Friday, September 18, 2009

Wait, You Mean... Losing a Parent is a Bad Thing?


It's all so confusing. First, relying upon the best social data he can muster, David Brooks tells us,
[Sonia Sotomayor's] father died when she was 9, leaving one such gap [in her relationships]. (It is amazing how many people who suffer parental loss between the ages of 9 and 13 go on to become astounding high achievers.)
(Usual challenge: Okay, David... how many?) But then Michael Gerson insists,
[T]he fatherless are some of the most disadvantaged, betrayed people in our society, prone to delinquency, poverty and academic failure.
I can almost imagine a debate between Gerson and Brooks over whether having your parent die is better for you than divorce, or whether divorcing parents should also aim for the "age 9 through 13" sweet spot. Fortunately I am able to stop myself.

Gerson's imagining "the good old days" when people engaged in "courtship", married for life, and raised kids in intact marriages. I suspect, though, he would be just as happy with the other "good old days" when marriages were arranged and divorces were available only to the wealthy and influential.

While it's interesting to see the overlap in "thinking" style between Brooks (with his "hasty generalization") and Gerson (with his trust in a shallow conventional wisdom that suits his argument), life isn't that simple. Many children of divorce (or whose parents never marry) do "just fine, thank you very much," and don't need Gerson's condescension. Some kids of divorced parents, for economic reasons, end up living in a less safe, higher crime neighborhood, attending more dangerous, lower quality schools, and having less supervision after school. For others, the roots of bad behavior may lie in what comes before a parent pulls them out of a drunken, drug-addicted or violent household. Some unfortunate kids experience both. Yet Gerson can't see past the parents' break-up.

When possible, I do think that kids are better off being raised in a healthy two-parent household. When that's not possible, either because the household is physically or psychologically dangerous, kids are better off when the non-custodial parent pays adequate, timely child support.

Shifting subjects a bit, Gerson tells us that
the average age at which people marry has grown later; it is now about 26 for women, 28 for men.
He later contends,
Divorce rates trend downward until leveling off in the early 20s. But people who marry after 27 tend to have less happy marriages - perhaps because partners are set in their ways or have unrealistically high standards. The marital sweet spot seems to be in the early to mid-20s.
So... everything would be better if we could just convince the average guy to marry one year earlier? Seriously, do you think that the statistics for divorce based on age at the time of marriage might be skewed by second (and subsequent) marriages, that are well-documented to have higher rates of divorce?
Teen marriage is generally a bad idea, with much higher rates of divorce. Romeo and Juliet were, in fact, young fools.
I realize Gerson's trying to be amusing, but his quip highlights how he yearns for the "Ozzie and Harriet" version of the good old days, whether or not it actually existed, as opposed to what occurred through much of human history. Juliet had been promised to another man. She was getting married, even if not to Romeo.

In an alternate version of Romeo and Juliet, they hate each other but their parents decide that their marriage will be a useful way to mend the rift between the families and bring together their wealth, power and influence, and so it is done. As they live in Fourteenth Century Italy, divorce is not an option. But Romeo doesn't mind so much because marriage to Juliet is his duty... and, consistent with his station in life, he has a mistress or two on the side. And the children turn out okay because, as their parents remain married, they have a consistent caregiver in the form of their... nurse. Ah, the good old days.

1 comment:

  1. There's David Brooks and his conservative family values. If only more parents loved their children enough to, er, kill themselves?

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