How Society Works

How Society Works

Quantitative Social Sciences: In the Service of the Good, the True and (Maybe) the Beautiful

children, marriage, social science No comments

The social sciences, well done, cannot but illustrate the way God made man, or the way man is designed by nature.  ‘Well done’ means methodologically well done: well informed by statistical, mathematical and logic sciences.

While man is free to choose he is not free to choose the consequences; they are built into the choices made.  The social sciences can observe his choice (e.g. the choice to abort, or to marry, or to finish high school) and the consequences that flow from these choices.  In this they illustrate some aspects of natural law in action (moral law in action) by making the connection between choice and consequences.

Longitudinal surveys (where the same people are tracked over time) are the most valuable for good social science.  In them one can observe the choice and measure the pathway the person set in motion and the consequences that ensue over time, even over a life time if the survey continues long enough.

Of course, over time myriad factors modify such pathways.   Sometimes new choices are choices that deliberately reverse pathways: by overcoming an addiction; by divorcing; even by remarrying the person they divorced!

What these instances illustrate is the difficulty of ‘PROVING’ causation, in the layman’s understanding of X choice caused Y outcome.   Rather than supporting a determinist view of man, the social sciences support a “modifiable” view of man.  For most of us this comports with our commonsense knowledge of ourselves: we can change, but only gradually in most instances.  And quick changes most often evaporate rather quickly too.  Desirable changes are growth in virtue, which happens slowly and only with repeated acts, repeated over long periods.  Bad habits can form much more quickly as many addicts can attest.

The social sciences are social – to state the obvious, but an obvious truth forgotten most of the time by most of us, especially we Americans and those who hew to a radical individualism.  Man is deeply relational and needs the support of those around him to keep doing what he does.  If we change our social environment (those we relate to) we can change our behavior more easily.  Thus to become holy some choose the company of others determined to achieve the same and enter a monastery, or deliberately choose a spouse who is intent on the same goal.

But children, the most socially dependent of all of us, do not get to choose their own company, their parents, their siblings, nor the neighborhood they live in.  So it is rare for them to rise above the average behavior of their surroundings. It is possible but it is rare. How rare: check out the bell curve.  Most are in the middle, very few at the extremes.

Being deeply relational we are most easily influenced when we are young. Hence parents’ concern to choose good schools, especially schools where the behavior of the other children comports with what they would like to see in their own.  Good teachers in poor neighborhoods are thus some of the most valuable people in a nation: the ones who help those parents who are trying to give their children a leg up. They are the unsung heroes of the social infrastructure.

Good parents are careful to seeks and choose modifiers of their children’s’ behavior (or more precisely), they choose the environment (the social relationships) that will shape their children’s’ behavior.

Thus good parents (along with good teachers) are the “investors” in the future. They are the ones who work to have their children surpass them, to rise further in the next generation, not only in education and income (a common desire of parents) but in virtue and strength, in love, chastity and fidelity. That is how the social infrastructure is built and rebuilt.

Thus the social sciences, in their own way, inform us about the moral dimension of man’s behavior: about good and bad behaviors (though that language is too strong, too politically incorrect for the majority of social scientists; desirable / undesirable, functional / dysfunctional are more acceptable labels).  But no matter the labels, the social sciences tend to flush out those conditions in which man thrives or wilts and the pathways thereto.

Thus they are in the service of the good and the true.  It would be nice to say they are in the service of the beautiful but even for those who love the social sciences that may be a bit of a stretch, for the beauty of good people is hard to see behind the numbers and graphs of the social sciences.  Maybe such capacities will emerge in the future, but for now readers of the social sciences will have to do with merely the true and the good.

Do We Have a Black Woman Nobel Laureate in One of Our Inner Cities?

children, fathers, marriage, mothers No comments

Children are deeply relational beings–and depending on how that dimension is fulfilled for them by their parents they become competent human beings–or not.  Nurturing relationships early on makes “being a human being” a happy experience for them.  A mother, in the very close, comforting and warm nurturance of breast feeding, the foundational experience on entering a world that it is a good and nice place to be in.  This anchors a child in reality.  If a child is cursed with this early experience being a harsh one that child will retreat into life-long psychosis or milder forms of damaging self-defense from a harsh world.

