Do Not Lose Their Happy Marriage

Researchers have found for some time that marital satisfaction drops when the kids are born. Couples need to have a strong marriage to survive the family crisis of having a baby. Nearly all marriages that do handle the crisis are stronger and ultimately happier for it. The great majority of parents find their own lives more meaningful for having kids.

Philip and Carolyn Cowan, longtime family researchers at Berkeley, recently parsed what happens to marital happiness for different kinds of parents. Couples who did not plan to have kids, were ambivalent about it, or disagreed about having children were less happy than they had been before. The account for almost all of the overall drop in marital satisfaction that married couples as a whole report when they have kids.

By contrast, parents who planned to have kids or who welcomed a somewhat surprising conception remained happy, and sometimes got happier, when they had a baby.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


The blogger Audacious Epigone had an interesting post on who commits adultery, based on the General Social Survey. The strongest variables he (?) could find were religious belief and political ideology. Taking just the ends of the spectrum, atheists were half again as likely to cheat as strong believers. Among men, the ratio is 30% to 20%; among women, 17% to 12%.

The gap was not quite as big between liberals and conservatives, but the former were about a third more likely to cheat than the latter. Among men the ratio is 26% to 19%; among women, 17% to 11%.

It is possible that the causation runs both ways. Cheating may lead people to become atheists and liberals. You can't really tell with GSS data. I have noticed in studies of pastors that those who end up divorced are also likely to become more liberal, whereas conservatives stay married (or marrieds stay conservative).

The direction of causation needs a longitudinal study.

I have read, though cannot tell from this survey, that secular conservatives -- that is, libertarians -- are the most likely to cheat, which makes sense ideologically.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Single Mothers and the Second Child

Emily Bazelon has an interesting long article in the New York Times magazine about single mothers by choice. One new feature of this now-familiar story is the number of middle class single mothers who have a second child in order to round out the family. As is usual in such articles, the increases are reported as big percentages, rather than in absolute numbers, which are still very small.

Not surprisingly, you can find groups of middle class women with adopted kids and sperm donor kids who are doing OK. Nor is it surprising that they tend to work together, to support one another. Moms of all kinds work together. Single mothers of every class need more help, so naturally they are more likely to seek one another out. Middle class mothers seek out other middle class mothers for many reasons, most of them good. This story was about single mothers who were never married to the fathers of their children, but this part of the story would be the same if it were about divorced women. Moreover, these single moms don't just rely on one another. Many in the story live near, or with, their parents, and depend on their siblings, neighbors, and friends.

No one can raise children alone. Married couples have the huge advantage of having someone to share the task with, but even they have to rely on "the village" many times. This problem is squared for single mothers, who draw even more on collective resources.

The implicit task of an article like this in the Times and other center-left venues is to show that this kind of family arrangement is "good enough." Bazelon does a good job in showing that it can be good enough, especially with helpful parents and money to hire babysitters and au pairs.

The implicit question of such an article, even in a center-left source, is whether raising children this way is "just as good as" a competent marriage. Bazelon does not push the issue. Nor does she need to: good enough is good enough. Still, I think it would require a great deal of ideology to look at these families and see an ideal that they would want their own children to reproduce.

Married parents are still best for kids.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Time for Some Regulation in the Fertility Business

A woman with no money, no husband, and an obsession with children has 14 children by in vitro fertilization - the last 8 all in one go. The fertility industry only asks medical questions - can her body do it? - but sees ethics as someone else's job. Now that the fertility business actually works, it needs a serious ethical code, and even more serious enforcement. They should do it themselves. If not, the state should help them achieve the necessary clarity about their responsibilities.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Three Good Things George W. Bush Did

I was not a fan of George W. Bush. I worked actively for his opponent in 2000 and 2004. If I had been asked by a pollster "do you approve of the job Pres. Bush is doing as president," I would have said No during 415 out of the 416 weeks of his presidency. However, I believe in giving credit where it is due. So now that the Bush 43 administration is entirely over, let me name three things I think he did right. I do so, in part, to encourage readers to offer their alternative estimates.

1. Faith-based initiatives. John DiIulio, the first director of Pres. Bush' Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, says rightly that George Bush deserves credit for making government-religious organization partnerships a viable option. Religious organizations have always served the public. Government in America has always had partnerships with church-sponsored agencies. Since the Second World War, though, government has been very circumspect about tax money being used for a clearly religious purpose. If a church taught people to read, for example, they could get government money; if they taught people to read the Bible and believe it, they could not.

Some problems, though, respond best to life-changing faith. Getting addicts to change their lives is very hard, and nothing works all the time. Still, approaches that get people to rely on a "higher power" have the best track record. Many people in social services had come to recognize this fact in the 1980s and '90s, even secular activists. If the government was serious about changing the lives of the most troubled and dangerous people, they needed to let God in, and pay the expenses. George W. Bush was the man who turned this once-taboo idea into a real government program. Indeed, Pres. Obama embraced the idea early and enthusiastically, though he plans to expand it beyond Pres. Bush's initiative. Faith-based programs are now part of the bipartisan base of government.

2. Fighting AIDS in Africa. This is a faith-based initiative, and much more. Frankly, I have been surprised that Pres. Bush made this commitment early, stuck to it, and put some real money inton it. It doesn't fit with the rest of the foreign policy of his administration. It produces no immediate benefit for the interests of the U.S. government or major U.S. businesses. I think this one comes right from Pres. Bush's heart.

3. The week of September 11, 2001. The high point of the Bush presidency. He rallied the country. He said clearly that Islam was not the enemy, and opposed all efforts to demonize Muslims here or abroad. An imam was included in the national prayer service for the first time. He went to Ground Zero and praised the emergency responders. The world stood with the U.S. as never before.

By the second week, though, he had ceded control of the U.S. response to others. They took the opportunity to make a war on the wrong enemy, suspend civil liberties, alienate almost all the nations of the world, involve us in torture, run up the debt, and in general destroy the achievements of the previous two administrations. Which is why, when all is said and done, W. will rank among the bottom ten presidents.

But there were at least three notable achievements of the George W. Bush administration, for which I wish to give him credit.