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How many WWII war brides are still living?

Maybe a couple thousand.

European war brides arriving in New York, 1945

European war brides arriving in New York, 1945

Someone should do some new interviews with the World War II “war brides,” because there aren’t very many still living.

I count 1,195 still married and living with their husbands. That means there might be something like 2,000 living if you count widows and those who have remarried. We don’t know exactly how many there were, but various sources put the number at 60,000 or more.

Here’s how I got that current number, using the American Community Survey three-year file, 2010-2012. It’s all the couples who met the following conditions:

  • Married, spouse-present
  • She was born outside the U.S.
  • He was born in the U.S.
  • He is a WWII-era veteran
  • They were married in the years 1941-1945
  • She immigrated in or after the year of their marriage

It’s a pretty simple set of rules.

Some caveats: This doesn’t include any widows or widowers, just those still married (otherwise the ACS doesn’t have any spouse information). I didn’t set a requirement that she be born in a place where American soldiers were during the war (I don’t know all the places they were). I don’t know that all of the WWII-era veterans served outside the U.S. So some of these might not be real war brides, in the sense of women who met and married American military men outside the U.S. during a war.

Still, I think the formula works well. These are the women it turned up:

  • 84% immigrated in 1945 or 1946
  • The age range is 82-94, with a median of 85
  • About two-thirds were under age 20 when they married
  • 61% from the United Kingdom (mostly England)
  • 11% from elsewhere in Western Europe (France, Belgium, Italy)
  • 7% from Eastern Europe (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia)
  • The remaining 20% from Canada, Australia/New Zealand, Israel/Palestine, Japan, other)

If you follow my suggestion of finding and interviewing these women or their husbands, here are some other sources you might use:

 

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Obama economic adviser on marriage and the gender gap

Two parts of this interview with Obama economic adviser Betsey Stevensen stood out to me. I’m just surprised to hear such straightforward social science from someone in such a powerful position.

Betsey

This, on marriage and poverty:

What’s your reaction when you hear conservatives talk about marriage as a poverty reduction tool?

My research found that actually, if you want to increase marriage, you need to increase the minimum wage and strengthen the middle class so that people can enjoy the fruits of marriage from those more comfortable positions. I do think that conservatives don’t understand that the dynamics of marriage have changed in such a way that income supports marriage, rather than the marriage supporting having a higher income or supporting getting people out of poverty. There’s also the fact that they seem to really believe that if you push young people to marriage you can alleviate poverty, but then you see enormously high divorce rates, which actually makes things even worse because divorce is very expensive. The big differences in divorce come from, if you’re a 20-year-old high school dropout, you have [approximately] a 60% chance of divorcing within 10 years of marriage, but if you’re a 35-year-old with a college degree, you have [approximately] a 5% chance of divorcing. If what you think is that marriage is important for having a strong middle class, what you do is actually encourage people to wait before settling down.

The conservative view is, we should smush you together, then you’ll have more money, then there’ll be less tension. But actually, when you get two people making $7.25, there’s a lot of tension because you’re both still struggling. That tension leads to family conflict.

And this, on the gender wage gap:

Every time the president comes out and says, women should have equal pay for equal work, you have folks, including economists, come out and say, that’s a misleading number, that’s not for the same job, that’s year-round full-time wages, and a big part of it is women’s choices. What’s your response to that, and what’s a good way to understand these numbers?

When people come out and say that’s not a fair number, well, what really is a fair number? You brought up “women’s choices.” Well, some women’s choices come about because they’re being discriminated against. Some of women’s choices come because they experience sexism. Some of women’s choices come because they are disproportionately balancing the needs of work and family. Which of these choices should we consider legitimate choices, and which of them should we consider things that we have a societal obligation to try to mitigate, to alleviate some of these constraints so that they can make different choices? A lot of people will say things like, let’s control for occupational choices. But the research is showing us that women are choosing occupations which penalize them the least for taking time out of work.

If there was less discrimination, if there was more flexibility in work, you wouldn’t see women necessarily choosing the same occupations. So why should I take the wage gap holding occupation constant? If we change society, we reduce discrimination, we’re not going to hold occupational choice constant – women are going to choose different occupations.

I agree that the 77 cents on the dollar is not all due to discrimination. No one is trying to say that it is. But you have to point to some number in order for people to understand the facts. And what it represents is the fact that women on average are put in situations every day that for a variety of reasons mean they earn less. Much of what we need to do to close that gap is to change the constraints that women face. And there are things we haven’t tried.

