I received this response to yesterday’s post from W. Bradford Wilcox, the Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, who requested I post it on the blog. I’m making it an independent post to make sure it is widely seen by Family Inequality readers.
Response to Dr. Philip Cohen
In his recent blog post, sociologist Philip Cohen accuses me, inter alia, of telling “tall tales,” playing fast and loose with divorce statistics in the National Marriage Project’s most recent report, “The Great Recession and Marriage,” and bypassing the peer-review process.
On the first point, Professor Cohen is simply mistaken. I tell no tall tales in this report, which was produced to offer a brief overview of new data related to marriage and the recession from a nationally representative survey of married couples in the U.S., the Survey of Marital Generosity, which was conducted in December of 2010 and January of 2011. Instead, I offer a brief commentary on a number of the ways in which the financial stresses and economic hardship associated with the Great Recession appear to be linked to both negative and positive outcomes, judging by data from this survey. I encourage readers of this blog to look at the report itself and see if it seems replete with tall tales. And I should also note that surveys by The New York Times and the Pew Research Center also suggest that the Great Recession has led some Americans to deepen their family ties.
Second, Professor Cohen claims that I have no basis for claiming that the Great Recession has had an independent effect on the divorce rate. It is true that the divorce rate has generally fallen since the early 1980s, and that the 2009 NMP State of Our Unions report did not make that fact sufficiently clear (as Cohen noted in earlier blog post). But the rate of decline in the U.S. divorce rate from 2007 to 2009 was steeper than the rate of decline from 1980 to 2007, according to estimates based both on the crude divorce rate and the rate of divorce per 1,000 married women. So I stand by my claim that the Great Recession has, in all probability, pushed the divorce rate down more than it otherwise would have gone down without this recession. It is also true, if history is any indication, that there will be an uptick in divorce once the recovery arrives in full.
Third, Professor Cohen also notes that this report was not peer reviewed. This is true. Although I have published more than 15 articles and books through the peer-review process, I do not think that every report written by an academic must be peer reviewed. In this case, I thought it would be helpful to convey new data to a public audience in a timely fashion. Here, the National Marriage Project (NMP) is following a convention found at other research institutes located at American public universities, from the Center for WorkLife Law to the Williams Institute.
I honestly do not know why Professor Cohen got so exercised by this modest report. Perhaps he thinks that the NMP’s devotion to marriage is blind. So let me be clear here: The National Marriage Project does not think that every marriage can and should be sustained, nor does it simply aim to increase the number of adults who are married. But, generally speaking, children are more likely to thrive when they are raised in an intact, married family, compared to the alternatives. And that is why the NMP is dedicated to monitoring the health of marriage, understanding the cultural and social forces affecting marriage in America, and identifying strategies to strengthen the quality and stability of married life.