Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Immigration: No Correlation With Crime

Immigration: No Correlation With Crime

 A Los Angeles Police Department leads a man suspected of kidnapping to a patrol car.
A Los Angeles police officer leads a man suspected of kidnapping to a patrol car.
Robert Nickelserg / Getty

Despite our melting-pot roots, Americans have often been quick to blame the influx of immigrants for rising crime rates. But new research released Monday shows that immigrants in California are, in fact, far less likely than U.S.-born Californians are to commit crime. While people born abroad make up about 35% of California's adult population, they account for only about 17% of the adult prison population, the report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) showed. Indeed, among men ages 18 to 40 — the demographic most likely to be imprisoned — those born in the U.S. were 10 times more likely than foreign-born men to be incarcerated.
"From a public safety standpoint, there would be little reason to limit immigration," says Kristin Butcher, an economics professor at Wellesley College and one of the report's authors.
The new report even bolsters claims by some academics that increased immigration makes the United States safer. A second study, released earlier this month by Washington-based nonprofit Immigration Policy Center, found that on the national level, U.S.-born men ages 18-39 are five times more likely to be incarcerated than are their foreign-born peers. And, while the number of illegal immigrants in the country doubled between 1994 and 2005, violent crime declined by nearly 35% and property crimes by 26% over the same period. The PPIC even determined that on average, between 2000 and 2005, cities such as Los Angeles that took in a higher share of recent immigrants saw their crime rates fall further than cities with a lower influx of illegals.
Driving these statistics, researchers believe, are the same factors that drive immigration in the first place. "People who make the decision to come here from another country want to get ahead, establish a better life," says Harvard sociology professor Robert Sampson. "That dream is not something they're likely to risk by getting arrested."
Sampson and colleagues recently examined more than 3,000 violent acts committed in Chicago from 1995 to 2003, analyzing police records, census data and a survey of more than 8,000 residents. They discovered what Sampson calls the "Latino Paradox" — first-generation Mexican immigrants were 45% less likely to engage in violence than third-generation Americans. This pattern continued into the second generation, which was 22% less likely to be violent. Similar trends have been seen in New York and Miami, both of which have large immigrant enclaves. "Immigrant communities are often responsible for revitalizing the urban neighborhoods that they live in," Sampson says. The irony of people's popular misconceptions, he adds, is "that the longer one is exposed to American culture, the more likely you are to participate in violence."
Critics note that studies such as those mentioned above rarely distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. Reliable data that separates the two groups is hard to find, but Indiana University economist Eric Rasmusen has culled figures from a 2005 GAO report on foreigners incarcerated in Federal and state prisons to calculate that illegal immigrants commit 21% of all crime in the United States, costing the country more than $84 billion. Rasmusen contends the distinction is important because immigrants with a green card or U.S. citizenship have already jumped through several legal hoops to live and work in the U.S., including a background check into any prior criminal record back home. "Legal immigrants are by definition unusually law-abiding," Rasmusen wrote last June. But Professor Daniel Mears, a Florida State University criminologist, argues that such reasoning can also be turned on its head. "If someone is here illegally," Mears asks, "why would they call attention to themselves by committing a crime?"
Steven Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tighter immigration controls, warns that even if immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, their children and grandchildren may be more likely to end up on the wrong side of the law. He points out that U.S. Department of Justice statistics show that Hispanics make up 20% of state and Federal prison populations in 2005, a rise of 43% since 1990. At that rate, one in every six Hispanic males born in the U.S. today can expect to be imprisoned during his lifetime — more than double the rate for non-Hispanic whites, but lower than that of African-Americans of the same age. "That means the children and grandchildren of immigrants are committing a lot of crime, making this a long-term problem," Camarota says, before adding, "That's much worse news."
Whatever the findings of the latest PPIC research, it will do little to cool the passions on either side of the issue. When debating immigration, says Mears, "it doesn't matter what the empirical evidence shows; people react with their gut feelings first."
The original version of this article stated that Daniel Mears is a professor of criminology at the University of Florida. In fact, Daniel Mears is a professor of criminology at Florida State University.

After Immigrant Raid, Iowans Ask Why

After Immigrant Raid, Iowans Ask Why

Two woman attend a press conference at Saint Bridget Parish in Postville, Iowa.
Two women attend a press conference at Saint Bridget Parish in Postville, Iowa.
Jessica Reilly / Telegraph Herald / AP

In this small northeastern Iowan town surrounded by newly planted cornfields, a middle-aged white woman walks into the local Guatemalan restaurant with her arm around a Hispanic child who is sobbing because she can't find her mother. After conferring with a restaurant worker, the woman takes the child nearby to St. Bridget's, a small 1970s-era brick Catholic church on a quiet tree-lined street that has become command central for what people in this community of 2,273 describe as a "disaster relief response."

