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.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Just in Time for Christmas: Hymen Restoration Surgery

"It's the ultimate gift for the man who has everything."

“Women can even redesign the look of their private parts.”

“Ms. Vanegas concedes her business is based on deception. But she says hymen repair is no different than other cosmetic procedures -- from waxing to Botox injections -- that women use to impress men.”

(Yup, I agree with that – though I think I draw the opposite conclusion.)

And the punchline:

"I'm a feminist," Ms. Vanegas says, "but there's a need for this and someone has to provide it."

Happy Shopidays!

(Thanks for Sara Butler Nardo at Family Scholars Blog, who shares my horror.)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Normalizing Polygamy: The Cultural Issue of 2020

From the perspective of 2005, the idea of a major social movement to normalize polygamy seems far-fetched. But from the perspective of 1975, even 1985, it would have seemed equally far-fetched to think that we would have legal same-sex marriage in some states and in a number of our allied countries. I don’t think that universal same-sex marriage is inevitable, nor do I think that even the current state of acceptance is guaranteed to be permanent. Cultural revolutions are made by free actors, even if not always in conditions of their own choosing, and could go any number of ways.

At the beginning of the 1990s John Frohmeyer, then the head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, predicted that the cultural issue of the 1990s would be the normalization of homosexuality. He was right. Yet this was not inevitable. Homosexuals make up about 3% of the population. Most groups that make up only 3% of the population do not succeed in getting their issues front and center in the national cultural debate. There are not many gay men, and even fewer lesbians. There are, however, quite a few liberals and libertarians. More importantly, there is an even larger group who believe in “live and let live,” even when the other guy wants to live in a distasteful way. That is what “tolerance” really means.

Tolerant people probably make up a majority of the American population, though the size of this group varies a bit from issue to issue. If 3% -- any three percent – want to live some distinctive way, most Americans are inclined to tolerate them, as long as they don’t rub the majority’s nose in it. Homosexuals have long been tolerated in most large cities, and the laws prohibiting homosexual acts were usually ignored. What has been different since the Stonewall riots in 1969, and especially since AIDS became widespread, has been the rise of pro-homosexual activists who want more than toleration. The sexual-orientation culture wars have not been about tolerance, though that term is often used, nor about hate, which is the pre-occupation of a tiny minority. The issue has been whether homosexual orientation, and many aspects of gay and lesbian culture, are morally identical with – exactly as good and desirable as – their heterosexual and otherwise mainstream counterparts,

Polygamy is, at this moment in America, the orientation, desire, and practice of an even tinier minority than is homosexuality. Polygamy is tolerated in most places where it exists. The recent high-profile prosecutions of polygamists had the added crimes of forced marriages, welfare fraud, and even incest. Most marital arrangements, though, don’t become the concern of the police. The variant on polygamy that is sometimes called serial monogamy or sequential polygamy is now common; in Hollywood it seems to be the norm. (That may have been a cheap shot.)

Until this moment, though, there has not been a substantial cultural movement to normalize polygamy since the Mormon culture war in the nineteenth century. But the time may be ripe. Let me say clearly that I do not call for such a movement, and would not welcome it. But I think it is coming.

Americans love equal liberty above all else. We are inclined to tolerate other people’s practices if they don’t actively harm us, asking only the same courtesy in return. Social movements that try to expand choice and liberty have a built in advantage in our culture over movements that try to build commitment to any other virtue. Put another way, it is easier to get Americans to tolerate lower social standards than to get them require higher social standards.

Which is why I think that normalizing polygamy might be the cultural issue of 2020. And why it might even win.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Is Polygamy Protected by Privacy?

Polygamy is protected by the right to privacy only if marriage is private. I don’t think marriage is private. So I don’t think polygamy is protected by privacy. But I also think this will be an argument which will be seriously advanced, and it only takes a few judges these days to make it the law of the land.

Most of the discussion of polygamy at the moment relates it to the arguments over same-sex marriage. As I noted the other day, some argue that if the state cannot justify confining marriage to one man and one women, then it also cannot justify restricting marriage to one man and one woman. In fact, those who reject same-sex marriage because one of the fundamental purposes of marriage is having children, would have a hard time making a similar criticism of polygamy. Polygamy, as practiced in this country, anyway, does baby-making better than most other marriages.

Today, though, I want to take up another argument, one that links polygamy to another hot issue of the day: abortion. The Supreme Court’s abortion decision, Roe v. Wade, rests on a prior case, Griswold v. Connecticut. Griswold found a constitutional right to privacy, not in the actual words of the Constitution, but in its “penumbra.” There has been a long debate ever since about whether this was a just reading of the Constitution. However, after 40 years of relying on the decision in other laws and other court decisions, a federal right to privacy is well established in American law and custom.

In The Case for Marriage, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher begin debunking several myths about marriage. The most important and dangerous of those myths, in my estimation, is the idea that marriage is only a private matter between husband and wife. Much of the rest of their book, and of current marriage scholarship, is devoted to showing how wrong that myth is. Marriage, and the rate of marriage in a whole society, has enormous collective and public effects. Moreover, as Waite and Gallagher persuasively argue, marriage has the strong effect that it does on the couple because they have made a public vow that is publicly supported and has public consequences. This is why cohabitation is not the same as marriage, not for the couple and not for society.

Michael McConnell, a professor of law at the University of Utah and still on any Republican short list for the Supreme Court, argues that Reynolds v. United States, the foundational case that prohibits polygamy, represented judicial overreaching. The polygamist who was prosecuted, McConnell wrote, “asked only that the Government leave him and his wives alone.'’ Most of the argument about this claim has turned on whether McConnell was saying that religious practice trumps criminal law (which is not what he says). It seems to me, though, that on its face this argument is more clearly asserting a right to privacy about marriage decisions, including polygamy.

If the right to privacy about birth control within marriage, the issue in Griswold, is well established, then there might be a colorable case that there is a right to privacy about marriage in the first place. So, if liberals want to preserve a right to privacy, both for its own sake and to preserve abortion, they might have to swallow polygamy. The ACLU seems to have made this leap already. This could lead to some serious soul-searching for other liberal groups – which would be especially difficult for them since most polygamists are extremely conservative.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Polygamy Produces Crime

I oppose the legalization of polygamy in the United States.

I don’t think polygamy is irrational or barbarous. I don’t think we should coercively stamp it out in other countries and other cultures. But I do think that polygamy is deeply unsuited to American culture, and that it produces more social problems than it is worth.

Polygamy is already practiced in this country without legal sanction (in both senses), especially among renegade Mormons in Utah and surrounding states. Some of the problems found in those communities are:

Welfare Fraud: In their own eyes, the patriarch of a polygamous community has married his many wives and is the legitimate father of their children. This does not stop many such families, though, from telling the state that each mom-and-kids trailer represents a different single-mom family which gets no support from the non-resident father. The communities on the Utah-Arizona border known to have several polygamous compounds also have the highest welfare use rates in the West.

Incest: Polygamous communities quickly become inter-related to a much greater degree than other small communities are. A pattern that has been shown in court more than once is for polygamous brothers to give their daughters (their brother’s nieces) to one another as wives.

Coercion: In many polygamous societies, not just in the American subcultures, the first wife will be the same age as the husband, but the younger wives get progressively younger. Tapestry Against Polygamy, an anti-polygamy organization led by former, often escaped, plural wives, documents a number of cases of girls as young as 12 and 13 being pressured, restrained, or just given into plural marriages, usually as a later wife.

Cults: Cults tend to be run by charismatic men who draw their followers from socially subordinated people, predominantly women, who become their devoted servants. The cult leaders frequently have sex, and children, with many of their women followers. This also describes how many underground polygamous families work.

