The Family in America

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Online Edition    [SwanSearch]


 Volume 18  Number 08

Part of the John L. Swan Library of Family and Culture

July 2004 



Health Appeals Not Appealing

When the young Joseph in the Book of Genesis rebuffed the repeated attempts of Potipher’s wife to engage in sexual relations, his commitment to chastity was not based upon fears of contracting a sexual disease. So perhaps it is not surprising when researchers at the Universities of Texas and Kentucky found that modern attempts by parents, teachers, and elected officials to raise fears of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease as a means of promoting teen abstinence are not as effective as the old fashioned approach of instilling in young people the fear of God.

Analyzing data of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, the researchers found that religiosity significantly reduces the likelihood of teen sexual intercourse both directly and indirectly through its association with negative sexual attitudes outside of marriage. Comparing the sexual attitudes and religiosity of 3,691 virgin teens in Wave 1 (1995) with their reported behavior in Wave 2 (1996) of the survey, the longitudinal study provides rigorous confirmation of earlier studies that have documented—only through correlations and cross-sectional design of selective samples—relationships between religiosity, attitudes toward premarital sex, and the timing of teen sexual debut.

The religiosity variable was based upon a 12-point scale, with four points each assigned to frequency of church attendance, frequency of attendance at religious youth programs, and self-rated importance of religion. Even when controlled for race, age, parental education, and the availability of romantic partners, the religion factor worked wonders in reducing the likelihood of teen sexual debut. Each unit increase on the scale in Wave 1 reduced the odds of coital debut in Wave 2 by 12 percent for boys and 16 percent for girls.

Also significantly associated with delay of teen sexual initiation, as well as with religiosity, were conservative sex attitudes. After accounting for religiosity, attitudes such as “engaging in sexual intercourse will lead to negative emotional consequences such as guilt, loss of respect for one’s partner, and/or anticipation of having sex will emotionally upset one’s mother,” further reduced the odds of sexual debut by 30 percent for boys and 26 percent for girls.

Ironically, teen concerns with the physical consequences of sexual relations did not enter the equation. “Fears of the negative consequences of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases did not significantly reduce the likelihood of coital debut for either boys or girls in this sample.” At the same time, the study found that written or public virginity pledging, a popular component of many abstinence programs, “has no effect beyond its association with being religious and anticipating negative emotional outcomes of engaging in sexual intercourse.”

These findings suggest that parents may need to look less at government-sponsored abstinence programs, no matter how well intended, and more to the church, the only place where their teen children might hear a clergyman expound on Joseph’s defense against Mrs. Potipher: “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

(Source: Sharon Scales Rostosky, Mark D. Regnerus, and Margaret Laurie Comer Wright, “Coital Debut: The Role of Religiosity and Sex Attitudes in the Add Health Survey,” The Journal of Sex Research 40 [2003]: 358-367).

Profs Can Trust Married Students  

As the median age at first marriage continues to rise, few observers have noticed that academic misconduct, or cheating, appears to be dramatically higher today than a generation ago when it was not uncommon for college students to marry when in school or shortly thereafter. However, Paul R. Vowell and Jieming Chen of Texas A&M University in Kingsville have found that professors today can trust married students not to exchange homework and test answers more than single students.

Based upon a study of 674 undergraduates at a Southwestern university, of which 85 percent had reported engaging in some form of cheating, the sociologists found that marital status (p < .01) and age (p < .001) were negatively related to academic misconduct, variables that the professors believed represented evidence of maturity. Even as grade level was positively associated with cheating, the researchers concluded that given the same grade level, “older married students are less likely to cheat than younger unmarried students.”

In addition, the study found that these older married students were less likely than younger single students to have friends who cheated or to hold attitudes favorable to cheating (both variables, p < .001), two composite measures that were found to be correlated with academic misconduct.