In the aftermath of the nation's largest single-site immigration raid — a May 12 raid of a Postville-based meatpacking plant, Agriprocessors Inc. that took 389 workers into custody — Hispanic children and adults here remain fearful. And many white residents remain hard at work helping the people left behind — mostly women from Guatemala and Mexico and their children. To date, 270 illegal immigrant workers have pleaded guilty to unusually tough federal criminal charges of working with false documents and have received five-month prison sentences followed by deportation. About 40 female workers have been released temporarily to care for children. Suddenly without income, job prospects or spouses, they await court dates.
Many Hispanics, legal or not, fear that the immigration agents will return. (The original goal had been to arrest 697 of the plant's 968 workers.) On the first chaotic day of the raid, about 400 people fled to the church seeking safety, food, shelter, medical care and the whereabouts of family members. Now, Postville residents led by religious leaders have spontaneously stitched together a safety net. Their argument: if this were a natural disaster, FEMA would be here but instead it's a man-made tragedy and the government is providing little help. "It is my privilege to serve the needs of these people," says Sister Mary McCauley, a petite, white-haired woman with a kind smile who is St. Bridget's pastoral administrator. "[but] I don't know why they have left it to the faith community alone."
Responding with an outpouring of donated goods, money, time and caring, the volunteers are fueled by compassion, duty, and, increasingly, frustration and fury. They know too that immigrants have helped make Agriprocessors the nation's largest kosher meat processor and, in turn, helped Postville prosper while many small Iowa towns struggle. "They're being preyed upon," says John Schlee, 71, a volunteer wearing overalls and a farm implement company cap. "They're doing work that the American workers don't want to do. They're searching for a better life and now their families are being torn apart."
Anti-immigrant sentiment and ethnic tensions are not unknown in this unusually diverse Iowa small town, whose residents include descendants of German and Norwegian Lutherans and Irish Catholics as well as more recent arrivals — Latin Americans, Ukrainians and Hasidic Jews drawn here by the plant. A few angry people have called the church, complaining about its care of "criminals." But volunteers like Ardie Kuhse, 60, shrug this off. "Yes, they were illegal. But they were working. Is that a crime? They're a part of our community," says Kuhse, near tears as she recalls trying to calm children after the raid.
On the weekend before Memorial Day, St. Bridget's social hall bustled with Hispanic families seeking financial and legal advice, including Sylvia Ruiz, 40, and Marta Veronica, 32, Guatemalans who wore electronic ankle bracelets. "We can't work. We can't provide for our kids. God bless the church," says Veronica, speaking through a Spanish interpreter. She is looking after a daughter and two teen-age nephews, who were among several minors detained and later released. Cooking meals, making beds, unloading trucks and running errands, the volunteers include people from Postville, other Iowa communities and beyond — lawyers, religious leaders, staff from a nonprofit Latino aid center in Waterloo and students and faculty from Iowa colleges.
At one card table, a Cornell College student helped people locate family and friends. Above them hung an Iowa map pocked with post-it notes showing the locations of detention centers. Nearby, a Lutheran minister conferred with a Hasidic man who runs the local kosher grocery store. At another card table, two nuns filled out a raid "registration and care" form for two Hispanic men, assisted by two Luther College students acting as interpreters.
Donations are being used to help pay for necessities like rent and utilities. In the church rectory, lawyers met individually with immigrants struggling to understand criminal and immigration law. The unusually rapid court proceedings have raised concerns about violations of due process. There have been allegations that workers have been exploited. Some immigrants fear eviction as replacement workers arrive and need lodging. They have other questions: Where are the men and women serving their sentences? When will the temporarily released mothers face charges? How do they get and pay for passports for children who are U.S. citizens?
Sylvia Ruiz, who is preparing for a likely return to Guatemala, has four children ages 18, 16, 7 and 2. "The little ones don't understand what's happening," she says. "The older ones do." At Postville's K-8 school, where about half of the 387 students are Hispanic and some have been at the school for years, Principal Chad Wahls predicts 70 to 120 children won't return next fall, possibly including the best friends of his third-grade daughter, who "cried and cried for days" after the raid. When school breaks for summer this week, he predicts more tears — from teachers.
Braced for months of waiting and uncertainty, many Postville residents are certain about one thing: "We have to have comprehensive immigration reform so these people who desire to work can. We have to have a way to welcome them," says Sister McCauley. "When people are so hurt, we have to take a look at the law."

Does Fatherhood Make You Happy?

Sunday, Jun. 11, 2006

Does Fatherhood Make You Happy?