Plenty of belonging leads to plenty of thriving.  A good culture, and a good nation devotes massive energy to ensuring plenty of belonging for its children: it is the sine qua non of its continued thriving as a culture and as a nation.

The core of such a culture is the marriage vow “till death us do part”, that vow by which fathers and mothers have bound themselves in perpetual belonging so that the children who will come have total reassurance as to whom and to where they belong.  That vow gives everyone a norm and a structure around which to build a highly functional society.  It absence indicates a body without a spine.

The other end of the spectrum which has belonging on one end is rejection. The norm and the “structure” around which rejection is built is sex outside of, or before, the marriage vow.   Its results are a national and cultural wilting instead of a thriving.  Rejection comes in many forms but for the building or, in this case, the deconstruction of society, rejection deep within the family is the natural and most common consequence of sex outside of marriage: out of wedlock births where most parents eventually end up rejecting each other; cohabitation with similar results for a large portion; and of course infidelity within marriage.  Abortion also is most frequently the product of out of wedlock sex (roughly 80%).

No matter which way society goes on matters sexual there are high costs for the two different pathways.

The costs of the pathway of traditional intact marriage are high for the individual requiring chastity (see last week blog); requiring that one pushes through the difficulties of marriage, no matter the burden; requiring fidelity (and in the process, requiring continued personal struggle and growth towards an even greater maturity lasting all the way their sixties and beyond – to the end).  The demands on the individual are high — but the benefits for them, their children and society are enormous.  The price of their struggle is more than well repaid.

The pathway of rejection does not make these demands on the individual; it is premised on avoiding them, on personal autonomy and “free choice”.  But it does demand a price:  the aborting of children (and America has, in the last 75 years, aborted the equivalent of one sixth of its present population); divorce and all its attendant consequences on adults and on children; out of wedlock births and all of its consequences , which for our inner cities, are now compounding through the fourth and even fifth generation.  For society at large the price is high in more school failure and drop out; more crime and addictions, more ill health and disease; shorter lifespan; much higher health costs; much higher education costs; much higher policing and criminal justice system costs; more poverty and less income; less savings; harsher old-age; more loneliness and suicide.   Even though the individuals who choose this pathway pay their own heavy price in the longer term, the premise of this culture is “I will make my choice – others can pay for the consequences.”  At its core this sexual pathway is anti-community, anti-child, anti-marriage and ultimately anti-cultural and, ironically, destructive of the individual who chooses that route.

A macro cost/benefit comparison between the two pathways leads quickly to a “slam dunk” winner.

Because these two different pathways demand very different cultures and, ultimately, very different political orders, we pay another price: civil strife and a growing gap between those who hold to the first pathway and those to the second.

Trying to make these two pathways work together causes one to daydream about solutions such as political geographies that permit one culture to work and pay for its way and the other to work and pay for its way.

But in such solutions one pathway would have to give up its foundational premise “I make my choice, the state (meaning everyone else, all the taxpayers) can pay for it.”  If the rejection pathway had its own political order and geographic community structures they would have to shoulder their own costs, and five minutes reflection by anyone, liberal or conservative, shows that is not possible for they would be bankrupt within a generation – in twenty five years or less.

But within that dilemma lies the seed of reform: achieve more and more ways of making folk of the second pathway aware of the cost to themselves and their children.   I bet that most single parent grandmothers in the inner city wish their grandchildren could take the “belonging till death us do part” pathway, the pathway of faithful marriage, even if they cannot see the way for that to happen.

It is from such grandmothers that the seeds of a “belonging America” can sprout.  On these issues no one has more authority, for they have the authority of suffering and pain, the authority of the victimhood of their grandchildren – should they learn how to harness it.  Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan of Belfast started the healing in Northern Ireland by harnessing similar suffering among mothers.  Is there a Betty Williams in one of our inner cities who could say for marriage in America what Williams, in her Nobel Laureate speech, said for peace in Northern Ireland:

“A deep sense of frustration at the mindless stupidity of the continuing violence was already evident before the tragic events of that sunny afternoon of August 10, 1976. But the deaths of those four young people in one terrible moment of violence caused that frustration to explode, and create the possibility of a real peace movement. As far as we are concerned, every single death in the last eight years, and every death in every war that was ever fought represents life needlessly wasted, a mother’s labor spurned.”

