04 December 2007

As Long As It's Not For Your Children

Want to Go 'Green'? Stay Married: Divorced Households Have Negative Impact on Environment, Study Finds (Ashley Phillips, ABC News, 12/3/07)
Environmentalists who are thinking of getting a divorce may want to reconsider, a new study at Michigan State University finds.

Households in which a divorce occurs have a greater negative impact on the environment in terms of efficient use of resources than the households of married couples, according to research that will be published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The reason is simple — it's all about efficiency, says Jianguo Liu, lead author of the study who has the Rachel Carson chair in ecological sustainability at the university's department of fisheries and wildlife.
We've known for a while that children of divorce do worse on a host of measures than children whose parents don't divorce. What do people determined to divorce do about that fact? They lie to themselves about it: they just want me to be happy. This always raises the question, have these people ever met a child? Anyway, people are just perverse enough to choose divorce in spite of their own children but avoid divorce "for the children." Soon the Greens start lobbying to get rid of no-fault divorce?

There was, of course, the woman in the news recently for having chosen sterilization "for the children." Apparently she needn't have bothered; two or three can live as (carbon) cheaply as one. And if the one's Al Gore, it's apparently two or three hundred.

29 comments:

Brit said...

Is there no fun the Greens won't spoil?

Hey Skipper said...

Brit:

Howyadoin?

David:

We've known for a while that children of divorce do worse on a host of measures than children whose parents don't divorce.

Intuitively true, but perhaps the magnitude is less than alleged.

However, the two populations of adults (divorced v. not-divorced) are not the same in very important ways.

If one was to make all divorce absolutely illegal, the result would be, on average, worse outcomes for children.

Why? Prohibiting divorce does not make the problems that caused divorce in the first place, and they still affect the kids.

David said...

Skipper: Things that are true, on average, for the group are not necessarily true to any particular member of the group. All we can do when setting policy is deal with the mean. In any event, (i)it seems true that all but a few divorces are bad for the environment and (ii) I didn't even mention prohibiting divorce, but just getting rid of the modern innovation of no-fault divorces.

Brit: Welcome back, though I find that an awfully fishy comment.

Peter Burnet said...

I don't think that is the real Brit. No YouTube link.

the problems that caused divorce in the first place,

Ah yes, marriage protects the environment, lengthens life and reduces crime, poverty, and loads of other nasty things. It's good for children's mental health and could in theory make AIDS history. But we'd still have all those those darn divorce-causing problems, so what's a horny modern man to do? It's a little like Darwinism, isn't it? Just as survival proves something was selected to survive, so a divorce proves there was a problem causing it.

If I had to sum up the tragedy of modern man in one sentence, I would say it's his conviction that boredom is a "problem" he must not be expected to suffer.

Ali said...

Welcome back Brit.

guinnbob@comcast.net said...

David:

Things that are true, on average, for the group are not necessarily true to any particular member of the group.

Neither you nor Peter understood my point.

Hypothetical: Divorce laws are changed so that no woman whose husband is a heavy drinker, and beats heck out of her and the kids, may divorce.

No matter the effect of divorce on that particular set of kids, it is certain that, across a host of measures, the mean outcomes for the children of intact families would become worse.

I do not doubt for a moment that, ceteris paribus, children of divorced parents do not do as well as those of intact families.

Unfortunately, ceteris paribus does not apply, so the host of measures to which you refer admixes the children of horribly dysfunctional parent(s) with those whose parents, absent short-term thinking motivated primarily by selfishness, are indistinguishable from parents who do not divorce.

Because the two populations are not alike, statistics whose validity for comparison are premised upon identical populations should be treated with a great deal more caution than you are showing.

Anonymous said...

"If one was to make all divorce absolutely illegal, the result would be, on average, worse outcomes for children."

Who is proposing any such thing?

And I completely question whether your statement is even close to true. Is the average divorce today really due to serious problems within a marriage that put children at risk? Or is it because one parent wants to have sex with someone else or wants to "find himself" or thinks that the couple has "grown apart" or any other pathetic navel-gazing nonsense? I've never seen anything that makes me doubt that if the vast majority of divorces never happened (say 90% as a slight upper bound) that it would be better for the children involved. So in the absurd hypothetical that divorces were "absolutely illegal" you'd see improvement for 90% of the children involved, and worse outcomes for 10%, and so the average outcome would in fact improve substantially.

