Professor Nicholas Wolfinger – Marriage, Divorce, Family Stability in the USA #12
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All right, everyone. Welcome to another episode of The MPH podcast. It's been a long time since I've, I've done one of those. But today we're joined with a very esteemed guest. His name is Professor Nicholas forefinger, is American researcher, and academic and educator. He's a professor at the Department of Family and Consumer Studies, and Professor of Sociology at the University of Utah.
His research is focused only in mainly on sociology of family, religion, and social demography. Um, a lot of the discussions that have been happening online recently, Dr. Wolfinger have been relating to your areas of research. So we thought we'd call you on and and ask your expert advice on this. First question I want to really ask you is relation to what kind of family structures you have found in your extensive research to be more stable when I say stable, I mean, most unlikely to end in divorce. So what kind of trends have you seen in the American demography? So I am great fun at weddings for just this reason. Yes. And what I typically do at a wedding, when someone finds out
what I do, and what I study, is I go down the list. And then I cherry pick all the attributes that any given couple has that predicts stability. And here, I can tell you all the kinds of people who are less likely to divorce
people with a four year college degree, people who don't marry very young who that is wait until their late 20s, they're more likely to stay together. Um, people who are not from divorced families, people who are active in their religious face. And as I indicated earlier, it doesn't matter what face just so long as they actively participate and regularly attend services.
So in the United States, people who live together before they get married are more likely to get divorced. But that varies some in Europe, I think, to the best of my knowledge, memory, Great Britain is the same way.
People who have a lot of premarital sex partners before marriage are more likely to get divorced. People who have a child before they're married are more likely to get divorced.
There is even a genetic component to divorce.
That is part but by no means all of the transmission of divorce between generations happens genetically, this is a study that's been replicated more than once, based on research with twins. What is this? So just expand this point a little bit more, please. So what are the genetic components is quite interesting. So I can't go much further than that, just because I am not a geneticist, nor have I cared to learn.
So I don't know, I can't talk about the science. All I know is that
we've long sciences, you know, for at least 80 years have known that if your parents get divorced, you're more likely to get divorced. That's a very well established finding, you know, that was gender differential in that answer, and so much as is a woman who's more likely so for example, is a woman who has been divorced before, more likely to be divorced than a man who has been divorced before. Okay. I had actually been talking about what your parents have done. Yeah. But and so in that context, there's no gender difference. And now you're talking about in second marriages, you're absolutely right. second marriages have higher divorce rates. And to the best of my knowledge,
there's no gender difference in terms of gender difference. Part of it has to do with stepkids.
Create challenges. Part of it has to do simply the fact that people who've already been married once are shown that their divorces, they're willing to get divorced. And so yeah, if they end their first births are willing then their second marriage. There was really unusual demographic anomaly that I came across. And I think you've mentioned that once in one of your works, which is a woman who has been divorced, two times is more likely to be divorced again than a woman say, who has been divorced three times. What do you think the reason is for something like that? Oh, I Oh, I see what you're saying. You're actually you're, that's different. That's different research. So that's not divorce.
What I found that concerns how many premarital sex partners you have. Right? Right? And so yes, it is really curious. So
in general, the people with lowest or straight to those who get married as virgins are only one partner. Some of the highest divorce rates are people who have two partners, two partners raises the door straight more than having three, four or five or six.
I'm sorry, what is this agenda specific realization? I don't know if this? I guess it is. So this, that finding is only based on women just because of limitations of that data set? And what what do you think the reason for something like that would be? Um, so what why the two partners? Yeah, I just found it quite unusual that, you know, it's because you would expect that there's a correlation. Yes, that the more you go higher than the more, right.
I don't have I'm much better at describing trends and actually explaining them like, but a lot of the time, just describe a trend and then step back, and we've, we've the rest for others. But here's what I think is going on.
If you have two partners lifetime, you probably married one of them.
That means you have one other partner than your spouse. So I think that's a comparison when you compare in your own mind. That's a comparison that looms large. But if you've had 3456 partners, most of them are less significant.