Can the price that our American children are paying, particularly our inner-city poor children are paying, draw forth that brilliant Black grandmother hidden somewhere in one of our cities?  That grandmother has a moral authority no one else can aspire to … and hundreds of thousands will follow should she give proper voice and they can begin the end to our American stupidity.

The Most Important Chart (Phenomenon) in all of the Social Sciences

divorce, pre-marital sex, sexuality, social science No comments

By now, regular readers of Faith and Family Findings are familiar with the data on family structure and its impact on everything important to a functioning society.  On every outcome measured, for adults and children, those in an intact family do best on all the positive outcomes we desire for ourselves and our children (education, income, savings, health, longevity, happiness, sexual enjoyment, intergenerational support) and have the least incidence of all the negatives we hope never afflict our children (crime, addictions, abuse both physical and sexual, poverty, illiteracy, exclusion, ill health, unhappiness, mental illness, lack of sexual fulfillment).

Thus family structure is exceedingly important to society and a return to intact marriage is a sine qua non for a nation or for families set on rebuilding themselves.

Given that, consider the implications of the following chart on the intactness of marriage at the end of the first five years of marriage:

What this chart shows is the probability of intactness of family after the first five years of marriage– given the number of sexual partners of the spouses have had in their lifetime. Using rounded numbers:  95% of those who are monogamous, that is only one sexual partner in their life time —i.e. only their spouse–95% are still in an intact marriage after the first five years. But for the woman (national average) who has had one extra sexual partner other than her husband (almost always prior to marriage) the percent drops to 62% and with two extra partners it drops almost to 50%.  Thereafter it plateaus.  For men it takes five sexual partners to reach the same level of breakup.

When I first saw this phenomenon in the 1995 data (the above is 2006-2010 data) my immediate reaction was “Those Mediterranean cultures that had chaperoning during courtship knew something about human nature, family life and intergenerational stability.” They ensured Mediterranean family was on the three-love diet.

Chastity and monogamy are foundational to the intact married family, and thus to the prosperity and success of a nation.  Hence my conclusion that this chart is the most important chart in all of the social sciences.

A culture of monogamy is critical to a thriving nation or a thriving culture.

A culture of chastity is foundational to a culture of monogamy.

Thus the cultivation of chastity is central to a robust nation and a robust culture.  Chastity is an old term but now out of favor even among Christians, given the impact of political correctness i.e. cultural Marxism. However it is the accurate label for the virtue or strength behind the data.

For the impact of monogamy at a more causative level check out the work of JD Teachman on Google Scholar  or his CV and you will be able to thread the impact of monogamy in an admirable corpus of cumulative scholarship that is one of the great contributions to research on the family.

Though the above chart is purely correlational – it is demographically descriptive of America, of what is happening between our couples who get married.  One chart cannot prove chastity is causative (go to Teachman and others to tease that out) but it sure indicates where causal strength (or weakness) can be found.

With an Eye to the Children We Never Knew: The Bloodiest Century By Far

abortion No comments

Roughly the equivalent of one seventh of the world’s present population has been killed in the womb of mothers over the last century.  (1.01 billion abortions vs 7.4 billion population)

In the US the proportion aborted is even higher: the total number is roughly the equivalent of one sixth of the present US population.  (58 million abortions vs 324 million population)

Government policy is the single biggest cause of this – by far.   The cases of South Africa and Poland demonstrate the historical rise (or fall) of abortion after the legal introduction (or elimination).