Sonora Smart Dodd was listening to a sermon on self-sacrifice when she decided that her father, a widower who had raised six children, deserved his very own national holiday. Almost a century later, people all over the world spend the third Sunday in June honoring their fathers with ritual offerings of aftershave and neckties, which leads millions of fathers to have precisely the same thought at precisely the same moment: "My children," they think in unison, "make me happy."
Could all those dads be wrong?
Studies reveal that most married couples start out happy and then become progressively less satisfied over the course of their lives, becoming especially disconsolate when their children are in diapers and in adolescence, and returning to their initial levels of happiness only after their children have had the decency to grow up and go away. When the popular press invented a malady called "empty-nest syndrome," it failed to mention that its primary symptom is a marked increase in smiling.
Psychologists have measured how people feel as they go about their daily activities, and have found that people are less happy when they are interacting with their children than when they are eating, exercising, shopping or watching television. Indeed, an act of parenting makes most people about as happy as an act of housework. Economists have modeled the impact of many variables on people's overall happiness and have consistently found that children have only a small impact. A small negative impact.
Those findings are hard to swallow because they fly in the face of our most compelling intuitions. We love our children! We talk about them to anyone who will listen, show their photographs to anyone who will look and hide our refrigerators behind vast collages of their drawings, notes, pictures and report cards. We feel confident that we are happy with our kids, about our kids, for our kids and because of our kids--so why is our personal experience at odds with the scientific data?
Three reasons.
First, when something makes us happy we are willing to pay a lot for it, which is why the worst Belgian chocolate is more expensive than the best Belgian tofu. But that process can work in reverse: when we pay a lot for something, we assume it makes us happy, which is why we swear to the wonders of bottled water and Armani socks. The compulsion to care for our children was long ago written into our DNA, so we toil and sweat, lose sleep and hair, play nurse, housekeeper, chauffeur and cook, and we do all that because nature just won't have it any other way. Given the high price we pay, it isn't surprising that we rationalize those costs and conclude that our children must be repaying us with happiness.
Second, if the Red Sox and the Yankees were scoreless until Manny Ramirez hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, you can be sure that Boston fans would remember it as the best game of the season. Memories are dominated by their most powerful--and not their most typical--instances. Just as a glorious game-winning homer can erase our memory of 812 dull innings, the sublime moment when our 3-year-old looks up from the mess she is making with her mashed potatoes and says, "I wub you, Daddy," can erase eight hours of no, not yet, not now and stop asking. Children may not make us happy very often, but when they do, that happiness is both transcendent and amnesic.
Third, although most of us think of heroin as a source of human misery, shooting heroin doesn't actually make people feel miserable. It makes them feel really, really good--so good, in fact, that it crowds out every other source of pleasure. Family, friends, work, play, food, sex--none can compete with the narcotic experience; hence all fall by the wayside. The analogy to children is all too clear. Even if their company were an unremitting pleasure, the fact that they require so much company means that other sources of pleasure will all but disappear. Movies, theater, parties, travel--those are just a few of the English nouns that parents of young children quickly forget how to pronounce. We believe our children are our greatest joy, and we're absolutely right. When you have one joy, it's bound to be the greatest.
Our children give us many things, but an increase in our average daily happiness is probably not among them. Rather than deny that fact, we should celebrate it. Our ability to love beyond all measure those who try our patience and weary our bones is at once our most noble and most human quality. The fact that children don't always make us happy--and that we're happy to have them nonetheless--is the fact for which Sonora Smart Dodd was so grateful. She thought we would all do well to remember it, every third Sunday in June.
Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert is the author of Stumbling on Happiness. To read an interview, go to

As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public Is Concerned about Social Impact

As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public Is Concerned about Social Impact

Generation Gap in Values, Behaviors


Executive Summary

  • A Generation Gap in Behaviors and Values. Younger adults attach far less moral stigma than do their elders to out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation without marriage. They engage in these behaviors at rates unprecedented in U.S. history. Nearly four-in-ten (36.8%) births in this country are to an unmarried woman. Nearly half (47%) of adults in their 30s and 40s have spent a portion of their lives in a cohabiting relationship.
  • Public Concern over the Delinking of Marriage and Parenthood. Adults of all ages consider unwed parenting to be a big problem for society. At the same time, however, just four-in-ten (41%) say that children are very important to a successful marriage, compared with 65% of the public who felt this way as recently as 1990.
  • Marriage Remains an Ideal, Albeit a More Elusive One. Even though a decreasing percentage of the adult population is married, most unmarried adults say they want to marry. Married adults are more satisfied with their lives than are unmarried adults.
  • Children Still Vital to Adult Happiness. Children may be perceived as less central to marriage, but they are as important as ever to their parents. As a source of adult happiness and fulfillment, children occupy a pedestal matched only by spouses and situated well above that of jobs, career, friends, hobbies and other relatives.
  • Cohabitation Becomes More Prevalent. With marriage exerting less influence over how adults organize their lives and bear their children, cohabitation is filling some of the vacuum. Today about a half of all nonmarital births are to a cohabiting couple; 15 years ago, only about a third were. Cohabiters are ambivalent about marriage – just under half (44%) say they to want marry; a nearly equal portion (41%) say they aren't sure.
  • Divorce Seen as Preferable to an Unhappy Marriage. Americans by lopsided margins endorse the mom-and-dad home as the best setting in which to raise children. But by equally lopsided margins, they believe that if married parents are very unhappy with one another, divorce is the best option, both for them and for their children.
  • Racial Patterns are Complex. Blacks are much less likely than whites to marry and much more likely to have children outside of marriage. However, an equal percentage of both whites and blacks (46% and 44%, respectively) consider it morally wrong to have a child out of wedlock. Hispanics, meantime, place greater importance than either whites or blacks do on children as a key to a successful marriage – even though they have a higher nonmarital birth rate than do whites.
  • Survey Sample and Methods. These findings are from a telephone survey conducted from February 16 through March 14, 2007 among a randomly-selected, nationally representative sample of 2,020 adults.


