Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Ross Douthat: challenges facing the modern family, and some pro-family policy ideas

This is from the Family Studies blog. It’s an interview with moderately conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.

I just want to highlight the problem and a couple of his solutions. If you find it interesting, read the whole thing.

First, the problem:

IFS:  Why should we be so concerned about the state of the American family today?  Of all of the family issues on the nation’s agenda—marriage, divorce, cohabitation, single parenthood, the fatherhood crisis, or something else—which one has you most concerned?

Douthat:  We should be concerned because the family is the taproot of identity and community, the pre-political unit on which politics depend, the place where all the ladders of psychology and personality start. And right now, a familial experience (growing up in an intimate relationship with both your natural parents) that used to be average, boring, typical is increasingly a luxury good, an aspiration that’s rising out of reach for people whose talents and resources are limited or modest.

But in thinking about why this is happening, and what’s going wrong, I wouldn’t single out just  one issue, because they’re all too deeply intertwined. The biggest problem the American family faces right now is a problem of compounding: The way that many of the trends you cite have, since the 1960s but in certain ways especially in the last generation, effectively all been pushing in the same direction, with each problem making other problems worse. There’s a perverse cycle, in other words, that’s hard for people to escape: A higher divorce rate creates a cultural context in which young people don’t see lifelong monogamy as a plausible goal and don’t want to take the chance of being hurt in the way that one or both of their parents were . . . which, in turn, prompts them to delay marriage and cohabit for an extended period instead, to effectively test their partner . . . which makes it more likely that they’ll have a child during such a “test” period, without a marital bond with the other parent . . . which raises the odds, whether they marry or not, that the relationship will dissolve, creating more instability in the life of their child or children . . . who in turn will grow up with an even-more pessimistic view of marriage and family life than their own divorce-shy parents did. All of these effects are then amplified by the “social contagion” aspect of family breakdown, in which just having peers or neighbors whose marriages are failing or who have had kids out of wedlock creates a context in which that seems like the norm, and a stable or flourishing family life like an exceptional, nearly-unattainable ideal.

The first three solutions I think of when I read this are: 1) eliminate single mother welfare, 2) get the normalization of premarital sex out of the schools, and 3) repeal no-fault divorce. The trouble is that feminists oppose all three of these policies. They want money to be transferred from traditional families where one man works to single mother households. They want women to get away from “sexist” notions like chastity, courtship and chivalry. They want women to be able to get out of her obligations to her husband and children if she feels “unhappy”. So unless we roll back radical feminism, none of those ideas are going to happen.

But does Douthat have any other policy ideas?

This one for no-fault divorce:

IFS:  With one recent study indicating that divorce has actually been on the rise over the last generation or so, what do you make of the recent efforts of some states to tighten up their no-fault divorce laws?  Is there a way for the state to encourage couples to think twice about ending their marriages without returning to an era where spouses and their children could be stuck in violent relationships?

Douthat:  I’m basically supportive of the mix of proposals in (IFS Senior Fellow!) Brad Wilcox’s 2009 essay on divorce for National Affairs—waiting periods and counseling for divorcing couples (especially couples with children), preferential treatment in court for spouses who are being divorced against their will (in the absence of evidence of abuse)—and I know that some of those ideas have been taken up by the Coalition for Divorce Reform, which is trying to push state-level changes. My sense is that this kind of incremental tightening of divorce law is a better bet than the “covenant marriage” approach that some social conservatives pressed in the 1990s, where couples would be given the option of entering into a marriage without a no-fault escape hatch. The evidence we have from the three states that adopted the convenant option suggests that almost nobody actually opted into it, and I think it’s safe to assume that the people who did choose it were at pretty low risks for divorce already. Better, I think, to push for legal changes—however modest—that might apply across the board, and thus shape incentives for the marginal, most-at-risk couples.

And this one for welfare:

IFS:  If you could magically pass a set of policies aimed at strengthening marriage and families, what would those policies be? (Set aside, for now, budget constraints and the chances of getting the proposals through Congress.)

