A call to discuss the new normal

02.18.2012, 11:23 AM

Proposed:  The most consequential social question of this decade is whether the “new normal” in fact becomes, the new normal.


24 Responses to “A call to discuss the new normal”

  1. La Lubu says:

    Yes, let’s discuss this. Let’s start with why conservatives and/or evangelicals are adamantly opposed to the institutions that created middle-income families: labor unions, labor laws, greater participation of women in the workforce, greater access of women to higher education and apprenticeships, day care, public schools/higher literacy, greater access of the general populace to higher education (via grants and low/no-interest loans), affordable housing, a corporate tax structure high enough to support maintaining and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, universal health care, birth control….

    And then we can talk about “the new normal”. Because men aren’t willing to marry women when they’re un/underemployed. Because women aren’t willing to marry men who are long-term dependent, and who are angry and resentful about being so, and who take that anger out on them.

  2. David Blankenhorn says:

    La Luba: All valid issues. I don’t know anyone who is afraid of discussing them, or who thinks they have no relationship to unwed child bearing. Why your particular list necessarily is conceptually prior to, and therefore in discussion must logically preceed, all other topics under Heaven, we can leave aside for now. But sure — good start.

  3. Christopher says:

    LL – I feel your pain but unlike an academic or a politician – a think tank thinker never has to leave thier own playing field or play by anyone else’s rules (except in court of course).

  4. La Lubu says:

    Why your particular list necessarily is conceptually prior to, and therefore in discussion must logically preceed, all other topics under Heaven, we can leave aside for now.

    I said nothing about “all topics under heaven”. It is salient that discussion of the elements in that list come before other concerns, because marriage (among heterosexual people) didn’t fade until after the economy was destroyed. The elements that caused and contributed to that destruction are supported by the same political groups that claim to want more (heterosexual) people to marry.

    Go read the first two of your cited articles again. Then go read “Promises I Can Keep.” Then go read Stephanie Coontz’ books again. What might come to your attention is that neither women nor men (in general) have ideological opposition to marriage. We aren’t getting married for situational reasons, not ideological.

    To be more blunt: if people look at marriage, and think: am I better off with it, or without it? And come to the conclusion that for them, because of the options opento them, that the answer is “without it” (even if under hypothetical nearer-to-ideal circumstances the answer would be “with it”), then you can just imagine what their choice is going to be, no?

    That’s the calculus people are making. All the articles about how marriage (in general) makes people happier and healthier don’t mean anything in the face of people who look at their circumstances and make the rational decision that this would not be their outcome. (In fact, more important to women—men still do better in bad marriages; women’s physical and mental health plummets in a bad marriage as compared to single women. Women only get “marriage benefits” from a good marriage. If you are a woman, you really are objectively better off being single than being in a bad marriage.)

  5. Bill says:

    Feel sad for the kids…the adults will survive

    … she rarely sees her 6-year-old daughter, who is left with a rotating cast of relatives. The girl’s father has other children and rarely lends a hand.

    “I want to do things with her, but I end up falling asleep,” Ms. Mercado said.

  6. La Lubu says:

    Bill, you left out the most important part (bolded for beauty): Between nursing classes and an all-night job at a gas station,

    In other words, it is her maintaining her responsibility for herself and her daughter that you’re taking issue with. Think about that for a moment. You think she likes it this way? Working full time and holding a full-time class load so she can get off the low-wage treadmill and into a decent livelihood?

    And can someone explain to me—and I mean keep it simple, explain it to me like I’m two, why relying on one’s extended family is bad? We used to have a phrase for that back in the day. What was it? Oh yeah—”normal life”. Why is the extended family pathologized now, or is that just for single mothers? Oh, the horrors! Clutch the pearls! Her daughter has to spend time with—eeeww! grandma and grandpa! aunts and uncles! cousins, even! what is this world coming to?

    (of course, the nuclear family being an inherently unstable arrangement, with too many duties and too few people to carry them out, is a whole ‘nother discussion)

  7. I don’t think there’s any question that the “new normal” will, and should, be considered normal. Should we consider 30% of an entire generation “abnormal”?

    “Normal” isn’t always the same as “preferable.” I can understand why someone would say that the way a third of Americans are born is not preferable, but how can it not be normal?

  8. David Blankenhorn says:

    La Luba:

    All good points, and/but:

    1. OK, forget the “under Heaven,” but you clearly did say or imply, insofar as I understand your comments, that in your view economics preceeds and drives culture/values, when it comes to this trend. What makes you so sure? Relatedly, you say that “marriage didn’t start to fade until after the economy was destroyed.” You’ve lost me here. When do you think marriage started to fade, and when do you think the economy was destroyed?

    2. Why don’t, how do, children figure into your analyses? Your comments seems almost entirely adult-centric, focussed on individual adult (and more specifically, female) choices. That is one way of seeing things. There are other ways.

