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if you can buy a gun, you can get a divorce: comments on a recent talk by amy wax

Last week, I was invited to attend a talk by University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax and present comments. You can view Professor Wax’s entire talk, with my response, at this link. The essence of Professor Wax’s comments are as follows. First, the traditional bourgeois family – as articulated in the mid-20th century – is a good thing. Intact families, rare divorce, and reduced number of romantic partners are good things, not just for parents, but for children as well. Second, the traditional bourgeois family has declined but is still retained by more educated people, especially educated Whites and Asians. In her popular writings, such as this Philadelphia Inquirer piece, Professor Wax also links the demise of the traditional bourgeois family to crime rates and other social trends.

My response was delivered in a few sections. First, I start with broad points of agreement. Yes, I do believe that Professor Wax has identified an important theme in the sociological literature on the family. Intact families are generally a good thing and it’s probably not just a selection effect. I also give to her for being part of a larger call to identify and retain the positive aspects of Western culture. Like Diedre McCloskey, who identifies the positive economic effects of bourgeois culture, Wax depicts the traditional family as having positive personal effects for people. That’s a good message.

Now, let me turn to more modest disagreements. A big one is rhetoric. In her popular writing, Wax links changes in the family to rap music, homicide rates and the fact that *some* Latinos are anti-assimilation. In her more scholarly talks, she links the traditional family to Western civilization in broad strokes. Given the importance of the topic, I think it is valuable to roll back the rhetoric a little. Also, I think Wax slips into a rhetorical mode that may not be sustainable. For decades, perhaps longer, social commentators have given us narratives of decline – the death of community, the lonely crowd, bowling alone. Her account one of a long string of warnings of decline, many of which don’t pan out.

I have more substantive disagreements. One is the libertarian response to Wax’s comments. Yes, it is true that as society experienced a moral deregulation in the 1960s, we had some bad side effects. And they are quite serious. At the same time, a liberal and free society allows people to make bad choices. In other words, if you can own a gun, or smoke cigarettes, you can certainly get a divorce. A second disagreement has to do with the size of the problem. Yes, studies of families often show a negative effect of family instability on children. But at the same time, the effects are often of middle range – maybe a third of a standard deviation. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I would say that we are right to be concerned and we should think about how to strengthen families. But I wouldn’t use the evidence to argue for an overall decline of American society.

I’ll end on policy and solutions. First, I think it is generally difficult to argue for a reversal of the “moral deregulation” of the 1960s. Why? There are institutions that provide traditional families but they are very expensive and their appeal is limited. For example, the Church of Later Day Saints is an institution known for promoting traditional families, but the cost in terms of time and financial resources is very high. This is not a criticism or endorsement of the LDS, but I merely note that creating a modern institution that really nudges people toward bourgeois families is very hard.

Finally, Professor Wax often alluded to the decline in birthrates and eroding pro-marriage norms. If that is an urgent concern, then why not consider immigration as one solution? The US can, and has, absorbed millions of Latin American immigrants who have larger families and tend to be more socially conservative than the average native born American. It’s worth thinking about.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

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Written by fabiorojas

February 12, 2018 at 5:01 am

Posted in fabio, family, sociology

amy wax v. fabio

Tomorrow at noon, I will be a guest at the Ostrom Workshop and the Jack Miller Center, where I will respond to University of Pennsylvania Professor Amy Wax. Her talk is called “What is Happening to the Family and Why?” I will then offer some comments in response to the talk. If you are in Bloomington, please come by and say hello!

Event details: Noon to 1pm at the Tocqueville Room of the Ostrom Workshop, 513 N. Park Street, Bloomington, Indiana.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

February 5, 2018 at 7:15 pm

Posted in fabio, family, uncategorized

regnerus’ three mistakes

I was having a conversation a little while ago about scandals in sociology and the topic of of Regnerus’s article came up. That was the article in 2012 that claimed that children of same sex parents had bad life outcomes. My conversation partner suggested that Regnerus’ mistake was in asking the question. I don’t think so.  Asking if there are differences by family type is legitimate and we should be ready to accept less than flattering answers. I also don’t think it is inherently wrong to have biases in research. If he has a favorite answer, then so be it. Long as he doesn’t tinker with the data to get his favorite answer. Nor is problematic to have research sponsors. People with political goals are not barred from research.

