The NYTimes ran an article this week about attitudes regarding working mothers. This time the conversation was sparked by critiques of Wendy Davis, running for governor of Texas, who was financially supported by her husband to attend Harvard Law School while her husband parented her two children in Texas. The article cited National Marriage Project director Brad Wilcox, who stated the following:
I took issue with this flip statement and the impression that he suggested women both want to be primary caretakers and will judge other women running for political office because of it. To my surprise, Wilcox responded to my (possibly regrettable) sarcastic tweet:
I followed up on the data he provided, which comes from this Pew Research article, Mothers and work: What's 'Ideal'? The question respondents were asked wasn't about judgments of other moms. They were simply asked: “Considering everything, what would be the ideal situation for you — working full time, working part time, or not working at all outside the home?” In fact, the Pew article goes on to describe this data as representative of a fluctuating economy, differences in personal economic circumstances, and indicates common challenges faced by dual-earner couples.
I'd also venture to guess that the differences in married and unmarried women's ideals has to do with not just economic characteristics, but also represents a selection effect. Conservative women are more likely to be married than their more liberal counterparts.
Secondly, a better question to assess political views of working moms should evoke a judgment response, not an attitude question about a personal situation. I like this question from the General Social Survey (GSS): "It is usually better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family." Respondents can strongly disagree, disagree, agree, or strongly agree. I graphed this over time for women with at least one child by marital status and political views.
Indeed, conservative married mothers are more likely to agree with this stereotypical division of labor than liberal mothers. Liberal mothers, married or not, are less likely to agree.
I'm no political pundit, but my guess is that married conservative women are not likely to vote for Wendy Davis, regardless of how she chose to balance parenting and career opportunities.
For my Advanced Statistics class this week, I had to choose a peer-reviewed journal article using regression methods and "evaluate the appropriateness of their statistical testing and of their reporting on the same criteria as used by McCloskey (1985), Gelman and Stern (2006), and Fidler and colleagues (2004)."
I chose the already critiqued article by Hawkins and colleges (2003) on the effect of government funded marriage promotion initiatives. Other scholars have previously pointed out concerns regarding this article such as arbitrarily creating two time periods for comparison and strategically manipulating an outlier (District of Columbia) in order to produce statistically significant results.
Here, I restrict my critique to inaccuracies as described in my class readings and share my response to the class assignment.
Substantive vs Statistical Significance
First, the authors used the words “significant” and “non-significant” throughout the results and discussion section (a total of 26 times). In some of these instances they clarified that significance was in reference to statistical significance, such as in this statement, “…all of the regression coefficients for the years 2006 – 2010 were statistically significant (pp 508)." However, differentiation between statistical significance and substantive significance as described by McLoskey was missing, as the majority of the time the authors were referencing statistical significance, not substantive significance in their analysis. In at least one instance, it was entirely unclear if the authors meant statistical of substantive significance:
“Our analyses found that cumulative per capita funding was associated with a small but significant decrease in the percentage of nonmarital births and children living with single parents, an increase in the percentage of children living with two parents, a decrease in the percentage of children who are poor or near poor, and an increase in the percentage of married adults in the population (but only for 2005 – 2010).”
Also of concern, the authors chose to set significant levels at .10 level, rather than the conventional .05 level. The authors argue a .10 level is appropriate "because the risk of a type II statistical error (a false negative) is relatively high with a sample of 51 cases, we adopted a .10 alpha for significance testing.” While Fisher’s p < .05 is arbitrary, they go on to conflate the likelihood of making a type II error with meaningful significance. Setting the p value at .10 only means that there is a 10 percent chance of observing a result when in fact no real effect exists. Given that their statistically significant findings depend on one outlier case (District of Columbia) and a higher threshold than conventional practice, I’m incredibly skeptical of their conclusion of meaningful difference.
At one point, they seek to address the problem of statistical significance and substantial significance by stating:
“Nevertheless, our study found statistically significant associations between per capita funding and several other important population-level outcomes. Still, one can ask where these associations are large enough to be substantively important. We address this question with reference to a particular high activity state: Oklahoma” (pp 510).
I find it odd and misleading to cherry-pick 1 unit of observation (Oklahoma) to make the connection between statistical and meaningful results. Their research question wasn't about changes in Oklahoma and other states (or states with more marriage promotion funding vs states without this funding) but rather a statistical analysis of a national program. Furthermore, the authors reviewed the changes in Oklahoma by talking about point increases and decreases in percentages on a number of indicators but never provided the actual percentages for reference nor did they provide a comparison of changes among states without marriage promotion spending. Thus, the reader is left to his or her own interpretation of whether a “3-point increase in the percentage of children living with two parents” in Oklahoma is substantially meaningful.
