Glad the divorce rate in America is falling? Thank millennials.

Millennials are killing everything great about our society including…divorce?

  • Despite baby boomers divorcing at record rates, millennials have managed to reduce America's divorce rate by 18 percent.
  • The secret to their success is more education and waiting until they are older to tie the knot.
  • But marriage rates have also declined as marriage becomes a status symbol in a culture of growing social inequality.

Millennials are destroying everything. At least, that's the hyperbole promoted by baby boomers through op-eds and Facebook posts.

A quick Google search will net you a bevy of articles bemoaning young Americans killing this or that aspect of our society. They are a bunch of tender snowflakes whose political correctness hampers free speech. Their addiction to technology erodes traditional family values. They are ruining the sacred institution of marriage. And the final straw? They're trying to kill straws.

But stereotypes do not constitute evidence. Data does, and a recent analysis suggests millennials are preserving at least one traditional value, marriage. In fact, today's young women are responsible for a steep deduction in America's the divorce rate — despite baby boomers divorcing at record rates.

Plummeting divorce rates

Dr. Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, wrote the analysis. Titled "The Coming Divorce Decline," it was submitted for presentation at the 2019 Population Association of America meeting.

Cohen compared the number of divorces to the total number of married women. His analysis showed that from 2008 to 2016, there was an 18 percent drop in the rate of divorce. When controlling for factors like age, the decline continues to trend downward at 8 percent.

However, not all generations are pulling their weight equally.

Contrary to the popular belief, the baby bombers have not settled down in their sunset years. The data show that boomers continue to divorce at much higher rates than previous generations. This has sparked a phenomenon called the gray divorce boom.

Writing for the L.A. Times, sociologist Susan L. Brown notes that fewer than 10 percent of divorcees in 1990 were older than 50. Today, it is one in four.

"Boomers are more likely than previous generations to have experienced divorce and remarriage," Brown writes. "And those remarriages, it turns out, are at greater risk of ending in divorce. In part, that's because these marriages tend to be more fragile due to the relationship challenges associated with forming a stepfamily."

Countering the gray divorce boom

(Photo from c1.staticflickr.com)

Today, young women are more likely to be older, have an education, and not have children before first tying the knot.

Offsetting the baby boomer divorce rate are the marriages of their millennial cohorts. Younger women are simply not showing an inclination toward separation.

Why? Cohen suggests that three major factors explain this shift. First, today's young women are more likely to be older than 25 when they get married. They are also more likely to have a college education and not have children before tying the knot. Cohen's analysis argues these factors contribute to more stable marriages and less chance of divorce.

Based on this composition of new marriages, as well as the lessening influence of the baby boomers on demographics, Cohen believes the divorce rate will continue to fall. However, his analysis also notes that this marital makeup runs the risk of making marriage more exclusive and potentially a "central component of the structure of social inequality."

"One of the reasons for the decline is that the married population is getting older and more highly educated," Cohen told Bloomberg. "Marriage is more and more an achievement of status, rather than something that people do regardless of how they're doing."

Marriage the new status symbol?

Many low income adults are choosing not to marry because of the costs associated with it.\u200b

(Photo by Wikimedia)

Many low income adults are choosing not to marry because of the costs associated with it.

It's not just divorce that's plummeting. Marriage itself is also on the downturn.

According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, American marriages peaked in 1920, when the marriage rate was at 92.3 percent. By 1960 that number dropped to 73.5, and it's been a slippery slide ever since. Today, the marriage rate hovers at around 32 percent, but appears to have stabilized.

(Note: Since Cohen's analysis used a ratio between divorces and the total number of married women, the overall declining marriage rate did not affect his outcomes.)

The Center's data also show concern that marriage is becoming a status symbol and a benchmark for growing social inequality.

Women's education has become a major factor in marriage rates. In 1940, 63 percent of women without a high school diploma were married, compared to 53 percent of women with at least a bachelor's degree. By 2016, women with a bachelor's degree were 32 percent more likely to get married than women without a high school education.

Similarly, when looking at race and ethnicity, the Center found that 60 percent of all women were married in 1940. But in the decades that followed, there developed a widening gap between women of different ethnicities. By 2016, for example, white women were nearly twice as likely to get married than black women.

According to a Pew Research survey, low income and financial instability are the major reasons why never-married adults don't tied the knot. In fact, 47 percent of those with income less than $30,000 cite low income as the main deterrent to marriage.

So, while millennials may have the divorce rate down, it may be a pyrrhic victory if they are not up to the challenge of combating growing social inequality.

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

Surprising Science
  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.