Americans believe that births to unwed women are a big problem for society, and they take a mixed view at best of cohabitation without marriage. Yet these two nontraditional behaviors have become commonplace among younger adults, who have a different set of moral values from their elders about sex, marriage and parenthood, a new Pew Research Center Survey finds.
This generational values gap helps to explain the decades-long surge in births to unmarried women – which now comprise nearly four-in-ten (37%) births in the United States – as well as the sharp rise in living together without getting married, which, the Pew survey finds, is something that nearly half of all adults in their 30s and 40s have done for at least a portion of their lives.
But this generational divide is only part of a more complex story. Americans of all ages, this survey finds, acknowledge that there has been a distinct weakening of the link between marriage and parenthood. In perhaps the single most striking finding from the survey, just 41% of Americans now say that children are "very important" to a successful marriage, down sharply from the 65% who said this in a 1990 survey.
Indeed, children have fallen to eighth out of nine on a list of items that people associate with successful marriages – well behind "sharing household chores," "good housing," "adequate income," "happy sexual relationship," and "faithfulness." Back in 1990, when the American public was given this same list on a World Values Survey, children ranked third in importance.
The new Pew survey also finds that, by a margin of nearly three-to-one, Americans say that the main purpose of marriage is the "mutual happiness and fulfillment" of adults rather than the "bearing and raising of children."
In downgrading the importance of children to marriage, public opinion both reflects and facilitates the upheavals in marital and parenting patterns that have taken place over the past several decades.
In the United States today, marriage exerts less influence over how adults organize their lives and how children are born and raised than at any time in the nation's history. Only about half of all adults (ages 18 and older) in the U.S. are married; only about seven-in-ten children live with two parents; and nearly four-in-ten births are to unwed mothers, according to U.S. Census figures. As recently as the early 1970s, more than six-in-ten adults in this country were married; some 85% of children were living with two parents; and just one-birth-in-ten was to an unwed mother.
Americans take a dim view of these trends, the Pew survey finds. More than seven-in-ten (71%) say the growth in births to unwed mothers is a "big problem." About the same proportion – 69% – says that a child needs both a mother and a father to grow up happily.
Not surprisingly, however, attitudes are much different among those adults who have themselves engaged in these nontraditional behaviors. For example, respondents in the survey who are never-married parents (about 8% of all parents) are less inclined than ever-married parents to see unmarried childbearing as bad for society or morally wrong. They're also less inclined to say a child needs both a mother and father to grow up happily. Demographically, this group is more likely than ever-married parents to be young, black or Hispanic,1 less educated, and to have been raised by an unwed parent themselves.
There is another fast-growing group – cohabiters – that has a distinctive set of attitudes and moral codes about these matters. According to the Pew survey, about a third of all adults (and more than four-in-ten adults under age 50) have, at some point in their lives, been in a cohabiting relationship with a person to whom they were not married. This group is less likely that the rest of the adult population to believe that premarital sex is wrong. They're less prone to say that it's bad for society that more people are living together without getting married. Demographically, this group is more likely than the rest of the adult population to be younger, black, and secular rather than religious.


But while this survey finds that people in nontraditional marital and parenting situations tend to have attitudes that track with their behaviors, it does not show that they place less value than others on marriage as a pathway to personal happiness.
To the contrary, both the never-married parents as well as the cohabiters in our survey tend to be more skeptical than others in the adult population that a person can lead a complete and fulfilled life if he or she remains single. This may reflect the fact that never-married parents as well as cohabiters tend to be less satisfied with their current lives than is the rest of the population. For many of them, marriage appears to represent an ideal – albeit an elusive, unrealized one.
Along these same lines, the survey finds that low income adults are more likely than middle income or affluent adults to cite the ability to meet basic economic needs (in the form of adequate income and good housing) as a key to a successful marriage. Adults with lower socioeconomic status – reflected by either education or income levels –also are less likely than others to marry, perhaps in part because they can't meet this economic bar.
And it's this decline in marriage that is at the heart of the sharp growth in nonmarital childbearing. This trend has not been primarily driven – as some popular wisdom has it – on an increase in births to teenage mothers. To the contrary, those rates have been falling for several decades. Rather the sharp increase in nonmarital births is being driven by the fact that an ever greater percentage of women in their 20s, 30s and older are delaying or forgoing marriage but having children.
The Pew survey was conducted by telephone from February 16 through March 14, 2007 among a randomly selected, nationally-representative sample of 2,020 adults. It has a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.


