Tag Archives: relationships

My rejection of the National Marriage Project’s “Before ‘I Do'”

All day today, “The Decisive Marriage” has topped the New York Times most-emailed list. The piece is a Well Blog post, written by Tara Parker-Pope, which reports on a report published by the National Marriage Project and written by Galena Rhoades and Scott Stanley, “Before ‘I Do’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults?”

I have frequently criticized the National Marriage Project, run by Bradford Wilcox (posts listed under this tag), and I ignore their work when I can. But this report is getting a lot of attention now and several people have asked my opinion. Since the research in the report has not been subject to peer review, and the Pope piece does not include any expert commentary from non-authors, I figured I’d structure this post like the peer review report I would dash off if I had been asked to review the piece (it’s a little different because I have access to the author and funding information, and I wouldn’t include links or graphics, but this is more or less how it would go if I were asked to review it).

Before “I Do”

This paper reports results from an original data collection which sampled 1,294 people in 2007/08, and then followed an unknown number of them for five years. The present paper reports on the marriage quality of 418 of the individuals who reported marrying over the period (ages 18-40). The authors provide no information on sample attrition or how this was handled in the analysis, or the determinants of marriage within the sample. Although they claim (without evidence) that the sample was “reasonably representative of unmarried adults,” they note it is 65% female, so it’s obviously not representative. More importantly, the analysis sample is only those who married, which is highly select. Neither sexual orientation of the respondents, nor gender composition of the couples described is reported.

The outcome variable in the study is a reasonable measure of “marital quality” based on a four-item reduced-form version of the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (originally developed by Graham Spanier), which includes these items:

  • How often do you discuss or have you considered divorce, separation, or terminating your relationship?
  • In general, how often do you think that things between you and your partner are going well?
  • Do you confide in your mate?
  • Please circle the dot which best describes the degree of happiness, all things considered, of your relationship.

The authors provide no details on the coding of these items, but say the scale ranges from 0 to 21, and their sample included people who scored from 0 to 21. However, the mean was 16.5 and the standard deviation was 3.7, indicating a strong skew toward high scores. Inexplicably, for the presentation of results the authors dichotomize the dependent variable into those they classify as “higher quality,” the 40% of respondents who scored (19-21), versus everyone else (0-18). To defend this decision, the authors offer this non-explanation, which means exactly nothing:

This cut point was selected by inspection of the distribution. While it is somewhat arbitrary, we reasoned that these people are not just doing “above average” in their marriages, but are doing quite well.

The average marriage duration is not reported, but the maximum possible is 5 years, so we are talking about marriage quality very early in these marriages.

The main presentation of findings consists of bar graphs misleadingly labeled “Percent in Higher-Quality Marriages, by…” various independent variables. These are misleading because, according to the notes to these figures, “These percentages are adjusted for race/ethnicity, years of education, personal income, religiousness, and frequency of attendance at religious services.” Here is one:


The method for arriving at these “adjusted” percentages is not given. This apparently confused Parker-Pope, who reported them as unadjusted percentages, like this:

People who lived with another person before marrying also reported a lower-quality relationship. In that group, 35 percent had higher-quality marriages. Among those who had not lived with another romantic partner before marriage, 42 percent had higher-quality marriages.

The statistical significance of this difference is not reported. However, if this were a simple difference of proportions, the difference would not be statistically significant at conventional levels (with a sample of 418, 39% of whom lived with someone else before, the test for difference of proportions for .42 and .35 yields a z-score of 1.43, p=.15). The full report includes an appendix which says they used multilevel modeling, but the form of the regression is not specified. The regression table provided includes no fit statistics or variance components so the efficacy of the model cannot be evaluated.

Regression says: Adding 100 people to the wedding party 5 times would not equal the effect on marital quality of not being Black.

Regression says: Adding 100 people to the wedding party 5 times would not equal the effect on marital quality of not being Black.

