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An Ode to Grandparents

children, extended family, family, intact family, religion No comments

By Danielle Lee, MARRI Intern

If working with MARRI Research teaches you one thing, it’s that intact married families (pick your state and find out how the belonging index affects social policy outcomes where you live) are the way to go.  Families led by married parentsand that worship together regularly produce children who have better quality relationships, who perform better in school, and who claim to be happier than those raised in other circumstances.
But with studies focused on relationships within the nuclear family, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the the generations of parents that have come before.  This isn’t a gap in the research; it’s a logical inference that is many times forgotten or left un-pursued.  Grandparents are simply the expansion pack of the intact family.
Oh, the stories my grandparents would tell (and that I tell now)!  Of how they got through Soviet checkpoints at the North Korean border by getting all the young ones to cry loudly, or of how one of our ancestors was a political exile centuries back.  Mom and Dad have taught me how to function as a responsible citizen and bring a unique contribution to my community, whereas Grandma and Grandpa have taught me how I belong in the grander scheme of history.
So, why does this matter?  Bruce Feiler of the New York Times recently exposited the correlation between a child’s knowledge of family narrative and history and his or her ability to cope with physical, emotional, and mental traumas.  Children with knowledgeable awareness of their family narrative coped better with stresses, including the devastation of 9/11.
It’s so much more than a coping mechanism, though.  The great 20th century intellectuals pursued originality so aggressively that some were ready to divorce words from their accepted meanings (via written entreaties, ironically).  They believed that a rejection of and detachment from all they knew would give them untainted space for true originality. Yet one might posit that those intellectuals (particularly, the French) got it all wrong.  True originality (if it exists) and cultural progress stems from familiarity with history—you have to know where you came from to know where you’re going.
Learning about my great-grandfather’s commitment to Korean independence from Japanese occupation offers dimension and depth to my own life ambitions. It brings perspective as to why I’m inexplicably interested and drawn to public policy issues even when my siblings are not.  Meanwhile, goals that seem untenable, if not absurd, are no longer so implausible when you learn that the childhood home of your grandmother (the one who washes the dishes in the dishwasher because they aren’t clean enough) housed the Korean government at one point.
The generations that have come before are not participants in a distant past that have nothing to do with us.  In fact, they have everything to do with our identity and our trajectory.  In a culture that fixates on youth through babies on Facebook (see “Facebook, Privacy, and the Commoditization of Children” below) or Botox, we can’t keep trying to stop time from passing—or we really won’t get anywhere.  The past is our launching pad.  It grounds us in morality and discipline but also pushes us to do greater things than accomplished before.

Facebook, Privacy, and the Commoditization of Children

child well-being, children, culture, family, fathers, marriage, mothers, social media No comments


By MARRI Intern
Recently on Slate, author Amy Webb recounted the story of a friend who frequently posts pictures of her young daughter on Facebook. In her opinion, these digital memories are irreversibly “preventing [the daughter] from any hope of future anonymity.” In reaction to this modern way of public life, before Webb’s daughter was even born she and her husband created social media profiles and a Gmail account for their child. When she is old enough their daughter will have access to an online presence, if she so chooses. Now that their daughter has been born, they diligently monitor social media websites to ensure that none of their friends or relatives posts pictures or personal information about their child.
While Webb’s prerogative as a parent is not in question, she does raise an interesting (and rather concerning) question: what are parents doing to children’s futures by putting them in the public spotlight before they are conscious of the decision? In the past, baby pictures were kept at home in an album; today they are broadcast on the internet. Before modern technology, a person had to know the parents to be able to see a child’s pictures; now, depending on your internet privacy know-how, anyone can see them, including corporate face recognition software. There are babies and children on social media news feeds that users have never met and likely never will because they are the step-nephew-in-law of their college roommate’s best friend (or something like that). While there are cynical applications to remove babies from their news feeds, this is not the point. The point is that society has changed. Americans are increasingly willing to share private details of their lives in a public forum, sometimes with unfortunate negative consequences.
There are countless stories of parents finding pictures of their children being used for advertising, for fake online accounts or even for child pornography. Furthermore, many children born into this generation will have had an online presence since before they were born (think sonogram pictures). American parents have shifted from protecting their children’s privacy to publicly displaying their children. Sons and daughters have arguably become yet another possession that one may flaunt before neighbors. How many “likes” will I get if I post a picture of my child doing x? Look at my baby’s adorable new clothes! And on it goes. Even celebrities effectively place a dollar value on their children by selling the rights to their baby’s first pictures. Parents’ love for and adoration of their children is certainly not in question here, but are these parents devaluing their child by sharing him or her with the world?
Perhaps these parents could instead spend their efforts on become more actively involved in their children’s lives and education to ensure the best chance for their success. Click here for more information from MARRI on what involvement in your child’s life at a young age can mean for his or her development.