I wouldn’t expect Obama to say things like this, but I’m impressed that someone in his near proximity would.

For more, follow the tags for marriage promotion and the gender inequality.

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What was I supposed to do, not report the results?

In case you haven’t been following the research on this, my understanding is that there is some evidence that women in several cultures are more likely to wear red-related colors when they are trying to look sexually attractive. We know that from the article “Women Use Red in Order to Attract Mates” in the journal Ethos. That’s all well and good, but to make it really interesting, we’d like to know that women are especially likely to do that when they are in the most fertile time in their menstrual cycle. Because, you know:

Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson from Wikimedia Commons

Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson from Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, that paper from Ethos did not find that red-wearing was associated with menstrual cycles. But, Beall and Tracy were able to find that link. Their conclusion:

Our results thus suggest that red and pink adornment in women is reliably associated with fertility and that female ovulation, long assumed to be hidden, is associated with a salient visual cue.

As Kim Weeden pointed out when I mentioned this on Twitter, Andrew Gelman used that paper as an example of how researchers have many opportunities to slice findings before settling on those that support their hypotheses.

Fortunately, Beall and Tracy set out to replicate their finding. Unfortunately, when they attempted to replicate the results, they were not successful. Fortunately, they realized it was because they were being confounded by the weather. As they have now reported, this is important because in warm weather female humans don’t need to resort to red because they can manage their attractiveness by reducing the amount of clothing they wear (and then, who cares what color it is?). Thus:

If the red-dress effect is driven by a desire to increase one’s sexual appeal, then it should emerge most reliably when peak-fertility women have few alternative options for accomplishing this goal (e.g., wearing minimal clothing). Results from re-analyses of our previously collected data and a new experiment support this account, by demonstrating that the link between fertility and red/pink dress emerges robustly in cold, but not warm, weather.

And here it is. Happy, Gelman?

journal.pone.0088852.g001

Confirmatory classroom exercise

Since I am teaching love and romance in my family course this week, I thought we should add something to the conversation. I only did one exercise, and I am reporting the full results here. Nothing hidden, no tricky recodes, no other questions on the survey, no priming of the respondents (it was at the start of the lecture).

I have 80 students in the class, which means 53 were there in time for the exercise, 29 men and 24 women. I gave them this two-part question:

shirt-question

Because red and pink are both associated with fertility (see the baboon), I combined them in the analysis (but it works if you just use red, too). And these were the results:

redpink-shirts-results

The statistical test for the difference between date and family event for women is significant at the level of p<.035. This is not research, it’s just a classroom exercise (which means no IRB, no real publication). But if it were research, it would be consistent with the women-wear-reddish-to-attract-mates theory (although without the menstrual cycle question, its contribution would be limited).

Most sociologists might not go for this kind of stuff. Maybe it’s a slippery slope that leads to unattractive conclusions about gender inequality in the “natural” order. My perspective is that I don’t care. Of course this is not really evidence that evolution determines what American (or, in the case of the Ethos paper, Slovak) students wear on dates. But it doesn’t refute the theory, either.

More importantly, I am confident that we could, if desired, through concentrated social engineering, eliminate the practice of women wearing reddish on dates if we thought it was harmful — just as we have (almost) engineered away a lot of harmful behaviors that emerged from the primordial past, such as random murder, cannibalism, and hotmail. After all, they did it in China:

chinese-red-women

Sorry, wrong picture:

chinese-women-mao-suits

For previous posts in the series, follow the color tag.

 

 

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New sociology grad student research agenda: Pros and cons

Last year I wrote some advice for students in our program, which came down to: Broaden yourself. In this follow-up I offer some advice about how to move from the statement of purpose into a graduate program, which might also help you pick a program (which many students are doing right now).

My advice will be: If you have to choose between a graduate program that specializes in the narrow field you want, versus one that you prefer for other (important) reasons, all else equal, go with the second one. For example, I’d rather have a great relationship with a faculty and change what I work on than have a crummy relationship with a faculty that focuses exactly on my topic coming in. In fact, that’s what I did do, and I’m glad I did.

To get into grad school in sociology, students write an essay about their research intentions. These are all over the map — offering both fascinating insights and maddening banalities, pure idealism and pure BS. But when it comes to what students plan to study, student mostly stick to (a) what you already care about; (b) what you already know about, and; (c) what pertains to your own life experience.

Based on my experiences with students, and evaluating maybe a thousand applications, I draw these examples from a common sociology applicant profile: socially progressive students who want to do good works, with a good portion from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds.

