Tag Archives: politics

That marriage-reduces-poverty-82-percent statistic

With PolitiFact addendum at the end.

If you’ve heard about Marco Rubio saying we need more marriage to reduce poverty, you might wonder where his factoid came from.

Rubio said:

The greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82%. But it isn’t a government program. It’s called marriage.

Rubio, Rector

Rubio, Rector

That insight came from this piece by a Heritage Foundation guy, Robert Rector, who is the cartoon-villain embodiment of partisan hackery (see this previous post for some details). Rector wrote:

According to the U.S. Census, the poverty rate for single parents with children in the United States in 2009 was 37.1 percent. The rate for married couples with children was 6.8 percent. Being raised in a married family reduced a child’s probability of living in poverty by about 82 percent.

That’s it! (37.1 – 6.8) / 37.1 = .82, so marriage reduces poverty 82%. You don’t get to be the “intellectual godfather of welfare reform” without knowing a thing or two about statistics.

By the same logic, he should have said, “The greatest tool for lifting children and families out of poverty is getting a job, which increases your income by $40,000 per year” — because the median weekly earnings of full-time, year-round workers is $771 per week, which is $40,000 per year more than people with no jobs earn.

Discussing why this is or isn’t wrong could be a nice methods class exercise.

PolitiFact addendum

PolitiFact evaluated the Rubio statement, and aside from a few insignificant quibbles determined it was true, so they gave it a rating of “Mostly True.” They wrote, in explanation:

We should note that some critics have taken issue with the implications of the statistic Rubio cited. Philip N. Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, wrote on his blog, “By the same logic, (Rubio) should have said, ‘The greatest tool for lifting children and families out of poverty is getting a job, which increases your income by $40,000 per year’ — because the median weekly earnings of full-time, year-round workers is $771 per week, which is $40,000 per year more than people with no jobs earn.”

Meanwhile, the liberal group Think Progress pointed to a blog post from a few days earlier by the Council on Contemporary Families, a group of academics that study family policy, that said a “nationally representative study of more than 7,000 women found that approximately 64 percent of the single mothers who married were divorced by the time they reached age 35-44. More importantly, single mothers who marry and later divorce are worse off economically than single mothers who never marry.”

These may be valid points. However, in his comments, Rubio did not suggest that government pursue any specific government policies to directly promote marriage. He also said that being a two-parent family “decreases the probability of child poverty,” which sounds to us like a mathematical analysis of the existing data, rather than a suggestion that changing policies to encourage marriage will actually reduce poverty that already exists.

For this reason, we are analyzing the mathematics that underlie his comment question, not the conclusions that can, or can’t, be drawn from the statistic.

It’s not about policy or math, though: the error is about causality. If we made a law that only rich people could get married, the Census data would give you a similar result. And by this reasoning PolitiFact would say it’s OK to claim marriage “decreases the probability of child poverty,” because the math is right. That’s not right.

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All opposed? (to family change)

Over on his Iranian Redneck blog, Darren Sherkat has an interesting series of posts on religion and attitudes toward same-sex marriage, using new data from the 2012 General Social Survey (fundamentalism, denominations, young Republicans 2x, race, and the 2004-2012 trend) — all extensions of his academic work on the subject (2x). All of this shows that, in addition to political conservatism, religious fundamentalists and people in sectarian Christian denominations are (or were) driving opposition to marriage rights.

But same-sex marriage (homogamy) is only one aspect of growing family diversity. I was reminded of a survey the Pew Research Center did with Time in 2010, called “The Changing American Family,” which asked a question I like:

These days there seems to be a growing variety in the types of family arrangements that people live in. Overall, do you think this is a good thing, a bad thing, or don’t you think it makes a difference?

I’m not sure what to make of the people who think it’s “good” versus those who think it makes “no difference.” But the people who think family diversity is a “bad thing” — 28% of the population — might be the definition of family conservatives. So who are they (or, who were they in 2010)? Think of them as the sky-is-falling set.