What Kind of Man Do You Want?

children, culture, family, feminism, marriage, men, social institutions, women 2 comments
By Sharon Barrett, Intern
It’s an eternal question: What do women want?
 
Last week, I came across this blog post on manhoodthat offered a partial answer:
 
Men in American society seem to fluctuate between two extremes….It seems barbarians [à la Han Solo of Star Wars, or Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance] are the kind of men women fall for from a distance, and then despise when they get close – the “bad boy” image. Wimps [like tenderfoot Ranse Stoddard, opposing Doniphon’s gun-slinging version of justice] seem to be the kind of men women despise from a distance and then get to know and start to care for as good provider, “beta males.”

But neither barbarians nor wimps are fully men.

 
What barbarian and wimp alike are lacking, the writer argues, is balance: an Aristotelian “golden mean” between tough and tender. Where one man excels in physique, business savvy, or rugged individualism, another may have aesthetic sense, intelligence, or a reputation for being “good with kids.” By implication, the man who balances these traits not only will achieve manliness in the eyes of other men, but will increase his attractiveness to women.
 
Can a “golden mean” between barbarian and wimp give women what they want? Yes – with this addition. Manhood is more than a middle way that combines ruggedness and gentleness for the sake of balance; it is a third way that employs a man’s abilities in the pursuit of a goal outside himself. Masculine strength is best defined in one word: commitment, the decision to give one’s word to another and stand by for the long haul. Men who embody commitment to a wife, family, job, and community are the ones who can reverse the current trend of fatherless families, broken marriages, and child poverty.
 
Unfortunately, the sexual revolution has taught women they don’t need this kind of man. In the words of feminist writer Hanna Rosin (author of The End of Men), “Women no longer need men for financial security and social influence. They can achieve those things by themselves.” (Nor do they need a man for help in raising children, since full-time daycare is only a phone call away. With the advent of Artificial Reproductive Technology, they no longer even need a man – other than a sperm donor – to conceive children.)
 
According to Ms. Rosin, the sexual revolution gave us “the ability to have temporary, intimate relationships that don’t derail a career.” Because career is (in her estimation) most important to women in their 20s and 30s, she continues,
 
No one is in a hurry to get married, and sex is, by the terms of sexual economics, very cheap. When sex is cheap, more men turn into what the sociologist Mark Regnerus calls “free agents.” They sleep with as many women as possible basically, [sic] because they can.
 
Men don’t need to strive for a “golden mean” when women pursue them for short-term pleasure without asking for commitment. Women perpetuate the hookup culture by allowing men to expect to take any woman to bed, no strings attached, as long they take her out for “a nice time” first (as Maria Reig Teetor reported last week). Women may suffer emotional pangs, but men are taking the real hit: since the 1960s, a “persistent ‘gap’” in employment has existed between married and unmarried men. Employment rates for single, divorced, and cohabiting men consistently plummet faster than rates for married men – in or out of a recession. A culture of marriage, on the other hand, by demanding commitment, actually makes men more employable.
 
When sex is cheap, commitment has no value whatsoever. When women live as if they don’t need men, real men disappear. And the economy and the family suffer equally.
 
In the end, women’s expectations set the bar for manhood. The question is still before us: Women, what kind of man do you want? The men are waiting for your answer.

