Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Weakness of a Word

While many Harvard students are willing to engage in intellectual conversations about the marriage issue, some Harvard students cop out of respectful dialogue by pulling the hate card on True Love Revolution, denouncing members as homophobic and hateful merely because they believe in conjugal marriage, where the public purpose is to attach each child to a father and mother. In the past month, email list debates about True Love Revolution were speckled with accusations of homophobia; though some other students defended the right of their peers to support traditional marriage (and in some cases, were subsequently insulted as well by their peers). As NYU legal philosopher Jeremy Waldron says, “many who are convinced by the gay rights position are upset” that many people “refuse to take the liberal position for granted.”

Traditional marriage supporters at Harvard are hardly alone. This week, the Washington Post published “In the gay marriage debate, stop playing the hate card,” by Matthew Franck, Director of the Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute. Franck begins the article by giving many examples of gay marriage supporters pulling the hate card on anyone who refuses to conform to their policy agenda, drawing on diverse examples like TV shows, faculty firings, Apple ridding itself of the Manhattan Declaration iTunes app, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent publishing of “anti-gay hate groups”. Franck criticizes gay marriage supporters for refusing to even have a conversation, despite the fact that voters have repeatedly voted to protect the traditional definition of marriage. He wonders why gay marriage supporters are so quick to leap to accusations of hate, rather than engage in discussions about the massive policy suggestion that is clearly widely controversial. Franck goes on to ask,

What’s going on here? Clearly a determined effort is afoot, in cultural bastions controlled by the left, to anathematize traditional views of sexual morality, particularly opposition to same-sex marriage, as the expression of “hate” that cannot be tolerated in a decent civil society. The argument over same-sex marriage must be brought to an end, and the debate considered settled. Defenders of traditional marriage must be likened to racists, as purveyors of irrational fear and loathing. Opposition to same-sex marriage must be treated just like support for now long-gone anti-miscegenation laws.

This strategy is the counsel of desperation. In 30 states, the people have protected traditional marriage by constitutional amendment: In no state where the question has been put directly to voters has same-sex marriage been adopted by democratic majorities. But the advocates of a revolution in the law of marriage see an opportunity in Perry v. Schwarzenegger , currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. In his district court ruling in the case in August, Judge Vaughn Walker held that California’s Proposition 8 enacted, “without reason, a private moral view” about the nature of marriage that cannot properly be embodied in public policy. Prop 8’s opponents are hoping for similar reasoning from the appeals court and, ultimately, from the Supreme Court.

The SPLC’s report on “hate groups” gives the game away. It notes that no group is listed merely for “viewing homosexuality as unbiblical.” But when describing standard expressions of Christian teaching, that we must love the sinner while hating the sin, the SPLC treats them as “kinder, gentler language” that only covers up unreasoning hatred for gay people. Christians are free to hold their “biblical” views, you see, but we know that opposition to gay marriage cannot have any basis in reason. Although protected by the Constitution, these religious views must be sequestered from the public square, where reason, as distinguished from faith, must prevail.

Marginalize, privatize, anathematize: These are the successive goals of gay-marriage advocates when it comes to their opponents.

First, ignore the arguments of traditional marriage’s defenders, that marriage has always existed in order to bring men and women together so that children will have mothers and fathers, and that same-sex marriage is not an expansion but a dismantling of the institution. Instead, assert that no rational arguments along these lines even exist and so no refutation is necessary, and insinuate that those who merely want to defend marriage are “anti-gay thugs” or “theocrats” or “Taliban,” as some critics have said.

Second, drive the wedge between faith and reason, chasing traditional religious arguments on marriage and morality underground, as private forms of irrationality.

Finally, decree the victory of the new public morality – here the judges have their role in the liberal strategy – and read the opponents of the new dispensation out of polite society, as the crazed bigots of our day.

American democracy doesn’t need civility enforcers, nor must it become a public square with signs reading “no labels allowed.” Robust debate is necessarily passionate debate, especially on a question like marriage. But the charge of “hate” is not a contribution to argument; it’s the recourse of people who would rather not have an argument at all.

That is no way to conduct public business on momentous questions in a free democracy. “Hate” cannot be permitted to be the conversation stopper in the same-sex marriage debate. The American people, a tolerant bunch who have acted to protect marriage in three-fifths of the states, just aren’t buying it. And they still won’t buy it even if the judges do.

