culture

culture

Put Your Money Where Your Marriage Is

culture, human capital, marriage, mothers, poverty, religion, teen pregnancy No comments
Lindsay Smith, Intern

“16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Moms,” and countless other reality shows have popularized and perhaps even glamorized the lives of unmarried mothers in our society.   In addition, the trend of popular female celebrities becoming single mothers furthers the attention.  While Hollywood portrays this family structure as desirable and even empowering for women, the true hardships of single motherhood are not always given their just time in the spotlight.  Let me be clear, I applaud single and unwed mothers for choosing life for their babies, a valiant decision in a culture which all but hands them a “get out of motherhood free” card.  No, the solution to the plight of the single mother does not come from abortion, but rather from Marriage. 

The Houston Chronicle recently released an article titled Figures show struggle worsening for single mothers,” which shares the stories and struggles of several single moms straining to make ends meet.  According to the article, “41 percent of households headed by single women with children live in poverty – nearly triple the national poverty rate, according to 2010 census data.”  This percentage alone should seize our attention.  However, combine it with the fact that more than half of single mothers over age twenty rely on public assistance, and these statistics don’t softly whisper for concern.   They deafeningly cry for action – or should I say results.  Many in government have championed action through the years: job training, GED programs, welfare.  These actions seem to only create a treadmill – lots of movement but no upward mobility – and find many of their recipients in the same place year after year.  At the article’s conclusion, Robert Rector from the Heritage Foundation summarizes it best: “The welfare state has been about picking up the pieces from non-marital births, and it’s not working. The reality is that you can’t create a substitute father.”
MARRI’s studies confirm Mr. Rector’s assertion.  An intact married family has the highest average income and net worth and experiences less poverty than other family types, all of which carries over to their children’s well-being.  On the reverse side, according to these studies, “A non-intact family background increases by over 50 percent a boy’s odds of ending up in the lowest socioeconomic level.”  Family structure has not only immediate effects but also intergenerational effects on a child’s economic status.  Females who grow up in an intact married family are far less likely to have a non-marital pregnancy than those who were raised in an always single-parent family.  In case anyone is tempted to think this only applies to single mothers, studies also show married men have a higher rate of employment than single men.   Let’s not forget that God’s design was to give Adam both a job and a helper, who was Eve.  Speaking of God’s design, learning about His plan for marriage and family appears to significantly affect this female demographic.  The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Survey reports that “urban mothers who attend church frequently are at least 70 percent more likely to be married when they give birth or to get married within one year of a nonmarital birth than are urban mothers who do not attend church frequently.”
As one of the moms in the Chronicle article poignantly expresses, “Sometimes I think I’m in a big hole and I can’t see the light, but then I know God is big and there’s something big for me.”  And she is right.  Perhaps we should all stop asking people what their temporary aid for single mothers would be, and remind ourselves of God’s unchanging, perfect (and big) plan for the family.

“I had a nice time. Let’s have sex.”

culture, marriage, sexuality, youth 2 comments

Maria Reig Teetor, Intern

“We must try before we make a commitment.” “Are you sexually compatible?” “How good is he/she in bed?” “Have you had sex yet?”These have become normal questions asked when you meet up with friends, go out to a bar or dinner party…abstinence is not in the vocabulary.

We live in a sexualized society, where life is measured by our emotions, feelings and sexual behavior. You only have to flip through the pages of Cosmopolitan or turn on your TV and watch L.A. Complex or Gossip Girl to understand that sex is what’s expected of you when you go out on a couple dates. 
When talking about abstinence or waiting for marriage to have sex, you think of your high school counselor, who talked about abstinence because as a teenager you aren’t ready to take up the consequences of what sex may entail, but once you’re in college or in the labor force, you’re immediately expected to sleep with your dates. 
This recently hit me, as I was sharing a drink with this attentive young man I met through a mutual friend. We were sitting at a bar enjoying a casual happy hour, talking about work, hobbies, siblings, aspirations…when as the evening was coming to an end he mentioned, “Where to next, your place or mine? Don’t worry, I’ll let you sleep over afterward.” As if letting me sleep at his house after we had sex was the chivalrous thing to do. The young man was stunned with my polite answer: “No thank you, I don’t do that.” At that very moment I was so thrown off I did not have a solid explanation to why I was not going to have sex with him.
 
