Child support glass nearly half full

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that “Nearly Half of Parents Get Full Amount of Child Support.” But the news media were not fooled, duly reporting that, “Less than half get all child support owed, or even that “Most Child-Support Payers Stiff Their Kids.” Despite the gratuitous subhead, “Problem Intensifying,” this problem appears to buck the universal trend of things getting worse.


Source: My chart from Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007.

More important than the overall trend is the reality that child support payments are most likely to be paid to custodial parents who are better off. It’s hard to categorize them by income, since the child support is part of the income, but the education pattern shows this well:


Source: My chart from Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007.

It takes money to make money, or, when it rains, it pours – into your not-quite-half-full glass.

Exemplary parenting, same-sex style

As long as same-sex couples can’t get married, research can’t tell us much what same-sex marriage will be like – especially how legal recognition might affect their social legitimacy in the eyes of others, as well as their commitments and investments as partners and parents. The main U.S. data collection agencies are working on collecting data for those legal marriages that are occurring in the U.S. – with a new license to truth from the Obama administration – but that will take time. We do have some leads, meanwhile, either from studying same-sex partnerships that don’t involve legal marriage, or from studying those legal same-sex marriages where they are occurring elsewhere.

Lots of these couples parent through adoption or fostering. The numbers are growing, as more gay couples marry or otherwise commit, and long to be parents, as Gary Gates and colleagues have reported:


In today’s NYT Magazine, Lisa Belkin summarizes research on same-sex couples parenting from two new books, Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children, by Abbie Goldberg; and When Gay People Get Married, by M. V. Lee Badgett.

Belkin summarizes:

In most ways, the accumulated research shows, children of same-sex parents are not markedly different from those of heterosexual parents. They show no increased incidence of psychiatric disorders, are just as popular at school and have just as many friends. While girls raised by lesbian mothers seem slightly more likely to have more sexual partners, and boys slightly more likely to have fewer, than those raised by heterosexual mothers, neither sex is more likely to suffer from gender confusion nor to identify themselves as gay.

More enlightening than the similarities, however, are the differences, the most striking of which is that these children tend to be less conventional and more flexible when it comes to gender roles and assumptions than those raised in more traditional families.

She extends the interview with Badgett here.

This is consistent with an earlier meta-analysis I have been using in class for years, “(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?“, by Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz from American Sociological Review. We still have more data on lesbian parents than gay parents – and many are re-partnered parent-stepparent couples, which have their own dynamics – but this is good progress on the research side at least.

Catholic advocacy on abortion, pro and con

For the first time since Gallup started asking the question in 1995, a majority of Americans describe themselves as “pro-life.”  That may include a majority of Congress. Enter the Catholic debate.

On the one hand:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we strongly urge you [House members] to vote for the Stupak-Ellsworth-Pitts-Kaptur-Dahlkemper-Lipinski-Smith Amendment … Despite some claims to the contrary, H.R. 3962 [the healthcare reform bill] … utterly fails to maintain current prohibitions on abortion mandates and abortion funding. Instead it creates elaborate measures requiring people to pay for other people’s abortions with their taxes, private premiums or federal subsidies. … Additionally, H.R. 3962 allows the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to mandate that the “public option” will include unlimited abortions. Millions of purchasers will be forced to pay an “abortion surcharge,” which requires purchasers of many plans to pay directly and explicitly for abortion coverage. This is unprecedented in federal law. The [SEPKDLS] Amendment will not affect coverage of abortion in non-subsidized health plans, and will not bar anyone from purchasing a supplemental abortion policy with their own funds.

On the other hand:

They are demanding that the bill go far beyond the status quo restrictions on abortion that had been incorporated into the original bill. In an outrageous amendment … antichoice Democrats are demanding explicit and unequivocal exclusion of any coverage for abortion, even in private health plans in the proposed health insurance exchange. Women would lose coverage under this proposal. … Catholics support healthcare reform and support coverage for reproductive healthcare services in that reform. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been on Capitol Hill claiming to speak for America’s Catholics. They do not do so with any legitimacy. Poll after poll has shown that the American public, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, does not want to see Congress play politics with women’s healthcare. American Catholics will not forget who held their healthcare hostage, and allowed it to be held hostage, when the elections come around in 2010.

The Catholic angle emerged as pivotal to the whole health care bill at the last minute, as anti-abortion Democrats enlisted the Catholic bishops to endorse the amendment, so the amendment would get Republican votes, end up in the bill, and provide cover for anti-abortion Democrats to support it. Whew.