Douthat:  My economic program would expand on some of the ideas being kicked around already. There would be an even larger child tax credit than the one Republicans like Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have endorsed, and the existing earned-income tax credit would be expanded and converted to a direct wage subsidy. I would impose—I’m the enlightened despot here, right, so federalism no longer applies?—various regulatory reforms on states and municipalities aimed at eliminating a lot of zoning and licensing rules that impose particularly steep costs on working class families. I’d cut and cap tax subsidies that disproportionately benefit upper middle class rentiers. I’d pursue some version of the Paul Ryan vision for welfare reform, with much more state-based experimentation in the provision of non-cash benefits. More broadly, I’d combine relatively loose monetary policy with relatively tight immigration rules, seeking a lower unemployment rate and higher wages at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. And then I’d spend less on prisons and put more money into hiring and training (but not heavily-arming!) cops, and I’d put UCLA’s Mark Kleiman in charge of reviewing sentencing policies at both the state and federal level, with an eye toward achieving significant reductions in incarceration rates wherever possible.

So maybe my ideas are not realistic, because I am too conservative, but I’d certainly like his to be enacted if mine can’t be. How about you? Do you have any ideas to save marriage? We can’t keep going life this – eventually we are going to run out of money for the social programs that prop up the people who bought into the sexual revolution. The spending on social programs for broken homes has got to stop somehow, one way or the other.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , ,

Study: recessions result in lower birth rates

A new study from Princeton University caught my eye.

Excerpt:

[...][N]ew research from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs shows that women who were in their early 20s during the Great Recession will have fewer children in both the short and long term. This result is driven largely by an increase in the number of women who will remain childless at age 40.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to show that recessions have long-term effects on fertility, which actually increase exponentially over time.

[...]Their calculations show that a one-percentage point increase in the unemployment rate experienced between ages 20 and 24 reduces the short-term fertility of women by six conceptions per 1,000 women. When following these women to age 40, the same unemployment rate increase leads to an overall loss of 14.2 conceptions per 1,000 women. This increasing effect over time is largely accounted for by an increase in the fraction of women who remain unmarried and childless at age 40. These women not only forego first births, but forego later births as well.

In terms of the Great Recession, the researchers estimate that the increase in unemployment rates experienced between 2008 and 2013 will result in an additional 151,082 women who will remain childless at age 40, leading to a long-term loss of 420,957 conceptions (and 426,850 live births) – a 2.4 percent decrease.

People don’t just marry and have kids whenever they feel like it. However individual people may feel about romance and recklessness and risk-taking, the general behavior pattern is that if the economy is lousy, then people have fewer children. That’s because they can’t afford them. Maybe grown-ups should be thinking more about economic growth, by lowering taxes and reducing wasteful spending.

But there’s more to it than that:

But what are the economic mechanisms driving these results? Currie and Schwandt cite recent empirical studies showing that young adults – especially young men – who enter the job market during an economic downturn are likely to have persistently lower earnings as they age. This phenomenon may make young men less attractive matches for women, explaining the increase in the number of women who forego childbearing.

This quote made me think of another post from the liberal 538 blog.

Ben Casselman writes:

In its report last week, Pew suggested that one reason for falling marriage rates is the decline in employment among young men. That may also help explain the education gap in marriage. Put simply, men without jobs are much less likely to get married, and men without a college degree are much less likely to get jobs.

In the Pew survey, 78 percent of never-married women said it was “very important” for a prospective spouse (in most cases, a husband) to have a steady job. That ranked above any other requirement, including “same moral and religious beliefs” (38 percent), “at least as much education” (28 percent) and even “similar ideas about having and raising children” (70 percent). The survey results are borne out by women’s actual behavior. About half of men ages 25 to 34 with a steady job have been married, compared to just a third of those without a steady job.

For men without a steady job, having more education doesn’t help much in terms of finding a spouse — marriage rates are nearly identical regardless of education. But having a degree makes men much more likely to be employed — and therefore more likely to get married. According to the Current Population Survey, more than 20 percent of men ages 25 to 34 with a high school diploma are out of work, versus 10 percent of young men with a college degree. And when they do have jobs, less-educated men earn less and are more likely to be laid off.

For a long time in this country, we have had schools that discriminate against young men and punish them. There are virtually no male teachers in the classrooms. This has a profound effect on young men, causing them to become disinterested in school, which makes it harder for them to find jobs.

USA Today reports on a relevant study:

For all the differences between the sexes, here’s one that might stir up debate in the teacher’s lounge: Boys learn more from men and girls learn more from women.

That’s the upshot of a provocative study by Thomas Dee, an associate professor of economics at Swarthmore College and visiting scholar at Stanford University. His study was to appear Monday in Education Next, a quarterly journal published by the Hoover Institution.

