Tag Archives: divorce

Fewer births and divorces, more violence: how the recession affected the American family

I wrote this for The Conversation. Read the original here.

Observers may be quick to declare social trends “good” or “bad” for families, but such conclusions are rarely justified. What’s good for one family – or group of families – may be bad for another. And within families, interests do not always align. Divorce is “bad” for a family in the sense of breaking it apart, but it may be beneficial, or even essential, for one or both partners or their children.

This kind of ambiguity makes it difficult to assess what kind of impact the recent recession and its aftermath had on families. But for researchers, at least, it offers a lot of job security – so many questions, so much going on. In any case, here’s where we stand so far.

The effect of the Great Recession on family trends in the United States has been dramatic with regard to birth rates and divorce, and has been strongly suggestive of family violence, but less clear for marriage and cohabitation.

Marriage rates declined, and cohabitation rates increased, but these trends were already underway, and the recession didn’t alter them much. When trends don’t change direction it’s difficult to identify an effect of a shock this broad. However, with both birth rates and divorce, clear patterns emerged.

Birth rates: a sharp drop
The most dramatic impact was on birth rates, which dropped precipitously, especially for young women, as a result of the economic crisis. How do we know? First, the timing of the fertility decline is very suggestive. After increasing steadily from the beginning of 2002 until late 2007, birth rates dropped sharply. (The decline has since slowed for some groups after 2010, but the US still saw record-low birth rates for teenagers and women ages 20-24 as late as 2012.)

Second, the decline in fertility was steeper in states with greater increases in unemployment. Although we don’t have the data to determine which couple did or did not have a child in response to economic changes, this pattern supports the idea that financial concerns convinced some people to not have a child.

That interpretation is supported by the third trend: the fertility drop was more pronounced among younger women – and there was no drop at all among women over 40. That may mean the fertility decline represents births postponed by families that intend to have children later – an option older women may not have – which fits previous research on economic shocks.

It seems likely that people who are on the fence about having a baby can be swayed by perceived financial hardship or uncertainty. From research on 27 European countries, we know that people with troubled family financial situations are more likely to say they are unsure whether they will meet their stated childbearing goals – that is, economic uncertainty doesn’t change their familial aims but may increase uncertainty in whether they will be met.

However, some births delayed inevitably become births foregone. Based on the effect of unemployment on birth rates in earlier periods, it appears a substantial number of young women who postponed births will end up never having children. By one estimate, women who were in their early 20s during the Great Recession are projected to have some 400,000 fewer lifetime births and an additional 1.5% of them will never have a birth.

Divorce rates: a counter-intuitive reaction
In the case of divorce, the pattern is counter-intuitive. Although economic hardship and insecurity adds stress to relationships and increases the risk of divorce, the overall divorce rate usually drops when unemployment rates rise.

Researchers believe that, like births, people postpone divorces during economic crises because of the costs of divorcing – not just legal fees, but also housing transitions (which were especially difficult in the Great Recession) and employment disruptions.

My own research found that there was a sharp drop in the divorce rate in 2009 that can reasonably be attributed to the recession. But, as we suspect will be the case with births, there appears to have been a divorce-rate rebound in the years that followed.
Domestic violence: a spike along with joblessness
Family violence has become much less common since the 1990s. The reasons are not entirely clear, but they certainly include the overall drop in violent crime, improved response from social service and non-governmental organizations, and improvements in women’s relative economic status. However, when the recession hit there was a spike in intimate-partner violence, coinciding with the sharp rise in men’s unemployment rates (I show the trends here).

As with the other trends, it’s hard to make a case based on timing alone, but the evidence is fairly strong that the economic shock increased family stress and violence. For example, one study showed that mothers were more likely to report spanking their children in the months when consumer confidence fell. Another study found a jump in abusive head trauma cases during the recession in several regions. And there have been many anecdotal and journalist accounts of increases in family violence, emerging as early as 2009. Are these direct results of the economic stress or mere correlation? It’s hard to say for sure.

The ultimate impact of these trends on American families will likely take years to emerge. The recession may have affected the pattern of marriage in ways we don’t yet understand – how couples selected each other, who got married and who didn’t – and may create measurable group of marriages that are marked for future effects as yet unforeseen. Like the young adults who entered the labor market during the period of high unemployment and whose career trajectories will be forever altered unfavorably, how these families bear the scars cannot be predicted. Time will tell.

