Posts tagged ‘family’

Behavioral Poverty

More than 50 years of social-sciences evidence demonstrates that behavior is highly predictive of many important life outcomes. Children who are temperamental, fussy, and aggressive often cause their parents to withdraw affection and to limit supervision, which leads to further bad behavior later on, along with subsequent struggles and frustration. Adolescents who verbally accost or threaten their schoolteachers are more likely to be suspended or expelled, as well as to spend less time studying, working on homework, and attending classes. And adults who engage in crime are the same ones who not only frequently end up in jail and prison, of course, but also remain voluntarily unemployed, and often find themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder. Behavior is predictive from one setting to the next, and consequences snowball. The body of research linking bad behavior to negative and cumulative consequences is remarkably robust, extends across countries, and has been replicated across academic disciplines with diverse samples, methodologies, and analytical techniques. These findings provide the basis for a range of policies and cultural narratives that could, if embraced, help people avoid many of life’s costly pitfalls.

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Behavioral poverty is reflected in the attitudes, values, and beliefs that justify entitlement thinking, the spurning of personal responsibility, and the rejection of traditional social mechanisms of advancement. It is characterized by high self-indulgence, low self-regulation, exploitation of others, and limited motivation and effort. It can be correlated with a range of antisocial, immoral, and imprudent behaviors, including substance abuse, gambling, insolvency, poor health habits, and crime.

While behavioral poverty’s causes are likely complex—involving the interplay between parents, genes, and culture—understanding its consequences is not complex: they are depressingly predictable. Because behavioral poverty can emerge early in life and remain stable over time, it’s not uncommon to see behaviorally poor children perform badly at school, compile arrest records as juveniles, and transition into adulthood with few or any skills outside those valued on the street. Few who work in the juvenile-justice system, for example, are surprised to find out that former clients get arrested as adults, or involved with drugs, or pregnant with no means of support.

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The ingredients to living a meaningful life involve self-restraint, tenacity, and personal responsibility.

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Behavioral poverty is perhaps most vividly illustrated in the lives of drug addicts. Here, adult responsibilities and even basic human needs, such as eating and sleeping, are subordinated to the compulsive ingestion of alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, or a mixture of these substances. We’ve interviewed offenders who reported staying mostly awake for ten to 20 days while on a binge. When drugs are not available, the addicts usually resort to crime. Drug offenders commit offenses at rates several times higher than their non-drug-using peers. Much of the incidence of crime, particularly burglary and theft, is tied to drug use.

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[M]any criminal offenders have no desire to engage in conventional, productive adult conduct. In our experience as criminal-justice practitioners, researchers, and clinicians, thousands of offenders have told us as much. All the rigors and responsibilities of adulthood—from paying rent and utilities to maintaining relationships—are fulfilled, free of charge, by the criminal-justice system. Conventional adults are horrified by the idea of imprisonment, but many offenders view jail as a refuge from the demands of life.

Behavior Matters: Why some people spend their lives in poverty and social dysfunction,” by Matt DeLisi and John Paul Wright, City Journal, Summer 2019


Angus Deaton: Measuring and understanding behavior, welfare, and poverty


We’ve known for a long time that unstable family life related to divorce, missing fathers, and communities with large numbers of single-mother households can be bad for kids. Deaths of despair are a red-flag warning that that these disruptions are similarly hard on adults. Though only 32% of the population, unmarried and divorced men account for a stunning 71% of opioid deaths. Emile Durkheim, one of the godfathers of sociology, found a link between suicide and family breakup over a century ago; the same link remains today. Divorce increases the risk of alcoholism for both men and women; so does checking “single” for marital status on government documents.

These numbers shed some light on why deaths of despair are concentrated among those with lower incomes. Higher income folks are more likely to marry and to stay married. They have closer, more sustained relationships with their children, relatives, and in-laws. In recent years, despite its one-time reputation as stalwart family traditionalists, the white working-class has diverged from its more affluent counterpart. As of 1980, about three quarters of white working-class adults were married; that was very similar to the 79% of high-income adults. By 2017, however, the working-class number had fallen to only 52%.

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It’s also true that many singles and divorced people, though unmarried, are not alone. Unmarried couples today frequently live together, sharing a roof, a bed, and meals. But these cohabiting arrangements tend to be short-lived and are often just a pitstop in a series of transitory, quasi-monogamous relationships. Fathers who split up with cohabiting partners are far more likely to visit erratically or disappear entirely from their children’s lives. Moreover, cohabiting couples’ ties to their significant others’ families and friends remain looser than do those of married couples.