These are some of the biggest take-aways from the release of the most comprehensive and most carefully constructed database of abortion statistics for the world over the last century:  Abortion World Wide Report (2017). This PowerPoint by authors Thomas W. Jacobson, M.A., and Wm. Robert Johnston, Ph.D., gives a good overview of the massive report that upends the World Health Organization’s and the United Nations’ contentions on the data.  The debate on good statistics and reporting that this report ought to trigger will be interesting, though when good data is on the side of life and love “the opposition” tends to ignore it rather than bring attention to it by contesting it.

The Different Sexual Signals of Different Baby-Making Cultures

rights of children, sexuality No comments

All children have the right to the marriage of their biological parents because without it they will not become the persons they could have become.  This however is more honored in the breach than the observance.  There are exceptions but they are few; and that paucity proves the rule.

Many today disagree with this statement of this universal natural right of the child. Not because it is not true, but because they claim their own adult rights trump the rights of their biological children.   Such ‘rights claims’ make for different communities–communities that differ in their “baby-making life scripts”–and the induction of their children into these scripts.  That induction, though it starts in infancy, becomes very serious at puberty.  It is then that sexual signals and what they convey regarding “baby-making” life scripts becomes an intense topic of discussion for all: for the teenagers, their parents, their pastors and their teachers.

Different cultures have different life-script sexual signals but all have signals.  And different sexual signals indicate different cultures and the need for boundary marking and honoring of those borders.  The response to such signals is one of two:  “I am part of your community” or “I am of a differing baby-making life script community”.  When the response indicates a difference then the respondent in turn expects “OK, and I respect the difference.”  Should that happen there is comity, should it not we have the beginning of tyranny at an interpersonal level.

Today more flash points between modern communities or subcultures are arising. Radical individualism is not only forming its own very different culture and baby-making communities, but increasingly is adopting a non-accepting attitude to differing life script communities.

This totalitarian attitude is even more dangerous because the social science data repeatedly demonstrate that the intact (monogamous) family that worships weekly is the most socially productive on all measures, and the further one moves away from that “best model” the weaker the children produced.  Thus the radical individualism turned totalitarian is in danger of destroying the best, that which is most deserving of protection.   And the first duty of government is to protect the good and the innocent, which clearly includes the intact married family that worships weekly — in community. It has very clear and different sexual signals.

America protects the radical individualist communities and cultures. The issue of the day is whether it can it protect its older communities and cultures as well as the new immigrant communities who have many of the same “baby-making scripts”.

Freedom of Community: Next Frontier in Societies that Work

community, religious freedom No comments

In happy families members belong to each other and know and enjoy the belonging. But family life gets even better when the family belongs in a community of its own choosing, a community it likes and one where it feels it belongs. In the United States, and across the globe, the task facing governments increasingly is to find solutions that permit co-existence of communities of different religious and moral norms.  Most people derive a critical component of their personal identity from their membership in their community of choice (Israeli Jew, Palestinian Christian, Hispanic Catholic in the United States, gay activist in Ireland, an Evangelical in Texas, an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania, a Muslim mother in Dearborn Michigan, a Hassidic Jewish father in New York, and so on ad infinitum).

The struggle for individual freedoms is often really a struggle for freedom of community life.  The United States, which is the most successful experiment in political freedom in the history of mankind, now must solve for itself (and demonstrate to the world at large) how to solve the problem of freedom of very different communities within modern complex market-integrated societies.

The U.S. has a rather checkered history in the struggle for freedom of community.  It never got it perfect, but it keeps on trying to adjudicate between the ideals of freedom and the totalitarian temptation, a temptation given into many times in its history. Its first indulgence was in the constitutional protection of slavery, which denied freedom of marriage, family, community and religious practice to African-Americans brought to this country by force.  Native American communities suffered even worse treatment at times.  Coming to America does not make political saints out of immigrants, even Founding Father immigrants.

Another great totalitarian temptation, the impetus to deny freedom of religious community, did not triumph as much, but has remained a permanent presence. Despite the monumental achievement of the First Amendment, Catholics and Jews suffered a lot. In the first part of the 1800’s the Know Nothings as well as the dominant Protestant ethos of the time imposed a different religious education on Catholic families.  This lasted through the mid 1900’s when prayer was banished from public schools (not the preferred ending). This corruption in education of the American ideal of religious freedom metastasized early into the Blaine Amendments as new states were added to the Union, amendments that, to this day, distort family and community freedoms in many state constitutions. American Catholics, however, were prepared to pay the price of their freedom of community: they built their own school systems so that families could raise their children in the norms and ethos of their own faith communities. That struggle and that cost continues to this day.