Much is made here (and in the Pope article about these findings) about the wedding-size effect. That is, among married couples, those who reported bigger weddings had higher average marriage quality. The mean wedding size was 117. In the regression model, each additional wedding guest was associated with an increase in marriage quality (on the 0-21 scale) of .005. That is, if this were a real effect, adding 100 wedding guests would increase marital quality by half a point, or less than 1/7 of a standard deviation. For comparison, in the model, the negative effect of being Black (-2.69) is more than 5-times greater than the effect of a 100-guest swing in wedding attendance. (The issue of effect size did not enter into Pope’s description of the results.)

The possibility of nonlinear effects of wedding size or other variables is not discussed.

Are the results plausible?

It is definitely possible that, for example, less complicated relationship histories, or larger weddings, do contribute to marital happiness early in the marriage. The authors speculate, based on psychological research from the 1970s, that the “desire for consistency” means “having more witnesses at a wedding may actually strengthen marital quality.”

Sure. The much bigger issue, however, is two kinds of selection. The first, which they address — very poorly — concerns spurious effects. Thus, the simplest explanation is that (holding income constant) people with larger weddings simply had better relationships to begin with. Or, because personal income (not couple income — and note only one person from each couple was interviewed) is at best a very noisy indicator of resources available to couples, big weddings may simply proxy for wealthier families.

Or, about the finding that living with someone else prior to the current relationship is associated with poorer marriage quality, it may simply be that people who have trouble in relationships are more likely to have both lived with someone else and have poor quality marriages later. Cherlin et al. have reported, for example, that women with a history of sexual abuse are more likely to be in transitory relationships, including serial cohabiting relationships, so a history of abuse could account for some of these results. And so on.

The authors address this philosophically, which is all they can do given their data:

One obvious objection to this study is that it may be capturing what social scientists call “selection effects” rather than a causal relationship between our independent variables and the outcome at hand. That is, this report’s results may reflect the fact that certain types of people are more likely to engage in certain behaviors—such as having a child prior to marriage—that are correlated with experiencing lower odds of marital quality. It could be that these underlying traits or experiences, rather than the behaviors we analyzed, explain the associations reported here. This objection applies to most research that is not based on randomized experiments. We cannot prove causal associations between the personal and couple factors we explore and marital quality.

However, because they have rudimentary demographic controls, and the independent variables chronologically precede the outcome variable, they think they’re on pretty firm ground:

With the help of our research, we hope current and future couples will better understand the factors that appear to contribute to building a healthy, loving marriage in contemporary America.

This is Wilcox’s standard way of nodding to selection before plowing ahead with unjustified conclusions. This is not a reasonable approach, for reasons apparent in today’s New York Times. Tara Parker-Pope does not mention this issue, and her piece will obviously reach many more people than the original report or this post.

They hope people will take their results as relationship advice. In Pope’s piece, Stanley offers exactly the same advice he always gives. If that is to be the case, the best advice by far — based on their models — is to avoid being Black, and to finish high school. Living with both one’s biological parents at age 14 helps, too. In relationship terms, unfortunately, most of the results could just as easily reflect wealth or initial relationship quality rather than relationship decisions, and thus tell us that people who have healthy (and less complicated) relationships before marriage have healthy relationships in the first few years after marriage.

Perhaps more serious, however, for this study design, is the second kind of selection: selection into the sample (by marriage). Anything that affects both the odds of marrying and the quality of marriage is potentially corrupting these results. This is a big, complicated issue, with a whole school of statistical methods attached to it. Unless they attend to that issue this analysis should not be published.

On the funding

The authors state the project was “initially funded” by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, but the report also acknowledges support from the William E. Simon Foundation, a very conservative foundation that in 2012 gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Witherspoon Institute (which funded the notorious Wilcox/Regnerus research on children of same-sex couples), the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and other conservative and Christian activist organizations. Details on funding are not provided.

The National Marriage Project is well-known for publishing only work that supports their agenda of marriage promotion. Some of what they publish may be true, but based on their track record they cannot be trusted as honest brokers of new research.


