Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A few thoughts on Stephanie Coontz’s “The Disestablishment of Marriage”

Stephanie Coontz wrote a valuable piece on the state of marriage that was published a few days ago in the New York Times.  She talks about numerous trends in her piece, and I think it’s very much worth reading. You can read it here.

Some of you have written to ask me about the comment she makes at the end of the piece about premarital cohabitation, wherein she suggests that it is no longer associated with higher risks in marriage. I have a few brief points about that part.

1.  I think what Manning and Cohen actually found was that, among those who cohabited prior to marriage since 1995, cohabitation before marriage was no longer associated with increased risk for divorce among those who were engaged first (particularly, in the female data). This parallels what we keep finding, though it is fair to say that the finding is a bit murkier (and complex) in that paper.

2. Manning and Cohen’s study does not assess marital quality outcomes, which our research team has long predicted will be associated with the clarity two partners have about commitment to the future (especially to marriage) prior to cohabiting.  That’s because we believe that cohabiting makes it harder to break up, and that this is the detail most people seem oblvious to as they slide into cohabiting.  That matters because it can make it harder to break up before two people have decided for sure they want to be together—long-term. People can raise their odds of getting stuck in the wrong place. We consistently find, including in recent samples, that cohabiting before either engagement or marriage is associated with lower average marital quality (less happiness, poorer communication, etc.).  That, and other predictions we test, are all consistent with this theory that the greater inertia of cohabiting sneaks up on some people and keeps them in relationships they would have otherwise left before ever marrying. 

3. Coontz also notes that there is some evidence within the data Manning and Cohen analyzed suggesting that cohabitation (quoting Coontz) “with definite plans to marry at the outset is tied to lower levels of marital instability than direct entry into marriage” among disadvantaged women with high risks. In other words, cohabiting may actually be associated with doing better in marriage for some groups. This is a rare finding but there is some reason to expect it. I explained why I thought such a finding might show up in a post a while ago (it can be found in the fourth link below, which is one of my longest, most theoretical prior posts on cohabitation and marriage).  

I’m going to list a number of links to prior posts of mine for those of you who want to read more deeply about the theory and research of our team related to the types of cohabitation prior to marriage that might be riskier, and why. Some of these posts are more fun but still explain the theory well (see playlist to paylist) and others are pretty heavy duty theory and conceptual reasoning, if you are really wanting to dig in deeper on this subject. 

If you want to read a summary of our studies and theory in this area (cohabitation prior to marriage, etc.), you can download the file at the first link below. 

A long, detailed post on theory related to cohabiting, marriage, and signals ofcommitment. (Relatively heavy duty compared to other things here, and the last in a series on some bigger issues in science about selection.)

Have at it!  


Friday, June 21, 2013

Some Basic Facts About the High School Class of 2013

The research firm Child Trends released a report recently about the High School Class of 2013.  Here are a few of the numbers that stood out to me.

As they say, “Imagine a senior class of 100” students.  

•    71 have experienced physical assault; 28 have been victimized sexually; 32 have experienced some form of child maltreatment.
•    68 will go on to a college or university.
•    64 have had sexual intercourse.
•    51 used NO alcohol, cigarettes, or illicit drugs during the past 30 days
•    48 are sexually active (64 have had sexual intercourse)
•    45 watch less than an hour of TV on weekdays; 20 watch 4 or more hours on weekdays
•    39 have ever been bullied, physically or emotionally; 16 have been bullied in the past year
•    35 eat meals together with their families 6 or 7 days a week
•    29 felt “sad and hopeless” continuously for at least two weeks during the past year
•    28 attend religious services at least once at week
•    24 were binge-drinking in the past two weeks.
•    23 smoked marijuana in the past 30 days
•    21 had a sexually transmitted infection in the past year
•    14 thought seriously about attempting suicide in the past year
•    12 have ADHD
•    10 reported they were victims of dating violence in the past year
•    10 report they have been raped

I was surprised that 35 of 100 regularly have meals with their families. In some families, work patterns make this almost impossible, but for most families, it’s a possible but increasingly rare thing to have family meals. Many experts believe that meals together is one basic marker of how connected a family is, and, very likely, how good of a sense parents have about how their children are doing. My colleague Howard Markman and I were doing a training in Norway years ago, and I remember that the Norwegians had a strong tradition of families singing folk songs and having dinner together. This was years ago, but at the time, they had recently gone from just having a couple of national TV channels to having cable and scores of channels. I still remember clearly one of our colleagues there telling us how having many channels on TV had rapidly started to wipe out family meals. That’s very sad. That’s the simple type of stuff that probably matters a lot for how children will do in life.

It’s not surprising that the data show that most high school students have had sex and nearly half are sexually active. But that’s a lot of opportunity for sliding into life altering consequences at a young age in life. As one example or risk, 21 of 100 report having had an STD within the past year. That’s a lot of disease.

The data that stood out most to me in these numbers are the ones about binge drinking and smoking marijuana. Nearly a quarter of high school seniors have done one or the other recently, as of the time surveyed, which means a lot of teens do one or both regularly.

There is some good news here, such as in the number of students who will go to college. Not everyone can, should, or needs to, but that high number reflects some opportunity for a lot of seniors. Of course, not all those 68 of 100 will really go to college, and many fewer will complete college.