Despite giving into the totalitarian temptation repeatedly through its history, the cornerstone American belief in freedom has triumphed repeatedly in other areas, even in matters of community.  An iconic example is the successful constitutional battle of the Amish to live their faith-community lives as they see fit.  This example may well be the template for the future of America.

The Amish community has clear behavioral boundaries that everyone can easily recognize. Though it makes high demands on its members the rewards are evident in its thriving viability. It does respect freedom, including freedom of family, religion and community of its own members. Young Amish adults have to choose to opt in or out of the community after a time of reflection and even experimentation outside. It does not impose its beliefs on neighbors. By and large an American attitude of “live and let live” operates on both sides of these community boundaries. Amish are very different but they are good citizens, happy to respect the existence of very different moral/religious communities around them because their own community borders and boundaries are respected.

Attaining this type of respect of the boundaries of moral communities is the great global problem of our day. People differ on what they believe is right or is wrong, particularly in matters that interface with family, sex and religious beliefs. With increased migrations from diverse religious and ethnic cultures this problem is intensifying not only in the US, but also across the globe.  In the United States it also takes on a rather unique configuration: the boundaries between traditional religious-value communities and newer, more morally relativist communities are in dispute, with sexual-morality-signals being the strongest markers of boundaries between these different communities.

These sexual-signal-markers indicate revered cultural, yet personally intimate practices on marriage, birth, abortion, contraception, divorce, adoption and education of children.  All people become quite agitated if their community way of life is threatened at its boundaries.  It is one of the deepest sources of intense energy (of love or anger, even rage) in human nature.  It is this dimension of freedom — freedom of community — that our generation of Americans is now called to solve if our nation’s historical experiment in freedom is to continue to unfold positively.  Furthermore, the whole world needs to see how we solve this problem.

Without freedom of community one does not have individual freedom. We all need our freedom to marry, to have family, and to live in communities of our choice in our legitimate ways of conducting family, church, school, marketplace and government at the micro levels of local community.  The Founding Fathers fought for this.  Our generation has to fight for it again and insist on a government that protects (rather than violates) our liberty to do good for our families in the legitimate ways of our own communities.

The United States started as a federation of states, to continue it must become also a federation of cultural communities that undergirds the founding structure of the Union.

Pat Fagan

(To be continued)

The Three Love Diet

children, love, marriage No comments

There is a very simple fact that social scientists have neglected to make clear to the country: Only a fraction of our children are fully nurtured, relationally, because of the breakdown in family structure over the last fifty years: Children in single parent homes get a one-love diet while children in always-intact married families get a three-love diet.

Only one adult love is present in the single parent family while three adult loves are present in the always intact married family (the love of mother, the love of father and the love between mother and father). The love between mother and father is especially powerful. It makes a big difference in their lives and to the social infrastructure of the county. One set of adults can bear a lot more weight and traffic than the other. For instance: just one of the many critical tasks is the modeling of living in a world of male and female where both cooperate on serious and significant tasks. The child raised in the single parent family has less chance of learning that. These are uncomfortable facts, but facts nonetheless. And they have huge consequences.

Some will object, with good reasons, that the single parent family can produce strong adults–and many do. But, on average, the children of single parent families do not become as strong as adults as do the children of married parents (even as single parents often give heroically of all the love they have). This is tough for many to take and in academia many still deny it. It is a sad and strange phenomenon but many social science professors are quite anti-scientific; they deny or avoid the disquieting data as a form of short-sighted ‘kindness’.

On average the single-love diet cannot deliver what the three-love diet does.   How do we as a society move from the single love diet to the three love diet for all children? The answer: restoration of a culture based on – bear with me — chastity. Without a culture of chastity society does not get a culture of strong marriages. Folk may laugh but there is no alternative and savvy parents, single or married, work hard to transmit this to their children for everybody’s sake—for the young folk’s own future, the future of the grandchildren, and for a more peaceful old age future for the grandparents.