1. Researching something you already care deeply about

For example, you want to help stop rape, gender oppression, global warming, or racism; or you want to help the powerless organize, help children improve their educational prospects, or improve the efficiency of non-profit groups.

Pros: You are motivated to work on it, to make a positive social contribution. So you will work hard at it. You are smart and have already learned a lot, so you probably picked something that is very important.

Cons: Yours passion may blind you to other things that matter as much or more. In the moral grand scheme of things, what are the odds you chose the most important thing in the world? Locking yourself in now might prevent you from finding an even more important or rewarding issue or subject matter to embrace.

2. Researching something you already know a lot about

You have probably read a lot and learned a lot. You are already beginning to specialize. You have invested time and energy, and devoted memory capacity to these subjects.

Pros: You get a head start on your topic. The first literature review you write is already within your reach. You have already identified sub-topics to study, which is one of the hardest things to do in graduate school.

Cons: Limiting yourself to what you already care about might retard the development of your self-confidence by scaring you away from new topics. You might end up engaging intellectually and socially with others working on the same topics, to the exclusion of exciting new areas and people. You risk building your future research agenda up from a foundation you started when you really knew very little compared with what you will learn even in the next year or two. You overestimated the relative value of what you’ve already learned.

3. Researching something close to your own experience

This is sometimes dismissed as “mesearch” (see the review and discussion by Tom Medvetz here). The impulse to study the situation from which you emerged seems healthy and reasonable, especially for graduate students starting out. The privileged faculty member asks without compunction: “Why not study something completely different?” But the loyalties to family and friends, and the twisted emotional knot of human suffering, don’t allow such easy dismissals by the young student using social science and self-understanding to light the pathway out of a troubled personal or familial past.

Pros: It has all the pros of the first two elements: what you care about and what you know. It matters to you and to your family — who, wondering why you’re not using your hard work and smarts to get a degree in law or medicine, might be pacified by the argument that this will allow you to give back to your community.

Cons: It’s intellectually, professionally, and morally limiting. Intellectually: the power you build by learning new things is greater than that which you achieve from what you already know. Professionally: the connections you build and the knowledge you acquire outside your immediate interests expands your opportunities. Morally: whatever you have experienced, or those around you have experienced, someone has it worse, or there is a bigger problem to face; why not help them, or address that problem instead? These are questions you need to consider.

What does snow look like?

A sociologist starting out is like an amateur photographer, or should be. So many different ways to look at things! With a camera, a roll of film (ha), and enough time, an excitable amateur photographer can work on any subject and turn up enough fascinating angles and quirky compositions to bore even the most supportive group of Facebook friends. Look at these pictures of snow I took this season!

snow1

snow3

snow4

snow5

What I want new grad students to have is that sense of confidence, and wonder, that says, “I can make interesting and important research and teaching out of anything important in society.” If all goes well, you will learn much more than you know now, about things you never considered before, and you will develop the skills and perspective necessary to turn those new things into new knowledge that contributes something valuable to humanity. But for that to happen you have to trust your future self. I hope you’ll try.

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The blogger will be heard, Michigan trial edition

I’ve written a few posts about the Federal trial over Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban (a post-trial interview, a rant about economist Douglas Allen, and an early report on Mark Regnerus’s testimony). Now we have the first release of transcripts, available here. There may be more to say about them after I’ve read more, but just for the record, here’s the part where they discussed this blog.

regnerus pencil sketch

This is from the cross examination of sociologist Mark Regenerus by Leslie Cooper, an ACLU attorney. After confirming from Regnerus that it is impossible to do the kind of study he says would be necessary to give the evidence he claims to want before deciding whether same-sex parenting is bad for children, she turns to a general discrediting of Regnerus. One piece of that involved reading Paul Amato’s statement, published on this blog here, provoked by my post expressing disapproval over his apparent decision to serve as a peer reviewer for Regnerus’s Social Science Research paper. In this passage, Regnerus squirms and stalls, and his lawyer objects, hoping never to get to the part where Amato criticizes Regnerus’s politicization of his research.

I have corrected a few typos. The Q’s are Cooper and the A’s are Regnerus; The Court is played by U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman (a 1988 Reagan appointee); Kristin Heyse interjects for the defense (Michigan); I play the part of “the blogger”:

Q Now, are you familiar with a sociologist named Paul Amato?

A Yes.

Q He’s a professor of sociology at Penn State?

A Yes.

Q And you consider Paul Amato to be a well-regarded scholar in family structure studies?

A I do.

Q You consider him to be a level and level-headed scholar?

A Generally speaking.

