Saturday, December 22, 2007

Worth A Thousand Words

A friend sent me this gem. I am not sure who these folks are, but I wish them a prosperous marriage.

The Gruntled Center will close for Christmas now. See you in the New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mid-Century Educational Homogamy Squeeze

Robert Mare is the leading quantitative researcher on educational homogamy, the tendency of people with the same level of education to marry one another. His review of five decades of "educational assortative mating" in 1991 found that there was a significant increase in educational homogamy in the United States from the 1930s to the 1970s, then the rate went down a bit. He concluded that the key variable is how close graduation and marriage are. People who marry right out of school are much more likely to marry someone with the same amount of education. From 1930 to about 1970, graduation was getting later and marriage was getting earlier, which pushed the educational homogamy rate up. Since 1970, marriage age has been rising again, so educational homogamy has declined.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Educational Homogamy Matters More Than Ever

Hans-Peter Blossfeld and the other authors of Who Marries Whom? draw some general conclusions about educational homogamy today:

Schooling matters more now to your subsequent occupation and income than ever before.

Not having a degree closes you out of the next highest social world (though more so in Europe than in the U.S.).

Age-graded schooling, for long years, means that the marriage market for most people is much more age-bound than it used to be.

Schooling is so intensive that it prevents marriage. Graduation from final schooling (or at least from college) marks you as socially fit to marry.

In an era of dual-earner families, for college-educated women marrying an educational equal may be the best strategy to have both a professional career and motherhood.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

If You Want Educational Homogamy, Marry Right After School

The second main finding of Blossfeld and Timm's Who Marries Whom? is that educationally homogamous marriages are most likely in the years after school ends, then tapers off – especially for women. For high school women, there is a rounded spike of marriages to high school men in the late teens/early twenties. For college women there is a sharp spike in marrying college men right after college, then falling off. The college women seem to be catching up on the marriages they postponed because they were in school. For men, the pattern is similar, but not as pronounced.

The longer you wait to marry after graduation, the less likely you are to marry someone with your same level of education.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Half of American Wives Are Educationally Homogamous

Hans-Peter Blossfeld & Andreas Timm edited an interesting volume a few years ago, Who Marries Whom? Educational Systems as Marriage Markets in Modern Societies. Educational homogamy measures what proportion of married people have spouses with the same level of education that they do.

The main finding is that homogamy rates have increased significantly over the 20th century. Women are more educated than they used to be. This evens out the pool at each educational level, makes it less likely that women would marry up (what Blossfeld calls the traditional pattern) and more likely that women would marry down. And the inverse for men.

For the 40-something cohort in the United States, about 27% of the women married up, 21% married down, and 51% married someone with the same school degree.

In the U.S., women have been more equal to men in primary and secondary education, and high school education is predominant, way ahead of Europe. Homogamy rates are lower than in Europe, but still much higher than the predicted value. This seems to be because women are spread across more educational credentials, so the odds of them marrying within any one of them is lower.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

End of the Spear

"The End of the Spear" is a movie of the true story of a fierce and suspicious tribe who martyr the first missionaries who come to them, only to be won over to Christ in the end. The heart of the evangelical struggle is convincing the tribe that God does not want them to live by the code of vengeance that is destroying them.

The famous story behind this film is of Nate Saint and four other missionary men making contact with a band of Waodani in the jungle of Ecuador in 1956. The men were speared to death. The rest of the missionaries, including the widows and children of the martyrs, continued to try to reach the Waodani. Eventually they broke through and won them over with Christ's love. Steve Saint, son of Nate, came back as an adult to establish a friendship with his father's killers. Eventually Steve and his family moved back from the United States to live with the Waodani as family. The "end of the spear" is not only how the martyrs died, but ending the way of spearing and vengeance.

The best part of the film for me, though, was not the dramatic reconciliation of the killer and the son who would not avenge his father's death. Rather, it was the moment when the gospel was first conveyed to a member of the tribe, who saw the possibility of a better way of life. A woman, who had fled to the Christians as a child after her family had been slaughtered in intratribal warfare, later became the crucial interpreter between the two groups. One of the men of the tribe, spear in hand, asked her why they should trust the Christians not to kill them in revenge. She said that the creator God of the Waodani had a son who was speared, but he did not spear back, so that the people who speared him could have a better life. As a result, his life is changed, and he helps change the rest of the Waodani to a new way. This, I think, is the main point.

The movie has been panned by most critics for wooden acting, and attacked by some anti-missionaries for obscuring the "real" motive of the missionaries as tools of the rapacious oil company. Audiences, though, have liked it better, and the film has been among the most successful of Christian movies. All of which is beside the point to me.

"The End of the Spear" gets the moment of evangelical contact right, when the gospel changes a life.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pandora Radio is Great

I have been in my office all morning, catching up on recommendation letters and the like. My labors have been aided by Pandora Radio, part of the wonderfully named Radio Genome Project. You tell them what kind of music you like, and they make a station for you. They find music like that, and you tell them if you want to add the new one or not. That judgment, in turn, generates more connections. This morning I have been listening to Allison Krauss Radio. This is becoming a large collection of my favorite genre, what my wife calls "whiny white chicks." At the moment I am listening to Neko Case.

For physical activity, like cleaning my desk and moving furniture, there is Bruce Springsteen Radio.

And its free.

Pretty nifty.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Marriage Choice is Narrower for the Most Educated

Schooling plays a bigger and bigger role in mate selection. As the most educated people spend longer years in school, and with a more homogeneous pool of people, the most educated couples are likely to get more similar to one another in education, age, and status level.

Something I had not thought about until reading Who Marries Whom, which I will be blogging on for the next few posts, is that the least educated couples will be less similar to one another in education, background, age, and status level, than the most educated couples will. There is more variety at the bottom than at the top of the educational ladder, and more time and social locations to choose in. The biological clock is not ticking so loudly for high school women as it is for professional school women, so they are less likely to marry the person they were dating when they finished school.

Educational homogamy is not uniform throughout the social ladder.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ingenious Design #487: Pregnant Women's Backs

A new study in Nature shows that women have backs and hips that help them carry the weight of a growing baby without falling over. They have another vertebra that helps them lean back more to balance the growing baby's weight. They have wedge-shaped vertebra in the crucial spot, rather than square ones, to help bear the weight like a keystone. And women's wider hip joints let them bear the torque of walking with a big weight in their abdomens with less strain. Pregnant women are still subject to more back problems than other people, but they would hurt even more, and even more often, if they were built like men. The scientists who did the study report these nifty bones are found in ancient australopithecine women as well as modern women.

However you think people got that way, this is a fine piece of engineering. I myself think this is further evidence of providentially guided evolution, but even if you think people were designed this way from the get-go, or evolved this way by random mutation and natural selection, we end up in the same place: pregnant women are ingeniously configured to walk with babies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another Good Reason to Fight the Taliban: They Want the Kids to Freeze

The U.S. military is helping the Afghan government push back the Taliban along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. The two sides trade villages. When the Americans go in, they treat the sick kids with medicine. The Taliban have driven out all but a few doctors, and those are only allowed to treat the Taliban. According to C.J. Chivers' story in the New York Times,

Whenever the military or the government distributed aid,... including blankets, children’s notebooks or winter clothes, the Taliban entered the village, collected the aid and set it on fire.

We have to win the war on the Taliban. Would that the administration had stuck to that necessary war after 9/11, and not spent most of our military substance on an elective war that has bogged down.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Opposing Torture is a Centrist Issue

49 retired generals and admirals are trying to explain why torture is a bad idea, doesn't work enough to be worth it, violates international conventions that serve U.S. interests, and is just un-American. They are surprised that they even have to make this case. The officer corps is traditionally overwhelmingly Republican. So far they have met with the Democratic presidential candidates. The generals and admirals are frustrated that, so far, the Republican candidates won't meet with them. The only Republican candidate who has met with them is Mike Huckabee, the Baptist minister turned politician. Baptist ministers know why torture is bad -- just read Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Mormons are Fine People, But Not Christians

Mormonism is a practical religion that produces strong families and responsible citizens. They are not polygamists anymore, and have no more tolerance for polygamist Mormon sects than the average American does. They promote hard work, practical help to others, and respect for social institutions. Mormon evangelism is the envy of many other churches, and could offer a lesson or three to the declining Protestant mainline.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been putting on a charm offensive lately to be accepted as just another Christian Church. The Book of Mormon has been republished with a new subtitle, "Another Testament of Jesus Christ." Mitt Romney gave his big religion speech this week to show that his faith should be just as acceptable in a president as that of any previous president. He even proclaimed his belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God.

