Wednesday, December 17, 2014

You Fall In Love with the Front End of the Puppy

There are a lot of ways to explain why commitment is so important in lasting love—especially in marriage. This is my favorite.

Think about puppy love. Many people understand what it is like to have a strong, immediate reaction of attraction to a puppy—even cat lovers can understand this. If it’s a puppy you end up with, it’s not an exaggeration to say you fell in love with that dog.

How’s this illustrate the importance of commitment? Simple.

You fall in love with the front end of the puppy, but every puppy has a back end.

Think about what a successful relationship with a dog requires. You don’t have to work out how to be attracted to the cute end of the dog. You have to work out, and work through, how to handle—together—the back end. What does that require? Without going into any more detail that this illustration requires, the back end of the puppy is what takes the most work, especially in the early stage of the relationship, and it's always the least fun part of the relationship.The back end is a lot about regulating time and place. As in where and when. It all takes effort.

Even when that’s all working well and the expectations are clear, the back end of the dog is still the part that requires you to sometimes go outside when it’s cold, or to carry around little bags as you walk around the neighborhood (or really large bags in some cases), or to hold your nose. The back end requires you to accommodate your life to the urgent needs of the dog. That requires commitment because it involves investment and ongoing sensitivity to the needs of another.

Of course you have to feed the cute end, not just deal with the back end. That also requires commitment but let’s keep the metaphor pure, here. As pure as the “business” end of the dog can be.

So, if you are committed to loving someone, realize that part of the whole deal is the work that the back end of the relationship takes. Lasting love is not only about the cute and easy part. Sometimes love stinks. Sometimes you have to pick up something you’d rather let lie. And sometimes you really ought to leave something behind.

Love takes commitment, just like the back end of the puppy.

Oh, in case you wondered, that’s our dog Odie in the picture. This is either the first or second photo I ever took of him. It was taken the first night we brought him home. He’s 13 years old now. That’s 13 years of lasting love. We fell in love with the front end of this puppy, but, yes, he’s got a back end, too. They all do.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The New York Times Piece on Divorce: Overly Optimistic

There is a lot of buzz this week about this piece in the New York Times by Claire Cain Miller, The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On. The upshot is that the divorce rate surged a good number of years ago and the current likely, lifetime divorce risk for a newly married couple is substantially lower than it was a couple of decades ago.

I believe the article is quite correct to note that statements suggesting that the divorce rate is “50 percent and climbing” are truly off base. The divorce rate has been steadily coming down. That really is good news, and it is a myth that the divorce rate climbs ever higher. It has not. There is something important that is still climbing, but I’ll come to that.

The New York Times article describes a lot of the complex changes in society that may go into all of what has changed about the odds of divorce.

As my colleagues know, while being a cheery sort, I am well able to articulate the pessimistic side in family trends. Working to make things different? Sure. Recognizing what’s really happening? More surely.

So, let’s take this happy moment and put a couple of dents into it. 

First, even in the most optimistic estimate offered by economist Justin Wolfers, over a third of couples newly marrying are likely eventually to divorce. That’s way better than 50% or more but it’s still a strong chance of divorce among those who do get married.   

Second, and much more importantly in my view, there are a number of other trends that are consequential that go hand-in-hand with the declining divorce risk among those who marry. In part, what has been happening is that an increasingly select group makes up the overall group of who marries. This group is select for having lower overall risk in their life circumstances and also for being more likely to enter marriage with the type of timing and sequence that makes success in marriage far more likely. I am talking about college graduates. In contrast, marriage rates have been falling off for others, especially for those with great economic disadvantage and those in the working class. For more on that latter point, see this report, When Marriage Disappears

The New York Times piece does describe these divergent trends based on wealth, class, education, and disadvantage. 

While there is an overall net good thing happening with the trends toward less divorce, another phenomenon still grows: As far as I understand, the number of children being born in low commitment contexts continues to go up. That’s not so rosy a picture. My term—low commitment contexts—is purely descriptive. I simply mean that a child arrives before two parents have decided on a future together or on raising a family and this child together. I believe this is an issue that rarely receives the attention it deserves, and it lies at the intersection of various types of bad news about current trends. I have written about this issue in a piece at the Institute for Family Studies blog, wherein I also addresses some of the recent and important discussions around this subject. If you are interested in more thought on the issue of timing and the formation of commitment, here you go:  Marriage and Positive Child Outcomes: Commitment, Signaling, and Sequence.  

Want More On The "Divorce Rate"? 

If you are interested in more about divorce numbers, I have something you may find useful. Many years ago, I wrote a little document on “What Really Is the Divorce Rate?” In it, I tried to address a lot of confusion I would hear in others over the years about what the “divorce rate” really is—confusion that stems from the considerable complexity that lies behind what the average person expects to be a simple number that someone should be able to nail down in a way that’s understandable. There are, in fact, a lot of different types of numbers that people latch onto when it comes to divorce. So, it’s not simple. I update that document ever year or two, and did so last year. I am not a demographer and I do not play one on TV (nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn recently). Nevertheless, I was looking over what I have in the current version of that document and I thought it holds up pretty well for explaining some of the confusion people have about divorce numbers. It also talks about some of the complex counter currents such as I briefly alluded to above. So, if you are interested, have at it.

If you are a demographer and you read that document and you think I got something wrong, let me know. I have had input from a number of demographers over the years and am always happy to update this type of document to make it more useful.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Ron Haskins' new book: Show Me The Evidence

"Our nation's social programs, especially ones for children and families, do not work," so said Ron Haskins in a talk today at the Brookings Institution. In his talk, Haskins noted a fact that few people seem to know regarding government programs: that "80-90% of programs are not working." He added, "Experience shows that most social programs produce modest or no impacts that last."

Ron Haskins is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, which just published his new book called Show Me the Evidence: Obama's Fight for Rigor and Results in Social Policy. In his book (written with colleague Greg Margolis), Haskins writes about strategies that could turn the dismal reality of ineffective government policies and programs around. Their book focuses on the Obama Administration's emphasis on increasing the reliance on research and evidence in the development, testing, and refinement of social policy.

I have known Ron Haskins for a long time. He is as fine of a thinker in family policy circles as I have ever known. He was one of the architects of the 1996 welfare reform law--a Republican who demonstrates that it is possible to work across parties and ideology to improve how things are done.

If you are interested in such things, I can recommend this book and also the presentation today from Brookings. Following Haskins talk, there is a panel discussion featuring notables Peter Orszag, Jason DeParle, Melody Barnes and numerous others. The presentation is available at the Brookings site.