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First look: 2013 divorce rates show big drop

The 2013 American Community Survey (ACS) is out, and with it the numbers we need to update the divorce rate trend.*

These are the estimates based on the giant sample: In 2013 there were 63,951,934 married men, and  63,619,135 married women. In 2013, 1,071,278 men and 1,197,095 women reported getting divorced in the 12 months prior to their interview. That means the refined divorce rates — divorces per 1,000 married people — were 16.8 for men and 18.8 for women. Wow! Look at the trend now:

divorce rates.xlsxThat’s a very big drop, almost as big as the 2009 drop. What does this mean? It’s too early to say without more investigation, but consider it in light of my analysis of the recession period. Starting with the 2008 data, it looked to me like there was a big drop at the start of the recession — which we figure is related to the costs of divorce (legal fees, real estate, other transition costs) — and then a rebound as the postponed divorces start to materialize.

I didn’t just guess that based on the trends. I used the variables associated with divorce in 2008 (age at marriage, marital duration, education, race/ethnicity, etc.) to predict divorces in the later years, and found that the prediction was higher than the observed number of divorces, suggesting a deficit of realized divorces.

That interpretation might still be true (which is good, because the paper was published less than a year ago). But the ACS marital events (e.g. ,divorce) data only go back to 2008, so it’s difficult to evaluate the 2009 drop in historical perspective. Now we have to wonder: What if 2009 was really closer to the “normal” rate of divorce decline, and really the recession just gave us the 2010-2012 increase, and no drop? I’m not ready to conclude that, of course. My analysis still makes sense. And there is previous research (cited in the paper) that shows declines in divorce during recessions. But 2013 is going to have to be explained somehow.

I have an idea. I’ll just hop over to the government’s official divorce statistics page to compare these ACS numbers with the actual number of divorces recorded. Wait, what?

nodivorcestats

Hm. Well, OK, there’s no “detailed data” from the vital statistics system anymore. But surely there is at least a simple count available? I’ll just click on “National marriage and divorce rate trends,” to get those. Um…

cdcdivrate

So these numbers only go through 2011, and they exclude 6 states, which together account for 20% of all US divorces. Here’s a good data exercise: find another rich country that doesn’t have a count of its own marriages and divorces.

As I have pointed out in increasingly alarmed tones (in this post and earlier), the ACS marital events and marital history questions have been slated for removal by the budget powers that be.** Because if there’s one thing we don’t want to spend money on, it’s information. Why bother? We can just do a Google search or use Big Data to count up #imfinallydivorced hashtags. Yes, I just made that up. But the way things are going we may soon be begging Facebook and Google to tell us what’s going on. As Vonnegut might say, “Good luck, America!”

Notes

* The public use files are up on the IPUMS.org site, and the online analysis tool is available for quick analysis, but for this I used the numbers from the full survey, available on the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder, tables 1YR_B12503 and 1YR_B12001. I realize it’s odd that the rates for men and women here differ (by more than would be possible even if lots of women are divorcing other women). This is a survey question, not a count of legal divorces.

**The information about the planned cuts to the American Community Survey is here: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/10/31/2014-25912/proposed-information-collection-comment-request-the-american-community-survey-content-review-results:

Direct all written comments to Jennifer Jessup, Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer, Department of Commerce, Room 6616, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20230 (or via the Internet at jjessup@doc.gov).

Comments will be accepted until December 30.

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Divorce, animated

Next up the in The Story Behind the Numbers series of animations for my book: Divorce (Chapter 10, “Divorce, Remarriage, and Blended Families). Using the demographic characteristics associated with divorce, from my paper here, the artists at Kiss Me I’m Polish set the story in charming abstract creatureville:

Here’s the relevant table from the paper. Positive coefficients mean the variable is associated with increased odds of divorce, negative is the reverse:

divtables

Meanwhile, I have written several posts about the planned cuts to the American Community Survey, which include the questions necessary to conduct this analysis: marital events (did you get divorced in the last year) and marital history (how many times have you been married, and when was the last time).

Here’s the information on how to register your opinion on these cuts:

The information about the planned cuts to the American Community Survey is here: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/10/31/2014-25912/proposed-information-collection-comment-request-the-american-community-survey-content-review-results:

Direct all written comments to Jennifer Jessup, Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer, Department of Commerce, Room 6616, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20230 (or via the Internet at jjessup@doc.gov).

Comments will be accepted until December 30, 2014.

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So you want to know the Asian divorce rate (save the ACS marital events edition)

One of the most popular posts ever on this blog is about Asian incomes, and especially the variation in average incomes across Asian national-origin groups and cities. Turns out the diverse Asian groups have different divorce rates as well. Why not? It would be nuts to assume the immigrants and their descendants from everywhere from Bangladesh to Japan had common family practices and behavior.