Even in societies in which polygamy is more normal, and not restricted to an underground fringe, there are bad social consequences, or social corollaries that make it unsuitable for America.

Wrong economy: Polygamy is most often found in societies in which women do much of the primary economic production in or around their homes. The compound would typically have the patriarch, often in his own hut, surrounded by his wives and their children, each in separate huts, surrounded by each wife’s garden or other source of home-production resources. In the rare polyandrous societies, the one wife stays in one place with the children, while the brothers, who are also co-husbands, travel with the family flock. Neither of these models fits well with the American economy – which is one of the reasons that the wives and children are often on welfare.

Sexism: In principle, there could be polygamy based on equality of men and women. Most polygamous societies, though, are based on a strongly patriarchal theory. The management of a complex polygamous household pushes polygamists toward patriarchy even when they are not already ideologically inclined that way.

Unattached men: Polygamy means that rich and high-status men get many wives, and poor, low-status, young men don’t get any. Poor, low-status, young men, especially if they hang out together and have few prospects of finding wives, are about the most dangerous group in any society. Some have argued that such groups have been rich sources for terrorists to find suicide bombers in – especially if the terrorist mentors promise multiple, virginal wives in the afterlife.

High-achieving women left high and dry: Patriarchal polygamists are unlikely to marry educated, independent, high achieving women. In societies where polygamists are not marginal and underground, but actually rule, women’s education, independence, and achievement tends to be highly restricted.

As I said at the outset, I oppose the legalization of polygamy in the United States. This is not a very controversial position now.

But, as I will argue tomorrow, I think it soon will be.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Polygamy Crisis May Come Sooner Than I Thought

Yesterday I raised the question of why, exactly, polygamy is illegal. The old reason, that it is un-Christian, is not likely to fly as a legal argument anymore.

Well, I may have been too optimistic about how long we have until this crisis is upon us. As I was posting, the Washington Times was running “The marriage of many,” by Cheryl Wetzstein. She reports that there are already tens of thousands of polygamous Hmong refugees living in the United States. Moreover, the Libertarian Party and (surprise) the American Civil Liberties Union already support legal polygamy.

Am I making this up?

"Polygamy rights is the next civil rights battle." So goes the motto of a Christian pro-polygamy organization that has been watching the battle over homosexual "marriage" rights with keen interest. "We're coming. We are next. There's no doubt about it, we are next," says Mark Henkel, founder of

This is not simply conservative opponents of gay marriage inventing a scary, slippery-slope scenario. The proponents of polygamy – even Christian polygamy – are already here. The test case has already been filed in Utah by a married couple who want to marry another woman.

So much is written about same-sex marriage now that a handy acronym, SSM, is widely used by bloggers. Can MMM (multi- mate marriage) be far behind?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Why, Exactly, is Polygamy Illegal?

Polygamy has always been against American custom and culture. Polygamy is against the law in the United States, though, due to the long struggle in the nineteenth century over Mormonism. As a result of this struggle, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints condemned polygamy, and, in the early years of the twentieth century, actually abolished it. Today the Mormons are so monogamous that the church’s Relief Society manual tried to portray Brigham Young with one wife – neglecting to mention the other 50+. Renegade Mormon sects do still practice polygamy, but without the blessing of either church or state. Utah could be admitted to the Union only after it condemned polygamy. Monogamy is settled law in the United States, from top to bottom.

There was another important effect of the struggle against Mormon polygamy: the Supreme Court based its rejection of polygamy on the claim that the United States is a Christian nation. In the nineteenth century, it was a legal commonplace to claim that Christianity was part of the common law of the United States. It was only in the past fifty years or so that this claim has been seriously challenged. Today, no court would declare that America is a Christian nation.

So, why, exactly, is polygamy illegal in the United States?

Something like the original Utah law would be rejected because it allowed men to have multiple wives, but not the reverse. Equal protection would take care of that statute. But suppose a neutral law were written, allowing both polygyny (multiple wives) and polyandry (multiple husbands)? William Galston, in Public Matters, notes that the Defense of Marriage Act, which was written to prohibit a federal recognition of same-sex marriages, specifies that legal marriage joins one man and one woman. If the law is challenged successfully, both the man and woman part, and the one and one part, could be rejected.

This is not a hypothetical case. There are already renegade Mormons practicing polygamy underground in the West. African immigrants bringing traditional tribal religions could argue for accommodation. Most importantly, the growing Muslim community in the USA could argue that their long-established recognition of limited polygamy, which is practiced by millions of Muslims worldwide, should be accepted under the “free exercise” clause of the first amendment. No such case has been filed yet, but it is only a matter of time.

I think polygamy is a bad idea for society. With a couple of exceptions, polygamy is really polygyny – one man, multiple women. What happens in polygynous societies is that low status men don’t get to marry at all. This, it seems to me, is just unfair and un-American. Moreover, in every case I have read about of polygyny, even in societies in which it was well established, the wives are never really ok with the fact that their husband has other wives and other children. Polygyny is one widely used way of settling the conflict between male and female strategies in mate selection and childrearing. It is not crazy, nor do I think it is barbarous. But I do think that it is unwise anywhere, and deeply unsuited to our culture and history.

It is not likely that American legislatures would ever legalize polygamy, no matter how many marriages and mistresses individual legislators have. But it is hard to see exactly how a court would now justify forbidding religions that do accept, even encourage, polygamy, from doing so here.

When we look at the numbers, there are many more polygamists in the world than there are people who want to have a same-sex marriage. It is not way out to imagine a polygamy crisis in America in, say, the 2030s, as there was in the 1830s. Polygamy, more than same-sex marriage, is, I think, more likely to result in a constitutional amendment defining marriage.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Is Happy Holidays Worse Than Merry Civil Religion Christmas?

The annual battle over the public celebration of Christmas took an interesting turn this year. When a Wal-Mart customer complained that Wal-Mart was replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” a customer service writer identified only as “Kirby” replied that Wal-Mart was a multi-national and multi-cultural concern, and that Christmas was pagan-based, anyway, so what was she all hot about? This reply led the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights to declare a boycott on the grounds the “Wal-Mart Bans Christmas.” A month later, Wal-Mart fired “Kirby,” changed its website to not automatically redirect “Christmas” inquiries to a “holidays” page, and apologized. They also affirmed that they serve all cultures and don’t celebrate any particular religion’s holidays. The Catholic League declared victory – “Wal-Mart Caves; Boycott Ends” – and called off the organized diminution of enthusiasm.

In our household we do celebrate Christmas. We put up a tree and a wreath, but go lightly on the whole presents and orgy-of-stuff aspect. We will be in church on Christmas Eve. I like the family getting together, the twinkly lights, and the uptick in niceness.

As a Christian, though, I think Christmas has become a National Holiday more than a religious one. What is, by rights, a secondary holiday in the Christian calendar has become a big deal by its association with civil celebrations, first with the pagan Roman year-end holiday, and then with the modern commercial spree. Christmas in America is, I think, more a holiday of the civil religion than of the church. Ironically, the gravitational pull of the civil-religion Christmas has had a similar effect outside of Christianity. The even less-weighty holiday of Hanukkah in the Jewish religious calendar has been transformed into a similar family-and-presents holiday. And the entire holiday of Kwanzaa was invented as a quasi-religious African-American celebration of the same sort. I think it is only a matter of time before American Muslims and Hindus find a reason to have a family-and-presents event in late December, however much they have to twist their religious calendar to get there.