Q And you consider him to be a scholar who’s right down the middle politically neither liberal, nor conservative?

A He had struck me at one point. I have no idea if that is entirely accurate, but he strikes me as a moderate.

Q And, in fact, you asked Paul Amato to be one of the consultants on your study.

A I did.

Q And he agreed?

A He did.

Q So he served as a consultant?

A Yes.

MS. COOPER: I like to mark a document as an exhibit for identification. It’s Exhibit 54.

MS. HEYSE: Your Honor, I would just ask that we be provided a copy. We have not seen it.

THE COURT: I think counsel has a bunch of copies.

MS. HEYSE: If we could have a few minutes to review?

THE COURT: Sure. Show it to the witness so he can review it also.

MS. HEYSE: Your Honor, I would just note for the record that we did agree to exchange exhibits in advance of the trial and this was not provided to us.

THE COURT: Why was it not provided?

MS. COOPER: This is being used for identification to ask questions, and it was an exhibit that was used at the deposition, they have it.

THE COURT: Do you intend to introduce it?

MS. COOPER: No.

THE COURT: Okay.

MS. HEYSE: Oh, I’m sorry.

THE COURT: It’s only for purposes of use, but not for –

MS. COOPER: Not to admit.

THE COURT: Okay.

BY MS. COOPER:

Q So, Dr. Regnerus, this is a statement Paul Amato wrote about your NFSS Study; is that right?

A The source is a blog. I’m not sure what all of it is verbatim, Paul Amato’s words, and what is –

Q Well, I’ll direct your attention. Thank you for clarifying.

A This is not Paul Amato’s blog.

Q Understood. If you’ll read with me. It says here –

THE COURT: Tell him where you’re reading.

MS. COOPER: I just want to find the right passage.

BY MS. COOPER:

Q If you look at the second paragraph from the top.

A First page?

Q Yes. Second sentence, “I regret that before writing that post” –

A Who wrote that?

Q I’ll clarify. The first three paragraphs in Italics are statements from somebody who wrote the blog, not attributable to Paul Amato.

MS. HEYSE: I’m going to object, your Honor, to the extent this is hearsay.

THE COURT: I’m not sure where she’s going at. The first three were not written by –

MS. COOPER: I’m trying to direct Professor Regnerus to the statement that this blogger says, “There is a statement sent to me by Paul Amato which I agreed to post” and then he posts the statement below.

A And who is he?

THE COURT: Who is the blogger, is that your question?

THE WITNESS: Yes.

MS. COOPER: The blogger’s name is Phil Cohen, I believe. This is something we looked at [in] your deposition.

BY MS. COOPER:

Q Do you not recall identifying it?

A I do, yeah. I just don’t know — I can’t identify on this who wrote this top part.

Q Okay. But the part I want to flag your attention to is in the second paragraph it says — this is not Paul Amato, this is the blogger, “I regret that before” –

MS. HEYSE: Your Honor, I’m going to object to the extent of reading something into the record –

THE COURT: Sustained. The blogger said something and now what’s your question?

MS. COOPER: I don’t really care what the blogger said, I just wanted to direct Professor Regnerus to the statement from Paul Amato that is posted here.

THE COURT: Good.

BY MS. COOPER:

Q That begins, “Thoughts on the Mark Regnerus 2012 Study by Paul Amato.” Do you see that heading in bold?

A Yes.

Q So that’s the beginning of the statement. So I’d like you to turn to page 3 of this statement.

A Are there’s 12 pages to this? I’m only seeing four.

Q This is the first four. I didn’t print the comments to the blog because — I think, in fact, that may have been something that counsel for defendants did not want to include in the exhibit. But either way I did not consider that.

THE COURT: The exhibit is just to ask him questions.

MS. COOPER: It’s just to feature the statement.

BY MS. COOPER:

Q So if you can go to page 3 with me.

A Okay. If you would look at the second paragraph from the bottom, okay, beginning with the second sentence, and read along with me, “Many” –

MS. HEYSE: Your Honor, it’s hearsay and she can’t read it into the record.

MS. COOPER: It’s not for the truth. I want to ask him if he agrees with statements made by one of his own consultants about his study.

THE COURT: For that purpose, you may.

BY MS. COOPER:

Q “Many conservative observers have cited the Regnerus study as if it provided evidence that being raised by gay or lesbian parents is harmful to children. This claim is disingenuous because the study found no such thing. A noteworthy example came from Regnerus himself who signed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court citing his study as evidence against same sex marriage. This is curious because on page 766 in his 2012 article, Regnerus stated that his study was not intended to either affirm or undermine the legal right to same sex marriage. And on page 768 of his response to the commentaries in the same issue, he stated that his data should not be used to press any political program. Given these cautious early statements it is exasperating to see Regnerus later cite his own study as evidence against same sex marriage.”