I then understood that a lot of factors went into this assumption he made – it wasn’t that he was some abnormally forward or disrespectful young man. Rather, it is what society, peer pressure or his upbringing has taught him is the normal way of conduct.  But he was so stunned he called me for a whole week to try and go out again. He was searching for an answer to my no: Is it that you don’t like me? I am weird? Unattractive? I thought we had a good time? And we truly did. 
The only consequences of sleeping around that people dare to mention are unwanted pregnancies and sexual transmitted diseases, like HIV; but those are soon resolved with the notion of “as long as were safe we’ll be fine.” Which means that as long as one uses the pill, condoms or any other contraceptive method, we’re all free to sleep with whomever we desire.
I went on to wonder, besides these more obvious facts, have young people ever thought of our emotional vulnerability or the psychological damages that sleeping around might have? And the advantages of creating a solid long lasting relationship  when you wait for marriage?  
So today I wanted to skim through a few reasons why we shouldn’t give in to new era of “I had a nice time, let’s have sex” that we may have to deal with as soon as we’re on a date. 
First of all, this over sexualized culture backfires as it confuses the true meaning of love with lust. It induces people to marry for the wrong reasons. The emotional bonding that sex brings to the relationship creates a false impression of closeness between strangers and it can blind their judgment, inducing them to believe that this emotional and psychological bonding is caused by their love for one another when it’s mostly induced by their sexual activity.
Once you engage yourself in an active sexual relationship without a strong commitment, it tends to overtake the vast majority of the relationship, which means that you end up learning how to express  your emotions and feelings through your body and don’t strive to create a personal and intimate friendship which is the solid base of a good marriage. On the contrary, when there is no sexual activity, the couple is forced to spend quality time with one another, learning about their hobbies, desires, aspirations. They also learn how to verbally communicate and express what they are feeling or thinking. This will help them build up the base of their relation and when hard times come, they will not “fix the problem” by sleeping together, but by communicating. 
Another reason worth mentioning is that this culture of “fun and sex” reduces the value of our human sexuality, because it uses it as an exchange of products: we exchange our bodies for pleasure. This type of behavior reduces human dignity to a more animal way of acting. This is not the purpose of our sexuality, which is there to express our capacity of love and self-giving. 
And finally I wanted to note how by living out abstinence you are loving your future spouse, even if you haven’t met him or her yet, because you’re saving not only your body, which is an expression of yourself, but all that defines you as a person, your unique self being. Once you give yourself to that one special person, the fulfillment will be far greater than expected because it will not only be an act of pleasure but an act of complete surrender, self-giving and spiritual bonding. 
So when asked that question again, we could say, “No, I will not sleep with you, as my sexuality is not there to give, just out of mutual understanding, affection or desire. But to preserve for one person who is going to acknowledge it for its final purpose, the surrender and the total self-giving out of love and for love.” This type of surrender reaches its meaning within a profound commitment such as marriage.

“Cootie Contagion” and choosing marriage

culture, MARRI, marriage, social institutions No comments

MARRI Interns

Nostalgia for the middle school years gone by rarely rushes into the mind unaccompanied by a twinge of regret birthed by memory of our regrettable social ineptitude.  Awkwardness abounded at school social events, when the hermetically isolated genders were thrust together onto the middle school dance floor.  Those are days to which few would happily return.  Yet recent polling of young singles in Americasuggests that many in their 20s have not yet overcome their fear of the “cootie contagion,” and are therefore worried about commitment to marriage and relationships.
USA Today reports that in a poll of 5,541 adults who are either never married, or widowed, divorced, or separated, only 34.5% of the respondents answered affirmatively when asked “Do you want to get married?”  27% answered no, and 38.6% were uncertain whether they wanted to enter into a marital commitment. 
These findings illustrate broader trends, as Americans tend to view marriage as a nonessential social institution, and consequently neither desire nor pursue it for themselves.  Instead, sexual activity is increasingly detached from marital fidelity, as 55% of respondents report having a one-night stand, and 56% of respondents report having suffered infidelity.
But apart from these issues of sexual exclusivity, marriage confers numerous salutary benefits upon those who choose to engage in it.  Indeed, these benefits are some of the most unassailable and verified findings in all of social science.  Drawing on an abundance of social science research, the Marriage and Religion Research Institute has compiled some of these benefits into the convenient 162 Reasons to Marry in order to educate the public about the desirability of marriage.  If the polls cited above confirm that marriage is on the decline among young Americans, the social science data from numerous sources confirms that those who flee from marriage forfeit its numerous benefits and do themselves a disservice.  If we would avoid this preventable development, it is worthwhile to reevaluate our analysis of the marital bond.  In short, marriage deserves another look.  