It's just to compare if you have only two partners, to exact to exactly two partners. It's just a comparison that's over emphasized. That second partner is the one that got away.
While I want to focus as well on is you mentioned religiosity, contributing to kind of stability of family.
Why do you think that is the case? Okay. So this was the topic of by 2016 book with Brad Wilcox at the University of Virginia.
one early finding that had been reported was big gender differences by religious faith.
getting divorced more than others, but then later studies came along and show that it's not that there's differences, big differences by faith, it's by participation by involvement. And this is in the US context. In the US. Yes. And so we found the same thing. People who attend services regularly have are more likely to get married, less likely to have children before marriage, have happier relationships, whether or not they're married, and are less likely to get divorced. And it doesn't matter what faith
you're a member of. It just depends upon how much you live that faith, how active you are in it. I want to ask a question on that, because you make the point that it doesn't matter. What phase Have there been faith, faith specific studies, to contra contrast, for example, one faith with another in the United States? Or is this
You know, the biggest difference, as I mentioned in our pre recording chat, is that members of some faiths on average, are must more involved with other faiths and others. Catholicism we see United States is the classic face where many people are nominal Catholics. Right? They say they're Catholics. Maybe they attend,
you know, church once a year on Christmas Eve, but they're not too involved. Whereas,
say Mormons tend to be very involved. Right? That's the real difference is some woman's have a stickier marriage, like, are more Mormons more likely to have stable marriages? Oh, yes. And just because they Mormons tend to be very involved with their face. And so that's what matters, even considering the polygyny or the polygamous element.
That's a very tiny percentage of people. You know, the mainstream Mormon church has renounced polygamy for over 100 years. That's just small, splinter groups or sex.
And they, those people don't talk about the relationships because what they're doing is in the gray area, what's the legal right I understand and
on this point, Have you have you also looked at within a religious framework, what can loosely be referred to as
liberal kind of religious people or and or conservative religious people are generally liberals and conservatives, and whether or not there's a differential in terms of stability of family between the two. Yeah. So in the United States, if we just contrast, liberals and conservatives, we see that conservatives are much more likely to have happy relationships. However, and here's the however, that's entirely explained by the fact by two attributes of conservatives. Here, one, they're much more likely to be involved in the religious faiths
race is strongly correlated with politics here, African Americans
are very unlikely to be conservatives and have higher divorce rates and less happier relationships. So once we control for those two differences, religious faith and race, there's no difference between conservative and religious here.
Okay. And on that point, then, is it more about have you looked at egalitarian type of relationships versus what's referred to as complementarian type of relationships and seen differences between those two and and what kind of differences that we found? So I don't do that work?
There has been a lot of research in the United States. My understanding is that of that work, is it's produced a lot of different findings, you know, very much how you measure both the complementary part, the gala, terian part. And, you know, what outcome you measure?
So, there's, I don't, it's produced a lot of different findings,
you know, that are specific to the measures. And in general, I prefer looking at things like Matt just did they stay married, did they get married? Because there's less measurement error? I can be more certain about.
But does that make sense? Yes, it does. It does. Book, obviously, because they have problems with defining the thing in the first place. I mean, what is complementarity? What is legality? Exactly. And
add one thing.
So one thing that does predict a happy relationship is simply agreement on its terms. Right, right. So you know, if you agree, we're in a conservative, we have a traditional relationship, and we're going to be governed by these rules. And we both agree that we're, you know, that works, because there's agreement. Yeah. You know, the same with agreement about a less traditional relationship.
But, yeah, I was I was actually looking at some, do you think the fact that the reason why is maybe some egalitarian marriages of becoming more successful maybe in recent times, I'm not sure if you've seen some data in the UK, or in Europe, but there's some data that may be coming brings about that kind of assumption, may be because of the cost of divorce? Is there anything that you've done on the cost of those, for example, not just monetary costs, but the fact that if one gets divorced, that, you know, the courts may rule against, for example, the father in a custody battle? Have you looked at those kinds of socio economic variables? A couple of things there, first of all, divorce is, has
peaked, at least in America around 1980 and has been declining for about 40 years. But
um, so it's always impossible to know exactly why.
