Thursday, July 27, 2006

When Moms Are Gatekeepers: Read Our New Piece at

From Ash:

We've written quite a bit about how fathers are involved in day-to-day parenting - including a look at "gatekeeper moms" – moms who are thwarting fathers' attempts to get more involved. We decided to take a further look at the issue, and the result's a new piece for

Of course, after reading a few hundred pages of sociological journal articles, and interviews with parents and sociologists, we had our usual dilemma of having far too much information for a single piece. But that's the great thing about the blog – being able to tell you more of the story – so we'll have more in the next couple days.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Today's Dads do Change Diapers, After All

From Po:

Back in March, Ashley and I did a series of ten posts called "Do Men Change Diapers?" We were well aware of the phenomenon of "New Dads" (I'm one) who do a lot of the childraising, nurturing, cooking, and cleaning. And yet, despite the fact is seemed like so many recent fathers were in this mold, nevertheless the aggregate statistics indicated men really don't help much with domestic work. In the aggregate numbers, women still did 70 to 80 percent of the domestic work, for instance. And for every stay-at-home father, there were 56 stay-at-home mothers.

It was hard to reconcile our perception of what was going on (the people we meet) with the statistics. And the stats didn't lie.

One possibility was that the numbers were changing quickly - that recent fathers act very differently than fathers ten years before, 20 years before, et cetera. We wished we had a good sample poll just looking at fathers of babies today.

Well, just such a study was released this afternoon. In 2001, the National Center for Education Statistics polled over 3 million families - all who had a 9-month old baby. About 80% of these babies had their fathers living with them. And of those fathers who lived with their baby, their stats looked pretty darn good. Bottom line: they really like being Dads; they are affectionate with their children and seem to be doting nurturers; and while they still don't do 50-percent of the caretaking (not by a long shot), most make a significant contribution.

Men are finally changing the diapers.

Of the 3.1 million babies who have their father living at home, almost half of those fathers change a diaper more than once a day (two or more diapers a day). Another 20% change a diaper about once a day.

Why do I fixate on diapers? Well, it's because men have always enjoyed being Dads, but they are famous (in sociological circles) for cherry-picking all the fun caretaking activities, leaving the diapers and the mopping to mom. Men classically avoid the icky stuff. Men tell stories to their kids, but don't get up in the middle of the night.

So the diaper-changing test is a useful barometric as to whether men are shifting their behavior from just the fun parts of being a dad to the truly equitable, sometimes-hard responsibilities of being a parent.

In 2001, fathers with a 9-month-old reported the following:

88% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, "The activities a father does with his children do not matter. What matters most is a father provides for his children."

92% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "A father should be as heavily involved as the mother in the care of the child."

Now, men aren't backing up their values with actions in quite the same numbers, but they're doing much better than in the past.

96% of these fathers tickle their baby or blow on their belly at least once a day.

60% put the child to sleep at least once a day. (A 9-month old could be napping anywhere from once a day to three times a day).

72% give the baby a bottle or feed the baby at least once a day.

85% think holding and cuddling their baby is fun all of the time, rather than some of the time.

And, as I said, just over 2/3 change a diaper at least once a day.

Ashely and I are currently reviewing research on how fathers and mothers build their identity. The data suggests that men have a proud identity as fathers regardless of whether they do a fair share of the caretaking. Women, however, have identities as mothers inextricably bound up in the daily actions of caretaking. Unless they are completing those actions, they don't feel like a good mother. A man can feel great about being a dad regardless of what he's doing. But a woman is tied to doing mother's work, and can't feel the glory of being a mom unless she's got everything taken care of. Most women know that the ultimate responsibility lies with her. The father gets to choose how active he is; the mother never gets to choose. She's always active.

But with these New Dads, that could be about to change. We could be seeing an era where men not only help out, but their identity as a dad becomes literally tied to the actions of caregiving.

Monday, July 17, 2006

This Week's Recommended Reading #15

From Ash:

I think that the best thing I've got going right now isn't reading, but listening to an i-tunes / UC Berkeley podcast of an introductory European history class, and cramming some French (FrenchPodClass and Learnfrenchbypodcast) for a trip to Montreal, but there were still more than enough articles to write about.

Best Places to Live

Money Magazine just released its annual list of "best places to live" – No. 1 was Fort Collins, Colorado, and No. 2 was Naperville, Illinois. I have a minor obsession with Naperville (check out our page about it in the Factbook), so I was fascinated to see this. The way the info is set up is very much a website, not a particular article, so there may be a number of lists to interest you, breaking down cities by cost of living, educational attainment of residents, etc.

