Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Good Childhood

There has been some discussion about the study on divorce and children referred to on the CBMW blog. I would rather talk about the content of the study but first one has to track down the source.

Here is a reference in the Telegraph which contains the text from the CBMW blog,

    Female empowerment has contributed to the break-up of the traditional family, leaving a generation of children emotionally damaged, according to a controversial report on the state of British childhood.
The Telegraph names the study as A Good Childhood by The Children's Society, which is affiliated with the Church of England. The article then goes on to cite the text which appears on the CBMW Gender blog. This text is not found in the study, and I can only guess that since the study had not been published at the time of the Telegraph article, that the Telegraph was citing text provided to them from a previous draft, perhaps a longer form of the same study. I cannot otherwise explain the variance.

I would like to make a few comments on this. First, the Keith and Amato research, which I cited yesterday, is old now and has variable methodology, and the results do not accord with the longtitudinal research I have seen since. (But I don't have time to find this right now.)

Second, the Telegraph also makes this telling comment,

    It will draw on a Unicef study published in 2007 which showed that children in Scandinavian countries appeared happier than their British counterparts despite similar levels of family separation.
And finally I would like to reference this work done in Canada, cited here,

    While more changes in a child’s life are associated with more negative behaviour, lone parent or stepfamily status is not necessarily associated with more negative behaviour in children.This more positive view emerges from a Canadian study investigating the impact of mothers’ employment patterns on children.This study shows that mothers’ employment status is a factor affecting children’s behavioural outcomes, but also that changes in maternal employment impacted on children. But, crucially, children in stable lone parent families or stepfamilies did better (and indeed, better than those in two parent families on several measures, when control variables are taken into account) than children who change family status, either ‘entering or exiting’ lone parent status (18).

    Hence, it is perhaps useful to view change and disruptions as risk factors for children (like poverty) that have negative impacts on child outcomes. Family type per se provided it is stable, does not result in negative impacts on children.
While there may be some negative impacts, I can't say, it is clear from the research that family disharmony, instability, poverty and coercive parenting are other significant factors. Another finding worthy of note is that countries with similar rates of single parent families have vastly different scores on the child well being assessment, with the US and UK being near the bottom, Canada in the middle and Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands at the top. See Table 2 Child well-being in rich countries: a summary table page 11 in the same study, which provides some interesting details.

This is similar to the issue with abortion, rates, which are consistantly much lower in countries with freer access to abortion. One of the reasons that I am concerned about the impression given by the Gender blog is because my former church, still in some sense a home church to my family, is influenced by this stuff. I have suggested in the past that CBMW hire someone to proofread the posts on their blog. It is very disappointing.

Now, finally, here is the point. The study itself did not say, "Female empowerment has contributed to the break-up of the traditional family .... ," it was the Telegraph that said that. Read the study yourself.

(I am increasingly finding that people mention studies without proper references and really just move gaily along. I have not seen anyone retract the statement that John Gottman recommends a "men need respect, women need love" model of marriage therapy. It is tiresome. )


G said...

I agree that the CBMW blog should be more careful about documenting their research. It is useful to challenge them so that they are hopefully more responsible in the future. However, I do not doubt, as the claimed survey reports, that there is a correlation of the increased divorce rate and the empowerment of women. I would however, challenge the whole idea of what really is the traditional family. If the traditional family means a husband-wife-children package than it is true that the increased divorce rate has had a negative impact on this picture. But does the appearance of this package in society insure traditional family values according to the Bible? Is a family that includes physical or emotional abuse traditional just because it is forced by societal or religious mores to stay as one unit? If we are not to follow the tradition of the complementarians but accept that the New Testament provides a model of increasing liberation as a restoration of God's original design for woman in relation to man, than we must see the increased break up of the family not just a negative impact on the family unit, but a revealing of a much larger brokenness in society. A brokenness that has nothing to do with the empowerment of women.
A number of years ago I was discussing gender equality with one of my female Laotian co-workers. She expressed the reality that in Laos, it is expected that a husband will be unfaithful and the wife must just put up with it in order to preserve the family unit. Of course the wife is under a completely different standard and is expected to remain faithful to the husband regardless his behavior. As I explained to her how the western woman would not tolerate this kind of double standard and that she would divorce the husband especially in repeat offenses, the thought came to my mind. Am I, by encouraging the rights of Laotian women, causing a negative impact on the family unit in Laos? Most certainly I am, but does that mean I am wrong in doing so?

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I wonder how a divorced women would survive financially and socially as well as care for the children. It is not easy without a lot of support.

My difficulty with Gender blog is that by the time I have tracked down the facts, I forgot what the argument was about.

G said...

Yes, the main reason women in developing nations do not divorce even when their husbands are unfaithful or abusive is because they are concerned about the security of their children and themselves. So by empowering these women to be able to have their own sources of income through education, they will be freer to escape these horrible situations. It is completely unreasonable for anyone to deny this empowerment of them on the basis that it endangers the family, because the family they are in is dysfunctional already and nothing to value or admire.

Anonymous said...

If you read the study they referred to, (I have read parts but admittedly not all) it clearly says highly conflictual marriages are worse or at least as bad for children as divorce. People notoriously picjk and choose what they want from the research to prove their point. And people are quick to blame feminism for all the social ills we encounter. A simple question - if the church had treated women as Christ did, would we ever have had a feminist movement? I think not, there would have been no need. And what about married women who, due to financial need, work outside the home? The family is intact. So how do we blame feminism for that?