Wilcox clarifies (or not)

Since I criticized Slate for publishing Bradford Wilcox’s error-ridden essay on the transformative power of fatherhood in men’s lives, I should refer readers to an update they added to the end of the post the next day.

I’m not sure why they made this and only this change, given all the problems with the essay, but anyways, they added this the end of the article:

Update, June 19, 2013: This article has been updated to clarify that fathers who live with their children are significantly less likely to be depressed and more likely to report they are satisfied with their lives, compared to both childless men and men who lived apart from their children, not just men without children. It was also updated to suggest a reason why men who live apart from their children attend church infrequently and drink more frequently.

That’s pretty confusing. To help, I reproduce below his original claim (retrieved from the web archive, since Slate now serves up the revised version), my criticism, and his clarification. And, since the research article it links to is behind a paywall, I also reproduce a copy of the relevant table. Feel free to offer your own evaluation of the change and the veracity of the claim (I’m ignoring the “attend church” finding because how is that a measure of well-being? Only God can judge that).

Originally, he wrote:

Fathers who live with their children are significantly less likely to be depressed, and more likely to report they are satisfied with their lives, compared to childless men. But men who live apart from their children have levels of life satisfaction and depression that largely parallel those of their childless peers. … [and] men who live apart from their children attend church infrequently and drink more frequently, much like their peers without children. 

My critique was:

To clarify: (a) those living with children over age 19 were slightly more likely than those with younger children to be satisfied with their lives! (b) those living apart from their children were slightly more likely to be depressed than those living with their children. This does not require evolutionary rocket-science to predict.

The relevant portions of the revised text now read:

Fathers who live with their children are significantly less likely to be depressed and more likely to report they are satisfied with their lives, compared to both childless men and men who lived apart from their children, perhaps in part because men who live with their children are more likely to be married. … [and] men who live apart from their children attend church infrequently and drink more frequently, perhaps in part because they are less likely to be married to the mother of their children.

And here is the table of results to which both of those claims point. I have highlighted the relevant coefficients and footnote. The Life Satisfaction and Depression models are ordinary least squares regressions of scale variables ranging from 1 to 7 and 0 to 7 respectively; the Drug/Alcohol Abuse model is a logistic regression of self-reported “problem with too much drinking or drug use” (not the frequency of drinking, as Wilcox describes it). Click to enlarge:

fatherhood-tableAnd here is the description of the results by the authors themselves:

Once a number of controls were entered, however, especially marital status, these effects of fatherhood largely disappeared. The two exceptions were that men with children living elsewhere remain somewhat more likely to have depressive symptoms than men who were currently living with their children, and men with older children were slightly more satisfied.

So you understand what Wilcox did, he clarified that the associations he described were “in part” due to marital status to explain that he is referring to the models without controls for marital status, age, education, income and race/ethnicity — and how the effects entirely or mostly go away once you add those controls. For example, men with no children have .17 higher depression scores than men who live with their own young children (for perspective, the average depression score is 5.3 and the standard deviation is 1.4, so that’s 13% of one standard deviation). However, when the authors controlled for all those things, the coefficient was reduced to -.03, essentially zero. The depression difference between men with children elsewhere and those who live with their children was .47 in the original model, and .15 in the model with controls. So, they are more depressed “in part” because they are less likely to be married (presumably, that is, as this pathway was not tested in the paper).

OK, out of a sense of fairness I have reproduced and explained his clarification. Now maybe you have enough information to reevaluate the claims.

 

3 Comments

Filed under In the news, Research reports

3 responses to “Wilcox clarifies (or not)

  1. Alara Rogers

    It sometimes seems as if practically every social science finding is discovering correlation rather than causation. As if poverty and depression might be more likely to cause things like getting married or not, living with your kids or not, being alcoholic or not… rather than getting married and living with your kids being what causes poverty and depression. (I imagine alcoholism is one of the few that goes both ways, because if you’re not in poverty, but you’re an alcoholic, you’re likely to lose your job, your marriage and your kids, which will cause poverty and depression.)

    Also, I find it telling that rate of going to church is reported as if going to church is *itself* a good thing. “Men who do X have better marriages, less depression, and go to church more!” One of these things is not like the other. Church-going is, I think, itself a proxy for socializing regularly outside your family unit; I suspect that if you measured old ladies who go to bingo vs old ladies who don’t, or nerds who regularly attend a D&D roleplaying group vs nerds who don’t, you’re going to find the same effects that you find from people who go to church vs people who don’t. It’s just that in our society, church-going is a variable that affects millions of people and which many surveys have collected data on already, and bingo or D&D group are not.

    I think it’s going to be very, very hard to find something in the data that really does indicate something that people can actively choose to do that makes a positive difference in their lives, statistically speaking. Men don’t get married when they don’t find anyone who wants to marry them or when they lack the self-confidence to feel they are worthy of marrying the person they love (as in, their job isn’t good enough to support a family); those situations themselves cause depression, not the lack of marriage per se, and they’re more likely to come about if the man is in poverty. You can’t advise people to get married as if that will *help* them; marriage is just a proxy for “do you feel confident and stable and do you have love and intimate relationships in your life?” Obviously if the answer to those questions is “yes” you’re going to be happier than if it’s “no”, but forcing a guy into an arranged marriage with a woman who’s not attracted to him when he feels he doesn’t deserve to be married in the first place is *not* going to make him happier.

    About the only things that seem to work are interventions that the person themselves has little control over. Keep the lead paint out of the place they grew up in, give them good nutrition and mental stimulation as children, send them to a good school where they can learn in peace, don’t abuse or bully them, give them economic opportunities and a chance for a career rather than a series of dead end minimum wage jobs, and their lives will be better, in which case they are more likely to get married and live with their kids! Wow, do you think we could sell the religious right on the need for Head Start, strong public schools, and greater economic justice on the grounds that those things are more likely to produce happily married couples with kids who are socially stable enough to go to church regularly?🙂

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  2. This! THIS!
    “About the only things that seem to work are interventions that the person themselves has little control over. Keep the lead paint out of the place they grew up in, give them good nutrition and mental stimulation as children, send them to a good school where they can learn in peace, don’t abuse or bully them, give them economic opportunities and a chance for a career rather than a series of dead end minimum wage jobs, and their lives will be better, in which case they are more likely to get married and live with their kids! Wow, do you think we could sell the religious right on the need for Head Start, strong public schools, and greater economic justice on the grounds that those things are more likely to produce happily married couples with kids who are socially stable enough to go to church regularly? ”

    I don’t know who you are Alara, but I love your thinking!
    Comments on blogs are not enough, you know that right?

    I am trying to activate you Sociologists. You have to do MORE publicly than you are doing. Lord Know Wright et al are.

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  3. Scott Rose

    What is it with Slate being always in line to publicize junk science from the Wilcox circles?

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