Legal News

According to the AP, the Federal government is seeking the ability to compel universities and colleges to set up systems and databases that would allow the government to track college students' performance – from their courseloads to their financial aid.

The Legal Intelligencer reports that a Pennsylvania court has found that someone can be criminally prosecuted in that state if he knows he has HIV, but fails to tell that to a sexual partner.

And if that doesn't put a chill in the air of singles-bars, this one should:

The New York Law Journal reported that, in NY, a man who held himself out to be a child's father – but later was determined not actually to be the biological father – was still required to give the child financial support.

In New Hampshire, AP reported that a state medical board could not discipline a doctor who allegedly told a patient that she was so fat she could only attract black men, and she should therefore kill herself to end her suffering. Yes, can you believe this was a doctor? Hypocratic oath, anyone? Despite this, the judge held that such comments, as racist and offensive as they were, were protected under free speech, and that the current board's regulations were too broad and vague to be upheld.

Children with ADHD and Autism

I know there's a controversy about whether or not mercury in vaccines is due to the rising prevalence of autism, but I don't know much more than that. That's why I was taken aback by this incendiary editorial by Robert F. Kennedy. Whoa. Insisting that mercury is indeed to blame, he left no punches pulled, let me tell you.

The BBC reported on a new study on autism's prevalence in the UK. An estimated one out of 100 British children suffer from some form of the disease – although they weren't sure if this was an increase in those with the disease, or better diagnosis. What they were sure of is that the British health system isn't doing enough for these kids.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported on a new study on girls with ADHD. Part of the boys crisis reports is that boys have ADHD more, and suffer from it more severely. This study apparently challenges that diagnosis, saying that girls may not be diagnosed with the disease, because of milder symptoms at presentment, but those who have it seem to suffer just as much as the boys.

Women and Shar'ira Law

While Somalian militia are starting to kill people who are socializing and dancing in mixed company (CNN), don't miss these recent articles in the New York Times that really illustrate the possibilities and difficulties of changing Islamic laws relating to women and sex.

On the one hand, the Times first filed this report on how Pakistan is considering revising its laws about rape, in order to better protect women. Currently, the law requires that a woman provides four male witnesses to a rape: if she cannot, then she can be charged as an adultress.

Then, yesterday, the paper ran this article – as part of its effort to become a member of the European Union, Turkey has outlawed and is more aggressively prosecuting so-called "honor killings" – when a family member will kill a female relative for disgracing the family somehow (often for being in love with an unapproved of boy, but it could be as small as wanting to wear jeans). The result: families are now torturing girls, until the girls commit "honor suicides" – sparing the families of a possible homicide charge.

Sexism in Science

Okay, I guess this isn't much compared to those issues, but two interesting pieces caught my eye this week, relating to women working in the field of science. First, the Washington Post featured a transgender scientist who has written about his experiences as a female scientist, and now as a male. He makes some painful observations, such as his colleagues seem to take him more seriously as a man. But there's a part of me (and maybe you) that wonders if this isn't such a rare case, because of the transgender element, that means his experiences aren't representative.

Well, his experiences are absolutely dead on if this article in the Boston Globe is any indication. The Globe tells the tale of a brilliant scientist who was being wooed to move to MIT, but a Nobel-winning male scientist fought against her hiring. And this is apparently in the context of university faculty saying that the university is not doing enough to end sexism in its ranks.

Son, I've Got Something To Tell You . . . .

This one's for fans of This American Life.

Patricia Wen of The Boston Globe reports on how, in 2004, a mother chooses to finally tell her son -- on his birthday -- that he's adopted. Since then, he's gone through all the predictable "Who am I?" responses, but here's the thing . . . .

His mother was 99 years old, and her son was turning 70 on that day. She's now 101. He's 72, and still dealing with who he is, has hired private investigators to try to find his biological mother – who, if she is alive, will be 92 . . . .

Other Random Items I just Couldn't Ignore

The Chicago Sun-Times tells the tale of a guy who started trading stuff on Craigslist – he started with a red paper clip, and ended up with a rent-free year in a house.

AP reported that the residents of a small town in Ohio collect donations for city expenses like street lamps through an unusual collection method: an organization places an outhouse on an unsuspecting neighbor's front lawn. You have to donate to the group to get it removed – but then you get to pick the next home it gets sent to. Hmm... interesting. I think it's sort of illegal though, so I wouldn't try this in your town before calling a lawyer or two.

