Married, with hypocrisy

Hey, fellow citizens: Sick and tired of hearing right-wing politicians babble on about “family values”, the evils of nuisance rights like “privacy”, and the inherent decency of life in the midstate exurbs? Then hie thee to today’s Science section of the New York Times, for an amazing Q&A with Stephanie Coontz, a professor of family studies at Evergreen State College, and author of the recently-released Marriage, a History (pictured above). There’s nothing like the cold gaze of factual research to expose the ridiculous fantasies spun by conservative politicians about how great life was for women back when they were uneducated, stuck in the kitchen, and financially dependent on men who neither trusted nor respected them.

As Coontz points out, the ubernuclear families in days of yore weren’t fuzzy, warm nests of love: They were primarily all aboout setting up a blood line to maintain your property and resolve fueds between families — essentially, a medieval mergers-and-acquisitions department. Anyway, things really kick in to high gear when she tackles the hypocrises of the right, which currently bestride our country like a colossus:

Q. What do you make of the fact that divorce rates are especially high in many “red” states like Oklahoma and Alabama?

A. I see it as a sign that families are changing so rapidly that stated values are poor predictors of actual behavior. Educated individuals are more likely to have a value system that says it’s O.K. to be divorced, but they are less likely to do it. Blacks are more likely to disapprove of cohabitation than whites, but much more likely to cohabit. Oklahoma and Alabama have high divorce rates. Massachusetts, the poster state for liberalism, does not.

Q. Magazines sometimes run articles on female tycoons who quit to become soccer moms. What are those articles really about?

A. Wishful thinking, I suspect. The trend measurements don’t show that’s happening. What they show is that the rapid influx of mothers with young children into the workplace has leveled off and fallen, slightly. In 1998, almost 60 percent of women were returning to work before their kids were 1. Now it’s 55 percent. This may be a sign of the revolution consolidating rather than reversing itself. Many women now have the confidence to say, “I can negotiate longer leaves, and if I can’t, I’ll quit and find something else later.”

“Stated values are are poor predictors of actual behavior.” I love it.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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