I am a fairly traditional Presbyterian. I try to keep the pagan elements of the Christian holiday celebrations to a minimum. As it happens, Helen Walton, Sam Walton’s widow and head of the Wal-Mart clan, is also a traditional Presbyterian. And it is true that in American tradition, the Puritans forbade Christmas celebration altogether because of its pagan associations. The Quakers who founded my hometown of Plymouth Meeting, PA, likewise would not have countenanced Christmas celebrations. Swarthmore, founded by those same Quakers, would not break for Christmas even at the end of the nineteenth century. When they were finally obliged to have a winter vacation, they pointedly began it on December 26th, lest anyone think they had gone soft on the pagan and Catholic Christmas.

So, I celebrate Christmas. But I don’t expect the state to. The state celebrates only the nation, not Jesus. Nor do I expect the market to celebrate Christmas. The market celebrates only commerce. So Merry Christmas from me, and Happy Shopidays to Wal-Mart.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


I had a run-in with some “childfree” folks, who taught me a new word:

noun UK SLANG -- a baby or young child:
- She's got a couple of sprogs now.
- Has she sprogged (= given birth) yet?

The CF Hardcore are either scary or hilarious . I prefer to think of them as hilarious. Their children will find this phase of their life amusing.

Friday, December 09, 2005

“95-10” is a Good Centrist Plan to Reduce Abortion

Abortion may appear to be one of those issues for which there is no middle position. It is about the most polarizing issue in political life today. On most polarized issues, when the activists on opposing sides get to know one another better and understand where the other side is coming from, the conflict between them is reduced. Not with abortion: as Kristin Luker has shown in Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, when pro-life and pro-choice activists understand their opponents’ worldview, they find it even more terrible and incomprehensible.

At the same time, abortion is not going away. The public is about evenly divided on the abortion rules we have today. Most want some kind of choice on abortion, but not abortion on demand. And the sheer magnitude of abortion in America makes it both an important substantive problem, and an intractable one. There are about 1.2 million abortions per year in the United States. That is about 1/4 of the babies conceived each year. Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, about 40 million Americans have been aborted – about 13% the size of our current population.

Which is why it is so important to articulate a centrist position on abortion. I believe a good way to put it is: keep abortion safe, legal, and abhorrent. Senator Clinton favors the milder formula of “safe, legal, and rare.” I can go with either one. The crucial point is that, like most Americans, I think abortion should be legal, at least when the fetus has no chance of living as a baby, or when the mother’s life is threatened. At the same time, I think we as a society should provide many incentives and safeguards to keep abortion from being just another form of birth control, as I believe it is in most of those million-plus cases each year.

In the past generation, abortion has become an issue that divides the two political parties. Elephants are supposed to have long memories, but most Republicans of my acquaintance forget that the GOP supported abortion after Roe, and many in the Barbara Bush wing still do. And many of my fellow donkeys are prone to kick any Democrat who goes against pro-choice orthodoxy. Democrats for Life of America is, of necessity, a centrist organization. They have come up with a comprehensive proposal to significantly reduce abortion, not through restrictive laws, but through better information, through stronger incentives, and, especially, through better support for babies and their parents.

The 95-10 proposal has the ambitious aim to reduce the number of abortions by 95% in ten years. The program starts with better education about pregnancy prevention, the pregnancy support that is already available, the extent of the national abortion rate, and counseling and daycare on campus, an issue I wrote about recently. The act would then make existing adoption tax credits permanent, ban jacking up insurance rates for the “pre-existing condition” of pregnancy (as if it were a disease), and increase funding against domestic violence, as murder is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. The 95-10 proposal does not end with the child’s birth, though; the act would fully fund the Women, Infants, and Children program, and require the successful State Child Health Insurance Programs to include pregnant women and their babies.

I think it unlikely that any program can reduce the abortion rate 95%, short of coercion so draconian that it would be un-American. Still, most people, when presented with the enormous size of the abortion rate in America, do favor reducing it. The combination of education and support that the 95-10 proposal offers could go some way – maybe halfway – to reducing the abortion rate. And that is a worthy centrist goal.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Marriage Development Accounts

Washington D.C. is one of the least married cities in America. Not coincidentally, it is also one of the poorest, especially if we look at poor children. This has led to an unusual alliance in Congress to create incentives for marriage and savings in the District of Columbia. Sen. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican from Kansas, and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a liberal Democrat from the District of Columbia, are working together to add Marriage Development Accounts to the D.C. appropriations bill. The MDAs would give poor married couples $3 for each $1 they put in a special savings account, up to a total of $12,000 per year.

D.C.’s low marriage rate has many causes, both material and cultural. Never an industrial city, the District has lost most of what little manufacturing base it had. It has a number of jobs at the top of the education scale, and some service jobs (serving the educated) at the bottom, but few family-supporting jobs for the low-skilled. D.C. is also one of the blackest cities in America, and African-Americans have low marriages rates apart from their jobs and incomes. As Rep. Norton said, "marriage is going out of style in whole sections of the black community."

Still, incentives do work for the middle of the population. You get more of what you pay more for. Couples, especially couples with children, who are planning to marry “someday” would be more likely to do so now if they could reap an additional $9,000 per year for doing so. And getting married would, for most such couples, strengthen their ties to one another. Marriage makes most people act married, in a way that cohabiting with a vague hope of marriage does not.

Investing in marriage is a governmental program most likely to pay for itself, and then some, both financially and in citizenship.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Supporting Student Moms on Campus

My college has very few mothers. Nearly all of our students are traditional-aged singles. There are only a handful of married students, and we will have maybe one or two parents in the regular student body at any given time. I do not encourage my students to marry while they are in college, and I certainly would not encourage them to have kids as undergraduates. And our students set that same standard for themselves. They graduate at high rates, and most marry and have kids after that, and in that order. College women in general have low pregnancy rates; Centre women are likely to have even lower pregnancy rates than their peers.

Still, sometimes Things Happen. I know of a few students who have gotten pregnant. Some have dropped out altogether, some have stopped out and come back later, and a few have transferred elsewhere. I don’t personally know of any student abortions, but I know there must be a couple or a few each year, according to estimates by our wellness center. In very rare cases the couple has married and both have continued on track to graduation. And in these cases, having a baby on campus has been good for the college. It happens so rarely here that our students can rally ‘round and be a great help to the young couple.

I mention all of this because of the “Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act of 2005.” This bill, sponsored by Elizabeth Dole in the Senate and Melissa Hart in the House, would provide $10 million for a pilot program to help college campuses be more supportive of pregnant students and student parents. Just what colleges and universities would do would with the money would vary all over the lot – which is the kind of experimentation that pilot programs are designed to encourage. Already, using volunteer labor and university funds, students at the University of Virginia created a baby-sitting service for other student parents, while Wellesley students had a rummage sale to benefit pregnant and parenting mothers in the student body.

This act is the main legislative project of Feminists for Life. They take a centrist position on one of the most contested and divisive issues in America. Feminists for Life argue that pregnant women, no matter how well or ill prepared they were to become pregnant, deserve better options than either abortion or going it alone. The organization provides support for women having kids, especially single young women. Feminists for Life have taken Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a founding mother of feminism, as their icon and patron, because she was a feminist mother who thought that abortion was a tool men used to control women. Feminists for Life came into the news when John Roberts was nominated for the Supreme Court, as his wife, Jane, was a board member and supportive lawyer. Indeed, that is why I looked them up, and how I know about this bill.

