Red Sex, Blue Sex and Real Teenagers in Real America

8 11 2008

Favorite Daughter, now 18 and voting, blogged pithy power of story on virginity, pregnancy and church controls long before this came out. 🙂
Ruminations on Olive Oil

For the rest of us, comes this week’s New Yorker Magazine piece by Margaret Talbot–

. . . according to Add Health data, evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews. On average, white evangelical Protestants make their “sexual début”—to use the festive term of social-science researchers—shortly after turning sixteen.

Among major religious groups, only black Protestants begin having sex earlier. . .

[When it comes to marriage success] the age at marriage may be the pivotal difference between red and blue families. The five states with the lowest median age at marriage are Utah, Oklahoma, Idaho, Arkansas, and Kentucky, all red states, while those with the highest are all blue: Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

The red-state model puts couples at greater risk for divorce; women who marry before their mid-twenties are significantly more likely to divorce than those who marry later. And younger couples are more likely to be contending with two of the biggest stressors on a marriage: financial struggles and the birth of a baby before, or soon after, the wedding.

. . .The “pro-family” efforts of social conservatives—the campaigns against gay marriage and abortion—do nothing to instill the emotional discipline or the psychological smarts that forsaking all others often involves. Evangelicals are very good at articulating their sexual ideals, but they have little practical advice for their young followers.

Social liberals, meanwhile, are not very good at articulating values on marriage and teen sexuality—indeed, they may feel that it’s unseemly or judgmental to do so. But in fact the new middle-class morality is squarely pro-family. Maybe these choices weren’t originally about values—maybe they were about maximizing education and careers—yet the result is a more stable family system. Not only do couples who marry later stay married longer; children born to older couples fare better on a variety of measures, including educational attainment, regardless of their parents’ economic circumstances.

The new middle-class culture of intensive parenting has ridiculous aspects, but it’s pretty successful at turning out productive, emotionally resilient young adults. And its intensity may be one reason that teen-agers from close families see child-rearing as a project for which they’re not yet ready.

For too long, the conventional wisdom has been that social conservatives are the upholders of family values, whereas liberals are the proponents of a polymorphous selfishness. This isn’t true, and, every once in a while, liberals might point that out.

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13 responses

9 11 2008
JJ

Wonderful post from Dale at Parenting Beyond Belief, about President-elect Obama’s mother raising him as moral and spiritually aware, literate in many faiths yet not religious:

Congratulations Dr. Ann

12 11 2008
Crimson Wife

But did the researchers control for other factors like family income, parental educational attainment, parental marital status, etc.? Evangelicals as a group tend to differ from other faiths on those dimensions. So what’s the role of religion vs. other demographic factors?

I might have similar views about sexuality as the typical Evangelical mom, but are the chances that my DD will become sexually active at 16 similar? Or are they more similar to those kids whose parents share my SES but hold more liberal views on the subject?

I’d tend to believe it’s likely the latter.

12 11 2008
JJ

Dunno, but it’s a reasonable question.

Are you postulating there are a bunch of liberal evangelicals skewing the average?

12 11 2008
JJ

I read the piece as a whole, to be about the difference between taking a stand and making a plan. You know, doing the right thing versus believing the right thing.

Like, oh, medicine. (Something I know very little about, sorry) — if you and your society want people not to get sick or die, and you think prayer is the best way to accomplish that, and so that’s what you do, then it is what it is no matter what you believe. It works however well it works and that’s that.

Maybe across town they wash their hands a lot and see doctors and get flu shots and vaccinations, whatever — and their rate of sickness and death is what IT is too.

I am not interested in either of those beliefs without studying them both and a bunch of others, to see what ACTUALLY will best protect my kids.

p.s. and then something completely out of the box comes along, and I get really excited!

12 11 2008
Crimson Wife

The impression I got from the NY piece was that Ms. Talbot was trying to show that the Evangelical position on teen abstinence is hypocritical (“Do as I say but not as I do”). But I’m questioning her interpretation of the data because I’m not convinced it’s actually reflective of the role of religion per se so much as other demographic factors.

We know that as a group that Evangelicals have a lower median income than other faiths and are less likely to be college graduates. They also have a higher divorce rate. We also know that family income, parental education, and family structure play a role in the likelihood of early sex. So the question is whether the researchers controlled for those factors when they did their study. Ms. Talbot doesn’t say anything in her article one way or the other.

12 11 2008
JJ

But isn’t it all part of the package, highly correlated variables?

13 11 2008
Debby

It’s not like there is a large sampling of ivy league educated, high-earning, evangelical Christians to act as a control group…

And why is that?

Could it be because EC’s don’t want their kids to attend liberal, homo-lovin’ academic institutions? Or is it that they’ve crippled their kids with a substandard education at the local fundie madrassas (or at home) so that they can’t even get in?