Given the recent proliferation of honor codes, school administrators might want to consider ways to encourage more students to marry, or at least to make college life more accommodating for married students, as a means to stem what these researchers consider an epidemic of academic misconduct on campus.

(Source: Paul R. Vowell and Jieming Chen, “Predicting Academic Misconduct: A Comparative Test of Four Sociological Explanations,” Sociological Inquiry 74 [2004]: 226-249.)

Stressed-Out Toddlers  

Feminists have labored sedulously to assuage the guilt that employed mothers feel when they turn the care of their children over to paid surrogates.  Still, child psychologists continue to uncover disquieting evidence of the keen distress young children experience when they see their mothers leave them for out-of-home employment.  The latest evidence of this distress appears in a study recently published in Child Development by scholars from the University of Minnesota, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the University of Berlin.  Analyzing data for seventy 15-month-old infants who were carefully observed at home before being subsequently placed in non-parental child care, the American and German scholars found compelling indications that “entry into child care was stressful for these toddlers.”

The authors of the new study point to “both behavioral distress and H[ypothalamic] P[ituitary] A[drenocortical] system activity levels” as strong indications of the stress that young children experience when employment-bound mothers leave them behind.  More specifically, the researchers track a disturbing pattern in the observed bloodstream levels of cortisol, a clear biochemical marker for psychological stress.  “Higher levels of cortisol were evident in the child care setting,” report the researchers, “even with the mothers present, than at home, and levels were even higher (75% to 100% above home baseline levels) throughout the first two weeks that the toddlers were left at child care without their mothers.”

The researchers classified the children in their study as either “securely” or “insecurely” attached to their mothers before being placed in nonparental care.  Surprisingly, though, “cortisol levels did not differ across attachment groups during the first separation days (from Day 1 to Day 9).”  With equally elevated cortisol levels in both infant groups, the scholars are forced to admit that “none of the data suggests that securely attached toddlers regulate stress more effectively than insecurely attached toddlers in the absence of their mothers.”   Why does placement in nonparental care affect securely attached infants just as negatively as insecurely attached infants?  The authors of the new study conjecture that perhaps “the onset of non-parental care is so challenging that it overwhelms any differences attributable to differences in earlier patterns of care.” 

The researchers did observe “a significant decrease in cortisol levels from Day 9 to Month 5,” and during this same period they did document “predictably lower [cortisol levels] in securely attached toddlers than in insecurely attached toddlers.”  However, throughout the study period “these [cortisol] levels remained significantly higher than at home” (p <.01).

No doubt feminist activists will continue to deploy their rhetorical skills in reassuring conscience-stricken mothers leaving their children in day care.  But the empirical science of blood chemistry has clearly exposed the high price that the youngest and most vulnerable Americans continue to pay for their mothers’ employment.

(Source:  Lieselotte Ahnert et al., “Transition to Child Care: Associations With Infant-Mother Attachment, Infant Negative Emotion, and Cortisol Elevations,” Child Development 75 (2004): 639-650.)

Primed for Abuse  

Why do a distressingly large number of American women now find themselves in the hell of an abusive relationship?  What motivates men who become the often-brutal partners in these relationships?  In a recently published study supplying answers to these questions, researchers at Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison provided new reasons to worry about the social consequences of a national retreat from wedlock and the social traditions that undergird wedlock. 

In parsing data collected from 980 men and women ages 24 to 26, the Columbia and Wisconsin scholars establish clearly that “women in clinically abusive relationships had childhood family adversity.”   More particularly, the data show that “women who became involved in abuse relationships as adults experienced more caretaker changes in childhood [and] spent more years with a single parent…than women who did not become involved in abusive relationships.”  In further statistical tests, “being reared by a single parent” emerges as one of the key “risk factors for women who became involved in both nonclinically and clinically abusive relationships” (p < .01 for nonclinically abusive relationships; p < .05 for clinically abusive relationships). 