Gallup on Well-Being and Religion

culture, MARRI, religion, social institutions No comments
MARRI Interns
The incisive social critic H.L. Menken famously described Puritanism as “the haunting fearthat someone, somewhere, may be happy.”  In the eyes of a not insubstantial portion of the population, this sentiment has been mass-produced and broadbrushed across the entire landscape of religion.  Surely it is by now axiomatic that religious people are little more than repressed, uptight, morose discontents with personal vendettas to search out and destroy any wayward vestiges of amusement that might be illicitly had. 
But, as is often the case, a large body of research suggests otherwise.  A February 16, 2012, headline by the Gallup organization declares “Religious Americans Enjoy Higher Wellbeing.”  Gallup drew upon a massive sample of 676,000 interviews conducted over the course of two years to declare decisively that “the statistically significant relationship between religiousness and wellbeing holds up after controlling for numerous demographic variables.”  In six out of seven categories, including Life Evaluation Index, Emotional Health Index, Healthy Behaviors Index, Work Environment Index, and the Basic Access Index, very religious Americans score higher than nonreligious or moderately religious Americans (the exceptional category is the Physical Health Index). 
This research confirms earlier research conducted by MARRI, including studies detailing the Benefits of Religious Attendance and Religious Practice and Educational Attainment.  These and other studies demonstrate that the side effects of religious practice are unequivocally desirable and beneficial both to the wellbeing of the individual and the strength of the society.  Given this social science data, it would seem that the wit of Menken and the general suspicion against religion that his comments represent might be in need of revisitation and revision. Despite these popular misconceptions, the data demonstrate that religious people are undeniably, but perhaps not inexplicably, happy.

Knight in shining armor – a dying dream?

commitment, culture, fathers, feminism, MARRI, marriage, women No comments
Obed Bazikian, Intern
International Women’s Day on March 8 began as women stood up for their freedom against various oppressions. Yet, while many women stand up against oppression, certain aspirations in our culture are increasingly suppressed, including the longing for lasting commitment. Jim Anderson, in his book “Unmasked: Exposing the Cultural Sexual Assault,” goes into painful explanation of how so many women have, in search for commitment, given up what is most precious to them. Anderson says that women have subconsciously accepted that their worth is found in what they can offer a man, namely their sexuality. Many will sacrifice their body again and again thinking perhaps tonight, this man will be different. But with each hookup and breakup, the faint hope in their hearts for commitment fades.

Western culture has trained women to set their standards and expectations so low to accommodate an increasing population of men who have few to no standards at all. A recent article in the NY Times interviewed a 21-year-old single mom, Ms. Kidd, who had experienced her father abandoning her family at age 13 for her mom’s friend. Even though she expressed love for her child’s father, she could “not imagine marrying” him because she said, “I don’t want to wind up like my mom.” Acts like that of Ms. Kidd’s father are also teaching the current generation that commitment and marriage is not only a thing of the past, but instills belief and a fear to even think of entering it.

The question must be asked: How do we shift this culture around to value women and commitment? Research shows the value of marriage and commitment. Our society must pay attention to the empirical truths about marriage. A recent paper by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, “162 Reasons to Marry,“ finds that “women raised in stable married families are more likely to marry,” and goes on to list 162 benefits to marriage, for both the couple and the children. Our culture lacks commitment, but an alternative exists. Paying attention to the research shows the strength of the family, and can help women see that a desire for commitment is not dead.