Hey Skipper said...

Anon:

I'm not saying that anyone is proposing such a thing -- that was a hypothetical.

Instead, I am highlighting the unavoidable problem of blithely comparing the outcomes for children of divorced and intact families across a host of measures.

The populations are not the same.

Yet the comparison treats them as if they are.

Until you can compare the children of intact families against that portion of divorced parents where the cause was completely -- or nearly so -- benign, then you have no idea how much those different outcomes are driven by divorce itself, or parental conduct that led to the divorce.

Let's say the father is a serial philanderer. Is the effect upon his daughter worse if her parents remain married, or her mother obtains a divorce?

Good luck answering that one.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, your argument is that policy cannot be changed unless the change will ensure a positive outcome for every member of society. Hence the response from David (which is basically my point as well) that "All we can do when setting policy is deal with the mean" which you ignored/dismissed. And how exactly would you propose to achieve the metaphysical certitude about the outcomes of potential policy options that you appear to be demanding before doing anything about anything?

Hey Skipper said...

Anon:

As far as I can tell, your argument is that policy cannot be changed unless the change will ensure a positive outcome for every member of society.

I think I put my argument pretty clearly, and it nothing, not even glancingly, to do with policy.

To reiterate. For the reasons I cited, it is an invidious comparison to correlate the outcomes for children of divorce compared to those of intact families.

Do this thought experiment. Rank order all the pathologies, bad conduct, and selfishness that lead to divorce.

Then progressively prohibit divorce to each, starting with the worst.

Which each group that you move from the divorced to intact family pile, the outcomes for divorced children will get better, and those of intact families will get worse.

Unless you are willing to assert that only divorce affects children, and parental misconduct is of no consequence whatever, this conclusion is inescapable.

Or, I suppose you could assert that couples who remain married differ in no meaningful ways from those who divorce.

Absent that, I don't see how you can help but agree with me that the comparison is facile.

Hence the response from David (which is basically my point as well) that "All we can do when setting policy is deal with the mean" which you ignored/dismissed.

I dismissed it because of the invidious comparison: how do you deal with a an unknown mean?

Anonymous said...

"Then progressively prohibit divorce to each, starting with the worst."

Why on earth would you do that?

If you instead start with the most trivial justifications for divorce, "I don't see how you can help but agree with me" that one can get pretty far down the pathology list (especially if we consider the relative distributions of the pathologies as justifications for divorce, which it is asserted is heavily weighted to the trivial these days) before the net outcome flips from positive to negative.

David said...

Skipper: I don't see the invidious comparison. If we get rid of "no fault" divorce (i.e., we require that people wishing to divorce show good reason, rather than simply deciding to get divorced because they feel like), then we're not comparing the children of serial philanderers to happy, well-adjusted children of the happily married. We still letting the wife kick out the serial philanderer -- and, in fact, letting it be her choice.

What we're saying is that, once you've had kids together, "I'm not happy" is not a good enough reason to get divorced because we don't care if the parents are happy, the kids don't care if the parents are happy and the kids are better off in a two unhappy parent household.

Peter Burnet said...

the kids are better off in a two unhappy parent household.

Not even that. Have you not heard the joke about the husband whose wife is cold, nagging and impossibly angry? He is exhausted at trying to please and attract her and consults a psychiatrist. Over months they discuss the dilemma and consider different strategies to improve the situation. The husband tries them all--flowers, romance, dialogue, anger, putting his foot down, threats to leave, etc. Nothing works--she is still bitter, cold and impossible. Finally, in utter despair, he finally faces up to the sad fact that the situation is outrageous and unbearable, and he concludes he must leave.

The one day he goes to his appointment with the psychiarist and says: "Doctor, it came to me last night! I've solved the problem and don't need you anyomre. We'll be just fine together from now on." The doctor says "That's great, but tell me, how have you resolved it?" Well, said the man, I was in total despair last night, contemplating the end of my marriage, planning my departure and panicking about our kids. Then I closed my eyes and suddenly it all came to me in a blinding, glorious wonderfully liberating revelation: She's not going to change".

Brit said...