Concentration Can

children, injustice, pro-life, reproductive technology No comments

Amanda Brennan, Intern
 
For many couples today, having children has become an ART, or an act of Artificial Reproductive Technology. This method, which contributes to more than 1 percent of all infant births, involves the combining of egg and sperm outside the body through various procedures. In most cases a woman’s eggs are retrieved surgically after superovulation, and a man’s sperm is collected via masturbation or a medical procedure. The two are then combined in a petri dish to form new life. From this moment on, the fate of the embryos is unclear. The couple has several options: implant into the biological mother, implant into a surrogate, donate to another couple, dispose of, donate to research, or freeze.
Cryopreservation, or the freezing of excess embryos, is a common practice at virtually all of the 443 identified fertility clinics throughout the United States. Presently, it is believed that over 400,000 human lives are suspended in “concentration cans” of liquid nitrogen. In all the hype of solving infertility and creating genetically enhanced children, life is being destroyed (an estimated 6½ embryos are lost for every live birth in IVF) and embryos are being imprisoned in a “man-made limbo.” The evils of concentration camps went unnoticed until after the damage was done in WWII, and the same may be true for the injustice of cryopreservationthat is occurring throughout the world today. The question of what to do with embryos that are abandoned or unwanted has gone unanswered in the U.S., but in some European countries those unclaimed embryos are often cleaned out and destroyed to make room for newer ones coming in. Little thought has been given to the consequences of ART methods on future society as a whole, most importantly on the family.
Through procedures such as IVF the fundamental norm of creation is manipulated. No longer do people beget children, instead they manufacture them, casting the sexual act between a man and a woman aside. The separation between procreative and recreational sex continues. As ART procedures grow in popularity more and more children will be detached from their biological parents. Originally, only homologous artificial fertilization was practiced, but now heterologous artificial fertilization is acceptable. This opens the door for single parenthood, homosexual parenthood, etc., in the meantime gradually devaluing the institution of marriage. For instance, a child could be created from the egg and sperm of two strangers, gestated by another woman, and then raised by two completely different people. Up to five individuals can contribute to the creation and upbringing of a child, not to mention the third-party intervention of scientists and medical professionals throughout the process. As MARRI research points out, children thrive when they grow up in an intact married family. In 2009, 45.8 percent of children experienced family intactness. Some ART procedures provide a child with a stable home between a married man and woman, but many others provide the opportunity to redefine marriage and childbearing unlike ever before. 
As science continues to progress, we must not forget the famous words of Dr. Seuss, “A person’s a person, no matter how small” (Horton Hears a Who). Humans must evaluate the repercussions of their actions before creating injustices such as frozen embryos. There are ways to treat infertility that respect the dignity of the human person, that value life at even its smallest stages, and that safeguard marriage and the sexual act. It must not be forgotten that children have a fundamental, inalienable right to be born and raised in an intact family, not stored in a refrigerator.

Marriage and Children Could Save Your Life

children, marriage No comments

Kevin Burns, Intern

We’ve all seen advertisements for wonder-fixes that will make you healthier, happier, more fit, better looking, and richer. But who knew that the world’s greatest “fix” might be right in front of our eyes?  Granted, starting expenses can be pricey, but considering long-term economic benefits, it’s a steal!  He might not quite be Vince the Shamwow, but Norwegian economist Øystein Kravdal’s new study finds that getting married and having a family could decrease your risk of dying by up to a third.

Kravdal’s study “Family Life History and Mortality in Norway,” recently published in the Population and Development Review, tracks the marriage and childbearing history of Norway’s population since 1960.  He tracks men and women separately, as well as nineteen different marital status and marital history categories.

Science has long shown that unmarried men are far more likely to die than married men. But Kradval’s study adds in the benefits of having children.  Among married men, those without children are 36% more likely to die than their counterparts who have fathered two or more children.  In stark contrast, divorced men with no children have a 300% higher risk of dying than married men with two or more children.

The study shows similar results for women. Married women without children run a 61% higher risk of mortality than married women with two or more children. As with men, divorced women without children are almost 300% more likely than married women with children – and close to 100% more likely to die than divorced women with children.

Scientists have speculated about the causes of these trends for years.  Many suspect that married people live longer because of selection – healthy people are more likely to marry and have children. Similarly, particularly in men, having dependents can decrease risky behavior and the likelihood of suicide.  Whatever the cause, in a culture obsessed with longevity and youth, marriage and children could be the fix we’ve all been looking for.

Individualism in Marriage

children, cohabitation, marriage, social institutions No comments
MARRI Interns
An increasingly disturbing trend in Americatoday is the growing emphasis and view that marriage is about personal and mutual fulfillment with no essential link to children. Much of this mindset is synonymous with a more individualistic outlook on life. Mercatornet describes the typical individual as believing that marriage is “being there for the other person and helping them when they’re down, helping them get through tough times, cheering them up when they’re sad.” Ricky says, “You know, just pretty much improving each other’s lives together.” In other words, marriage is about mutual help and companionship.
 