 

Class Structure and Trends in American Marriage

culture, family, human capital, MARRI, marriage No comments
MARRI Interns
Charles Murray has written a new book detailing some of the most unnerving yet under-reported demographic trends shaping Americatoday.  Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 is his analysis of the contemporary American class structure which he argues is marked by a novel divergence of certain behaviors, including marital structure and religious activity.  The emphasis of his book is that these trends are novel because the highest and lowest classes in America“diverge on core behaviors and values” and consequently can “barely recognize their underlying American kinship.”

Murray’s longitudinal analysis of American culture from 1960-2010 identifies the cementation of the new lower classes around fundamental shifts in behavior in the areas of industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity.  If it is true “the feasibility of the American project has historically been based on industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity” and that these “founding virtues,” to use Murray’s phrase, have fallen into disfavor, these trends bear ill for the health of the society and the probability of success of the American project.

While I would not be the first to observe that Murray’s usage of data is idiosyncratic, it does highlight well-documented trends in the decline of marriage and simultaneous rise of divorce while adding the interesting gloss that these trends are now a signally defining rift between the lower class and the upper class.  Since, as our research shows and as Murrayrightly notes, “family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married,” the generational effect is compounded, further widening the rift between these classes.

Of foremost importance is the issue of marriage: “I have chosen to present class divergence in marriage first because it is so elemental.  Over the last half century, marriage has become the fault line dividing American classes.”  While the notion that articulating afresh and reinvigorating monogamous, heterosexual, lifelong marriage—that form of marriage that study after study demonstrates is most stable and most beneficial to the child—and committed religious affiliation and practice would be a panacea for the multifarious ills which afflict modern society is unacceptably reductionist, it is likewise facile to overlook the critical position occupied by both marriage and religion in exercising a causal link to the health and success of society as a whole.  While honesty itself is a relatively nebulous, intangible, unquantifiable measure in the social sciences, industriousness is explicitly quantifiable.  The wealth of research that is often cited on this blog demonstrates the correlation between industriousness and marriage; economic productivity increases as marriage increases, and men who never marry (or who have unstable relational lives) do not experience the same economic benefits as married persons enjoy.  Thus, we find that three out of Murray’s four barometers (the fourth, honesty, being difficult to quantify.  Murray himself equates it with adherence to the law) of societal health are inextricably bound together.

The analysis provided by Coming Apart adds another tome to the ever-expanding library of studies documenting the fact that marriage and religion are critical to the flourishing of society in general and of Americain particular.  The Marriage and Religion Research Institute is at the forefront of documenting these longitudinal shifts in American society through our Family Trends annual update that summarizes the findings of a number of peer-reviewed, academic journals. For those interested in longitudinal studies of American society, reading Murray’s analysis alongside MARRI’s trendline data will undoubtedly elucidate some of the unexpected yet undeniably significant demographic trends shaping modern America

Importance of Being Married and Religious Attendance

Christianity, culture, MARRI, marriage, religion No comments

By MARRI Interns

A recent Mississippi State University (MSU) study was conducted to find possible reasons for marital longevity, particularly among African American couples. Keri Collins Lewis reports on the researchdone by MSU professors Tommy M. Phillips, assistant professor in MSU’s School of Human Sciences, and Joe D. Wilmoth, associate professor in the School of Human Ecology at Louisiana State University, who focused on long standing married couples in historically black churches in Mississippi. Overall, African-American couples believed that their marital success is attributed to faith, with specific denotation to help from God more than any other category.
 
The self-assessed questionnaire used in the study contained open-ended questions and forced-choice questions, the first of which asked both spouses together for the top reason their marriage endured. The results were “God/Jesus” first (51%), then love (31%), and good communication (23%) third. God, or Jesus, is recognized by more than half of those studied as the enduring factor in marriage. In a society that is becoming increasingly secular, this is not to be taken lightly. Later questions asked individually further explain this point. Spouses were asked separately whether faith was important to their marital longevity, upon which 93 and 94 percent of husbands and wives respectively agreed “faith was a very important factor.” Regarding prayer, 88 and 97 percent of husbands and wives respectively pray one or more times per day. And church attendance: 91 and 99 percent attend once or more per week.
 