We can figure this out with the American Community Survey (see below; data from which is provided by IPUMS.org). The ACS is big enough to measure divorce rates for Asian subgroups if you pool together a few years — for this I use the 2008-2012 file. For reliability, here I am just showing those groups that had a sample of at least 1,000 married people. And I’m including as separate groups those that selected more than one “race” — Japanese-White, Korean-White, and Filipino-White (you’ll see why I separated them out). Note these are multiple-race individuals, not couples in which the two spouses reported different races.

The national refined divorce rate — divorces per 1,000 people — fell from 20 to 18 at the start of the recession in 2008, before rebounding back up to 19 by 2012. So compare these numbers with about 19 as the national average divorce rate (click to enlarge).

asian divorce rates 08-12.xlsx

Look at that spread! Now won’t you feel a little foolish for even asking what the “Asian” divorce rate is? I leave the interpretation to the relevant experts (media note: but I’ll be happy to speculate if it will help you get your story past the editor).

A further wrinkle: gender. Unfortunately, because the ACS is a household survey, if someone is divorced, the person they divorced is usually not living in the same household, which means we don’t know who they divorced (or even the other spouse’s gender!). Naturally, men and women in the same ethnic group can have different divorce rates to the extent that they marry outside their own group (or get gay divorced at different rates).

So here are the divorce rates for the same groups, but separately by gender. Groups above the line have higher divorce rates for men (Pakistanis, Cambodians), those below the line have higher divorce rates for women (Korean, Vietnamese, Korean-White). Click to enlarge:
asiandivorcegenderBy now you’ve realized what a wonderful treasure-trove of data this is for understanding the incredibly expanding family complexity that pulses all around us. Or, as they say, “Pretty nice data you got there. I’d hate to see something happen to it.” Read on.

Speak up

Last week I reported “millennial” generation divorce rates for 25 metropolitan areas. That’s something you can only get from the very large American Community Survey (because we have no national registry of marital events).

In addition to local areas, however, the vast size of the ACS lets us drill down into very small groups in the population — like small Asian subgroups. For another example, remember the big ruckus over same-sex marriage (you know, homogamy)? I for one would love to have good national data on same-sex marriage patterns when the equality-deniers finally lope back into their caves and the dust settles.

But now the feds are proposing to scrap the marital events (did you get married, divorced, or widowed last year?) and marital history (how many times have you been married, and when was the last time?) questions from the ACS just to save a few million dollars. I hope you’ll help demographic science convince them not to. (In the previous post I listed a bunch of divorce facts we only know because of the ACS questions.)

The information about the planned cuts to the American Community Survey is here: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/10/31/2014-25912/proposed-information-collection-comment-request-the-american-community-survey-content-review-results:

Direct all written comments to Jennifer Jessup, Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer, Department of Commerce, Room 6616, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20230 (or via the Internet at jjessup@doc.gov).

Comments will be accepted until December 30.

* Contrary to popular belief, there is no “Asian” category on the Census/ACS form. People are identified as Asian if they pick any of the Asian national origins listed on the “race” question. It’s all pretty American-exceptional. Here is the question, from this form:

acs2010raceq

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Top 25 cities for Millennial divorce (save the American Community Survey marital history and events questions edition)

First some news, then the urgent story behind the news.

All marriages and divorces are local. Whether and when people marry is dependent on who they meet and the conditions under which their relationships develop — social, economic, and even political. And divorce depends on local factors as well, such as the likelihood or feasibility of meeting alternative partners, the costs and consequences of divorce, and the norms and laws regulating divorce. (The same is true for forming and ending non-marital relationships, but those are harder to measure and their dynamics are different).

The Millennial Divorce Capital

So, I know the question you’re dying to have answered is: Where do Millennials get divorced? This question is so compelling that I’ve suspended my normal objection to arbitrary generational definitions, and let Mellennials be defined as anyone born in 1980 or later — so this is the divorce rate among people roughly ages 15 to 31 in the 2009-2011 American Community Survey.