Meanwhile, in Malaysia, another AP reporter filed this story of a man caught for secretly being a bigamist. Local leaders made him give up his second wife, and ordered him to give his first wife a buffalo and a pig for his misdeeds.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Jobs! Hundreds of Thousands of Jobs! – Where To Find Opportunities in the Federal Government

From Po and Ash:

We've already gotten some posts and email about just how to go about finding those federal government jobs. Yea!

A friend emailed me that just quit her job this very morning, and she wondered if there were any jobs in her area. Two clicks on a website, I'd found 49 openings, with salaries up as high as 115k+.

Start at – the central-clearinghouse for most federal openings. You can search by job, locality, etc., or you can also search by agency. They have current openings, but they also have a resume-bank you can submit to, as well.

Most of the agencies are supposed to have jobs in the usajobs job bank, but there are some particular programs that aren't yet in there. So you might also want to review this list of federal departments and agencies, and if there's a particular department or agency that interests you, check out its own website for job opportunity information, just to make sure you've found everything.

If you have no idea how you could apply your skills to the federal workforce, have no fear: they even have info on how to translate your skills into the things Uncle Sam needs. And don't doubt that your skills aren't in there somewhere. They've currently got over 20,000 openings listed – everything from an auto mechanic at the Albany's FBI office to an attorneys in Illinois and Canada to a master black belt instructor in San Diego (The salary for a black belt instructor? 74K to 141K.)

I'd suggest taking a look at the usajobs' pages on beginning the search: they explain some of the different federal hiring practices, define some of the terms, etc. The Office of Personnel Management also has a lot of information on things like salaries and benefits, explanations of how much a "GS-11" makes (in the mid 40s).

Beyond the specific jobs, they've got information on other types of programs as well. If you have (or are pursuing) a college degree or higher, don't miss their eScholars page – a list of federal training programs and fellowships.

If you're switching careers, or haven't had that many years' experience, you might consider the Federal Career Intern Program - where you work for two years at an agency (salary ranging from about 20k-40k depending). For these positions, I'm sure there's a range in responsibilities depending on the post, but think more on the level of "surgical intern" rather than "fetch coffee intern."

If you are "mid-career," have a post-graduate degree or more, and are interested in the executive ranks, you might also consider taking a look at the U.S. Presidential Management Fellows Program. And, if you're a real rock star, go for the gold: the White House Fellows.

If you're an IT professional considering a change of pace, but you're not sure you want to commit, how's this: they've got a program where you can get a temporary assignment just for a few months or so.

But here's a warning. Be patient, and don't give up.

That may not sound different than you'd hear in any job search, but it's more important in the federal workforce for two reasons.

First, most of the jobs that we wrote about are coming, but they aren't open just yet. They probably should, but they aren't hiring to replace the person who might soon retire, but hasn't yet said he's going. So today, there might not be anything for you, but six-months or a year from now, there may be dozens of openings.

Second, it depends on the agency, but the hiring process can be incredibly slow going. Be patient, and don't give up. And if even if you aren't looking for a job right now, you might want to consider putting in an application for the future. For example, if you dream of being a Foreign Service Officer in a sweet embassy in the Bahamas, well, you have to take a test first . . . and that test is only given once a year. So register with State, start studying and then go on with your life for a year. (See what we mean about their needing to revamp their hiring? Especially because foreign language speakers are desperately needed.)

In other words, be patient. Really. Eventually, you will be called.

We also wrote in our essay that in the next five years, employees will be able to move up the ladder faster - maybe even faster than in the private sector. For instance, a 3rd year lawyer working for the government is often running their own cases, while a 3rd year lawyer at a law firm is still working hard for partners. But I don't want to mislead you here about the level of excitement and upside in government work. I don't want to oversell you. It's not going to be the dot com boom all over again.

When I wrote WSIDWML, I wrote about the danger of expecting Brain Candy from our jobs. You don't find your purpose above your neck, in your head; you find it below the neck, in your heart. I tell people to let their brain be their heart's soldier. It's not what you do, it's what you're working towards. All jobs have shit work, grunt work, some aspect that's unpleasant. Rather than avoiding such unpleasantness, find work that you believe in, such that you're willing to put up with the unpleasant elements. This is the right attitude to have, when going to work for organizations notorious for bureaucracy.

91% of federal workers feel they do important work, and 83% like what they do, and 71% feel a sense of personal accomplishment. However, it's not all rosy. Only 40% polled said that high-performers are recognized appropriately, and only 25% said that poor-performers are dealt with appropriately. I can't compare that to the private sector, and many corporations are just as bureaucratic as any government agency. But those scores could be a lot higher.