The Stanton Act seems to me a good centrist approach to what is often a tragic choice for young women. College women do have low pregnancy rates, but they also have high abortion rates. They tend to see babies and education as a zero-sum choice. Indeed, I think the pro-choice lobby commonly says that very thing. And truly, succeeding in college while caring for children is a huge challenge, which I would not recommend as a plan. Still, when unplanned babies begin, it does not mean the end of the mother’s – or the father’s -- education, much less their lives. I have seen examples of couples who have risen to the challenge, even at a young age and at a hard school.

I have no idea if the Stanton Act has a real chance of passage in Congress, but I support it as legislation and strongly support the attitude behind it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Family Sociology: A Centrist Approach

I teach a popular Introduction to Family Life course which I enjoy tremendously. Of all the subjects I teach – indeed, of all of the subjects that anyone teaches in the college – this is one of a handful that is most interesting to students. Almost all of my students expect to marry and expect to have children, though they have not given much thought to the details of parenthood (especially the men).

Finding the right books to use in that class is a constant struggle. The struggle has two parts. The happy part is that a number of excellent books about family life are published every year, and the difficulty comes in choosing among this embarrassment of riches. The less happy part is that many of the books on family life produced by my fellow sociologists are so unbalanced in their criticism of marriage and parenthood that they are unhelpful. As for family sociology textbooks, I find them simply unusable.

Family textbooks suffer from a pervasive bias that can only be described as anti-marriage and oblivious to children. Norval Glenn, in his excellent study of the leading family sociology textbooks, “Closed Hearts, Closed Minds: The Textbook Story of Marriage,” concluded that:

Overall, most of these textbooks remain rather dogmatically dedicated to the proposition that intact marriages are not especially important for raising children. The great majority of Americans who persist in thinking otherwise are, as these authors frequently suggest, merely ignorant. … These textbooks are characteristically uninterested in the effects of family change on children.

So what do I use?

Family sociologists, as a rule, are devoted to the idea that all family forms are socially constructed – and should be reconstructed to increase individual choice and eliminate all gender differences. My thinking about family life went through a complete revolution some years ago, when I became convinced that the sociobiological foundations of mate selection are true. Sociobiology, or evolutionary psychology, argues that there are deep differences in the way men and women as a group approach mate selection and childrearing. Marriage is cultural construction, but it was constructed in almost every culture because it is the most effective compromise between these deep sexual differences and is the best institution raise kids in.

The foundation for my family life course, then, is a sociobiological study of how sexual differences affect family life. I use David Buss’ The Evolution of Desire, which includes his own cross-cultural study of mate selection. This leads naturally to Deborah Tannen’s work on gender differences in communication, which is hugely popular with students. Indeed, every time the class discusses these gender differences in ways of talking, whether the speakers believe Tannen or not, they tend to demonstrate her points.

For marriage I think one could not do better right now than Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher’s The Case for Marriage. This book often has a strong effect on how students think about marriage, especially about cohabitation before or instead of marriage. Discussion of marriage naturally leads to a consideration of divorce. For the past several years I have used The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, by Judith Wallerstein and her colleagues. This year I am going to use Elizabeth Marquardt’s Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, though I still strongly commend Wallerstein’s project and will teach it in lectures. This is an example of the embarrassment of riches in this field.

The central discussion of the course is about how families function. Here I have found the work of Robert Beavers in categorizing how family systems function (or dysfunction) to be the most helpful. Beavers’ own books are aimed more at clinicians and graduate students. Maggie Scarf’s Intimate Worlds applies the Beavers scale to a number of representative real families in an engaging way. The crying need of the discipline, I think, is a national-level study of the distribution of functional and dysfunctional family systems.

A book that has a strong effect on my students, especially the women, is Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children. Hewlett details how women at the highest levels of professional achievement often end up with no children, or fewer children than they wanted, not from choice, but from the “creeping non-choice” of waiting too long to get started. For the ambitious, professionally oriented women I teach, this is sobering.

There are many other excellent works that are good for a centrist approach to family sociology. My whole syllabus can be found at There are a number of conservative and centrist family sociologists who are disaffected with the generally leftist thrust of the field. I believe, though, that this group of sociologists, as well as the larger world of scholarship, will continue to produce excellent material for teaching centrist family sociology.

And the bottom line is this: most students will marry and will have children, and are eager to learn from a pro-marriage and child-oriented family course. For those willing to buck the conventions of the discipline, the market belongs to us.

Monday, December 05, 2005

No Day But Today vs. Posterity Lost

“Rent” follows the lives of doomed but romantic artists in the bohemian quarter of New York in the 1990s, just as “La Boheme” followed the lives of doomed but romantic artists in the bohemian quarter of Paris in the 1890s, all of which leads back to the originals of these stories, Henri Murger’s Scenes de la Vie de Boheme, about doomed artists in the bohemian quarter of Paris in the 1840s. The Parisian bohemian quarter was not peopled by actual Bohemians, any more than the New York version was or is. Rather, the French artists who left bourgeois homes in the provinces to lead a rootless life in the metropolis saw themselves as being like gypsies. They imagined gypsies as romantic artists traveling through the world; they also imagined that gypsies came from Bohemia, the present-day Czech Republic.

It is perhaps not surprising that rootless young artists have only a hazy grasp of the intensely practical and familial Roma (gypsy) people, any more than it would be surprising that young artists would have a hazy grasp of geography. That is water over the dam now. “Bohemian” now means artists of all kinds who defy convention.

What strikes me most about all of these artistic bohos, though, is how strongly anti-family they are. Rodolpho and Mimi, dying of consumption, have no parents, no marriage, no children. They live only for art and for love – temporarily. Roger and Mimi, dying of AIDS, reject their parents, have contempt for marriage, and have no hope of children. Their only hope of a posterity is their Art. The first Mimi embroidered flowers. The second Mimi’s art is more ephemeral still, consisting of lewd songs and pole dances at a strip club.

Lest the anti-family message of “Rent” be missed, Mark Cohen, (the counterpart of Marcelo), explains the whole point of la vie boheme in a song of that name, which the ensemble sings in order to outrage the bourgeoisie:

To loving tension, no pension
To more than one dimension,
To starving for attention,
Hating convention, hating pretension
Not to mention of course,
Hating dear old mom and dad.

There it is: bohemians reject the Fifth Commandment, “of course.” Though the story turns on the love of a set of couples, I don’t believe children are even spoken of once.

Richard Gill, in Posterity Lost: Progress, Ideology, and the Decline of the American Family, argues that the main cause of family decline in the past generation or so is that we have lost the idea that we act not solely for ourselves today, but for our posterity. People who imagine that they are working, building, and saving for their children and their grandchildren are less concerned with living for themselves and living for now.

And what do bohemians live for? The most memorable song from “Rent” says it all: “No Day But Today.”

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The “Protestant Deformation” Undermines Families

Swarthmore political scientist James Kurth has a powerful article in the current American Interest, “The Protestant Deformation.” In it he argues that the foreign policy of the Bush Administration imposes on the world an extremely secularized version of Protestantism. Kurth’s article is an update of a 1998 article of the same name, in which he argued that the Clinton administration was then doing the same thing. The Protestant Deformation is deep in American culture, especially our political cultural. Kurth charts the gradual decline of the core values espoused by our political leaders through seven stages, from a full-throated Reformation Protestantism down to today’s individualism. Of the last, he writes

Individualism – with its contempt for all hierarchies, communities, traditions, and customs – represents the logical conclusion and the ultimate extreme of the secularization of the Protestant religion. The Holy Trinity of original Protestantism, the Supreme Being of unitarianism, even the American nation of the American Creed have all been dethroned and replaced by the imperial self.

In foreign policy the imperial self leads to our promoting the idea of universal human rights, which developed organically out of Protestantism, as if that idea fit as neatly into all cultures and civilizations.

