A little shecovery

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research dates the start of the jobs shecovery to October 2010, but it wasn’t till the last quarter of 2011 that women’s job growth equaled men’s. They have a nice figure in their latest report:

This updates my mancession/hecovery series, which last appeared here.

Using the population survey numbers (not the payroll numbers IWPR uses), I’ve also updated my series on Black-White women’s trends:

NPR on divorce, recession and violence

NPR science correspondent Shankar Vedantam the other day did a very nice job in a long story on how the recession may be affecting relationships and divorce. He interviewed me, and in this post I provide the sources for my comments.

The story began with a reference to this paper by Judith Hellerstein and Melinda Sandler Morrill, who find that divorce rates in the last few decades are lower in states with higher unemployment rates. They apply a rigorous set of tests and alternative explanations, and it looks pretty solid. This is tricky because research on couples shows that unemployment increases marital stress and the risk of violence. That’s not necessarily a contradiction, of course, since the research on states doesn’t show the people who are actually unemployed are the ones getting divorced — it could be other people in those states who are not getting divorced (people who fear unemployment, for example).

Vedantam’s story focused on two women: one who postponed a divorce because she couldn’t afford the legal fees and costs of starting over, and another who felt she was at risk of violence because economic scarcity was keeping her and her husband together after they intended to separate permanently. The examples made a good case for how unemployment could worsen marriages even as it prolonged them. NPR also has a new survey out, which shows marriages suffering when one partner is unemployed:

From my own explorations on divorce in the current economic crisis, it looks like there might be a delayed uptick in divorce, and higher rates in states where the crisis was worse — but that remains to be confirmed.

Anyway, my job in this story was to interpret the evidence that unemployment increases the risk of domestic violence, which I’ve blogged about before, here and here.

The NPR transcript reads:

Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that multiple studies have found that the marital distress that comes from money problems and feeling trapped is strongly associated with an increased risk of domestic violence. One study, for example, looked at women who showed up in hospital emergency rooms for injuries that were both intentional and non-intentional.

“When you compare the women who were injured intentionally and women who were treated for other conditions in the emergency departments, they found that those who were injured intentionally were more likely to have experienced recent unemployment in their families,” Cohen says….

At the same time, however, Cohen says the overall rates of domestic violence have generally been on the decline. But what’s clear, he says, is that unemployment increases the risk of domestic violence.

“I’m quite confident from the research on couples — and what drives violence within couples — that among the people who are experiencing economic shock or dislocation or unemployment, there is an increased risk of violence,” he says. “And I would not expect that to be any different during this recession.”

These were my principal sources:

In addition, my searching around over the last several years has not turned up any evidence that would lead me to doubt this association between unemployment and violence. Still, if you think I’m off on this, I’d be glad to hear about it.

Mancession hecovery update

With the new employment numbers, showing signs of hope, it’s a good moment for a mancession-hecovery update.

The real trend’s rebound isn’t quite that balanced, but it’s leaning that way:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average for 2011 through November.

Clearly, men lost more jobs — more than twice as many from 2007 to 2010 (4.9 million versus 2 million). But looking just at the last 22 months you can see that men are bouncing back while women are stalled:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (seasonally adjusted).

Note that I use these numbers of employed people instead of unemployment rates because it takes out the subjective element of who supposedly wants a job, which isn’t well measured. Also, these aren’t people who have full-time jobs or good jobs, just jobs.

Recession fertility update: unemployment story strengthens

The relationship between unemployment and fertility changes during the recession is very strong.

Using the new 2010 fertility rate data (births per 1,000 women ages 15-44) and 2009 unemployment rate by state (giving unemployment a year to work its magic), I can update my earlier post. When you line up the changes  in fertility and unemployment rates, this is what you get:

In my last post I reported this correlation as -.48, but now it is up to -.55. This correlation doesn’t prove a causal relationship. However, with the national evidence that the fertility rate has tracked the economy pretty well since the 1990s, the circumstantial evidence is strong.

Prescriptions for poverty

Poverty is usually described as a status, as there are people below and above the poverty line. We need to do more to capture and represent the experience of poverty.

There are ways this can be done even in a single survey question, such as this one: “During the past 12 months, was there any time when you needed prescription medicine but didn’t get it because you couldn’t afford it?” Here are the percentages answering affirmatively, by official poverty-line status:

Percentage of Adults Aged 18-64 Who Did Not Get Needed Prescription Drugs Because of Cost, by Poverty Status: National Health Interview Survey, 1999-2010

This is not the same as not having any of the prescription drugs you need. What it indicates is economic insecurity rather than deprivation per se.

Google searches foretold Census report of divorce increase?

But my confidence in this whole enterprise is limited.

Trying to figure out what’s happening with divorce — an extended activity for me lately — might be better left alone for a year or two, till we get some more data and do some serious analysis. But, the bad combination of a trickle of numbers, the ideological ambitions of some people with PhDs, and writers pitching trend stories to their editors, keeps dragging me back in.

But last week we actually got some real new numbers, and some new reporting, so here’s a quick update.


