Here’s an interesting new wrinkle in the data on support for same sex marriage. According to Gallup, 53% of Americans now favor such marriages, but we don’t necessarily think other people do. Overall, Americans, on average, think that 63% of their fellow citizens oppose same sex marriage; in fact, 45% do. That’s an over-estimate of 18 percentage points!
Interestingly, Americans of all stripes — Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, old and young — underestimate support for same sex marriage. Liberals come the closest, thinking that 48% approve; conservatives are the farthest off, thinking that only 16% do.
Writer Peg Streep is writing a book about the Millennial generation and she routinely sprinkles great data into her posts at Psychology Today.
Recently she linked to at study by Net Impact that surveyed currently-enrolled college students and college-graduates across three generations Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers. The questions focused on life goals and work priorities. They found significant differences between students and college grads, as well as interesting generational differences.
First, students have generally higher demands on the world; they are as likely or more likely than workers to say that a wide range of accomplishments are “important or essential to [their] happiness”:
In particular, students are more likely than workers to say it is important or essential to have a prestigious career with which they can make an impact. More than a third think that this will happen within the next five years:
Wealth is less important to students than prestige and impact. Over a third say they would take a significant pay cut to work for a company committed to corporate social responsibility (CSR), almost half for a company that makes a positive social or environmental impact, and over half to align their values with their job:
Students stand out, then, in both the desire to be personally successful and to make a positive contribution to society.
At the same time, they’re cynical about other people’s priorities. Students and Millennials are far more likely than Gen Xers or Boomers to think that “people are just looking out for themselves.”
This data rings true to this college professor. Despite the recession, the students at my (rather elite, private, liberal arts) school surprise me with their high professional expectations (thinking that they should be wildly successful, even if they’re worried they won’t be) and their desire to change the world (many strongly identify as progressives who are concerned with social inequalities and political corruption).
Some call this entitlement, but I think it’s at least as true to say that today’s college youth (the self-esteem generation) have been promised these things. They’ve always been told to dream big, and so they do. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that we’ve sold our young people a bill of goods. Their high expectations sound like a recipe for disappointment, even for my privileged population, especially if they expect it to happen before they exit their twenties!
Alternatively, what we’re seeing is the idealism of youth. It will be interesting to see if they downshift their expectations once they get into the workforce. Net Impact doesn’t address whether these are largely generational or age differences. It’s probably a combination of both.
Jeb Bush told CPAC that the Republican party had an image problem.
Way too many people believe that Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker.
People have good reason to believe those things. But the “way too many” suggests that the GOP’s problem is not image or brand, it’s demography. For five years or longer, the Republican faithful have been complaining that “their” country was being taken away from them, and they were going to take it back (e.g., see my “Repo Men” post).
They were right. Their country, a country dominated by older white men, is fading in the demographic tide. The groups whose numbers in the electorate are on the rise don’t look like them. Andrew Gelman (here) recently published these graphs as an update to his 2009 Red State, Blue State. They reveal the tendency for different groups to vote more Democratic (blue) and Republican (red):
(The exit poll the data are based on sampled only in the 30 most competitive state. Texas and Georgia are large, and they have significant non-White populations. But demographic changes there are unlikely to have much effect on which party gets their electoral votes.)
Unfortunately for the GOP, the non-White proportion of the electorate will continue to grow. The female proportion may also increase, especially as education levels of women rise (more educated people are more likely to vote than are the less educated).
The key factor is party loyalty. And, at least in presidential elections, people do remain loyal. I think I once read, “If you can get them for two consecutive elections, you’ve got them for life.” Or words to that effect. If that’s true, the age patterns of the last two elections should be what the Republicans are worrying about.
Trying to make themselves more attractive to younger people will not be easy. Oldsmobile tried it not so long ago (a post on that campaign is here). “This is not your father’s GOP” might have similar lack of success. But insisting that this is still your father’s GOP (or more accurately, some white dude’s father’s GOP) seems like a formula for failure.
The punchline? Women use uptalk more frequently, but men use it as well. For men, however, uptalk signals something completely different.
What is uptalk?
“Uptalk is the use of a rising, questioning intonation when making a statement, which has become quite prevalent in contemporary American speech,” explains Linneman. Uptalk in the U.S. is reported to have emerged in the 1980s among adolescent women in California, aka “Valley Girls,” and it has become more widely used by men and women since then. Uptalk has been associated with a way of talking that makes women sound less confident Or is it makes people sound more like a girl?
Jeopardy! was Linneman’s clever setting for observing how women and men use the speech pattern. The associate professor of sociology analyzed the use of uptalk by carefully coding 5,500 responses from 300 contestants in 100 episodes of the popular game show. He looked at what happened to speech patterns when contestants — from a variety of backgrounds — gave their answers to host Alex Trebek. Although the contestants were asked to phrase their response in the form of a question, they used uptalk just over a third of the time.
How do men use uptalk?