But when Mormons say that Jesus is the son of God, they mean something different than when Christians say it. Official Mormon theology teaches that God (and the shadowy Mrs. God) were once human beings who worked their way up to divinity. They believe Jesus was a man who did the same. And so can each of us, if we become Mormons. The Book of Mormon is "another testament of Jesus Christ" in the same way that the Koran is. Both books take the Jesus of the Christian New Testament and re-imagine him as a prophet with a specific exalted task. Exalted, but not divine.

The theological conflict between Mormonism and Christianity doesn't come up much in everyday life because most Mormons don't really know Mormon theology. When Mormon evangelists make a convert, they talk to people about living a new life, strengthening their families now and in the afterlife, and get them quickly to baptism. Then, in the years following, they get around to the theology -- if the convert wants to know.

Now, in fairness, most Christians couldn't get far in explaining Christian theology, either. But their clergy could. And if there were Mormon clergy in every town with a Mormon congregation, then the two kinds of ministers would have to have it out at the local level. However, Mormons don't have clergy. Most believing men are "priests," and can lead the local rituals, but the content of the services come directly from Salt Lake City. You don't have to know theology to be a Mormon priest any more than you have to know Christian theology to be a Baptist deacon. The important thing is not know the talk, but to walk the walk, to live the practical requirements of the religion.

I think Mitt Romney is right that his faith does not disqualify him from being president any more than the previous presidents' faith does. But I don't think it is Christian.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Alternate Version of "Oh, Holy Night"

This one is from my sister, Mrs. Meliorist:

"You know, once you start singing 'long lay the world in sin and pointless whining,' it's hard to stop."

Friday, December 07, 2007

Push Present? Put it in the College Fund

I appreciate the ingenuity of capitalism in turning every event, no matter how intimate or sacred, into an occasion to buy things. But even I find the idea of giving your wife a "push present" as a reward for giving birth to your child, um, repulsive. Evidently, a large number of women would rather get diamonds in the delivery room than, say, a good start on a college fund. My wife says the best "push present" I gave her was the chance to stay with my helpful mother when the kids were born.

Men should, of course, be very appreciative of their wives for bearing their children, and show that appreciation in a hundred ways, especially during and just after your baby's birth. But giving jewelry seems to me a way of letting the market into your nursery in an unwholesome way.

I do appreciate that Mrs. G. pushed our kids out into the world. And I have been pushing them ever since. That is part of our joint project.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Deep Voiced Men Have More Kids

This is a nifty, small study, reported today in the New York Times by Nicholas Bakalar. Researchers at Harvard, McMaster, and Florida State studied a group of 100 Hadza men and women. Fertility researchers like studying the Hadza because they pick their own partners and don't use birth control. The main finding:

After controlling for age, voice pitch was a highly accurate predictor of the number of children a man fathered, and those with deeper voices fathered significantly more. The researchers estimated that voice quality alone could account for 42 percent of the variance in men’s reproductive success. The quality of women’s voices was unrelated to how many children they had.

This research fits with other findings that women are drawn to more masculine men, other things being equal -- taller, stronger, square-jawed, high testosterone, and smelling of more male hormones.

It happens that we were watching "Capote" last night. Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar for his portrayal of the very gay Truman Capote, including his distinctive, high-pitched voice. Research on "sounding gay" has found suggestive evidence for a "gay voice" among some gay men. Most of this research has focussed on lisping, but one of the features of the gay voice is its higher-pitched, nasal tone -- like Truman Capote's.

Putting these two bodies of research together suggests -- but only suggests -- that how masculine men's voices sound probably correlates with how many children they produce.

[In case you are wondering: low bass, three kids. Not that anecdotes prove anything.]

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

George Washington, Centrist

The more I see of world leaders, the more I appreciate George Washington. Washington, the permanent Greatest American in my book, understood that power is necessary for a leader. Even more importantly, he understood that giving up power is a great virtue in a leader.

I am reminded of this by Vladimir Putin. It is important for the world that Russia become truly democratic. The fall of the Stalinist Soviet Union -- the worst government ever, in my estimation -- was a great victory for humanity. The idea of free elections in Russia still lifts my spirits. But it appears that Russia is sinking back into strong-man rule. Putin thinks he is indispensable, and he will twist the constitution out of recognition to stay in power. This is sad, and is likely to turn tragic.

Africa is full of independence leaders -- the "George Washingtons of their country" -- who couldn't let go of power. Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is currently the worst of this breed, but by no means the last or the only one. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela tried to amend the constitution to make himself president for life. The voters rejected this ploy and, so far, he has said he will accept their verdict.

One of the most George Washington-like figures on the world stage now is King Juan Carlos of Spain. I don't like monarchy, and rarely find myself praising kings, but I like this man. When the fascist dictator Franco died in 1975, he left power to the young king, whom he had tried to groom. Juan Carlos, however, backed the movement to create a democratic constitution for a parliamentary monarchy, which the Spanish voters approved on this day in 1978. In 1981 a group of dissident Spanish colonels seized the parliament and attempted a coup, which they called on the king to ratify. Instead, Juan Carlos gave a national television address condemning the coup and supporting democracy. The coup collapsed that day. Recently, Juan Carlos had to listen to Hugo Chavez rail against a former Spanish prime minister as a fascist. The king had enough of the would-be president-for-life, and suggested that he shut up.

Washington would probably not have told even Hugo Chavez to shut up. He would have fixed him with his steely gaze and firm jaw and ultimately overwhelmed the lesser man with superior self control.

We need more Washingtons, now and always.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Eco-hostile Divorce

A new study by environmental scientists Jianguo Liu and Eunice Yu argues that divorce has bad environmental effects. Divorce means duplication of household consumption and lots of extra travel to see separated family members. They estimate that there are 6 million extra households in the United States due to divorce.

Those are only the extra households created directly by splitting up marriages. Indirectly there are many more extra households from divorced kids who live on their own because they are afraid to marry and risk divorce.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Whada Ya Gonna Do?

We caught up with the conclusion of "The Sopranos" this week. I thought the whole series was a great depiction of the moral universe of consistently vile people. Tony Soprano and the people around him never become better. They sometimes feel some remorse for the terrible things they do. Then they crush it with this dismissal:

"Whada ya gonna do?"
"What can ya do?"

And that closes the matter. Seeing a whole season of the series in one week really brings home how often the characters say this to one another. It is essential to their moral universe that they are creatures of fate. Nothing can be done to make up for their horrible acts, nor to prevent the next one.

The initial hook of the series was that if the mafia boss went to a therapist, the therapist would give the world of decent people an unusual window into the moral view of the underworld. I never thought the shrink plot worked, and it became a minor theme. The mobsters' world was self-explaining. It remained as ugly and selfish at the end as at the beginning. Indeed, in the last season, the psychiatrists have a debate among themselves over whether talk therapy actually helps sociopaths become more effective at conning other people, by helping them fake empathy, feign remorse, and use all the therapeutic excuses for bad action.

The world of the psychiatrists is not nearly as immoral as that of the mafia, but it doesn't come off as a shining moral example, either. Mostly they seem weak and ineffectual.

Television has actually had some real high points in the last decade. The duel between "The Sopranos" and "The West Wing" for the best drama Emmy helped both shows. They also make an excellent contrast of two views of how to use power. Neither is very effective. But Tony Soprano makes clear that Jed Bartlett represents an ethical universe that is infinitely superior -- and worth fighting for.

That said, I thought the famous black-screen/"Don't Stop Believing" ending of the final Sopranos episode was perfect.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Blogging Cosby (5 of 5)

Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint's Come on People is a necessary sermon to African Americans promoting black self-help. Their core message, contained in the subtitle, is that it is both possible and necessary for black Americans to change their attitude from victims to victors.

The meatiest chapters reflect the particular interests of the authors. Medical doctor Poussaint goes into detail about the particular health problems of African Americans, most of which are the direct result of lifestyle choices. TV star Cosby makes the case that media portrayals of black people were bad for a long time, got better when Bill Cosby was on TV (from I Spy to The Cosby Show) -- and then got worse. The book is shot through with laments about the self-inflicted wound of gangsta rap. I suspect that a major motivation for writing this book in the first place was when these two grandpas saw children their grandchildren's age singing along with horrible rap songs.

I noted before that Cosby and Poussaint pull their punches on marriage. This is even more notable, and consequential, in the concluding sections of the book. In the chapter on black health, they urge black women to make their "regular sex partners" wear condoms, because there is no telling who else they have been with. Marriage does not even appear in that chapter, and even the presumption of sexual fidelity is not on their radar. And these are the conservative old guys, who lavishly thank their wives in the acknowledgments!