Vetted and approved by peer reviewers, Dee’s research faces a fight for acceptance. Some leading education advocates dispute his conclusions and the way in which he reached them.

But Dee says his research supports his point, that gender matters when it comes to learning. Specifically, as he describes it, having a teacher of the opposite sex hurts a student’s academic progress.

Everything is connected together. We need a strong economy and well-educated young men in order to make marriage and child-bearing reasonable to men.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jennifer Roback Morse on the injustice of the American family court system

Here is an article by marriage-defender Jennifer Roback Morse about one of the biggest challenges to life-long married love.

Excerpt:

Easy divorce opens the door for an unprecedented amount of government intrusion into ordinary people’s lives. This unacknowledged reality is the subject of Taken Into Custody, by Stephen BaskervilleWith penetrating insight, the political scientist exposes the truly breathtaking consequences of no-fault divorce for the expansion of state power and the decline of personal autonomy.

First, no-fault divorce frequently means unilateral divorce: one party wants a divorce against the wishes of the other, who wants to stay married. Kim Basinger dumped Baldwin for no particular reason, unleashed the power of the Los Angeles Family Court system to inflict pain on him and, in the process, inflicted untold damage on their child. Second, the fact that one party wants to remain married means that the divorce has to be enforced. Baldwin wanted to stay married and to continue to be a husband and father. Yet, the coercive and intrusive machinery of the state must be wheeled into action to separate the reluctantly divorced party from the joint assets of the marriage, typically the home and the children.

Third, enforcing the divorce means an unprecedented blurring of the boundaries between public and private life. People under the jurisdiction of family courts can have virtually all of their private lives subject to its scrutiny. If the courts are influenced by feminist ideology, that ideology can extend its reach into every bedroom and kitchen in America. Baldwin ran the gauntlet of divorce industry professionals who have been deeply influenced by the feminist presumptions that the man is always at fault and the woman is always a victim. Thus, the social experiment of no-fault divorce, which most Americans thought was supposed to increase personal liberty, has had the consequence of empowering the state.

Some might think the legacy of no-fault divorce is an example of the law of unintended consequences in operation. That assumes its architects did not intend for unilateral divorce to result in the expansion of the state. But Baskerville makes the case in this book—as well as his 2008 monograph, “The Dangerous Rise of Sexual Politics,” in The Family in America—that at least some of the advocates of changes in family law certainly have intended to expand the power of the state over the private lives of law-abiding citizens.

She explains who is really behind the attempt to destroy marriage, and the answer might shock you.

It’s important for people to understand the real reasons why people are not getting married, so that we can do something to encourage them to marry that really fixes the problem. If you don’t understand the threats that men are seeing with respect to marriage, it might be a good idea to take a look at this essay by Stephen Baskerville, hosted by the Christian Touchstone magazine. It’s a summary of the book that Dr. Morse reviewed. I consider that book “Taken Into Custody” to be a must-read for anyone contemplating marriage.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

If you care about the poor, must you vote for bigger government?

Here’s an article on the Daily Signal that traces the history of big government “solutions” to poverty, and argues that big government has not been able to solve the poverty problem no matter how much money they’ve taken from taxpayers.

Excerpt:

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau will release its annual report on poverty. This report is noteworthy because this year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty. Liberals claim that the War on Poverty has failed because we didn’t spend enough money. Their answer is just to spend more. But the facts show otherwise.

[...]Over 100 million people, about one third of the U.S. population, received aid from at least one welfare program at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient in 2013. If converted into cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all poverty in the U.S.

But today the Census will almost certainly proclaim that around 14 percent of Americans are still poor. The present poverty rate is almost exactly the same as it was in 1967 a few years after the War on Poverty started. Census data actually shows that poverty has gotten worse over the last 40 years.

How is this possible? How can the taxpayers spend $22 trillion on welfare while poverty gets worse?

The answer is it isn’t possible.  Census counts a family as poor if its income falls below specified thresholds. But in counting family “income,” Census ignores nearly the entire $943 billion welfare state.

For most Americans, the word “poverty” means significant material deprivation, an inability to provide a family with adequate nutritious food, reasonable shelter and clothing. But only a small portion of the more than 40 million people labelled as poor by Census fit that description.