Linneman found that men use uptalk as a way to signal uncertainty. Linneman explained, “On average, women used uptalk nearly twice as often as men. However, if men responded incorrectly, their intonation betrayed their uncertainty: Their use of uptalk shot up dramatically.” On average, men who answered correctly used uptalk only 27% of the time. Among incorrect responses, men used uptalk 57% of the time. In contrast, a woman who answered correctly used uptalk 48% of the time, nearly as often as an incorrect man.
Men’s uptalk increased when they were less confident, and also when they were correcting women — but not men. When a man corrected another man — that is, following a man’s incorrect answer with a correct one — he used uptalk 22% of the time. When a man corrected another woman, though, he used uptalk 53% of the time. Linneman speculates that men are engaging in a kind of chivalry: men can be blunt with another man in public, but feel obliged to use a softer edge with a woman.
How do women use uptalk?
As Linneman explains, “One of the most interesting findings coming out of the project is that success has an opposite effect on men and women on the show.” Linneman measured success in two ways: He compared challengers to returning champions, and he tracked how far ahead or behind contestants were when they responded. Linneman found that, “The more successful a man is on the show, the less he uses uptalk. The opposite is true for women… the more successful a woman is on the show, the more she uses uptalk.” Linneman suspects that this is “because women continue to feel they must apologize for their success.”
Probabilities of Uptalk by Certainty, Age, Race, and Gender
The year during which the U.S. will become a “majority minority” is well discussed. It looks like it’s going to happen sometime around 2050 or earlier. This statistic, however, elides an interesting subplot: the year various age groups will be majority minority.
Over at The Society Pages Editors’ Desk, sociologist Doug Hartmann offered the following table. It shows that children under the age of 18 will be majority minority 32 years earlier, by 2018. Young people ages 18-29 will join them by 2027. By 2035, people aged 35-64 will be majority minority. People 65 and older are quick to follow.
This data reminds us that demographic change is gradual. The year 2018 is just five years away. If young people continue to vote in numbers similar to those in the last two elections, their changing demographics could push forward a change that looks all but inevitable in the long run.
In the meantime, we need to be vigilant about how younger people are portrayed. Today poverty is racialized so as to demonize social programs designed to help the less fortunate. Can we imagine a future in which public education and other youth-oriented programming is similarly framed: as white people helping supposedly undeserving people of color? This is likely something that we should be vigilant against in the coming years.
As politicians negotiated regarding the fiscal cliff, they debated whether to cut social programs aimed at alleviating poverty and deprivation. Most of us imagine that these programs help a minority of the population. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that more than half of the population has received government benefits from one of the six most well-known programs:
This isn’t the so-called 47% that Romney claimed would vote for a Democrat no matter what. In fact, people who received one of these six benefits were only slightly more likely to vote Democratic:
In fact, receiving benefits is pretty well spread out among the population. Except for people over 65, there seems to be significant consistency in the receipt of at least one benefit:
Notably, these programs also go to help the poor, women (largely because they end up single with young children), and people in rural areas.
Interestingly, many of us who have benefited from targeted government programs (“targeted” because we all benefit from programs like, oh, transportation initiatives and environmental protection and [insert dozens more here]) don’t know that we do. In a previous post, we showed that large proportions of people who’ve benefited from social programs don’t recognize that they have unless their thinking is sparked by asking them about specific programs. (It’s kind of like responding “No I don’t do drugs” and then being asked specifically about marijuana and saying, “Oh yeah, well that one I guess!”).
Since it is indeed the majority of Americans who benefit from targeted programs, it shouldn’t be too hard for politicians to find it in their hearts to support these programs. That 57% of conservatives and 52% of Republicans have used them suggests that the political right is more interested in purporting an ideology than serving its constituency.
Alternatively, they realize that a certain proportion of benefit recipients also believe that the government “does not have the responsibility to care for those who cannot care or themselves.” About a third of people who hold onto this principle have used benefits:
It seems that data like this might be very useful for what we really need: an educational campaign designed to help Americans understand what social programs do and who benefits from them. Maybe then we could have sensible policy discussions.
As I wrote about the older-birth-mothers issue recently (first, and then), I didn’t comment on the photo illustrations people are using with the stories. But when an alert reader sent this one to me, from Katie Roiphe’s post in Slate, I couldn’t help it:
Something about that picture and “women in their late 30s or 40s” rubbed my correspondent the wrong way, or rather, led her to write, “Late 30s or early 40s?!?”
Since this was from a legit website that credits its stock agency, I was able to visit Thinkstock and search for the photo. Sure enough:
Of course, it’s not news, so the title “Middle-aged woman holding her newborn grandson” doesn’t make it a less true illustration of the older-mother phenomenon than one captioned “Desperate aging woman clings to feminist myth that it’s OK to delay childbearing.” But it gives you an idea of what the Slate editor was looking for in the stock photo.
When I visited the Getty Images site, I discovered this picture was taken in China. Here’s how it’s presented:
This one, which is a picture of real people, looks like it could be a grandmother, or maybe more likely a caretaker. Regardless, it’s sold as an illustration of a story about China’s elderly having too few grandchildren to take care of them, which is vaguely related to the content of the story, but that’s not what the Post’s caption points to:
It’s true that older parents are more established and experienced but many of those experiences are, from a genetic point of view, negative, says Allison Benedikt.