The final chapter, "From Poverty to Prosperity," lists some of the main causes of black poverty in this country. "institutional racism, limited job opportunities, low minimum wage, mental illness, physical disabilities, drug and alcohol abuse, lack of a high school diploma, incarceration, and a criminal record." Their main solution: "education is the key for poor people."

On both points -- the main causes of poverty, and the main solution to the problem -- I have to disagree with Drs. Cosby and Poussaint. I think marriage is the fundamental human institution that helps people work out of poverty -- and makes them have the will to stick to it. As Cosby and Poussaint note in the opening chapter, in 1950, black and white marriage rates were the same. Now, when all of the external structural obstacles to black success are much less powerful than they were in 1950, the low black marriage rate is, I think, the main internal structural obstacle to black success.

Cosby and Poussaint have written a timely and necessary call to African American uplift. But they miss the single most important element of that call.

Navigon Progeny

Navigon is a spiffy new GPS device for your car.

I think they should come out with a smaller, pedestrian version.

Son Navigon.

(Say it out loud).

Friday, November 30, 2007

Blogging Cosby (4 of 5)

"Thank God for the community college!"

Most of Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint's Come on People is a familiar sermon. This is not an academic book; there are almost no numbers in it, and little that is new. The main self-help themes of the Booker T. Washington school of black self-help are repeated, updated for the times.

One important updating is their extensive praise for community colleges as a second chance for people who blew off high school (or even elementary school). They talk about the many kinds of vocational training that community colleges offer. Beyond those offerings, Cosby and Poussaint point out the community colleges are a discrete way for those who got socially promoted through high school but can't really read a chance to actually learn the skills they missed. Likewise, students can often "go to college" to get their GED.

Cosby and Poussaint's main message is that black people with no guidance and no goals will lead destructive and self-destructive lives. Community college offers some human guidance and many reachable goals for people who missed all that growing up in stunted families.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blogging Cosby (3 of 5)

Cosby and Poussaint pull their punches on marriage.

After starting off strong pushing African-American men to step and be good fathers and role models, they wimp out on pushing them to be husbands.

In the crucial chapter on raising children, they let Dr. Xylina Bean, a neonatologist in Compton, CA, do the heavy lifting. She calls "each and every one of you" to be responsible for raising kids. Her list, though, betrays the reality that she doesn't really expect married parents to be the core of the childrearing team, nor does she really expect men to carry half the load. She specifically calls on grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, "play aunts" and "God aunts." Dr. Bean speaks bluntly to young black women to choose their baby daddies carefully. Not their husbands. No mention of husbands.

Cosby and Poussaint open the book with a strong condemnation of the huge decline in black marriages, and the bad consequences this has for kids. Their positive program, though, only calls on everyone to rebuild childrearing. They shy away from the most effective childrearing program: rebuilding marriage.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blogging Cosby (2 of 5)

On "The Cosby Show," Bill Cosby played Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, a loving and involved, if somewhat bumbling, husband and father. In Come on People, Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint make the fascinating claim that people who don't like Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable "don't like -- or don't know -- their own fathers."

They make this claim in the course of an important opening chapter about the estrangement of most black Americans from their fathers. I agree with them on the main point. I am still chewing on this secondary "Cosby Show" illustration.

I did like and watch the "Cosby Show" when it was on because it showed a happy, functional family. I did not like Cliff Huxtable, though, because he was so often incompetent. The family worked well because Claire Huxtable was wise and all-knowing, and corrected her husband's mistakes with the children. I have noticed the trend that there are almost no competent married fathers on television. It seems as if the current generation of television writers take it as a fixed point of TV writing that father never knows best.

Cosby and Poussaint, who both also worked on the "Cosby Show," are quite right that Cliff Huxtable was very much better than the absent father, or the inconsistent father, or the domineering father, or, worse, the baby daddy that so many families, know -- including most black families. But Dr. Huxtable is still not the wise, firm, demanding-but-responsive father that all fathers should aspire to be.

I can see why Bill Cosby would not cast himself as Father Knows Best. But it is important to bear in mind that the media images that he deplores in Come on People also limit even his best efforts to set a higher standard for family life.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Blogging Cosby (1 of 5)

Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint have published Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors to promote a cultural revolution among black Americans. They haven't just written a book -- they have been going around the country issuing the call, listening to responses, pushing African Americans to stop being victims, stop blaming racism as the cause of all the distinctive problems of black people in this country, and get on with the business of taking responsibility for their own conditions and success. I blogged about this movement when the book first came out as "Cosby is Right Again." One of the innovative ways in which Cosby and Toussaint are promoting their cause is to give a copy of the book to 100 bloggers to write about it. That is what I will be doing all this week.

Cosby and Toussaint are old. They are of the Civil Rights generation that fought for legal equality in the '50s and '60s. They remember when racism in this country was much, much worse than it is now. And when the behavior of black individuals and black families was much better than it is now. The fact that they open the book with is this: in 1950, 5 out of 6 black children were born in a two-parent household. Today that number is less than 2 out of 6.

So where do these two old black men start in making their cultural revolution? By addressing young black men. And their main message to young black men is "claim your children." "You can run the biggest drug cartel in America or win the Super Bowl,"they argue, "but if you haven't claimed your children, you are not a man." No matter how much you may have screwed up your life, no matter how much your other problems or goals may claim your attention, black fathers have to reset their values to this standard: "I am more interested in raising my child than any issue I had before. I am going to behave or get help, but it is about the child."

In his excellent business book, Good to Great, Jim Collins says that one of the bedrock principles of any great organization is a willingness to face the brutal facts. Cosby and Toussaint are willing to face the brutal facts about black families and black actions today. And try to rebuild from there.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Seventh Seal

The Gruntleds had a wonderfully nerdy Thanksgiving evening. After the guests had left, we settled in to watch Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." Mrs. G. and I had seen it in college, but we wanted to show it to Endub, who had been studying Kierkegaard.

The film is a fantastically made movie. Scene after scene is framed iconically. The serious moral quest of the knight to know God, the counterpoint of his cynical, worldly squire, and the terrible blankness of Death, are worth wresting with. For a Christian, the film is disturbingly ambiguous. The last word seems to go to Death and the squire - that beyond this life there is nothing and unknowing.

When we had seen it through, we did something I have not done before: immediately saw it again with the commentary on - in this case by British film historian Peter Cowie. Cowie brought out a helpful point. Bergman was surprised at the huge impact of "The Seventh Seal." He described it as a little movie that he and some friends made one summer. Bergman himself rejected the faith of his minister father, and became a hedonistic atheist. In the film, the director identified with the squire.

Endub and I agreed, though, that the film has its power because viewers identify with the knight. The knight does sacrifice himself to do a meaningful good act in this life. And the ending does not settle the knight's question about God -- whatever the director might think.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'll be off enjoying family for a couple of days. I hope you can do the same.

Split Vote on Rethinking Divorce

Christianity Today has an article on evangelicals rethinking divorce. The key issue is whether Jesus rejected divorce for any cause, or whether he rejected the strict "any cause" standard being debated in his day, and instead accepted the more lenient Old Testament grounds. British evangelical scholar David Instone-Brewer argues for the more liberal interpretation, contending that there are invisible quotation marks that would have been understood in Jesus' day.

My interest here is not in the main argument, but the response to it. David van Biema, writing in Time, reports that reader response to the Christianity Today article was initially highly negative, but leveled off at 60% opposed to the more liberal reading, 40% for.

Letters to the editor are never a scientific survey. But this split strikes me as about the likely proportion of traditional and more liberal views on divorce among evangelicals.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Warren Jeffs' Sentence is the Best of a Bad Deal

Warren Jeffs, the leader of a fundamentalist Mormon sect, was sentenced to five years for conspiring to rape a minor. His part in the conspiracy was to order a 14-year-old girl in the sect to marry her 19-year-old cousin. Such is the nature of cults that his order, backed by a threat of damnation, was enough to make her do it. She later left the cult and has helped prosecutors make the case.

This is an iffy use of the rape law, as I have argued before. Still, the guy needed to be stopped. In prison he has tried to kill himself. He says he is not worthy of the Mormon priesthood. Perhaps some of the members of the cult who were on the edge of leaving may be freed of their thrall.

The history of extreme oppositional cults, though, suggests that most members will see this sentence as confirmation that the forces of evil, including the government, are conspiring against them.

Perhaps Jeffs himself will have a prison repentance.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Garcias are Here; Can the Nguyens Be Far Behind?