The survey finds that while children may have become less central to marriage, they are as important as ever to their parents. Asked to weigh how important various aspects of their lives are to their personal happiness and fulfillment, parents in this survey place their relationships with their children on a pedestal rivaled only by their relationships with their spouses – and far above their relationships with their parents, friends, or their jobs or career. This is true both for married and unmarried parents. In fact, relatively speaking, children are most pre-eminent in the lives of unwed parents.
The survey also finds that Americans retain traditional views about the best family structure in which to raise children. More than two-thirds (69%) say that a child needs both a mother and father to grow up happily. This question has been posed periodically over the past quarter century,2 and – even as the percentage of children who live with both a mother and father has dropped steadily during this time period – public opinion has remained steadfastly in favor of a home with a mom and a dad.
In keeping with these traditional views, the public strongly disapproves of single women having children. Among the various demographic changes that have affected marriage and parenting patterns in recent decades – including more women working outside the home; more people living together without getting married; more first marriages at a later age; and more unmarried women having children – it's the latter trend that draws the most negative assessments by far.
Two-thirds (66%) of all respondents say that single women having children is bad for society, and nearly as many (59%) say the same about unmarried couples having children. No other social change we asked about in this particular battery drew a thumbs-down from more than half of respondents.


While the public strongly prefers the traditional mother-and-father home, this endorsement has some clear limits. By a margin of 67% to 19%, Americans say that when there is a marriage in which the parents are very unhappy with one another, their children are better off if the parents get divorced. Similarly, by a margin of 58% to 38%, more Americans agree with the statement that "divorce is painful, but preferable to maintaining an unhappy marriage" than agree with the statement that "divorce should be avoided except in an extreme situation."
Thus, public attitudes toward divorce and single parenting have taken different paths over the past generation. When it comes to divorce, public opinion has become more accepting.3 When it comes to single parenting, public opinion has remained quite negative.
The oddity is that rates of divorce, after more than doubling from 1960 to 1980, have declined by about a third in recent decades, despite this greater public acceptance. On the other hand, the rates of births to unwed mothers have continued to rise, despite the steadfast public disapproval. Some 37% of all births in the U.S. in 2005 were to an unwed mother, up from just 5% in 1960. This rapid growth is not confined to the U.S. Rates of births to unwed mothers also have risen sharply in the United Kingdom and Canada, where they are at about the same levels as they are in the U.S. And they've reached even higher levels in Western and Northern European countries such as France, Denmark and Sweden.

Public Opinion by Demographic Groups

The group differences in public opinion on these matters tend to be correlated with age, religion, race and ethnicity, as well as with the choices that people have made in their own marital and parenting lives. There are some, but not many, differences by gender. Here is a rundown of the key differences by group.

Age, Religiosity and Political Conservatism

As noted above, the Pew survey finds that older adults – who came of age prior to the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s – are more conservative than younger and middle-aged adults in their views on virtually all of these matters of marriage and parenting. Thus, some of the overall change in public opinion is the result of what scholars call "generational replacement." That is, as older generations die off and are replaced by younger generations, public opinion shifts to reflect the attitudes of the age cohorts that now make up the bulk of the adult population.
Even among the younger generations (ages 18 to 64), however, our survey finds substantial differences in attitudes that fall along the fault lines of religion and ideology rather than age.
White evangelical Protestants and people of all faiths who attend religious services at least weekly hold more conservative viewpoints on pretty much the whole gamut of questions asked on the Pew survey. This is true across all age groups. For example, white evangelical Protestants are more likely than other religious groups to consider premarital sex morally wrong.
They are more likely to consider the rise in unmarried childbearing and cohabitation bad for society and more likely to agree that a child needs both a mother and father to be happy. They also are more likely to say legal marriage is very important when a couple plans to have children together or plans to spend the rest of their lives together. Further, white evangelical Protestants are more likely than white mainline Protestants to say that divorce should be avoided except in extreme circumstances and to consider it better for the children when parents remain married, though very unhappy with each other. In sum, white evangelical Protestants have a strong belief in the importance of marriage and strong moral prescriptions against premarital sex and childbearing outside of marriage.
The pattern is the same among those of any faith who attend religious services more frequently, compared with less frequent attendees. And it is the same for political conservatives compared with their more moderate or liberal counterparts.