One of the great benefits of these jobs is the work culture allows you to have a very balanced life outside of work. If you have a copy of WSIDWML around, go back and look at the chapter near the middle of the book, "Guidance, Navigation, and Control." It tells the story of Russell Carpenter, a GS-14 aerospace engineer at NASA Goddard. That chapter really captures the benefits of working for the feds. Meaningful work, not always in a rush, and a balanced life.

Uncle Sam really does want you.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Jobs! Hundreds of Thousands of Jobs! (Read Our New Piece at

From Po:

Curious little tidbit from our devoted aerospace engineers over at NASA. It appears that all the engineers who designed the Saturn-5 rocket have retired. And NASA has admitted it lost more than their expertise - they've actually lost the rocket booster's vital blueprints. Well, they know those plans are somewhere in a vast warehouse in Georgia, but nobody can find them. And the engineers who would know how to build another Saturn-5 have all left. The Saturn-5 is the only booster capable of getting something really big into space. So we can't go back to the moon, unless those blueprints are found.

What's this got to do with you?

Well, it's just one example that Ashley and I uncovered as we were researching our new essay for Time, "Uncle Sam Wants You." The three dozen agencies that comprise the federal government are on the verge of losing almost half their workforce over the next five years, mostly to retirement. This Brain Drain will affect just about every agency. NASA is just one example. FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina is another. It's both a major catastrophe-in-the-making and a great opportunity for anyone looking for a decent job.

When I wrote What Should I Do With My Life?, I learned that people everywhere are craving jobs where they feel they make a contribution to the world. Well, here's your chance. Please email this article to young people you know, who might never consider the federal government as a career.

Gay Marriage - A Note on the Catholic View of Homosexuality

From Ash:

I mentioned yesterday that Pope Benedict was in Spain, criticizing its government's recent legalization of same-sex marriages, and based on a comment from that post, I thought I'd do a quick blog on the Catholic view of the issue. (NB: And I'd love to hear your reactions, but in order to accurately get the conversation going, I'm withholding my opinion of this view . . . for now, any way.)

In an extreme oversimplification . . . . The Catholic Church believes marriage is a sacrament – a covenant between a man and a woman (specifically) and God. At the same time, Catholic teaching is that children are a gift from God – an expression of both a couple and God's love. The ideas of marriage and kids are so interconnected, it's part of a Catholic wedding for the couple to promise to accept children that God sends their way. And (I'm pretty sure that) spousal infertility is still one of the few reasons the Catholic Church will allow a couple to end a marriage.

Since you're supposed to be open to God's love via the gift of a child, the Catholic Church is against any sex act that does not include the possibility of procreation (including, but not limited to masturbation, oral sex, etc.) and the only form of birth control the Catholic Church approves is abstention. Thus, since same-sex acts cannot result in children, these acts are considered a sin / prohibited. But, as most theologians will explain, that really is a condemnation of the act itself, not of the person. If that seems like a hollow distinction, consider that unmarried heteros are also supposed to refrain from sex, too. And though I doubt you'd find a priest who says it now, in the not-so-distant past, even married couples determined to be infertile were sometimes told that they should never have sex again. (No one ever said Catholicism was nice. If you're interested / want to be really outraged, read Eunuchs in the Kingdom of Heaven)

Thus if you know you can't have children (i.e. are a same-sex couple), then you can't fulfill the responsibilities of marriage, so therefore, you can't get married. Of course, that breaks down when older couples, couples who are infertile, etc get married. This might have made more sense historically, when couples usually only got married after the woman was pregnant, and we didn't have such technological advances to determine fertility, increase longevity, etc. (If there's a theologian out there who can explain this, please do.)

Now there is a despicable amount of just plain-old homophobia in the Church – those who just condemn homosexuals as people, but a lot of theologians are troubled by this and find little theological support for it. (And it has lead to an increasingly bizarre quandary: those who are gay and in the Clergy end up criticizing gays for being in the Clergy.) But there is a consistent weltenschaung / theology in Catholic thought that I do think goes beyond mere discrimination. That point of view certainly doesn't need to be accepted, but it probably should be considered in the debates on the issue.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Gay Marriage – Short Crib Sheet to What's Going On in the News

From Ash:

Every day, I consider blogging about what's going on relating to gay marriage, but each day, I always think that tomorrow would be better, because then I'll know the results of that day. Then new news comes along.

