Getting to the Church on Time
Although the retreat from marriage in the United States,
expressed in declining marriage rates and increasing age of first marriage, is
well documented, a study by three Mississippi sociologists finds that the
extent of that retreat varies considerably according to one's faith tradition.
In general, the more "conservative" the faith tradition, the greater likelihood
that its members will marry and will marry at an earlier age, relative to their
peers from a more liberal faith tradition or no tradition.
analyzed the first wave of data of the National Survey of Families and
Households, working with a sample of more than 10,000 respondents. They found
that both men and women who are Mormon, conservative Protestant, or moderate
Protestant reveal a "greater propensity" to marry —and to marry at
considerably younger ages — than the unaffiliated. In terms of the age of first
marriage, Mormons marry earlier than conservative Protestants, who marry earlier
than moderate Protestants, although the differences between these three groups
were not statistically significant.
their faith tradition would be considered conservative, Catholics stood
somewhere between the early marrying Mormons and Protestants and the later marrying
liberal Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated. In fact, the statistical
tests yielded no significant differences in marriage timing between Catholics
and liberal Protestants. Persons of the Jewish faith, as well as liberal
Protestants and the unaffiliated, were found to be the most likely to postpone
or delay marriage.
findings withstood a variety of controls for sociodemographic factors,
including education and employment status, that affect marriage timing, leading
the researchers to conclude: "The strength and persistence of these patterned
associations further demonstrate that there are robust and multifaceted
linkages between two prominent social institutions, namely, religion and
(Source: Xiaohe Xu, Clark D. Hudspeth, and John P.
Bartkowski, "The Timing of First Marriage: Are There Religious Variations?"
Journal of Family Issues 26 [July 2005]: 584-618.)
The Poetic Truth About Homosexuality
Since the scandal surrounding British poet and playwright
Oscar Wilde, homosexuality has claimed no literary figure more prominent than
the 20th-century Anglo-American poet W. H. Auden (1907-1973). However, after considerable personal
experience, Auden delivered a remarkably negative judgment on this kind of
to a newly published critical study, Auden made decidedly negative comments
about homosexuality during a 1947 conversation with Alan Ansen: "I've come to
the conclusion that it's wrong to be queer, but that's a long story. Oh, the reasons are comparatively
simple. In the first place, all
homosexual acts are acts of envy.
In the second, the more you're involved with someone, the more trouble
arises, and affection shouldn't result in that. It shows something's wrong
did Auden's perspective on homosexuality grow more favorable in the years that
followed. In 1969, just four years
before his death, Auden wrote candidly, "Few, if any, homosexuals can honestly
boast that their sex-life has been happy."
(Source: Arthur Kirsch, Auden and Christianity [New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2005], 172-173.)
Married Americans Remain Faithful
Contrary to what the silver screen and television portray,
American men and women report high levels of marital fidelity. According to a
report published by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), 92.6
percent of married men and 93.4 percent of married women report being faithful
to their spouses during the previous twelve months.
report details findings from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, which
was conducted by NCHS, a division of the Centers for Disease Control at the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 2002 survey involved
face-to-face, computer-assisted interviews with 7,643 women and 4,928 men, ages
15-44, in the household population of the United States.
study reveals a close association between marriage and monogamy, a concern of
the CDC because of the latter's natural protection against sexually transmitted
diseases. While 4.5 percent of married men and 3.8 percent of married women
reported having engaged in sexual relations with more than one partner in the
last twelve months, 30.5 percent of never-married men and 24 percent of
never-married women reported the same, as did 15.6 percent of cohabiting men
and 15.2 of cohabiting women. Divorcees reported having the highest levels of
multiple sex partners (33.6 percent of divorced men and 29.3 of divorced
report also found that the percentage of men who reported having had genital
contact with another man in the previous twelve months was small (2.9 percent);
the percentage was even smaller (1.6 percent) among men engaging exclusively in
such same-sex activity. Among women, the respective same-sex figures were 4.4
percent and 1.3 percent, although with women, the reported activity represented
a broader category of behavior: "any kind" of sexual experience with another
woman. Yet something more than actual behavior seems to have influenced
responses to questions related to sexual desires and attractions, as 8 percent
of men and 7.9 percent of women consider themselves as having a
non-conventional "orientation," whether homosexual, bisexual, or "something
high levels of marital fidelity and very low levels of homoerotic behavior
among men show little change from a 1991 study published in Family Planning
Perspectives that found
similar results (see New Research,
July 1993, p. 1). That national survey of more than 3,300 men found that 95.8
percent of married men had intercourse with only one partner during the
previous year. It also found that only 1 percent of sexually active men, ages
20-39, reported engaging in only "same-gender sexual activity" in the previous
ten years. Given the paucity of homoerotic acts both then and now, one wonders
what drives the media, the courts, and advocacy groups to make homosexuality
seem more normative that it really is.
(Source: "Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures: Men
and Women 15-44 Years of Age, United States, 2002," National Center for Health
Statistics, Advance Data, Number 362, September 15, 2005.)