Wotcha lads. I suppose I have been rather koi lately, but after flounder-ing around for something to do I suppose I had to eventually take the bait and comment.

All this cod-damn stuff keeps landing at my plaice. I think you're going to have to reel it in a bit, David.

Hey Skipper said...

Anon:

It doesn't matter which way you go. Comparing two dissimilar populations without any attempt to control for the very relevant differences simply isn't cricket; you have effectively conceded this point: at some unspecified point on the pathology list -- how you know it is "pretty far" remains something of a mystery -- kids are better off if their parents get divorced.

The devil becomes, as it almost always does, in the details. Neither you or David know where no reason becomes good reason; certainly David's use of statistics doesn't get him there, since his comparison groups all reasons under "divorce is way very bad."

Lumping the serial philanderers with the merely angsted, which David's use of statistics does, directly contradicts his assertion he is not, in effect, using the former to bolster his case against the latter.

I very clearly understand your point regarding that being merely angsted is insufficient reason for divorce; heck, I agree with you.

Unfortunately, the evidentiary basis you use to make your point is tainted.

At which point on the pathology ladder would you draw the line? I'll bet you could select a reasonable one, but it would be based upon intuition, not on any evidence based upon a host of measures comparing all divorced against all intact families.

Bret said...

The problem, in my mind, with non-no-fault divorce is in who gets to decide if and when there is fault. Governments are NOT very good at it, in my opinion. In addition, in these days of photoshop and digital video, you can graphically "prove" that anyone has slept with anyone else or that all sorts of other faults have occured.

Government needs to get out of the marriage business, in my opinion. Leave it to the religious and community groups.

Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

Precisely.

David said...

1. We're not talking about marriage. We're talking about child welfare.

2. Government did perfectly fine with requiring fault for divorce until relatively recently. Certainly better than it does now not requiring it. Studies after the no-fault movement had swept the states found that no-fault had lead to a significant increase in the divorce rate, with a large effect. Moreover, they found that the only significant predictor of this increase was income. In other words, no-fault let well-off men leave their families.

3. You guys are just wrong about the effect of divorce on children, which is clear from the literature. Moreover, your willingness to simply ignore science with which you disagree (or that makes you feel bad) if you just handwaive fast enough, it just deeply amusing. But, of course, you're not at all religious....

4. I have no idea what point Skipper thinks he's making. What I'm suggesting is that we take one group of couples -- those who don't have good cause to divorce -- and move them from the "can get divorced" group to the "can't get divorced" group. The serial philanderer -- who Skipper brought up -- can still be divorced.

Bret said...

david wrote: "1. We're not talking about marriage. ..."

Oh, sorry, I thought we were. I guess I was just confused by the fact that I saw the word "marriage" eleven times between the post and the comments.

david wrote: "2. Government did perfectly fine with requiring fault for divorce..."

I'm sure it did. Governments tend to do just fine regardless of how much they oppress and control their populations. The question is how do the people fair under the different policies. I'm willing to grant you that children might well be better off if divorces were harder to obtain. What I'm not willing to grant you is that your opinion that the children are the only ones that matter should be encoded into law.

david wrote: "4. ... The serial philanderer -- who Skipper brought up -- can still be divorced."

Hold on. If the children's welfare is our primary concern, why should the wife be able to divorce the serial philanderer, assuming he's reasonably discreet? Why are his activities any worse for the children than, say, being angry and cold towards his wife? Indeed, the latter would be more readily observed by the children, no?

Peter Burnet said...

Government needs to get out of the marriage business, in my opinion. Leave it to the religious and community groups.

So Bret, you'd prefer that instead of courts adjudicating divorce on the basis of property divisions and financial support, we should leave it all to priests and pastors to threaten eternal damnation and banishment? And what community groups do you have in mind? Do you see The Kiwanis taking over access and alimony enforcement? Cop-out alert. Straw man alert too, as you and Skipper are trying a little too hard to defend no-fault by raising the spectre of folks trapped in domestic horrors everybody in the past would have seen as faulty. Also, you are equating separation with divorce, which after all is just a license to re-marry and is a whole different argument. Even the Catholic Church has long accepted certain behaviours make continued cohabitation impossible.