Race and Ethnicity

The racial and ethnic patterns in public opinion on these matters are more complex. Blacks and Hispanic are more likely than whites to bear children out of wedlock. And yet these minority groups, our survey finds, also are more inclined than whites to place a high value on the importance of children to a successful marriage. Indeed, they place higher value than whites do on the importance of most of the ingredients of a successful marriage that this survey asked about – especially the economic components. But blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to be married. One possible explanation to emerge from this survey is that many members of these minority groups may be setting a high bar for marriage that they themselves cannot reach, whether for economic or other reasons.
As noted above, there are sharp generational differences in views about the morality of unwed parenting. However, there is no significant difference on this front by race or ethnicity; blacks, Hispanics and whites are about equally likely to say it is wrong for unmarried women to have children. There are small differences along racial and ethnic lines when it comes to evaluating the impact on society of the growing numbers of children born out of wedlock. Hispanics are somewhat less negative about this phenomenon than are whites and blacks, between whom there is no statistically significant difference.
When it comes to the relationship between marriage and children, Hispanics again stand out. They are more inclined than either whites or blacks to consider having and raising children to be the main purpose of marriage (even so, however, a majority of Hispanics say that adult happiness and fulfillment is the main purpose of a marriage). Also, Hispanics – more so than either blacks or whites – consider children "very important" for a successful marriage.
But when considering a broader range of characteristics of a successful marriage, it is whites who stand apart. They are much less likely than either blacks or Hispanics to consider adequate income, good housing and children to be "very important" to a successful marriage. And they are somewhat less likely to rate various measures of compatibility (see chart) as being important as well. To some degree all these racial and ethnic differences reflect the differing socioeconomic circumstances of whites, blacks and Hispanics. People with higher incomes and education levels – regardless of their race and ethnicity – tend to rate these various characteristics as less important to marriage than do people with a lower socio-economic status.
When it comes to views about divorce, whites and, especially, Hispanics are more likely than blacks to say that divorce is preferable to maintaining an unhappy marriage. However, about two-thirds of all three groups say that it is better for the children if their very unhappy parents divorce rather than stay together.
Views about cohabitation are similar for blacks and whites, while Hispanics are a bit less negative about the impact of cohabitation on society. But the similarities between blacks and whites masks divisions of opinion within each group. Among whites, the difference of opinion between generations is particularly sharp – with 55% of whites ages 50 and older saying that living together is bad for society, compared with 38% among younger whites, a difference of 17 percentage points. The comparable difference between older and younger blacks is just 9 percentage points. Among older blacks and whites, the balance of opinion is tilted in the negative direction. For younger whites (ages 18 to 49), a plurality hold a neutral assessment of the impact on society of couples living together without marrying. Among younger blacks, opinion about cohabitation is more divided; 48% of this group considers living together bad for society while 45% take a neutral position and 5% say it is good for society.
To some degree, views about cohabitation reflect differing moral assessments of premarital sex. Blacks are more likely than whites and Hispanics to say that premarital sex is always or almost always morally wrong – and this is true even after group differences in age are taken into account. Those who consider premarital sex wrong also tend to consider cohabitation bad for society, while those who say premarital sex is not wrong or is only wrong in some circumstances are more likely to say the cohabitation trend makes no difference for society.
When it comes to marital and parenting behaviors (as opposed to attitudes), a number of racial and ethnic patterns stand out.
More than eight-in-ten white adults in this country have been married, compared with just seven-in-ten Hispanic adults and slightly more than half (54%) of all black adults. Among blacks, there is a strong correlation between frequent church attendance, moral disapproval of premarital sex and the tendency to marry. Among whites (who marry at much higher rates) this relationship is not as strong.
Among those who have ever been married, blacks (38%) and whites (34%) are more likely than Hispanics (23%) to have been divorced. Blacks also are somewhat more likely than whites or Hispanics to have cohabited without marriage. But all three groups, this survey finds, are equally likely to have had children.
Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to have children out of wedlock. For all groups, this behavior also is strongly correlated with lower educational attainment. For blacks and Hispanics (more so than for whites), frequent church attendance correlates negatively with the likelihood of being an unwed parent.


The Pew survey finds a great deal of common ground between men and women on issues surrounding marriage and parenting. There are some small differences, however. While men and women are about equally likely to see unmarried parenting as a problem for society, men are a bit more negative than women about unmarried parenting when no male partner is involved in raising the children. Similarly, men are a little more likely than women to believe that children need both a mother and father to be happy. Women, on the other hand, are a bit more likely than men to consider divorce preferable to maintaining an unhappy marriage; they also believe more strongly than men that divorce is the better option for children when the marriage is very unhappy. On other matters – such as the main purpose of marriage or the characteristics of a successful marriage – there are few differences.