Filed under In the news

Does sleeping with a guy on the first date make him less likely to call back?

I have no idea. But there is a simple reason that it might seem like it does, even if it doesn’t.

Let’s imagine that a woman — we’ll call her “you,” like they do in relationship advice land — is trying to calculate the odds that a man will call back after sex. Everyone tells you that if you sleep with a guy on the first date he is less likely to call back. The theory is that giving sex away at a such a low “price” lowers the man’s opinion of you, because everyone thinks sluts are disgusting.* Also, shame on you.

Photo by Emily Hildebrand, from Flickr Creative Commons

So, you ask, does the chance he will call back improve if you wait till more dates before having sex with him? You ask around and find that this is actually true: The times you or your friends waited till the seventh date, two-thirds of the guys called back, but when you slept with him on the first date, only one-in-five called back. From the data, it sure looks like sleeping with a guy on the first date reduces the odds he’ll call back.


So, does this mean that women make men disrespect them by having sex right away? If that’s true, then the historical trend toward sex earlier in relationships could be really bad for women, and maybe feminism really is ruining society.

Like all theories, this one assumes a lot. It assumes you (women) decide when couples will have sex, because it assumes men always want to, and it assumes men’s opinion of you is based on your sexual behavior. With these assumptions in place, the data appear to confirm the theory.

But what if that those assumptions aren’t true? What if couples just have more dates when they enjoy each other’s company, and men actually just call back when they like you? If this is the case, then what really determines whether the guy calls back is how well-matched the couple is, and how the relationship is going, which also determines how many dates you have.

What was missing in the study design was relationship survival odds. Here is a closer look at the same data (not real data), with couple survival added:


By this interpretation, the decision about when to have sex is arbitrary and doesn’t affect anything. All that matters is how much the couple like and are attracted to each other, which determines how many dates they have, and whether the guy calls back. Every couple has a first date, but only a few make it to the seventh date. It appears that the first-date-sex couples usually don’t last because people don’t know each other very well on first dates and they have a high rate of failure regardless of sex. The seventh-date-sex couples, on the other hand, usually like each other more and they’re very likely to have more dates. And: there are many more first-date couples than seventh-date couples.

So the original study design was wrong. It should have compared call-back rates after first dates, not after first sex. But when you assume sex runs everything, you don’t design the study that way. And by “design the study” I mean “decide how to judge people.”

I have no idea why men call women back after dates. It is possible that when you have sex affects the curves in the figure, of course. (And I know even talking about relationships this way isn’t helping.) But even if sex doesn’t affect the curves, I would expect higher callback rates after more dates.

Anyway, if you want to go on blaming everything bad on women’s sexual behavior, you have a lot of company. I just thought I’d mention the possibility of a more benign explanation for the observed pattern that men are less likely to call back after sex if the sex takes place on the first date.

* This is not my theory.


Filed under In the news

Is the price of sex too damn low?

I’m sorry this is so long. If you’re in a hurry, some of the funny parts are toward the end.

In an animated video rant against sexual liberation, Mark Regnerus gives the 10-minute version of an essay he published in the journal Society in 2012 (with a Slate companion piece) — using professional drawing hands and narrators. Since it has received more than 80,000 views, and some fawning in the conservative press, I wanted to comment a little.

The video asserts that in the market for sex, women sell and men buy.

On average, men initiate sex more than women, they’re more sexually permissive than women, and they connect sex to romance less often than women. No one’s saying this is the way it ought to be. It’s just the way it is! Women, on the other hand, are likely to have sex for reasons beyond just simple pleasure. Her motivations for sex often include expressing and receiving love, strengthening commitment, affirming desirability, and relationship security. So in an exchange relationship where men want sex more often than women do, who decides when it will happen? She does, of course. Sex is her resource.