The use of the word homophobic is gradually being drowned in numerous definitions, and while users of the word may sincerely believe what they deem homophobic is indeed homophobic, I think it may be more useful to constructive discussions about the nature of law and society to use terms that more adequately represent the specifics of a situation, rather than surrender to the proclivity to categorize all that we disagree with to a word with powerful discussion-halting connotations. If we strive to understand each other, rather than merely label, I think we will be much more respectful and constructive to the world that we live in and the issues that we face. When the word is used to mean so many different things, we lose our ability to control the outcome of our words, and I think that in many contexts, the word has been used to silence and also to stop considering a difficult topic. But the outcome of that use is quite different, because once people feel like they are being intimidated, they feel more impassioned. To me, when the word is used so freely, it justifies TLR’s existence, and the need to articulate and re-articulate the philosophy behind our beliefs.

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TLR President named one of Harvard’s Most Interesting Seniors

Rachel Wagley, True Love Revolution’s current President, is featured as one of Harvard’s 15 Most Interesting Seniors in The Harvard Crimson magazine’s December edition.


Why Marriage Doesn’t Fail

For those interested in Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy article, “What is Marriage?”, by Princeton’s Robert P. George and Sherif Gergis, and University of Notre Dame’s Ryan Anderson, this post is for you. What I love about these three established and budding scholars is that they’re always up for a good intellectually honest debate, and they are ridiculously good at what they do.

Today, they responded to Kenji Yoshino of NYU Law School, a prominent and influential gay rights legal scholar, who criticized “What is Marriage” in an article published in Public Discourse.

The article cites eminent legal philosopher NYU Professor Jeremy Waldron, who wrote in a recent paper that it

“infuriat[es]” many of his fellow liberals that some intellectuals remain determined, in Waldron’s words, “to actually argue on matters that many secular liberals think should be beyond argument, matters that we think should be determined by shared sentiment or conviction.” In particular, Waldron laments, “many who are convinced by the gay rights position are upset” that others “refuse to take the liberal position for granted.”

Professor Yoshino is one such colleague. And George et al’s resounding critique of Yoshino’s argument reveals the truth of Waldron’s theory that proponents of gay marriage need to take the traditional position seriously instead of wasting time stigmatizing those with whom they disagree.

I encourage you to read “What is Marriage” over your winter break between the meals and the caroling. In the authors’ own words, it “offers a robust defense of the conjugal view of marriage as the union of husband and wife, and issues specific intellectual challenges to those who propose to redefine civil marriage to accommodate same-sex partnerships.”

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Harvard Marriages – Finding Love & Commitment Early

Jane Seo of The Harvard Crimson published a beautiful piece this week on the marriages of three undergraduates.

All three couples are religious (Jewish, Mormon, Protestant) and their profiles shed light on a life few fellow undergrads can imagine. In fact, according to the 2004 census, only  7 percent of American college students are married. At Harvard, only 27 undergrads are married, as the Registrar reports to Seo. Despite their decision to opt-out of the main stream, the students all have very beautiful things to say about their decision to marry young. Loren McGinnis ’11, one of the featured students, says that he and his wife “believe that…marriage is an eternal commitment.”

McGinnis also goes on to contextualize his marriage, adding that Mormons are more likely to marry young, hypothesizing that the “early marriage age could be attributed to the high value that Mormons place on family and marriage.” The article goes on to say,

“I can go to Harvard and get as many prefixes as I want,” McGinnis says, “but the most important title I’d have in my life is fatherhood.”

McGinnis also says that marriage is a practical response to Mormonism’s rules against premarital sex—the result is that Mormons tend to have a shorter “courtship process,” he says.

Nadler, an Orthodox Jew, says that some who share his religious beliefs also tend to marry young. According to the US Census Bureau, the median age of a first marriage in the United States was 28.2 for men and 26.1 for women in 2010. Nadler says that based on his experience, he thinks many Orthodox Jews marry earlier in their 20s.

Many of Nadler’s friends were already married when he married, Nadler says. As a result, Nadler, who hopes to attend law school or graduate school in philosophy, says he was “very familiar and comfortable with having this traditional responsibility.”