Overall, these numbers reflect a lot of evidence of how much risk older teens are regularly taking on. If you are a parent and your teenager is at all open to it, hang out with him or her a bit more. Get a meal together. Play a game. Go out and do something he or she likes. Whenever you have a little opportunity, talk with your teenage about whatever he or she will talk about, day-to-day. That way, you will have the most relationship possible to talk about what he or she might need to talk about some day in the future. 

You can read more about the research findings, here

[Their technical note: Child Trends Senior Research Scientist David Murphey provided the statistical composite by examining available data for U.S. high school seniors (or youth of about that age) that are nationally representative, and as close in time to 2013 as is available.]


Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Couple of Great Pieces on Fatherhood

It's Father's Day.

I read two really good pieces on fatherhood and men this morning. The first is in Slate Magazine, by Brad Wilcox, called "Daddy's Home."  It's a terrific piece on some of the ways that being a father changes men. In it, he highlights that the impacts are greatest as long as the man lives with his children and their mother (and, of course, the positive impacts are non-existent when the man is not involved in the lives of the children at all).

The next piece I want to recommend to you is also by Brad Wilcox. This one, however, focuses on the "The Distinct, Positive Impact of a Good Dad" in the lives of children. It is in the Atlantic. In this piece, Wilcox addresses the question of evidence that there is something special about what men do in the fathering role and, thereby, add to the lives of their children. The question that is being raises is an important one at a time in our culture when ever fewer men are substantially involved in the lives of their children.

These two pieces bring me back to the video I shared in my last post. While there are many exceptions,we know from accumulating studies that the surest way for men to be involved in raising their children is for men to remain involved with the mother of their children. Now check out the video I posted.  You will see five involved fathers (along with five involved mothers).  The blog post is here.  The video I posted is here

Usual caveat, seriously stated: Many children are doing great in single parent families and many single parents are the reason why. But it's a great thing when a child has both parents pulling for him or her in life. And it's a powerful thing in the life of a man.  If you are a father, I hope you have a Happy Father's Day, and more, a meaningful year to come as a father. 


Thursday, June 13, 2013

In Honor of Father’s Day: A Little Video of Five Families

I have a brief video I want to share with you. It’s about families. Five families, in fact. It’s footage I captured on my iPhone the other day on the way home from work.  

It will only take 1 minute, 11 seconds of your life to watch it. I’ve entitled it, “Getting Parenting Down.”

I’m sharing this in honor of father’s day. The video shows five different families. In each, the parents are working together to raise and protect their children.

I hope you enjoy the video.  Here it is (click here).

I know that father’s day (and mother’s day) are complicated, even painful, for many people based on either their family(s) growing up or what they have experienced with a co-parent as an adult. But if you are a parent, and, especially this week if you are a father, here’s to doing what you are able to do to raise and protect the young ones before they fly away.

Have a Great Father’s Day

[You can download a copy of the video here if you like.]


Friday, June 7, 2013

Men and Women and Thoughts of Divorce: Different Planets? Part 3

To this series of posts I’ve made on differences (or the lack thereof) between men and women in romantic relationships and marriage, I want to add a finding from a study we conducted in our lab at the University of Denver. In 2002, we published a study based on a national survey, in which we presented analyses on all sorts of dynamics in marriage, including about commitment, communication, and conflict (Stanley, Markman, & Whitton, 2002). One of the analyses we conducted looked at the associations between thinking about divorce and ratings of either global positivity or ratings of negativity. Global positivity included ratings of satisfaction, sensual connection, talking as friends, and having fun with one’s mate. Negativity was measured by what we call Communication Danger Signs, including the tendency to escalate when arguments break out, using put downs, feeling one’s partner sees your motives more negatively than they are, and the degree to which one or both partners pull away during conflicts. You could think of the positivity measure as reflecting the overall quality of connection and the negativity measure as reflecting the level of conflict and hassled in the relationship.

What we found was a pretty strong difference in men and women on what was most strongly linked to thoughts of divorce. Take a moment and guess which way this went. I bet you can do it.

We found that, for women, ratings on positive connection explained twice as much variance in thinking about divorce as did negativity. For men, it was just the opposite, with negativity explaining almost four times as much variance in thinking about divorce than positivity. To put that more simply: Thinking about leaving one’s marriage was associated more with an absence of positive connection for women and the presence of negative interaction for men.

Men start to wonder if it’s going to work out when there are a lot of hassles and negatives with their mates. Women start to wonder if it’s going to work out when there is the absence of positives with their mates. Does that seem like different planets? In a way it does, because this type of finding (and there are others like it) suggest that men and women have--at least historically--looked for something different in what they want most to feel their marriages are working out.

The sample from the study we published in 2002 is from the mid 1990s. It’s quite possible that we’d get a different result today. (And, we may examine this type of association again soon in a much more recent sample of unmarried individuals in serious, romantic relationships.) If you’d like to think in terms of one planet, the overall conclusion you could make is straightforward: Marriages thrive when there is both solid positive connections and lower levels of negative interaction. It’s worth thinking about how you can move both in the right direction in your own relationship, regardless of if the two of you fit any stereotype or not. After all, you live in the same zip code regardless of what planet you are on.