The upshot of all of this is a growing subculture of loosely bound or even isolated adults. No wonder so many of them lapse into despair. Humans have always depended on close kin to love and care for them, especially when times are tough. The dismantling of kin networks is proving to be especially hard on the weak, ill, and elderly.

A nation dying in despair, and family breakdown is part of the problem,” by Kay Hymowitz, September 26, 2019

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Family in the High Tech and Affluent West

Social psychologist Jonathon Haidt writes in his book The Righteous Mind about “WEIRD” people — the people who live in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich Democracies who are very different from most of the world, and yet we are used by most psychological research studies to stand for all of humanity.

Haidt compared “weird” people to typical people elsewhere. “When asked to write 20 statements beginning with the words ‘I am,'” he said, “Americans are likely to list their own internal psychological characteristics (happy, outgoing, interested in jazz), whereas East Asians are more likely to list their roles and relationships (a son, a husband, an employee of Fujitsu).”

Maybe in our history Americans were more connected to others. We aren’t now.

“Weird” Americans: Black Friday vs. Thanksgiving


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Marriage and Family

[O]ur present culture, which makes war on marriage and the family, is also making war on genuine manhood. In spite of its own braggadocio, modern culture doesn’t really make war on things such as “sexism” and the abuse of women and children because it encourages the machismo that turns men into abusers while simultaneously discouraging the familial and paternal responsibility that turns men into good husbands and fathers. Such a culture does not only make men miserable, it makes women and children miserable too—and all in the name of the pursuit of freedom and happiness! It’s all so pathetically funny. A tragedy that is also a divine comedy because it shows that virtue is the only way of getting to the happy ending.

Beyond Machismo to Manhood: The Challenge of Real Masculinity

Culture of death. Ozymandias

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Marriage Matters

Though young people take a variety of paths into adulthood—arranging school, work, and family in a dizzying array of combinations—one path stood out as most likely to be linked to financial success for young adults. Brookings scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill have identified the “success sequence,” through which young adults who follow three steps—getting at least a high school degree, then working full-time, and then marrying before having any children, in that order—are very unlikely to become poor. In fact, 97 percent of millennials who have followed the success sequence are not in poverty by the time they reach the ages of 28 to 34.

Sequence-following millennials are also markedly more likely to flourish financially than their peers taking different paths; 89 percent of 28-to-34 year olds who have followed the sequence stand at the middle or upper end of the income distribution, compared with just 59 percent of Millennials who missed one or two steps in the sequence. The formula even works for young adults who have faced heavier odds, such as millennials who grew up poor, or black millennials; despite questions regarding socioeconomic privilege, our research suggests that the success sequence is associated with better outcomes for everyone. For instance, only 9 percent of black millennials who have followed the three steps of the sequence, or who are on track with the sequence (which means they have at least a high school degree and worked full-time in their twenties, but have not yet married or had children) are poor, compared with a 37 percent rate of poverty for blacks who have skipped one or two steps. Likewise, only 9 percent of young men and women from lower-income families who follow the sequence are poor in their late twenties and early thirties; by comparison, 31 percent of their peers from low-income families who missed one or two steps are now poor.

Even more significantly, it appears that marriage in itself reduces millennials’ chances of being poor. Why? Young men and (especially) women who put “marriage before the baby carriage” get access to the financial benefits of a partnership—income pooling, economies of scale, support from kinship networks—with fewer of the risks of an unmarried partnership, including breakups. By contrast, millennials who have a baby outside of marriage—even in a cohabiting union—are likelier to end up as single parents or paying child support, both of which increase the odds of poverty. One study found that cohabiting parents were three times more likely to break up than were married parents by the time their first child turned five: 39 percent of cohabiting parents broke up, versus 13 percent of married parents in the first five years of their child’s life. The stability associated with marriage, then, tends to give millennials and their children much more financial security.

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If young adults make bad choices about education, work, and family, all the jobs and policies in the world will not give them an equal shot at realizing the American Dream as their peers who follow the sequence to success.

Marriage Matters

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Children of Divorce

Two new books written by Catholic authors—”Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak” by Leila Miller, and “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children” by Jennifer Johnson—explore the inner turmoil of children of divorce, the lifetime consequences of divorce, and the unique pastoral challenges divorce presents for children, whether young or adult.