Evangelical Christians do trend to having lower household incomes, lower education levels, and a higher divorce rate. The question is whether the rampant anti-intellectualism causes EC’s to turn away from education or if the rejection of reason is a symptom of the other factors (single parent homes, poeverty)

Chicken or egg…but you can’t argue that the religion has NO impact. It’s another symptom compounding the problem or a direct cause.

13 11 2008
JJ

CW, I’m still trying to understand your challenge to the author’s interpretation of the data.

You don’t dispute the differential average age of sexual debut and pregnancy in the different demographics as described, right?

But you argue she may be judging unfairly the role of religious identity in contributing to those different effects?

13 11 2008
JJ

NPR audio from someone who knows much more about medicine and public health than I do, explaining what I meant much better than I did! 😉

*********
Family physician Douglas Kamerow is a primary care doctor and a former assistant surgeon general of the United States.

. . .The current administration has withheld or falsified the results of scientific studies in the service of ideology multiple times, in multiple disciplines.

Let me give you a few examples from medicine:

In the area of women’s health and contraception, it insisted on and publicized the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education despite a lack of evidence for it. It posted erroneous data linking abortion and breast cancer on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site. It distorted evidence on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission. And for more than three years, it delayed the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B, despite overwhelming evidence of its safety and effectiveness.

In environmental health, the administration censored congressional testimony by the CDC on the health hazards of climate change. And it distorted the results of formaldehyde testing in government-supplied trailers for Hurricane Katrina victims.

In a national health care disparities report, it insisted that government researchers drop their conclusion that racial disparities are “pervasive in our health care system,” and that they remove findings of disparities in care for cancer, heart disease, AIDS, asthma and other illnesses.

And the administration delayed or prevented its own surgeon general from issuing national reports on topics such as secondhand smoking, emergency preparedness and global health.

. . . we’re not talking about simple “spin” here. This is distortion and withholding of scientific evidence in the service of ideology. Friends and former colleagues throughout the government have told me that the extent of falsification and suppression of scientific evidence by this administration is unprecedented.

So what can . . . the new president, do about all of this? During your first week in office, you could issue an executive order supporting unimpeded scientific research, the primacy of peer review, and the freedom of government scientists to submit their research results for publication. And you could pledge not to interfere with the scientific processes and activities of government agencies.

This is a low-cost change in policy that has a good chance of improving the health and health care of all Americans.

13 11 2008
JJ

So I guess my number one question is, how will this demographic — generally lower-income, less educated, religiously evangelical and politically conservative — receive that policy change?

As progress to celebrate or evil to fight? As good for American society and individual Americans, particularly our daughters who have been such ideological targets in public policy initiatives? Or not?

The only reason I’d care to figure out more about why anyone would put ideology over scientific evidence when it causes more people to suffer and die and the planet to sicken, is so we can figure out how to stop it.

13 11 2008
Crimson Wife

Let’s just imagine there is a hypothetical research finding that teens who eat bacon cheeseburgers have sex at an earlier age than teens who never eat bacon cheeseburgers. Leaving aside all the other problems of eating bacon cheeseburgers for a moment :-), should we as a society be concerned about this? That would depend on whether bacon cheeseburgers independently predispose teens towards early sex vs. just being associated with other risk factors. If teens who eat bacon cheeseburgers also are on average poorer, have less educated parents, and more likely to come from a broken home then those teens who do not eat bacon cheeseburgers, then the researchers need to control for those demographic factors when analyzing the results.

Poorly controlled studies often lead to skewed results. For example, many breastfeeding advocates make the claim that breastfed babies have an average IQ 10 points higher than formula fed babies. However, it turns out that when all the other factors are controlled for, the real advantage is only around 1.5 points. That’s statistically significant but not going to make much of a difference in real life. Of course, there are lots of other reasons to breastfeed but it just demonstrates the importance of study design.

13 11 2008
JJ

Yes, I do understand how research design can go wrong in general terms.

Doesn’t have anything to do with this case imo, but if I really disliked the findings or felt they didn’t fit me, maybe I’d see it differently. Talk about ways research can go wrong! 🙂

13 11 2008
Nance Confer

CW: So the question is whether the researchers controlled for those factors when they did their study.

***

From the article: “His findings are drawn from a national survey that Regnerus and his colleagues conducted of some thirty-four hundred thirteen-to-seventeen-year-olds, and from a comprehensive government study of adolescent health known as Add Health.”

In Googling about these studies and Regnerus, it sounded to me like the factors you are interested in were part of the studies.

http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/add_health_study.cfm says: “Researchers have published more than 600 articles from analyses of data collected during waves I, II, and III of the study.”

The researchers/writers could be drawing wild conclusions from the data, of course.

Nance

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