I’m wondering, how often do we pay, through public or private resource pools, for practices we think are immoral? Naturally, the political arena is a reasonable place to hash out which of these we are willing to tolerate and which we are not. Under current law and policy we bend over a long way not to pay for abortion services, effectively denying healthcare to many poor women. This principle was enshrined in the 1989 Webster decision by the Supreme Court, which let stand a state ban on funding for abortions, even though legal, in part because:

The Due Process Clauses generally confer no affirmative right to governmental aid, even where such aid may be necessary to secure life, liberty, or property interests of which the government may not deprive the individual.

If you have the right, the state may not take it away. If you don’t have the right, the state need not provide it to you.

UPDATE: The House passed the amendment, 240-194, which might have made it possible for the full bill to pass 220-215.

Black v. White women’s employment losses

Data from the BLS today show Black women losing almost twice as much as White women in terms of percent of each group employed. From October 2008 to October 2009, the percentage of White women employed fell from 57.6% to 55.7%. For Black women the fall was from 58.5% to 54.8%. The change is shown here:

change in emp-pop ratio oct08-oct-09_26060_image001

Source: My calculation from Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Coming soon, more on the declining relative status of Black women.

Valerie K. Oppenheimer

News from UCLA is that Valerie Kincade Oppenheimer, who was on the sociology faculty there since 1972, has passed away. This year, fittingly, Oppenheimer was the inaugural recipient of the Harriet B. Presser Award from the Population Association of America, which is given for a record of sustained contribution in gender and demography.

I did not know her personally, but her work was highly influential in the areas of sociology of gender and family. (An obituary in the Los Angeles Times appeared here.)

In a path-breaking 1967 article in Population Studies, she analyzed the interaction of labor supply and demand to explain the rapidly increasing employment rates of women in the post-war years. That complex dynamic involved demographic trends in population size and composition, economic factors such as the changing industrial composition, cultural changes in the acceptability of women’s employment and political changes in the laws and policies limiting the employment of married women and mothers. A 1968 article in Industrial Relations provided documentation of high levels of gender segregation. In a technique near and dear to my heart, she differentiated occupations across industries in the Census data to uncover the extent of segregation. (For example, 67% of clerical workers were women, but in the communications industry that figure rose to 88% – that’s 1960, when there were a lot fewer women in the labor force.) Her dispassionate and methodical scientific tone in these articles masks the cutting-edgeness of a woman independently doing theoretically ambitious, quantitative, demographic work in the U.S. at that time.

Perhaps her most influential work today, however, was in debunking the myth that married couples are most stable and “functional,” and can best maximize their fortunes, by combining wives’ unpaid work and husbands’ paid employment, known as the “specialization and trading model.” These articles have been cited hundreds of times, establishing a theoretical and empirical pillar for a sociological counter-model to, first, the dominant functionalist model in American sociology (Talcott Parsons in particular); and second to the dominant, and often simplistic, economic paradigm on the family. She did not predict or advocate for the end of marriage, but rather for its reconfiguration as a two-earner partnership, albeit one that would probably be less common and less stable than the trading-based marriages were before.

Here’s a long excerpt from the conclusion to her 1994 article in Population and Development Review entitled, “Women’s Rising Employment and the Future of the Family in Industrial Societies”:

According to the trading model, as women’s wages rise … they experience greater involvement in paid employment and increasing economic independence; hence the major gain to marriage is greatly reduced. But there are other reasons why an institution of marriage based on such a model might become an endangered social form in industrial societies. The stability of such a family is theoretically founded on women specializing in home production, and a major part of this production involves the bearing and rearing of children who, as marriage-specific capital, provide an additional source of marital cohesion. Much of the specialized home production of women in the past was devoted to bearing and rearing children who never survived to adulthood. For women to be equally occupied in contemporary low-mortality societies would mean the production of large families. However, even moderate family sizes in a low-mortality society lead to rapid population growth. Hence, if the stability of marital relationships depends on exponential population growth, it is unclear whether this is a viable societal strategy over the long term. Moreover, couples do not just want to produce children per se, they want to produce children like themselves – that is, they are interested in social, not just biological reproduction. But the cost of social reproduction is high in a society where increasingly substantial and lengthy investments in human capital for each child are required. In short, high fertility does not appear to be a viable family strategy. Contemporary low fertility, however, reduces the need for women’s specialization in home production. Given their long lives, it also means women would be not doing anything highly productive most of the time. Can any society, even a wealthy one, afford to have more than half its citizenry economically nonproductive for a good part of their lives? All in all, if the basis of marriage is specialization and exchange, then marriage seems an increasingly anachronistic social form.