While part of marriage is in fact about relationship between two individuals, this definition leaves out the emphasis on children. Mercatornet further foundthat “young adults’ belief in marriage as commitment and permanence comes with an asterisk: so long as both spouses are happy and love each other.” The growing idea that marriage is simply a union between two people to make each other happy is incomplete. According to Amber and David Lapp, marriage is about something more than simply two separate individuals coming together.
 
According to the Survey of Consumer Finance, the net worth of cohabitating families with children was only $16,540, as opposed $120,250 for intact families (“Child’s Right to Marriage of Parents”).In addition, according to Robert Whelan, Broken Homes and Broken Children, children living in cohabiting homes are also 33 times more likely to suffer serious child abuse than children living with their biological parents (“Child’s Right to Marriage of Parents”).
 
If marriage could not possibly result in children, then it would be fine for individuals to only consider themselves in their future. However, that is clearly not the case. Marriage is not simply the union of two consenting individuals as long as they remain happy; marriage is a lasting bond and commitment that not only includes the man and the woman, but also the children, who together define the family.

Meaning of Marriage

children, MARRI, marriage, poverty 3 comments
MARRI Interns
Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart has sparked a remarkable conversation about growing inequality in American culture. The upper and lower classes – or “Belmont” and “Fishtown” – “diverge in core beliefs and values,” which, in turn, begets a divergence in the role of marriage in society, as previously discussed on this blog. An article entitled “For Richer (Not for Poorer): The Inequality Crisis of Marriage” appeared in The Atlantic this week, continuing the discussion of growing class divergence in marriage rates. Author Nancy Cook argues that the economic consequences of increasing intermarriage among Belmont-dwellers and declining marriage rates in Fishtown could continue to sow the seeds of inequality. “Then consider the impact on the next generation,” she urges. “Well-educated, wealthy Americans will have more resources to spend on their children’s education, health, and enrichment; low-income people can offer fewer opportunities to help their offspring get ahead.”
 
Because, in Cook’s words, Americans are no longer “starry-eyed about marriage as an aspiration,” increasingly the definition of the institution becomes more obscured. What is marriage for, anyway? David and Amber Lapp went into Fishtown to ask this very question for Public Discourse. The majority of responses cited a subjective feeling of happiness or a “spark” with little consideration for permanence, service, or even children. Curiously, marriage was still considered to be a solemn, almost sacred, institution that should not be entered into lightly. “It is not out of disdain for marriage that working-class young adults delay marriage and begin families,” the Lapps write, “but out of reverence for it as something that ought not be broken.”

Marriage then becomes an empty set: it should not be entered into lightly, but what is it a couple is entering in the first place? While research from the Marriage and Religion Research Institute has demonstrated that marriage does have a positive effect on happiness, it appears this cannot realistically be the ultimate purpose of the institution if it is to last. Nevertheless, a number of the responses the Lapps received can be found in marriage, as MARRI’s 162 Reasons to Marry suggests. A reexamination of the meaning of marriage could help Fishtown out of its economic and social doldrums.

What’s So Wrong with Polygamy?

child well-being, children, crime, culture, family, fathers, human capital, marriage, monogamy, news, polygamy, social institutions, women No comments

By Anna Dorminey, Staff

Libby Copeland writes for Slate on the effects of polygamy and monogamous marriage on crime in “Is Polygamy Really So Awful?” While we disagree with Ms. Copeland’s conclusion (that the best form of union for a society is best not because it is moral, but because it “works”), the research she references in her piece is extremely interesting. Read along:

History suggests that [plural marriage] is [harmful]. A new study out of the University of British Columbia documents how societies have systematically evolved away from polygamy because of the social problems it causes. The Canadian researchers are really talking about polygyny, which is the term for one man with multiple wives, and which is by far the most common expression of polygamy. Women are usually thought of as the primary victims of polygynous marriages, but as cultural anthropologist Joe Henrich documents, the institution also causes problems for the young, low-status males denied wives by older, wealthy men who have hoarded all the women. And those young men create problems for everybody.