What makes it possible for an adolescent to come up with such a resolve? How do we grow such young people? Parents cultivate it be they married or single by telling the truth about the relationship between chastity and life-long love between a man and a woman. And the data show that teenagers (deep down) welcome their parents when they raise these issues.

Single parents have a tougher task here, and it is therefore one of the most critical projects for our society. There is a need for a movement among single parents, a movement to raise chaste children, chaste teenagers so that they will have the happiness of being at the wedding of their children, and their grandchildren. Such a movement needs alongside it a solidarity movement of everyone else to cheer them on and help them. This is the infrastructure work we need most if we are to have future citizens who can take over running a country.

It is amazing how sex, children, marriage, chastity and the future are all intertwined. It is time for all families to link together to pull this off for the next generation. Everything else in society is connected to this. Everything.

The Infrastructure that Donald Trump Can Do Little About

elections, family, marriage, religion No comments

The election results stimulated myriad projections for change about the political and economic future, but at the foundational levels of society, marriage and worship, nothing changed this past week.

Political elections are about who gets to control the instruments of power.  But the fundamental work of rebuilding society from the ground up — restoring marriage and turning back to worshipping God weekly — remains in a realm beyond the instrumental tools of government. These fundamentals, so necessary for a functional society, remain untouched by the elections.

And yet the need to change these fundamentals is critical if the goods of politics are to bear fruit.  Otherwise it is all for naught in the medium to long term.  One good revolution (French, Russian, Chinese or Cambodian) can wipe out a lot overnight.

Marriage and religious practice are all about “belonging” — belonging to spouse and children and to God.  But belonging is not something we can manufacture for others, and it certainly is not something government can distribute, transfer or manufacture.  Belonging is the result of attraction — a fulfilled two-way attraction.  However, and this is key, it can start as a one-way attraction.  Many a brave man has proven this by wooing, and eventually winning, the reluctant woman of his dreams.  “Faint heart never won fair lady.”   She gradually came to see how attractive he really was.  But no man (not even the most radical of progressives) has ever turned to government to help him be more attractive to the woman of his dreams.  So to where and to whom do we turn for this rebuilding, this “sine qua non” of social policy, if not to government?  Is not social policy all about government?

This is the fundamental political question for all who want to see society get back on track.  Donald Trump can wield political instruments that will affect the economy, the army, medicine and even education (to a degree), but neither he nor his cabinet can improve marriage or levels of worship through policy initiatives. Yet, of all aspects of the United States, these are the “infrastructure” that needs rebuilding.

This family belonging, which is only full of its power when it means marital belonging between mother and father, is the glue that holds society together.  This lies, not in the realm of government (except to protect or destroy), but in the realm of “the people”.  Belonging is beyond the reach or competence of government.  Sure, big government can do and has done lots to wreck it–as in abortion, in sex education that undermines chastity and marriage, in laws that removed restraints on sex outside of marriage, or in liberal Supreme Courts, such as one that would have occurred under Hillary Clinton, that injects such principles into the legal system.  But the work of rebuilding lies in the heart of the citizen, not in the powers of government.

The social infrastructure of every inner city needs to be rebuilt. It depends on the capacity of millennials to stay married, to grow when adversity hits a marriage so that they mature into strong adults rather than wimp into a rejection that damages their children. Who can do that? Certainly not the instruments of government.

We can only turn to ourselves, and within ourselves to God.  We either attract others to chastity, marriage and worship or we repel them.  We are all either walking advertisements for marriage or effective propaganda against it. People expect a deep joy (even in painful times — especially in painful times) from marriage and family: we either deliver on this in our personal lives or we don’t.  Belonging is caught by contact, by seeing it, by experiencing it up close.  By being invited in.

Belonging is a very different social policy paradigm, but it is the only one that works.

