Saturday, May 16, 2009

Leah Sears for Supreme Court

This Slate compilation is meant to embarrass potential Supreme Court nominees. However, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Sears rose in my estimation for her forthright promotion of marriage, even compared to her own divorce and remarriage.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Growing Gap in the White Out-of-Wedlock Birthrate

Charles Murray reports on the Enterprise Blog about the large gap in the illegitimate birth rates between the top and bottom classes.

[Mrs. G. doesn't like the term "illegitimate birth" on the grounds that no child is illegitimate. This is true. So I will use the cumbersome "out-of-wedlock" - though it seems like a euphemism piled on a euphemism for bastardy. But that perfectly useful term has been co-opted for other uses. Continue.]

Murray compares the top tenth and bottom tenth (overclass and underclass, in his terms) of white women born at the end of the Baby Boom and the beginning of Gen-X. The top fraction, college graduates with family incomes over $100,000, had an out-of-wedlock birthrate barely over 1%. The bottom fraction, with less than high school education making under $20,000 per year, had nearly half of their kids (44.5%) unmarried. Murray sees this gap as confirmation of the point he and Richard Herrnstein made in The Bell Curve that there is a growing gap in all aspects of life between the top and bottom classes.

And, Murray says, that was then, when the white out-of-wedlock birthrate was only 11%. Murray estimates that the current white underclass has an out-of-wedlock birthrate of perhaps 70%, while the comparable figure for the overclass can't be higher than 5%.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Industrious Revolutions Make Hardworking Households

I am working through C. A. Bayly's The Birth of the Modern World. The most interesting idea that he has introduced me to so far is that before there could be an Industrial Revolution, there had to be an "industrious revolution." This concept comes from Jan de Vries' helpfully named article from the Journal of Economic History, "The Industrial Revolution and the Industrious Revolution." De Vries argues that households in Britain and the Netherlands started working harder in the early 1700s at making things, and buying things that others had made.

To any follower of Max Weber, this sure sounds like the Protestant ethic brought to the level of the household. The people became industrious first, which created the right culture to receive - and foment - the "wave of gadgets" that the subsequent Industrial Revolution made and put to use.

De Vries goes on to suggest that now we are in a second industrious revolution as the average middle class household has all its members over about 15 in the labor force. I have to think about whether these two developments are really parallel.

Still, I think the idea of a cultural industrious revolution in (Protestant) households coming first and creating the market for a structural industrial revolution is a rich and helpful idea.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Marriage-Go-Round Conclusion: Engaging the Fight

Andrew Cherlin concludes The Marriage-Go-Round with this claim:

“I would agree that, at its best, the two parent family is hard to beat for child rearing. Stable, low-conflict families with two biological or adoptive parents provide better environments for children, on average, than do other living arrangements. The problem is that most people see marriage in a different light these days. They view it as a private relationship centered on the needs of adults for love and companionship. The postmodern, relationship-based view of marriage has carried the day.” (193)

I disagree.

Some people accept and promote the relationship-centered view of marriage. More people accept and promote the conjugal view of marriage, which sees marriage a society's main institution for raising children - which in turn gives most people their primary project in life. There are many people in the middle. They accept both views - marriage is to make the couple happy and marriage is to raise kids - without really thinking about the potential conflict.

What we have, then, is a competition between a small left and a larger right for the hearts and minds of the majority in the middle. This competition goes on in many venues. The legal fights over divorce, adoption, same-sex marriage, and the coming fight over polygamy are the most public face of this competition, but not the most important. The most important arena for the competition over the meaning of marriage comes within each marriage, and each couple who are considering marriage.

I think this is a fair fight.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Marriage-Go-Round 4: Instability Hurts Kids

Andrew Cherlin's main point in The Marriage-Go-Round is that Americans should slow down in starting relationships, so that we will not be as likely to end them. Children are hurt each time adults come and go from their households.

One of the most interesting empirical points Cherlin makes comes from a study he did with Paula Fomby. They found that “for each partner who had entered or left the household, the odds that the adolescent had stolen something, skipped school, gotten drunk, or done something similar rose by 12 percent” (191). He is most of them still didn’t do these things, but the risk increases, and some kids succumb to the danger.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Marriage-Go-Round 3: The M Factor

The M factor in American life is that we move a great deal. Andrew Cherlin thinks that this much movement may contribute to why our marriages and cohabitations break up so much. He cites Robert Baller and Kelly Richardson’s county-level data showing a strong correlation between moving, divorce, and suicide. I agree with Cherlin's view that American internal migration reflects more a search for economic opportunity than a general cultural "restlessness."

Americans move more than Europeans do, pulling up roots and starting anew. We don't think of moving from state to state as "migration," since it is all done within the U.S. The United States is so much larger than any European country, though, that even if they had the same level of internal migration that we do, it would disrupt their families less.

A few years ago I had in my family class a German woman who was in Kentucky as an au pair for an American family. At the end of the term I asked her to compare German and American families. One striking thing that she had noticed was that in both places, people she knew reported that their cousins lived far away; however, in Germany "far away" was an hour's drive, while in the U.S. "far away" meant an eight-hour drive.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Regular Churchgoers Support Torture the Most. This is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

The Pew Forum found that half of regular churchgoers think that torture is often or sometimes justified. 60% of evangelicals agree.

Torture expert Darius Rejali found that people who are likely to support or commit torture are loyal to institutions. If the leaders of the institution say torture is necessary, the institutional loyalists are likely to accept that.

Much of my own research has shown that the core of most churches are institutional loyalists. They are the people most likely to be regular churchgoers.

Therefore, the leaders of the church, especially the evangelical church, need to say loud and clear that torture is wrong, un-Christian, un-American, and good loyal church goers should not torture.