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Who's Winning the Culture War? What the Numbers Suggest
I hear quite often enough that my values (liberal if not worse, feminist, tolerant of same-sex marriage) are responsible for American marriage decay.
This baffles me anecdotally, as I canvass my small corner of the universe. I’m 45 and I’ve been married 14 years. I’ve never been divorced. I haven’t been a single mother, a “welfare queen” or taken a thing from “The Government.” I never went to a swing party, or swung, or swanged, or got wife-swapped or raved or moshed or orgied, or woke up and had no clue what bed or city I was in. All these bogeymen of the liberal lifestyle have eluded me.
My husband and I are nothing if not persistent, and hard workers, even at moments when one or both of us would prefer to cut and run to Tahiti. We raise our child, pay taxes (and how), obey speed limits (okay, more or less), and work our butts off.
And we’re not exceptional. That’s key. We’re like our feminist-ish, liberal-ish, professional and creative class peers. A few of them are divorced. Not that many, though, and they’re not judged harshly for it.
Me and my “elk,” as an undergraduate once memorably misspoke, seem to be succeeding in marriage. We might not always be ecstatic—read my book, coming out in paperback soon—but we try to solve problems.
The numbers back up my anecdotal view. Now that the dust’s settled on the social tumult of the early 1970s, an unprecedented divorce and marriage gap has developed. The professional and affluent classes get married and stay married more successfully than lower income, working-class and poor Americans, who are falling away from the institution. Several researchers and commentators have described this, worriedly.
Additionally, iconic liberal states have lower divorce rates than iconic Bible Belt states. Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate in the country, along with deep blue Washington, DC, New York, Maryland, as well as New Jersey and the blue-ish Illinois, also in the lower 10, along with swing states such as Pennsylvania. The 10 states with the highest rates include Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada (home of the quickie divorce), as well as swing state Florida, mixed state West Virginia, and one liberal state—Maine.
We’re told that tolerance for same-sex marriage undermines marriage. Yet 60% of the 10 states with the lowest 2009 divorce rates have approved same-sex marriage or civil unions. Conversely, 90% of the 10 states with the highest divorce rates—all but Maine--explicitly ban same-sex marriage, and/or define marriage explicitly as “between a man and a woman.”
On the surface, it looks like bad news for social conservatives. Liberal enclaves seem to be winning the culture war.
But is that really the case? Is there a relationship between being a liberal values state and a lower divorce rate, and vice versa?
Let’s explore this. I’m not an expert. I don’t do quantitative research. But my dear husband does have Matlab, and the wherewithal to do some basic regressions.
First I took available (four states didn’t report) state divorce rates for 2009.
Then I gathered some indicators of values from roughly the same time. My first indicator is the percentage in each state that voted for Obama in 2008, a measure of how “blue”/liberal the state is.
My second indicator is from the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Survey (2007). I use “there is only one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion,” as a measure of fundamentalism.
Another Pew question, “religion is very important in my life” is used as a (third) indicator of religiosity (but not necessarily fundamentalism).
A final indicator—each state’s laws on same sex marriage, four levels ranging from “approves same-sex marriage” to “bans same-sex marriage”—measures its friendliness to same-sex marriage.
Here’s what I found: The strongest relationship (correlation 0.49 with a p-value 0.08) is between low divorce rates and the liberalism of the state, according to 2008 election results. The more liberal the state, the more likely it is to have a lower divorce rate.
I found a relationship (correlation 0.49 with a p-value 0.07) between same-sex marriage approval and lower divorce rates. However, this variable is almost binary, and might benefit from a better method of testing.
Another relationship (correlation 0.25 with a p-value 0.33) is between high divorce rates and fundamentalist views. The more fundamentalist the state, the more likely it has a higher divorce rate.
I found no relationship between divorce rates and “religion is very important in my life.” This indicator doesn’t relate to a state’s divorce rate one way or another.
Of course, a “correlation” doesn’t prove a “causal” relationship. Some elements appear together frequently, but aren’t related in the sense that one variable affects the other in statistically significant ways. They’re spurious correlations.
So we can’t jump to the conclusion that states fail at marriage partly because of their conservative family values, their non-liberal attitudes, and their intolerance to same-sex marriage. It’s tempting to do just that—since this is essentially what politicians have said about liberals for some time now.
I’m not a social scientist, so I can’t design, or envision, the research that might determine if there are, indeed, deeper relationships between values and divorce rates. I mean a more rigorous quantitative investigation, as opposed to many existing—and valuable—qualitative works, or those based on literature review.
I’m not sure that such research would be possible within statistical parameters. Some of the more advanced techniques might be able to tease out the influence of community-level variables, such as values, on individual behaviors, such as divorce (Hierarchical Linear Modeling, perhaps?).
But, what I wish that I could learn from future research, based on these preliminary numbers, is: What do values have to do with marriage outcomes within communities?
It’s an important question, because a formative political rhetoric for decades—and the whole premise of the culture war—has posited that liberal values have weakened marriage.
This political rhetoric assumes two things, both of which our regressions call into question: First, it assumes that values are relevant to marital outcomes. Second, it assumes that conservative family values support marriage, while liberal values don’t.
A null hypothesis would be that there is nothing--no meaningful relationship between values and divorce rates. And that constitutes bad news for the cultural warrior because it calls into question why they’re waging a culture war to defend marriage, when values aren’t the strongest drivers of divorce (perhaps income, poverty, and education are stronger drivers).
In contrast, the hypothesis would be that values do matter in divorce rates, in some measurable although not exclusive way. But, if that hypothesis were supported by future research, then it also would constitute bad news for social conservatives because state-by-state data suggest that liberal values are more marriage-supportive.
Sounds like heads I win, tails you lose. But I await an enterprising Ph.D. student to find out.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.