So, first question about this: Is Professor Amato who is a consultant on your study correct to say that it is disingenuous to claim that the NFSS Study provides evidence that being raised by gay or lesbian parents is harmful to children?

A The question hinges around sort of what does it mean to be raised by, right? And I think we mentioned this a little bit yesterday and it says gay or lesbian parents. My mistake and acronyms notwithstanding I talk about parents who have same sex relationship with no assumptions about their orientation. So when he talks about “being raised by” which implies some degree of time I assume and household presence I assume. But then he goes and uses gay or lesbian as an adjective which I don’t think — I mean, I don’t have data on the orientation, it’s harmful to children. I think the jury is out on this, figuratively speaking. What we need is — the absence raises significant questions about children who grow up in families where a parent has a same sex relationship. What it doesn’t answer his question about orientation, and it didn’t come designed to answer political questions. It came designed to address an intellectual question.

Q Okay. So he is correct in your view that — sorry. He is correct that you said the study was not intended to either affirm or undermine the legal rights of same sex marriage?

A That’s what I wrote in the original study, yes.

Thanks to Straight Grandmother for making this available. The full document is here.

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Michigan gay marriage case, Tuesday with Mitch Albom edition

I did a short segment on the Mitch Albom show on WJR in Detroit yesterday. I don’t know if they’ll post it, but I transcribed it, partly so I could go check later whether what I said was true. They emailed me just a little while before the show, and I didn’t know the angle he would take, so I wasn’t as prepared as I’d prefer to be.

Photo by Stephan Hochhaus from Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo by Stephan Hochhaus from Flickr Creative Commons.

Here it is, unedited, with a couple links added:

Mitch Albom [Q]: Nine days of testimony that dealt in all kinds of issues came to an end last week in the case that might knock down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban… passed 10 years ago with a 54% approval rate. However, it has been challenged by a couple wanting to adopt, a gay couple, and there has been all kinds of talk about what is a fit family and what is not a fit family for children to grow up in. And there were a number of different people who spoke on this case, and drew a lot of controversy over their particular opinions on it. So we thought we’d open that up, and first talk with Philip Cohen, who is professor of sociology at University of Maryland and then go to some phone calls on that. Professor Cohen, thanks for coming on.
Philip Cohen [A]: Thanks for having me.
Q: So there was a rather controversial part of this testimony, with Dr. Mark Regnerus… The part of what he said that interested a lot of people was, there hasn’t been enough data yet, to come to conclusions about whether or not a same-sex household – two women or two men – raising children, is good for them. It takes time to study that kind of thing. Is there any validity to that?
A: It certainly is true that we can’t generalize and say, ‘this is good’ or ‘this is not good’ from the research that we have, partly because gay marriage isn’t legal in a lot of places yet, so we can’t study what happens when gay and lesbian couples are allowed to be married and raise kids, which is a significant wrinkle.
Q: [paraphrase: there are plenty of gay and lesbian couples who are parents even though they’re not married – does the marriage ‘piece of paper’ really make a difference to ‘how the kid grows up’?]
A: It’s hard to tell if the piece of paper causes it, but people whose parents are married have certain advantages that we can observe – they are more likely to have higher incomes and be healthier and more successful in school – but we can’t say that the marriage certificate is what causes that.
Q: There doesn’t seem to be any shortage, from those who are proponents of gay marriage, or saying, ‘All the evidence shows that there’s no problems [with the children]. We’ve got all kinds of people from the American Psychological Institute [he meant Association -pnc] who say, ‘There’s no evidence that anything can be wrong’… So what confuses me as a neutral observer is, how come one side is saying there’s not enough data to come to any conclusions – good, bad, or otherwise – you just said it on our show, and the other side is saying, ‘There’s no evidence whatsoever that there’s anything wrong with it.’ How can those two things coexist?
A: Well, I wrote a paper that said this, and the American Sociological Association, which I am a member of, wrote a brief that said this, that said there is no evidence, and no real reason to believe, that kids would not do as well if they had gay or lesbian parents. That’s not the same as saying we know for a fact that there is no difference. It’s a little semantic, but it’s important.
Q: … What about people who say, there is a traditional father role, a traditional mother role. I don’t need to define – most people can sort of tell what that means, and that that’s important to the upbringing of a child.
A: For a lot of people it is important. You know, and yet, single mothers, single fathers, raise children all the time. People are widowed, or separated, never married, and, you know, if you wanted to go that way, different parents bring different things. Poor people are more likely to have children that grow up to be poor. But we’re not going to say poor people can’t have children. This is a feature of inequality in our society. So it’s a little odd that we would impose this kind of a test on a particular marriage. So, another way to say it is, there’s no reason to think that sexual orientation, or the gender of the parents, by itself, would have a bigger impact than lots of other things that we know. I think it’s just more important to say, we have laws about how parents have to treat their children. We have a public school system, we have – you know, you can’t do anything you want with your children. It’s more important, I think, for us to say, ‘How can we help parents be good parents – all kinds of parents – how can we help children survive and thrive and be happy and successful.’ And, you know, there’s a lot of different things about a lot of different kinds of parents, and to make a law excluding one particular family arrangement really just doesn’t make much sense to me.
[break for traffic report]
Q: You said something that was curious to me. You said that poor parents frequently have children that grow up to be poor. Is there any evidence that gay couples have children who also end up being gay?
A: No. Actually, that’s important. It’s not true genetically – that is, people who are gay that have biological children, they’re not more likely to be gay, and people who raise children there’s no evidence that their children are more likely to end up being gay.
Q: But now, again, isn’t that something that, given that most people don’t come out until adulthood, that you need a certain number of years to determine that?
A: We can’t say for sure, right, the truth is, if you give me a hundred thousand gay and lesbian couples, and give me twenty years to study their children, I can’t say we’re not going to find a whole variety of small differences that we don’t know exist yet. Absolutely, sure.
Q: Overall, you’re an academic so you know what constitutes a, quote, ‘lot of research.’ Has there been a, quote, ‘lot of research’ on this question at all?
A: Well, Mark Regnerus’s complaint is that there has been a lot of research, and it’s not been systematic in the sense of randomly selecting couples to study. So a lot of the research that we have is based on people who volunteered to be in studies. And people who volunteer to be in studies are not random. They tend to be people who are proud of who they are, and they think they’re doing it well. So, there is not a lot of research. But I also want to stress, you know, marriage has kind of an amorphous thing – there is something about marriage which is different from just living together, and the fact that we can’t yet study married gay and lesbian couples really puts a limit on how much we can understand.
Q: [other host asks something about Regnerus ‘taking a lot of heat’…]
A: No, I don’t think people are scared to get into this research. He went into it, and the trial testimony showed, he went into it with an agenda to show that gay marriage should not be allowed. His funding came from conservative foundations, it was planned out at a meeting organized by the Heritage Foundation. So he took a very strong position going in, which he kind of soft-pedals when he talks about the research. But there’s nothing stopping serious researchers from studying this topic.

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‘Gay marriage hurts kids,’ zombie edition

Last summer I wrote, “The Supreme Court Kills the ‘Gay Marriage Is Bad for Kids’ Argument.” But now comes this in the New York Times: “Opponents of Same-Sex Marriage Take Bad-for-Children Argument to Court.” So I guess it’s undead, at least long enough to pay a few more expert witness fees.

The NYTimes story covers their approach, which I can’t imagine will get past Anthony Kennedy at the Supreme Court, who has made it clear which direction the harm runs. He wrote in the decision last summer that, under the Defense of Marriage Act,  “same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways,” which “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

Maze update

Anyway, today’s story leads us back to the Regnerus affairIn a 2010 email (described here) — one that presumably taught the young Mark Regnerus not to put everything in his university emails, the one that would definitively expose that Brad Wilcox lied about his role in the study — Regnerus wrote to Wilcox:

I would like, at some point, to get more feedback from Luis and Maggie about the ‘boundaries’ around this project, not just costs but also their optimal timelines (for the coalition meeting, the data collection, etc.), and their hopes for what emerges from this project, including the early report we discussed in DC.

I knew that referred to Luis Tellez from the Witherspoon Institute, but I couldn’t be sure that “Maggie” was Maggie Gallagher. But it now appears from expert deposition in the upcoming Michigan trial (from David Allen here, and Joe Price here) that the DC meeting was organized by Heritage Foundation staff, who paid for the participants’ travel expenses. And it included Gallagher, David Blankenhorn, Wilcox and Regnerus. This is not surprising, but it’s important, because it puts those experts, who went on to produce research for the cause, in a meeting organized for the purpose of developing the legal case against gay marriage. This could be relevant to their status as expert witnesses, but it’s also relevant to the politics-of-science aspect of this whole thing.