Poverty in America

Census Report, Hillary Clinton, poverty No comments

America suffers from a poverty crisis—but not the sort that can be alleviated by food stamps or free healthcare. America’s poverty lies within the family—a poverty of belonging in marriage between fathers and mothers.  The biggest cause of poverty is rejection (splitting apart) between parents.

According to the latest census report, 8.6 million families were in poverty in 2015. Poverty is principally the problem of non-intact family structures.  Five times as many female-headed families (no husband present) and almost three times as many male-headed families (no wife present) as married-couple families were in poverty in 2015. Although welfare may artificially reduce poverty statistics on paper, in reality it compounds at least two significant obstacles to the poor: first, welfare replaces personal agency with government reliance, thereby robbing individuals of their feeling of self-worth; second, it artificially covers deeper wounds and allows them to fester.

Research shows that family intactness, along with high school graduation rates, play the largest role in diminishing child poverty. Men raised in intact families work 156 hours longer and earn $6,534 more than their counterparts raised in single-parent families. Married men—especially those with children—earn 26 percent more than their non-married counterparts. They have higher incomes, more net worth, and greater year-to-year net worth growth. Marriage is also an important driver of economic mobility.

In addition to improving financial hardships, intact married families simultaneously treat children’s physical, mental, and spiritual privation. Children raised in married families tend to have higher educational achievement and attainment, have a better relationship with their parents, are less likely to commit crime, and are less likely to have a teenage pregnancy. Children who grow up in non-intact families are more likely to suffer from poorer physical and mental health, abuse drugs and alcohol, and partake in sexually promiscuous behavior.

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Hillary Clinton accurately stated that “The true measure of any society is how we take care of our children.” However, our children’s wellbeing cannot be measured solely by the dollar sign tied to their family in a census report. As Mother Teresa famously said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” MARRI data shows that 54 percent of youth experience the rejection of a non-intact family by the time they reach age 18. Even more disconcerting, only 17 percent of black youth grow up with their married mother and father. Whereas family intactness fosters an environment of belonging among youth that increases their likelihood of excelling in education, health, and economic security, family brokenness creates a sense of rejection that can impede proper growth.

A nation is only as strong as the relationship between its citizens, and a lack of strong families weakens human, social, and moral capital, which in turn directly affects the finances of the United States. A holistic and effective long-term plan to reduce material and relational poverty in America must encourage intact married families.

Cohabitation is NOT the Same as Marriage

cohabitation, marriage, media 3 comments

The media got it wrong again. A well-conducted study by Sarah Mernitz and Claire Kamp Dush of Ohio State University shows that transitions into relationships, especially direct marriage, alleviate emotional distress. But reporters cherry-picked data to claim the study shows that cohabitation is no different from marriage. This is false.

Four findings from this study, which does the best it can with rather limited measures, were not reported by mainline media:

  1. Not surprisingly, transitions into all romantic unions give an “emotional lift” (Note that an “emotional lift” is not the same as love—a distinction the authors fail to make).
  2. Marriage gives bigger emotional lifts.
  3. Both men and women gain significant emotional lifts; sometimes the women more than the men, sometimes the men more than the women.
  4. All romantic unions gain an emotional lift from having a baby – sometimes for the fathers more than the mothers. 

Bottom lines: 

  1. Marriage is best if you are looking for an emotional lift.  
  2. Newborns give an emotional lift, especially with second partners. 
  3. The poor need lots of help: no relationship seems to relieve their distress. 