Education and Income

College-educated adults and high-income adults marry at higher rates and divorce at lower rates than do those with less education and income. They are also less likely to have children outside of marriage.4
However, despite the sharp differences by socio-economic status in marital and parenting behaviors, there are only minor differences by socio-economic status in values and attitudes about marriage and parenting. Adults with higher incomes and more education tend to be slightly less inclined than others to say that premarital sex and nonmarital births are always morally wrong. The college educated also are slightly less inclined than the less educated to say it is very important for couples to legally marry if they plan to spend their lives together. Similarly, those with a college education are a little more likely to say that a man or woman can lead a complete and happy life if he or she remains single.
There are no more than minimal differences by education or income when it comes to views about the impact on society of unmarried childbirths and of cohabitation.

Family Background

The Pew survey finds some strong correlations between the kinds of family arrangements that respondents experienced growing up and their own behaviors in adulthood. For example, among respondents who are themselves products of parents who never married, about a third (32%) are themselves never-married parents. By comparison, just 5% of the general adult population are products of never-married parents.
Family background in childhood plays a smaller role, however, in predicting adult attitudes (as opposed to behaviors) about whether unmarried parenting is bad for society and morally wrong. Once age differences are taken into account, those whose parents never married are just a bit less negative than those whose parents married and never divorced about the impact of unmarried childbearing on society.
Respondents with parents who divorced are just as likely as other respondents to take the position that divorce is painful but preferable to maintaining an unhappy marriage. Similarly, among people ages 18 to 49, the now grown children of divorce hold about the same views as those who grew up in a traditional-married-parent arrangement on whether divorce is better for children than parents staying in an unhappy marriage. On the other hand, those respondents whose parents divorced are less likely than other respondents to believe that a child needs a home with both a mother and a father to grow up happily.

Moral Beliefs, Attitudes and Behaviors

There are close relationships between behaviors, attitudes and moral beliefs when it comes to the subjects of unwed parenting and cohabitation, the Pew survey finds. For example, those who have fewer moral reservations about premarital sex and are positive or neutral about the impact of living together on society also are more likely to have lived with a partner themselves. Similarly, those who are positive or neutral about the social impact of unmarried parenting and less likely to consider it morally wrong are also more likely to be in this situation themselves. It is not possible from this survey to disentangle which came first--the moral beliefs, the attitudes, or the behaviors--but it is clear they tend to go hand-in-hand.
Statistical analysis of these survey findings shows that having less education and being black or Hispanic are traits associated with being a never-married parent. Attending religious services less often also is associated with being an unmarried parent, particularly among blacks and Hispanics.
On the other side of the coin, those who believe that having children without being married is wrong are less likely to be a never-married parent. Also, those who consider the rise in unmarried parents bad for society are less likely to be unmarried parents.
A statistical analysis of factors correlated with ever having lived with a partner outside of marriage shows that cohabiters are younger, more likely to be black, and, after controlling for other demographic factors, less likely to be Hispanic. They are also less likely to attend religious services frequently. There is a strong relationship between moral beliefs about premarital sex and cohabitation history; those who consider premarital sex always wrong are less likely to have cohabited than others. They are also less likely to have cohabited than those who say living together is bad for society – suggesting that the more powerful stigma against cohabitation comes from concerns about morality rather than from concerns about social consequences.
A different pattern emerges when looking at differences between married people who have – and haven't – been divorced. Here, the demographic and attitudinal factors do little to predict the probability of experience with divorce.
There are a few exceptions, however. Catholics are bit less likely than members of other religious groups to have been divorced. And there is a modest correlation between having been divorced and believing that divorce is better for the children than maintaining a very unhappy marriage.
But in the main, experience with divorce cuts across all demographic subgroups more evenly than does experience either with unmarried parenting or with cohabitation. The belief that divorce is preferable to maintaining an unhappy marriage is widely shared by both those who have and have not been divorced.
The body of this report provides a deeper analysis of attitudes and behaviors on all these matters. It is presented in five sections:
I. Nonmarital Childbearing
II. Modern Marriage
III. Cohabitation
IV. Divorce
V. Gay Marriage, Civil Unions and Same-Sex Couples Raising Children


1Throughout this report, the term blacks or whites refers to non-Hispanic blacks or whites, respectively. Hispanics are of any race. The survey included an oversample of blacks and Hispanics. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.
2See the World Values Surveys conducted in the U.S. in 1982, 1990, 1995 and 1999.
3See for example, Thornton, Arland and Linda Young-DeMarco. 2001. "Four Decades of Trends in Attitudes Toward Family Issues in the United States: The 1960s Through the 1990s." Journal of Marriage and Family, 63: 1009-1037.
4Bianchi, Suzanne M. and Lynne M. Casper. 2000. "American Families." Population Bulletin 55(4). Population Reference Bureau.