While all three have learned how to navigate married undergraduate life, Harvard certainly doesn’t make things easy, as Harvard’s housing policy forces married students to live off-campus. The university does not offer married student housing, unlike many other schools.

Seo concludes her well-written piece with asking the students about the social challenges of marriage in college:

They also says people at Harvard have welcomed their decision to marry young. Although some people were surprised, Nadler says, “most of our friends were accepting and excited for us.”

“At Harvard, people find it cool that I’m married,” Westphal says. “But in high school some people were judgmental.” But he would respond, “It’s my life, it’s none of your business.”

The primary challenge McGinnis says he has faced while married has been the stress associated with raising a child. This month, McGinnis’ daughter will turn 2. In raising her, McGinnis says he and his wife sacrificed friendships and countless nights of sleep.

But both parents agreed that having a daughter changed their lives for the better.

“Just watching her run around brings joy to my heart,” McGinnis says.

Associate Prof Mark Regnerus at University of Texas-Austin would commend the three undergrads for figuring out young marriage. In his widely read 2009 article in the Washington Post, “Say Yes. What Are You Waiting For?”, Regnerus speaks to many of the themes that define the Harvard dating scene,

In my research on young adults’ romantic relationships, many women report feeling peer pressure to avoid giving serious thought to marriage until they’re at least in their late 20s. If you’re seeking a mate in college, you’re considered a pariah, someone after her “MRS degree.” Actively considering marriage when you’re 20 or 21 seems so sappy, so unsexy, so anachronistic. Those who do fear to admit it — it’s that scandalous.

How did we get here? The fault lies less with indecisive young people than it does with us, their parents. Our own ideas about marriage changed as we climbed toward career success. Many of us got our MBAs, JDs, MDs and PhDs. Now we advise our children to complete their education before even contemplating marriage, to launch their careers and become financially independent. We caution that depending on another person is weak and fragile. We don’t want them to rush into a relationship. We won’t help you with college tuition anymore, we threaten. Don’t repeat our mistakes, we warn.

Sara, a 19-year-old college student from Dallas, equated thinking about marrying her boyfriend with staging a rebellion. Her parents “want my full attention on grades and school because they want me to get a good job,” she told me. Understandable. But our children now sense that marrying young may be not simply foolish but also wrong and socially harmful. And yet today, as ever, marriage wisely entered into remains good for the economy and the community, good for one’s personal well-being, good for wealth creation and, yes, good for the environment, too. We are sending mixed messages.

This is not just an economic problem. It’s also a biological and emotional one. I realize that it’s not cool to say that, but my job is to map trends, not to affirm them. Marriage will be there for men when they’re ready. And most do get there. Eventually. But according to social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs, women’s “market value” declines steadily as they age, while men’s tends to rise in step with their growing resources (that is, money and maturation). Countless studies — and endless anecdotes — reinforce their conclusion. Meanwhile, women’s fertility is more or less fixed, yet they largely suppress it during their 20s — their most fertile years — only to have to beg, pray, borrow and pay to reclaim it in their 30s and 40s. Although male fertility lives on, it doesn’t hold out forever, either: Studies emerging from Europe and Australia note that a couple’s chances of conceiving fall off notably when men pass the age of 40, and that several developmental disorders are slightly more common in children of older fathers.

We can’t continue to view marriage as a transition of loss. While an undergraduate marriage isn’t for everyone, these three students illustrate that marriage, in the long run, is a transition of gain. Ultimately, there will never be a moment in our lives when marriage fits perfectly; marriage can’t fit to us, we must fit to marriage.

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Lesbian Parenting Study in Pediatrics

After reading many media references to a spring study that concluded that lesbian mothers are the best mothers, I’d like to respond to this “US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-year-old Adolescents” study that was published in Pediatrics. I don’t aim to deem it valid or invalid, nor am I deeply concerned about the study’s funding source, but I’ve read through it, and here are my thoughts.

