Divorce down, marriage down, telling a full story

Recent sociological work highlights how looking past the initial findings – divorce rates are down in America – reveals a more complicated reality:

In the past 10 years, the percentage of American marriages that end in divorce has fallen, and in a new paper, the University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen quantified the drop-off: Between 2008 and 2016, the divorce rate declined by 18 percent overall…

The point he was making was that people with college degrees are now more likely to get married than those who have no more than a high-school education. And the key to understanding the declining divorce rate, Cherlin says, is that it is “going down some for everybody,” but “the decline has been steepest for the college graduates.”

The reason that’s the case is that college graduates tend to wait longer to get married as they focus on their career. And they tend to have the financial independence to postpone marriage until they’re more confident it will work. This has translated to lower rates of divorce: “If you’re older, you’re more mature … you probably have a better job, and those things make it less likely that you’ll get into arguments with your spouse,” Cherlin says…

Chen connects this trend to the decline of well-paying jobs for those without college degrees, which, he argues, makes it harder to form more stable relationships. Indeed, Cohen writes in his paper that marriage is “an increasingly central component of the structure of social inequality.” The state of it today is both a reflection of the opportunities unlocked by a college degree and a force that, by allowing couples to pool their incomes, itself widens economic gaps.

It would be interesting to see how many of those who might celebrate the finding that divorce rates are going down also discuss the reasons linked to financial stability, education levels, and inequality.

Take more conservative Christian churches as a possible example. Evangelical Protestants are often proudly in favor of marriage (between a man and a woman). They work hard to provide programs for families as well as classes and sermons about marriage and family life. They would generally be opposed to divorce or at least view it as less than ideal. But, having conversations about how marriage is less attainable for some Americans or the evolving idea that one needs to be financially independent before marrying might be less common. How often do topics of social class and inequality come up from the front in many congregations? Or, discussions could turn to why Americans do not make correct individual choices rather than focusing on social pressures and structures (financial independence, it is more acceptable to cohabit) that influence all Americans (including conservative Christians). Ultimately, the findings may not be that good for evangelicals: divorce is down because Americans are getting married less and cohabiting more. If they want to encourage more marriage, they would have to respond to these larger social forces at work.

Smoking as a marker of social class

Recent data shows who in America is smoking and who is not:

Among the nation’s less-educated people — those with a high-school-equivalency diploma — the smoking rate remains more than 40 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, rural residents are diagnosed with lung cancer at rates 18 to 20 percent above those of city dwellers. By nearly every statistical measure, researchers say, America’s lower class now smokes more and dies more from cigarettes than other Americans.

 

This widening gap between classes carries huge health implications and is already reshaping the country’s battle over tobacco control. Cigarette companies are focusing their marketing on lower socioeconomic communities to retain their customer base, researchers say. Nonprofit and advocacy groups are retooling their programs for the complex and more difficult work of reaching and treating marginalized groups…

When smoking first gained popularity in the early 20th century, it was a habit of the rich, a token of luxury dusted with Hollywood glamour. Then came the 1964 surgeon general’s report on its deadly effects, and during the next 3½ decades, smoking among the nation’s highest-income families plummeted by 62 percent. But among families of the lowest income, it decreased by just 9 percent.

It is remarkable how little one encounters smoking in wealthier communities compared to less well off places. Would smoking be one of the single best lifestyle indicators of someone who has less education? Imagine a game where you had to guess someone’s education/social class based on observing their normal behavior in public.

Thinking more broadly, perhaps the newest major marker of having more education and a higher social class is good health and the lifestyle associated with it, everything from gym membership to regular jogging to eating patterns to having intense outdoor sports/hobbies. It is not just smoking; these class differences go across a variety of conditions and behaviors.

A need to better understand why more education doesn’t lead to less religiosity among American Christians

A new Pew report looks at the relationship between education and religiosity:

On one hand, among U.S. adults overall, higher levels of education are linked with lower levels of religious commitment by some measures, such as belief in God, how often people pray and how important they say religion is to them. On the other
hand, Americans with college degrees report attending religious services as often as Americans with less education.
Moreover, the majority of American adults (71%) identify as Christians. And among Christians, those with higher levels of education appear to be just as religious as those with less schooling, on average. In fact, highly educated Christians are more likely than less-educated Christians to say they are weekly churchgoers.
There is a two part process with this data. First, it has to be collected, analyzed, and reported. On the face, it seems to contradict some long-held ideas within sociology and other fields that increasing levels of education would reduce religiosity. Second, however, is perhaps the tougher task of interpretation. Why is this the case among Christians and not other groups? What about the differences between Christian traditions? How exactly is religion linked to education – does the education reinforce religiosity or are they separate spheres for Christians (among other possibilities)? Data is indeed helpful but proper explanation can often take much longer.

Linking Tea Party support and residential segregation by education

A recent study suggests Tea Party support is higher in counties with higher levels of educational segregation:

McVeigh and coauthors, Kraig Beyerlein, Burrel Vann and Priyamvada Trivedi, examine why certain U.S. counties are conducive to the establishment of Tea Party organizations. Their statistical analyses show that even after accounting for many other factors, Tea Party organizations were much more likely to form in counties with high levels of residential segregation based on education levels, and that college graduates were more likely to indicate support for the Tea Party if they resided in a county characterized by high levels of educational segregation.