Let me just stop here for a minute. If I grant you that, on average, contemporary American men want sex with women more than the reverse, does the size of this difference matter at all? In a response to Regnerus, Elaine Hatfield and colleagues remind us that difference within the genders are greater than the differences between them (which, in turn, are shrinking over time). If the difference between men’s and women’s attitudes toward sex were observable but tiny, would it still be true that the system is one in which women sell and men buy? Of course not. The difference has to be big enough to drive the whole system. No one can say how big it is, or needs to be, because the crackpots running this theory don’t care. They are just spinning out the why-pay-for-milk-when-the-cow-is-free analogy without regard to the specifics of the model.

Anyway, what is the “price” women charge for sex? It’s “a few drinks and compliments,” or “a month of dates and respectful attention,” or “a lifetime promise to share all of his affections, wealth and earnings with her exclusively.” So, which will it be? To explain why we have too much casual sex and not enough marriage nowadays, Regnerus turns to an inadvertently comical lesson on supply and demand, starting with this figure.


“When supplies are high, prices drop,” the narrator says, “since people won’t pay more for something that’s easy to find. But if it’s hard to find, people will pay a premium.” Cow, milk, etc. The reason this figure is funny (and how it differs from real supply/demand curves) is that it also shows that rising prices lead to lower supply. But whatever – the point is, feminism is bad.

To Regnerus, the falling marriage rate (the only fact offered as evidence for this) means the supply of sex has increased and its price has fallen. The narrator asks, “So how did we get here? How did the market value of sex decline so drastically?” Answer: the Pill, which “profoundly lower[ed] the cost of sex.” From there the video goes on to blame women for abandoning their centuries-old cartel, which restricted the supply of sex, thus propping up the price.  The video says:

In the past, it really wasn’t the patriarchy that policed women’s relational interests [because isn’t that what you thought patriarchy was all about?], it was women. But … this unspoken pact to set a high market value of sex has all but vanished. But in a brave new world where sex no longer means babies, and marriage has become optional, the solidarity women once felt toward each other in the mating market has dissolved. Women no longer have each other’s backs. On the contrary, they’re now each other’s competition. And when women compete for men, they tend to do so by appealing to what men want.

So, women have sold each other out. As a result, they’ve lost their leverage and men have an advantage they don’t deserve, given their randy minds. To conclude, the narrator declares:

Today the economics of contemporary sexual relationships clearly favor men and what they want. Even while what they are offering in the exchange has diminished. And it’s all thanks to supply, demand, and the long reach of a remarkable little pill.

In the article version, Regnerus writes:

I assert that if women were more in charge of how their romantic relationships transpired—more in charge of the ‘pricing’ negotiations around sex—we’d be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts by men, fewer hook-ups, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on (and perhaps even at a slightly earlier age, too). In other words, the ‘price’ of sex would be higher: it would cost men more to access it.

Yes, that does contradict the point earlier about how women always decide when they will have sex, because it’s inherently their resource. But who cares, feminism is bad.


This is all tricky to reconcile with the common lyrical formulation, in which both men and women “give it” to each other (though not in the same song). So Tom Petty fits the theory, trying to lower the price to zero:

It’s alright if you love me / it’s alright if you don’t / I’m not afraid of you running away / honey I’ve got a feeling you won’t

There is no sense in pretending / your eyes give you away / something inside you is feeling like I do / and we’ve said all there is to say

Baby, breakdown, go ahead and give it to me…

But I think it’s more common for men to “give it” to women, too, as in Tanto Metro and Devonte or 50 Cent among many others.


Anyway, a few thoughts on this big ball of wrong.

First, what about actual economics? If women sell sex and men buy it, and women set the price by how slutty they act, there is still the issue of the value of what men have to offer — to women. Like Hana Rosin, who bemoans the cardboardness of today’s man — unable to respond to changing times — Regnerus assumes unchanging men. When it comes to sex, that’s presumably because it comes from God, evolution, or (in Regnerus’s Catholic view) God acting through evolution. But even if all they care about is sex, the value of what they have to offer for it — relative to what women have and need — has surely changed a lot. So, as the relative value of the men’s lifetime promise of wealth and earnings falls toward the value of a couple drinks and compliments, it’s only natural that women will be less and less able to distinguish the two.