When their focus shifts to men in abusive relationships, the researchers do not find the same pattern of childhood family adversity.  However, they also find nothing to give feminist scholars support for “the theory of patriarchal societal norms as the main cause of clinical partner abuse.”  Quite the contrary.  Summarizing the data collected for men in abusive relationships, the researchers remark: “These men were especially likely to score low on the Traditionalism scale of our personality assessment, which is inconsistent with the notion that violence against women is motivated by conventional, normative patriarchal attitudes.”

It would appear that Americans who want to reduce the number of battered women will do all they can to keep young girls in intact two-parent families and to foster in young men a deep commitment to the marital and familial traditions handed down by our ancestors.

(Source: Miriam K. Ehrensaft, Terrie E. Moffitt, and Avshalom Caspi, “Clinically Abusive Relationships in an Unselected Birth Cohort: Men’s and Women’s Participation and Developmental Antecedents,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 113 [2004]: 258-270, emphasis added.)

The Wages of Women in the Workplace  

A cardinal rule of economics is that increases in the labor supply yield decreases in wages, an empirical reality rarely acknowledged when the discussion turns to the influx of women into the workforce. Yet a study by economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the U.S. Military Academy, and the National Bureau of Research has quantified that the “Rosie the Riveter” phenomenon of the 1940s—a decade that the researchers say registered the largest proportional rise in female labor force of the twentieth century—ended up depressing the wages of men, and especially the 85 percent of whom were high school graduates, at mid-century.

Using data from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) of the decennial censuses, the Current Population Survey, the Social Security Earnings Reports Exact Match file, Selected Service System tables, and the Statistical Abstract of the United States, the researchers initially document how the mobilization of 16 million men for World War Two—which brought about a decline in the male labor force participation of 16.5 percentage points between 1940 and 1945—yielded a “robust and economically large” increase in female labor force participation.

Overall, the female labor force participation rate increased 6 percentage points between 1940 and 1945, declined somewhat immediately after the war, but by 1950 remained 5.1 percentage points higher than in 1940, when the rate was 28 percent. Among married women, the 1947 rate was 90 percent of its 1944 level and 140 percent of its 1940 level. As the percentage of men mobilized for war varied state to state, the effect on female employment also varied, as high-mobilization states experienced even higher rates of female employment, what the researchers term “a large and highly significant increase.” While the growth in female employment was not sustained in the 1950s, the effects of the earlier spike persisted in high-mobilization states.

One of those effects is the relative decline in wages across the board for women as well as men. The researchers demonstrate that a 10 percent increase in female employment relative to male labor yields a 7 to 8 percent decline in female wages and a 3 to 5 percent decline in male wages. In addition, the impact on male wages was more acute among high school graduates relative to their peers with more or less education. As the researchers put it, “Women drawn into the labor market by the war were closer substitutes for men at the middle of the skill distribution than for those with either the lowest or highest education.”

If these same factors are still in play, then the additional growth in the female labor supply since 1960 has not helped the wage situation and explains why supporting a family on just one income has become increasingly difficult.

(Source: Daron Acemoglu, David H. Autor, and David Lyle, “Women, War, and Wages: The Effect of Female Labor Supply on the Wage Structure at Midcentury,” Journal of Political Economy 112 [2002]: 497-551.)

Liberated—and Incarcerated  

What has feminist emancipation meant for the women of America, Italy, Chile, and elsewhere?  Apparently, it has meant low-pay service-sector jobs for many and no-pay prison cells for many others.  The way in which the feminist ideology of liberation has translated into “economic marginalization” on the one hand and into female crime on the other receives illuminating attention in a study recently published in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency by a team of criminologists from the University of New Mexico.  The findings of this study suggest that many of the women who have bought into the feminist formula for freedom have ended up waiting tables or doing time.