This may seem an exceedingly pessimistic view of the future of marriage but, in large part, this is a function of the specialization model itself. It may not follow from other models of marriage. For example, I have suggested that a more adaptive family strategy for a modern industrial society is one where wives as well as husbands engage in market work. A specialization model of marriage, aside from its other problems, entails considerable risks in an independent nuclear family system – risks for individuals as well as for the family unit. This is because in such a family there is rarely more than one person to occupy any single specialty, and if something happens to him or her, functions vital to the family’s well-being and even its continued survival may cease to be performed. …

Moreover, as societies industrialize and become characterized by highly skilled and relatively high-wage labor, the potential relative contribution of unskilled children is greatly diminished. Wives’ employment, therefore, provides a highly adaptive alternative strategy. It introduces some needed labor redundancy, thereby reducing the risks to the family’s income position, and it also provides a means of helping to maintain living levels over the family’s developmental cycle. But if wives’ employment (whether in-termittent or regular, part-time or full-time) is an adaptive family strategy in a modern society, then we are positing a model of marriage entirely different from that of specialization and trade. Now we are talking about a more collaborative model.

Oppenheimer had been professor emerita at UCLA since 1994. My career, and those of many others, would not have been the same without her.

Does every sound bite have a source?

Today a story on Raleigh TV station WRAL featured two married mothers – one employed and one not – discussing their experiences. I was chosen to be the guy in the white coat. I might make it look effortless, but for every sound bite, there is a source. Credit reporter by Erin Hartness, for giving me time to prepare, and choosing clips that mostly made sense.

If the embedding doesn’t work, clip is here: Mothers struggle with work-home balance.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The sources

I said: “The pressure falls on [women], and all the progress we’ve made has so far not alleviated that pressure.” That could come from various sources, but is based on, “Under Pressure: Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Free Time and Feeling Rushed,” by Marybeth Mattingly and Liana Sayer in the Journal of Marriage and Family. They find: “women’s time pressure increased significantly between 1975 and 1998 but men’s did not.”

About the tendency of some working women who decide to stay home to treat parenting as they treat a professional career, I said: “some people think it’s ratcheted up the demands of parenting for everybody.” This comes from reading Pamela Stone’s book, Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home. (That was also the source for the comment that workplaces haven’t become as flexible as people would like to think.)

On there being a “self-help book for anything you can imagine,” I was referring to the proliferation about books on parenting, and especially on how to best do every kind of parenting. I made this picture for my Family class:

Dummy books on parenting

Finally, I said: “Husbands have changed their behavior, but not that much.” This is debatable, actually. The trends for mothers and fathers time doing paid and unpaid work from 1965 to 2000 are summarized in Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, by Suzanne M. Bianchi, John P. Robinson, and Melissa A. Milkie. In 1965 married mothers spent 4-times as much time taking care of children as fathers did; in 2000 they did twice as much childcare. Both mothers and fathers changed, but mothers do twice as much childcare (and the pattern for housework is similar). Given how much women’s employment has increased, I look at that as a glass-half-empty situation, but others disagree.

Who needs marriage?

When it comes to suicide, at least, the answer is: “men.”

Jessie Bernard famously argued that every marriage is really two marriages, his and hers – and his was more beneficial than hers. We know, for example, that both men and women have more family income when they’re married, but that’s mostly because men earn more than women, and married men earn more than single men. We know that women often depend on marriage for their health insurance, because men’s jobs are much more likely to provide coverage. The recent debate about women’s reportedly-declining happiness highlights the slipperiness of subjective indicators of wellbeing.

Sociologists have always considered suicide to be the gold standard measure of psychological wellbeing. And marriage has historically been a key indicator of social integration, the source of belongingness that makes suicide less likely. Although Bernard believed that, with regard to suicide, marriage is more protective of men than of women, recent research has been more equivocal. Now, however, we have a good long-term study with a large U.S. sample that tests this, and finds that, as suspected, marriage protects men more than women from themselves.

Suicide Risk by Marital Status

Source: My figure from Table 2 in Richard Rogers, Patrick Krueger and Tim Wadsworth, “Adult Suicide Mortality in the United States: Marital Status, Family Size, Socioeconomic Status, and Differences by Sex,” Social Science Quarterly, 2009 (90[5]:1167-85).

Controlling for race, age and the number of people in the family, those in marriage relationships have the lowest risk of suicide from 1986 through 2002 (these are called hazard ratios). But the pattern is only statistically significant for men, and it’s much more pronounced. The authors offer reasonable explanations for this:

Marital status—particularly widowhood—is significantly associated with the risk of suicide among males but not among females. These findings are compatible with prior research that suggests that marriage confers greater health benefits for men than for women, potentially because women invest more time and energy than other household members caring for the health and well-being of children, husbands, and older family members. In turn, men are especially vulnerable to the risk of suicide when they lose that social support due to widowhood.

Women, marriage and health insurance

The Center for American Progress has a nice report on the health insurance barriers unmarried women face by Liz Weiss, Ellen-Marie Whelan and Jessica Arons. A good report to use for class, including specific policy recommendations. They offer lots of evidence to document how

unmarried women are uniquely challenged in obtaining and maintaining health insurance. They rarely have the option to get insurance through another person and generally have less income to pay insurance and health care costs. What’s more, married women are vulnerable to changes in marital status that could affect their coverage.