As Paula England notes in her (disappointingly mild) critique of Regnerus, his theory has a problem explaining why marriage has declined so much more for the less-than-college-educated population. Among those men and women, the male/female ratio has grown markedly as women flee for higher ground. So, with the relative shortage of women, they should be in command — so they could demand marriage.

But if women insist on marrying a man with a job, as I just showed recently, they actually face a shortage of men. In the video’s terms, they’re back in this situation:


But that’s only because women insist on a man with a job. In other words, the value of what men have to offer (relative to what women need) matters. (England argues against this “it’s the economy, stupid” perspective, for reasons I don’t find convincing.) So why doesn’t Regnerus talk about actual economics?

In the Society version of this video Regnerus says he gets this sexual economics theory from Baumeister and Vohs (and the video resource guide links to several of Baumeister’s papers), including the basic story that sex is something women sell and men buy, and the thing about how feminism dissolved female solidarity.

Interestingly, however, Baumeister and his several co-authors are much more keyed in to the economics questions that Regnerus all but ignores. While Regnerus focuses on the Pill, they write in the 2004 paper he relies on that one of the “preconditions of market exchange” in sex is that, “In general, men have resources women want.” It’s not just the Pill that has changed things, in other words, it’s also the end of men: “Once women had been granted wide opportunities for education and wealth, they no longer had to hold sex hostage.”

Regnerus really does the theory a disservice by leaving all this out. In another recent article, Baumeister and Mendoza reiterate:

According to sexual economics theory, when women lack direct or easy access to resources such as political influence, health care, money, education, and jobs, then sex becomes a crucial means by which women can gain access to a good life, and so it is vital to female self-interest to keep the price of sex high.

The real problem now, according to the intellectual godfather of Regnerus’s version of this theory, is gender equality, but Regnerus doesn’t want to say that. Baumesiter and Mendoza write: “when women have direct economic clout, they do not need to use sex to bargain for other resources, and so they can make sex more freely available.” Thus, they show that casual sex is positively associated with a measure of gender equality across 37 countries. I’ve made a figure from their findings. This is the percentage of people in an international online sex survey who say they ever had sex with someone just once (on the y-axis), by the level of gender equality according to the World Economic Forum (on the x-axis):


The logic here is approaching random. Get this: When women were poor, they needed to withhold sex to get money. Now that they have more money — and are less dependent on men — they don’t need to withhold it, so they give it away. Wait, what? If they don’t need to sell it anymore, and we already know they don’t want to “have” it (that is, do it), then why don’t those Scandinavian women just keep it, for f#cks’ sake? (Amanda Marcotte made a similar argument about Baumeister)

It seems likely the differences between Regnerus and Baumeister are of emphasis rather than principle. Believe it or not, Regnerus’s explanation, focusing only on sex and the Pill, would be stronger if he latched on to this crazy economics argument. But I reckon he stays away from that because taking a stand against women’s equality is a political and cultural nonstarter, and Regnerus’s ambition is social influence.

You asked for it

If you’ve read this far, you deserve some insanely sexist quotes. Because Baumeister has no such qualms about offending women. Besides representing what I think Regnerus really thinks, Baumeister and Vohs are also much more entertaining than Regnerus (in this piece, anyway). In their response to Regnerus, they blame women’s sexual permissiveness for just about everything. That’s because, “Giving young men easy access to abundant sexual satisfaction deprives society of one of its ways to motivate them to contribute valuable achievements to the culture.”

Did you get that? Women giving away sex is literally ruining the culture. If I knew my classics I’m sure I’d know the analogy here. I’m thinking of the early Christian adaptation of the Greek sirens, which sometime before A.D. 700 changed them from magical creatures to vile humans, “prostitutes who led travelers down to poverty and were said to impose shipwreck on them.” If that seems overdramatic, it’s just because you haven’t read the whole essay.