Why are People Having Fewer Kids?

Why are People Having Fewer Kids?

Perhaps it's because they don't like them very much.

Ronald Bailey | February 26, 2008
The "demographic winter" is coming. So warns a new documentary of the same name. What is the demographic winter? The phrase, according to the film's promotional materials, "denotes the worldwide decline in birthrates, also referred to as the 'birth dearth,' and what that portends." The first half of Demographic Winter was previewed at the conservative Heritage Foundation a couple of weeks ago. According the film, the demographic winter augurs little good, e.g., economic collapse and social deterioration. If current trends continue world population should begin a steep decline sometime around the middle of the 21st century. Why?

Because total fertility rates (TFRs) are plummeting around the world. Population stability is achieved when each woman bears an average of 2.1 kids over the course of her lifetime—one for her, one for her male partner, and a little overage to make up to childhood deaths. Today, there are sixty countries in which TFRs are below 2.1. For example, the European Union's TFR is 1.5 and no EU member state has a TFR at replacement or above. Even high population developing countries have seen steep declines in fertility. Since 1970, China's TFR fell from 5.8 to 1.6; India's from 5.8 to 2.9; Indonesia from 5.6 to 2.4; Japan's from 2.0 to 1.3; Mexico's from 6.8 to 2.4; Brazil's from 5.4 to 2.3; and South Africa's from 5.9 to 2.7. The U.S. TFR dropped from 2.55 in 1970 to around 2.1 today, largely because of the influx of higher fertility immigrants. However, the fertility of second generation Americans drops to the level of longer established Americans.

I doubt that the "demographic winter" portends economic collapse or social deterioration, but let us set that aside for this column, and instead ask why people are choosing to have fewer children? After all, voluntary childlessness seems to violate the Darwinian premise that our genes dispose us, like all other creatures, to try to reproduce.

However, demographic data are undercutting the notion that there is some kind of sociobiological nurturing imperative, economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt noted during the question period following the documentary. As evidence, he pointed to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, where 30 percent of women are childless and that Hong Kong's TFR has been below 1 birth per woman for at least a decade.

Demographic Winter
asserts that "every aspect of modernity works against family life and in favor of singleness and small families or voluntary childlessness." And surely they are right. Modern societies offer people many other satisfactions and choices outside of the family. In particular women find that their time becomes more highly valued in occupations outside the home. There are no iron laws of demography, but one that comes pretty close is that the more educated women are, the fewer children they tend to have. Eberstadt also noted the best predictor of fertility levels is the desired family size as reported by women. And finally, the most profound event of the 20th century may have been the sexual revolution's drive toward gender equality, enabled by modern contraception. Unlike other creatures, people can have the fun of sex without the side effect of parenthood.

So, modernity essentially transforms children from capital goods that produce family income into consumption items to be enjoyed for their own sakes, more akin to sculptures, paintings, or theatre. But that's just the problem—according to happiness researchers, people don't really enjoy rearing children.

"Economists have modeled the impact of many variables on people's overall happiness and have consistently found that children have only a small impact. A small negative impact," reports Harvard psychologist and happiness researcher Daniel Gilbert. In addition, the more children a person has the less happy they are. According to Gilbert, researchers have found that people derive more satisfaction from eating, exercising, shopping, napping, or watching television than taking care of their kids. "Indeed, looking after the kids appears to be only slightly more pleasant than doing housework," asserts Gilbert in his bestselling, Stumbling on Happiness (2006).

Of course, that's not what most parents say when asked. For instance, in a 2007 Pew Research Center survey people insisted that their relationships with their little darlings are of the greatest importance to their personal happiness and fulfillment. However, the same survey also found "by a margin of nearly three-to-one, Americans say that the main purpose of marriage is the 'mutual happiness and fulfillment' of adults rather than the 'bearing and raising of children.'"

Gilbert suggests that people claim their kids are their chief source of happiness largely because it's what they are expected to say. In addition, Gilbert observes that the more people pay for an item, the more highly they tend to value it and children are expensive, even if you don't throw in piano lessons, soccer camps, orthodonture, and college tuitions. Gilbert further notes that the more children people have, the less happy they tend to be. Since that is the case, it is not surprising that people are choosing to have fewer children. And if people with fewer children are happier, then people with no children must be happiest, right? Not exactly, but the data do suggest that voluntarily childless women and men are not less happy than parents. And they sure do have more money to squander as they try to pursue what happiness they can and strive to somehow fill up their allegedly empty lives.

Disclosure: My wife and I try not to flaunt our voluntarily childless lifestyle too much.

Ronald Bailey is
reason's science correspondent. His most recent book, Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution, is available from Prometheus Books.