In domestic policy, the imperial self leads of our promoting the idea of individual choice and individual fulfillment. This idea also grew organically out of Protestantism. However, Protestantism supports marriage. The biblical standard is that in marriage two become one flesh. Husband and wife are no longer individuals in the same way they were. Protestantism supports families as an organic social whole. Whatever one thinks of biblical ideas of male headship (about which I have written before), the Bible clearly understands that parents are responsible for children, and children are to honor their parents, in a relation unlike that of any mere individuals.

Kurth thinks the final, individualist, stage in the Protestant Deformation was not reached until the 1970s. In foreign policy, this led to universal human rights. This idea has something to recommend it, but it also contributes to the breakup of traditional cultures around the world, which has led to much resentment of U.S. cultural imperialism. In domestic policy, individualism led to no-fault divorce and on-demand abortion. These ideas have a little something to recommend them, but they have also contributed to a marked breakup of traditional families, which has led to a culture war in politics.

The Protestant Deformation takes the Protestant Reformation to its logical extreme. But along the way it lost much of the spiritual substance that restrained unbridled individualism and the imperial self, the faith that kept individualism from going too far.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

“Rule of Thumb” Rescued From Ignominy

As a would-be dispenser of practical advice, I have often used the expression “rule of thumb.” Some feminists have argued that the phrase should be dropped, though, because it referred to a rule of English common law that a man could beat his wife if he did not use a stick thicker than his thumb. For example, former National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland asserts this as fact in the widely seen PBS documentary, “Marriage: Is It More Than a Piece of Paper?”

I am happy to report that this is an inaccurate folk etymology. Indeed, even its appearance in discussions of English common law treat it as a folk belief which was not validated by the law. The one judge who is said to have articulated that standard from the bench may not even have uttered any sentiment so “ungentlemanly.”

The notion that rule of thumb is a wife-beating “fact” seems to have become widely reported only in the 1970s – the very time that Patricia Ireland probably heard it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Education Crossover in Divorce Attitudes

In the 1970s, college graduates had more liberal attitudes toward divorce than less-educated people did. Today, college graduates have more conservative attitudes toward divorce than less-educated people do. The crossover seems to have happened in the late 1990s, according to research by Steven Martin and Sangeeta Parashar that I mentioned yesterday. Yet this is not because college graduates are generally more conservative today than less educated people are – quite the contrary. So what accounts for the change, and what does it mean?

Martin and Parashar measured responses from 1974 to 2002 on the nationally representative General Social Survey. The GSS asked, “Should divorce in this country be easier or more difficult to obtain than it is now?” College graduates once were more likely than high-school educated Americans to say yes; now they are more likely to say no. This crossover is more pronounced among women than among men.

At the first explosion of women’s economic opportunities in the 1970s, the big spike in divorce in that era was explained by women’s economic independence from men, as well as a general liberalizing of all attitudes. The standard expectation then, and probably the norm still today, is that marriage will continue to decline because women are free to live as individuals. Today, though, women are even more economically independent, but it is the most financially secure women who most favor tightening divorce laws.

The key variable that Martin and Parashar identify is that female college graduates were less likely to be married in the 1970s than their less-educated peers, and now they are significantly more likely to be married than the high-school-only group. Even the not-yet-married college women want and expect to marry, more than their unmarried and less-educated peers. And it is the unmarried college graduates who most clearly want divorce to be tougher, so it is not the experience of marriage itself that makes the difference. Martin and Parashar’s bottom line:

Our best answer is that across the time period 1974 to 2002, conservative attitudes and values gradually became a less important predictor of attitudes toward divorce, while family structure variables became, if anything, more important predictors of attitudes toward divorce.

Martin and Parashar think that divorce costs college graduates more, especially in lost family income. Moreover, as I noted previously, collegians are more likely to know the new social science research showing the great advantages of marriage, and the huge costs of divorce.

I think there is another possible explanation of why liberals, as well as conservatives, would want tougher divorce laws. This would explain why political values don’t predict divorce attitudes as well as they used to, without making them irrelevant to the question.

Martin and Parashar found that in the 1970s, people who were personally conservative were more likely to favor more restrictive divorce laws. Today, people who are conservative and many people who are liberal favor more divorce restrictions. This might mean that values matter less. Or it might mean that values matter just as much as ever in how people approach their own marriages and their own ideas about divorce. It is the facts in the rest of the world that have changed. Divorce is much easier to get now than in 1974, so favoring divorce restriction now is not as conservative a position as it was then. Educated opinion then was very optimistic that easy divorce would mean happier marriages and happier kids. Today, educated people know that the social effect of an easy divorce culture has been just the opposite. This might make liberals join conservatives in wanting to reduce divorce in society, even if their personal approach to their own marriages is as liberal as that of their 1970s counterparts. Values still matter, but the facts have changed. And educated people know the facts better.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

College Graduates Have Happier Marriages Because They Apply Family Sociology

College graduates are more than twice as likely to report that their marriages are very happy as are married non-college graduates. “With This Ring,” the marriage survey of the National Fatherhood Initiative that I have written about before, notes that college graduates are more likely to be pro-marriage in general, to oppose cohabitation, and to believe that parents should stay together at least while the children are young.

Maggie Gallagher, in a recent column, cites another study by sociologist Stephen P. Martin at the University of Maryland. He found that divorce rates among the college educated have dropped to half of what they were in the bad years of the late 1970s. Martin discerns a “divorce divide” growing along educational lines.

Gallagher notes that college graduates have more successful marriages, in part, because they are more secure financially. She also raises the interesting possibility, though, that college graduates are improving their family behavior because they are taking in the new social science research about the importance of strong marriages.

Sociologists call the process of feedback from research to changes in social behavior “reflexivity.” Anthony Giddens, one of Britain’s most eminent sociologists and former Director of the London School of Economics, has argued that modern societies are so complex that they must produce a continuous series of information about how the system is working. Moreover, this information is not simply an observation that runs along side a running social system, but is continuously fed back into the system itself. The inflation rate, for example, is not simply esoteric information swapped within the walls of the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Bank, but is intensely sought by many economic actors, and its release quickly affects everyone.

Today there is a significant industry collecting family data and translating it into popular and useful knowledge. The market for the popular books, magazines, talk shows -- and blogs -- about marriage and family life is especially rich in educated married mothers.

College classes in sociology and family studies can be a great way to transmit to students the research showing that marriage is good for men, women, and children. I have seen this happen in my own classes every year. In fact, the single finding that has the biggest impact on my students in Waite and Gallagher’s report, in The Case for Marriage, that cohabitation is not a good trial marriage, but instead is likely to lead to higher break-up and divorce rates. Many students who had been planning to cohabit after Commencement change their plans. It is too soon to tell whether this will produce happier and more stable marriages, but I am planning on it. And so are they.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Fight the Culture of Fear: The Near-Myth of Kidnapping by Strangers

If you are a parent, about your worst nightmare is that a stranger would kidnap your child. We are much more careful about letting children play unsupervised than we used to be. We have developed the nationwide Amber Alert system to track abducted children quickly. Megan’s Law mandates that we be informed about sex offenders living near us. Many parents will know who Elizabeth Smart, Jessica Lunsford, and Shasta Groene are.

Yet few parents know that sexual assaults on children by strangers, always rare, are down nearly 40% since the early ‘90s, and sexual assaults on teenagers have dropped nearly twice as much. Most of that drop in sexual assaults on teens have come from drastic reductions in assaults by strangers. Most teen molesters are known to the kids, especially men who have access to teen girls, such as mom’s boyfriend.