In the feminist era Baumeister and Vohs describe, rather than just marriage in exchange for sex, women have upped their demands: “Women, meanwhile, want not only marriage but also access to careers and preferential treatment in the workplace.” (I’m not sure how this fits with the idea that women have lowered the “price of sex,” but logic isn’t the point here, hating feminism is.)

Here are some key snippets:

The giant trade thus essentially involved men giving women not only easy access but even preferential treatment in the huge institutions that make up society, which men created. Today most schools, universities, corporations, scientific organizations, governments, and many other institutions have explicit policies to protect and promote women. It is standard practice to hire or promote a woman ahead of an equally qualified man. Most large organizations have policies and watchdogs that safeguard women’s interests and ensure that women gain preferential treatment over men. … Nobody looks out for men, and so the structural changes favoring women and disadvantaging men have accelerated.

All of this is a bit ironic, in historical context. The large institutions have almost all been created by men. … Even today, the women’s movement has been a story of women demanding places and preferential treatment in the organizational and institutional structures that men create, rather than women creating organizations and institutions themselves. … All over the world and throughout history (and prehistory), the contribution of large groups of women to cultural progress has been vanishingly small. …

Indeed, the world of work is a daunting place for a young man today. Feminists quickly point to the continued dominance of men at the top of most organizations, but this is misleading if not outright disingenuous. Men create most organizations and work hard to succeed in them. Indeed, an open-minded scholar can search through history mostly in vain to find large organizations created and run by women that have contributed anything beyond complaining about men and demanding a bigger share of the male pie.

Warning, the excerpts grow more and more offensive from here on…

Why have men acquiesced so much in giving women the upper hand in society’s institutions? It falls to men to create society (because women almost never create large organizations or cultural systems). It seems foolish and self-defeating for men then to meekly surrender advantageous treatment in all these institutions to women. … Because of women’s lesser motivation and ambition, they will likely never equal men in achievement, and their lesser attainment is politically taken as evidence of the need to continue and possibly increase preferential treatment for them.

But this pattern of male behavior makes more sense if we keep in mind that getting sex is a high priority for men, especially young men. Being at a permanent disadvantage in employment and promotion prospects, as a result of affirmative action policies favoring women, is certainly a cost to young men, but perhaps not a highly salient one. What is salient is that sex is quite readily available. As Regnerus reports, even a man with dismal career prospects (e.g., having dropped out of high school) can find a nice assortment of young women to share his bed.

The male who beds multiple women is enjoying life quite a bit, and so he may not notice or mind the fact that his educational and occupational advancement is vaguely hampered by all the laws and policies that push women ahead of him. After all, one key reason he wanted that advancement was to get sex, and he already has that. Climbing the corporate ladder for its own sake may still hold some appeal, but undoubtedly it was more compelling when it was vital for obtaining sex. Success isn’t as important as it once was, when it was a prerequisite for sex.

(Did I mention I’m not making this up? I’m sorry to just keep excerpting, but this stuff just writes itself.)

Unfortunately for society, women taking over the economy has a real downside:

Still, replacing male with female workers may bring some changes, insofar as the two genders approach work differently. Compared to men, women have higher rates of absenteeism, seek social rewards more than financial ones, are less ambitious, work fewer hours overall, are more prone to take extended career interruptions, and identify less with the organizations they work for. They are more risk averse, resulting in fewer entrepreneurs and inventions. … Women are less interested in science and technology fields. They create less wealth.

And finally, “the implications of the recent social changes for marriage could fill a book.” (Really, a whole book?) In that book (which we’re really quite happy to wait for), casual sex is also ruining marriage because it’s increasing the crushing depression that naturally follows from female-dominated marriage:

The female contribution of sex to the marriage is evanescent: As women age, they lose their sexual appeal much faster than men lose their status and resources, and some alarming evidence even indicates that wives rather quickly lose their desire for sex. To sustain a marriage across multiple decades, many husbands must accommodate to the reality of having to contribute work and other resources to a wife whose contribution of sex dwindles sharply in both quantity and quality—and who also may disapprove sharply of him seeking satisfaction in alternative outlets such as prostitution, pornography, and extramarital dalliance.