The ABCs of Teen Drinking
Most parents of teenagers know that a problem confined to
college campuses a generation ago haunts high school communities today: alcohol
use. Yet a study of sophomores in Icelandic secondary schools suggests that the
increase of divorce, the lack of parental involvement with their teens, and the
decline of church attendance have each strengthened the appeal of the bottle to
data from the 2000 European School Survey on Alcohol and Other Drugs, which
obtained responses from 89 percent of all tenth graders in Iceland, three
Icelandic and one American sociologist measured both individual and school
factors related to alcohol use among teens. In both bivariate and multivariate
statistical tests, including what the researchers describe as their "best
fitting model," teens living in households without a father, without a mother,
or with a stepparent were more likely to drink (all three household
arrangements at both test levels were statistically significant). Also
statistically significant across the board: Teens were less likely to drink if
they reported that their parents knew of their evening whereabouts and if teens
reported that they were emotionally close to at least one parent.
also were less likely to drink if they reported that they regularly attended
public worship and expressed confidence in getting "support from God" when in
need (p< .001 for both variables). While individual parental religiosity did
not yield significant correlations with teen drinking in the multivariate
tests, among teens that attended schools where parents were more religious,
females drank significantly less than did males (p< .05).
parents anxious about teen vulnerability to drinking, these findings confirm
that staying out of the divorce court and taking the family to church each week
are powerful tools to keep their teenagers out of trouble.
(Source: Thoroddur Bjarnason et al.,
"Familial and Religious
Influences on Adolescent Alcohol Use: A Multi-Level Study of Students and
School Communities," Social Forces 84 [September 2005]: 375-390.)
The Ambiguous Family
Although the birth of children brings stress to any
marriage, children tend to stabilize a marriage and help prevent the likelihood
of divorce, especially when a couple has several children. Children pose,
however, a different dynamic in stepfamilies, judging from a study by Susan D.
Stewart of Iowa State University that documents an inverse relationship between
the high level of "boundary ambiguity" in such families and marital quality and
boundary ambiguity as a "lack of clarity as to who is in and who is out of the
family," Stewart draws upon the 1988 National Survey of Families and Households
to measure the extent of discrepancy between spouses in their perception of
what children are "in" their respective families. In her sample of more than
3,350 families representing "first-married, remarried, and cohabiting couples
with minor children from previous and current unions with minor step-,
biological, or adopted children," the sociologist discovered that boundary
ambiguity is significantly more prevalent in stepfamilies than in original
her multivariate tests, couples with stepchildren were found to have almost
three times the odds of boundary ambiguity than couples with only shared
biological children. Couples with greater family complexity (having at least
two sets of stepchildren and shared children) relative to couples with less complexity
(only one set of stepchildren and no shared children) increased those odds of
boundary ambiguity. While resident stepchildren lowered the odds, nonresident
stepchildren raised the odds, as couples with two sets of nonresident children
faced the strongest effect, 44 times the odds. Also contributing to the mix was
the union status of the couple, as cohabiting couples faced 40 percent greater
odds of boundary ambiguity than married couples.
it did not appear to affect the perception of marital quality on the part of
men, boundary ambiguity did stress women. Stewart found that wives in families
with ambiguity reported significantly more disagreements with their husbands
and significantly higher chances of separating than their peers in families with
no ambiguity (p < .05 for both correlations). Both results included controls
for family complexity and parental characteristics, including union status
(cohabiting or married), previous marital status, age, race, and education.
Stewart did not examine the impact of boundary ambiguity on children, her
revelation that nonresident stepchildren are often "out of sight, out of mind"
underscores that divorce and remarriage — while catering to the demands of
adults — rarely serve the interests of their children.
(Source: Susan D. Stewart,
"Boundary Ambiguity in
Stepfamilies," Journal of Family Issues 26 [October 2005]: 1002-1029).
Moynihan Saw It Coming
Though progressive intellectuals
branded Daniel Patrick Moynihan a racist when he issued his famous 1965 report
on The Negro Family, the evidence
continues to mount that he was absolutely right to have sounded the alarm about
the baleful consequences of the breakdown of black family life. The latest evidence vindicating
Moynihan's prescient report appears in a study recently published in the Journal
of Marriage and Family by researchers at the Universities of
Washington and Michigan. Based on
national probability data collected for African Americans ages 15 to 54 between
1990 and 1992, this new study clearly indicates that blacks who lack the
protection of wedlock are particularly exposed to financial and psychological
their overall analysis of the data, the Washington and Michigan scholars reach
an unsurprising conclusion: "As predicted by the process of social stress
theory, financial strain and traumatic events had adverse effects on mental
health status." But more careful
parsing of the data reveals that not all African Americans are equally vulnerable
to stress, trauma, and psychological malaise. "Compared to married [African
American] individuals," the researchers conclude, "unmarried persons report both
more financial strain and traumatic events, more negative interactions with
relatives, and more depressive symptoms."
finding that unmarried blacks are subject to more financial strain, more
traumatic events, and more depression than married peers would hardly have
surprised Moynihan. And the
finding that unmarried blacks experience distinctively more negative
relationships with their relatives than do married blacks casts serious doubt
on an argument often advanced by progressives who discounted Moynihan's
report. For that finding undercuts
the argument that black extended families have compensated for the
disappearance of intact black nuclear families. It would appear that even in their relationships with their
extended families, divorced and never-married blacks are significantly worse
off than their married black peers.