It's, there's been a lot less divorce. But one reason certainly is by 1980, it was becoming more clear what living in a high divorce society was like.
And we backed off a little bit. What causes what are the top reasons in America?
What are the top reasons that cause people get divorced? Why do people get divorced?
So marrying too young is a big one. And that's one reason why there's less divorce nowadays because people are waiting until they're older.
Another thing that's a part a big part of the story in that it states and I to the best of my understanding in the UK as well, is that you go back 40 years ago, and there was no difference in marriage and divorce by whether people had completed a college education. Now a huge difference. Whereas people who have four year college degrees are much more likely to get married and stay married.
Okay, so is that is that correlation between education and divorce or more educated? Well,
Is that what you're saying? Is the more the less divorce? Yeah, yeah. Okay.
Are there any other trends on divorce? What about infidelity, for example is anything on that? Um, so I've actually written about this. And there's a piece you know, a piece, I can send you the link to on the family studies by.
it's the the family started to tell us what that's about, because some people might want to go to this, the Institute for Family Studies is just a research institute based out of the University of Virginia and run by my collaborator and co author, W. Bradford book Hawks. And they have a very large,
well funded blog, where they produce a lot of research briefs about the family. So a lot of my resort research briefs end up there. Right. Um, and so some of the stuff like this stuff about the number of sex partners and divorce ended up there. And that you were talking about infidelity. You were about to make a point about it. Yes, thank you. Um, so there's
not a it's not a huge trend. And the data are a little ambiguous, ambiguous, but they do seem to point to a future of less infidelity. Because the people who cheat the most seem to be boomers, who've been married for 20 or 30 years, and got bored. So just not only just people from a certain generation, having reached a certain point in their lives, those two things combined, seems to have produced more infidelity, you know, for younger people less so.
Another thing I point out is that for, you know, there are now and this isn't a, this is a super popular option, but there's now much more of an infrastructure for having a non monogamous relationship. I mean, polyamory is a word we know. And it wasn't a thing. Until 20 years ago. Now there's in any large city in America, there's groups and books, and communities to sustain people who choose to be non monogamous in their marriages. That's uncommon, though most people want marriage as traditionally defined. But to the extent that there has been a small growth and non monogamous relationship, so that Winder cut the rate of adultery, and, or, or cheating adultery, you
know, just Yeah, I wanted to ask, because I know we kind of tight on time. And so I want to ask you a few more questions. One of them was relation to hypergamy. And Hamada mean,
the studies I've looked at, seem to indicate that the hypergamy I think one of them was actually Institute by the, published by the Institute that you mentioned,
that hypergamy is a very stubborn thing, and that it continues that women tend to,
for example, marry across dominance hierarchies.
How do we understand this trend? So I find hypergamy is not as strong of force as homography hug that is marrying people like yourself. So, in fact, Hamaguchi, based on education has risen a lot in the last 30 years in the United States, it used to be fairly common that men married women who had less education, no longer.
Now, increasingly, there is mammography, that based on education, in other words, people with college degrees, marry other people who have college degrees.
One thing to note here, this is some of the best news in the field, is that heteronomy that is marrying outside your group on race in the United States has increased a lot. By 100, fold whites marry blacks, more blacks, marry whites, marry Mexican Americans, Asian that's increased a lot in this country. And that, you know, we I celebrate is good news.
You know, a lessening of racial barriers.
And on this point, I'm not sure if you're aware of this.
While some groups online like the red pill movement in the so called manosphere and stuff, many of which I have to tell you actually use your information. Oh, yes. Yeah. They're, they're, you know, they're free to and in fact, I actually did a podcast with a guy who calls himself angry MIG tau. In other words, MIG tau is men going their own way. And, you know, I I did a good interview.
He, you know, he asked good questions, and I answered them. But yes, so these people, this movement does exist. But,
have you heard about what's often called rule 32?
is, if if it exists, there is porn of it online.