The Census Bureau has released the most common surnames from the 2000 Census. This brought a wave of stories about the appearance of Hispanic surnames -- Garcia and Rodriguez -- in the top ten for the first time.

I think the Americanization of Spanish names is a great thing -- proof of the great assimilative power of America. And I know that the WASP names that make up the rest of the top ten include the most wonderful mix of ethnic backgrounds. The list would already appear much more diverse if it had not been common for immigrants to Anglicize their names a century ago. My ancestors Sherstinki, for example, chose to become Sherry at Ellis Island. Immigrants these days are less likely to change their family names.

The Hispanic names are only likely to rise on the common name list, given the massive and continuing immigration from Spanish speaking lands. Just outside the top ten are Martinez (12), Hernandez (16), Lopez (22), and Gonzalez (24).

I wondered where the Asian names are on the list. This is trickier, since transliteration means that some Asian names are written in the English way, obscuring which heritage is represented. This is most important on this list for Lee (23), which is both a common English name (Robert E. Lee) and a very common Chinese name, often written Li; in fact, with all its variants, Li/Lee is the most common surname in the world.

The first clearly Asian name on the list is the leading Vietnamese surname, Nguyen (58). The next is the dominant Korean name Kim (110). The Indian Patel (158) and the Vietnamese Tran (189)round out the top 200. Whether these names will ever reach the top ten American surnames depends on the vagaries on immigration. We probably will not have another wave of Vietnamese boat people; we probably will have a steady stream of Indian and Chinese students and high tech workers.

I think the diversification of American surnames is all to the good. Go Melting Pot! E Pluribus Unum!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Only 45% of Kentucky Southern Baptists Say Jesus is the Only Way

A new survey of Southern Baptists in Kentucky found that most are pretty strong in orthodox Christian beliefs, somewhat likely to work through the church, and about even in the likelihood of having actually evangelized recently. Southern Baptists are the largest denomination in the state, making up about a fifth of the population. Louisville is home to Southern Baptist Seminary, traditionally the flagship seminary of the denomination and notably conservative under its current president, Al Mohler. In the broad spectrum of Southern Baptists in the United States (which, despite the name, is a nationwide denomination), Kentucky Baptists are probably in the middle.

So it is particularly interesting that when Kentucky Baptists were asked if a person sincerely seeking God could obtain eternal life through a non-Christian religion, only 45% disagreed. That is, less than half clearly took the official Baptist position that salvation is only possible through Jesus. The article does not make clear how many of the remaining 55% actually embrace the pluralist position, and how many didn't know what they thought. Lifeway Research, which conducted the study, has not yet posted the results.

Still, it is remarkable that this key claim of orthodox Christianity can't muster even half the respondents' assent in a conservative evangelical denomination.

I live among Kentucky Baptists. They are nice people. They are Southern people. They don't want to be mean or make a scene in public. So I take these survey results with a grain of salt. I am confident that most Kentucky Baptists are sure in their own minds that Jesus is the Way. They are also sure that it might seem mean to say so in public.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


OK, this one is mostly an inside joke.

My wife is an education consultant. Her ability to influence events consists of her vast brain and her ability to analyze and re-analyze mind-numbing datasets about education. And write clear statements of what's what. This often disconcerts other outside agitators who are not as good at analyzing what is going on. They think she has an inside track because she is quoted often.

Recently, one of the way-outside education bloggers called her a "bureaucrat." Given that her bureau consists of an iBook and our dining room table, this struck us as funny.

Years ago we got a buffet for the dining room. Our young son couldn't remember "buffet," so he jokingly called it the "burrito." This name stuck.

Mrs. G. is not a bureaucrat. She is a burritocrat.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Married Men and Women Save More Together

The Fawcett Society, a British women's advocacy organization, has just released a study about how men and women differ in how, and how much, they save money.

The main finding is that women save for others, but find it harder to save for themselves. They save for short-term goals more than long-term objectives. Women are more averse to taking on debt. Men, by contrast, are a little more likely than women to save in general, to save for the long term, and to take on debt. The biggest savers are married men. Unmarried men and all women save at about the same average rate: about $200 per month. Married men, by contrast, save about $300 per month.

Putting these facts together, it seems to me that the crucial variable in the savings rate is whether the men and women in question are married, and especially married parents, or not. We would expect that married moms would save the most for others, married fathers would save the most for the long term. Mothers probably have less income to save from than they did before they had kids, but married mothers can rely on their husbands to save more for the whole family.

The Fawcett Society, though, does not want to treat married parents as a unit for savings. Instead, they argue that it is a great advance to treat men and women as separate, regardless of their family situation. They do not want to factor marriage in to household savings decisions because "households change." They argue, correctly I think, that savings needs to be analyzed over the life course, but then assert that "a lifecourse by definition must focus on the individual." Yet in a deep sense this is wrong. Marriage makes two people one flesh, and they make their savings decisions, short-term and long-term, together and on the assumption that they will be working together. Sometimes, as we all know, this assumption turns out not to be true, but this does not mean that most married people do not make it, nor that they should not make it. The Fawcett Society, in an effort to treat "women" equally, distort the life experience of most women, and most men, who marry and save together.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Want to See More Economic Mobility? Put More Rungs in Your Ladder

Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution has released a study of family economic mobility. This is a companion to the study on racial disparities in economic mobility that I wrote about a couple of days ago. Isaacs' main finding in the new study is that two thirds of families have higher income than their parents did, but only half of them have moved up a rung on the income ladder. A rising tide has lifted nearly all boats; some have then risen even higher than average beyond the rising tide.

Isaacs makes an important point -- most people are better off than their parents were, but that is not entirely due to their own efforts. The entire society is richer, so many people are absolutely better off even if they have stayed relatively the same. For example, if you compare a hypothetical family in the exact middle of the income spectrum a generation ago and now, our middle family today will be absolutely richer and have a higher standard of living than the middle family a generation ago, but will still be in the middle of the income spectrum.

Still, there is a bit of statistical mystification here. Isaacs compares quintiles (equal fifths) of the income distribution. 2/3rds of families moved up in income, but only half of them - 1/3rd of all families - moved up enough to change quintiles compared to their parents. This one third is what Isaacs calls true upward mobility. But suppose she had been comparing not quintiles, but deciles? That is, suppose her income ladder had twice as many rungs in it? We can't tell for sure without real data, but it is likely that with twice as many rungs, we would see twice as much mobility (down as well as up). Likewise, I have seen studies by mobility pessimists who use quartiles. Not surprisingly, such studies show less mobility than Isaacs' quintile study does.

The main conclusion that I draw from this is not that "you can make statistics say anything," but that the income distribution is not a very helpful quantity to describe social reality. Only sociologists think of people in quintiles. The real rungs of the social ladder don't match the income distribution very well. It is helpful to know if people have more of less money than they grew up with. But knowing that they have changed quintiles (or quartiles, or deciles, or percentiles) doesn't really tell you if they have changed classes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Class Beats Race - Hurrah!

The Pew Research Center has released a wonderful study showing a strong convergence among the white, black, and hispanic middle class. For the first time, a majority of African-Americans agree with the rest of the country that the main thing keeping poor blacks down is their own behavior, rather than racism.

Likewise, most black Americans think that the gap between middle class and poor blacks is widening, a view long held by most other Americans. The belief that the class gap is widening within the African-American community is shared by both ends of the black education and income spectrum. The Pew study made headlines with a peculiar version of this point: they asked

Blacks today can no longer be thought of as a single race because the black community is so diverse OR Blacks can still be thought of as a single race because they have so much in common.

Most African-American agreed with the peculiar contention that blacks are not one race today.

All races agree that people in the same class are more similar than are people in the same race.

In the long run, this is hopeful in the fight against racism.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Black Downward Mobility" is Really a Marriage Decline

The Associated Press has a story across the country today by Stephen Ohlemacher with headlines like "Income Gap Between Families Grows." They are reporting on a series of studies by Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution on economic mobility. The news hook is that the black/white gap in family income is growing. The scariest finding is that nearly half of black children who grew up in middle class homes have moved down economically compared to the family they grew up in.

The main explanation extracted from the Isaacs studies is that black men's real earnings, on average, declined since the late 1960s, whereas white men's average earnings went up.

When we look inside the report, though, I think the more striking and more explanatory fact is what happened to black married families. In 1969, most black families (58%) were married-with-kids families. By 1998 that had fallen to a mere third. Single-with-kids families, meanwhile, had risen from a fifth of all black families to nearly a third (29%). It is reasonable to assume that most black children in the top two quintiles in 1969 were in married-parent homes. By 1998, as Isaacs notes, most American families needed two incomes to be middle class. Black marriages, and the income advantages that come with them, were declining at exactly the time when they were most needed for the kids to match the middle class lives of their parents.