The unfortunate new reporting is from this USA Today article, speculating that the recession is giving couples who can’t afford a divorce a chance to reconcile before it’s too late. There are real stories of people who considered divorce but then didn’t, like this couple:

As usual, though, the personal stories are interesting but not worth the damage caused by the causal leaps:

Adding to the confusion is the financial reality that a split is expensive. Census data released last week suggest that the economy has indeed caused a dip in divorce. Some [unnamed] experts predict a divorce explosion when the economy improves, but others [unnamed] say the recession may keep some together long enough to work it out. … The Census bureau counted 65,000 fewer divorces in 2010 than in 2008, a 7% drop.

The total number of divorces between two time points — 2008 and 2010 — is not evidence that “the economy has indeed caused a dip in divorce.” What’s really going on is hard to discover because of at least three things happening at once:

  1. Long term decline in divorce rates, but also declines in marriage rates, changes in marriage timing, and changes in pre-marriage cohabitation.
  2. Muddled data collection and reporting on divorce, so that some vital statistics reports exclude important states (such as California), while the great new data from the American Community Survey (ACS) is based on self reports that have as-yet unknown biases.
  3. The recession which is probably influencing overall trends in all different directions at once.

New numbers

But there are new numbers, so we should at least report them correctly.

The ACS is a giant, national sample survey, which since 2008 has asked people about “marital events” in the previous year. These include marriage, divorce and widowhood. This is definitely not the same as counting up divorce decrees, since it’s an uncorroborated self-report. And, because the rates appear higher than those from other sources, and separation is not a “marital event” they ask about, we suspect some people say they were divorced before the legal deed is done.

Here’s what the ACS has for the past three years. I calculated “refined marriage rates,” or the number of divorces reported per 1,000 married people in the same group in the same period.

The first thing you might notice is that the divorce rates are different for men than for women, which should send up a cautionary flare on the data. Some day, when more homogamous couples have the right to legal divorces, we could have real gender differences in divorce rates, but right now they just mean differences in reporting of unknown origin. But the trends are parallel, so maybe the mismeasurement is at least consistent and the trends are legit.

Anyway, real legal divorces take a while to complete — in fact there are mandated waiting periods in many states. If the recession started in 2008 or so, did it “cause” the dip in divorce from 2008 to 2009? Or, was that just a routine annual decline, counteracted by an unusual upward blip in 2010?

We’re not going to know till we have detailed studies that look at who divorced, when and where (timing, states, unemployment rates, that sort of thing). But, I can’t resist one more trip into the Google-back machine.

Three months ago I reported Google trends “that might support the image I have of divorce pressure building up behind a levee of real estate and unemployment barriers that limit people’s options for breaking up and moving out.”

I used the same method with three more months data, and it still fits. Again, I took the top 100 searches most correlated temporally with “divorce” from Google Correlate (get it here), and broke out the ones that seem clearly divorce related:

  • filed for divorce
  • file for divorce
  • filing for divorce
  • file divorce
  • after divorce
  • attorney search
  • dissolution of marriage
  • after marriage
  • getting divorced

This graph shows the trend for just “divorce” (dots) and the average of all the terms (red line):

If I were the type to gloat prematurely, I would claim credit for predicting the increase in divorce rates Census just reported for 2010. Instead, I put a question mark in the title of the post, and let you draw your own conclusions.

Google index of poor mothers’ pain

In light of the mean-spirited Obama-wants-everyone-on-food-stamps meme, and the Heritage Foundation’s mocking attack on poor people as air-conditioned, Xbox-loving couch potatoes, let’s consider something else about poor single parents — especially poor mothers: their Google searches.

That’s right, in addition to refrigerators, apparently almost everyone in America today has Internet access — often at their local public libraries.

And yet they still complain about their little problems. They type searches into Google like, “help paying electric bill,” “hair falling out,” and even — presumably so they can laugh at the poor suckers who actually work for a living — “walmart jobs.”

The old “misery index” was just unemployment plus inflation. Maybe the new index to watch is Google searches for “help for single mothers.” Here is the trend for that search, along with one of the searches that most closely follows its trend, “walmart jobs.” The temporal correlation between these two — the amount they rise and fall together over time — is .96 on a scale of 0 to 1.

You can see the full list of 100 searches most correlated with “help for single mothers” by following this link.

After the poverty report came out last month, comedian Andy Borowitz tweeted, “One in six Americans is living in poverty, but the other five are more concerned about the changes to Facebook.” Whether you’re in the first group or the latter one — or neither — it’s worth pausing for a minute to think about the lives of people Googling things like, “help with rent,” “iud side effects,” “cheap dinner ideas” and “get a credit card with bad credit.” (The searches all correlate with “help for single mothers” at .94 or higher.)

A similar list comes up in the correlations with searches for “food stamps.” Here it is graphed with “housekeeping jobs,” correlated at .97:

The list of correlated searches is similar, including a preponderance of women’s health terms (“clots during period”) economic crises (“light bill”), and ideas for climbing out of an economic hole (“medical assistant jobs,” “dispatcher jobs”).

On the plus side, both of these trends peaked in mid-2010, for now. So maybe things have stopped getting worse quite so fast. Or maybe they just lost their Internet access at the library due to budget cuts.

