Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lactose intolerance

There's another round of milk-cow debate. Women are giving it away for free! "It" being the sex that feminists pretend women enjoy, but as everyone knows deep down, it's merely something women put up with in exchange for being able to say "my husband" one day. What, that has not been your experience? That means you're an aberration or - better yet - that you're lying to yourself to make a feminist point, feminist. (Must I provide a sarcasm hashtag for theoretical new readers not aware that I consider myself a feminist?)

Anyway, what I always wonder whenever Ross Douthat or someone else goes down this road is, let's say it's true. Let's say the cows are giving away the milk for free, and that all these elite-milieu marriages that began with what would be derisively termed "hook-ups" are not in fact the stable marriages we imagine, or actually began with Hasidic courtship rituals. Sure, there was less divorce when divorce wasn't a viable possibility. But were there perhaps some drawbacks to the old order? Terrible marriages that couldn't be escaped? Unplanned pregnancies that couldn't be ended, or, for that matter, contracepted? At best, there are pros and cons to both orders. It so often seems as if the Golden Age arguments imagine that when there were fewer options, no one thought to want otherwise. What about Emma Bovary? She thought otherwise, and it probably wasn't because of anything Gloria Steinem said.

9 comments:

Miss Self-Important said...

I think the column is about mobility, so implicitly not about the elite milieu cows (who presumably would not be the targets of a "jobs program"), but the poor ones. Douthat also doesn't say anything about women enjoying sex one way or the other here. There are only two points - that accessible abortion has made it easier for men to walk away from relationships and children b/c the responsibility can be shifted entirely to the mother (to abort if she doesn't want the unintended child, or deal with it herself if she does but the father doesn't), and that no-fault divorce encourages marriage delays that benefit the affluent but harm the poor. This suggests that it's men making the bad moral choices here (to leave their pregnant girlfriends or demand that they contracept or abort b/c the option is available), but that this behavior is, in aggregate, predictable given the incentives. That doesn't mean that no woman wants to contracept or abort of her own accord, but that those who don't, or who do until they at some point don't anymore, will have a harder time fulfilling their ends.

None of this suggests that there was a prior Golden Age of marriage when all marriages were happy. The studies that find positive correlations between two-parent families and mobility don't differentiate happy from unhappy families, just legally intact from broken ones. It would seem then that strong positive correlations arising from a cross-section of all intact families would still show more mobility from unhappy families than happier single-parent families. We'd have to isolate happiness in both groups to be certain of that, but the data we have suggests that this might be true. You can still reply to this that happiness matters more than mobility, which is probably true. So if you could show that two-parent families don't actually make most people happier even if they do promote mobility, or that most people are more like Anna Karenina than like Kitty Levin, then there might be reason to avoid policies that make family dissolution more difficult. It's obviously true that marriages and family don't make ALL women or men happier, and can't be demanded of every last one of them, but I don't think we have any such totalitarian social policies in the pipeline.

Phoebe said...

I considered updating the post, right after posting, with a whole caveat about how I know that the socially-conservative argument is that UMC marriages aren't the problem (i.e. that libertinism only leads to disaster among the poor and working-class), but didn't. In part out of blog-laziness, and in part because I tend to get overly disclaimer-y here, but also because much of the anti-hookup argumentation *is* directed at UMC young women. (See, for example, Douthat here, using Adelle Waldman's novel and "Girls" as touchstones.)

Anyway, I think we get sidetracked if we talk about something as abstract as "happiness." I'm talking about fairly concrete social ills: young women shunned for getting pregnant out of wedlock, or dying from illegal abortions. Women unable to leave abusive marriages, not merely unable to leave if Rodolphe (I think that was his name) struts by looking particularly sexy. Gay people stuck in opposite-sex marriages; straight people stuck married to gay ones.

Point being, once you take into account the actual problems that do arise in a less anything-goes system (whether said system is enforced by the state, the culture, or both), it becomes clear that there are negatives that go beyond 'not everyone gets personal self-fulfillment.'

Miss Self-Important said...

I don't really see how your enumerated social ills are more concrete than or even really different from varieties of unhappiness. Gay people in heterosexual marriages, women being shamed for pregnancy - are these problems for any other reason than that it makes people unhappy to be married to someone they don't like or to be shamed by others?

