In a Bloomberg editorial published Sunday regarding No Child Left Behind, the editorial board criticized Congress, the Department of Education, and the Obama Administration for failing to bring NCLB’s requirements up to date (or failing to provide direction on how to do so). The President has issued waivers to states discharging them from NCLB’s requirement that they meet a 100 percent reading and math proficiency standard; the DOE explains that states will, instead, make their own standards.
The writers of the editorial go on to write about the need for a universal benchmark and effective accountability measures and about the benefit of incentives, a discussion of whose merits all belong in another blog. The point is that all of these measures and plans address student academic achievement from far too shallow an angle. The education establishment is trying to make sure students pass while disregarding the fact that their families are failing.
All of the best incentives and goals in the world can only work so effectively if American students are not enjoying the stability and care at home that they deserve. As we illustrate in one of our most recent productions, Marriage, Family Structure, and Children’s Educational Attainment, the intact family provides students with the environment they need to achieve. Students from intact families achieve more in terms of purely academic measures and in terms of school participation and behavior.
Our latest Mapping America production, Mapping America 108: CAT-ASVAB Math/VerbalPercentile Scores, underscores the importance of family structure. The ASVAB,or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, is an examination that determines whether or not an individual is qualified to enlist in the U.S. armed forces or to serve it in various capacities. Our research shows that those from intact, married families earn higher scores than those in all other family structures. Additionally, those who attend church at least weekly do better than those who attend at least monthly, less than monthly, or never. Those who both come from an intact family and attend church at least weekly do the best.
The Bloomberg article closes with a list of questions: “Why do test results often vary widely within individual schools? Why do many minority students fare poorly even at high-achieving suburban schools?” The answers lie at home. (For more on the strength of the family among minorities, see the 2010 U.S. Index of Belonging and Rejection.) If the family fails, a student’s chances of passing drop.
If you recall from my blog post on the romantic comedy “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” the characters’ number of past sexual partners doesn’t figure largely in the overall plot of the story. I was surprised, however, to read a few days ago about a film whose storyline is entirely based around the issue.
Meet Ally Darling, the fictitious star of “What’s Your Number?”. Ms. Darling is, as the tagline says, “looking for the best ex of her life.” The film’s trailer shows her out with a group of girlfriends when one announces that 96 percent of American women who have had twenty or more sexual partners will be unable to marry. We’ll flash back here to data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (which we also cited in the blog post mentioned above).
The data is pretty telling: Only 18-20 percent of women with Ally’s sexual history are able to marry stably. The problem is, the film won’t show this. Perhaps her wedding is shown at the end of the flick in a happy montage of photos, as in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” but what happens after the credits are done rolling and the catchy music is off?
Even worse than the apparent trend of portraying fantasy in movies as reality is the fact that many women apparently still don’t believe that sexual history or chastity matter at all when it comes to future happiness. I actually first heard about “What’s Your Number?” from the blog Feministing. According to the author of the post that covered the movie,
“[T]he bottom line is if women are upset about how many people they have had sex with, it is either because the sex has been terrible or because of external social pressure and faux-moral judgement [sic]. Despite what the anti-sex set may believe, how much sex you have today, does not impact your ability to be in a successful relationship later” [emphasis added].
What do you think? In light of the data above, what can we do to share the importance of preserving intimacy for marriage?
Last week, the College Board reported that 57 percent of the college-bound class of 2011 did not meet the SAT’s College and Career Readiness Benchmark. The low proportion of students meeting this threshold, which is designed to indicate “the level of academic preparedness associated with a high likelihood of college success and completion,” comes as no surprise to those who understand where academic capacity really grows: the intact family.
When comparing the academic performance of children reared in intact families to those in non-intact families, it becomes inescapably clear that those raised in intact families do better. Our latest MARRI project, “Marriage, Family Structure, and Children’s Educational Attainment,” demonstrates this on the basis of differences in both raw student achievement (e.g. test scores, GPA) and in student behavior (e.g. attendance, engagement, suspension from school).
“Marriage, Family Structure, and Children’s Educational Attainment” also shows that different family structures generate different environments at home. For example, parents in intact families tend to have higher expectations for their children and to be more involved in their children’s education. They also tend to worship more and to have higher incomes, both of which facilitate strong academic outcomes.
Those who analyze the SATand the performance of students who take it will likely produce a variety of solutions to improve academic achievement in the U.S.These solutions may have merit, but the best way to ensure student success is to strengthen the family.