So my, the broader point is, if any conceivable movement exists, you know, or any, any one has an idea. It's online. And so you're just a, first of all, there are, I think there's this is a tiny number of people. Yeah. A second. I think to the extent, I think their cultural moment has sort of passed. And that's something I was hearing a lot more about three years ago than I am now.
I don't know if that corresponds to the rejection of Trump in this country or many other things. But yeah, they're, they're there. But I think they'll always be there just but I, they seem less salient than they were a couple of years ago. And some of the things that they do talk about some of the you can say the pillars of their movement, or the crux of what they're trying to say, seem to revolve around some of these concepts, which you're an expert in, in terms of academia where things like homography and hypergamy, and they seem to, from my reading, you could say reduce, I'm sorry, it's a you know, reductionist approach to higher hypergamy is at least that's how I've seen it that, and
then from that, kind of give advice to young men of how to get married. All you've got to do is make money. I mean, from your research do. I mean, it's, yeah, but we are high value, man by making money from from your kind of research, do you think that this is? To what extent do you think that this is good advice? I mean,
you know, fundamentally, people with more, more money are more likely to get married? Um, I don't. All you do. That's what that is, as you point out totally. All you need is money is, of course, totally reductionist, but it helps. Part of the reason, you know, part of the logic underlying that, is that it in nowadays, men feel like they can't get married, until they're able to provide, you know, support a family. Yeah, and you know, 50 years ago, people would, you know, before starting careers would get married right out of school, whether it was secondary school, or higher education, they would get married. Now, they wait.
I didn't think those make those manosphere types wanted to get married. No, I mean, the red pill movement is more than they've got different kinds of the MiG tau, not one of them, because of men going their own way. But there are some of them, who who do want to get married, some of them, you know, part of the red pill movement, who give me advice on how to get married. And there's different kinds of advice that they give to young men and so on, you know, how to ensure that you're
more attractive to women, and so on. And but yeah, a lot of it is based on this demographic data. And that's why I thought it would be will be important to kind of ask, on the flip side, there's obviously many feminist theorists as well, who may use demographic data to try or may even try and undermine their I say, some demographic data, because, like, some of the things you're saying, obviously, indicates that
more egalitarian marriages you mentioned at the beginning, are not as successful, you could put it in this crude way as,
quote, unquote, complementarian marriages.
How have you responded to that kind of discourse? You know, I really haven't gotten that many critics. I mean, part of it is what you alluded to, there's a lot of, you know, the devil is in the details when we talk about complimentary versus a gala. terian.
And, you know, that can be defined a lot of different ways. Um, so, certainly there have, you know, I occasionally have been attacked from, I guess what they call the anti marriage feminist strain. Yes.
But, you know, my response to that is, you know, you're not living in the real world and the real world is that most people want to be married.
And, you know, if they don't want to be married, most people want, you know, still want stable, monogamous relationships.
You know, it's a funny phenomenon in higher education, especially, but also just in many elite circles, where
You know, people,
you know, academics will denounce the bourgeois institution of marriage when they are married?
Or what when they're living with partners in relationships that look exactly like marriage. Exactly. I want to ask you a couple more questions. Maybe this is the penultimate one before we and why I want to ask is, there's a lot of data coming out recently, especially from people like Warren Farrell, who've written the boy crisis, and others who emphasize how important stable families are, or what they seem to be doing in their work as they look at, like, the amount of kind of delinquency if you want to use that kind of word or criminal activity, for example, that happens in society. And they've correlated that kind of trend. With single people being raised in a single mother household.