I think the decline in black men's income is also an effect of the marriage decline. Men work the hardest and the most when they are married fathers. In 1969, two thirds of black men were married; today not even half of black men are married.

To be sure, the white married-with-kids rate has fallen, too. But most white families are still married-with-kids families, and two thirds of white men are still married.

I think the main cause of the black/white gap in income and mobility is the marriage gap.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Presbyterian Terrorists Stand Down

As a Presbyterian I celebrate the proclamation by the (Protestant) Ulster Defense Association that is will stand down its assassination arm, the Ulster Freedom Fighters. While they have not quite disarmed (and neither, in fairness, has their Catholic counterparts, the Irish Republican Army), the UDA said they have put their arms "beyond use."

The largely Presbyterian loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland have been an enduring embarrassment and reproach to Calvinists everywhere. The Presbyterian Church in this country has promoted an exchange between Ulster and American Presbyterian colleges and universities that send pairs of Catholic and Protestant Irish students to the U.S., and Americans back to Northern Ireland. Centre College has happily participated in this exchange. We have long tried to help end the intra-Christian Troubles there.

With the Ulster Defense Association declaring that "the war is over," we may finally be ending the worst case of sectarian violence involving Protestants.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Richie Farmer, Orator

Richie Farmer was a famous basketball player at the University of Kentucky. That seems to have been why he was recruited to run for Agriculture Commissioner four years ago. His campaign posters still show a basketball going through a hoop, which is larger on the sign than the office he is running for.

Also, his name is farmer.

He was re-elected this week. In his victory speech, he proclaimed that he won because his message "resignated" across the Commonwealth.

He has a bright future.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Diversity is Bad in the Neighborhood, Part Two (Muslim Britain)

I noted recently Robert Putnam's finding that the more ethnically diverse a neighborhood is, the less social capital it has. He was not too happy to be reporting this.

A new study of British Muslims (by an NYU-led team reporting for a German research institute) has found that Muslims living in integrated neighborhoods had a stronger Muslim identity than Muslims living in segregated Muslim neighborhoods. The team, led by Alberto Bisin, found that Muslim religious and communal identity was stronger where Muslims lived together with non-Muslims.

Muslims have a stronger oppositional identity when faced with the daily contrast of non-Muslims. British Muslims are significantly more religious and fertile than their non-Muslim neighbors. For them, assimilation would mean losing two of the most important things in life. Muslims in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods, by contrast, don't feel as threatened by British norms and are less likely to develop an oppositional identity.

The main point, I think, is not that ethnic or religious neighborhood integration is bad or good. Rather, integrated neighborhoods are less likely to have strong neighborhood institutions and identities, even if they do develop stronger ethnic institutions and identities.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Good Spouse Beats Good Cholesterol

From the Smartmarriages quote page:

A good marriage at age 50 predicted positive aging at 80. But, surprisingly, low cholesterol levels did not.

George Valliant, MD, Harvard Medical School

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Marriage Gap Doubles the Gender Gap

The gender gap is the tendency of women to favor Democrats. In the 2000 election there was a 22 point gender gap. Less noted at the time was another gap, the marriage gap. This is the tendency of married people to favor Republicans. In the 2000 election the marriage gap was 28 points -- already larger than the gender gap.

A fascinating new study by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner has found that the gender gap has declined, while the marriage gap has gone up. In fact, they project that in the 2008 election, the gender gap will be 15 points, but the marriage gap will be 35 points. The main conclusion that GQR draws is that if the Democrats can mobilize unmarried women, they will win hugely. Unmarried women are the backbone of the Democratic electorate, second only to African-Americans as a reliable bloc. In fact, since African-American voters are so much more likely to be unmarried women, there is a big overlap. Unmarried women are to the Democratic vote what white evangelicals are to the Republican vote. And, unlike African-Americans, the unmarried women bloc is as big as the white evangelical bloc, if not bigger.

The problem for Democrats in taking advantage of the huge advantage they have among unmarried women is that unmarried women have been much less likely to vote than married women. Until, GQR argue, now. Now, unmarried women are so mad at the Bush administration and the Republican Party in general that they say they are going to vote in 2008 at much higher rates than in the past. Unmarried women in general favor Democrats over Republicans by almost 50 points, and young unmarried women favor Democrats by nearly 70 points.

Unmarried women, say GQR, are the "Democrats' evangelicals." Now all the Democrats need to do is mobilize them.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Kentucky's Bellwether Election - Today

It is election day in Kentucky, and it appears, in these early hours, that the voters will remove the incumbent Republican governor for incompetence and ethical obtuseness.

I may have to eat these words by the end of the day, but the polls suggest I am on solid ground.

Kentucky elects its governor the year before the country elects its president. It is tempting to see this election as a bellwether of the next one. Sometimes it looks that way. Four years ago, when a Republican evangelical replaced a Democrat with a zipper problem, our race looked like a preview of the presidential race. Of course, Democrats had won for three decades before that, which did not at all presage Democratic presidential victories since Johnson.

Ernie Fletcher came in promising to "clean up the mess in Frankfort." He promptly committed exactly the same mess as his predecessors. And then denied it, on the grounds, I think, that "we are the good guys" and by definition can't do wrong. Then, when it was proven that two dozen of his guys had indeed done wrong -- led, I am sorry to say, by a former Centre College student body president -- Gov. Fletcher pardoned them all.

I thought he lost the election right there, years before it was held.

Then, when forced to admit that they had been guilty after all, he fired them, though they were still pre-emptively pardoned.

I suggested that he make a campaign pledge to pre-pardon his second administration for all their future crimes. He did not take me up on it. It appears not to have helped him anyway.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Antony Flew, Deist

There was a stir in religious circles a few years ago when Antony Flew, a famous British academic atheist, changed his mind about God. The New York Times Magazine today has an article suggesting a semi-senile Flew was led astray by religious scientists.

I read the evidence in Mark Oppenheimer's story a bit differently. As Flew tells the story, Christians who believed in reconciling faith and science befriended Flew more than two decades ago. They brought him to conferences, corresponded with him, and listened to his arguments. And Flew returned the favor, taking seriously the arguments made and the relationships that he was developing.

In the end, years before Flew's current aphasia, he publicly proclaimed several times that he was an Aristotelian deist. He was not a biblical believer, but he did accept the idea that the universe was created by a supernatural intelligence. He was not hostile to more specific scientific supports for a theistic worldview, but as a philosopher he did not claim to be current on the science behind them. Flew's religious audiences accepted that he was not a biblical believer, as they were. That he had changed his mind about atheism for intellectual reasons was the main point.

Flew's story reminds me somewhat of Norma McCorvey's. McCorvey was the "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade, who in the early years after the Supreme Court decision became a crusader for abortion rights. However, she found that the evangelical Christian pro-lifers were nice to her and related to her as a person, including sympathizing with the sad conditions in her life that led her to seek the famous abortion of the case. The pro-choicers with whom she worked, on the other hand, were glad to have her as a symbol, but were, she said, personally condescending and uninterested in her as a person. McCorvey was herself born again, and is now a pro-life activist.

Meanwhile, Oppenheimer quotes Richard Dawkins, a crusading atheist of our day, on Flew's changed mind. "He once was a great philosopher. It's very sad."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Halloween Homage

My friend and colleague Phyllis and I were honored by two of our wonderful students, Kerri and Ezra, for Halloween.



Kerri and Ezra:

Friday, November 02, 2007

Do "67% Favor Birth Control for Students"? Really?

The Associated Press and Ipsos did a poll of attitudes toward distributing birth control in schools. The headline in many papers, our local one included, was "67% Favor Birth Control for Students." Yet when you look at the actual poll, here is the result to the crucial first question:

Which would you prefer for the public schools in your community?

37% Provide birth control only to those students who have the consent of their parents
30% Provide birth control to all students who want it
30% Not provide birth control to any student

How would you report that? I think the most honest way to present this finding would be to say that there is a bell curve of sorts: 30% are against school birth control, 30% are for school birth control, and 37% are in the middle, favoring schools administering parent-authorized birth control.

I think it is misleading to say simply that two-thirds of American adults favor school birth control. And none of the articles publish this breakdown of the answer -- you have to go to the AP/Ipsos site and look at the detailed results.

There is another finding of this survey, not reported in the AP article, that I think is more interesting:

What do you think is the better way to reduce the number of pregnancies among teenagers?