Marriage and Religion Research Institute has published research from the General Social Survey which shows marriage is highly valued among many who practice their faith. In the Mapping America series number 82, The Personal Importance of Being Married by Religious Attendance, it states, “Adults who attend religious services at least weekly are more likely to report that being married is personally very important to them than those who worship less frequently.” The data used in the paper is collected from the General Social Survey (1972-2006), and concluded that 60.5 percent of adults who attend religious services more than once a week view marriage as very important. The people who take marriage more seriously are indeed people of faith and it is incumbent upon those who practice faith to see marriage succeed, both personally and in others.
There are two possible arguments against the veracity of this study. One is that this finding is representative of only 71 couples. However, while this study is small, it is valuable because of its focus. Dr. Phillips’s study states most previous studies on black couples have been “problem-oriented” with little exploration of marital longevity. A second critique may by that the research targeted black churches instead of the black population as a whole. Critics might therefore see this study as biased and discredit the results. However, as Lewis uncovers from Dr. Wilmoth, this method was with good reason: “‘When we looked for ways to find African-American couples with long-standing marriages, we discovered the most reasonable way to contact them was through their churches,’ Wilmoth said. ‘We believe our sample is reasonably representative because almost 90 percent of African Americans identify themselves with a church, and those who are married are even more likely to attend.’” Since a majority of married black couples attend church, it is logical and practical to focus on finding couples in the church, and to consider the results of this study informative as to reasons for marital longevity.

Self and the Single Parent: On Jessica Olien, Part II

child well-being, culture, family, Jessica Olien, marriage, religion, single parents No comments
By Julia Polese, Intern
 
The notion of singleness has been a hot topic lately. Articles discussing single motherhood, living alone, and remaining unmarried by choice reflect trending individualism in American culture. Jessica Olien’s article “I Want to Be My Kid’s Only Parent” sums up the surging solipsism well: “I can’t help but think that having a partner there with an equal stake in the matter would complicate the process.” Her dispassionate ode to single parenthood echoes Kate Bolick’s sentiments in “All the Single Ladies” from The Atlanticearlier this year, in which she discussed “the elevation of independence over coupling.” The individualism Alexis de Tocqueville prophesied as one of the most undesirable discontents of democracy in America is becoming manifest in not only in our local communities, but also in our families.
 
Andrew Delbanco, professor of American Studies at Columbia University, gave a series of lectures in 1998 entitled The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope. In these lectures, he discussed the American people’s diminution of hope: from worship of their God, to loyalty to a notion of the sacred nation-state, and, in the last fifty years, “to the vanishing point of self alone.” Despite this shrinking world, Delbanco claims contemporary culture is still haunted by an “unslacked craving for transcendence.” Even in the glorification of singleness and the “self alone,” the authors of these articles still betray a longing for devotion to something outside themselves. Olien ends her article by exalting her hypothetical progeny, saying she “could have men on the periphery, but [she] would place [her] child securely in the center.” Bolick extols the virtue of the community at Begijnhof, an apartment complex only for single women in the Netherlands. Both are enamored with their self-sufficiency, but betray a desire to devote themselves to something other.
 
MARRI’s 162 Reasons to Marry outlines some of the ways marriage can aid in answering this longing. Married women experience less psychological stress and enjoy more social support than their single or cohabiting peers, and their children report higher quality of life. These aspects of the intact married family present a way to ease the democratic citizen’s restlessness, connecting her to something transcendent and larger than herself when rightly ordered in relation to God and country. With this in mind, the home again becomes a “haven in a heartless world” and not a prison that only works to constrain one’s self-defined existence.

To Rebuild Society, We Should Rethink our Foundation

crime, culture, family, news, Pat Fagan, social institutions, youth 1 comment
By Julia Polese, Intern
On February 13th, New York Times columnist David Brooks examined the current trends in sociological study that have displaced economic and cultural determinism as the primary explanation for the weakening of the American social fabric. He explains that regardless of the origin of social disorganization – job loss, government growth, or abandonment of traditional norms – it continues through the generations. Disruption causes more disruption and weakening social fabric within certain communities can be tied not primarily to sweeping moral decay or the recession, but to sociological factors on as small a scale as a child’s attachment to his parents. “It’s not enough just to have economic growth policies,” he writes. “The country also needs to rebuild orderly communities.”
 
