Saturday, February 20, 2010

Coffeehouses and the Public Sphere

The third (and penultimate) of my Centre Seminar vlog posts on coffeehouses is up.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Preventing Divorce in the Two Kansas Cities: A Great Natural Experiment

Kansas City, MO has the high divorce rate we find in most of the country. Kansas City, KS, has cut its divorce rate by 70% in a decade.

Led by Rev. Jeff Meyers, a white pastor from suburban Christ Lutheran Church, and Rev. Leroy Sullivan, a black pastor of the inner-city Bread of Life Church, Kansas City, KS adopted a Community Marriage Policy in 1996. The ministers in town agreed not to perform any marriages until the couple had worked through a pre-marital inventory and worked with mentor couples.

I have long supported Community Marriage Policies. This is the best side-by-side comparison I know of showing how well it can work.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Average Income and Happiness

Yesterday I noted Daniel Kahneman's contention that Americans report their happiness rises with their income up to a point, but after that point, there is no correlation with happiness. The point he named was $60,000 in household income per year. I noted that this is about the midpoint of the income distribution in the U.S.A. now.

An anonymous respondent pointed out that more money has meant more contentment for her family, and where you live makes a big difference in whether $60,000 buys basic contentment or not. She offered that in her California neighborhood, $60,000 would not go very far. She reports that now that they make $200,000 they are more content than they were when they made half that.

This criticism is just. To apply Kahneman's insight about the nation as a whole to any particular place we would need to adjust the number to local conditions. The median household income in California as a whole is about $60,000. However, of the 100 communities with the highest median household income in the United States, 19 are in California (far higher than California's proportion of the national population). The top of the list: Atherton, CA, with a median household income just over $200,000.

To turn Kahneman's finding into a general proposition, I propose this hypothesis: happiness correlates with income up to the median household income of your community.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Happiness Flatlines Halfway Up the Income Ladder

Boing Boing reports this gem from the TED conference [TED used to mean Technology, Entertainment, Design; now it means Ideas Worth Spreading in many fields]:

Psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman says millions of dollars won't buy you happiness, but a job that pays $60,000 a year might help. Happiness levels increase up to the $60K mark, but "above that it's a flat line," he said.

$60,000 is about the midpoint of the income scale for American families - 50% makes less than that, 50% make more. This is a reachable income standard for nearly all two-income couples, and for the great majority of college graduates by themselves (and much more with a second income in the family).

Once your basic survival needs are met, even in an expensive country, happiness mostly depends on who you spend time with and how well you interact.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Geek Barbie

Barbie is now a computer engineer. She has a binary code tee shirt. And heels.

I think this is progress.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Fifth of Singles Have Tried Internet Dating

A new study from Duke sociologists Rebecca Tippett, S. Philip Morgan, and Jessica Sauter have found that 18% of single people with access to the internet have tried online dating. The people who use online dating are most likely to be educated white people in cities or their suburbs.

In my survey of Centre College alumni I find that 5.8% of the married alumni met their spouses online. I did not ask how many of the still-single had also tried online data, but I expect the Centre results match those in the Duke study.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Beyond Rebuilding 5

John L. Williams contributed the last essay in Beyond Rebuilding, a volume of essays in response to my Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment. He entitles his response "Thought Provoking, But Insufficient." He agrees with much of what I say, but differs on a couple of points. I feel the same way about Rev. Williams' analysis.

Rev. Williams notes that my critique and proposal is mostly about rebuilding the polity of the church, and does not deal sufficiently with the church's culture and theology. This is largely true. The one crucial area of culture that I deal with is our culture of undermining authority within the church. That is specifically what I am trying to change. Williams rightly notes that the whole world has changed when it comes to authority since the 1960s. This is true. But it is also true that the organizations that have grown and prospered since then have rebuilt their authoritative leadership on a more inclusive basis. The organizations that only dismantled the old structures of authority, without building a new culture of authority, are floundering.

On theology, I think my experience of how the church works is different from Rev. Williams'. I contend that the church's official confession is meant to be the authoritative working summary of the church's theology. As I look at how the church actually employs its many confessions these days, I don't see that. The confessions are quoted when convenient, and ignored otherwise. All the struggles in the church that have consequences are over the rules of order, not the confessions. I do not believe this attitude toward the confessions are simply "a few well-publicized cases" of defiance, but a widespread view that the confessions are for individual guidance, but have no institutional authority.

Rev. Williams, a former synod executive, rightly says that I "would have considered me [Williams] part of the PC (USA)'s Establishment." Not just would have, but do now. Rev. Williams is still part of the Presbyterian Establishment, and has both the experience and, I think, the duty, to lead. Thus, when he writes

What then will propel us forward? I believe it will require a yet-to-be-defined combination of theological restatement for our time, deep contextual analysis, clarity of purpose, shared vision, courageous leadership, and attention to congregational worship, nurture, and spiritual formation, remembering always that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and head of the church.
I say yes, DO IT. Leaders lead. Members of the Establishment earn their authority by making that restatement, doing that analysis, courageously leading - not by pushing it off on others.