May 20, 2014

The Evolution of Marriage and Having Kids Makes Parents Happier

The Evolution of Marriage

‘A girl for every boy, a boy for every girl”: That’s the main thesis of William Tucker’s engaging new book. With polygamy, you see, there isn’t a girl for every boy, and the leftover boys must find some other — usually disruptive and frequently violent — way to pass their time. But the “unique social contract of monogamy — a male for every female, a female for every male — lowers the temperature of sexual competition and frees its members to work together in cooperation. It is at this juncture that human societies — even human civilizations — are born.”

Tucker is not himself an academic, but he is a smart journalist, and Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human is the result of some 20 years of reading through the scholarly literature on marriage and thinking through the implications. It’s written for “the average reader,” and covers some “subjects that many scholars and academics in the field seem to find uncomfortable.” Indeed, Tucker comes to some rather politically incorrect views. His work is a clear-headed presentation of a “biological, anthropological, and historic understanding of the role that monogamy has played in the evolution of human society” — and by monogamy Tucker doesn’t simply mean any old union of two people, but an exclusive and more or less permanent union of a man and woman, husband and wife, father and mother.
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Monogamy so understood doesn’t happen by chance. In a certain sense, “human monogamy — the pair-bonding of couples within the framework of a larger social group — is not entirely a natural institution.” After all, “monogamy does not sustain itself ‘naturally.’” And yet, when monogamy is lived out, human civilization flourishes. As Tucker puts it, “The rule is: those who form traditional families succeed; those who don’t fail.”

Because monogamy doesn’t grow on trees, “it requires rules — rules that must be continuously enforced by the members practicing it.” So, while “monogamy is manifestly a more equitable and successful way to organize a society, it is always under siege and forever fragile.” And if a society “becomes lax or indifferent about upholding its norms, the advantages will quickly unravel — as we are plainly witnessing in the America of today.”
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In 1965, when the Moynihan Report was issued, the concern was that the out-of-wedlock birth rate for blacks was 25 percent. Today 40 percent of all children, 50 percent of Hispanics, and 70 percent of African Americans are born outside of marriage.

And this breakdown of marriage most hurts the least well-off. A leading indicator of whether someone will know poverty or prosperity is whether, growing up, he or she knew the love and security of having a married mother and father. Marriage reduces the probability of child poverty by 80 percent. The reason is simple: Marriage attaches a child’s father to his mother, and then attaches that committed pair to the child. As Tucker notes: “Children without fathers are more at risk for drug and alcohol abuse, dropping out of school, depression, delinquent behavior, crime, early sexual activity, and having illegitimate children in the next generation. They are more at risk for abuse, molestation, and incest.”

The art of fatherhood,” however, “does not come naturally but is a skill that must be passed on from generation to generation.”


In the Atlantic, Having Kids Makes Parents Happy After All.  New research overturns the decades-old belief that having children is a downer.

“What we believe is going on is that there is a general negative trend in happiness among adults—[but] that negative trend is not happening for parents.” Adults seem to be getting grumpier as a whole, but parents are bucking that general trend.
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Herbst and Ifcher offer three theories why parents are becoming happier—and what that means for American society.

First, there’s the phenomenon that Robert Putnam identified in his 2000 book Bowling Alone—that Americans were becoming increasingly isolated from community and family. Herbst and Ifcher argue that families are the “last vestige of community life in American society.”

“Parents are more likely to spend time with friends, get the news, be interested in politics, think people are honest, have faith in the economy, be trusting,” Herbst said. “We think that parents remain better attached to society, and we think the linchpin of that attachment is kids.”

Second, the financial hardship brought on by children has lessened over time. The U.S. now has a more generous earned income tax credit and childcare tax credits, which means parents have more of a financial cushion than they used to.

“The social safety net has begun to favor parents more over time than non-parents,”….

Finally, who is having a kid these days is different than who had children in previous decades…parents are probably becoming parents because they want to be parents, and less because of societal pressure. These adults are more likely to be a self-selected group, desire their children, and therefore derive more happiness from having the children they wanted.
Posted by Jill Fallon at May 20, 2014 10:34 AM | Permalink