Archives for August, 2012
Do you think that “many Americans don’t succeed because the family that should be there to guide them, and serve as the first rung on the ladder of success, isn’t there or is badly broken” and that we need to dedicate ourselves to “restoring the home where married moms and dads are pillars of strong communities raising good citizens”? That’s what Rick Santorum told the Republican National Convention on August 28, 2012. I like to evaluate claims with data. Santorum has been bashing single parents for many years. In Singled Out, in the chapter titled, “Myth # 7. Attention Single Parents: Your Kids Are Doomed,” I looked at one particular statement of Santorum’s: “Every statistic that I’m aware of – and I’d be anxious to hear if there’s one on the other side – says that marriage is better for children – every one – and usually by a very large margin.” My chapter in Singled Out picks up there. (The endnotes and references are in the book.)
I love living alone, but I realize that many other people really don’t. What I think just about everyone wants, though, is to be able to decide for themselves how to live. Starting in 1880, and maybe even earlier, and continuing for the next half-century, there was tremendous consistency in how widows, 65 and older, lived. About two-thirds lived with their adult children. Less than 4 percent lived in group quarters such as institutions. About 10 percent lived alone, and the others lived with people other than their children. Then, starting around 1940, that all changed. The percentage of widows living alone grew and grew and grew, ending up at 62 percent in 1990 (when the analyses ended – the paper was published in 2000). The percentage who lived with their children slipped from around 67 percent all the way down to just under 20 percent.
Write a story or publish an article about how women just can’t have it all and so they are rushing back into the arms of their kids, or about how women just really want to stay home with their kids no matter how many fancy degrees and elitist jobs they might have, and you will be an instant media sensation. Funny, though, about the kinds of stories, including the results of scientific studies, that just don’t get that kind of ink. The one I want to tell you about today has been available online since February of 2012 (and in print soon after), but I have yet to see any attention paid to it in the popular press. Maybe that’s because the study suggests that very few women express regrets about prioritizing their careers instead of their families.
Did you know that Americans are the repartnering champions of the Western world? First marriage didn’t work? Try again. Next one didn’t work either? Try, try again. Americans go in and out of marriages and cohabiting relationships so frequently that sociologist Andrew Cherlin came up with a great title for his book about the phenomenon: The Marriage-Go-Round. As he notes: “…frequent marriage, frequent divorce, more short-term cohabiting relationships. Together these factors create a great turbulence in American family life, a family flux, a coming and going of partners on a scale seen nowhere else. There are more partners in the personal lives of Americans than in the lives of people in any other Western country (p. 5).” Oh, and one other thing: “Children whose parents have remarried do not have higher levels of well-being than children in lone-parent families, despite the addition of a second parent (p. 5).” [emphasis mine] So why do we marry over and over again after each previous marriage ended badly?
When I read a particular author or blogger for a while, I often become curious about their background. Who is the person behind the writing? How did they get where they are today? When my book, "Singlism: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Stop It," was first published last year, a journalist at a local publication asked if she could interview me. In case anyone is interested, here are some of the answers I gave her.
In Singled Out, I summed up one of the myths about single people in this chapter title: “It is all about you: Like a child, you are self-centered and immature and your time is not worth anything since you have nothing to do but play.” In this post, I’ll share some of my observations of the ways that singles are made to feel as though they are not fully adult. Singles are treated as not fully adult when they are invited to lunch instead of dinner, to weekday or daytime events instead of weekend evening events, and to downscale restaurants rather than nicer ones – if they are invited at all. Sometimes changes occur rather suddenly, as when people become widowed or divorced, then find themselves demoted from dinner to lunch.
On the op-ed pages of the New York Times, Katie Roiphe has contributed a rousing moving, and brilliant defense of single motherhood. She urges us to think more broadly about the meaning of family. I accept her challenge and will point to some possibilities that are even farther-reaching than the ones she described. I am going to focus here primarily on the many important people in the lives of single parents and their children. Roiphe’s essay, though, says much more and is worth reading in its entirety. Early in the piece, Roiphe says this: “Conservatives obsess over moral decline, and liberals worry extravagantly — and one could argue condescendingly — about children, but all exhibit a fundamental lack of imagination about what family can be — and perhaps more pressingly — what family is…” So what comes next in that sentence?
Roger Walsh is not a specialist. He is a University of California professor of psychiatry with degrees in neuroscience, psychology, physiology, and medicine, and joint appointments in anthropology and philosophy in addition to his primary appointment in Psychiatry and Human Behavior. On the basis of all that, and maybe also his stint as a circus acrobat, he has a big tip for you: make some lifestyle changes!
Years of debunking myths about single people have taught me a sobering lesson: Not only do people believe these untruths, they are invested in believing them. They really want these myths to be true. Why is that? There is a mythology about marriage that is very appealing and comforting. The mythology says that if only you get married, you will live happily ever after and you will be healthier and live longer, too. I think the mythology also implies that you are a better person – morally superior, even – because you are married. People who already are married like what this says about them and they don’t want to hear that it’s not really true. The mythology presents marriage as a magical solution: Find “The One” and all of the important pieces of your life will fall into place. That can sound very attractive to single people. So the marriage mythology dangles in front of married and single people a set of magical beliefs that it might be fun to accept at face value. Scientifically, though, they are just not true.