“Monogamous marriage reduces crime,” Henrich and colleagues write, pulling together studies showing that polygynous societies create large numbers of unmarried men, whose presence is correlated with increased rates of rape, theft, murder, and substance abuse. According to Henrich, the problem with unmarried men appears to come primarily from their lack of investment in family life and in children. Young men without futures tend to engage in riskier behaviors because they have less to lose. And, too, they may engage in certain crimes to get wives—stealing to amass enough wealth to attract women, or kidnapping other men’s wives.

Ms. Copeland also addresses the effects polygamy produces for individual men, women, and children. These effects are consistently negative:

That polygyny is bad for women is not necessarily intuitive. As economist Robert H. Frank has pointed outwomen in polygynist marriages should have more power because they’re in greater demand, and men should wind up changing more diapers. But historically, polygamy has proved to be yet another setup that [harms] the XX set. Because there are never enough of them to go around, they wind up being married off younger. Brothers and fathers, realizing how valuable their female relations are, tend to control them more. And, as one would expect, polygynous households foster jealousy and conflict among co-wives. Ethnographic surveys of 69 polygamous cultures “reveals no case where co-wife relations could be described as harmonious,” Henrich writes, with what must be a good dose of understatement.

Children, too, appear to suffer in polygamous cultures. Henrich examines a study comparing 19th-century Mormon households, 45 of them headed by wealthy men, generally with multiple wives, and 45 headed by poorer men, generally with one wife each. What’s surprising is that the children of the poorer men actually fared better, proving more likely to survive to age 15. Granted, this is a small study, but it’s consistent with other studies, including one from Africa showing that the children of monogamous households tend to do better than those from polygynous households in the same communities. Why? Some scholars suspect that polygyny may discourage paternal investment. Men with lots of children and wives are spread too thin, and to make things worse, they’re compiling resources to attract their next wives instead of using it on their existing families.

For more on the benefits of intact, monogamous marriage for society and individuals, visit www.marri.us.

Math, Marriage, and Church- What’s the Connection?

children, education, family, MARRI, marriage, religion, single parents No comments

By Anna Dorminey, Staff

Our latest Mapping America (110: Children’s Peabody Individual Achievement Test math percentile norms) shows that children who attend church weekly or more often and who are raised in intact families rank in the highest PIAT math percentiles.

The strongest effects appear to proceed from family structure: children raised in intact married families average in the 54th percentile, while children raised in cohabiting stepfamilies or always-single parent families score the worst, averaging in the 27th percentile.

Keep tabs on marri.frc.org for more Mapping America productions!

When Marriage Falls, Children are Hurt

child well-being, children, education, marriage, single parents No comments

According to a new Pew Research study, released less than a month ago, barely half (51%) of Americans are married, compared to 72% in 1960. However, federal surveys show that the birth rate today is 4,317,000—greater than the birthrate in 1961, at 4,268,000.

What these numbers tell us is that there are more children born to fewer married couples. This means that many children today are missing out on the host of benefits that come from being raised by two married parents. Notably, children raised in married parent families do better in many educational outcomes.
From “Marriage, Family Structure, and Children’s Educational Attainment,” research shows that in terms of raw achievement, elementary school children from intact biological families earn higher reading and math test scoresthan children in cohabiting and divorced single and always-single parent families. However, adolescents from non-intact families have lower scores than their counterparts in intact married families on math, science, history, and reading tests.
When it comes to school behavior, adolescents in single-parent families, married stepfamilies, or cohabiting stepfamilies are more likelythan adolescents in intact married families to have ever been suspended or expelled from school, to have participated in delinquent activities, and to have problems getting along with teachers, doing homework, and paying attention in school.  
Parents have a tremendous impact on their child’s education, as well. Adolescents in intact biological families reported that their parents participated more in school, that they discussed school more with their parents, and that they knew more of their friends’ parents than those in single-parent families and stepfamilies. Kids from married parent families also have greater education expectations: 31.3 percent of sons and 26.7 percent of daughters from intact biological families plan to get a college degree, but 42.4 percent of sons and 35.9 percent of daughters in single-parent families do not plan to get a college degree.
See our full report in order to see the benefits of marriage and religion for students’ raw achievement, test scores, school behavior, parental impact, religious practice, and family income.
The best thing for your child’s education just may be your marriage.