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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.

Politics and Science

abortion, abstinence, contraception, mothers, news, reproductive technology, women's health No comments

By Pat Fagan, Ph.D., Director of MARRI

NBC News and many others have lauded the results of the Peipert program evaluation of the effects of LARCs (long term reversible contraceptives), namely IUDs and implant contraceptives, which they claim have (unsurprising) effects in lowering abortions.  However, there is much to dispute about the study.   Its method is almost non-existent though a lot of words are used to describe it.  This means their results may be a massive underestimation of the effects or even a massive overestimation of the effects.  We just don’t know;  the “method” is totally unreliable.  It is analogous to going into a library to find out the level of reading in the local population, or to giving a book to those you find at a library to figure out the effect of reading on such people!  In this case they go to a group of women desirous of reversible control methods.  To make matters worse: they have no comparison control group. They do not line up treatment and control (absolutely fundamental to this type of study), but they insinuate comparisons. The project team went through all sorts of contortions to estimate the effects, but they avoided the obvious simple, fundamental step of having a control group.  This is political correctness trumping good scholarship (a dangerous trend in the social sciences that will eventually come back to haunt academia).
Though I am opposed to their way of thinking and acting (more anon), I would have expected LARCs to have had much better results than they did.  There is still way too high a rate of abortion from a method one would expect to virtually totally eliminate it. This much-lauded method does not come close.     
 
Other big concerns I have about this approach to avoiding abortions is the effect of this form of behavior on the long-term marital, family, parenting, and sexual habits of the women involved.  My prediction is that young women who use these methods (who would not feel sexually liberated with totally effective birth control methods) will have many more sexual partners, behavior that itself increases the likelihood of procuring an abortion.  The program will also have high STD effects, likely have very significant effects on future marital stability, and in turn have significantly weakening effects on these women’s future children’s life outcomes.  That STD rate effects would be tracked and measured is something one would expect to be second nature for OBGYNs to report upon.  Maybe there is a second study coming (but that would be useless too, given no control group.)
So: failing grades on method and on narrowness of their view of effectiveness.  And failing grades also are given to the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology for rushing shoddy work to press in order to influence the Presidential campaigns.  That is really sad.  It definitely is not good science, nor good politics either, though we would expect medical science to stay above the political fray.  All in all, it is a sad day for medicine and science. 

For an in-depth analysis of the study, see Dr. Michael New’spiece.

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.

No One Can Have It All: Reevaluating career priorities for the health of the family

family, fathers, MARRI, marriage, mothers No comments

Betsy Huff, Intern
The recent cover story of Atlantic Monthly “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”by  Anne-Marie Slaughter, a tenured professor at Princeton who also spent two years as director of Policy Planning  at the State Department, is only the latest fuel to the fiery discussion concerning women juggling the demands of a high-powered career and family. With this article comes praise and criticism from all sides.  Some reproach the author’s laments because of her highly privileged background, which allowed her the “luxury” of stepping down from a fast-paced political career in D.C. to a distinguished academic career at Princeton. If only most women were so fortunate.  As Rick Newman comments, “Unrealistic expectations, in fact, are often the core problem that working Moms face when trying to juggle the demands of office and home. Some working Moms have no choice but to try to do everything, because there’s no husband or not enough money. But others do it because they choose to.” 
Newman is certainly right about the debate being about unrealistic expectations, but not just of women. Both men and women need to reevaluate their priorities when it comes to balancing career ambitions with the health and needs of a family.  A family in which either parent is basically absent from a child’s life due to an 80 + hour work week is detrimental to a child’s well-being. Absent fathers are just as damaging as absent mothers. In the Marriage and Religion Research Institute’s publication “162 Reasons to Marry,” an abundance of social science research is referenced supporting the idea that an intact family is best for a child’s social, mental, physical, and educational well-being. 
No one can have it all, no matter who we are, or what our family looks like. It’s time the debate is shifted from mom and dad fighting over who gets to work and who has to stay home, to what is most beneficial to children and in turn beneficial to society as a whole.   Suzanne Venker hits the nail on the head when it comes to advocating for the health of the family in a commentary on her website, centering the debate back to where it belongs- the well-being of the children. She says, “The children — and whether or not we value them. Our actions, our choices, are the only way to prove what we value. The rest is just talk…That’s why two parents are so critical for childrearing. This is a perennial that we as a nation cannot seem to face…Children’s needs conflict with adult desires. Period…The ability to sacrifice one’s own desires for the needs of others is crucial to building healthy relationships. There are no shortcuts.”
Venker concludes and I agree, “Until Americans start reevaluating their priorities, we will never be successful in raising strong families.”