Yes, in their zeal to describe the sexual disaster of modern marriage, they forgot to even nod to the ideal wife’s housework and child rearing contributions.

We speculate that today’s young men may be exceptionally ill prepared for a lifetime of sexual starvation that is the lot of many modern husbands. The traditional view that a wife should sexually satisfy her husband regardless of her own lack of desire has been eroded if not demolished by feminist ideology that has encouraged wives to expect husbands to wait patiently until the wife actually desires sex, with the result that marriage is a prolonged episode of sexual starvation for the husband. … Today’s young men spend their young adulthood having abundant sex with multiple partners, and that seems to us to be an exceptionally poor preparation for a lifetime of sexual starvation.

Yes, that was a third “sexual starvation” reference in one paragraph. (I am completely above making a joke about this, but The Onion isn’t.)

Regnerus cites this guy Baumeister up and down. If all Muslims have to personally disavow Bin Laden, I think it’s only fair that we expect Regnerus to comment on this.

What about lesbians?

Oh, that. When Regnerus wrote his post in Slate, Belle Waring wrote a nice piece about it, which included this:

Please note also that under the economic model, lesbians can’t exist, since they have nothing of value to exchange for sex, except for…um…sex? And since women only use sex as a means to an end, and exchange it with men; and since further, sex has been explicitly devalued to something cheap, well, hm. I submit that if you propose a model of human sexual behavior, and it positively forbids the existence of a whole class of people who nonetheless actually exist, then maybe there’s a problem with the theory? Just a thought.

I promise I’ll stop now, but Regnerus actually has talked about lesbians recently — though not to explain how they have sex without a buyer. This from a speech just last month at Franciscan University of Steubenville, at which he implied homosexuality emerged partly because of the Pill, too, based on his reading of Anthony Giddens’ Transformation of Intimacy. He said: “Giddens draws an arrow from contraception to sexual malleability to the expansion of homosexuality.”

So, if he thinks lesbians are an unnatural creation of modern sexual plasticity, then I guess it’s not surprising that he also believes (at about 9:10) that lesbians produce asexual children:

Despite comprising a mere 1.3 percent of the population, respondents in the NFSS [New Family Structures Survey] who said that their mothers have had a same-sex sexual relationship made up 15 [50?] percent of all the asexual identifiers in the NFSS. So, 15 [50?] percent of them come from 1.3 percent of the population.*

The hatefulness of this is what’s most important (you have to see the smirk when he jokes to the Franciscans that asexuality might be “convenient” for people pursuing celebacy). But for what it’s worth, I also interpret this as further evidence that his data is garbagey. When a substantial number of respondents answer questions at random or incorrectly — as was the case in the Regnerus/Wilcox NFSS data (see p. 333 here) — then highly skewed items will be unreasonably correlated (e.g., if 3 percent fill it out the question at random, and the actual asexual population is 1 percent, then most of the people counted as asexual will be random; and if the same happens for mothers’ sexual history, then the two variables will have a surprisingly large overlap.)


It would be tempting (and more enjoyable) to simply ignore Mark Regnerus forever. His record of scientific manipulation and dishonesty in the service of the movement to deny equal rights to gays and lesbians is well documented, and social scientists of good will won’t trust him again unless he comes clean. I wish that he and the people of good will could just agree never to interact again. But he’s young and ambitious, and it’s likely that he’ll be back. So we should keep an eye on him.

* On listening to this again, it’s hard to tell, but I think he says 15%, not 50%, as I first transcribed it.


Filed under In the news

Does happy marriage cause happy marriage?