    3. I love extended families, and don’t know anyone who doesn’t. The fading of marriage means the fading of extended families, since, at the very simplest level, whenever 1 of the 2 parents is essentially MIA, that effectively tends to reduce the pool of grandmothers, cousins, etc., by about 50 percent. One of the many many foolish thing in Coontz’s books is this idea that we can substitute extended families for cracked up nuclear families. That’s not a serious piece of analysis. Single parents typically have much less extended family to rely on, in general, than do married parents.

    4. In my view “Promises to Keep” is a good but also flawed book, and even if it were a perfect book, it focuses almost exclusively on the young and the very poor — whereas the idea of “new normal” takes in a much wider social and economic swath of the country.

    5. Maybe it’s just style, or my imagination, but overall you seem to be angry about something, in relation to this topic; what is it? And:

    Barry:

    I’m not trying to parse the meaning of the word “normal.” I trying to ask, what are your views of this trend?

  9. La Lubu says:

    Don’t have much time, but…

    1. The economy (in “the heartland”—the Rust Belt) was destroyed after Reagan took office. That’s when factories started shutting their doors en masse. At the time, I attended high school is a typical mid-size urban rust belt city. It once was a thriving place. It looks like a scene from “The Road” now—and I’m not kidding. That started when I was a freshman in high school—all kinds of jobs were lost, and there were no equivalent jobs to replace them. For sale signs went up all over. The population went down significantly before I left high school. Divorce was endemic. That county had the highest per-capita alcoholism rate in the state.

    2. My view is actually child-centric. It’s just that responsible adults have to be the ones to make the choices for the child. Children aren’t capable of doing that yet. My POV sounds female because that’s what I am, but I know many men who’ve walked the same single-parent path I have (for the same reasons—addiction of their partner).

    3. Triage. You seem to think that I am recommending divorce or breakup as fun, fantastic, life-affirming things. Nope. I’m focused on minimizing the damage—and that’s what divorce or breakup does in the overwhelming majority of cases. You, me and everyone else can’t make a person change who doesn’t want to. We can only choose whether or not we’re going to tolerate their behavior in our lives. My answer was “no”. Realistically, there are problems that can’t be solved, because the only person capable of solving them either doesn’t want to or doesn’t recognize a problem. That’s an impasse.

    4. You’re right—that book focuses on a small demographic. But that’s a small demographic that’s becoming larger. Go read the responses in the articles you quoted. You seem to think that the women profiled just need to remain celibate until a good man come along. How that sounds to them—”remain celibate for life”. College educated men don’t marry non-college-educated women. Non-college-educated men are frequently not employed at a level where they can even support themselves, let alone a family. Set the obstacle bar high enough, and it will rise to a level that most people can’t overcome.

    (also—extended families are great, but realistically, most of us live nowhere near our extended family; we’re spread to the four winds in search of employment.)

    5. I’m on the receiving end of a lot of scorn, dismissal, negative assumptions, whathaveyou….because I’m a single mother. If that’s all that people know about me, I can guarantee you I’ll get negative treatment. That’s when I’m jealous of my single-parent brethren; they don’t get that—the negative assumptions are gendered. I’m tired of being on the receiving end of scorn when I’m the parent who has always been responsible—who has always stepped up to the plate. I daresay you would be tired of it too, were you on the receiving end.

  10. David Blankenhorn says:

    La Luba: Thanks for responding. You make a number of strong points, and now I think I also undertand more of how you view this topic in the overall. To be continued, I’m sure. Thanks again.

  11. Peter Hoh says:

    La Lubu, you have certainly confronted my assumptions and shaped my thinking about these issues. Thanks.

  12. hello says:

    LaLubu offers a perspective that is rarely heard (or given heed) in conservative circles. The more popular ideas are that single mothers are trying to “milk the welfare system” or that they are rejecting proposals from sober, considerate, hardworking and faithful men to live some sort of “Sex and the City” lifestyle. This misogynistic fantasy neglects the responsibility that men have to educate themselves, embrace values like sobriety and fidelity, and basically make themselves attractive as husbands. The underlying assumption in a lot of conservative thought; that a non-college educated or working class woman should marry and stick with any man who’ll have her no matter how unsuitable by any standard he may be as a husband is one reason that these “pro-marriage” initiatives never seem to go anywhere.

  13. La Lubu says:

    (Got a small slice of time before Girl Scouts starts)

    Here’s the thing—you consistently compare children of divorce or breakup with children from *good, healthy* married households. You should also be comparing children of divorce and breakup with children who *remained in a dysfunctional environment for an extended period of time* (whether an eventual divorce or breakup occurred or not). Because if you tell me my household would be healthier and happier had my daughter’s father never gotten addicted to meth, I will heartily agree. If you tell me I should have triaged a different way—say, “toughed it out”, or prayed harder, or gotten counseling, or whatever—I’m gonna tell you you’re out of your natural mind. I *see* the difference between my household and the tough-it-out, and my househole, my child, is doing so astronomically better.