Measuring divorce is complicated, because you’ve got a lot of choices. Here are two simple ways: The number of divorces among Millennials occurring in the previous year per 1,000 Millennials in the population (the crude Millennial divorce rate), and the number of those divorces per 100 married Millennials (the refined Millennial divorce rate). Think of the crude rate as the chance of meeting a Millennial who just got divorced walking down the street, and the refined rate as the chance that one of your married friends just got divorced. I’ve ranked them by the refined rate for this table, which we can use to crown Portland, Oregon the Millennial Divorce Capital of the United States (it’s #1 on both measures).

div acs metro demo.xlsx

This is just the 25 largest Millennial population centers, for which we have the most reliable estimates of divorce rates. Nationally, 6.2 out of every 1,000 living Millennials reported getting divorced in the previous 12 months.

It’s complicated

The differences in the two rates I show can be very important. For example, if I expanded the list to the top 50, you would see that the city in which you are most likely to bump into a divorced Millennial at random (spilling your non-caffeinated beverage) is Salt Lake City, where an astonishing 9.7 out of every 1,000 Millennials got divorced in the past year. That’s not because they love divorce, however, it’s because they love marriage. An amazing 34% of Salt Lake City Millennials in 2009-2011 had already been married, compared to just 23% in Divorce Capital Portland.

On the other hand, it’s not just that more married people means more people available for divorce. It’s also the case that early marriage increases the risk of divorce. And more than that, places where early marriage is common have higher rates, even for people who get married at older ages. In this figure I show an adjusted divorce rate (technically, the predicted chance of divorcing in year 5 given marrying at age 23) by the average age at first marriage in each metro area: Divorce is less common in the late-marriage cities*:

div acs metro demo ageat

(Note that, to produce this figure, you need a survey that asks millions of people how many times they’ve been married, the year they most recently got married, and whether they got divorced in the past year. You don’t just type this into a Google search box.)

But wait, I’m afraid it’s more complicated than that. And here I’m moving toward the urgent story behind the news.

People move around. Divorce may occur in a split second, but what demographers call “relationship dissolution” unfolds over time. People move after they divorce, they divorce after they move, and they may even get divorced in places other than where they live. The ACS data I’m using here help sort this out. This divorce incidence measure is based on a survey question, not a legal record. As with all the other questions on the survey (age, race, income, education, etc.), we more or less have to trust the answers people give (some implausible answers are edited out by the Census Bureau). If we really want to understand how and where divorce (or marriage) happens, we need to be creative and careful, and use the best data. And this is the best data.

Here’s a simple illustration. This figure shows the percentage of two groups of Millennials in each state who arrived in the past year: Those who are married, and those who just got divorced. For example, in Oregon, home of the Millennial Divorce Capital, 17% of the divorced Millennials lived in a different state last year. So either moving to Oregon led to their divorce, or their divorce led to an interstate migration. In contrast, only 7% of Oregon’s married Millennial population just got there (click to enlarge):

aca-state-divorce-movers

The red line is the diagonal, so states above the line — most states — have more divorced arrivals than married arrivals (I excluded a few states with few cases in the data). There are, naturally, a lot of fascinating ways you might approach these questions. Which brings me to the urgent news.

Save the American Community Survey marital events and history data

I know from experience that some of you are thinking things like, “Break it down by race!”, “What about gay couples?”, and “What about hypergamy?” If you want those answers, get out your wallets. This information doesn’t just happen, it’s garnered through a massive federal data collection, without which our ability to know ourselves and our society would be severely compromised. And that’s what might be about to happen.

The data I just showed came from the American Community Survey (ACS), the large Census Bureau survey that replaced the “long form” of the decennial census in the 2000s. (The data are wonderfully prepared and distributed by the good people at IPUMS.org.) Unlike a simple national random survey — which is a major undertaking in itself — the ACS uses a sophisticated rotating geographic design that samples from all around the country to gather the information we need for all levels of geographic detail – down to the neighborhood.

Filling out this survey, in 3.5 million households, is estimated to take about 2.3 million hours of the American people’s time and cost a fortune. Now the federal government is reviewing the different parts of the survey looking for unnecessary parts, and they have identified 7 questions that could be cut, including the ones I’ve been using here: marital events (did you get married, divorce, or widowed in the last year), marital history (how many times have you been married, when did you get married most recently), and a couple others. So I’m trying to convince you to submit a public comment urging them not to make the cuts.

Why do we need this?

Believe it or not, there is no national count of marriages and divorces. That’s right, your government cannot tell you how many legal marriages and divorces there are. They used to collect this from every state, but now they don’t. States collect this information, but it’s not standardized, and it’s not collected together. And, even if it were, we wouldn’t be able to analyze it with all the detail I’ve used here — using marriage duration, age at marriage, and other important factors. So, even at the national level, this is all we have.