The results are self-reported by the mothers. For example, there are no objective academic measurements or whatnot; the children do well because their mothers rate them well in social, school/academic, social problems, rule-breaking, aggressiveness, and externalizing problem behavior. We have absolutely no way to determine if study participants are rating their children fairly, which is massively problematic. It is made even more problematic because the mothers are not randomly selected, instead they are volunteers, and volunteers on the higher education and socioeconomic groups, who are quite likely to be politically motivated by participating in this study. Or rather, those who would volunteer for a politically significant study are those who know themselves to be good parents and know they could answer in the affirmative. And of course they do answer in the affirmative, and their answers are never cross-checked (like with school reports).

The median income of the lesbian mother group is $85,000, which introduces factors like resources and socioeconomic status that are just not mentioned, not to mention controlled for. Likewise, the sample size of 78 children is unfortunate. The study does not tell us how the control group of mothers and children are selected, which is strange for any study and should have been teased out in peer reviews. We simply have no idea if these children are representative (or have the same social status, have the same education opportunities, etc.).

But most interesting to me as a reader of sociological papers, the mothers do not report that their children do significantly differently when the two lesbian mothers split up. This has hardly ever, ever been seen in any longitudinal data of families, as children with one parent do worse than children with two in any representative study. So this finding alone hints that the study may have some fundamental methodological issues. Also, there are no differences reported in girls and boys, which again, is not replicated in other data and implies that parents may not be properly rating their own children, which is natural, as it’s intrinsically biased to rate your own children and your own parenting.

Now, could lesbians be excellent parents? Absolutely. I’m just not at all convinced by this study, and I would suggest that they certainly can be excellent mothers; they just can’t be fathers too.

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Back to the Drawing Board on the Marriage Debate

Over at the magazine The American Conservative, college professor Stephen Baskerville argues that defenders of traditional marriage need to rethink the arguments they have been offering up to this point in the debate.

The weakest argument for the traditional cause, Professor Baskerville claims, consists of the “vague assertions that homosexual marriage weakens true marriage in some way—which in itself, actually, it does not.”

Baskerville argues that it is not the homosexual lobby that has brought about the decline of traditional marriage – rather, its heterosexual should-have-been supporters bear the blame. While Robert P. George et al.’s new article (on the nature of marriage and the state of the gay vs. traditional marriage debate, as referenced on a separate post) would disagree with some of his theories, Baskerville claims,

The demand for same-sex marriage is a symptom, not a cause, of the deterioration of marriage. By far the most direct threat to the family is heterosexual divorce. “Commentators miss the point when they oppose homosexual marriage on the grounds that it would undermine traditional understandings of marriage,” writes family scholar Bryce Christensen. “It is only because traditional understandings of marriage have already been severely undermined that homosexuals are now laying claim to it.”

Though gay activists cite their desire to marry as evidence that their lifestyle is not inherently promiscuous, they readily admit that marriage is no longer the barrier against promiscuity that it once was. If the standards of marriage have already been lowered, they ask, why shouldn’t homosexuals be admitted to the institution?

“The world of no-strings heterosexual hookups and 50% divorce rates preceded gay marriage,” Andrew Sullivan points out. “All homosexuals are saying C9 is that, under the current definition, there’s no reason to exclude us. If you want to return straight marriage to the 1950s, go ahead. But until you do, the exclusion of gays is simply an anomaly—and a denial of basic civil equality.”

Not only do the current, massively-lowered standards surrounding traditional straight marriage make it difficult its supporters to exclude gays. Baskerville thinks that arguments typically offered in defense of traditional marriage are just as weak:

The notion that marriage exists for love or “to express and safeguard an emotional union of adults,” as one proponent puts it, is cant. Many loving and emotional human relationships do not involve marriage.

What is the proposed solution? What can supporters point to as a feature of traditional, straight marriage that elevates its meaning?

Marriage exists primarily to cement the father to the family. This fact is politically incorrect but undeniable. The breakdown of marriage produces widespread fatherlessness, not motherlessness. As Margaret Mead pointed out long ago—yes, leftist Margaret Mead was correct about this—motherhood is a biological certainty whereas fatherhood is socially constructed. The father is the weakest link in the family bond, and without the institution of marriage he is easily discarded […]

[…]Even the conservative argument that marriage exists to rear children is too imprecise: marriage creates fatherhood. No marriage, no fathers.