Couple looking up

The good people at Pew offer a data download, which (once you get it out of SPSS format) is pretty easy to use. Using religion, political affiliation, education, race/ethnicity, and some other demographic variables, I made a simple regression model that explained 19% of the variance in “bad thing” attitude. Rather than show the regression table, here are the bivariate relationships between “bad thing” and those characteristics (I also labeled the blocks with how much of the variance they independently explained).

bad-thingAs with Sherkat’s findings for same-sex marriage, the most important predictors of opposition to family diversity are religion and political affiliation – but religion is by far the strongest. For example, people who don’t think family diversity is bad were about 3-times more likely to never attend religious services. The absolute majority – 54% of people who chose “bad thing” – described themselves as born again Christians, and a quarter of them attend church more than once per week. The counter-stereotypical findings are:

  • Latinos are less likely to oppose family diversity than anyone else.
  • Those with high school education or less are the least likely to say “bad thing.” (In the multivariate model, college graduates also choose “bad thing” less, making the some-college crowd the most conservative.)

This is not a scientific study, but an illustrative exploration. I don’t know enough about the data collection to know how well these data could withstand peer review, or whether this could be done with a more rigorous dataset such as the General Social Survey. But I like the question, so figured I’d share the results.

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Can the marriage movement survive gay marriage?

Originally published on TheAtlantic.com as, “The Most Surprising Thing About Conservatives Embracing Gay Marriage

cohen_gendermarriage_post.jpg

Pichi Chuang/Reuters

Maggie Gallagher, who more than almost anyone is the face of marriage-rights denial, is justifiably upset about the course chosen by another leading face of the cause, David Blankenhorn. Whichever side wins (and “winning” in this context may simply mean maintaining a donor base sufficient to keep their jobs), the chaos on the family right is interesting and important.

The question they face is this: Can a “marriage” movement survive on gender-neutral terms? That is, are they willing to settle for promoting stable, monogamous parental bonds even if a tiny portion of those bonds are between people of the same sex? At stake, Gallagher fears, is nothing less than the cherished view of men and women as inherently complementary in their essential oppositeness, without which society goes down the drain.

Blankenhorn now stands opposed to that view. President of the Institute for American Values, he recently stopped resisting the march of marriage rights after serving as a standard-bearer for the cause. His capitulation was stunning, as he had previously been dedicated enough to testify as an expert (until his qualifications were disqualified) in the federal case against Proposition 8 in California. In the wake of Blankenhorn’s reversal, Gallagher—best known for running the National Organization for Marriage—has emerged as the purist’s answer to the outbreak of tolerance (which now includes a number of former-A-list Republicans).

In a piece on her website, Gallagher compares the statement she co-signed with Blankenhorn in 2000, called “The Marriage Movement: A Statement of Principles,” with his new “Call for a New Conversation.” The comparison is revealing.

In 2000, the movement declared:

Marriage is a universal human institution, the way in which every known society conspires to obtain for each child the love, attention and resources of a mother and father.

Forget the erroneous reading of human history and culture that statement implies for the moment and just think about the vision it conjures for contemporary marriage politics: Marriage, man and woman, mother and father. This is what Gallagher likes—it’s not gender-neutral.

In his new statement, Blankenhorn has substituted generic, almost bureaucratic language:

Because marriage is the main institution governing the link between the spousal association and the parent-child association, marriage is society’s most pro-child institution.

To Gallagher, this distinction is fundamental. She wants to keep the gender of the spouses at the center of the effort to maintain a preferred family structure through public policy. Blankenhorn and his co-signers, on the other hand, are willing to ignore that issue and merely demand marriage between “spouses.”

As Gallagher writes, “That is the difference gay marriage makes in how we converse about marriage.” In decision after decision, appellate judges have failed to find that gay marriage hurts straight marriage—and I agree. But Gallagher has a point that the possibility of same-sex marriage (what I prefer to call homogamy) changes the linguistic frame of reference. If marriage is all about stability and well-being for children, then the gender of the parents doesn’t matter and Blankenhorn is right. But if it’s really about the man-woman marriage and the traditional gender dichotomy, then this change is truly cataclysmic.