This trend points to a third route between the extremes of building the Great Society and subsidizing atomization. Sociological studies in the past several decades regarding crime and reasons for delinquent behavior have largely drawn from Social Control Theory, outlined by Travis Hirschi in 1969. In his seminal work, Causes of Delinquency, Hirschi broke with the preceding scholarly consensus by claiming that both delinquents and those who have not committed crimes share the same disposition to delinquency, but what differentiates them are their social bonds and relation to conventional society that constrain their baser passions. The sociologist named attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief as four essential aspects of a person’s development. Deficiency in one or more of these values can weaken one’s social bonds and, as many subsequent studies drawing from Hirschi’s theory have shown, lead to delinquent behavior. The key to social disruption is breakdown in relationships.
Brooks writes that in order to “rebuild orderly communities,” orderly people need to be cultivated. While the columnist proposes sometimes using the government to build “organizations and structures that induce people to behave responsibly,” these structures do not have to be created by tax codes and mandates to provide individual incentives to behave. Rather, the family structure can provide such an incubator for responsible citizenship. As the fundamental “orderly community” and basis of civil society, the family shapes a child’s belief in the norms around him, his attachment to others, and involvement in and commitment to the community.
 
“Social repair requires sociological thinking,” says Brooks, and the sociological data consistently has revealed the significant role the intact family can have in reweaving the disintegrating social fabric. However, sociological thinking must be done within the correct paradigm. Patrick Fagan, director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, states that “Sociology done well cannot but reflect the way God made man.” A correct anthropology in light of our state as fallen creatures must inform attempts at “social repair.” Sociology is reflective, but cannot be fundamentally reparative. Repair begins with grace from outside us that constrains our passions and reorders our will to what is good. The family is one means of such grace, and the data cannot help but reflect the goodness of this first structure.

The Dismissal of the Stay-at-Home Parent

Alexis de Tocqueville, culture, family, marriage, mothers, news No comments
By MARRI Interns
A piece by Molly Worthen for Slate on Michelle Bachmann raised the question whether the GOP could become the party of the working mother. According to the article,

Bachmann’s story is not a pitch for a return to a postwar arcadia of fixed gender roles in little boxes made of ticky-tacky. Instead, she casts herself as an icon of American working womanhood, a “career woman” whose calling and identity are not clouded by the “faddish fog of ‘feminism,’” but are instead the result of real-life experience, Midwestern pragmatism, and Christian faith. Secular feminists have long dismissed the women of the Christian right as a mob of Hillary-hating homemakers. What they haven’t noticed is that, for the past few decades, American conservatives have been building the case that the GOP is no longer the party of Betty Draper—it’s the party of the working mom.

The recognition and understanding of the importance of family over individual wants and needs is sorely missing in our society. Throughout his profound book, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville discussed the importance of religion and family. Tocqueville praised the Christianity of the American settlers and colonists, because their faith was so highly conducive to democratic and republic principles and ideals.[1]
While there is no problem with the GOP being the party of the working mom, there tends to be a disregard and even eschewing of mothers and even fathers who stay at home, as made evident in this article. Throughout western society, specifically American society, mass media has continuously attacked and looked down upon parents who stay home to care for their family. The role of the stay-at-home parent has become viewed as unnecessary in the social zeitgeist of modernity.
Society ought to adjust its perception of the stay-at-home parent. The role of the stay-at-home mother or father is arguably more important than that of the spouse who enters the workforce, because the parent who stays at home maintains the household and raises the children. This is why Tocqueville went as far as to say that “it is the woman who makes the mores.”[2] In Tocqueville’s mind, mores were perhaps the greatest component to maintaining the greatness of American democracy, because he believed them to be the “whole moral and intellectual state of a people.”[3] Without someone to instill virtue and habits into children at home, the family resigns this authority to the state or some other institution or secular influence. Therefore, while entering the workforce should not be discouraged, the value and significance of taking time to ensure one’s children are on the right path should not be disdained or looked down upon as something old-fashioned or insignificant.
[1] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 275
[2] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 279
[3] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 275