I don’t know how I missed this one, from two Valentine’s Days ago…

For an introductory methods course discussion on: when does something cause something else. Question: Are happier couples happier? Some writers think so:

I can see the study design now: a randomized group of couples were given coupons for date nights, and some time later were compared with a control group without the coupons. Or not. Cosmo summarized:

For their study, researchers from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project surveyed 1,600 couples and asked them about everything from relationship satisfaction to sex. They discovered that couples who spend at least one night a week alone together say they’re more committed to their relationship than those who don’t hang out together as much.

(The report, by Brad Wilcox and Jeffery Dew and posted online at the National Marriage Project, is here.)

BREAKING: Researchers discover murder less common among happy couples.

BREAKING: Researchers discover murder less common among happy couples.

Is that it? A simple association between being together and being happy? Almost. First, they say (there are no tables) that they “control for factors such as income, age, education, race, and ethnicity.” Such as? Anyway.

Second, they also claim to have analyzed historical data from the National Survey of Families and Households (1987-1994). They write:

Because we had data from spouses at two time points in the NSFH, we were also able to examine the direction of effects—to determine whether or not couple time reported during the first wave of the survey was associated with marital quality at the second wave. Here, the more couple time individuals reported at the time of the first survey, the more likely they were to be very happy in their marriage at the second survey, five years later. Although the NSFH evidence does not provide us with definitive proof that couple time causes increases in marital quality, the longitudinal character of the data suggests that the relationship may indeed be causal.

So, Wilcox and Dew point #1: If something happened before something else, “the relationship may indeed be causal.” They go on:

It is certainly intuitively true that greater satisfaction with one’s partner should also lead to more time spent in positive, shared activities. Nevertheless, it would be absurd to assume that two partners who intentionally set out to increase positive couple time spent together would typically not benefit from such time with increases in connection and happiness.

So, point #2 is, We already knew the answer before we did the research, because it’s flipping obvious, so who cares about this analysis — it’s almost Valentine’s Day!

There are ways to actually get at “the direction of effects,” like the randomized trial I suggested, or even using longitudinal data and assessing changes in happiness, or controlling for happiness at time 1. Not this.

Anyway, can we think of examples of things that occur before other things without causing them? Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • One sibling dies of a genetic disease now, and then the other one dies from the same disease later: Shocking new evidence that genetics works sideways!
  • Someone has tennis elbow now, and is playing sports later: The surprising way that getting hurt makes you athletic!
  • People who spend more money now have more money later: The more you spend, the more you save!
  • And of course, people who have a lot of sex now are good looking later: Sex up your looks!

I’m open to suggestions for better examples.

Note: I guess in some social science neighborhoods it’s common to analyze the effects of extremely similar things on each other, like pleasure being associated with happiness, or strong left arms being associated with strong right legs. Dew and Wilcox actually published a peer-reviewed article, using this survey, on the association between small acts of kindness in marriage and marital satisfaction. And the result? Couples who are nice to each other are happier.


Filed under Research reports

Why does the news turn social science into garbage?

I'm reading garbage. But I look smart. I feel smart. And doggone it, I'm pretty wealthy.

I’m reading garbage. But I look smart. I feel smart. And doggone it, I’m pretty wealthy.

Okay, I could have added “sometimes” in the title.

Someone at the New York Times‘s One-Page Magazine took this interesting study (paywalled) of conversational styles among a sample of older couples over a period of 13 years and turned it into this:

Forget counseling: a new study in The Journal of Marriage and Family found that couples who have been married for more than 35 years and are over the age of 60 are more likely to change the subject rather than confront toxic topics in their relationship.

Forget counseling? Not only do the authors not say this is a good thing (the study did not include marital outcomes), they specifically suggest the research might help shape future approaches to marital therapy at older ages.

But why care? It’s just another gossipy piece of social science fluff that doesn’t reference the actual study, written to give NYT readers a harmless chuckle while they peruse the Sunday paper. Ha ha. Ick.


Filed under In the news