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CWR: What surprised you most about the book contributors’ answers? Are there any unintended threads running through the book?

Leila Miller: What surprised me most was the raw pain, even and especially after so many years, and the fear of their true feelings being discovered. It was shocking to me! The pattern of the children protecting the feelings of the adults, sticking to the narrative they’d been given, and then acting out (or inward) in destructive ways as a way of coping with the explosion of their families—it was repeated again and again in their stories. Several of the contributors, upon reading the finished book, expressed shock that they were not the only ones who experienced the same feelings and patterns of behavior. In fact, some of them were surprised to see that certain entries were not their own! That is how similar many of their interior stories are.

Another surprising thing was that the devastation did not depend on the age of the child at the time of the divorce. Whether contributors’ parents had split when they were infants, small children, teens, or adults (even in their 30s!), the devastation, confusion, and sense of upheaval was profound. Also, whether the parents’ marriage had been abusive or low-conflict had no real bearing on their pain. We are told that “good divorce” is not damaging to children, and yet my contributors say otherwise.

The victims of divorce speak

Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak,” by Leila Miller

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Fathers Need Children

This is the great paradox of our time: In 2017, it has never been easier for us to satisfy our wants, but we seldom have been more dissatisfied. In the United States, in Europe, in Latin America, and even (more quietly) in parts of Asia and in Australia, there is a sense that things are not going quite right, that the old order — not only in politics but also in commercial and religious life — is dead on its feet. People have turned to leaders and movements of very different kinds — Hugo Chávez, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter, black-mask anarchism — in search of alternatives. In a sense, they are all the same: Those who had felt themselves to be on the outside looking in are now on the outside looking out.

Once, the question the ambitious and dissatisfied asked themselves was: “How do I climb that ladder?” Current tastes run more toward smashing the ladder and the hierarchies for which it stands in the name of . . . whatever: feminism or anti-feminism, black liberation or white nationalism, global justice or national sovereignty.

We spend our days surrounded by great miracles and minor irritations.

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We do not have a problem of privation in the United States. Not really. What we have is something related to what Arthur Brooks (“the most interesting man in Washington,” Tim Alberta calls him) describes as the need for earned success. We are not happy with mere material abundance. We — and not to go all Iron John on you, but I think “we” here applies especially to men — need to feel that we have earned our keep, that we have established a place for ourselves in the world by our labor or by other virtues, especially such masculine virtues as physical courage and endurance. I suspect that is a big part of the reason for the exaggeratedly reverential, practically sacramental attitude we current express toward soldiers, police officers, and firemen.

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The newly unemployed man of 40 seeking to reinvent himself is not in the most promising position.

Two things are going on here related to American unhappiness: The first is that as our economy becomes less physical and more intellectual, success in life is less like war and more like chess, and extraordinary success in life — i.e., being part of the founding of a successful new company — is a lot like being a grandmaster: It is an avenue that simply is not open to everyone. It requires talents that are not distributed with any sense of fairness and that are not earnable: Hard work is not enough.

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But the marriage and family that once was a source of security is today a source of insecurity, an unstable and uncertain thing scarcely defended by the law (it is far, far easier to walk away from a marriage than from a student loan) and held in low regard by much of society. Again, this works differently for men than for women: A single mother is still a mother, but a father who lives apart from his children and their mother is not a father in full. If he is not fixed in this world by being a father and a husband, and if he has only ordinary, unexceptional employment, what, exactly, is he? Self-sufficient, perhaps, and that isn’t nothing. But how does he stand in relation to other men, to his neighbors, and to those who came before him and will come after him? His status is vague, and it is precarious.

And there is the paradox within our paradox: The world is wondrous and beautiful and exciting and rich, and many of us have trouble finding our place in it, in part, because it is wondrous and beautiful and exciting and rich, so much so that we have lost touch with certain older realities. One of those realities is that children need fathers. Another is that fathers need children.

But these are what my colleague David French calls the “wounds that public policy will not heal.” Our churches are full of people who would love to talk to you about healing, but many have lost interest in that sort of thing, too. And so they turn to Trump, to Le Pen, to Chavismo (which is what Bernie Sanders is peddling), and, perhaps, to opiate-induced oblivion. Where will they turn when they figure out — and they will figure it out — that there are no answers in these, either?

And what will we offer them?

On the Outside, Looking Out

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