Health Warning on the Healthy Marriage Initiative

We all know that those who lean right are skeptical that government programs can solve socioeconomic problems. Such programs are usually well intentioned, but flops. But what if righties themselves design and implement such programs? Will their roads that are paved with good intentions now lead heaven?

Even then, no.

Case in point: the Healthy Marriage Initiative, launched in 2003 by the Bush administration. Based on studies that show marriage helps reduce poverty and boost outcomes, the $300 million program was designed to reverse the long-term decline in marriage rates among low-income Americans.

It mainly consisted of trying to educate the public on the benefits of marriage, through holding seminars in the inner city, establishing mentoring programs, teaching about marriage in high schools, public service annoucements by professional athletes, and putting up pro-marriage advertisements around town.

unmarriedIt largely fell on deaf ears. In driving up out-of-wedlock birthrates, powerful socioeconomic forces are at play. Setting up marriage education programs here and there are no match for such forces.

Since the program’s inception, out of wedlock birth rates in the U.S. have continued their relentless upward trend (see chart 10): to 72.3 percent among African Americans, 53.2 percent among Hispanics, and 28.6 percent among non-Hispanic whites (for 2011, the latest year for which figures are available).

The results are reflected in the above statistics. Plus, a couple of studies, cited here and here, found that the Healthy Marriage Initiative largely was a flop.

To be sure, government programs and other factors can have a negative effect on marriage by imposing monetary penalties thereon. It’s well established that the prospect of losing welfare benefits or health insurance through marriage, or the prospect of paying higher taxes, prompts many to not tie the knot. In fact, welfare reform in the 1990s may even have temporarily reversed the uptrend in out of wedlock birthrates – see chart 10. It would be worth researching whether welfare reform is what actually caused that reversal.

Meantime, regarding the Healthy Marriage Initiative, that old adage about government programs – that the road to h— is paved with good intentions – holds true whether they’re Democratic or Republican intentions.


More Bad News on the Self-Esteem Movement

One hears so much about childhood depression these days in addition to the adult kind, one wonders what’s causing it all. Here’s what appears to be one factor: the self-esteem movement.

Though I poke at in the below post, the website is definitely worth reading. One of its latest reports is that undeserved compliments may harm, not help, kids’ self esteem.

“Students who rated their own performance as much higher than it actually was were significantly more likely to feel depressed than those who had rated their performance more accurately,” they write. They cite researchers who conclude that “These findings challenge the popular notion that self-enhancement and providing positive performance feedback to low performers is beneficial to emotional health.”

The article states that under the influence of the self-esteem movement, ” teachers are often pressured to provide unfounded positive performance feedback to their students.” So it seems a little more tough love could help.

It notes, however, that self-effacement may be just as bad. “The studies showed that subjects who rated their performance as much lower than it actually was also showed higher levels of depression.”

So it looks like one has to find the right balance between positive and negative feedback. Hey, how about just telling kids the truth, free of either sugar-coating or rubbing salt into their wounds.

Does a Spouse’s Laundry Lead to Divorce? Only if You’re Quite Immature.

Bizzare piece today on Psychiatrist Keith Ablow claims that marriage is a dying institution. But he’s way off base on lots of things. For starters he has a distorted view of marriage because he bases many of his claims on feedback from psych patients. But most happily married people don’t need to see a psychiatrist. Also, he points to things about marriage (such as being intimately familiar with the mundane aspects of the spouse’s life, like seeing his or her laundry all the time) that he thinks lead to divorce, but those things have been equally true for hundreds or thousand of years when the divorce rate was much lower or nonexistent. Further, he bizarrely writes that the harsh consequences of divorce such as lawyering up prompts people to divorce, and that if married couple could separate easily and amicably, there would be less divorce. Huh? You got it backwards, bub.

Driver Error is the Culprit

A recent letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal confirmed what I’ve always thought: most car accidents are preventable. Driver error is mostly to blame, and if only someone had been paying better attention, driving more defensively, and/or driving more carefully, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. As the letter to the editor states, “A meteorite hitting your car is an ‘accident,’ everything else is driver error.” Most drivers aren’t that skilled, writes a former advanced training driver instructor. A similar phenomenon holds true in the realm of interpersonal relations. Most fights, arguments, soured relations, bad blood, and divorces are preventable, caused by “driver error”. I.e., caused by lack of people skills. For example, a person tries to accomplish something in a way that antagonizes another person, but there probably is a way to accomplish the same thing without antagonizing. The trouble is, most people who lack people skills don’t realize that they lack people skills or deny that they do so, so the problem never gets solved.