There are many factors that influence an individual’s views on life and family, particularly the sense of duty that men have when it comes to children. One study has found that men who father a child out of wedlock have varying responses to that child, based on their own family of origin. If the father grew up in a family that was on welfare, he is less likely to marry the baby’s mother.1 However, if he came from a family that did not need to receive welfare, he is more likely to marry her. Additionally, marriage makes a difference in deciding whether or not to keep a child, and presumably affects the amount of responsibility men are willing to accept. Married couples are much less likely to seek an abortion compared to other relationships. A Guttmacher survey found that cohabiting women accounted for 20.2% of women having an abortion (but make up only 5.8 of women of reproductive age). In contrast, married women only accounted for 18.4% of all induced abortions (but make up 49.9% of reproductive aged women).2
Region is also a predictor of a man’s response to life. The Intergenerational Panel Study of Parents and Children found that 18-year-olds who said that religion was important in their lives were less supportive of abortion, as well as premarital sex, than their peers who said religion was less important to them.3
MARRI’s series “Mapping America” looks at the effects of marriage and religion on various sociological outcomes, including the likelihood of fathers encouraging an abortion. __________________ 1 Madeline Zavodny, “Do Men’s Characteristics Affect Whether a Nonmarital Pregnancy Results in Marriage?” Journal of Marriage and the Family 61 (August 1999): 764-773. 2 S.K. Henshaw and K Kost, “Abortion Patients in 1994-1995: Characteristics and Contraceptive Use,” Family Planning Perspectives 28 (1996): 140. 3 L.D. Pearce and A. Thornton, “Religious Identity and Family Ideologies in the Transition to Adulthood,” Journal of Marriage and Family 69 (2007): 1227-1243.
A recent Wall Street Journal article highlights the plight that many—if not most–young black women face: the literal dearth of potential marriage partners. Ralph Richard Banks, himself a black man and law professor at Stanford University, spent time traveling the country, interviewing black women to hear their story and why black women have fewer marriage options. He ultimately concluded that there is a lack of competent and suitable black men to go with the numbers of educated and successful black women.
The two main problems with black men, Banks concludes, are incarceration and lack of education. Of the more than two million incarcerated men in the U.S., 40% of them are African-American, with more than 10% of this number made up of black men in their 20s and 30s.
Educationally (and, in turn, economically), black men also fall behind black women. According to Banks, by the time graduation rolls around, black women outnumber men 2 to 1. And for graduate school in 2008, there were 125,000 African-American women enrolled—compared to 58,000 men.
That there are too few black men who are the social equals of black women answers the “why” of the marriage situation. But there is a further, deeper reason behind why there are too few marriageable black men. This answer goes into the families of the black men themselves.
According to the General Social Survey, youths from always-married families are only 10% likely to be picked up or charged by the police, compared with 17% of youths from non-married families. Children from always-married families are only 13% likely to steal something, compared with 22% that only live with one parent, and 18.8% who live with never-married parents. Similarly, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, children who live with two married parents are 7.7% likely to shoplift, compared to 12% of children who live with only one parent.
Children from always-married families do better in school, as well, with a combined math and English GPA of 2.9, compared to 2.5 GPA of children from never-married families.
If children from married, two-parent families are less likely to commit crime, and more likely to have better educational outcomes, it is no wonder that the black family is falling behind. Only 17.4% of black children grew up in married, two-parent homes (compared with the national average of 45.4%; for comparison, 62% of Asians grow up in married, two-parent families). Statistically, these 17% of black children are the ones who will have the best life outcomes, but it is no wonder that there are so many black women looking for husbands. While the article suggests interracial marriage as a temporary solution for black women, if things are going to turn around for the long haul, the simple recipe is parents who keep their promises to one another.
When it comes to relationships, at times it’s difficult to determine whose advice to take to heart and whose to ignore. While I don’t consider myself an authority on the subject, I don’t think I’ll meet much resistance when I say that romantic comedies are not a fount of realistic or wise counsel.
Case in point: “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” The film was a major hit when it premiered in 1994; it was the highest-grossing British film to that point and received warm praise from critics. The story is set in Englandand follows a set of seven or eight single friends as they attend weddings and funerals. Among them is charmingly awkward and bumbling Charles, played by Hugh Grant.
At the first wedding, Charles meets a beautiful American woman named Carrie, played by Andie McDowell. The pair spend the night together, after which she returns home to America. They are intimate a few other times, even after she becomes engaged to another man. I’ll spare you a full plot synopsis, but when the two get around to discussing their sexual history, Charles reveals that he has had relations with several women. This, however, is nothing to Carrie’s admitted 33 sexual conquests.
The film ends on Charles’s wedding day. Carrie is in attendance and we find she is already separated from her husband. Charles abandons his bride at the altar and asks Carrie, “Do you think…you might agree not to marry me? And do you think not being married to me might maybe be something you could consider doing for the rest of your life?” Carrie responds, “I do.” The film ends in a montage of happy photos, including a shot of Charles, Carrie, and a baby boy.
What the plot of “Four Weddings” implies is that it’s possible to have dozens of sexual liaisons without slowly destroying your ability to have a healthy relationship. Carrie is physically intimate with 33 men over the course of her lifetime (as far as we can tell), but this isn’t portrayed as detrimental to her ability to settle down with the right man.