Comparing coefficients vs Conducting tests of difference
More problematic was the incorrect comparison of significant and non-significant coefficients versus conducting tests of difference between coefficients, as described by Gelman and Stern. While the two time periods are subjectively constructed as comparisons to start with, the authors made this error by contrasting the time periods by comparing the degree of statistical significance. This is evidenced by this statement regarding Table 2:
“Table 2 shows the results of regression analyses conducted separately for two time periods: 2000 – 2005 and 2006 – 2010. No regression coefficients for the years 2000 – 2005 were statistically significant. In contrast, the exception of percentage divorced, all of the regression coefficients for the years 2006 – 2010 were statistically significant” (pp 508).
As we know from Gelman and Stern, comparing significance levels is inappropriate and stating “2000- 2005 is not statistically significant but 2006 – 2010 is significant” is misleading. The authors failed to test the difference between the coefficients for the two time periods and across each of their variables of interest.
Confidence Intervals, Quantitative Precision, and Effect Size
Finally, they failed to convey quantitative information necessary to make meaning of the results as indicated by Fidler. Confidence intervals were missing entirely from the results although they did report standard errors in the tables and made occasional mention of them, “The table also reveals that the standard errors were considerably larger in the earlier period” (pp 509). However, their mention were limited to obvious statements of statistical analysis, rather than adding quantitative precision. Again, reporting the effect size was largely absent and mentioned in passing such as in this statement, “Although not significant, the coefficients for the remaining variables were in the same direction and comparable in magnitude to their counterparts in Table 2. The lack of significance can be explained by the larger standard errors.” The exact magnitude of the outcomes remained unstated.
Fidler, Fiona, Neil Thomason, Geoff Cumming, Sue Finch, and Joanna Leeman. 2004. “Editors Can Lead Researchers to Confidence Intervals, but Can’t Make Them Think: Statistical Reform Lessons from Medicine.” Psychological Science 15(2):119–26.
Gelman, Andrew, and Hal Stern. 2006. “The Difference between ‘significant’ and ‘not Significant’ Is Not Itself Statistically Significant.” The American Statistician 60(4):328–31.
Hawkins, Alan J., Paul R. Amato, and Andrea Kinghorn. 2013. “Are Government-Supported Healthy Marriage Initiatives Affecting Family Demographics? A State-Level Analysis.” Family Relations 62(3):501–13.
McCloskey, Deirdre N. 1985. “The Loss Function Has Been Mislaid: The Rhetoric of Significance Tests.” American Economic Review 75(2):201–5.
I have strong doubts that fewer people are getting married due to rising gender equality. It’s obvious that gender equality has impacted marriage and divorce rates in the past (no-fault divorce, women’s increased employment, etc.), but it is a diminishing part of the story of marriage trends today. We know that the gains of the feminist movement have actually stalled out over the last decade or so, but marriage rates have continued to decline (maybe somebody with fancier statistical skills can make me a graph demonstrating this point!). Also, you don’t have to look too far to see that weddings and marriage continue to be overpowered by gender roles.
There was an article going around Facebook this month contending that those who are against same-sex marriage are FOR sexism. Well, I’d have to broaden that argument – a lot of people are trapped in stereotypical marriage frameworks, not excluding those of us in favor of same-sex marriage. For example, the website Jezebel, which has been outspoken for same-sex marriage, assumes the heteronormative script that couples engage in proposals (pun intended), and that men do the proposing (while only taking issue with the spectacle and consumerism of the proposal): “If you're the person we decided we want to spend the rest of our lives with, as long as there's a little romance and maybe a splash of booze, it just doesn't fucking matter what you do.” The news Jezebel was critiquing actually perfectly represents the still very dominant expectation that men propose: a groom made headlines for spending $45,000 on a proposal. While making news because of the extravagance, lifelong romantic commitments continue to be a spectacle which centers men in the provider role and depicts women as longing to get married. A quote from this groom confirms this:
“Asked if the expense was worth it, Ogle replied that he was spending money on what was important. He said that men often didn't have control over what happened at their weddings but said he had total control over the proposal." (abcnews.go.com)
Does rising gender equality have something to do with the decline in marriage? Yes, but it certainly doesn't tell the whole story and I don’t think it accounts for current trends.
Economics of Children
Pro-marriage scholars argue that children raised in two-parent households do better than others. There seems to be fleeting recognition that the benefits of this family structure have much to do with the economic benefits of resources from two adults, but what's interesting is that these conservative activists seem to get tripped-up on the directionality of the association. The pro-marriage proponents mistakenly link the positive outcomes in children from these households to the result of the economic gains from the institution of marriage. However, the data indicates that those with financial resources are more likely to get married in the first place. Given this, it’s likely that the financial advantages preceding the legalized coupling offer a more compelling explanation for why these kids do better: the economic and social resources available to their parents in the first place that led these adults to marry, not necessarily the marriage itself, may be driving the benefits.
Gender or the Family Structure?