So I decided just to post a brief summary of the major events relating to gay marriage that are going on right now, with links to news articles, etc. that give things in more detail, in case you're having the same difficulty keeping up as I am.


In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court had previously upheld gay marriage in its decision Goodridge v. Public Health.

Then, on Monday, in Schulman v. Attorney General, the state's highest court upheld the ability to amend the state constitution to prohibit gay marriage, even though the amendment would effectively overturn their earlier decision.

Today, the state legislature may be voting on such an amendment in a Constitutional Convention: if passed, the amendment would thereafter go on the Massachusetts ballot. (Boston Globe)

New York

Last Thursday, New York's highest appellate court found that its state's law, which prohibits gay marriage, is valid. (AP article New York Times)

By the way, you might notice that the court's called the Court of Appeals. In New York, that's the equivalent to what everyone else would call the state's Supreme Court, so the only way to overturn its ruling is for the legislature to pass a new law, or to find a way to challenge the ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court.


Just hours after New York's court issued its ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld its state's constitutional amendment banning on gay marriage. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution AP via Minn Star-Telegraph)


This Tuesday, a California Court of Appeals began debating its state's ban on gay marriage. But compared to the Georgia and New York decisions, this is just an interim appellate proceeding: regardless of this ruling, you can expect this to be appealed to the state's Supreme Court. (San Francisco Chronicle)


And just in case you hadn't heard, Pope Benedict just ended a trip to Spain.

Spain – a country traditionally thought of as being very Catholic – has become increasingly secular, recently passing a lot of laws that the papacy does not approve of. One of those was to legalize gay marriage. The pope hadn't even gotten off the airplane in Spain before reporters started asking about it. In the following days, he repeatedly addressed marriage as being a sacred institution between a man and woman, only. (BBC)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

This Week's Recommended Reading #14

From Ash:

A holiday issue of Recommended Reading.


I know, the kids just got out of school. But before you put all thoughts of school out of your head, don't miss this San Francisco Chronicle piece on how California and other states are manipulating their school testing results to comply with No Child Left Behind.


It got some press, but I think it deserves more. Washington, DC now has a policy that it wants every person over the age of 14 to get an AIDS-test.

But hands-down, this has to be my favorite, love/hate story of the week. The Washington Post reported that a program in Africa is recruiting witch doctors in the fight against AIDS. That sounds like a huge step forward, until you keep reading the article. The program is through a Christian-organization that requires that the traditional healers sit through lessons on Christianity, first, with the express goal of trying to convert them. And what makes this worse is that this program is funded by the US government. I don't know if the fact this happens outside of the US makes a constitutional difference, but I don't think it should: if this were here at home, this would be absolutely illegal.

Get Any Rest over the Holiday?

If you're pondering our Time piece on rest and leisure time, you might want to check out the Washington Post reported on the rising popularity of naptime in Japan. It's not just for kids, any more. Well, as a matter of fact, a nap sounds good about now. . . .

But if just a nap doesn't quite cut it, you might consider working for Deloitte & Touche, one of the firms profiled in this Chicago Sun-Times piece about companies who give their employees extended sabbaticals.

And I was quite intrigued by this Los Angeles Times piece on tourists from China: they are increasingly traveling around the world, thrilled by the shopping, challenged by other nations's etiquette rules, and disappointed that they can't find good Chinese food in . . . Italy.


Speaking of food, there's no shortage of articles on the American obesity problem, but you aren't nauseous reading about the annual hot dog eating contest, or digusted by the article about the $100 hamburger (no, that wasn't a typo – it's $125 with tax and tip), I thought these articles had a particular bent that was intriguing.

First, an AP survey found that Americans are reading all of those food labels that warn about how bad food may be, but then half of them eat the food anyway.

But then, I actually make a militant point of avoiding the labels, I was more intrigued by this article that on how obesity is tied to mental disorders like depression – a 25% increase in odds for the obese. That of course doesn't sound terribly surprising, and they aren't sure if obesity is the chicken or the egg, but I wonder if that will open up the concern for treating obesity to beyond calorie-counting. At the same time, wanting to give treats to some of the kids I know who are embarrassed about their weight, this story – about how doctors are debating whether or not you tell a kid when he's obese – also struck a chord for me.

Then, there was the amazing article in the Washington Post that obese passengers were partially responsible for deaths in a boating accident: old limits on the number of passengers on a boat were based on now-out-of-date weight estimates of the passengers. (The result being the boat capsized during an accident.)