51% By emphasizing sex education and birth control
46% By emphasizing morality and abstinence

That is, the country is evenly divided on whether sex education should focus on abstinence or on birth control. Moreover, the survey did not ask any more nuanced question, such as should sex education teach both abstinence (the best plan) and birth control (not as good, but better than nothing)?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Coffee in the High School Library? Heck yes! Gosh!

The AP has a fun story on high school libraries opening coffeehouses. Young people today are not in the library habit as previous generations (mine) were. The school gets more kids to come to the library, the business students learn to run a business, and the school makes money. And kids get their morning caffeine.

Some people think that kids getting morning caffeine is a bad idea. That ship has sailed. We have been running the field tests on caffeine for at least 500 years, and the results are pretty good. It is mildly addictive; it does stimulate the brain. Good enough.

The librarian at Hasting High in Houston reported some results on how the coffeehouse affected student use of the library:

Before the coffeehouse opened, "they were running about 6,000 visits per year to the library and checking out about 3,000 books," he said. Now, "we're running about 65,000 visits and checking out about 45,000 books."

Coffee and books go together.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Five-Year Itch + Cohabitation = Seven-Year Itch

A new study from the Max Planck Institute has found that married Europeans are showing a divorce spike after five years, rather than the old seven-year itch. They interpret this as showing that people today get bored with one another faster.

I disagree. The seven-year itch always made sense on sociobiological principles. Seven years after the wedding, many couples will have two kids, and the youngest one is likely to survive childhood. If he is going to leave, or if she has had enough of him, each can imagine that a divorce at that point would not imperil the children's survival. The adults might imagine that they are young enough to remarry, even have more children, if they leave then. They might even think that it would be better for the kids if they didn't remember life with the absent parent.

Most couples today cohabit for a year or two before marriage. They might even have kids in that state. In fact, it is often the pregnancy that pushes the cohabiters to marry in the first place. When we add in cohabiting years, the new five-year itch is pretty much the same as the old seven-year itch. All that has changed is where in the seven years the wedding occurs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Diversity and the Homogeneous Unit Principle

The downside of diversity, as I noted yesterday, is that it reduces social capital and group trust. People are more likely to invest themselves deeply and give sacrificially to a group with which they share the deepest things in common.

Churches grow best and most explosively when they are based on cells of people who are like one another, who share the deepest levels of culture. Booming megachurches may be made of all kinds on Sunday morning, but they divide into cells of similar kinds on Wednesday night. This is called the homogeneous unit principle. It is the church-growth version of "birds of a feather flock together."

Churches are more like families than they are like workplaces. That is, they are more like primary groups than secondary groups. And the more a church works like a family, the stronger it will be and the more likely it is to grow.

Big denominations can be very diverse. Big congregations can be somewhat diverse. But strong church cells -- the ecclesiola in ecclesia, however constructed -- need to be similar in the most important ways.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Diversity is Bad in the Neighborhood, Good at Work

Robert Putnam, famous for Bowling Alone, has now published a study that shows that neighborhood diversity undermines social capital -- positive civic networks -- in a dozen ways. In a recent Scandinavian Political Studies journal, Putnam, very reluctantly, reports that people living in ethnically diverse communities tend to

distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.

At the same time, Michigan political scientist Scott Page reports in The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies that people from diverse cultures make good work teams because they approach the same problem in different ways.

These two findings make sense to me. At work, in "secondary groups," we bring to bear only the relevant parts of our cultural background, suppressing the parts that aren't appropriate to that setting. In our families and neighborhoods, on the other hand -- our "primary groups" -- we bring all of our culture to bear on everything. We need to be able to live with and trust the people in our house. Our lives are better if we can live with and trust the people on our street to share our values.

Some people, Putnam included, view his findings with alarm. I do not. I think his study shows that race is a bad proxy for culture, and is getting worse all the time. When people view different race as a sign of different culture, they have reason to be anxious every time someone of a different race appears in their primary group. In a family, we can get to know individuals, and make a more informed jugment about whether this individual relative is or is not like us, regardless of the other social groups they may be part of. In a neighborhood, on the other hand, it is harder to find out what the neighbors are like -- especially if we view each other with suspicion.

The solution, I think, is to realize that race does not tell us much about someone else's values. Really, class is a much better indicator of whether the new family on the block is like us or not, and the outward indicators of class and status are still pretty crude. If we start from the assumption that people who have the money and the desire to move into our neighborhood are going to be like us in their class values, we might face ethnic diversity -- and sheer change in the neighborhood -- with less anxiety.

Cultural diversity is good for the nation as a whole, and good for the secondary groups within it. Cultural diversity needs to give way, though, to shared values at home, or the family won't work very well. Families do absorb new cultural elements, but slowly and for personal reasons. Neighborhoods are the battleground between these two principles.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

On the Evangelical Crackup

The New York Times Magazine today has an excellent article by David Kirkpatrick on the disillusionment of evangelical Christians with partisan Republican politics. Many of the old religious right warriors are becoming disenchanted with how little they have gotten for preaching the gospel of tax cuts and the Iraq war.

There are lots of people who do not really understand politics. If you think 9/11 changed everything, you weren't paying attention; worse, you didn't think you were supposed to.

Many evangelicals are serious about the gospel at the individual, moral, person-to-person level, but just don't see how it is relevant to the social, ethical, group-to-group level. For them, politics is an intrusion on normal life, and the objective of their political action is to fix the intrusion so they can get back to their normal, apolitical lives. The religious right became a mass movement when the school prayer decision and the abortion decision intruded on their lives. They wanted a moral majority to put things back the way they were.

The political operatives who invented the Moral Majority, Inc. saw an opportunity. Their agenda was lower taxes, especially on corporations and large estates, less regulation of business, and more military and diplomatic force to promote American business and state interests. School prayer and abortion were not really their issues, but they saw a way to turn temporarily politicized religious people into a useful voting block for their primary interests.

The key point here, I think, is that evangelicals were always going to be a temporary voting block, and they were never going to permanently mobilized by the issues that mattered most to business conservatives. I have seen many a conservative Christian tie themselves in knots trying to explain why the gospel required that were cut business taxes or the "death tax" or build a larger Navy.

When apolitical evangelicals figured out that politics is mostly about material interests and always requires compromise, they would lose interest. Unlike the secular left, the religious right always has the option of giving up on politics because it is too political. Politics is an inherently bad way to preach or enact the gospel. The evangelical crackup is mostly what happens when people who are Christians by conviction and political by necessity figure that out.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Constitutional Boy

My sister sent this gem about my nephew:

Oh, so on the back of their chairs in their kindergarten class, they had a sheet that had three questions on it. I can't quite remember what the questions are but they might all of have been "I am" and then the kid fills in the blank. For example, Danny's friend Evelina's said "I am Evelina, I am beautiful, I am five." Danny's said "I am Danny, I am smart, I am following the constitution." Apparently his third answer was quite unique among his classmates and tickled his teacher.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Dance of Integrated Neighborhoods

Most Americans want to live in integrated neighborhoods -- but different groups have different standards of what the right balance is. This leaves most people not getting what they want.

Reynolds Farley and his students did studies on black and white preferences in the 1990s. Most black and white Americans would like to live in an integrated neighborhood. The most common African-American preference would be for the neighborhood to be 50% black. Most white Americans would prefer their neighborhood to be no more than about 15% black. You can see the problem -- neighborhoods passing the 15% black threshold are more attractive to African Americans, but less attractive to whites; such neighborhoods tend not to stabilize at 50% black, but keep going to nearly all black.

Since the Farley studies were published, the nation has gotten more diverse, so much so that most researchers would not limit their studies to just black/white integration. This is a good development. The more people see that the options are not just black and white, the harder it is to think of a single tipping point that would make a neighborhood head to all one group or another.

What is striking to me about the Farley preference numbers is that most white Americans would like to live in neighborhoods that are as black as America as a whole is. African Americans make up at most 12% of the U.S. population (despite the widespread belief that the proportion is much higher). This is also about the same size as that mish-mosh category, "Hispanic."

Here would be a good study. Suppose you offered people the hypothetical option of living in a neighborhood that was:
60% Anglo
15% Black
15% Hispanic
5% Asian
5% All others

I think most Americans would go for it.

That is, I think most Americans would like to live in a neighborhood that looked like America.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hong Kong's Weird Demography

Hong Kong's men are disappearing. The ratio of men to women has fallen from 1063 per thousand in 1993 (four years before the handover to China) to 912 men per thousand women today. They project that the ratio would plummet to 763:1000 by 2036, but surely there would be big changes before that gross imbalance were reached.