Still, it is heartening to see you two argue for a renewed role for religion in the lives of the citizen. Once we get marriage and divorce firmly back in the clerical courts, what say you to giving them a second shot at wills and probate?

Indeed, the latter would be more readily observed by the children, no?

No. But anyway, how many married couples do you know where one party is chronically "cold and angry" at the other in the absence of alcohol/substance problems, mental illness or other behaviours that would have been considered matrimonial offences in the bad old dark days?

You may wish to believe that a little slap and tickle on the side is or should be less damaging than his carping about her cooking or her whining about his laziness, but that ain't the way it works in human affairs. There is nothing--and I mean nothing--more damaging and corrosive than betrayal or more likely to generate rage, emotional collapse and vengeance. And all the Oprah-speak in the world won't change that. Do you really think that can be separated from the short term and long term welfare of the kids?

David:

You are right about the studies, of course, but surely by now you have learned the danger of betting the farm on that self-correcting science. Just today, The National Post is featuring a major "comprehensive" study that proves that, contrary to all those studies of yours, the kids of divorced couples do just as well. It seems they put questionnaires to two groups of parents--one in intact marriages and one divorced-on their parenting practices relating to discipline, order, etc. You will be amazed to learn the divorced group self-reported as every bit as good at parenting as the married group. Me, I wondered why they didn't ask the kids any questions, but I suppose they were all out trolling the mall when the researchers called. Still, from what I can see about the general direction of modern parenting trends, I'm almost ready to believe it.

In my experience, arguing for the re-introduction of fault in family law is as well-received as arguing for the return of the rack or trial by ordeal. Even the most boringly domesticated couples--the last folks one can imagine straying or doing anything at all harmful or dangerous or even interesting--seem to live in some theoretical terror of being "trapped" or having the chance at that dalliance of their dreams foreclosed. In our era of psychobabble and abuse/oppression defined by subjective feelings rather than objective behaviours, I see no opening for any consensus on what would constitute fault. I think we are stuck with rational, freedom-loving no-fault for a long time. Which means, of course, that family law will remain the one area of the law where it is perfectly permissable to lie, defraud and inflict exquisitely painful emotional damage and financial havoc on your partner with no sanctions. Victims appealing to the courts for justice can expect only impatient shrugs and recommendations to undergo counselling so they can "get on with their lives".

Indeed, I think most folks today would rather give up the institution altogether than be legally bound in any way, and there is evidence that more and more young folks, especially men, are thinking that way, and acting on it. Or rather not acting.

Hey Skipper said...

David:

You guys are just wrong about the effect of divorce on children ...

I have no idea what point Skipper thinks he's making.


First off, I haven't said a word about the effect of divorce on children.

Second, the point I am making is that you use statistics derived from two populations that differ significantly in ways that are very salient to the conclusion you are supporting as if those differences do not exist.

The host of measures you cite lump those children who are better off if their parents divorce with those who we both agree are not. There are two consequences here.

First, you have amped your argument with effects that do not belong to the cause you wish to ameliorate.

Second, let's assume we both get precisely what you want, implemented to a God-like fare-thee-well. The host of measures that you used to justify the change in the first place would actually get worse, because you "cherry picked" those with the fewest problems from the pile of divorced kids.

Is that a reason not to do it? No. Is it a reason to more rigorously analyze your entering arguments? Yes.

Now, about that devil and his devilish details. I have no real idea how the US transitioned from fault to no-fault divorce. I suspect it is due to two things: greater female autonomy, and the cussed problem of deciding just where we might draw the dividing line between justifiable cause, and the merely angsted.

The guy who is going through a mid-life crisis, and is starting to believe all the knock-on effects touted in Corvette ads is clearly on the angsted side of that line.

We both agree that the serial philanderer is on the other.

What about the wife, who, perhaps having a mid-life crisis of her own, decides that twice-a-year non-specific theism isn't going to cut it anymore, and becomes a strident, born again evangelical. Is she justified in divorcing her husband, who won't acknowledge her new found timeless truths? Is he justified in divorcing her for imposing a brand new, and for him intolerable, state of affairs? Is she justified because of the effect his disbelief will have on their children? Is he justified because of the effect her belief will have?

I certainly don't presume to know the answer to any of those questions; I sure as heck don't know how the State can come to an answer, either. And even if it could answer any of those questions in the affirmative (doesn't matter which side of the coin it chooses), isn't that tantamount to preferring one religious viewpoint over another?