Just Because We All Think People Are Out To Get Us, Doesn't Mean We're All Wrong . . . .

The BBC reports that a new British study found 1/3 of Britons regularly have paranoid or suspicious fears, much higher than previous estimates. But then, the researchers asked questions relating to things like whether or not people think others do things to intentionally irritate them or say mean things when they're out of the room. (You mean there's someone who doesn't ever believe that? That's the person they need to study. )

And that should come as no surprise to the Pittsburgh attorney who, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is suing a website for the slanderous comments posted about him on the site, which is set up as a forum for women to post comments about the guys who done them wrong. Most cases have held that servers/forums aren't responsible for what people post, but I think this is a pretty interesting twist, because the whole intent of the site seems to be to encourage negative – even defamatory – comments.

Women in the Islamic World

If you are as confused as I am about the role of women in the Islamic World, these articles will fascinate, but not clarify the situation. Or perhaps they show that their role is as confused and transforming as we think. As Reuters reported on the rise of women preachers in Egypt, the New York Times reported on how Indonesian women are suffering under increasingly stringent Shar'ia (Islamic-based) law and the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about women in Afghanistan who were living under death threats as they ran for elected office.

And the Echo and Stentor Awards Go To . . . #3

From Ash:

I haven't given out any of my irregularly bestowed Echo and Stentor Awards in a while, but I found a couple pieces that are particularly worthy. If you're newer to the blog, Echo Awards are named in honor of the Greek nymph, Echo, for media pieces that notably repeat other articles' misinformation. Stentor awards, named for the Greek warrior who died while outyelling his opponents, are my commendation for articles challenging the media with, gasp, actual facts.

By the way, I know that this may seem like an awfully long post just to comment on a couple news articles, but I think these offer fascinating insight into the media echo chamber. The media does this sort of thing to political candidates, but I hardly ever see it done to news outlets themselves. And analysis like this really changes the way I, myself, read the news – so I really hope you'll stick with me.

Bettijane Levine's piece, "Empty Nest? Now Keep it that Way," for the Los Angeles Times wins this week's Echo Award.

In it, Levine argues that it seems that the "boomerang trend" – when adults move home to live with their parents - may be slowing, and she largely credits this to parents' increasingly willingness to be tough and not let the kids back in the door. Now, Levine receives the Echo for three reasons.

First, of course, is that there is no boomerang trend. (Read our posts on the topic if you want more of an explanation.)

Second, I was listening to a radio commercial for the DVD release of the movie, Failure to Launch, thinking to myself, "Oh, God, just a DVD release isn't going to trigger more articles about boomerangs, is it?" Literally, the next morning, this article ran. Somehow, I doubt it was a coincidence.

Third, and best of all, Levine's a true echo: she repeats her own misinformation – to the point that she reuses the same interviewee – and, rather than admit being wrong in the first place, she finds new reasons to keep the story going.

Almost a year ago, Levine wrote a piece stating there was a "boomerang trend." If I'd been giving Echos then, she would have gotten one at that point, since it was already clear that this was a story driven by media reports more than facts. She even opens the story with an acknowledgement that there's been a media onslaught on this, then just says that those articles have been proven right. (Echo #1) In that article, Levine spent 609 words of a 1769-word article on the story of Hilary McQuaide, a recent college-grad who'd just moved home – all about how McQuaide was comparatively happy with her decision, settled in for a long haul, etc.

Now, in the new piece, Levine offers reasons for why the "trend" might not becoming as big as expected – the parents are being tougher than they were. She doesn't admit any of that reporting (hers or anyone else's) could have been flawed in the first place. Even worse, there's an implicit argument that the parents' new toughness occurred because of reporting on this "trend."

Even more amazing, Levine recycles McQuaide as a source, failing to mention the earlier profile, and now including her to illustrate that boomerangs move home but may leave soon after – perhaps just weeks after being profiled the first time. In other words, "boomeranging" is such a no-trend trend, that Levine just reinterviewed McQuaide. Despite the fact that, laid next to each other, McQuaide's stories stands in diametric opposition of Levine's theses . . . both times. And without a recognition that if the story had been first, accurately pitched as "college student stays at home in the weeks between leaving college dorm, moving across country, and getting job" that wouldn't have been worth of 10 paragraphs in the LAT.

If that isn't an echo, I don't know what is.