The genderless marriage movement

Whether the difference between Gallagher and Blankhorn’s articulations of marriage is really a big deal is the question of the day for the family right. But it is fascinating that in Blankenhorn’s new statement there is no mention of men, women, fathers or mothers—or even love. That’s some marriage movement.

By one interpretation, Blankenhorn sold out in the face of gay marriage’s advance, waiting barely a month last summer to jump on President Obama’s delayed-embrace bandwagon. He used to oppose gay marriage, Blankenhorn wrote, because it was part of the “deinstitutionalization” of marriage, its transformation from a “structured institution with a clear public purpose” to the mere “licensing of private relationships.” He still believes all that, he says, but now he has “no stomach” for culture wars, and besides, “the time for denigrating or stigmatizing same-sex relationships is over.”

Although he futilely promises, “I am not recanting any of it,” Blankenhorn seems relieved to have abandoned the issue. He may have realized gay marriage brought what used to be called the“marriage movement” to its knees, tying up their dwindling resources in a losing battle that also cost them the support of small-government conservatives and a generation of laissez-faire young people who don’t want government to legislate people’s sex lives.

But maybe he was really ahead of the curve, recognizing the inherent conservativeness waiting to emerge from the marriage rights movement. Maybe it was gay rights politics—not conservatives—that were distracted by the marriage battle. So they fought for membership in a conservative institution instead of for the more ambitious agenda of destabilizing gender itself. Maybe, by explicitly coopting them at their moment of triumph, Blankenhorn’s apparent fallback is actually a clever strategy to revive traditionalist moralism in the public sphere.

That’s an interesting argument, and there are more positions than just these. But either way, Gallagher has a point that Blankenhorn’s “new conversation” about marriage is not just a return to the good old days of the culture wars before gay marriage became an issue. It’s throwing in the towel on the ideal of marriage as an institution for maintaining gender distinction.

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Do people working work in working families?

It’s not that “working families” don’t exist, it’s just the way most people use this term it doesn’t mean anything.

Search Google images for “working families,” and you’ll find images like this:

4f4a9a28-ff28-4bc7-88e5-f0df4522b2dbAnd that’s pretty much the way the term is used: every family is a working family.

To hear the White House talk, you have to wonder whether there are people who aren’t in families. I’ve complained about this before, Obama’s tendency to say things like, “This reform is good for families; it’s good for businesses; it’s good for the entire economy.” As if “families” covers all people.

Specifically, if you Google search the White House website‘s press office directory, which is where the speeches live, like this, you get 457 results, such as this transcript of remarks by Michelle Obama at a “Corporate Voices for Working Families” event. The equivalent search for “working people” yields a paltry 108 hits (many of them Obama speeches at campaign events, which include false-positives, like him making the ridiculous claim that Americans are the “hardest working people on Earth.”) If you search the entire Googleverse for “working families” you get about 318 million hits, versus just just 7 million for “working people” (less than the 10 million that turns up for “Kardashians,” whatever that means.)

You would never know that 33 million Americans live alone – comprising 27% of all households. And 50 million people, or one out of every 6 people, lives in what the Census Bureau defines as a “non-family household,” or a household in which the householder has no relatives (some of those people may be cohabitors, however). The rise of this phenomenon was ably described by Eric Klinenberg in Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.

This is partly a complaint about cheap rhetoric, but it’s also about the assumption that families are primary social units when it comes to things like policy and economics, and about the false universality of “middle class” (which is made up of “working families”) in reference to anyone (in a family with anyone) with a job.

Here’s one visualization, from a Google ngrams search of millions of books. The blue line is use of the phrase “working people” as a fraction of references to “people,” while the red line is use of the phrase “working families” as a fraction of references to “families.” It shows, I think, that “working” is coming to define families, not people.

CaptureThis isn’t all bad. Families matter, and part of the attention to “working families” (or Families That Work) is driven by important problems of work-family conflict, unequal care work burdens, and so on. But ultimately these are problems because they affect people (some of whom are in families). When we treat families as the primary unit of analysis, we mask the divisions within families – the conflicts of interest and exploitation, the violence and abuse, and the ephemeral nature of many family relationships and commitments – and we contribute to the marginalization of people who aren’t in, or don’t have, families.  And those members of the No Family community need our attention, too.