What were Regnerus’ mistakes, in my view? He made three:

  1. Making big claims with delicate data. Instead of investing the time to properly locate same sex families and make a good sample, he instead relied on what respondents remembered about family life. Furthermore, scholars who have analyzed the Regnerus data have found that the results may be due to mis-coding cases and data handling errors. In other words, family structures are hard to measure and code properly. And with a small number of cases, small errors can have big effects on the final. This is not the kind of data on which you make big, bold claims.
  2. Politically, Regnerus missed the wave. The big story in American politics is that LBGT equality is arriving.  Polling shows that support for legal same-sex marriage has surpassed 60%. If you’re fighting the new mainstream, you had better be prepared.
  3. Tactically, by rushing the paper through peer review with a friendly editor, it has the appearance of being a hack job. If the paper had been vetted at conferences and undergone a more traditional peer review, then it would have improved.

The issue is that Regnerus was doing something rather ambitious. He was trying to overturn an established research finding, and one with major policy implications. While I don’t agree with his politics, he certainly has a right to do this. At the same time, you don’t take on such a task without seriously thinking things all the way through. That is probably the most basic lesson of all. You should strive toward virtue in your research, especially if you are swimming against the tide.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

Written by fabiorojas

June 29, 2017 at 4:30 am

putting limits on the academic workday

Today, among the various administrative tasks of scheduling meetings with students and other responsibilities, I decided to RSVP yes for an upcoming evening talk.  I didn’t make this decision lightly, as it involved coordinating schedules with another party (i.e., fellow dual career parent).

With the use of technology such as email, increasing job precarity, and belief in facetime as signalling productivity and commitment, the workday in the US has elongated, blurring boundaries to the point that work can crowd out other responsibilities to family, community, hobbies, and self-care.  However, one Ivy  institution is exhorting its members to rethink making evening events and meetings the norm.

In this nuanced statement issued to department chairs, Brown University’s provost outlines the stakes and consequences of an elongated workday:

This burden [of juggling work and family commitments] may disproportionately affect female faculty members. Although data on Brown’s faculty is not available, national statistics indicate that male faculty members (of every rank) are more likely than female faculty members (of every rank) to have a spouse or partner whose comparably flexible work schedule allows that spouse or partner to handle the bulk of evening-time household responsibilities. Put differently, male faculty members are more likely than female faculty members to have the household support to attend campus events after 5:30. We must be attuned to issues of gender equity when we think about program scheduling. We must also take into consideration the particular challenges faced by single parents on the faculty when required to attend events outside the regular hours of childcare.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

September 28, 2016 at 7:16 pm

article discussion: the suffocation model by finkel et al.

This month’s topic for discussion is an article called “The Suffocation Model: Why Marriage is Becoming an All or Nothing Institution” by Eli J. Finkel, Elaine O. Cheung, Lydia F. Emery, Kathleen L. Carswell, and Grace M. Larson. It’s a short article and is more of a summary of a research program than a self-contained argument.

Basically, it goes something like this. As societies get wealthier, marriages fundamentally change from being institutions for physical survival to institutions for personal fulfillment. Another article by Finkel and collaborators call it “climbing Mount Maslow,” to suggest the contemporary people don’t have the resources to make the current version of marriage work. The main point made by these researchers is that modern people are investing less time at home so it makes it harder for modern marriages to succeed in being satisfying.