“Acceptance or rejection of the Tea Party’s views on the government’s role in redistributing wealth is shaped, to a large degree, by the extent to which those who have benefited from higher education are set apart in their daily lives from those who have not,” says McVeigh, who specializes in inequality, social movements, race and ethnicity.

“As the article explains, the commonly held view that individuals and families who are struggling to get by are undeserving of government assistance is reinforced when the highly educated have limited contact with those who have been less fortunate.”

I noticed this because that sneaky factor of residential segregation proves influential again. The average resident may not think about it much beyond the immediate value of their home or the nearby school district but where one lives can influence a lot about social life, including with whom you interact.

Of course, if your political perspective is that it is preferable to live in more uniform communities – stereotypically, small towns or suburbs – this may not be a problem…

“Who had richer parents, doctors or artists?”

NPR looks at how the jobs and incomes of parents influence the same outcomes among their children:

After some poking around, we figured out how to settle the argument. It allowed us to look at the same group of people in 1979 and 2010 — from a time when most were teenagers to the time when they were middle-aged and, for the most part, gainfully employed…

Who's doing better than their parents?

Based on this chart, it looks like the jobs of parents that are linked to better outcomes for their children require more education and are higher-skilled. This would seem to line up with findings from the Pew Economic Mobility Project about what traits are linked to upward social mobility:

This research reveals:

  • College graduates were over 5 times more likely to leave the bottom rung than non-college graduates.
  • Dual-earner families were over 3 times more likely to leave the bottom rung than single-earner families.
  • Whites were 2 times more likely to leave the bottom rung than blacks.

Additionally, Pew’s analysis examined the intersection between income and wealth, and found that the health of family balance sheets—including accumulated savings and wealth—are related to income mobility prospects. Households with financial capital, such as liquid savings or other readily available assets such as stocks, were more likely to leave the bottom of the economic ladder. In other words, movement up the income and wealth ladders was connected, and economically secure families were also the most likely to be upwardly mobile.

So in addition to parental education and the type of job one’s parent has, going to college, having two-income families, race, and wealth matter quite a bit. Overcoming these factors is not necessarily easy: “In fact, 43 percent of Americans raised at the bottom of the income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent never even make it to the middle.”

Education, income still linked to American digital divide

The gap between those with Internet access at home in the United States is marked by education and income differences:

The quarter of American households still without Internet, not surprisingly, are disproportionately made up of families with less income and education. Of these 25 percent, half say they simply don’t want Internet, and about a quarter say it’s too expensive. As computers are increasingly replaced by other devices, from phones to tablets, any gap in penetration will seem less significant. Differences in internet access, though, will only become more so…

The Census Bureau’s latest data tracking internet and computer use in American homes suggest that both have become ubiquitous with impressive speed. About three-fourths of American households now boast both technologies, according to the Current Population Survey’s data, collected through late 2012. That’s up from 8.2 percent for computers back in 1984, and 18 percent for the Internet in 1997, when most of us who were online were dialing up to get there.

This is a persistent issue: those with fewer resources are not able to take advantage of what is available online. This becomes more and more problematic as all sorts of information and government services are accessed primarily through the Internet. Additionally, kids in lower income and education households don’t get as much exposure to the Internet.

It will be interesting to see if that number of Americans who say they don’t want the Internet changes in the near future. It may drop as more people see it as necessary. But, it might also rise if people see the Internet as a nuisance or is still better accessed elsewhere (like at a library).

Effects of residential segregation: American schools racially divided across districts

A new sociological study finds more of the racial and ethnic variation in American education takes place across school districts:

Nearly 60 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that ordered school districts to desegregate, schools seem to be trending back toward their segregated pasts. In the 1968-69 school year, when the U.S. Department of Education started to enforce Brown, about 77 percent of black students and 55 percent of Latino students attended public schools that were more than half-minority. By the 2009-2010 school year, the picture wasn’t much better for black students, and it was far worse for Latinos: 74 percent of black students and 80 percent of Latino students went to schools that were more than half-minority. More than 40 percent of black and Latino students attended schools that were 90 percent to 100 percent minority…

Whites are nearly a minority in the U.S. population under the age of five, and Census projections predict that by 2043, whites will no longer be the majority of the U.S. population overall. “There’s going to be fewer whites in minority schools because there are fewer whites in the population,” said Fiel.

Another part of the problem is with desegregation policies themselves. At the time of the Brown decision, schools in the same district were vastly unequal to one another, so efforts went toward integrating schools within each district. That made sense to combat segregation as it existed at the time.

Today, though…”The biggest barrier to reducing racial isolation…is racial imbalance between school districts in the same metropolitan area/nonmetropolitan county,” Fiel wrote in his American Sociological Review article.

In other words, where people can live, typically determined by wealth and income which are related to education and race and ethnicity, helps determines the differential outcomes of school districts. If residential segregation is common – and it is in many metropolitan areas in the United States – then we shouldn’t be surprised that other outcomes are unequal.