Once this principle is recognized, same-sex marriage makes no sense. Judge Walker’s [the federal judge who overturned California’s Proposition 8, which restored a traditional definition to marriage within the state]  “finding of fact” that “gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage” is rendered preposterous. Marriage between two men or two women simply mocks the purpose of the institution. Homosexual parenting only further distances biological fathers (and some mothers too) from their children, since at least some homosexual parents must acquire their children from someone else—usually through heterosexual divorce. [comment added]

Treading this new road, Baskerville concludes, will not be easy:

This is not a small undertaking. It would mean confronting the radical sexual establishment in its entirety—not only homosexuals but their allies among feminists, bar associations, psychotherapists, social workers, and pubic schools. It would raise the stakes significantly—or rather it would highlight how high the stakes already are. It would also focus public attention on the interconnectedness of these threats to the family and freedom. It would foster a coalition of parents with a vested personal interest in marriage and parental rights.

The alternative is to continue mouthing platitudes, in which case we will be dismissed as a chorus of scolds and moralizers—and yes, bigots. And we will lose.

There is also an extensive discussion concerning the importance of marriage as a political institution, as well as positive steps policy makers can take make this newly-tweaked approach to marriage a reality. The entire article is well worth the read.

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The Superstitution of Divorce

Though scholar/author/journalist G.K. Chesterton wrote “The Superstition of Divorce” in 1918 as a series of articles, his words are still relevant today (it’s true!). Being Americans, we are privy to the audio version of his articles, available on this site.

His articles focus on the social/historic/practical purposes of marriage and ultimately propose that “The obvious effect of frivolous divorce will be frivolous marriage. If people can be separated for no reason they will feel it all the easier to be united for no reason.” For those interested in studying divorce, these podcasts are a great way to procrastinate. Or – it’s a stretch – good bed time stories.

As Dale Ahlquist of the Chesterton Society puts it,

Divorce, by any account, is a failure. But the modern world has begun to portray divorce as a freedom. This comes as no surprise to Chesterton. The modern world, he says, specializes in two forms of freedom: suicide and divorce. “In a dreary time we listen to two counsels of despair: the freedom from life and the freedom from love.” In our society, he says, where every real freedom has been curtailed, the two doors of death and divorce stand open. But just as we should not accept a system that drives men to drown and shoot themselves, we should not accept a system that produces so many divorces. He insists that we admit that divorce is a failure and that it would be much better for us to find the cause and cure rather than allow divorce to complete its destructive effect.

But freedom means the freedom to make a vow, not break a vow. A vow, says Chesterton, “is a tryst with oneself.” Divorce, he argues, is a superstition. In fact, it is more of a superstition than sacramental marriage itself. The advocates of divorce believe that a vow can be undone by a mere ceremony, disposed of by a mysterious and magical rite. The superstition also applies to the idea of re-marriage, that the mere ceremony will undo a vow so that the vow can be made vow again. Chesterton says they want to have their wedding cake and eat it, too. And we have now created a system where this is possible. We now reward a man for deserting his wife by letting him have another wife. We never encourage him to go back to the woman he first chose from all the women in the world.

But besides the horrible problem of disloyalty, there are other enemies, both philosophical and practical, attacking marriage and the family. This revolt against the family is utterly unnatural, a revolt against nature itself and the natural attraction between father and mother. This natural attraction, says Chesterton, is called a child. It is a simple truth that the modern world insists on ignoring.

A family is of course the best way to create, to protect and to raise children. Besides this obvious truth, Chesterton also argues that the family must be kept intact because the home is the greatest refuge of freedom in the world.

Divorce is not an act of freedom. On the contrary, it is an act of slavery. A society where vows can be easily broken is not a free society. A free society cannot function without volunteers keeping their commitments to each other. When the most basic unit of society, the family, breaks apart, some other institution will try to replace it and restore order, and will then become more important than the family.

Sometimes divorce is the only answer, but a 50 percent divorce rate is hardly a function of chance, as evidenced by the new State of Our Unions report.

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The Social Costs of Pornography

Do you know about the Witherspoon Institute’s The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations?

It might not be the most spirited of holiday presents, but we’d encourage you to check out the project’s site. The project began with a conference at Princeton hosted in 2008 by the Witherspoon Institute that sought to gather leading experts in several fields, including economics, psychology, sociology, and law, to present a rigorously argued overview of pornography in today’s society.

