Monday, February 14, 2011

Ruth Institute - Making Marriage Cool (In the US but not Scandinavia)

The weekend before Valentine's day I went to a talk sponsored by the Newman Center at the University of Pittsburgh titled "What is Marriage?"  by Jennifer Roback-Morse PhD.  She is an economist who founded the Ruth institute.  For those of you who who are not familiar this institute has nothing to do with Dr. Ruth Westheimer except perhaps that both were named after the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible woman named Ruth who was a Gentile who converted to Judaism and became the grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus.  At first I thought it would be a talk about mundane issues in marriage.  The talk went to issues discussed in the youtube clip below as well as the problems of same sex marriage.  The institute's website can be seen in the link below.

Dr. Roback-Morse also went on to say about how mothers need to spend more time with their children especially in the early years. I asked her how she felt about Scandinavian countries giving new mothers and fathers one year of paid leave. She says that these policies "encourage women to have babies outside of natural marriage". I was thinking there is a post here.

Some Scandinavian countries make their public statistics available in online databases that anyone can query to do their own analysis. For example one can gather data from the Norden Statistical Bank for all Scandinavian countries. Sweden (home of Hans Rosling, host of the BBC documentary The Joy of Stats) makes available it's data all the way back to 1748 on the SCB Statistical Database for comparison.

For a country comparison I compared Danish marriage and divorce rates to Sweden's because Denmark was the first in the world in 1992 to legalize same sex marriage. Sweden on the other hand did not legalize it until 2009 though they did recognize unions in 1995. Both countries had generous family leave policies over the same period. The change in Swedish marriage laws is summarized in the link below. An analysis comparing Danish and Swedish marriages from 1990-2009 is presented below the link.


The rates above are adjusted for population and are expressed as the rate per thousand.  The graph above indicates that there was an increase in Denmark in the marriage rate after same sex marriage was legalized.  The divorce rate did increase in Denmark after 2000 with no corresponding increase in Sweden but can that be attributed to same sex marriage?  I don't have the data for a such a sophisticated analysis. In 2009 the US marriage rate was 6.8/1000 population and the divorce rate was 3.4/1000 population (that is where the "half of all marriages end in divorce" statistic that is so often quoted comes from).

The raw data for Norway over this period is presented in the link below.

Norway-Population statistics. Marriages and divorces, 2009.

For Dr. Roback-Morse's comment about Scandinavian countries family leave policies like Sweden's discouraging marriage I decided to look at the long term trend in marriage, births, and divorce.  I looked at the years from 1920 until 2009 from the Swedish database.  I could have gone back to 1748 but I thought 1920 provided a good baseline because this was when many of these policies were being established and expanded (mostly after World War II).  In 1989 there was a puzzling spike in marriages followed by one in births but no increase in divorces.  I looked at trends in immigration which seems to partially explain this increase as Sweden has generous immigration laws and communism was declining in eastern Europe. 

Eurostats provides statistics on the percentage of live births that are outside of marriage.  According to them a majority of births are outside of marriage in Sweden and much of the Nordic world.  Does that mean that children are raised in unloving "unnatural" marriages?  The Ruth Institute may believe so but most Scandinavians would angrily disagree.  Do these countries have higher delinquency rates than here in the US?  You can query the Swedish online database to try to answer these questions yourself.  Be forewarned.  Teasing all of these variables apart is a difficult task and the scholarly inquiry process can be like pulling teeth in the best of circumstances.  

Such availability of data can be exciting for researchers but the drawback can be that unscrupulous ones can cherry pick only the parts that support their argument.  Uninformed consumers of this research can accept these findings uncritically and the public debate can be influenced negatively.  The problem of modern life is that one often does not have time to check everyone's claims.

Katha Pollitt from The Nation magazine has a post at called It Takes a Village, Not a Tiger where poverty is the can be the most important factor affecting children as they grow up for a variety of reasons.  A Google search can find data showing that violent crime among juveniles is higher here in the US than in Scandinavian countries.

**Update** (Hans Rosling's institute, the Swede's love their stats) has an interactive graph that allows users to compare countries of the world on various measures across time.  In this graph I compared the United States to five Scandinavian countries on children per women and age at first marriage for women.  I cannot embed the graph here  because it is copyrighted but you can view it at the link below.  You can play with it using other measures, countries, or years as well.

Scandinavian Interactive Comparison Graph for Marriage and Child Bearing

When the Y axis is changed to homicide rates for each country (as can be seen in the link below) it's obvious that the US has the highest homicide rates while having similar birth rates.  Finland comes closest the the US's.

Scandinavian Interactive Comparison Graph for Child Bearing and Homicide Rates

**Related Posts**

Cause & Effect, Slip Slidin' Away


The Joy of Stats - 


Income and Life Expectancy. What does it Tell Us About US? 


The Nordic family: Perspectives on family research : The family in history at the 16th International Congress of Historical Sciences, Stuttgart, 25th August-1st ... institutionen, Uppsala universitet)