Friday, July 20, 2007

Cuba's Low Infant-Mortality Rate is Propped Up by its High Abortion Rate

Cuba has an infant-mortality rate of 5.3 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is better that the U.S. rate of 6.4. However, Cuba also has an extremely high abortion rate. The United States has a fairly high abortion rate, with about a quarter of conceptions getting aborted. The Cuban abortion rate is about 3 times the U.S. rate.

No wonder Cuba has such a low rate of infant death - so few its babies get to be infants in the first place.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

No-Fault Divorce Is Not the Problem – Unilateral Divorce Is

The "no-fault" revolution that swept the states in the 1970s increased the divorce rate about ten percent. Since the overall divorce rate is now a little under 50%, that is a sizable hunk of all divorces. A new study from the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy (iMAPP) by iMAPP president Maggie Gallagher and law professor Douglas Allen reviewed all the studies in this country and elsewhere to see what effect the no-fault revolution has had. They conclude that many factors contributed to the divorce boom, but the no-fault legal changes that made divorce easier were definitely significant.

No-fault was supposed to increase the divorce rate, at first. When states started passing divorce reform in the late sixties they figured that there was a backlog of unhappy marriages that would take advantage of the easier rules. Gallagher and Douglas estimate that most of the increase in the divorce rate due to no-fault came in the first ten years. Proponents of no-fault expected that there would be a divorce spike, followed by a return to the earlier divorce rate, or maybe even a lower one. Judges and lawyers were eager to end the charade that many divorces had become, in which both parties agreed to have one party pretend to be to blame, especially of adultery.

That is not quite the way it worked out, though. There was a divorce spike after divorce reform – but the spike did not come back down. By the early '80s we hit the highest divorce rate ever, and many respectable analysts thought half of all marriages would end in divorce. Things never got quite that bad, and there has been some improvement recently, especially for educated people. Still, as Gallagher and Douglas show, divorce reform makes people reluctant to get married, or lets them expect to take an easy exit when things get tough, as they always do.

New York is the only state that still requires that someone be at fault in order to grant a divorce. Yet about 2/3rds of New York divorces are uncontested, and in many of those cases the parties agree ahead of time that one of them will admit to fault in order to get on with the divorce. This is why a high-level panel of judges and lawyers is proposing to do away with New York's fault standard altogether.

So, if we went back to fault-based divorce, would that be better for marriage? Not really. The problem is not really that we now have no-fault divorce, but that we have unilateral divorce. What the no-fault revolution has really meant is that it takes two to marry, but only one to divorce. In practice this often means that the "monied party" – usually him – can walk away from the "unmonied" (or making-much-less) party and the kids.

New York probably will join the rest of the country in abolishing fault as the only standard for divorce. They could strengthen marriage, or at least make divorce less awful, if the state eliminated unilateral divorce at the same time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Self Esteem is Bad For You

Self esteem should be a by-product of actually achieving something. Self esteem is not a viable goal by itself. Indeed, I don't see how you can inculculate self esteem as an end in itself.

Andrew Lam of New American Media and a chronicler of the Vietnamese diaspora reports that American kids have high self esteem, but lousy achievement in math, whereas Asian kids have modest self esteem, but much higher actual achievement in math. This finding is fairly well known to people in the education racket. Lam also reports a finding I had not seen, a new study by Jean Twenge at San Diego State. A quarter century ago, at the beginning of the self esteem fashion in American schools, a third of American college students had above average scores on a narcissism index. Today, two thirds of American college students have above-average narcissism scores.

If kids think that they cannot achieve anything, then they are less likely to. The cure, though, is not to tell them that they are already great the way they are. The cure to is to help them actually achieve something worthwhile. As a friend put it, "school should teach kids; let the little buggers look after their own self esteem."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Three Parents, or None?

A lesbian couple wanted a baby, so one of them got pregnant with the help of a sperm donor. The baby was born. Then the lesbians split up. Then the sperm donor got sued for child support. And then, in a surreal conclusion to the whole disaster, the Pennsylvania Superior Court declared that all three adults are the child's legal parents, with all the rights that married parents have who make kids the usual way. Elizabeth Marquardt has a very calm op-ed in the New York Times about the legal earthquake that this decision makes.

What impresses me most about this case is not so much that this poor kid has three parents, as that he barely has one.

Monday, July 16, 2007

No-Fault Divorce Adds 10% to the Divorce Rate

A forthcoming study by Maggie Gallagher and Douglas Allen, previewed in Newsweek, estimates that no-fault divorce laws added 10% to the divorce rate beyond what we otherwise would have had. They found that the big direct effect -- adding extra divorces -- came in the first ten years. Since then there has been an indirect effect in the couples who cohabitate but avoid marriage due to a heightened fear of divorce. This leads to further misery, as cohabiters break up at even higher rates than married people do, and cohabiters who later marry have an even higher divorce rate than other married people.

In her earlier book with Linda Waite, The Case for Marriage, Gallagher had reported that no-fault added 6 to 7% to the divorce rate. This new report is based on more and more recent studies.

I will have more details when the study itself is released.