Am I being selective, not reporting the searches like “loving this cool TV,” and “food stamps rule”? Not intentionally, but you never know. The links to the searches are above, and the data is free.

Three things about poverty and family structure

In the figure below, I have tried to show three important facts about the United States’ poverty situation.

1. The overall poverty rate — the top of the purple area — is back over 15%, erasing the gains against poverty made since the mid-1990s. That’s about 46 million people.

2. Five percent of the total population lives in poor families headed by single women — the red area. That is about 16 million people. That also erases most of the gains made since the 1990s.

3. Just over one-third of poor people live in families headed by single women.

The poverty rate among families headed by single mothers — which is not shown here — is very high, of course: 34% overall, 41% among Black families, 45% among Latina families. (Single-father families have a 15.8% poverty rate, unchanged in 2010.)

But poverty in the U.S. is not principally a problem of families headed by single mothers — they make up just a third of the poor population, down from a peak of 39% in the 1990s. And the news for this recession is that they account for only about one-quarter of the increase in poverty since 2006. This recession has increased poverty more in married couple families and people not in families.

The full poverty and income report is here.

Has the recession increased family violence?

New evidence against my earlier views.

Last year I cited a study of abusive head trauma in children which showed marked increases in four cities after the start of the recession (that was a conference paper that now has been published in Pediatrics). That followed a list of evidence supporting the idea that economic recession was increasing violence within families, from local intimate homicide rates and domestic violence court backlogs to social service reports and many news media anecdotes, along with general evidence that unemployment increases violence.

Since then, a 2011 review published in Sociology of Crime Law and Deviance reports that evidence for recession effects on intimate partner violence are weak at best, so there is no reason to expect an increase to show up when the data on this recession is put together. And now the latest data from the National Crime Victimization Survey shows a sharp drop in relationship violence against women in 2010:

But this is hard to evaluate because — as with divorce — it’s part of a long-term declining trend. To put that declining trend in perspective, I lined it up with the trends for violent crime, and the subset of serious violent crime. Showing these as percent changes, they are all following the same general trend. If anything, the decline in intimate partner violence against women has slowed relative to the others since 2007, which could be a sign of recession-related violence:

Finally, there is the problem of dating the “recession” to identify its effects. How to do that partly depends on what aspect of the the economic crisis you think might be affecting family violence — unemployment, home foreclosures, social service cuts, and so on. This has been dragging on long enough that we could assemble evidence in different directions several times. Here’s a final example: domestic homicide rates in New York state, which came out last month.

The total number of New York domestic homicides (which include intimate-partner homicides even if they don’t live together) increased about 10% in 2010, but the intimate partner portion of the total fell. You might say 2008 and 2009 constituted a recession-related spike in intimate-partner homicides, but 2010 doesn’t fit.

In short (not short enough), I’m not as convinced as I was that the recession has increased the level of violence over what it would have been otherwise. So, although there are sure to be many acts of violence triggered by the crisis, I recommend skepticism about broad conclusions on overall trends.

Marketplace multigenerational

There are a handful of posts on here about multigenerational family arrangements, especially inspired by family responses to the recession. Maybe that inspired the public radio program Marketplace to call me for a quick conversation about the recent increase in families spanning more than two generations. You can listen here, or read the transcript below (with the “um”s removed).

Here’s one visualization of the trend:

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: We’re gonna get a glimpse at how home prices in big cities across the country are doing with the Case-Schiller Index that comes out in just a couple of minutes. For some American families home dwelling is taking a trip back to the future. New census data shows in this tough economy — and an even tougher housing market — the number of multi-generational households has surged. Those are homes where children, parents and grandparents — three generations or more — all live under one roof.

Let’s talk a bit about this new trend. Philip Cohen is professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. He’s with us now from Chapel Hill. Good morning professor.

PHILIP COHEN: Good morning.

CHIOTAKIS: Why are more people of different generations living together, and how does this effect them all?

COHEN: Well, the first thing that happens is that people turn to those they expect to care for them, or people that have some moral obligation. And whether its young people looking up a generation or old people looking down a generation, the family is the first place that people have to turn.

CHIOTAKIS: Is this because of economic conditions? Is that particularly the reason why?

COHEN: We’ve seen for a long time that people tend to live in multi-generational households when they don’t have as much choice as they’d like. So it seems like Americans, when they can afford to, don’t do this. So when we see a strong uptick in multi-generational living, we have to expect that it’s economic. Although frankly, the numbers have been trending up since the middle of the decade.

CHIOTAKIS: How does this bode for the rest of the economy, though? Does this mean more sharing of groceries, and other toiletry items, less shopping, less spending?

COHEN: Well I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but it may be more efficient for families. They certainly — it may reduce the total number of households and increase economies of scale within families. I have seen at least one report that builders are getting more requests for so-called “in-law suites” in some areas. So if you who are taking it seriously, and you have some money to spend, then it certainly is another opportunity to spend some money.

CHIOTAKIS: Very quickly, sir, is this temporary, or are these permanent living situations?

COHEN: Well the long term decline in multi-generational living made us think that it would never turn around. The steep increase in the last few years has us wondering. I don’t know.