Most disturbing is the plight of the poor.  We know from many other studies that many of the poor (if not most) come from a long line of alienated parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.  We need geniuses or saints to show us how to help them.

~~~~~~~~~~

There are two important methodological considerations to accurately interpret this study. First, it focuses on relationship transitions. It measures mental health at the initiation of a new relationship (cohabitation, direct marriage, or marriage after cohabiting), and does not indicate the long-term stability or well-being of relationship types. Second, Mernitz and Kamp Dush’s study evaluates emotional distress only, and does not give a holistic assessment of well-being or relationship quality.

Mernitz and Kamp Dush’s research shows that women benefit emotionally more than men when transitioning into any type of first union relationship; however, women benefit more from marriage and most from a direct marriage. This finding is not surprising. New relationships–no matter what the type–tend to be fun and exciting, thereby reducing emotional distress.

Mernitz and Kamp Dush’s study also confirms the emotional lift gained by having children. For men transitioning into their first romantic union (cohabiting or direct marriage), having a child has a stronger emotional impact than having full time employment or a college degree. Women who enter a cohabiting relationship or first marriage also experience an emotional lift from childbearing. Interestingly, the sex differences are flipped for individuals in their second union. For women entering a cohabiting relationship, having a child decreases emotional distress more than having full time employment or a college degree. Women who enter a direct marriage or marry after cohabiting also reap significant benefits from having a child. Although males in their second union also obtain emotional benefits from having a child, their emotional benefits are not as significant as women’s.

Interestingly, this study raises some important considerations for poorer communities (as indicated by those with less than a high school degree), where intact married families are rare. Poorer women experience less emotional distress when they directly enter marriage for their first romantic union, whereas poorer men experience less distress when cohabiting. For second romantic unions, both men and women experience the least emotional distress if they enter a cohabiting relationship. These sentiments are problematic for the poor community. Research shows that marriage encourages economic mobility, and decreases government dependency. The anti-marriage bias of the welfare system revokes assistance for couples who marry. Therefore, the government imposes stressors for those who marry.

It is important to note that Mernitz and Kamp Dush’s study does not measure love. Love transcends emotional highs and lows and is first really tested when emotions turn sour.  Emotional status is a good indicator of temporary well-being, and has a place in examining transitions into relationships. However, for journalists and reporters to categorically declare that cohabitation is equivalent to marriage is untrue of the study and is shoddy reporting at best. Moreover it totally ignores repeated and compelling research that illustrates the superior benefits of stable marital unions.

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For those interested, what follow is a more detailed summary of the study’s findings:

For First Romantic Unions:

  • Women emotionally benefit more than men from transitioning into a relationship. 
  • Women and men both benefit the most from entering a direct marriage (compared to entering a cohabiting relationship, or entering marriage after cohabiting).

Controlling for Education

  • Across all education levels, women who enter a direct marriage experience more emotional benefits than women who transition into a cohabiting relationship or enter a marriage after cohabiting. There is one exception: women with more than a college degree have the best health benefits when they enter a marriage after cohabiting.
  • Men follow less of a pattern: men with less than a high school degree benefit the most from entering a cohabiting relationship; those with some college benefit most from transitioning into marriage from cohabitation; those with a college degree benefit the most from entering a cohabiting relationship; and men with more than a college degree benefit the most from marrying after cohabiting.

Controlling for Employment

  • Men who are unemployed, men who are employed full time, and men who had a child all emotionally benefit the most from entering into a direct marriage.
  • For women the results are more mixed: women who are unemployed emotionally benefit the most from marrying after cohabiting; women who are employed full time benefit most from entering a cohabiting relationship; and women who had a child benefit the most from entering into a cohabiting relationship.

For Second Romantic Unions:

  • Men emotionally benefit more than women from entering into a cohabiting relationship.
  • Women benefit more than men from directly marrying.
  • Men benefit more than women from marrying after cohabiting.
  • Both men and women emotionally benefit the most from marrying after cohabiting.

Controlling for Education

  • Men and women with less than a high school degree experience the least emotional distress when they enter a cohabiting relationship.
  • Women who have some college, a college degree, or more than a college degree experience the greatest emotional benefit from entering into a direct marriage (sometimes tied with marrying after cohabiting).
  • Men who have some college, a college degree, or more than a college degree experience the greatest emotional benefit from entering into a direct marriage.

Controlling for Employment

  • For women who are unemployed, entering a direct marriage produces the best emotional benefits; for women who are employed, entering a cohabiting relationship produces the best benefits.
  • For men who are unemployed, entering a direct marriage produces the best emotional outcomes; for men who are employed, marrying after cohabiting produces the best outcomes.
  • For women who had a child, entering a cohabiting relationship decreases emotional distress the most; for men who had a child marrying after cohabiting decreases emotional distress the most.