I am not a sociologist of the family, so I tread lightly here because I know there is a huge literature that deals with these issues. I won’t evaluate the evidence because this article is a summary of other work and thus doesn’t present much.For example, how do we know that earlier marriages were more “satisfying?” Maybe people just stuck with them because divorce was insanely expensive. I.e., if a women left her marriage, it might be nearly impossible to find employment that would provide a desirable level of income and material comfort. This argument is presented without a systematic discussion of opportunity costs nor do we have a discussion of how certain ideas (e.g., “fulfillment”) are measured over the centuries. Like I said, this could all be answered in the related literature, but it is not presented in this brief article.

So I’ll offer this as a discussion point: Let’s take Finkel at al.’s argument as essentially correct. Maybe modern marriage is a contradiction. It’s about fulfillment, but that is made possible by a wealthier society that draws people away from marriage. But so what? Why is that suffocating or bad? Aren’t institutions allowed to evolve? Another discussion point: can technology help us resolve that tension? For example, could working remotely allow people to have more time in the home? Or allow people to allocate time more efficiently so that are more “at home?”

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

July 20, 2016 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, family, uncategorized

class and life chances

To help my students understand the impact of race and class upon life chances, I show excerpts from the People Like Us documentary.  Of the clips that I usually show, the one that has grabbed my students’ attention the most is the story of Tammy Crabtree and her two sons living in Ohio.  Viewers of the documentary may remember that Tammy walked several miles to reach her workplace, a minimum wage job at Burger King, and that her teenage son Matt voiced both shame about his family’s trailer-home poverty and his high hopes about his future.

Today, when answering an email inquiry by a school teacher about how to teach difficult issues to his students, I stumbled upon a recent update to Tammy and her family’s story.  Tammy is still working at Burger King, although she has a shorter commute than before – a 20 minute walk from her house.  Matt did not finish high school or attend college, contrary to what he had envisioned for himself, so that he could work to support his own child.  Now, he exhibits greater compassion about his mother’s circumstances, showing a degree of introspection that most may not realize until very late in life.  Both he and his brother emphasize family as a priority, as does Tammy.

Have a look at the family back in the late 1990s and now:

 

 

Written by katherinechen

February 12, 2016 at 8:29 pm

victor tan chen’s “all hollowed out” in the atlantic

How to disseminate research, so that it reaches a wider audience, is one stage of research that receives less attention.* In a past post, I wrote about what researchers can do to engage potential audiences.

Orgtheory guest blogger Victor Tan Chen has an exemplar article drawing on his research, published in the Atlantic, no less!  Have a look at his article “All Hollowed Out: The lonely poverty of America’s white working class.”  Here’s a teaser excerpt:

In Stayin’ Alive, his powerful history of the “last days” of the working class, the historian Jefferson Cowie describes how the proud blue-collar identity of previous generations disintegrated during the ’70s. “Liberty has largely been reduced to an ideology that promises economic and cultural refuge from the long arm of the state,” he writes, “while seemingly lost to history is the logic that culminated under the New Deal: that genuine freedom could only happen within a context of economic security.” As working-class solidarity receded, an identity built on racial tribalism often swept in.

With that in mind, it’s interesting that Americans tout the importance of getting an education—an inherently individualistic strategy—as the pathway to success. This view was the ideological backbone of the Clinton administration policies put forth in the ’90s, with their individual training accounts and lifetime-learning credits. To this day, the supreme value of education remains one of the few things that Americans of all persuasions (presidential candidates included) can agree on. But this sort of zeal can lead to the view that those who have less education—the working class—are truly to blame for their dire straits. While many of them will go on to obtain more education, many others will not—because they can’t afford it, aren’t good students, or just (as some of my workers said) prefer working with their hands. But if they don’t collect the educational degrees needed for today’s good jobs, they are made to feel that they have failed in a fundamental way.

* Exceptions exist, of course; see  epopp’s recent post on the media’s circulation of questionable studies.  In a related vein, check out these past posts by fabio on public sociology: maybe public sociology was better in the 50s and did research grants kill public sociology?

 

Written by katherinechen

January 18, 2016 at 7:51 pm