Kidnapping is mostly done by relatives, especially feuding parents snatching the kids from one another. How many stranger kidnappings of children were there last year? Noted family researcher Bill Doherty answers that question using the most definitive study of abducted children, the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2002 National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children. There are an estimated 45 stereotypical stranger "kidnappings" per year of children under age 12 in the United States. Another 65 teenagers were abducted by strangers. That is less than one in a million. Kids are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be kidnapped.

The current child abduction scare works the way much of the culture of fear does: the less likely one of our Dark Fears becomes, the more publicity we give to each case of it that does occur. Paradoxically, this extra publicity makes it seem that the thing we fear is more common than it really is. The social mechanisms that we have created to fight stranger abductions – including Megan’s Laws, Amber Alerts, and, most importantly, a much greater awareness by adults and children of the danger signs of abductors – have been working. By the same token, though, the social movement that created these successful mechanisms also, necessarily, raises our concern about the problem of kidnapping. Concern leads to successful social control, but concern also leads to increased fear.

The middle way lies in keeping our concern and our fear in proportion to reality.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The “Daughter Track,” Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about the New York Times story on the “Daughter Track.” My focus there was on the honorable work that many adult daughters, and some sons, do in caring for their elderly parents. I thought that most of the dutiful daughters interviewed in the articles thought that the most important aspect of what they were doing was their loving care for their parents. The career sacrifice was secondary.

The idea of the Daughter Track, though, is primarily about work and career. And we see that men and women typically approach work vs. family differently at the end of their work careers, just as they do at the beginning. Women are more likely to see work as a way to care for their families, and will drop a job if they can better care for their families directly. Men see work as a way to provide for their families, as well as the source of their own identity in the world.

The management consulting firm Catalyst, which invented the term Mommy Track, also promotes the Daughter Track idea as something that smart corporations should pay attention to. Even they, though, don’t cite examples of corporations that have figured out how to make it a temporary track of intentional cutting back on work for women, from which they will return to full-time labor.

More typical is the response of Arlie Hochschild, the Berkeley sociologist who wrote about working women’s “second shift.” She says adult women leaving work to care for their parents say they see it as an opportunity, but really they are using it as an excuse to seek “cultural shelter” from work. Such women had “proved what they set out to prove” by working, and now could lay it down. Hochschild sees that the women she is talking about are really ending their careers to care for their families. But she sees this as a betrayal of the feminist (or is it masculine?) idea of your job as your real duty and identity.

Another eminent sociologist, Phyllis Moen, found that among early retirees, men were likely to do so because they were offered a buyout, whereas women were more likely to retire early to care for their families. This exactly parallels the different reasons that teenage boys and girls give when they drop out of high school. Boys tend to leave high school to work and make money. Girls tend to leave high school to take care of their babies.

For the Daughter Track to become a genuine work track, corporations will have to structure formal slowdowns or temporary leaves on the pattern of maternity leave or the rare, true Mommy Track. Such options should also, of course, be open to sons (and nephews, etc.), but realistically most of the takers will be women. And like maternity leave and Mommy Track slowdowns, women who take the Daughter Track will be much less likely to return to work than similarly situated men would be. And that is ok for society.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Ordinary Heroism of the “Daughter Track”

The New York Times has a story on adult children who give up or cut back on their careers to take care of their aged parents. They call this the “Daughter Track,” a parallel to the family-accommodating Mommy Track that some businesses have and many more ought to have. The article focuses on a woman who gave up a high profile, high paying media career in New York to go home to suburban Detroit to help take care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s.

The Times will be chided, no doubt, for treating a few rare cases of women giving up big careers for their families. Drop the big money and fame, though, and what we are dealing is the ordinary heroism of millions of adults who adjust their work to care for their aged parents. This group is part of the even larger group – the majority of all people on earth, in fact – who tailor their work lives to support their families. In that case, we don’t even see it as heroic, but the ordinary stuff of what life is about.

I do, though, want to praise the true sacrifice and care that the “sandwich generation” is increasingly called upon to give to their elderly parents. We have the largest group of old, and what gerontologists call “old-old” (post-75) people ever. This means that a larger number of middle-aged adults will be called upon to care directly for their parents than ever before. In fact, it seems likely that a larger proportion of middle-aged people will be called upon to care for their parents than ever before. This will make it necessary to create new social idioms, and new social types, for us all to grasp this new reality with. And the “Daughter Track” is one such new social type.

The most striking fact about the Daughter Track, as the name suggests, is that women are significantly more likely to be the ones the care for elderly parents. The Times article cites a study which found that of those spending more than 40 yours per week on care for their own parents, 71% were women. That women predominate in this group is not surprising. I was surprised, actually that the proportion of men was as high as it is. Moreover, the article suggests that it is childless women who are most likely to be the sibling most likely to do the caring.

The women cited in the story know that they are making a sacrifice in worldly terms. But they also make a point of saying that they are glad of the chance to give back to their parents, to care for them in their need. Some such care, no doubt, is more painful to give than others. And some elder care is just too hard to do alone: my mother-in-law, whose care for her own disabled mother I honor, gives the sage advice that you can’t care for people who are both demented and mobile by yourself. Not all care-taking children are as happy about it as those portrayed in the article.

Still, Daughter Care and Son Care are honorable at the individual level. Moreover, families who care for their dependent older members perform an irreplaceable service for society. There is not enough money in the world to pay for excellent care for the dependent old, just as there is no way to pay enough for excellent care of all the dependent young.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Accidental God, Part Two

I recently wrote about Paul Bloom’s article, "Is God an Accident?", which appears in the current Atlantic. I criticized Professor Bloom’s argument, primarily because he only considered secular theories of why we believe in God, to which his theory is an equally secular alternative.

Prof. Bloom generously replied to my post. I thank him for the opportunity for dialogue. He wrote:

Thanks for the notice. I appreciate the attention, but I have to say I'm confused about your objections.

You say that my whole theory rests on a metaphor. Actually it's based on empirical evidence, mostly on work from babies and young children suggesting that certain belief systems emerge as part of human nature, not cultural invention. (The metaphor you quote was written to add clarity; you could remove it from the article and it would make no difference at all.) Obviously, there is a lot to disagree with in my article, and it's fair to argue that the studies I discuss are flawed, or that the data should be interpreted some other way. But your metaphor point is just puzzling.

Then you say that I focus only on "secular" explanations of the origin of religion. Actually, what I do in my paper is focus on the major views proposed by sociologists, psychologists, theologians, etc. If there is a different (non-secular?) account that explains the relevant phenomena in an insightful and parsimonious way, I would love to hear about it. I've spoken to a lot of theologians about these issues, and nobody but you has mentioned the existence of such a missing theory.

I did not mean to say that Bloom’s whole theory rests on a metaphor (I will let the reader be the judge of whether I did say that). Metaphors are very helpful in science. It is almost impossible to explain or develop a scientific theory of why something works as it does without building on a scaffolding of metaphor and analogy. All metaphors have limits, though. The metaphor of the human mind as like a computer – or in the case of Bloom’s theory, like two computers – is useful for imagining how the accidental ideas of God that he envisions could have arisen. But imaging our minds as like computers also suggests that they are “hardwired” for a certain kind of understanding. If, instead, we imagined our minds as, say, portals between our consciousness and deeper things – the unconscious, to take an alternative scientific theory, or the soul, to take an alternative theological theory – then our metaphor would suggest different kind of explanations of the very same empirical phenomena. None of these metaphors prove the theories that they lead to. But they do constrain the direction that our theorizing takes.