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Quick book review: The Price of Inequality

The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future, by Joseph E. Stiglitz (W. W. Norton, 2012)

My economics training as a sociologist — with a background in American Culture studies — has been spotty and roundabout. I got a healthy dose of Marxist economics in college, and then some feminist economics, a little human capital theory and some dated econometrics in grad school and since.

All that made reading made it interesting, and also frustrating, to read The Price of Inequality, by Joseph Stiglitz – a winner of the Nobel Prize for economics and an “insanely great economist,” according to Paul Krugman.

On the plus side, I am glad to see someone within mainstream economic theory freely discussing all the ways that common assumptions simply do not predominate in the modern economic scene. Especially helpful in this category is his discussion of how “rents” accumulate vast resources at the upper end of the income distribution, with perverse effects on economic development and politics alike. At the very top — in the finance sector especially, but also in energy and big manufacturing — there is nothing like free-market competition. And the beneficiaries of those distortions are the most powerful players in the economy and political system.

It is refreshing to see this concentration of wealth described as waste and distortion, as their vast profits provide little gain to anyone else. In fact, dumping vast wealth on the 1% creates a drag on the macroeconomy while fueling the historic run-up in economic inequality. This is all very timely and takes you right through the financial crisis up to early 2012.

So if you want to understand from an economic perspective how “the market” in America isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, this book may be for you.

Top 1% income shares, including capital gains, for the U.S. and Sweden. From the World Top Incomes Database.

The other good thing about the book for many readers will be its cogent and comprehensive economic rationale for the liberal reforms that many of you probably supported already. Stiglitz makes the case that a suite of reforms – an agenda Rachel Maddow, Elizabeth Warren and Robert Reich probably agree on – would, by (directly or indirectly) increasing taxes (or reducing subsidies) on the wealthy and redistributing wealth downward, reduce the federal debt, increase economic growth, and reduce economic inequality all at the same time.

Round numbers: if the richest 1% earn about 20% of all income, then taxing them another 10% would generate government revenue equivalent to 2% of GDP. (And it wouldn’t hurt anything, since they just hoard or waste their extra cash anyway rather than “creating jobs” with it, and they’re so greedy they wouldn’t be discouraged by the disincentive effect of higher taxes.) That’s an amount of money that could actually be useful for poor people.

The frustration I feel reading the book is more amorphous. I think there have to be better ways of describing this whole system than using the language of mainstream economics, which ends up painting a picture of an entire system that does not work according to the rules as imagined. Concepts like power, social class, social networks, elites and reification do not figure heavily in this story. In fact, Stiglitz’s apparent ignorance of sociology is sometimes funny as in this passage:

Social sciences like economics differ from the hard sciences in that beliefs affect reality: beliefs about how atoms behave don’t affect how Adams actually behave, but beliefs about how the economic system functions affect how it actually functions. George Soros, the great financier, has referred to this phenomenon has “reflexivity,” and his understanding of it may have contributed to his success.

I guess after what people like me have made of econometrics it’s only fair that economists would attribute the idea of reflexivity to Soros. (The discussion of reflexivity in Anthony Giddens’s book The Consequences of Modernity is very approachable.)

Anyway, the book is easy to read and informative, and has lots of footnotes and references.

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Jobs and repeals

Couldn’t resist this:

Sources: Current Employment Statistics (seasonally adjusted); Washington Post 2 Chambers blog.

Note: The blog is nonpartisan.

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National Organization for Marriage: delusional and hateful?

I pose the title as a question, and leave it to the reader to judge (naturally). The evidence today is from Alvin McEwen at Firedoglake, who links to a strategy document from the National Organization for Marriage that has come out as part of that organization’s legal battle to keep its donor list secret.

The document is titled “Marriage: $20 Million Strategy for Victory.” It details some of their plans to oppose the extension of marriage rights to homogamous couples (on language), relying on ballot initiatives rather than the courts and legislatures, the source of traditional civil rights advances.

Are they delusional? Here’s one thing:

Are they hateful? Here’s another thing:

You be the judge.