[...]According to government surveys, the typical family that Census identifies as poor has air conditioning, cable or satellite TV, and a computer in his home. Forty percent have a wide screen HDTV and another 40 percent have internet access. Three quarters of the poor own a car and roughly a third have two or more cars. (These numbers are not the result of the current bad economy pushing middle class families into poverty; instead, they reflect a steady improvement in living conditions among the poor for many decades.)

The intake of protein, vitamins and minerals by poor children is virtually identical with upper middle class kids. According to surveys by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the overwhelming majority of poor people report they were not hungry even for a single day during the prior year.

The article goes on t make the point that if the purpose of government social programs is to make people more independent so they can get off the welfare, then the government has failed to achieve that goal. In fact, they’ve made even more people dependent on government since they started to try to make them independent of government.

According to a Congressional Research Service study, we spend more on welfare per year (1.03 trillion) than we do on Social Security (725 billion) or Medicare (480 billion) or non-war defense (540 billion). And what do we get? More dependency on government, not less.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , ,

Does a ban on “assault weapons” reduce gun violence?

From the freaking New York Times, of all places.

Excerpt:

Over the past two decades, the majority of Americans in a country deeply divided over gun control have coalesced behind a single proposition: The sale of assault weapons should be banned.

[...]But in the 10 years since the previous ban lapsed, even gun control advocates acknowledge a larger truth: The law that barred the sale of assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 made little difference.

It turns out that big, scary military rifles don’t kill the vast majority of the 11,000 Americans murdered with guns each year. Little handguns do.

In 2012, only 322 people were murdered with any kind of rifle, F.B.I. data shows.

[...]This politically defined category of guns — a selection of rifles, shotguns and handguns with “military-style” features — only figured in about 2 percent of gun crimes nationwide before the ban.

Handguns were used in more than 80 percent of murders each year, but gun control advocates had failed to interest enough of the public in a handgun ban. Handguns were the weapons most likely to kill you, but they were associated by the public with self-defense. (In 2008, the Supreme Court said there was a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun at home for self-defense.)

Banning sales of military-style weapons resonated with both legislators and the public: Civilians did not need to own guns designed for use in war zones.

On Sept. 13, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an assault weapons ban into law. It barred the manufacture and sale of new guns with military features and magazines holding more than 10 rounds. But the law allowed those who already owned these guns — an estimated 1.5 million of them — to keep their weapons.

The policy proved costly. Mr. Clinton blamed the ban for Democratic losses in 1994. Crime fell, but when the ban expired, a detailed study found no proof that it had contributed to the decline.

The ban did reduce the number of assault weapons recovered by local police, to 1 percent from roughly 2 percent.

“Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement,” a Department of Justice-funded evaluation concluded.

So what does work?

“We spent a whole bunch of time and a whole bunch of political capital yelling and screaming about assault weapons,” Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu of New Orleans said. He called it a “zero sum political fight about a symbolic weapon.”

Mr. Landrieu and Mayor Michael A. Nutter of Philadelphia are founders of Cities United, a network of mayors trying to prevent the deaths of young black men. “This is not just a gun issue, this is an unemployment issue, it’s a poverty issue, it’s a family issue, it’s a culture of violence issue,” Mr. Landrieu said.

More than 20 years of research funded by the Justice Department has found that programs to target high-risk people or places, rather than targeting certain kinds of guns, can reduce gun violence.

So if banning guns doesn’t stop the crime, then what is causing all the crime?

Dr. Michael Tanner of the libertarian Cato Institute explains in his testimony to Congress:

Welfare contributes to crime in several ways. First, children from single-parent families are more likely to become involved in criminal activity. According to one study, children raised in single-parent families are one-third more likely to exhibit anti-social behavior.(3) Moreover, O’Neill found that, holding other variables constant, black children from single- parent households are twice as likely to commit crimes as black children from a family where the father is present. Nearly 70 percent of juveniles in state reform institutions come from fatherless homes, as do 43 percent of prison inmates.(4) Research indicates a direct correlation between crime rates and the number of single-parent families in a neighborhood.(5)

As Barbara Dafoe Whitehead noted in her seminal article for The Atlantic Monthly:

The relationship [between single-parent families and crime] is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime. This conclusion shows up time and again in the literature. The nation’s mayors, as well as police officers, social workers, probation officers, and court officials, consistently point to family break up as the most important source of rising rates of crime.(6)

Don’t ban guns, ban welfare.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , ,

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