The point about metaphors, though, is a minor one. More important, I think, is that Bloom considers only secular explanations of why we believe in God, and offers his theory as an alternative to them.

Most people and societies believe in God. Prof. Bloom considers two explanations – Marx’s contention that belief in God comforts the oppressed, and Durkheim’s notion that a shared belief in God binds a social group together. It is not surprising that sociologists and psychologists accept these theories. Theologians of my acquaintance, though, believe that people believe in God because God is real, God is not an accident. Theological theories of why we believe in God might turn on the personal experience of many generations and cultures of prayer, or mystical union, or providence. Theological (God-based) theories can explain why the universe exists, or the meaning of human life, or even the purpose of suffering, explanations which most cultures have found more intellectually adequate than materialist theories. Even sociologists have been impressed with the fact that most of the great civilizations of the world have been moved by belief in God and God’s providence.

Prof. Bloom starts, as I said in the original post, from a presumption that God does not exist, and therefore that the erroneous belief in God needs to be explained. Religious theories of God, on the other hand, start from a presumption that God does exist, or at least that God might exist, and attempts to account for the same empirical evidence that Prof. Bloom does, but without the limitations that he imposes on his search from the outset.

Prof. Bloom observes children understanding the concept of helping from an early age. He believes that this shows that the idea of helping, and other social processes, are not simply learned through social experience. I agree with this conclusion. He concludes that they must have something like a social-process computer, along with their physical-process computer. The accidental idea of God arises when we confuse our understanding of social and physical things. We imagine a being which helps like a social being, but exists like a physical being. Presto, “God.” Yet is it any less parsimonious to believe that God created us with an understanding of helping, just as God created us with an understanding of physical existence through time? This is the theory of conscience, which has long been widely held based on both its theoretical utility and its apparent match with experience.

Now, is this great land of ours anyone is free to conclude that God is an accident and that the billions of believers in the world are simply wrong. But it seems peculiar to assume that before one can understand why people believe in God, you must assume that there is no God for them to believe in. I am not sure which theologians Prof. Bloom has been talking to at Yale, but I don’t think they could have been my old Divinity School teachers. I hope there will be some broader theological dialogue in New Haven about these interesting findings, which can be explained in both secular and theological ways.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A New Structure for the Blog

I am getting the hang of writing a daily blog, and I very much appreciate your feedback.

I have also been finding that the “faith and family for centrists” blog is very heavily about family, light on the faith stuff.

And, looking ahead to the end of my sabbatical and my return to full-time teaching, I need to make a small adjustment.

SO, The Gruntled Center will remain a daily blog. Saturdays, though, when readership is at its lightest, will be very light fare.

And, to be sure that I regularly treat religious matters, Sundays will be about religion.

Monday through Friday will remain what I hope are substantive and current blogs about family life.

To start us with some light fare for this Saturday, I give you a joke I heard from a standup once. (I would be happy to credit it if anyone knows who it came from):

My wife uses fabric softener. I never knew what that stuff was for. Then I noticed women were coming up to me (sniff) 'Married' (walk off) That's how they mark their territory. You can take off that ring, but it's hard to get that April fresh scent out of your clothes.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Faculty Brat Shortage

The other day I wrote about student loan debt as a kind of contraception. An anonymous commentator directed me (and all of us) to a fine article by Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden, "Do Babies Matter? The Effect of Family Formation on the Lifelong Careers of Academic Men and Women." This piece appeared in the publications of the American Association of University Professors, and promotes some AAUP recommendations about how academic institutions could better accommodate motherhood in faculty and staff positions. These are sensible recommendations, which I endorse whole-heartedly.

The main finding was that women with children, especially early children (within five years of the Ph.D.) or with more than one child, are less likely to make it to the top of the academic profession. This is especially true in the sciences. I wrote about this recently in relation to the Lawrence Summers controversy. Women who want children are more likely to opt out of the research tenure-track in the first place. The academy was born as a monastery, from which married men were also excluded, and has never entirely gotten over it.

I was struck by another point that Mason and Goulden made:

Overall, women who attain tenure across the disciplines are unlikely to have children in the household. Twelve to fourteen years out from the Ph.D., 62 percent of tenured women in the humanities and social sciences and 50 percent of those in the sciences do not have children in the household. By contrast, only 39 percent of tenured men in social sciences and humanities and 30 percent of those in the sciences do not have children in the household 12 to 14 years out from the Ph.D.

Our culture has made a huge effort in the past two generations to open all opportunities to women, to encourage women to become educated, and especially to enter the sciences. This effort has paid off tremendously. There are eminent women in all professions. Most college students are women, and the graduate and professional schools are at or near parity. The number of women Ph.D.s has doubled, and doubled, and doubled again. Women are hired in very significant numbers throughout academia.

Yet most tenured women with Ph.D.s do not have children. As Mason and Goulden report, most women with advanced degrees are married to men with advanced degrees (the reverse not being true). So every childless female Ph.D. is also more likely to represent a childless male Ph.D. or the equivalent, as well. And the picture is not much better for the men. A third of men with Ph.D.s are childless.

It takes a huge social investment to produce such highly educated people – men and women. This is a social investment, not just an individual one. The first return to society is the intelligence that highly educated people can bring to social needs. The second return, the spin-off of investing in smart people is that we are more likely to get a new generation of smart kids. Smart kids can come from all kinds of parents, of course, and the academy is richly endowed with smart parents who have produced some very squirrelly children, indeed. But the fact remains that the children of smart parents are more likely to be smart, and the children of a smart couple are much more likely to be smart.

Faculty brats make a disproportionate contribution to the smarts of this country. Yet our academic system makes professors more likely to choose not to have kids in order to advance their academic careers – especially women, This is not just a loss for the family lines of these professors. Losing half of each generation of faculty brats is a long-term loss for society. We are eating our intellectual seed corn.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to send a greeting this holiday from the whole Gruntled family. Today our nuclear unit will sit by the fire and read. And watch movies (ok, documentaries – we are pretty nerdy).

One little bit of substance: contrary to widely believed myth, suicide rates do not rise at Thanksgiving and Christmas. On the contrary, both days have below average suicide rates (spring is suicide season). For those with families to go to, solidarity counteracts anomie, as Emile Durkheim argued long ago. And the generous nature of most families in this country means that millions of people who are at loose ends on Thanksgiving are drawn in to some social group for a feast. Go Solidarity!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Student Loan Debt is Highly Effective Contraception

The recent launch of the Project on Student Debt has put the spotlight on the high levels of indebtedness that many college graduates carry. Reaching across the middle of the political spectrum, the project is led by former Clinton administration education advisor Robert Shireman, and it counts among its lead sponsors the American Enterprise Institute. Debt limits what students can do after college, and what they think they can afford to do for decades after graduation. In particular, highly indebted students often rule out low-paying public service work.

Allan Carlson, head of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, raises a further intriguing possibility. He believes that debt makes some students put off marriage and children until they are financially secure. Student loans, he says, are "a highly effective form of contraception."

Carlson cites as evidence the correlation between education and small family size. This seems to me a very tenuous connection. There are many factors that go into small family size that also come from education, such as the large proportion of their child-bearing years that highly educated people use to finish their education and launch their careers, the greater expense that they have to plan for in raising children who will in turn become highly educated, and the belief, still taught in many schools, that there are too many people in our country.

Nonetheless, I think Allan Carlson is probably right that college graduates with high debt would postpone children until they had brought their debt down to manageable levels. I would expect this to be especially true of women launching business or professional careers, who could expect their personal income to go from comfortable to zero in the first years of having children. That prospect is scary enough even with no indebtedness.