So we can update the Regnerus affair maze, adding Gallagher and Heritage (now I’m out of spots):

regenerus-affair-maze-updated

My opinion

In case it’s not obvious, I would like to express this opinion: honest social scientists do not combine these activities: (1) secret meetings with partisan activist groups to raise money and set political agendas for their research; and, (2) omitting mention of those associations later. If Regnerus, Wilcox, Allen, and Price, had included acknowledgements in their publications that described these associations, then they would be just like anyone else who does research on subjects on which they have expressed opinions publicly: potentially legitimate but subject to closer scrutiny (which should include editors not including people from the same group as reviewers). Failure to disclose this in the publication process is dishonesty.

Funny aside: just the other day I used the NYTimes‘ habit of quoting Andrew Cherlin on family trends as an example of the paper’s narrow reach into the deep bench of publicly engaged sociologists. And here he is again, quoted making the well-known observation that, “The overwhelming evidence so far is that there’s not much difference between children raised by heterosexual or same-sex parents.” What’s disappointing is that he serves as the story’s voice above the fray — the expert who is “not involved in the case” — when they have the American Sociological Association’s report making the same argument with what should be more heft toward the end of the story.

Tell it like it’s not addendum

This issue of the political agenda behind the research has been raised as a possible reason to disqualify the anti-equality expert witnesses. To that end, apparently, the Brigham Young economist Joseph Price took a grant from the Witherspoon Institute off his CV — but not before the plaintiff’s counsel saw it, leading to this funny exchange during his deposition (at tiny-page 15 here; pointed out to me by Neal Caren):

price-lieThis justification, that the grant “doesn’t really fit the category of a grant in the same way others do,” as a reason to completely take it off your CV, is somewhere between highly unusual and just plain ludicrous.

 

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Does happy marriage cause happy marriage?

I don’t know how I missed this one, from two Valentine’s Days ago…

For an introductory methods course discussion on: when does something cause something else. Question: Are happier couples happier? Some writers think so:

I can see the study design now: a randomized group of couples were given coupons for date nights, and some time later were compared with a control group without the coupons. Or not. Cosmo summarized:

For their study, researchers from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project surveyed 1,600 couples and asked them about everything from relationship satisfaction to sex. They discovered that couples who spend at least one night a week alone together say they’re more committed to their relationship than those who don’t hang out together as much.

(The report, by Brad Wilcox and Jeffery Dew and posted online at the National Marriage Project, is here.)

BREAKING: Researchers discover murder less common among happy couples.

BREAKING: Researchers discover murder less common among happy couples.

Is that it? A simple association between being together and being happy? Almost. First, they say (there are no tables) that they “control for factors such as income, age, education, race, and ethnicity.” Such as? Anyway.

Second, they also claim to have analyzed historical data from the National Survey of Families and Households (1987-1994). They write:

Because we had data from spouses at two time points in the NSFH, we were also able to examine the direction of effects—to determine whether or not couple time reported during the first wave of the survey was associated with marital quality at the second wave. Here, the more couple time individuals reported at the time of the first survey, the more likely they were to be very happy in their marriage at the second survey, five years later. Although the NSFH evidence does not provide us with definitive proof that couple time causes increases in marital quality, the longitudinal character of the data suggests that the relationship may indeed be causal.

So, Wilcox and Dew point #1: If something happened before something else, “the relationship may indeed be causal.” They go on:

It is certainly intuitively true that greater satisfaction with one’s partner should also lead to more time spent in positive, shared activities. Nevertheless, it would be absurd to assume that two partners who intentionally set out to increase positive couple time spent together would typically not benefit from such time with increases in connection and happiness.

So, point #2 is, We already knew the answer before we did the research, because it’s flipping obvious, so who cares about this analysis — it’s almost Valentine’s Day!

There are ways to actually get at “the direction of effects,” like the randomized trial I suggested, or even using longitudinal data and assessing changes in happiness, or controlling for happiness at time 1. Not this.

Anyway, can we think of examples of things that occur before other things without causing them? Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • One sibling dies of a genetic disease now, and then the other one dies from the same disease later: Shocking new evidence that genetics works sideways!
  • Someone has tennis elbow now, and is playing sports later: The surprising way that getting hurt makes you athletic!
  • People who spend more money now have more money later: The more you spend, the more you save!
  • And of course, people who have a lot of sex now are good looking later: Sex up your looks!

I’m open to suggestions for better examples.