The debate regarding porn use is one that has massive consequences for the mental, emotional, and physical health of families and individuals. As Jean Bethke Elshtain (Professor of Social and Political Ethics, University of Chicago, and Thomas and Dorothy Leavy Chair in the Foundations of American Freedom, Georgetown University) puts it,

I used to be much more of a “live and let live” person on this issue, years ago, in part because some of those who pushed for the censorship of pornography were so authoritarian. But the new technology has sent me in another direction…. I hope the analyses, the data, the arguments, and the images that flow forth from the pages of The Social Costs of Pornography will assist the reader in the future to avoid the pitfalls of unrestrained libertarianism, on the one hand, and unrestrained, top-down censoriousness, on the other. The “moral” need not be the cramped and cribbed “moralistic.” The point to be considered is: What sort of community is this? Is it reasonably decent and kind? Is it a fit place for human habitation, especially for the young? What happens to the most vulnerable among us? How do we ill-dignify the human body, and how do we forestall such affronts? These questions are not easy, but this learned volume helps push the debate forward in discerning ways.

These questions – “What sort of community is this? Is it reasonably decent and kind? Is it a fit place for human habitation, especially for the young? What happens to the most vulnerable among us? How do we ill-dignify the human body, and how do we forestall such affronts?” – are largely the topic of Harvard’s anti-porn week in February.

If you’d like to help organize anti-porn week in February, contact us at

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What is Marriage?

New Article on the Nature of Marriage and the Answers to the Nation’s most pressing Marriage Questions Published in our very own Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy

Public Discourse, the Witherspoon Institute, and the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy released a major new article by Prof. Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Public Discourse editor Ryan T. Anderson, in which the authors argue that society has strong reasons to recognize opposite-sex unions but not same-sex unions as civil marriages.

To give you an idea of the ground they cover, the table of contents can be found below.



PART ONE ……………………………………………………………………..248

A. Equality, Justice, and the Heart of the Debate …………………………………………..248

B. Real Marriage Is-And Is Only-The Union of Husband and Wife…………………..252

1. Comprehensive Union ………………………253

2. Special Link to Children ……………………255

3. Marital Norms…………………………………..259

C. How Would Gay Civil Marriage Affect You or Your Marriage? ………………..260

1. Weakening Marriage …………………………260

2. Obscuring the Value of Opposite-Sex Parenting As an Ideal ………………………..262

3. Threatening Moral and Religious Freedom ……………………………………………263

D. If Not Same-Sex Couples, Why Infertile Ones? ………………………………..265

1. Still Real Marriages……………………………266

2. Still in the Public Interest…………………..268

E. Challenges for Revisionists ……………………..269

1. The State Has an Interest in Regulating Some Relationships? ……….269

2. Only if They Are Romantic?………………271

3. Only if They Are Monogamous? ……….272

F. Isn’t Marriage Just Whatever We Say It Is? ……………………………………………274

PART TWO. …………………………………………………………………….275

A. Why Not Spread Traditional Norms to the Gay Community? ………………………….275

B. What About Partners’ Concrete Needs?……………………………………..280

C. Doesn’t the Conjugal Conception of Marriage Sacrifice Some People’s Fulfillment for Others’? …………….281

D. Isn’t It Only Natural? ………………………………284

E. Doesn’t Traditional Marriage Law Impose Controversial Moral and Religious Views on Everyone?………………………….285


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“The State of Our Unions” Released

The National Marriage Project has just released their periodic “State of Our Unions” study charting the status of marriage in the United States.

The most remarkable finding is that marriage is declining among moderately educated two-parent families, while marriage success is increasing among the more educated.  Some of the predominant findings/charts are below, pulled directly from the study:

  • “Divorce rates are up for moderately educated Americans, relative to those who are highly educated.”
  • “Marital quality is declining for the moderately educated middle but not for their highly educated peers.”
  • “The children of highly educated parents are now more likely than in the recent past to be living with their mother and father, while children with moderately educated parents are far less likely to be living with their mother and father.”

