Saturday, June 04, 2011

Happiness Most LIkely at Mid-Life

Richard Easterlin, a pioneer in the economic study of happiness, concludes this about happiness and age:

"Happiness is greatest at midlife, but not by very much."

From 18 to 51, about 7% of the population move up to “very happy”;

From 51 to 89, about 9% of the population move back down.

(Incidentally, I am 51. And very happy.)

Friday, June 03, 2011

You Can't See Beyond Divorce's Threshold

Eileen Ansel Wolpe, in trying to describe divorce to someone contemplating it, compares divorce to death in a way I had not heard before:

You cannot see what lies beyond the frame around the door that is the exit. It is not possible. It is a death. And just like life’s death, you are not permitted to see beyond the threshold. But I have been here for the past year and I can tell you it looks nothing like it does from inside the threshold.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Re-reading After Virtue

Thirty years ago, when I was a senior in college, a book came out that shaped my thinking profoundly: Alasdair McIntyre's After Virtue. My now-wife and I read it to one another as we made our evening cocoa. This week I re-read the book for the first time since those formative days.

McIntyre argues that modern moral language is so incoherent, because what we have today are the fragments of several contrasting moral cultures from the past. The virtues tradition, especially as understood by Aristotle and improved by Christianity, was concerned with how people could lead a fulfilling life within the roles and destiny of their community. Modern societies, by contrast, try to find a picture of how human beings can have a fulfilling life without specifying their roles or their community, or even what might be fulfilling.

McIntyre helped me understand why individualist theories of what human beings are seem so impoverished. This has been a great help to me as a sociologist.

His account of politics as a civil war among the virtues of different communities has been a help to me in understanding politics as a social enterprise, while not thinking that my community and my virtues are the only rational ones.

His account of how Christianity synthesized the virtues of the Greek polis with the broader and more inclusive history of the biblical story was crucial to my becoming a Christian.

One surprise of re-reading After Virtue is how little of it seemed new to me this time. I think it was just the right book at the right time for me when it first appeared. I absorbed its message so thoroughly that it shaped the architecture of my worldview. And its message is not a bit less timely now.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Evening the Sex Ratio Among Old People

One of the surprising findings of the new census is that the ratio of old men to old women is evening out. From middle age on there are always more women than men, with the gap widening to about two-to-one by the time people are 85. However, older men are surviving at a higher rate than they used to.

Since 2000, the number of women 60 - 74 has increased by 29.2%. The number of men in that age rage increased by 35.2%

There will probably never be an equal ratio of old men to old women, but things do seem to be evening a bit.

My nominee for the cause: the declining smoking rate.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Win The Future: Have Babies

David Brooks has a column that sensibly counters the thrust of most recent commencement addresses. He wrote

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to.

What most people will make a good life out of are the central commitments they make to other people. Commitments are limits on the self. If you try to live your life having experiences for yourself, without ever committing to build this specific something with others, you will be a tourist all your life.

For the vast majority of people, the biggest commitment we make is who we marry and then have children with. The downside of spending your twenties and even thirties as an experience-seeking tourist is that you delay marriage so much, you may well end up without time for children, children you now really want to have and build something for.

So if anyone everyone wants me to give a commencement address, here is my counter-cultural topic:

Win the Future: Have Babies.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Recentering the Party Balance in the Officer Corps

A centrist trend to note on Memorial Day.

In the '70s, about half of U.S. military officers were Republican. Through the '80s and '90s they became increasingly Republican, reaching about two-thirds by the end of the decade.

During the George W. Bush administration, however, the trend started to reverse. Today, among newly commissioned officers, there is about an even split between the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Anti-Liberal Alliance Has a 50-point Gap on Accepting Homosexuality

The Pew Research Center documents increasing acceptance of homosexuality in a new study. The people who most oppose homosexuality, not surprisingly, are "staunch conservatives." In answer to the question "Should homosexuality be accepted or discouraged by society?" staunch conservatives say

Accepted 22% and Discouraged 68%.

What I find most interesting in this study is that "libertarians," who in most political issues are allied with the conservatives, differ dramatically on this issue. They answer

Accepted 71% and Discouraged 19%.

The anti-liberal voting bloc, which had such success in the last election, is an alliance of opposites. This is nowhere more clearly shown than on the issue of the social meaning of homosexuality.