D. Lincoln, Linda M. Chatters, and Robert Joseph Taylor, "Social Support,
Traumatic Events, and Depressive Symptoms Among African Americans," Journal of
Marriage and Family 67 : 754-766.)
Confucius Would Smile
Because the peoples of Eastern Asia have been influenced by
centuries of Confucian culture, their attachment to family is widely recognized
and understood. Surprisingly,
though, young Americans — even in the 21st century — are just as likely as
their East Asian counterparts to look to their families as their primary source
of life satisfaction.
evidence that young Americans resemble their Asian peers in viewing the family
as their prime source of life meaning appears in a study recently published in
the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology by a team of researchers from the University of Rhode
Island and the University of South Carolina. When comparing survey data collected from 488 Korean
students ages 12 to 17 with survey data collected from 571 American students of
comparable ages, the researchers limn a clear pattern of convergence in family
attitudes. "The family domain,"
the researchers remark, "was the strongest contributor to global
L[ife]S[atisfaction] for both U.S. and Korean adolescents."
authors of the new study interpret their results as a clear indication that
"regardless of culture, positive family expectations are essential to
adolescent well-being." In other
words, "Across cultures, the importance of family in one's life seems to be
(Source: Nansook Park and E. Scott Huebner,
Cross-Cultural Study of the Levels and Correlates of Life Satisfaction Among
Adolescents," Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 36 : 444-456.)
Parents or Coaches?
Some Americans suppose that
adolescents can learn their most important life lessons not at home from
parents, but rather in sports from coaches. But teens who spend a lot of time under the guidance of
coaches rather than parents may be headed for trouble. The risks of replacing parents with
coaches stand out clearly in a study recently published in the Journal of
Youth and Adolescence by Professor Siu Kwong Wong of Brandon
analyzing survey data for 578 public school students enrolled in grades 5
through 12, Wong has established that sports and family life have remarkably
disparate effects on adolescents' lives.
"Family-related activities," Wong finds, "strengthen the social bond and
reduce delinquent association and delinquency." In marked contrast, "the amount of time playing sports
increases delinquency and violent offenses in particular" (p<0.05).
does "doing things with the family" reduce adolescent delinquency while
participating in sports actually fosters such delinquency? "Activities comprised of primarily peer
participants," Wong reasons, "compared to those involving family members or
conventional adults, tend to have less-positive effects on the social bond."
new study should foster skepticism about proposals for reducing teen
criminality by launching new tax-funded sports programs. It appears that no one wins when teens
spend more time learning how to pass a ball to a teammate than they do in
learning how to plant a garden with parents and siblings.
(Source: Siu Kwong Wong,
"The Effects of Adolescent
Activities on Delinquency: A Differential Involvement Approach," Journal of Youth
and Adolescence 34 : 321-333.)
— or Just Postponing It?
Demographers have marveled at the remarkable
marriage" witnessed in recent decades in the United States — and other
industrialized countries. However, in a new study published in Population
Studies, researchers at Pennsylvania State University conclude that
though many young Americans are postponing marriage, relatively few are
actually avoiding wedlock.
The Penn State scholars
acknowledge that in the fall of the marriage rate during the final decades of
the 20th century, many have discerned "a sea change in the social and
demographic behaviour of Western populations ... brought about by fundamental
shifts towards ideologies that emphasize individual autonomy." These scholars' own analysis, however,
suggests that the retreat from wedlock is actually more pronounced in Europe
than in the United States, where almost all young adults still do eventually
marry, even though at later ages than in the past.
Americans are older when marrying than in the past is very clear: the Penn
State researchers calculate that in 2000 the average age at first marriage was
28.3 years for grooms, 26.3 years for brides, compared to 23.0 years for grooms
and 20.8 years for brides in 1970. However, the Penn State scholars'
statistical model indicates that even though Americans coming of age at the
turn of the 21st century have postponed wedlock, the overwhelming majority —
89% of men and 91% of women — will eventually marry.
generations of Americans, it is true, saw a higher percentage of men and women
marry: among Americans who came of age at the end of the Sixties, 97% of men
and 97% of women married. Thus, though the data do indicate "a real decline in
marriage" in the United States, that decline is "considerably smaller" than it
has appeared to demographers who have prematurely misinterpreted numbers
indicating delayed marriage as evidence of permanent singleness. Properly
adjusted, the numbers still attest to the abiding — if somewhat belated —
attraction of marriage for 21st-century American men and women.
(Source: Robert Schoen and Vladimir Canudas-Romo,
effects on first marriage: Twentieth-century experience in England and Wales
and the USA," Population Studies 59 : 135-146.)