The number of unmarried young women has gone up dramatically. Hong Kong women are major players in Kay Hymowitz' "New Girl Order" that I wrote about yesterday. Single male numbers have gone up, too -- Hong Kong is a rich city for young singles. But the single women rate has gone up much faster than the bachelor rate. And Hong Kong men are much more likely to marry mainland women than Hong Kong women are likely to pair up with mainland men. This is ironic, since mainland China has a huge overhang of men compared to women. But Hong Kong women are much better educated and career oriented than mainland women, and less likely to be as subservient as mainland men normally want a wife to be.

The scariest number in Hong Kong demography is the fertility rate: 0.98 children per woman. Most industrialized countries are below the replacement rate of 2.1, but Hong Kong is the first (as far as I can tell) to fall below the one kid per woman threshold. No place can sustain a population pattern like that for long. The Hong Kong administrator wants to raise the fertility rate to 3 children per woman, which most people regard as wildly unrealistic.

The Hong Kong government offers no speculation as to where they men have gone. My guess is that the men have gone to the mainland. They are taking their world market savvy, honed in non-Communist Hong Kong, and are getting in on the ground floor of the booming post-Communist mainland economy. Odds are that those men will marry, but probably locally.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The New Girl Order Saves Capitalism

Kay Hymowitz has written another excellent City Journal article, "The New Girl Order." She writes about the wave of single women around the world with education, careers, busy social lives, and no immediate plans for marriage or children. The Bridget Jones brigade has already had an immediate impact on marriage rates and fertility, leading to gigantic drops in the fertility rate in the rich and growing economies of the world just in the past decade. Most developed nations have fertility rates way below replacement level, which will have severe demographic consequences very soon.

I was struck by another aspect of Hymowitz' description of the worldwide Carrie Bradshaws: they shop. No account of their lives seems to go more than three sentences without mentioning their prodigious appetite for shopping, both for goods and services.

A perennial problem for capitalism is that it has to keep getting people to buy things they don't need. There are, of course, billions of people around the world who would spend more on necessities if they could. The leading edge of the leading economies, though, are pulled by people buying goods and services that are not really necessities. The market for comforts, conveniences, and even outright luxuries is more profitable.

The globalized economy ever totters on the brink of disaster if middle class and rich people bought only what they needed. Which is why the New Girl Order is such good news economically. To have millions of women with money and no pressing need to save it is a boon to the luxury goods industries around the world.

Capitalism is saved. At least until we run out of workers in the next generation.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Victims of Victors?

I recently wrote about Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint's new book Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors.

I am now in the midst of a workshop on promoting diversity on campus. I am entirely in favor of promoting all kinds of diversity on campus, especially diversity of thought. I am here as a presenter about one such program. Just because I am in the middle of such a conference, it has gotten me thinking about how we might think about being a minority (of whatever kind).

Sometimes it is taken for granted that the aim of diversity consciousness raising is to show the history of minorities as victims. The minorities are meant to come out of the event thinking of themselves as victims; the majorities are meant to think of themselves as oppressors.

I think Cosby and Poussaint are right. It is better to seek to be a victor than to think of yourself as a victim. Being a victim is weak. Sometimes this can't be avoided, especially during the worst of the oppression. But thinking of yourself as a victim keeps you weak. It is partially a self-inflicted wound that furthers the work of the oppressor. Being a victim runs counter, I think, to the best of American self-identity, too. We are a can-do people. If you are down, it is better for you (me, each of us) to find a workaround. This builds up the nation, too.

Victimhood is a reality. But it is not a good objective.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Knocked Up" is Finally a Good Redemption Movie

... but man, it takes its time getting there.

Ben is one of the most hopeless boneheaded slackers I have run across in movies (and never, thank the Lord, in real life). Why lovely, competent Alison gives him a second look, much less a tumble, is hard to fathom. I guess this is the disbelief we are meant to suspend. Fair enough.

So Ben and Alison find themselves pregnant. They both try to do the right thing, very clumsily. It does take him an amazingly long time to get to Step One - move out of the Dim Slackers Pothouse and get a real job. Still, he gets there. And it is plausible, I suppose, that she does not tell him what to do, because she does not want to be as controlling a wife as her sister is.

Nonetheless, adulthood is not so scary that it really needs to be resisted so forcefully.

I will not go further in the plot to avoid spoilers. It will not surprise anyone who has seen the trailer that the film's tone is sweet, pro-baby, and ultimately pro-marriage.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cosby is Right Again

Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint have come out with Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors. I have not read the book yet. I did, though, see Cosby and Poussaint's presentation on "Meet the Press." Cosby says that the terrible condition of African-Americans today is due to black family failures at least as much as it is due to systemic racism. In fact, I think the logic of his position means that black family weaknesses have more to do with African-American troubles than racism does.

Cosby has been criticized for not putting most of the blame on structural racism. Cosby's reply is that in the past -- the 1950s for example -- institutional racism was much worse, yet black families were stronger and the self-inflicted wounds of the black community were not as bad as they are now.

Cosby's argument on this point seems to me unassailable.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Top-Down Class Leveling

The rich live much better than the poor. The middle class live much better than the poor. But the rich do not live much better than the upper middle class. A $50,000 car is much better than a $5,000 car, probably ten times better. But a $500,000 car is not ten times better than a $50,000 car. Positional goods, as Fred Hirsch called them in The Social Limits to Growth, are valued by the rich because they are rare by nature. You can always make a new Rolls-Royce, but you can't make new mountainsides for houses with gorgeous views. But with millions of millionaires in the world now, many positional goods are bid up way past their added value.

The rich are much richer than they used to be. But they are not living that much better. We are leveling the classes at the top.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

White Van Methodists

Megblum, the wonderful #1 Gruntled child, is home for fall break. She had an insight on the way home from the airport: people who drive white minivans are presumed Methodists until proven otherwise.

This was a lightning-bolt insight, based on no specific empirical foundation. When asked to explain this, she offered the idea that a white minivan reflects a sense of the gentle order of the world.

This seems to me to have deep sense in it. We would very much welcome comments.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Snapes on a Plane!

This is the funniest picture I have seen recently.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Middlebury Shines

Endub had a great visit at Middlebury. The students were smart, engaged, witty, and cheerful. The college is rich and has wonderful resources. The classes were great -- she stayed to ask questions, and was answered well. The Admissions guy liked her humorous art. And the campus was Vermont-in-autumn gorgeous.

Application to follow.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Haverford Nixed

The Endub has made one decision: Haverford is not for her. It is a pretty place, she liked the classes she visited, and her host was very nice. However, the students she met were hard put to explain why they thought Haverford was great, or who it would be great for. The group went over to Bryn Mawr to watch a game and stayed for dinner. They praised Bryn Mawr food, Bryn Mawr dorms, and most of the students in her group were actually majoring at Bryn Mawr.

As a Swarthmorean, I have natural antipathies to "the other place." Nonetheless, I was prepared to like Haverford if she did. But she didn't.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

On the Road with Endub

I am taking daughter #2 on a college trip this week. Dispatches from the road as internet connections permit. First stop: Haverford.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Privilege Exercise

Tonight we ran an exercise based on Peggy McIntosh's famous article "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." We had about 100 Centre students in the gym, lined up should-to-shoulder and holding hands. Then we read a series of statements, such as "if you grew up in a house with more than 50 books, take a step forward," and "if you have ever thought that the police stopped or questioned you because of your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take a step back." After a few questions, most students were no longer close enough together to hold hands. After 50 questions, they were spread out across the gym. I was working with a very helpful student who had much experience with this kind of exercise through the National Conference for Community and Justice. We adapted some of the questions to the Centre environment.

When the students were spread out into clear strata, we divided them into four groups, based on where the natural breaks seemed to fall. The top and bottom group were a little smaller than the two middle groups. The four groups then went into different corners to talk about how the exercise felt. We then gathered them all into one large group to share experiences.

This was a fine exercise. The top group felt guilty, and surprised that they were the most privileged - but also grateful to their parents and grandparents. The bottom group felt somewhat good about the obstacles they had overcome. On the other hand, they were the most reluctant to speak in the larger group. When I pointed this out, one of the most forthright said that she had a half-conscious feeling that her insights were not as valid as the more privileged and at home.

One of the best insights of the night for me was that the top group got there not so much by how often they stepped forward, but by how rarely they stepped back.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Preoperational Egocentrism? You Be the Judge

My sister was chaperoning a field trip of kindergarteners. On the bus on the way back the boys were playing "I Spy," including this hilarious gem:

"I spy something green."
"Your sneaker?"
"No . . . "
"Your other sneaker?"

