Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Away We Go" is Lovely

The Gruntled family watched "Away We Go" last night, and enjoyed the whole thing. We saw it as a moral tale of two people who are deeply in love realizing that they need to get their lives in grownup order before their baby comes. He makes ridiculous jokes, she is indulgent and moves the family forward. He is delighted about the coming baby, and is sure they can work everything out. She worries in a perfectly plausible expectant-mother way. The core story seemed, to us, very familiar.

The shape of the movie is a road trip to see where they might want to live and to bring up their child. With both sets of parents out of the picture, and with flexible jobs, they can move anywhere. All the friends and relatives they spend time with are, of course, quirky (this is an indie movie). Each family has a different frailty of family life that is instructive to the central couple. The Gruntleds found the send-up of the New Age faculty family especially hilarious.

In the end, they come round right.

I then read the extensive comments on the IMDB message boards. I was surprised at the strong negative reactions of a whole strand of commentators. There are threads of sociology, too, as some people try to figure out what kind of people liked the movie, and what kind hated it. The main theory seemed to be that young hipsters would like it and others would not. I don't qualify as young or hip.

I think "Away We Go" appeals to people who like the moral quest to transform themselves to do right by a baby. The real appeal to me is that the central couple have a just sense of proportion about how big a challenge raising a baby is, and how wonderful.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Teens Choose Marriage, Tolerate Unmarried Childbearing

One of my central contentions as a centrist is that we can and should make a distinction between the good and the tolerable. Many people want to follow the common, traditional, normal path for themselves, but tolerate other paths for other people.

One encouraging piece of evidence for this contention comes from the views of teenagers reported in The State of Our Unions 2009. When asked if they thought that most people will have fuller and happier lives if they choose legal marriage rather than staying single or just living with someone, almost forty percent of girls and a third of boys said yes. This proportion has been rising.

At the same time, when these teens were asked whether having a child out of wedlock is "experimenting with a worthwhile lifestyle or not affecting anyone else," just over half of girls and boys said yes. These proportions have also been rising.

Now, I think the majority of teens are wrong in thinking that having a child out of wedlock doesn't affect anyone else. And I would strongly counsel anyone not to experiment with that lifestyle.

My point is that most teens are willing to accept experiments with unusual family practices, even as they themselves increasingly think that most people would be happier making families the traditional way. We do not have to make all ethical decisions based on what we ourselves do or want. We can choose for ourselves the way that we thinks works best for most people, while tolerating other practices in society.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Race Gap is a Marriage Gap: Child Poverty

I believe that most of the gap between African Americans and other Americans is due to the very low black married parent rate. Support for this view comes from a study by Adam Thomas and Isabel Sawhill, cited in The State of Our Unions 2009:

If family structure had not changed between 1960 and 1998, the Black child poverty rate in 1998 would have been 28.4 percent rather than 45.6 percent.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reducing Your Divorce Risk (a Lot)

The State of Our Unions 2009 has a wonderfully encouraging chart about how good your chances are of lifelong marriage if you are reading this blog. We all know that about half of marriages are projected to end in divorce. If you regularly read The Gruntled Center, you know that this is not quite true - the overall divorce rate is probably under 50%, most first marriages last, and, most importantly, this rate does not mean that each marriage - your marriage has only a 50/50 chance.

Wilcox and Marquardt quantify some factors that reduce the risk of divorce dramatically.

Factors That Decrease the Risk of Divorce: percent

Annual income over $50,000 (vs. under $25,000): -30

Having a baby seven months or more after marriage (vs. before marriage): -24

Marrying over 25 years of age (vs. under 18): -24

Own family of origin intact (vs. divorced parents): -14

Religious affiliation (vs. none): -14

Some college (vs. high-school dropout): -13

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Good News on the Marriage Gap

The main overall finding of The State of Our Unions 2009 is, I think, this:

In large numbers, therefore, the college-educated part of America is living the American dream—with happy, stable, two-parent families.
The marriage rate for college-educated people is rising, against the trend for the rest of the population. Couples in the college class are better matched than before. They are happier than other marrieds, and much happier than cohabitors.

The one long-term weakness of college marrieds is that they don't have enough kids to replace themselves. Even here, though, college-educated women seem to be the quickest to pick up the message of the birth dearth. Young college women want more children (and I can vouch for this in my own classes) and are starting to have more kids, too.

I think the college-educated class leads the nation in most social trends. I do not think that we are heading toward a marriage-based caste division. Rather, the college class is turning around some long-term bad trends in family life. The rest of the nation will eventually start to follow.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rising Breadwinning Wives May Be Assisted by the Recession

Christine Whelan's contribution to The State of Our Unions 2009 suggests that the recession's silver lining may be that more couples will accept breadwinner moms and child-rearing dads.

She reports a statistic I had not seen before (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics): 1/3 of wives make more than their husbands, and among women making more than $55,000, 1/2 of wives make more than their husbands.

An important point to remember in interpreting these figures is that more educated and more securely employed people are also more likely to be married. People who live together without marriage, and especially who have children without marriage, are much less likely to have higher education, secure jobs, or marriages.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Obama's Fine Peace Speech

President Obama gave a fine speech in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. He made the crucial and sensible point that in this actual, fallen world, keeping peace requires strength, and restoring peace sometimes requires war. He said, rightly, that "The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. ... We have done so out of enlightened self-interest."

I was particularly glad to hear his forthright declaration that we must fight war within the civilized code of treaties and conventions that make war less horrible. One of the things that grieved me most about the previous administration was how casually and ruthlessly it threw away America's moral rules and moral standing to get what it wanted. President Obama proclaims the crucial ethical insight of the whole Niebuhrian tradition: "And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war."

Especially when we confront a vicious, ruthless adversary, it is most important that we not become vicious and ruthless ourselves.

Some commentators to the left of me have thought there was some irony or inherent conflict in giving a peace prize to a president waging war. I think this is a soft-headed notion.

What really bothers me about the "irony of a peace prize for a war president" line is that I believe they don't really believe it themselves. The reporters asking this question know better. They are reaching for an easy dig, a sophomoric "paradox." This kind of deception has real costs. It is why people find smart liberals in general, and the press in particular, arrogant and not worthy of trust.

I believe it is a settled centrist point: peace requires a strong, forceful, and sometimes violent defense, or there will be no peace.