    Which brings me to: different messages society gives to single mothers compared to single fathers (and not just who the negative messaging is reserved for). Single fathers are not encouraged to rush into another relationship. Not just for themselves, but for their childrens’ sake. Single fathers are seen as being *enough*. Single mothers are not, and are strongly encouraged to immediately find a “plan B” man if the first one didn’t work out. They are encouraged to move quickly, rush in, overlook all but the illegal warning signs. To say that this tends to exacerbate or increase problems is an understatement.

    One more thing—haven’t read the new Charles Murray on “white America” yet, but setting aside the “why *white* America” question (is this an official “hell with nonwhite America” kiss-off?)….what I’ve seen so far completely vanishes urban working-class “white ethnics”. Murray conflates “white” with “WASP”. That matters, because we don’t share the same worldview. Southern and Eastern European descended folks never adopted the Protestant work ethic, just as they (we) didn’t adopt Protestantism. We do valur “hard work”….but not in the same way, and not for the same reasons. We *don’t value work for its own sake. We never adopted the (what looks like to me) Protestant asceticism or aesthetic.

    In other words, for our similarities, we have just as many differences. That’s worth remembering.

  14. Artemis says:

    Does the “economics vs. values” question have to be a zero sum game? It seems like that’s how some are treating it, and I don’t think that’s the case. It seems obvious to me that it’s a mixture of both that’s causing decline in marriage.

    And I haven’t read Charles Murray’s book either, but my understanding is that he focuses on white America in order to not confuse racial differences with class differences.

  15. I’m not trying to parse the meaning of the word “normal.” I trying to ask, what are your views of this trend?

    My view — looking specifically at marriage — is that there are a lot of single people who would like to be happily married but aren’t, and that’s a bad thing. I also think there’s convincing evidence that being raised by a single parent can make bad outcomes more likely, so it’s a bad thing that single parenting is increasing.

    On the other hand, some of all that singleness has come about for good reasons. When women in abusive or unhealthy marriages are now more able to get out of those marriages, that’s good.

    I’m also skeptical of the ability of government or NGOs to purposely and directly cause marriage rates to increase, let alone increase to the point that there are no more single-parent households. Furthermore, the possibility of government being intrusive (or even abusive) when it comes to meddling with citizen’s personal lives – and especially the lives of people without much political power and who are subject to stigma — is a real concern.

    So although I favor policies intended to help people find and remain in healthy marriages, I don’t have much confidence those policies will work, and I think we need to err on the side of not taking them too far. Therefore, I also favor policies that are adapting to “the new normal” instead of trying to overcome or reverse it.

    The research is clear that being raised in a single-parent family is a statistical disadvantage, but it’s not a sentence of doom. Many kids from single parent families turn out absolutely fine, and those kids are turned invisible in these discussions. We should study those families and looking for policies and solutions that can help other single-parent families.

    Many people will be single and living alone all their lives, and that’s not a sentence of doom either.

    And yes, same-sex couples are going to continue to form families.

    In general, government should be trying to serve the lives people are actually living. And where government does try to change people’s lives, it should concentrate on increasing opportunities, rather than direct intrusion.

  16. David Blankenhorn says:

    Hi, La Luba: You say:

    “Here’s the thing—you consistently compare children of divorce or breakup with children from good, healthy married households.”

    Who is the “you” you have in mind? It’s not me. There has been some excellent research, which I among many others have written about, on exactly the comparisons you are asking for. The best recent research, in my view, is Amato and Booth, A Generation at Risk. It’s all right there — exactly what you seem to be calling for.

    And more generally, for the commenters who often refer in these threads to “conservative circles” and what is wrong with how “conservatives” think, if you’ll allow me to pretend I’m De Niro for a moment, “are you talkin’ to me?” Are you talking to the people who post on this blog? If so, look again. We have a pretty wide diversity of thought here, among both bloggers and commenters. There are not outies and innies, no corporate positions, no preferred or privileged labels, no desire to constitute a self-referential “circle.”

  17. hello says:

    Barry, how many Americans are LGBT and how many of those LGBT are having kids? I know they exist in non-trivial numbers and gay marriage/adoption is fine with me but the numbers of adults and children in gay marriages or gay couple headed households pales in comparison to heterosexuals who are having children in fragile families. I’m not saying the rights of gays should be overlooked I just think that the obsessive focus on gay marriage and gay families in the media and the blogosphere seems misguided when they are so vastly outnumbered by heterosexuals who are clearly not coping well with the economic changes and family formation changes of the past 50 years.