Piaget says that from two to seven kids usually show "preoperational" forms of reasoning. One of the most childish logical lapses of little kids, from an adult perspective, is egocentrism - that is, the kid's belief that everyone sees things the same way the child does. I have seen film of a wonderful experiment in which two kids are looking at an identical array of oddly shaped objects, but they can't see one another. One child is then supposed to describe one of the objects, so the other one can pick out the identical object. An adult doing this experiment might say "I am looking at the red ball," which would be readily understood by another adult looking at an array that included one red ball. A little kid, on the other hand, is likely to say "I am looking at this one." The other child might reply "So am I!" - though each is looking at a different object, with no idea what the other means.

So, is the above exchange an example of preoperational egocentrism in kindergarten boys, or an ingeniously subtle way to play "I Spy?"

Friday, October 05, 2007

No Efficient Number of Divorces

Stevenson and Wolfers continue with their assessment of marriage and divorce up to the point where economists and marriage advocates part company. S & W allow that married people are happier, healthier, and richer, but withhold judgment whether marriage is cause or effect. They ask

even if we isolate factors that create more or less divorce, these insights would only yield policy recommendations if coupled with an understanding of whether we currently have an efficient number of divorces, too many, or too few.

The concept of an "efficient number of divorces" is distasteful, at least, to marriage advocates. Even if we allow that sometimes divorce is the least of the available evils, it is still an evil. In thinking about the efficient number of divorces, Stevenson and Wolfers raise the analogy with the "churn" in the labor market. However, leaving a job can be a matter of indifference to the worker, as well as to the analyst looking down from on high. Not so, I think, with leaving a marriage.

Marriage changes people more than any other voluntary institution. Marriage and divorce are not just arrangements for material advantage. Every marriage carries the hope of building up husband, wife, their children, even their whole lineage. Every divorce is a social loss because it dashes that hope. Economists don't count the social costs of dashed hopes for personal and social upbuilding. But we can.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

U.S. Marriage Rate Lowest Ever -- But Still Above Europe

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers have an interesting working paper on the "driving force" in marriage and divorce changes. Stevenson and Wolfers are the Wharton School professors who cleared up the puzzle about the erroneous Census Bureau report that most marriages don't reach their silver anniversary.

One finding that they put in stark relief is that the marriage rate in the United States is at the lowest point in recorded history. Indeed, the marriage rate peaked in 1972, and has been dropping ever since. Americans still couple at high rates, but many of them are cohabiting rather than marrying. Most cohabiters think they will marry -- but they don't.

On the other hand, "Americans marry, divorce, and remarry at rates higher than in most other countries with comparable income levels." Compared to Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, Americans are more likely to marry and more likely to believe in marriage. For example, only 10% of Americans think marriage is an out-dated institution, versus a quarter of Britons and a third of the French.

Of course, they are facing a demographic crisis of falling birthrates, and we aren't.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

National Center for Marriage Research

The Department of Health and Human Services has created the first federal marriage research center at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Sociology professors Wendy Manning and Susan Brown will direct the center. Manning and Brown already direct the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green. They are each experts on cohabitation. This is a hopeful development. I am looking forward to their conferences and research reports beginning a year or two from now.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Census Error on Divorce, Part Two

Betsey Stevenson, the Wharton professor whose critique of the erroneous Census report on divorce I noted yesterday, has provided a helpful clarification of why every marriage cohort is wrong in the Census table. The original report made the provocative claim that most marriages made in the late '70s did not make their silver anniversary. Stevenson and her colleague Justin Wolfers pointed that, actually, most did make it. The Bureau had done their tally before 25 years had elapsed.

I noted that all cohorts showed an unexpected 5% leap in divorce from 1999 to 2004. Prof. Stevenson elaborated in a gracious response to my query:

The problem is that for every group there is a fraction (about 10%) who haven't had a chance to make it to the last anniversary assessed by the census. The 2004 survey was conducted from July to September 2004, and hence it is impossible for around one-in-ten of those surveyed to have reached the last assessed anniversary. For instance, a couple who married in October 1994 were counted as part of the 1990-94 marriage cohort, but even if they stayed together forever, they could not have reached their tenth anniversary by the survey date. Thus the percent in that cohort reaching the 10th anniversary was understated. This problem affects all of the numbers along the diagonal--these numbers reflect only the percent of couples in a group that have celebrated that anniversary. Those not "making it" can be divorced, dead, or simply still waiting for their anniversary to roll around.

Stevenson and Wolfers will be releasing a more thorough critique soon. I plan to report on it when it appears.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Census Bureau is More Than a Little Wrong on Divorce

The Census Bureau recent released an alarming report that most marriages from the late '70s on did not make it to their 25th anniversary. More careful examination by Justin Wolpers and Betsey Stevenson of the Wharton School reveal an elementary error. The Bureau was including marriages made in the latter half of 1979, but counted their longevity from mid-2004 -- before 25 years had actually elapsed. When those last few marriages were included, most of the late '70s marriages -- 53% -- did indeed celebrate their silver anniversary.

There is some further wrong, though. It was not just the Baby Boomers who showed a high divorce rate. Every generation of marriages showed a sizable jump in divorces in the five years preceding 2004 over the five-year period just before that. For example, for men married between 1975 and 1979, 5.6% divorces in the five years between 1995 and 1999, yet the Census Bureau shows nearly twice as many, 10.1%, divorced between 1999 and 2004. The late '70s were a bad era for marriage, but the marriage cohorts around this one, from the early '60s to the late '80s, show nearly identical huge leaps.

It is possible that divorce became much more likely for everyone in the early '00s. What this looks like to me, though, is that the Census Bureau changed the way it measured some aspect of divorce, causing an apparent leap in the divorce rate, without a real change in the underlying facts. More as this story develops.

Friday, September 28, 2007

7-Year Marriage Limit is a Political Stunt

Gabriele Pauli of the German Christian Social Union party has proposed that marriages expire after 7 years unless legally renewed. Officially, Pauli is running for leadership of the conservative Catholic party. She had no chance of being elected, even though she did help bring down the previous leader. The twice-divorced politician is prone to stunts with the adolescent ambition of "shaking things up." This is another stunt. This idea is like the proposal made by famous feminist sociologist Jesse Bernard, after her own divorce, that marriages be five-year renewal contracts. That didn't go anywhere either. The whole idea misses the point: marriage is the most transformative relationship that you can choose to enter just because it is permanent and total. And children need permanent parents, not adjunct grown-ups on temporary contracts.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

FDA, Lacking All Sense of Proportion, Bars Foreign Sperm

The Food and Drug Administration has banned the importation of sperm from 30 countries where there were some cases of mad cow disease. Now the sperm banks are running dry. I am not so concerned about the sperm banks. I do think it is a bad idea to take away everyone's choices due to an infinitesimal risk to a few. This is the bad side of the nanny state. It would be reasonable to require sperm banks to inform their customers of the risk. I am sure their lawyers would want all customers to sign armor-clad waivers. But still, this is a risk that people could decide for themselves.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Longest Divorce Case Puts All the Kids in Therapy

Peter and Nancy Tauck are my nominees for today's "worst person in the world" (as seen on Countdown). At the end of their record-setting 86 day divorce trial, which cost $13 million to prosecute, Nancy had falsely charged Peter with sexually molesting their small children. The investigation of the sexual molestation charge so messed up the kids that they are now in therapy. Both parents have been ordered to Alcoholics Anonymous. Nancy is allowed only a ten-minute daily phone call with the kids, which will be monitored. And she only gets $33,333 a month in alimony.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Democratic Center Beats the Netroots

David Brooks has a fine column today on why the Democratic candidates who appeal to the liberal professionals and their bloggers ultimately lose to more centrist candidates who appeal to the more numerous regular middle class. This year, that means Edwards and Obama will likely give way to Clinton.

I am a professional and a blogger. I have stickers for Edwards and Obama on my minivan. But I think it is a good thing that my party is likely to nominate a solid candidate, like Senator Clinton, who can actually appeal to the center and win the election. The primaries are by no means settled, and many things can happen between now and the decisive Kentucky primary next May (ok, I am probably dreaming on that last point). I like our whole team, and will support the nominee. The other sticker I have on my van is for General Wesley Clark, who I would still vote for as I did last time. Realistically, I would like to see Gen. Clark as Secretary of State.

The point is, though, that the center really does lead where it counts. At the Gruntled Center, that looks like a good thing.