FYI, NOM was quickly out with a response today, a vivid demonstration of the strategy, which read in part:

NOM … has worked extensively with supporters of traditional marriage from every color, creed and background [listing some of their best friends prominent leaders] … Gay marriage advocates have attempted to portray same-sex marriage as a civil right, but the voices of these and many other leaders have provided powerful witness that this claim is patently false.

I have previously written about Black Christian opposition to marriage rights in Maryland, which divided Democrats and almost prevented the state legislature from passing the law (which it now has).

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When Gingrich used Black poverty to hype the coming apocalypse

The news about Ron Paul’s racism reminds me how many American politicians — if they have been around since the 1980s or 1990s — have such racial skeletons in their political closets. Even when they don’t reach the level of explicit racism of some of Ron Paul’s old newsletters.

Back then, poverty, crime and welfare — when paired with reference to “cities,” the “underclass” or single mothers — were all racial code regularly used to motivate Whites to oppose government support for the poor and bolster the policy of mass incarceration. With the fall in crime rates and the dismantling of welfare — and the rise of Latino immigration as a substitute boogeyman — the tone has changed and these issues have lost some of their racial salience.

Paul’s newsletter, in reaction to the Los Angeles riots of 1992, joked, “Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks,” according to the Weekly Standard.

In a fundraising letter written about 1993 and signed by him, according to Reuters, Paul not only warned of a coming “race war” in U.S. cities, but also this:

I fear there will be welfare riots in the big cities. Massive unemployment. The destruction of wealth. The erosion of personal liberties. Vicious economic controls. The exaltation of envy.

And so on: From welfare riots to government repression (see “jack-booted government thugs“), via “the exaltation of envy” (which I guess refers to poor people coming after the middle class).

Racism is one thing, but the political racism of that period — that directed against Blacks — focused on crime, violence and welfare, so much that these issues became racial issues. Ruth Sidel argued that, in the post-Cold War 1990s, poor single mothers — especially Black single mothers — shouldered much of the load of the American right’s apocalyptic tendencies.

Now, as Newt Gingrich has joined the congregation of people attempting to share the righteous limelight exposing Paul’s racism, it reminded me of a quote from Gingrich I’ve been using for years in my Family and Stratification courses, from 1995:

No civilization can survive for long with 12-year-olds having babies, 15-year-olds killing one another, 17-year-olds dying AIDS, and 18-year-olds getting diplomas they can’t read.

That was part of a series of columns published in various places, as adapted excerpts from his book To Renew America. (Here it is in the Gainesville Sun, August 6, 1995.)

In the same column, Gingrich wrote that, “our civilization is decaying, with an underclass of poverty and violence growing in our midst.” He didn’t say, “Poor Blacks pose an existential threat to White America,” but he might as well have.

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MaddowColbert vs. FoxLimbaugh, Google edition

The Internet’s political echo chambers, red states and blue states, fennel salad and home abortion methods.

The debate goes on about whether online political chatter opens minds more than it closes doors to people with opposing views — with growing concern about how corporate filtering by services like Google and Facebook increasingly serve us what our own behavior tells them we want (and do us the favor of keeping out what we probably don’t like).

As Amy Harmon observed in the NY Times way back in 2004, “The same medium that allows people to peruse a near-infinite number of news sources also lets them pinpoint the ones they want and filter out the rest.” It’s information versus isolation. (The recent poll showing Fox News viewers were the least well-informed on a variety of current news stories was taken as evidence that the network was draining knowledge from its audience, but they probably know less before they decide to watch Fox in the first place.)