Unfortunately, reality is grimmer than the movies. The charts at this link—based on a large data sample in the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth—depict a woman’s likelihood to be in a stable marriage five years to ten years after her wedding day. Though Carrie and Charles do not actually marry, the lesson is clear: one’s statistical likelihood of enjoying a stable relationship without committing to sexual purity is hardly as rosy as “Four Weddings” represents it.
The second falsehood is the film’s assertion that cohabitation is the functional equivalent of marriage. If one’s odds of marital stability after a lifetime of promiscuity are bleak, consider that cohabiting relationships last around one year in the United States—even in France, Britain’s neighbor, the average cohabitation lasts only four years.Lastly, Carrie and Charles have a baby. If unmarried cohabitation is not the lifetime of personally defined bliss that they expect it will be, she will likely end up a single mother. This family structure brings with it all sorts of difficulties, but the long and short of them is that children raised in single-mother homes have to grapple with obstacles that children born into intact, married families struggle with less.
What do you think? Do you think Carrie and Charles really live happily ever after, or do they fall in line with the trends above once the cameras quit rolling?
 Patrick Heuveline and Jeffrey Timberlake, “The Role of Cohabitation in Family Formation: The United States in Comparative Perspective,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 66, no. 5 (2004): 1223.
We all like to believe that, as unique individuals, we’re masters of our own destiny and originals in our own right. We may still cling to this privilege in the U.S., but Austrians have officially lost the dispensation, at least with regard to their likelihood to marry and bear children.
Caroline Berghammer of the Vienna Institute of Demography, through analysis of the 2008-2009 Austrian Generations and Gender Survey, charted family life paths and individual likelihood of choosing them, based on personal religiosity, family size growing up, and other factors. (Because Austria’s religious population is mostly Catholic, Berghammer only includes Catholics in her “religious” category.)
This chart lays out the most common “family life paths” in Austria, among the men and women included in the study who were between the ages of 40 and 45. The numbers represent how many children a person has, and the colors indicate a person’s relationship status.
Relaxing a little the age rigidity of these life-paths, she found that the largest proportion of the Austrian population (19.1%) chooses never to have children and to live in one cohabiting relationship after another (she calls this “sequential cohabitation”). The smallest proportion (6%) chooses traditional parenthood—direct marriage, no cohabitation—with three or more children.
Berghammer found that those who attend Mass monthly or weekly are more likely to marry directly, without cohabiting, and to have at least two children. She also found that a person’s odds of cohabiting sequentially (versus his likelihood to follow the most common life path—cohabiting, eventually marrying and having two kids along the way) are halved if they attend religious services.
Those who don’t claim any religion are 87% more likely than Roman Catholics to have children outside of marriage. Additionally, for every sibling a person has, he or she is 29% more likely to choose traditional parenthood and to have three or more children rather than the aforementioned “most common life path.”
Notably, people who consider themselves religious but don’t regularly attend church don’t seem to differ much from those who don’t consider themselves religious.
Figures and chart: Caroline Berghammer, “Family life trajectories and religiosity in Austria,” August 2010 draft version- later published in the European Sociological Review (2010).
The continual slowdown in America’s GDP growth is explained by the decrease in marriage and families that are focused on children. As a nation, we’re no longer concerned with investing in our future by investing in the next generation. Our newest paper (linked above) demonstrates how stable married families and national economic growth are related.
What’s more, Our Fiscal Crisis is the first in a series of papers documenting original MARRI research about the development of skills, competencies, and know-how [human capital] across generations, and the family’s role in forming that human capital. In these papers, we’ll show how important human capital is to our modern, knowledge-driven economy and how indispensable the stable, married family is to economic prosperity. Be on the lookout for the rest of the series (to be released soon)!
Edward Glaeser in More Americans Need to Work, and to Marry (Bloomberg) writes, “America’s economy has long benefited from its well-functioning labor markets. Our high marriage and fertility rates boost demand for housing, and all its associated expenditures, and steady population growth makes it far easier to pay for social programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.”
Following close on his heels, Marriage and Economic Well-Being reviews the literature on the impact of marriage on income and savings. Our review of the available research shows that married families earn more income, hold more net worth, are less likely to be poor, and enjoy more child economic well-being and mobility than other family structures. For example, only 5.8 percent of married families were living in poverty in 2009, whereas an estimated 30 to 50 percent of single-mother families are impoverished.
The paper closes, “There is an intimate relationship between our income and wealth and our sexual culture. They rise or fall together, and thus, strange though it may seem, there is a significant connection between our sexual habits and our national economic strengths and weaknesses.”
Our social policies push against the intact married family. Our elites in academia and Hollywood and the White House push against the intact married family. Our ordinary grandparents knew more about how to have a good society than the White House or Congress does today.