Analyzing data from 10 countries (including the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Chile, and others), the New Mexico scholars adduce evidence that  “a clash between ideology and reality is taking place,” as feminist slogans promise women liberation while the real world delivers exploitation and incarceration.  Although they acknowledge that some of their colleagues have rejected feminist liberation as an explanation of female crime, they adduce hard evidence that “liberation does indeed stimulate crime among women,” in large part—they suggest—because “changing roles and expectations of gender equality further marginalize women.” 

In analyzing “how the shift from traditional to liberated ideology has changed women’s roles,” the New Mexico researchers stress that “economic marginality is in part a consequence of liberation,” because “the expectation of women’s independence may not be consistent with their actual social circumstances.”   Since “the majority of increases in female labor force participation have been in low-wage sectors,” the researchers can only conclude that “social-structural and ideological changes brought about by the women’s movement may have contributed to the increase in these economically ‘marginal’ roles.”

Because employment in low-pay jobs entails economic hardship, the researchers consider it entirely predictable that “increases in female service jobs...result in higher conviction rates among women” (p < .001). However, since jobs in industry usually pay more than jobs with service-sector employers, the researchers hesitate before invoking “economic marginalization” as the reason that “when women enter the industry sector in greater numbers, [female] conviction rates rise” (p < .01).  Possibly, they suggest, adverse economic pressures are still pushing women employed in industry into crime, as “the increasing number of women in industry could drive down wages,” so creating a “marginalization effect.”  On the other hand, the rise in female crime associated with women’s employment in industry may “signal an emancipation effect” with more women gravitating toward criminality as they “move into gender-equalizing roles.”

But even stronger evidence that feminist emancipation fosters female crime appears in statistics that “as the number of dependents [i.e., children] among women decreases, female conviction rates increase.”  In other words, more and more women turn to crime “as women separate from the traditionally female realm that emphasizes child-rearing.”  Because it, too, signals “a decline in traditional family values,” the researchers interpret the statistical linkage between divorce and female crime (p < .01) as possible evidence of an emancipation effect, although they acknowledge that this statistical linkage may also reflect the way divorce typically impoverishes women.

In establishing the effects of feminist ideology in fostering female crime, the researchers also uncover considerable evidence that traditional social patterns help to prevent such crime.  For instance, the researchers acknowledge that “female conviction rates rise with male unemployment and decrease when men are employed.”  The researchers even admit that “counter to expectations, male employment in service[-sector jobs] shows a negative and significant impact for females [convicted of crimes].”  Also “contrary to expectations” were the data showing that “female unemployment is not significantly related to female conviction rates.”  “It is possible,” the authors of the new study concede, “that gender relations have been slow to change and women’s financial dependence upon men remains the norm.”   This new study thus highlights the yawning “disparity between the pervasive attitudes regarding women’s liberation and the actual decisions women make about work and family.” 

Of course, gender relations have changed in some significant ways worldwide, ways that have fostered male crime as well as female crime.  For instance, divorce rates have climbed almost everywhere, and the researchers see a strong “association between divorce and male conviction rates” (p < .001), possibly because of increased “hostility between the sexes” and “the disappearance of social bonds between husbands and wives ... [such that] the inhibition to commit crime is removed.” A more complex change in gender relations may also explain the “paradoxical relationship between increases in male conviction rates and the participation of males in industry jobs.”  Perhaps, the New Mexico scholars suggest, this paradox “could mean that the influx of females into industry results in a reduction of overall wages.”

Feminists have usually claimed that their social blueprints would mean a better world for both men and women.  But that is not what the authors of the new study see.  “Men,” they write, “show little benefit from the changing economic position of women, whereas women’s conviction rates are particularly dependent upon the income generated by male employment,” suggesting that traditional gender relations still help women resist the temptations to crime in ways that feminist formulae do not.

(Source: Gwen Hunnicutt and Lisa M. Broidy, “Liberation and Economic Marginalization: A Reformulation and Test of (Formerly?) Competing Models,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 41 [2004]: 130-155.)





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