Because of the winner-take-all mechanism in our electoral politics, states are described as “red” or “blue” according to how their majorities vote. With regard to family patterns, more nuanced analysis shows that the patterns are not just regional, but also urban/rural/suburban, religious, and so on. But, Google Correlate gives us search data by states, so with the caveat that states contain diverse populations, look at this…

Stereotype, show thyself

Searches for Maddow, Colbert, Limbaugh, and Fox News, by state, with correlations between them shown (on a scale of -1 to 1):

I previously showed that divorce rates are positively correlated with searches for “tea party” and negatively correlated with Obama’s 2008 vote. Not surprisingly, these searches are correlated with political outcomes as well. I combined Maddow+Colbert and Limbaugh+FoxNews, and subtracted one from the other, creating an index that runs from a high of 6.0 in Vermont to a low of -6.0 in Mississippi. This lines up quite well with the 2008 vote:

That’s not the result I’m interested in, but just a little validation for the more squishy cultural stuff that accompanies these media-politics searches. Do they really reflect the search habits of conservative versus liberal voters? I can’t say, but I like looking over the lists and thinking about it.

Using the ColbertMaddow-FoxNewsLimbaugh index, I asked Google correlate which 100 searches were most common in the states with high index values but least common in those with low values. Then I rescaled it backwards to get the reverse results. So the first list is items searched for in the high-liberal-media states, and the second list is those in the high-conservative-media states. Here are the food-related correlations (all at .88 or higher).

Liberal:

  • arugula pasta [I'm not making these up -pnc]
  • beets nutrition
  • beets urine
  • cauliflower pasta
  • cheese health
  • darjeeling express
  • fake meat
  • fennel salad
  • firm tofu
  • gianduja
  • kitchen confidential
  • muesli
  • mushroom risotto
  • nicoise
  • pasta pesto
  • poached chicken
  • puree
  • risotto
  • tea caffeine
  • tea wiki
  • tea wikipedia
  • top chef season 8
  • vegan bags
  • vegan cupcakes
  • vegan dessert
  • vegetarian
  • vegetarian cooking
  • vegetarian food
  • vegetarian recipe

The conservative list has no real foods, just things about dieting:

  • acai berry diet
  • acaitrim
  • berry diet
  • carbs list
  • p90x results
  • prescription weight loss
  • prescription weight loss pills
  • weight loss pills

The lists support other stereotypes, like the liberal-state penchant for searching “french movie,” “chomsky” and “lost in translation,” versus conservative political mean-spiritedness (“obama jokes”), lack of sex education  (“how soon can you tell if you are pregnant”) and reproductive health care (“home abortion methods”) and, finally, marital problems:

  • how to make a marriage work
  • how to save a marriage
  • how to save my marriage
  • save a marriage

It’s interesting to think about the central place of food in distinguishing the cultural milieu that includes politics — at least those that include these media. That food list is about 1/3 of the liberal correlation terms. Are food habits and terms codes for political views, or are they both aspects of similar world views? Someone must do research on this.

There are lots of other media terms you could use for this. I tried Hannity as well, but decided it was too fringy — and really thrown off by the huge number in Utah. One search from that list jumped out at me: “how long is the first trimester.”

Anyway, the disclaimer from my Stuff White People Google post applies here as well:

In case you’re prepared to be offended, remember this does not mean this is most of what these groups search for, or most of the searches in these areas. Rather, it’s the things that are searched for in these states that are not searched for in other states. So, people in all groups search for porn and shopping and restaurant reviews and health conditions — but these are the things that differentiate the states.

The complete lists of searches correlated with the liberal and conservative indexes are in this PDF. Feel free to question my interpretations and examples.

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Gingrich channels William Julius Wilson?

Illustrations from NY Review of Books, here and here.

Newt Gingrich, in Iowa, December 1, 2011:

Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods, have no habits of working, and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday, they have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of “I do this and you give me cash,” unless it’s illegal.

William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (1987):

Inner-city social isolation also generates behavior not conducive to good work histories. The patterns of behavior that are associated with a life of casual work (tardiness and absenteeism) are quite different from those that accompany a life of regular or steady work (e.g., the habit of waking up early in the morning to a ringing alarm clock). In neighborhoods in which nearly every family has at least one person who is steadily employed, the norms and behavior patterns that emanate from a life of regularized employment become part of the community gestalt. (p. 60)

Wilson tried to differentiate between the “culture of poverty” and “social isolation,” but the distinction often has not come through in the popular retelling of his work.

Perhaps coincidentally, Gingrich started on this pitch in a speech at Harvard, where Wilson is in the sociology department.

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