Taking the pro-marriage proponents’ spurious argument to its next logical conclusion, marriage advocates should be for same-sex marriage, since they believe marriage is best for children. However, in order to avoid that logical deduction, these conservative activists are spending their time this week restricting their argument to straight marriage as the answer for child well-being, not marriage per se. Advocating that children only thrive when raised by married, heterosexual parents, they reason LGBT couples should be discriminated against because they aren't providing children with this rigid gendered family structure. However, no social science data backs up these claims and thus they are on shaky ground. (Hence the need to make up data to support their ideological position.) Thus, they continually conflate their arguments about family structure and rigid gender roles as a way to restrict their logic solely to arguments that reinforce their conservative ideology. Interestingly, they have to take a both/and approach: kids can thrive only within the climate of marriage as a family structure AND only with a male and female parental unit. Arguing only the grounds of marriage opens them up to supporting marriage equality, but advocating purely for heterosexual parenting would necessarily broaden their support beyond marriage as the only familial structure.
Unsurprisingly, they make no mention of the fact that most kids do not grow up within the limited family structure they advocate and that most children grow up to be outstanding citizens. In fact, all evidence to the contrary, they pick and choose their data about what’s best for children. Because, if they got real about what’s best for children, and didn't co-opt the voices of children to tout their narrow agenda, these pro-marriage crusaders would be on unfamiliar ground. They are right that kids do best with stability, but that has as much to do with economic security as it does with consistent parental involvement. Don’t get me wrong, having dependable and loving adults in a child’s life is crucial, but marriage does not guarantee that. Children do best with an abundance of healthy, loving adults in their lives, irrelevant of their marital status. They do best when they aren't worried about where their next meal comes from, when their parents have time to help them with homework and especially when their families have a consistent income. Marriage may be sufficient to offer some of these benefits, but it is certainly not necessary. A broader policy agenda would actually achieve these positive outcomes for a larger segment of society: affordable housing and childcare, parental support and education, well-paid employment opportunities, flexible leave, paid parental and sick leave. These changes could do as much or more for children – that is, if society were actually concerned about children, and less with promoting a stereotypical family structure.
The Left Is also Promoting this Faux Solution
I’m not suggesting that those on the right of the political spectrum are the only ones advocating this false supposition. In truth, LGBT couples adopt this line of reasoning as a talking point for achieving marriage equality – our kids want us to get married, it would ease the adoption process and decrease the barriers of co-parenting when interacting with institutions such as schools and doctor’s offices. These are all very real reasons to desire marriage. However, again, there are more progressive solutions to be offered that would benefit families of all types: providing an option for single parents to appoint designated friends and family members as emergency contacts; streamlining health, medical, and custody decisions for separated and divorced families; strengthening legal rights for grandparents raising grandchildren; overhauling adoption rules to promote access to any qualified adult who has the desire and means to provide a loving home for children in need, regardless of their marital status, gender identity, or sexual orientation. These legal benefits and securities that benefit kids as the result of marriage have more to do with our society’s illogical conflation of marriage and child-rearing than with progressive policies that promote child welfare for everyone, regardless of family structure.
There are benefits to marriage in today’s society, but it is not the magical solution to child welfare that some would have us believe. Promoting marriage as a child welfare strategy without addressing the root causes of child well-being is a set-up for failure.
I saw two different articles today on internet dating. One had a liberal take and the other a conservative bent, yet both portrayed an ugly view of internet dating (I would argue one is more concerning than the other).
First, Jezebel posted an article with an analysis of the site "Nice Guys of OkCupid", (OkCupid is on online dating site). In the article, Jezebel discusses the disconnection of men complain about how women don't want to date them, despite their self-described label as a "nice guy". They seem to miss the contradictory information provided on their profile which are often homophobic, racist, sexist and otherwise entitled attitudes, directly in contrast to their identity as a "nice guy".
On the other hand, the Atlantic posted a piece on how online dating sites have made dating so easy that it's a threat to monogamy and the institution of marriage. Their basic thesis is that by decreasing the barrier of access to multiple potential partners, individuals will be less likely to settle in a relationship and will otherwise continue to try to upgrade their partnerships. It's a little difficult to believe their premise, let alone empirically show the association between online dating and the end of marriage.
With these two articles in contrast, I have to wonder if the advantages of more potential partners might skew more towards an advantage for straight men than any increase of potential "upgraded" possibilities for heterosexual women. Then again, if they are posting they think women have an obligation to keep their legs shaved, gays and lesbian couples shouldn't be allowed to have children, men should be heads of their households, and interracial marriage should be illegal, maybe their dating pool isn't getting all that much larger after all.
In any case, regardless of your political leanings, internet dating doesn't look too good for anybody based on today's commentary. Although, I have to admit I'm way more concerned that these men feel it's okay to post their entitled and ignorant attitudes these days than I am about the so-called demise of marriage.
Update: Jezebel's take on the Atlantic article.