However, just for national marriage and divorce statistics, we wouldn’t need the ACS. We could use a smaller survey, like the Current Population Survey or others. If they wanted to work out one of those alternatives before canceling these questions, that would be OK for national statistics.

However, for smaller populations — state and local populations, minority groups, gay and lesbian couples — there is no alternative. If we lose these questions on the ACS, we lose the ability to do all that. Unfortunately, there is no legal or legislative mandate to collect this information down to the local level, which is why it’s on the chopping block. It’s just super interesting and important, not legally required. So we need to communicate that up the chain of command and hope they listen.

To help motivate and inform you toward that end, here’s a list of what we would not know about divorce without the ACS marital events and history questions, and then the information for contacting the federal government with your comment. These are just from my blog, I haven’t done an exhaustive search. The point is not that I’ve done so much, but that there is so much of vital importance that we can learn from this data.

  • The refined divorce rate in 2012 was 19 per 1,000 married people.
  • The overall projected divorce rate for couples marrying in 2012 is about 50%. This requires using marriage, divorce, and widowhood incidence to calculate competing risks. You need all the ACS questions for that.
  • We lost about 150,000 divorces during and after the recession. Then divorce rebounded to catch up to its (declining) trend. That’s the result of my analysis published in Population Research and Policy Review, which relied on a model using all the ACS individual data in all 50 states.
  • People with disabilities are much more likely to get divorced than people without. The magnitude of the difference depends on the type of disability.
  • Divorce rates in first marriages are more than three-times as high for Black women as for Asian women in the U.S.
  • The 2008-09 refined divorce rate by state was correlated with Google searches for “colt 45 automatic” at .86 (on a scale of -1 to 1).
  • The 2011 crude divorce rate by state was correlated with Google searches for “vasectomy reversal” at .79.
  • The changing pattern of same-sex marriage across states and local areas. We don’t know this yet, but we should, and we’ll want to, and the ACS is the only way we’ll be able to.

Speak up

The information about the planned cuts to the American Community Survey is here: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/10/31/2014-25912/proposed-information-collection-comment-request-the-american-community-survey-content-review-results:

Direct all written comments to Jennifer Jessup, Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer, Department of Commerce, Room 6616, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20230 (or via the Internet at jjessup@doc.gov).

Comments will be accepted until December 30.

* Here’s the mixed-effect multilevel regression testing the relationship between average age at marriage (meanagemarr) and odds of divorcing, controlling for age at marriage and duration of marriage, for 262,269 married people in 283 metro areas:

acs-metro-div-reg

If you want to see serious research into the effects of age at marriage, local age at marriage, and religion, on divorce, this paper by Glass and Levchak is the right place to start.

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The persistence of gender differences, Catholic furor edition

The Pope’s convention of male moral pontificators is convening to discuss family matters. One of the most important questions, as Ross Douthat has described at great length, is how to strike the right balance between laxity and rigorism on the question of divorce, to maximize Church membership by keeping divorced people (and their children) on the rolls while sending the minimum of those members to hell for adultery after they remarry.

catholic-laxity-game

(This is a great project for a sociologist interested in simulations.)

Divorce is a leading issue, but homosexuality looms. In yesterday’s New York Times, Frank Bruni writes about the American Catholic Church leadership’s obsession with homosexuality:

…Catholic officials here have elected to focus on this one issue and on a given group of people: gays and lesbians. Their moralizing is selective, bigoted and very sad. It’s also self-defeating, because it’s souring many American Catholics, a majority of whom approve of same-sex marriage, and because the workers who’ve been exiled were often exemplars of charity, mercy and other virtues as central to Catholicism as any guidelines for sex. But their hearts didn’t matter. It was all about their loins. Will the church ever get away from that?

As Bruni reports, employees at Catholic institutions are still being fired for acknowledging their homosexuality (the starting point, incidentally, of the new movie Love Is Strange, for the couple played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina).

loveisstrange

Bruni may speak for the majority of American Catholics when he condemns the Church’s witch-hunt. But as the synod approached, a group speaking for the academic right wing of the anti-gay movement within American Christianity beseeched the Holy Father to use the occasion to “express timeless truths about marriage,” which are that cohabitation, divorce, homosexuality, and pornography are wrong.

(Aside: Academics will appreciate the funny requests for money for themselves and their movement in the letter. They want money for “cross-discipline, longitudinal research on the role of pornography and ‘no fault’ divorce in the marriage crisis,” and they want “mandatory courses [for seminarians] covering social science evidence on the benefits of marriage, threats to marriage, and the consequences of divorce and cohabitation to children and society.”)