I’m struck by how much more dependent on state coverage single women are than married women. Maybe Catharine MacKinnon would say patriarchy uses the state to keep women alive while they are temporarily outside the care/supervision of a man (and his employer’s patriarchy-enabling health care). On the other hand, maybe this reveals the modern state’s role as protector of women from men’s control, because it opens up the possibility of escaping the marriage system.

Here’s the breakdown:

Health insurance for married and unmarried women

Good issue for feminism: how women are more dependent on men than the wage gap itself would suggest.

Four-out-of-five myths about America

Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins from Brookings write “5 myths about our land of opportunity” in the Washington Post, four of which are really myths:

  • Americans enjoy more economic opportunity than people in other countries. [well, this one is actually not a myth compared with most countries, but they are right in the comparison with “Nordic countries and … the United Kingdom.”]
  • In the United States, each generation does better than the past one.
  • Immigrant workers and the offshoring of jobs drive poverty and inequality in the United States.
  • We can fund new programs to boost opportunity by cutting waste and abuse in the federal budget.

They have good reasons not to fall for those. But this one doesn’t fly:

If we want to increase opportunities for children, we should give their families more income. Of course, money is a factor in upward mobility, but it isn’t the only one; it may not even be the most important.”

But even if it’s not the most important, income sure helps. So the “should” in that myth is just a value judgment, while the rest were empirically based. They add,

“Our research shows that if you want to avoid poverty and join the middle class in the United States, you need to complete high school (at a minimum), work full time and marry before you have children.”

But having more family income (and other family advantages) makes all those intermediate outcomes more likely. They cite as evidence the 1996 welfare reform, which “dramatically increased employment and lowered overall child poverty.” That is the order of events, but the causal story is not so cut-and-dried.

An under-appreciated aspect of the recession is (was?) the toll it took on the already-poor, which reversed the long-term drop in welfare recipients driven by the Clinton reform. At last check the government hasn’t published TANF numbers for the first quarter of 2009, but the upward trend started in 2008 and seems sure to continue. How many of those will be “term-limited” off the program before they can find work from the end of the employment queue in the lagging-employment tail of the recession? Calls for a moratorium on term limits as part of the first stimulus package were not successful. Throwing some money at that problem would still probably do more good than harm.

Whose right to sex education?

The principle of equality for children is fundamentally at odds with the American interpretation of the principle of equality for adults. We defer parenting to parents at the cost of equality for their children. This happens in myriad ways, lots of which involve education. Just as adults are free to donate thousands of dollars to just our neighborhood school’s PTA, to benefit our children and evade responsibility for those of our non-neighbors, we may be free to dictate the terms of the education our children receive.

The right of the parents to control their children is great when it’s great. And the denial of that right is often egregious when it’s taken away from parents who are disenfranchised or oppressed, to the detriment of parents and children alike. But when it’s exercised poorly, the right of parental control is too-often protected by law.

Take sex education. Most states let parents “opt” their children out of what little sex education is still offered. A new report from the Guttmacher Institute lists 37 states and the District of Columbia that permit parental opt-outs for education about sexually-transmitted infections (3 more require affirmative consent before any education on the subject may be delivered). And, before you think better of those without opt-out provisions – most of them only teach abstinence anyway. (Even when parents “opt in,” what do they get? Teachers may have permission to teach about contraception while being blocked from its “advocacy or encouragement.”)

In the last 15 years, the public provision of real sex education has been drastically curtailed in this country. In the short period from 1995 to 2002 the percentage of adolescents receiving formal instruction on birth control methods dropped from 81% to 66% for boys, and 87% to 70% for girls. This was driven by the political movement for “abstinence only” education, abetted by $1.9 billion in federal and mandatory state matching funds.

What did we get for $1.9 billion? Nothing good. Abstinence only education has been shown to have no effect on how much teenagers have sex – none. It also has no effect on the number of partners teenagers have if they do have sex, and no effect on birth control use, pregnancy rates, or sexually transmitted disease infection. Not that these programs don’t accomplish anything. Like virginity pledges, abstinence-only programs do help spread myths that discourage condom use. The opt-out provisions for sex education are intended to permit parents to raise their children according to a particular moral code, and their children’s free access to lifesaving knowledge is a secondary concern.

The last year has seen progress toward broadening sex education, including federal efforts to break the political stranglehold of the abstinence-only movement. But even where such reforms are on the table, as in Wisconsin, more comprehensive sex education still includes a parental opt-out provision. Maybe this is politically unavoidable. But shouldn’t children have rights to real education that are not alienable?