Obviously, there are obviously exceptions to this rule, or we're not generalizing, but to what extent can it be said that single parent households, or people living or children living or growing up in single parent households, especially if their mothers,
can contribute to this kind of kind of criminality and future criminality or something? So what extent is that predictor? So that that's a good question. And let me answer it a couple of different ways. The first is to point out that yes, that research is all correct, in that people who aren't from two parent families,
have the kids have higher rates of delinquency, they're less likely to finish high school in a timely fashion, what's likely to college in short, you can, you know, predict almost any outcome with that variable. Now, let me give you some numbers. And these are numbers produced, you know, decades ago by Sarah McClanahan at Princeton University, who's one of the leading scholars in this area that I still, quote, as being instructive. Sarah showed way back when that 31% of kids from
whose parents work together, don't graduate from high school on time, compared to just 13% of kids whose parents do graduate from high school. Keep in mind 3113 Now, let me show you why There's two ways of looking at that. If your cup is half empty, you point to 31 being two and a half times 13. And you can legitimately say that kids from non attack families are much more likely to have trouble in school. Now, suppose your cup is half full, you point out, also truthfully that over two thirds of kids from nine attack families still graduate from school on time, and a small minority of kids from intact families don't write. So it's a factor, but it's hot, far from being dispositive. Let me
tell you of another of Sarah's findings.
She found also that that gap in high school completion, half of it was explained by economics, that is single parent families are often poor. If they weren't poor, that 1331 gap would be cut in half. Hmm. So family, you know, family structure matters. But a lot of other things matter to what Ferran I think mentioned on this, which I thought I don't know what to make of it and ask you this. As he I think he compared single parent families, single parent, male families versus single parent female families, and concluded that single parent, male families are more likely to be successful, so called successful based on the parameters that we've spoken about. I think that's bull*. Yeah, I
think, you know, there was a really thorough evaluation of that study about about that concept about 20 years ago, where the researchers did hundreds of comparisons
between male families, female families, and they found overall found a little difference. So there's some cherry picking going on.
If you asked me to, you know, so I think that's the best answer. However, if you asked me to vacuum, my guess is that the fathers, you know, might produce better results for the kids but the reason is just common custody is rare. What do you think economics has on these because the man yeah, oh, absolutely. Father custody. Sure. I think, you know, fathers only get custody, you know, in this country at least. What usually only get custody when the real problems with the mother? Yes, yes. Or no, the father is
Super parents, right? Hmm. In general that I think it's better to set you know, it makes it's much more supported by today's is just as little difference. Right. Right.
That's, that's these are really good trends. What kind of things? I mean, putting aside the red pill was the last question I asked you today. I saw that movie.
The documentary as well. Yeah, yeah. But putting aside the kind of advice that they would kind of give or maybe feminists would give, what would be the advice that you would give
general advice based on the the trends that you have seen on what kinds of things that may be within our control that we can control in order to have stable families if that's what we want.
So don't marry too early? You know, wait till your your late 20s is one.
I'm in general Hamaguchi predicts marital stability. So marry someone Exactly. Like you.
You know, many ways as possible. Now, of course, a lot of this is outside our control. Right? You know, we don't you know, we don't go down a list like this and choosing our, you know, the, you know, the people we meet
but in general Yeah, marry someone like you.
I choked in terms of Hamas. heteronomy, based on religion, it's hard to marry someone you know, is going to hell.
It's a good point to be honest with you. And and then you have the complications of the children how they're going to be raised. Yeah. So yeah, I, you know, I've joked like this too, so hot, you have to just decide how they're going to be raised. You let them pick your own faith? Do you send them to, you know, church, one weekend mosque the next week to you? Right, you know, exactly not, and especially for ends in divorce, a lot of it is outside the control, namely, as you've mentioned, of the man, because if he's not getting custody, for obvious reasons, then it will be out of his control. Although some things are still in his control, right, he can still contribute to the
material upkeep of his children, he can still be involved, he can still try to avoid conflict, because one of the most, you know,
replicated findings is that conflict is bad for kids. And I've seen that in your book. And your book is called Understanding the divorce cycle, isn't it? Yes. Yeah, that's yeah, my first book might you know, more recently, you know, I've had
the most recent book is soulmates religion, sex, love and marriage
among African Americans and Latinos, and really everyone in the United States
I lost my train of thought, but that's okay. Well, thank you so much for all that you've presented in terms of information. I think a lot of people will see from this, obviously, that the issue is more complicated than being able to reduce it in a few variables.
But that, as you've mentioned, there are some positive trends moving forward and we hope to be able to keep stable families in society. Thank you very much, Professor finger. Thank you so much. Well, that's it