The letter calls for opening a new front in the war on modern marriage law, using the language of religious freedom to prevent divorce (as they have urged with regard to marriage equality):

Many do not know that religious freedom is routinely violated by divorce judges who ignore or demean the views of a spouse who seeks to save a marriage, keep the children in a religious school, or prevent an abandoning spouse from exposing the children to an unmarried sexual partner.

In other words, they want to argue — in court — that divorced spouses who have new partners are violating the religious freedom of their ex-spouses. (By this logic, I guess, I could argue that them even making this argument violates my religious freedom not to live in a society where someone makes this argument.)

They would like the Pope to:

Support efforts to preserve what is right and just in existing marriage laws, to resist any changes to those laws that would further weaken the institution, and to restore legal provisions that protect marriage as a conjugal union of one man and one woman, entered into with an openness to the gift of children, and lived faithfully and permanently as the foundation of the natural family.

Regnerus himself (follow the Regnerus tag for background) is taking the long view in his new role as movement intellectual. And the logic he uses helps explain Bruni’s puzzle over the Church’s homosexuality obsession. In an interview on a Christian radio station last month, Regnerus said there are a lot of objectionable marriage laws outside the same-sex marriage debate. He went on:

It’s important for us to not sort of just get caught up in the big kahuna around same-sex marriage, and to remember, as we’ve seen with the abortion debate, incremental change, legally, can occur even after all hope seems lost. But there’s also sort of – nobody’s holding us back from creating a marriage culture in, say, the Catholic Church or broader evangelicalism. We hold ourselves back, right? I tend to think the way things are rolling at the moment, it’s not just as if same-sex marriage fell out of the sky, and was on our plate. I mean, it was paved, right? The road to there was paved in part by all sorts of poor laws around opposite-sex marriage, right? And the giving away of what we might call the sort of functional definition of marriage, visions of complementarity, you know? We have bought, hook, line, and sinker, the idea that essentially men and women are interchangeable in our marriages. And it’s hard to get away from that, but I think we’re going to have to. So in some ways we want to fashion a counter-cultural movement regardless of what the states signal.

The way I see the way he sees it, the mission is to protect and restore gender differentiation itself. That agenda, not just old-fashioned patriarchal views, underlies the anti-homosexual obsession, the opposition to marriage equality and single motherhood, and the effort to protect the male religious hierarchy.

Different genders

I object to this agenda personally on moral grounds, naturally. But my scientific opinion is that the concern is misplaced. In some broad ways, of course, gender differences have eroded — for example, as women have gained political rights and access to gainful employment. And on the rare occasions when they choose to, men can even be nurses, teachers, and stay-at-home parents. You might call all that a convergence of gender roles. But gender differentiation is alive and well.

boysactivities

In some respects the gender binary is resurgent after a brief surge of androgyny in popular culture around 1970 (which Jo Paoletti traces in the fascinating forthcoming book, Sex and Unisex). A visit to the Sociological Images Pinterest board on pointlessly gendered products helps reinforce this point — there are even gendered kids’ Bibles:

kidsbibles

Or consider the relative frequency of the phrases “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English as a fraction of references to “toys for children,” from Google ngrams:

toysngrams

In fact, it seems to me that gender difference is proliferating. But it’s not just the binary difference.

One of the benefits of the high visibility of the marriage rights movement has been its exposure of gender variance. Far from a convergence around a single gender, as the traditionalist Christians fear — or the elimination of gender — instead I think we have a growing diversity of gender perspectives and identities. The very narrow interpretation of this is that “men and women are interchangeable.” The reality is that no one is.

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Marriage, divorce, remarriage, age, education (Coontz tabs edition)

Stephanie Coontz has an excellent Op-Ed on the front of today’s New York Times Sunday Review, which draws out the implications for family instability of the connection between increasing gender equality on the one hand, and increasing economic inequality and insecurity on the other. The new instability is disproportionately concentrated among the population with less than a college degree. To help with her research, I gave Stephanie the figure below, but it didn’t make the final cut. This shows the marriage history of men and women by education and age. She wrote:

According to the sociologist Philip N. Cohen, among 40-somethings with at least a bachelor’s degree, as of 2012, 63 percent of men and 59 percent of women were in their first marriage, compared to just 43 percent of men and 42 percent of women without a bachelor’s degree.

I highlighted those numbers in the figure. Also striking is the higher percentage of divorced people among those with less than a BA degree (and higher widowhood rates). Click to enlarge: age marriage history Cross-posted on the Families As They Really Are blog.

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