Note: I guess in some social science neighborhoods it’s common to analyze the effects of extremely similar things on each other, like pleasure being associated with happiness, or strong left arms being associated with strong right legs. Dew and Wilcox actually published a peer-reviewed article, using this survey, on the association between small acts of kindness in marriage and marital satisfaction. And the result? Couples who are nice to each other are happier.

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Who’s worried about abstinence?

Probing the deep structure of the collective psyche, or just noise? Either way, kind of interesting.

Are people Googling “abstinence” worried more generally about children’s behavior — maybe their own children’s behavior? Compare the pattern across states in Google searches for “abstinence” and “b. f. skinner” (correlation .79)*:

homeskinner

Searches for “abstinence” (left) and “b. f. skinner” (right)

Out of the top 100 most-correlated-with-”abstinence” searches, these are the others that plausibly have to do with children’s behavior (correlated between .79 and 87):

attention deficit disorder
attention deficit hyperactivity
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
b.f.
b.f. skinner
behaviors
behavior problems
girls basketball team
hyperactivity
hyperactivity disorder
pregnancies
punishment
student motivation

My mental image here is one of parental desperation, a parent who one day is thinking of how to get her daughter onto the girls’ basketball team and Googling “student motivation,” and the next day is back to “punishment.”

Two other things about the Abstinence Searchers. One is they may be health worriers generally, and/or have health problems (or live in communities with these problems), because these are also in the top 100:

bowel syndrome
cancer facts
coping with
coping with stress
diseases
disorders
effects of drinking
eye disorders
gastric ulcers
heart attacks
heart disease
infant death
infant death syndrome
irritable bowel syndrome
muscular dystrophy
obesity
phenylketonuria
reflux disease
sleeping disorders
sudden infant
sudden infant death
sudden infant death syndrome

This second list makes me more sympathetic to the Abstinence Searchers. On the other hand, it looks like there is a lot of homeschooling going on here as well (the correlation of “abstinence” with “homeschooling” is .54, not in the top 100 but pretty good). These are also in the top 100:

activities for
activities for preschool
activities for preschoolers
activities for students
classroom activities
classroom activity
educational activities
list of famous people
list of the 50 states
projects for students
pronunciation of
pronunciations
textbook publishers
topics
well-known
word games
http://www.census.gov

I am not in favor of abstinence education because it doesn’t serve children well, and I like the idea of children taught complete information by trained professionals. I would never draw conclusions from this kind of superficial analysis, but it’s a little depressing.

* Note, perhaps due to an outbreak of abstinence education in Mississippi, the number of searches there was an outlier, so I top-coded Mississippi at just over the level of the next-highest state, South Dakota.

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Flip that effect: gender gap, returns to education, marriage premium

How we describe the directionality of an effect affects how we think about it. Andrew Gelman complains that the recent paper by Dalton Conley and Emily Rauscher does this. It’s called, “The Effect of Daughters on Partisanship and Social Attitudes Toward Women.” And the news headlines were things like, “Does Having Daughters Make You More Republican?” Ross Douthat called it “The Daughter Theory.”

But of course the finding could just as well be described as the effect of sons on making people more liberal.

In this case it’s a great example of boys being the norm and girls being difference. But there are plenty of examples of when we describe an effect as if its opposite doesn’t exist. Here are three:

The marriage premium. This usually refers to married men earning more than single men. But it is just as much a penalty for being single as it is a reward for being married. In my own work on this I described three possible mechanisms: positive selection into marriage (higher earners marry), productivity-enhancing effects of marriage (wives make men better workers), and discrimination (bosses prefer married men). But all of these could have been expressed in the reverse direction. Lots of “marriage is good” arguments should be turned around to ask, “How could we punish single people less”?

single_alone

The gender gap. President Obama has frequently implied that reducing the gender gap in pay will be good for “middle class families.” Under “Protecting the Middle Class News,” the White House writes that the gender gap “means less for families’ everyday needs, less for investments in our children’s futures, and, when added up over a lifetime of work, substantially less for retirement.” Of course, it also means more for families with employed men. I hate to be a buzzkill on this, but there is no reason to think that reducing gender discrimination just means paying women more. How do we know women are underpaid, instead of men being overpaid?

Returns to education. This one is tricky, because there is a return on investment from education, so it’s reasonable to talk about the effect in that direction: you spend money on education, you get a benefit. But the society that rewards education also penalizes lack of education relatively speaking (unless everyone is equally educated). Nothing against educated people, but to reduce inequality it would be good to reduce the returns to education. For example, raising the minimum wage, or providing government jobs to low-skilled workers, would reduce returns to education (if that is operationalized as the difference between college and non-college wages.

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