Figure 8. Percentage of 25–60-year-olds Believing Divorce Should be More Difficult to Obtain, by Education and Decade

Percentage of 25-60-year-olds Believing Divorce Should be More Difficult to Obtain, by Education and Decade

Figure 4. Percentage of Women 25–44 Years Old Who Have Ever Cohabited, by Education and Year

Percentage of Women 25-44 Years Old Who Have Ever Cohabited, by Education and Year

Figure 1. Percent Chance of Divorce or Separation Within 10 Years of First Marriage, 15–44 year-old Women, by Education and Year of Marriage

Percent Chance of Divorce or Separation Within 10 Years of First Marriage, 15-44 year-old Women, by Education and Year of Marriage

Ross Douthat of the New York Times commented on the shifting “factions” of the culture war in his article  “The Changing Culture War” (published today). He writes that the study highlights the marital problems arising among the moderately educated class (“the 58 percent of Americans with high school diplomas and often some college education, but no four-year degree”). While social observers divide the culture war into two camps – the working-class conservatives who religiously value marriage and liberal elites who fight for more flexible divorce laws and challenge the importance of stable marriages and traditional sexual norms – it seems that the educated elite now contains a large number of upwardly mobile religious conservatives, and the less educated groups are paying the debt of changing norms regarding sex and the family. While liberal elites challenge the sanctity of marriage and the importance of premarital abstinence and strict divorce laws, they seem to reap the benefits of marriage for themselves and their children, leaving social experimentation to others.

Douthat writes,

This decline is depressing, but it isn’t surprising. We’ve known for a while that America has a marriage gap: college graduates divorce infrequently and bear few children out of wedlock, while in the rest of the country unwed parenthood and family breakdown are becoming a new normal. This gap has been one of the paradoxes of the culture war: highly educated Americans live like Ozzie and Harriet despite being cultural liberals, while middle America hews to traditional values but has trouble living up to them.

But the Marriage Project’s data suggest that this paradox is fading. It’s no longer clear that middle America does hold more conservative views on marriage and family, or that educated Americans are still more likely to be secular and socially liberal.

That division held a generation ago, but now it’s diminishing. In the 1970s, for instance, college-educated Americans overwhelmingly supported liberal divorce laws, while the rest of the country was ambivalent. Likewise, college graduates were much less likely than high school graduates to say that premarital sex was “always wrong.” Flash forward to the 2000s, though, and college graduates have grown more socially conservative on both fronts (50 percent now favor making divorces harder to get, up from 34 percent in the age of key parties), while the least educated Americans have become more permissive.

There has been a similar change in religious practice. In the 1970s, college- educated Americans were slightly less likely to attend church than high school graduates. Today, piety increasingly correlates with education: college graduates are America’s most faithful churchgoers, while religious observance has dropped precipitously among the less-educated.

Douthat is not the only one who is taking notice of the study; the news media is paying attention. The Huffington Post reports that “while moderately-educated people traditionally mimicked the behavior of the upper class, they are now in the midst of a “historic reversal” insofar as they are mirroring the attitudes and actions of the lower class.” The Washington Times interviewed co-author Professor Wilcox from University of Virginia:

“Middle America has lost its religious edge,” wrote W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, looking at trends over the past 40 years…

Many highly educated Americans might have “progressive views on social issues in general,” said Mr. Wilcox, but “when it comes to their own lives, they are increasingly adopting a marriage mindset and acting and accordingly.”

It is important to note that most Americans do not fall in the most educated group, indicating that the decline in marriage, while not seen among the most educated groups, is not slowing. Progressive attitudes toward marriage, while expressed by the most educated, are lived out be the least. Of course, we’ve seen data in the past, especially from Kathryn Edin’s (et al) Fragile Families study, that shows the decline of marriage in low income communities, but the spread of marital decline to “moderately educated” groups has not been well-identified until now.

These interesting results might make us question how elitist attitudes toward marriage and sex have pervaded the less educated class while not affecting the elites themselves? Since we know that the lack of marriage is highly correlated with poverty, is the failure of marriage in lower educated and low-income areas a self-perpetuating cycle? Children from broken homes are less likely to achieve academic success, have healthy relationships, and otherwise reap the benefits of having a father and mother in the home.

As Douthat concludes, “While college-educated Americans battle over what marriage should mean, much of the country may be abandoning the institution entirely,” we should be wary of the decline of marriage among not only the least advantaged groups, but now also among the in-between group, which has traditionally mirrored the lifestyles of the more educated classes.

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