Twenty-Something Ladies: “It’s Okay” to Think Family!

child well-being, family, feminism, marriage, mothers, Phyllis Schlafly, women's health No comments
By MaryAnn McCabe, Intern
Planning for marriage and motherhood is not a societal norm for twenty-something ladies, nor is fatherhood in the immediate plans of most men. But this generation of young women needs to hear that it is more than okay to think about not only career, but their family. Our culture today attacks traditional femininity, but research supports support the benefits of marriage and motherhood, so why not consider that option while you are career planning? According to studies published here at the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, there are many reasons to be married. Married couples find their sexual relationship more satisfying than cohabiters do. Married women are healthier than never-married, divorced, and separated women. Children in intact married families enjoy more emotional and behavioral well-being than children in cohabiting or single-mother families. Staying married results in men and women looking younger. Those raised in an intact family are likely to consider themselves “very” happy” than those raised in non-intact families. The positive outcomes from choosing marriage and motherhood are astounding.
Hopefully, most young adults are thinking about their future. In order to have a stable and secure home, one must build a solid foundation. Tenacious and driven women may have thought of graduate school, law school, medical school, and/or possibly owning a business. As you start to lay the foundation you may start to think, “By the time I am done with law school I will be twenty-six.” Then a second thought may possibly pop up: “It will take a good couple of years of late nights toiling at a law firm as an entry-level associate in order to become a mid-level or higher associate. Making partner can take up to nine years. I’ll be roughly thirty-five before I can even consider a spouse or child.”
Another consideration a woman must make is the staggering amount of debt she will possess. A law degree or a medical degree costs as much a house. In essence, it is a mortgage before having an actual mortgage. According to the National Student Loan Surveys, “fields of study with the highest levels of borrowing include law students, who are 4% of the NASLS population, but 17% of the borrowers with debt greater than $30,000; medical students are 15% of the survey, but 26% percent of those with debt over $30,000.  A total of 74% of borrowers with debt above $30,000 went to graduate/professional school.” Those with professional education feel most burdened, and women perceived their debt to be a bigger problem than men do. More than 80% of bankruptcy attorneys surveyed by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys reported a “major” jump in student loan borrowers seeking help. These are the issues that can cause women to put off marriage. Education is by no means a bad thing, but it’s important to note its cost, both in dollars and in time.
In The Flipside of Feminism, Phyllis Schlafly and Suzanne Venker share their stories, telling young women today that “it’s ok” to factor family into future plans — you should! Schlafly and Venker shed some light onto the fact that it is hard to juggle it all, but we have one life to live, so how do you want to live it?

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

National Adoption Month and the President’s Proclamation

adoption, children, family, fathers, MARRI, marriage, mothers, same-sex parenting No comments

By Anna Dorminey, Staff

President Obama has issued an order proclaiming November 2011 as National Adoption Month in which he mentioned LGBT families: “Adoptive families come in all forms,” the order says. “With so many children waiting for loving homes, it is important to ensure that all qualified caregivers are given the opportunity to serve as adoptive parents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or marital status.”

National Adoption Month is something we at MARRI celebrate with the rest of the country. We believe that the choice to raise a child not biologically one’s own is a heroic decision, and we honor adoptive parents, and biological mothers and fathers who give their children for adoption, in their efforts to give children a second chance. See our research synthesis paper, Adoption Works Well, for a review of the literature on the benefits of adoption for children, biological parents, and adoptive parents alike.

That said, not all family structures are equally effective at raising children. As shown again and again by Mapping America, as well as Marriage, Family Structure, and Children’s Educational Attainment and our research synthesis paper Marriage and Economic Well-Being, intact married families, with a mother and a father, that worship weekly produce the best results for their children—educationally, financially, religiously, and otherwise.

What do you think? Do you think family structure itself is part of what makes a potential adoptive parent a “qualified caregiver”? Let us know what you think in the comments section!