While I agree wholeheartedly with you in principle, in practice I think any attempt to reinstate fault divorce would succeed primarily in re-emphasizing one of the reasons fault divorce took a dive in the first place.

This is why I agree with Bret. Leave marriage to religion, and require all parents of dependent children fall under contract law, with all the breach of contract considerations that go along for the ride (NB: I am winging it a bit here).

Peter:

I am in no way trying to defend no-fault by raising the spectre of domestic horrors; rather, even though I agree with David's theory, I don't think his choice of statistics is defendable, and I don't see how he can get from where he is to practice.

I think we are stuck with rational, freedom-loving no-fault for a long time. Which means, of course, that family law will remain the one area of the law where it is perfectly permissable to lie, defraud and inflict exquisitely painful emotional damage and financial havoc on your partner with no sanctions.

And this differs from fault divorce how?

Bret said...

peter burnet wrote: "So Bret, you'd prefer that instead of courts adjudicating divorce on the basis of property divisions and financial support, we should leave it all to priests and pastors to threaten eternal damnation and banishment?"

Not exactly, no.

What I'd prefer is that the priests and pastors and family and friends and community and the couple themselves decide on whether the divorce should happen. If so, then yes, the courts can and should split up the spoils of marriage. The courts should NOT decide whether or not to allow the marriage to be split up.

peter burnet also wrote: "Still, it is heartening to see you two argue for a renewed role for religion in the lives of the citizen."

Please note that (unlike hey skipper) I believe that religion has a very important role in society. I'm just not personally a believer.

peter burnet also wrote: "...how many married couples do you know where one party is chronically "cold and angry" at the other in the absence of ... problems ... or other behaviours that would have been considered matrimonial offences in the bad old dark days?"

Certainly fewer than I otherwise would've since they were able to get divorced. And they are much happier now.

peter burnet wrote: "There is nothing--and I mean nothing--more damaging and corrosive than betrayal or more likely to generate rage, emotional collapse and vengeance."

Betrayal? Or sleeping around? They're not quite at all the same. Besides, it's for the kids. She (or he) ought to buck up and get over it for the sakes of their poor, innocent children.

peter burnet also wrote: "I think we are stuck with rational, freedom-loving no-fault for a long time."

Excellent!

peter burnet wrote: "Indeed, I think most folks today would rather give up the institution altogether than be legally bound in any way, and there is evidence that more and more young folks, especially men, are thinking that way, and acting on it."

And why should they yearn for legal bondage? Even murderers sometimes get parole. Why should they be stuck with lifetime sentences?

The more binding you make marriage, the fewer marriages you're gonna get. The fewer marriages, the fewer children. I don't know if y'all agree with the Judd-man that low birthrates are an issue, but if you do, I wouldn't try to make marriage even more onerous.

Peter Burnet said...

Bret:

Why, you old romantic, you. Bret, you really should be careful about idealizing marriage so much. It isn't all candy and roses, you know.

Ali said...

Is divorce really a major social issue? I'd have thought illegitimacy was far more critical.

Hey Skipper said...

Ali:

I wish I would have thought of saying that.

Peter Burnet said...

Ali:

Illegitimacy was abolished about two generations ago, which makes it the perfect issue for the Duckians to earmark as the "real" issue we must confront, rather than the ones that are actually tearing us apart.

Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Illegitimacy was abolished about two generations ago ...

Bastardy, as an eradicable stain upon the person born to unmarried parents, is long gone. Do you wish to bring it back?

In contrast, the material consequences of being born to unmarried parents are what they are. The notion of abolishing them are, well, silly.

Unless, of course, you wish to abolish the material consequences of being born to married parent.

Peter Burnet said...

Now you have really thrown me. Are you suggesting the number of children born out of wedlock is an important social issue in which we all have an interest, but that whether their parents stay together after they are born is nobody's business?

Hey Skipper said...

Well, a couple things.

First, it is easily possible to have something people consider an important social issue in which we all have an interest, but is no one's business.

For just one example, how about: contraception.

Second, I'm reasonably certain I never said anything remotely like whether parents stay together is nobody's business.

Perhaps you have thrown yourself.