On the other hand, I'm proud to announce that Education Sector's Sara Mead and the Washington Post's Jay Mathews each win a Stentor Award. Sara Mead's an author of a study challenging the media's recent outcry about the poor performance of boys in school, to the point out it being a "boy crisis." Not only does Mead take on the theory with some detailed analysis, she also specifically identifies numerous instances when the media got it wrong. I've just skimmed the study so far, but I've read enough that I really want to read further.

Mathews then reported on Mead's work in his article, "Study Casts Doubt on 'Boy Crisis.'" In it, Mathews included not just Mead's citations to wrong articles, but he got one of the "crisis" experts, Michael Gurian, to admit that the word "crisis" shouldn't be used to describe boys' academic achievement. Gurian says he'd be happy if that term was removed from the dialogue about the issue. I wish Mathews had directly noted, instead of implied, that Gurian himself is one of the main culprits to promulgate (and profit from) that term. Gurian uses "crisis" on his own websites (his site and an organization he founded, to sell his books and push his speaking engagements. But Mathews got Gurian to give a quote I'm sure he didn't want to say, and for that, bravo. I hope Mathews' piece follows Gurian on his next speaking tour.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Will This Marriage Last? - How to Improve Your Odds

From Po:

By now, all these risk factors probably seem overwhelming. Looking at my own marriage, we have some things going for us and some strikes against us. I'm educated, I have money, et cetera. But my parents divorced when I was young (I don't remember if they were High-Conflict yellers before the marriage or Low-Conflict whisperers - I just know there was 20 years of conflict after they divorced). Plus, our current marriage is our second marriage, for both of us. Michele and I both met someone young and married young (before that crucial age of 25), and so it's no surprise by these odds that those marriages ended.

When I've explained these risks factors to Michele, she picked up on a wife's relationship to her father being important. Michele had a fantastic relationship with her father. Though he died when she was 17.

I think about how we moved in together before we married. Was it to "try it out"? In my mind, it was a test. (That's bad, say the statistics.) I wasn't ready to remarry just yet. But we moved into a house we had just bought, together. That implies a commitment and an intent. (That's good, say the statistics.)

So, let's see ... the odds of us seeing our 15th wedding anniversary are 57% - 14% + 7% + 3% - 2% + 5% - 4% + 11% - 6% ... I'm not sure you can really add these factors to get a final score. There's no way to know how these factors comingle.

So let's cut to the chase.

Let's stop talking about the past, and talk about factors that we actually have some control over. You can't reverse your parents' divorce, and you may not be able to elevate your financial status overnight, but it's not all a fait accompli. There are many things a couple can do to improve their odds.

First, for the guys: help with the housework. Honestly. Whether a guy helps with the cooking and cleaning is one of the strongest predictors of all. We're not saying it's the direct cause - let's say it's a partial cause of marital happiness, and it's also a correlator to lots of other factors measuring husband involvement. It's especially a predictor of whether a man will be involved in childrearing when he becomes a father. The more involved in his family life a man is, the lower his odds of divorce. So learn to roast a chicken and change a diaper. It's not that hard.

Second, attend premarital classes or counseling. Couples who have done so reduce their odds of divorce by about 30 percent. (So if they started with an average 43% risk of divorce, they knocked that risk down to 29%). Premarital counseling is a proven predictor. Mind you, we can't say for sure that the classes work. It's possible there's self-selection going on. Couples who value their communication in the first place are likelier to sign up for premarital classes. At the same time, as Ashley explained in her post: better communication may overcome a couple's fundamental differences. So programs to work on communications skills, like premarital counseling, might be the best wedding gift any newlywed can receive.

And if a bride has a poor relationship with her father, her fate's not sealed either. She has an increased risk of divorce, but she can knock it back down by having a strong bond with her husband's family. I suppose what these numbers tell us is that a woman needs a family's support - but it doesn't matter which family is giving it to her.

The easiest risk factor to control is age at time of marriage. If you're 21, wait a few years.

I can't say buying house will save your marriage, because it won't. But having assets that are permanent does increase marital stability. It's about permanence and concretizing your commitment to each other. It's also about the pain-in-the-ass factor of divorcing when you've got a house and other things to fight over: it just isn't that easy to leave, so people try to work things out. So if you're one of those couples who has his and her bank accounts, you think in terms of "his money" and "your money" – you might want to think again.

For those who are already married, one thing you might want to be aware of is how you change the important things that you shared as a couple when you got married. You don't have to accept that you've just grown apart. Instead, try to figure out a way to get those commonalities back, or find new ones. For example, if you married him because you both understood everything the other said, then he went to college or grad school so you lost your shared language, that can be a problem, and you might consider going back to school yourself, to reacquire a common language and frame of reference.