Anyway, there were others where the women looked pretty old for the story, but I couldn’t find them in the catalogs, so I stopped.
This is all relevant to one of my critiques of these stories, which is that they make it seem like having children at older ages has become more common than it was in the past. That’s true compared with 1980, but not 1960. The difference is it’s more likely to be their first child nowadays. So Benedikt is way off when she writes,
Remember how there was that one kid in your high school class whose parents were sooooo old that it was weird and creepy? That’s all of us now. Oops.
As I showed, 40-year-old women are less likely to have children now than they were when she was a kid. And when Roiphe writes of the “50-year-old mother in the kindergarten class [who] attracts a certain amount of catty interest and disapproval,” she should be aware that the disapproval — which I don’t doubt exists — is not about the increased frequency of older mothers, but about how people think about them.
Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
The problem of income inequality often gets forgotten in conversations about biological clocks.
The dilemma that couples face as they consider having children at older ages is worth dwelling on, and I wouldn’t take that away from Judith Shulevitz’s essay in the New Republic, “How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society,” which has sparked commentary from Katie Roiphe, Hanna Rosin, Ross Douthat, and Parade, among many others.
The story is an old one — about the health risks of older parenting and the implications of falling fertility rates for an aging population — even though some of the facts are new. But two points need more attention. First, the overall consequences of the trend toward older parenting are on balance positive, both for women’s equality and for children’s health. And second, social-class inequality is a pressing — and growing — problem in children’s health, and one that is too easily lost in the biological-clock debate.
First, we need to distinguish between the average age of birth parents on the one hand versus the number born at advanced parental ages on the other. As Shulevitz notes, the average age of a first-time mother in the U.S. is now 25. Health-wise, assuming she births the rest of her (small) brood before about age 35, that’s perfect.
Consider two measures of child well-being according to their mothers’ age at birth. First, infant mortality:
(Source: Centers for Disease Control)
Health prospects for children improve as women (and their partners) increase their education and incomes, and improve their health behaviors, into their 30s. Beyond that, the health risks start accumulating, weighing against the socioeconomic factors, and the danger increases.
Second, here is the rate of cognitive disability among children according to the age of their mothers at birth, showing a very similar pattern:
(Source: Calculations made for my working paper)
Again, the lowest risks are to those born when their parents are in their early 30s, a pattern that holds when I control for education, income, race/ethnicity, gender, and child’s age.
When mothers older than age 40 give birth, which accounted for 3 percent of births in 2011, the risks clearly are increased, and Shulevitz’s story is highly relevant. But, at least in terms of mortality and cognitive disability, an average parental age in the late 20s and early 30s is not only not a problem, it’s ideal.
But the second figure above hints at another problem — inequality in the health of parents and children. On that purple chart, a college graduate in her early 40s has the same risk as a non-graduate in her late 20s. And the social-class gap increases with age. Why is the rate of cognitive disabilities so much higher for the children of older mothers who did not finish college? It’s not because of their biological clocks or genetic mutations, but because of the health of the women giving birth.
For healthy, wealthy older women, the issue of aging eggs and genetic mutations from fathers’ run-down sperm factories are more pressing than it is for the majority of parents, who have not graduated college.
If you look at the distribution of women having babies by age and education, it’s clear that the older-parent phenomenon is disproportionately about more-educated women. (I calculated these from the American Community Survey, because age-by-education is not available in the CDC numbers, so they are a little different.)
Most of the less-educated mothers are giving birth in their 20s, and a bigger share of the high-age births are to women who’ve graduated college — most of them married and financially better off. But women without college degrees still make up more than half of those having babies after age 35, and the risks their children face have more to do with high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and other health conditions than with genetic or epigenetic mutations. Preterm births, low birth-weight, and birth complications are major causes of developmental disabilities, and they occur most often among mothers with their own health problems.
Most distressing, the effects of educational (and income) inequality on children’s health have been increasing. Here are the relative odds of infant mortality by maternal education, from 1986 to 2001, from a study in Pediatrics. (This compares the odds to college graduates within each year, so anything over 1.0 means the group has a higher risk than college graduates.)
This inequality is absent from Shulevitz’s essay and most of the commentary about it. She writes, of the social pressure mothers like her feel as they age, “Once again, technology has given us the chance to lead our lives in the proper sequence: education, then work, then financial stability, then children” — with no consideration of the 66 percent of people who have reached their early 30s with less than a four-year college degree. For the vast majority of that group, the sequence Shulevitz describes is not relevant.
In fact, if Shulevitz had considered economic inequality, she might not have been quite as worried about advancing parental age. When she worries that a 35-year-old mother has a life expectancy of just 46 more years — years to be a mother to her child — the table she consulted applies to the whole population. She should breathe a little bit easier: Among 40-year-old white college graduates women are expected to live an average extra five years compared with those who have a high school education only.
When it comes to parents’ age versus social class, the challenges are not either/or. We should be concerned about both. But addressing the health problems of parents — especially mothers — with less than a college degree and below-average incomes is the more pressing issue — both for potential lives saved or improved and for social equality.
Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.