Carlson’s proposal is a $5,000 per child tax credit to pay off or forgive educational debt. I have some qualms about this, as it would skew the tax code even further toward the better off. Still, there would be a social benefit in making it easier for our most educated citizens to have children. Moreover, our most educated women are also the ones facing the biggest pressure to be in school or working during their prime child-bearing years as it is. Educational loan forgiveness would target exactly the people who suffer an unintended demographic injury by the current system.

I would especially welcome responses from people whose decisions to have children, and when, were affected by their school debts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Why I Don’t Believe in Children

A decade ago, the American Sociological Association created a new specialty section on the Sociology of Children (now Children and Youth). I had long been a member of the section on the Sociology of the Family, and was drawn to the new group. In fact, I served as first secretary of the section. It is a good section, and does honorable work. However, I decided that I should not continue with it, but should stick with the Family section. The more I thought about it, the more I concluded that I don’t really believe in children as a sociological group. Children are, of course, real, and important, and I cherish my own kids. But sociologically speaking, children are, I believe, best understood as a subset of families. And children who are not part of families are in desperate trouble.

James Q. Wilson, our most distinguished criminologist, wrote in The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families, that

For a century or more, reformers tried to find ways of helping the child without hurting the family. They thought they succeeded, but all they really did was to decide that it was the individual more than the family that deserved protection. (135)

Among students of society in the broad middle of the spectrum, this may be the Great Divide: is the individual the basic unit of society, or is the family? This is a rich question, with many good arguments on both sides. For me and my house, though, I believe that families are the basic social unit. Families come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It is my conviction that at the core of all family forms (families as social structures, not any individual family) is the mother-child unit, to which any enduring society finds ways of attaching fathers.

Liberal social thought (think John Locke, not today’s left/right kind of liberalism) believes that individuals are created by nature, and they construct society. By contrast, I follow the great sociologist Emile Durkheim in thinking that individuals do not produce society, but society produces individuals. And the social unit that does the most to produce most individuals is the family.

Sometimes children are not in families. Alex Kotlowitz wrote about them in There Are No Children Here, about slum kids trying to make it without families in a community with few functioning marriages. This was not a story of the happy independence of individuals; it was a disaster story about “the other America.”

This is why I think it is such a mistake to treat marriage as just another “close relation” that individuals can choose to enter into. Why discussions of marriage and divorce which look only at the adults are so wrongheaded. And why well-meaning and politically savvy efforts to expand social welfare programs, such as health insurance, by starting with services to children taken separately from their families are risky. We enjoy many benefits from having a bias toward the equality of individuals. But an individualistic bias is most dangerous when we are talking about children, and not their families.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Twentysomething Bride is the Happiest Wife

One of the most interesting family findings to appear recently is that women who marry in their mid-twenties are happier than teen brides or older brides. In “With This Ring,” the marriage survey of the National Fatherhood Initiative that I wrote about a few days ago , the ubiquitous and excellent Norval Glenn reported that women who married in their mid-twenties reported the highest rates of marital success. Success was measured by a combination of stability and happiness. Teen brides, as is well known, are not likely to have stable marriages. The new finding is that women who marry for the first time after 27 report stable marriages, but they are notably less happy than those of women who marry between 23 and 27. The key finding is that of the older brides who had never divorced, “more than 45 percent were in marriages they reported to be less than ‘very happy,’ a much larger percentage than was the case for respondents who married younger.”

Let me say before I go on that if you were a teen bride, an older bride, or past 27 and not yet married, you are not doomed. Many teen marriages endure; most post-27 brides have happy marriages.

It is not so surprising that teen marriages tend to be stormier and break up at high rates. Teenagers are more likely to marry impetuously (and pregnant), and the odds are not good that a teen couple will mature in complementary ways as they work their way out of adolescence. The cure for teen-age impulsiveness is marriage when you are more mature. 25-year-old brides make more mature marriages than 15 year olds do. So why doesn’t the same principle apply at later ages, as well? The intriguing question is, why would older brides be less happy?

I don’t know the answer to this question, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. I feel free, therefore, to offer two speculative possibilities.

One possible reason is that after a point a man and a woman become too set in their ways to fully grow together, to shape one another as the marriage matures. Two mature people may find one another lovable and suitable partners, but some of the plasticity of young adults is already gone. This can make for an effective partnership. As I noted earlier, happiness is not the only purpose of marriage, or even the main point.

Another possibility is that the ticking biological clock makes women more impetuous in their marital choices. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, in Creating a Life, reports fairly recent research that the quality of a woman’s eggs start to fall off sharply after about 27 years. Though many young women consciously think that they have all of their 30s, even their 40s, to find a husband and start having children, their bodies may be giving them subconscious clues starting in their late 20s that it may be time to stop waiting for Mr. Right, and take Mr. OK.

In The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton reports a brutal proverb of a century ago, that a woman is like a Christmas cake: no one wants her after the 25th. It is a very good thing that women today have many more options than the desperate marital search Wharton ably chronicled then. It is also a good thing that men and women can make a happy marriage, including having children, well past their 25th birthdays. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that the average age of first marriage for women is now about 25. This represents a significant rise from the Baby Boom-producing years. The fact that most brides are in their mid-twenties may be more than a current statistical artifact. Perhaps American marriages are, in this one respect, at least, at an ideal benchmark.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Is Parenthood “National Service”?

I have been having a debate with myself this morning. The occasion has been a line in Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s excellent Weekly Standard piece which attempts to get the Republican Party to actually deliver a pro-family conservatism. They offer a whole list of interesting ideas, including this one:

Republicans might consider offering tuition credits for years spent rearing children, which could be exchanged for post-graduate or vocational education. These would be modeled on veterans' benefits--and that would be entirely appropriate. Both military service and parenthood are crucial to the country's long-term survival. It's about time we recognize that fact.

Will Wilkinson at the Fly Bottle offers a libertarian response. He found the comparison between parents and veterans as national servants “creepy.” He argues, rightly, I think, that the family is the most private of institutions, not an arm of the state. He reads Douthat and Salam as basing their argument solely on the potential tax return to the state of having more kids raised by subsidized families. I don’t think that is entirely fair – Douthat and Salam see parenthood and well-raised children as crucial to national survival in every way, not just the financial viability of the state. Still, he raises a good point. (I thank Maggie Gallagher for distributing Wilkinson’s piece).

I agree with Wilkinson’s starting point. The family is not an arm of the state. It is creepy to think of parenthood as an efficient way for the state to outsource the production of future taxpayers. It would be dehumanizing and perverse to think of parenthood as a branch of the service for which one volunteers, willy-nilly, by the act of having children.

Still, families do not exist only for themselves. The state does not exist only to serve families. Both families and the state are central institutions – the central institutions – of the nation. Parenthood is not state service, but it is national service. Parenthood is a great good even when there is no nation, as is the case for hunters and gatherers, and parenthood would still be a great good should there ever again be no nation. But we live in families in nations, nations with a hugely complex array of interdependent institutions. The institution charged with superintending the whole is the state. This means that the government is necessarily concerned with how families are functioning, promoting and supporting good parenting practices and compensating for and, if possible, diminishing bad parenting practices.

From that perspective, tuition credits for parenting is an idea worth considering.

There is a larger point in seeing parenting as national service. Families who have a vision of service larger than just serving themselves live a richer life. Parents will shape their children as citizens whether they intend to or not. Parents who raise their children to serve a larger cause than just their own comfort are performing a service to their children and to the nation. Families who work together to serve others are more cohesive and authoritative as families, and appear to be more contented, as well.

Parenthood as national service serves the nation and the family.