Concrete ills are, I assume, quantifiable, like poverty. So if the question must be reduced to concrete aims, then more marriage = more income, so everyone should be encouraged to get married regardless of how they feel about their partners. (Actually, polygamous marriage would mean even MORE money on this calculus, so...) Or, you can take the alternative utilitarian approach which simply weighs harms and benefits, so you'd have the costs of restricting abortion (some women will still choose illegal ones and some of those will be fatal) against the costs of permitting it (men become less responsible for offspring, child poverty, then adult poverty). The gays would seemingly get nothing from this calculus - all they lose is self-fulfillment by being married to straight people, but there are no clearly concrete costs to that. I don't know how far you can go with either of these measures: who matters more - some dead women, or a lot of immobile but not dead poor people, including women? Who knows? Happiness is abstract, but that's just too bad for social science, b/c it's basically the purpose of public policy.

caryatis said...

So Douthat thinks that no-fault divorce leads to delayed marriage "given the risk of investing in a venture that could be unilaterally dissolved." But the opposite tendency is also present--wouldn't you expect that people become more willing to get into marriage when it's easier to get out of? Just as I am more willing to enter a one-year lease than a five-year one.

Phoebe said...

MSI,

Now I'm lost. Is social conservatism in this area simply about noting that married couples tend to do better financially, (assuming this is because they're married and not because that's who marries, and) urging all to marry, for the potentially positive impact on the nation's finances? The order of this somehow seems off - if it turned out that finances improved if every woman slept with 100 people of both sexes before getting married, would we have Douthat columns promoting this?

Anyway, what I meant by "abstract" wasn't income vs. non-financial factors. I meant that in these discussions, it's often presented as if the only downside to the old order was boo hoo, not everyone could find self-fulfillment through marriage to The One. When in fact, there were many more specific ills (do you prefer "specific" to "concrete"?) that you don't have to be all that hippie-dippie to sympathize with.

Caryatis,

Yes, one would think!

Britta said...

What I find annoying is there is a whole sociology literature ignored in these conversations. Despite what we armchair pontificators think, actual sociologists have found single motherhood is *beneficial* for poor people, and poor single mothers do better than their childless counterparts. (See: Promises I can Keep). Secondly, there's no evidence whatsoever that poor men do not desire marriage and children. In fact, all research has shown the contrary--that poor men value marriage and fatherhood as much or more than higher SES men. However, like most men, poor men feel compelled to support their families, and economic systems result in high male unemployment and government benefits which penalize two parent households can prevent marriage and lead to the break up of unstable families.

Lower income people, particularly in Red States, tend to be *more* socially conservative than UMC people, but this doesn't result in behaviors idealized by wealthy conservatives. e.g., Pro-life attitudes + Christianity = more teen pregnancy, since teens don't use contraception, since planning for sex is sinful, and don't believe in abortion.

If you want to recreate stable blue collar families, then you need blue collar jobs that reasonably support a family. Without that, there simply won't be stable two parent families, no matter what people's values are.

caryatis said...

I don't remember Promises I Can Keep saying that single motherhood was beneficial...just that its cost for poor women unlikely to ever not be poor is much lower than we tend to think, and that it can have a psychologically stabilizing effect, right? But if the women in that study had had the option of getting married to a decent man, or of pursuing education and career before children, they would have been much better off.

Miss Self-Important said...

I'm not Representing Social Conservatism here, just pointing out that happiness is the possible counter-argument against Douthat if you can show that the benefits to social mobility from restricting divorce and abortion are outweighed by the costs to happiness. If unhappy marriages still result in higher social mobility, then we have to ask, is that boost worth it? I'm not sure why it matters though whether the happiness is concrete or specific. Maybe gays married to opposite sex partners can be distinguished from straights married to opposite sex partners they simply dislike, but isn't it kind of the same problem of marital incompatibility and thus unhappiness in the end? It seems odd to write off the latter as somehow fluffier and the former as more specific or concrete and therefore more serious(?).

The social conservative point is, I'd think, just the correlation between marriage and mobility. Douthat doesn't claim that the world of restricted divorce and abortion resulted in exclusively happy marriages, but that it resulted in this other good - more social mobility. The marriages themselves may have been as unhappy as any, but they were Good For The Children. My point is that this leaves open the relative value of the trade-offs - is mobility worth more to us than, in effect, personal fulfillment?

Britta said...

IIRC, the data showed that poor single mothers are in absolute terms better off than poor single non-mothers--less likely to be drug addicts, more likely to be employed, and less likely to have a criminal record. It is true that being in a stable marriage with a income-earning partner is better, but that's not really an option for women in these situations, childless or not. That is, that being a single mother is disadvantageous for MC women, but advantageous for very poor women. In any case, this data complicates the argument that for poor women, early motherhood is the cause of poverty, rather than the reverse (i.e. poverty is the cause of early motherhood).