The truth is, your marriage probably has much better odds of surviving than 50/50. The fact you're even reading this suggests you have some education and that you're a person sensitive to the needs of marriage. That's something to remember, when you see a risk factor that scares you.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Will This Marriage Last? – Who Wants Out And Why?

From Ash:

When we hear a couple is splitting up, we don't say, "Well, they are poor, Protestant couple who live in the West Coast: the odds are against them." Instead, we ask, "What happened?" We want to know why. We want to know who or what was to blame, and who decided to leave.

Which means that it came as a surprise to me that – while there are hordes of studies on socioeconomic and other demographic factors influencing divorce – there are comparatively few studies focusing the actual reasons couples give for divorcing. But what these find, I think, are an equally fascinating glimpse into marriages and divorces that I can't skip over.

"Honey, we need to talk."

All right, if you're like me and hear the text outloud in your head, then I'm willing to bet that you heard a female voice say that sentence. And if you think that tells you the answer to who usually wants the divorce, you're right.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Paula England, a member of the Council on Contemporary Families and a sociology professor at Stanford University. Dr. England's been involved with some of my more favorite studies, and she's now examining who initates divorce.

Dr. England explained to me that a previous study had found that about 2/3 of divorce petitions are filed by the wife, but that doesn't necessarily show who wanted the divorce. There could be a myriad of reasons why it was more convenient to divorce under the wife's name.

But comparing that data to survey responses of couples after their divorce, women were the ones who were saying that they wanted the divorce more than their husband wanted it.

How often was it that many more of women wanted the divorce more than the men?

2/3. The same as the amount responsible for divorce filings. And yet another study of divorced couples found that the majority of divorced wives and husbands both agreed it was the wife who wanted out.

So it does seem to be that it's the women who want the divorce.

The harder question is why.

Dr. England's still working on that, but there are two major theories. First, it could be that, while divorce generally is harder on the women than the men, that marriage, too, is just a worse deal for the women: men get more out of it than women.

But the theory that Dr. England prefers is that women expect more out of a marriage, emotionally, in particular, and that they therefore are more sensitive to when problems arise. Women are, as she put it, taking the temperature of the relationship, regularly checking to see how it is doing.

And that idea is supported in the studies that have found men often don't even know why it is that they got divorced: one study found that about 10% of divorced husbands claimed to be at a loss as to the reason their marriages ended. None of the women said they didn't know why they'd divorced.

According to a 2003 study, the most common reasons for divorce for both men and women were infidelity and incompatibility. But the majority of women said they'd left because of claims of spousal infidelity, incompatibility, physical abuse, and drug and alcohol abuse. Men, on the other hand, said that they'd more often divorced because of: infidelity, incompatibility, and communication and personality problems. That doesn't disprove the theory of the woman as the one monitoring of the health of the marriage: the study authors attributed the men's explanations as being easier for the men to admit (to others and themselves) than to see their own failings in the marriage.

(For both men and women, the majority say the divorce was the other spouses' fault.)

I wrote earlier this week about how women with more financial resources, specifically those women who contribute more than half of the family's income, have an increased risk of divorce.

What's interesting is that women's socio-economic backgrounds seem to change not just the likelihood of divorce, but why the women leave.

Women from lower socio-economic backgrounds tend to divorce because of domestic violence, drug and alcohol problems (their own or their spouses). Women from wealthier backgrounds tend to leave more for emotional reasons – failure to communicate, personality conflicts, etc. The trick here is that we can't tell if the difference between these groups is because of different life-events in those communities (e.g., domestic violence, drug abuse are more prevalent in families with lower socio-economic backgrounds), or if the women really do value their marriages in different ways.

Reasons for divorce also seem to change over the course of a marriage, but the studies are inconsistent as to how these play out. Some studies say that personality conflicts are more likely to split couples that have been married for a shorter period of time, while those long-time marrieds are more likely to divorce because of problems arising out of an event (e.g., a partner's affair). There are also studies that say couples younger in age are more likely to be divorcing because of drug and alcohol abuse.

To me, the most fascinating thing in all of these reports is that, many commentators blame the rise of divorce on "no-fault" divorce laws (and they largely ignore that the rate of divorce has leveled off), but time after time, sociologists have found out that, regardless the legal claim made, most people are divorcing because of real problems within the marriage – the same sorts of claims that could have been made under the "fault" legal regime.

In other words, the evidence doesn't support any idea that we now conceive of marriage as disposable. In fact, it's quite the contrary.