  18. Hello, my previous comment on this thread, which was quite long, barely touched on same-sex marriage at all. So I’m confused as to why you’re addressing that question to me here in this thread.

  19. marilynn says:

    Hello is being funny I think Hello are you pointing out that there are way more straight people messing up their kids in faulty marriages and that they ought to worry about themselves instead of focusing on a handfull of people that want a spouse the same gender as themselves? only a fraction of the ones that want to get married have or will ever have children so there it is its a bunch of noise about nuthin.

  20. La Lubu says:

    David, you got the wrong takeaway. This is the sentence you missed:

    You should also be comparing children of divorce and breakup with children who *remained in a dysfunctional environment for an extended period of time* (whether an eventual divorce or breakup occurred or not).

    Because that’s the more accurate comparison. Compare the children who spent (or people who grew up in) little-to-no time in a dysfunctional (yet single) household with the children who spent (or people who grew up in) extended time in a dysfunctional (yet married) household. You seem to have believe that a married, dysfunctional home still offeres more benefits than a single home without dysfunction. I believe the opposite (and I say that as a person who grew up in a married, but quite dysfunctional home).

    The folks in your cited articles didn’t get married because they were “bored” with their partner, or seeking perfection, or were afraid to communicate with one another (as in the “middle-class marriage” post of Elizabeth’s this morning). There were more serious issues going on; issues that are “fatal flaws”. Sometimes these fatal flaws aren’t evident from the start.

    if you’ll allow me to pretend I’m De Niro for a moment, “are you talkin’ to me?” Are you talking to the people who post on this blog? If so, look again. We have a pretty wide diversity of thought here, among both bloggers and commenters.

    Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, Travis. :) What diversity of thought? Outside of Barry and fannie, can you explain the divergence of thought and worldview of the anti-SSM bloggers? Please understand—I don’t mean that sarcastically. I really don’t see any difference in worldview (or that worldview’s sources) between you and Elizabeth, or Stephanie Blessing, or David Lapp, or Amber Lapp….That isn’t to say I think you all eat the same thing for breakfast, but I do perceive a very strong similarity in worldview. (and perhaps you see the same thing between myself and the left-leaning side of the aisle in the comments section).

  21. David Blankenhorn says:

    La Luba: You write:

    David, you got the wrong takeaway. This is the sentence you missed:

    You should also be comparing children of divorce and breakup with children who *remained in a dysfunctional environment for an extended period of time* (whether an eventual divorce or breakup occurred or not).

    Because that’s the more accurate comparison. Compare the children who spent (or people who grew up in) little-to-no time in a dysfunctional (yet single) household with the children who spent (or people who grew up in) extended time in a dysfunctional (yet married) household. You seem to have believe that a married, dysfunctional home still offeres more benefits than a single home without dysfunction. I believe the opposite (and I say that as a person who grew up in a married, but quite dysfunctional home).

    I promise, I didn’t miss a thing. I knew and still know EXACTLY what you are talking about, and I will repeat that Amato’s book, cited above, and plenty more like it, are doing EXACTLY what you seem to think that “we” (whoever that is) aren’t doing. The research is there.

    On whether this blog is diverse, well, I’m not gonna push any further on that point. If you think we’re a group, we’re a group, I guess. Except for Barry and Fannie?

    – Travis

  22. La Lubu says:

    I will repeat that Amato’s book, cited above, and plenty more like it, are doing EXACTLY what you seem to think that “we” (whoever that is) aren’t doing. The research is there.

    Oh, well, please—go ahead and quote! Research that shows that the level of dysfunction that children endure has no bearing on outcomes, just the marital status of the parents? So much so that married but dysfunctional households produce fewer negative outcomes for children than functional single households? (No seriously…do like Stephanie Coontz does; extensive footnotes of sourcing so I can check it out next time I’m at the library).

  23. David Blankenhorn says:

    La Luba:

    Well, from memory only, Amato and Booth in a national study find that, in about one-third of all divorces involving minor children, the levels of dysfunction in the marriages are such that the parental divorces improve the well-being of the children involved. And in about two-thirds of the cases, the levels of conflict, etc. are low enough such that the parental divorces serve to worsen child outcomes.

    That’s the gist of the book. So, if we were looking ONLY at what is best for children (and ignoring the perceived needs and feeling of the adults involved; a pretty big stipulation!) we would want to see our current divorce rate for married couples with children drop dramatically, by more than half. These are two well respected, secular, left of center family sociologists.

    You’re killin’ me, lady, with the line about Stephanie’s footnotes. I’m SO tempted to give a long speech at this point, but my neighbors would probably become alarmed, and you might decide that you need to send for the guys and gals in white jackets.

  24. La Lubu says:

    You’re killin’ me, lady, with the line about Stephanie’s footnotes.

    Yeah, she kinda handed you your tail end in “The Way We Really Are”. I guess that’s where your animosity towards her comes from.