Sunday, June 02, 2013

The PIll and Divorce.

Roissy recently put up an interesting post on the link between contraception and divorce. Unlike Roissy--and a lot of others--I'm not that convinced that the Pill is a solvent of modernity. While the link between pill use and sexual immorality would appear to be intuitively obvious, in my experience, I have found that what is intuitively obvious is sometimes not how things are in reality. Inuitively, we all know that easy availability should result in a decrease in out of wedlock births.
Sometimes intuition is wrong.

I don't try to complicate things for the sake of complication or try to find complex explanations where simple ones will do, however, the whole "pregnancy as a deterrent to promiscuity" argument has never really appealed to me. From the earliest days of my medical training, it always surprised me just how many women who were sexually active weren't on the Pill. Whilst it's true that the Pill markedly reduces the risk of pregnancy, it takes nothing away from the fact of promiscuity.

One of the problems with men writing about women's issues is that they think like men and not like women. Women are far more social creatures than men are, and when they act, their moral calculus always involves a consideration of how their act will be viewed by others. Shame and social ostracism have their powerful effect on women because of this, and in her mind,  the social consequences are just as important as any benefits accrued through any specific act. In societies where promiscuity is viewed negatively, you can make a woman infertile but you can't make her slut.

It needs to be understood that pre 60's society regarded out of wedlock pregnancy as a big deal.  But is also needs to be recognised that promiscuity was also a big deal in itself, regardless of the natal consequences. No one wanted to go sloppy seconds. Being the town bike, yet without children, was no mark of distinction. Cultural opprobrium rather than fear of pregnancy kept most women in check.

But perhaps I'm wrong and lets see what science says about the matter.

While I'm a bit dubious with regard to the methodology, Divorce and the Birth Control Pill by Miriam Marcem shows only a very small increase in divorce with availability of the Pill.


As you can see, in States where there was an availability of the Pill there is only a small increase in the divorce rate compared to the states where the Pill was less available. (It interesting to note that the difference still exists before the introduction of Enovid. i.e. The Pill)

Zuppan, in a different paper also tried to estimate the effect of the Pill on marital stability. He concluded that women who were married prior to the availability of the Pill had a higher risk of divorce than those who were married after the Pill became available, though the effect was small.



In fact, women who got married after the pill was made available had slightly longer marriages on average. i.e. It exerted a small protective effect against divorce.

This is also in keeping with the latest research on female mate selection whilst on the Pill. Much has been said about the females in estrus preferring cads to dads but when you have a look at the actual data you can see that the preference for cads, whilst significant, is still quite small.



The point is that the Pill's effect on marital stability is small and may in fact be positive. 

The take home summary is that the Pill's effect on marriage is very small. So what then drove the change and the sudden epidemic of divorce?

No fault divorce laws?

Once again, another obvious explanation but one which, on further scrutiny, fails the test.

In a very interesting paper, Does Culture Affect Divorce Decisions, by Furtado et al, the authors set about trying to see how influential culture was on divorce. Their methodology was as follows:

To separate the effect of culture from institutions on an individual’s probability of divorce, we examine divorce patterns of immigrants from Europe who arrived in the US at or under the age of 5. Immigrants in our sample have lived under the laws, institutions, and markets of the United States. However, since their preferences are likely to reflect the attitudes of their parents and ethnic communities, differences in their divorce rates by country of origin may be interpreted as evidence of the importance of culture. For example, if divorce laws were the only explanation for why Italy has a
lower divorce rate than Russia, then when we remove differences in laws by examining Russians
and Italians living in the same city in the US, all Russian-Italian divorce differentials should be
eliminated.


Quite a simple and commonsense approach, though it has some problems. First generation immigrants, whilst strongly being influenced by parental culture, will still become acculturated (to  varying degrees) by the prevailing environment. Still the data is interesting.



It's appears that divorce rates are almost divisible along an North West/South East axis. It's quite possible that the variation in divorce rates may be due to local institutional factors. But when people from these countries move to the U.S. (and the effect of institutional variability is diminished) we get the following data.

What's interesting about this study is that the protective effect was more pronounced in regions where there was a large community of similar people i.e ghettos. The other interesting finding from this study was that the cultural protective affect seem to apply to women more than men, in other words, women adopted their behaviour to group norms more than men. *


These findings were also demonstrated in a very good Australian study, which showed that being of a Mediterranean background was very protective with regard to divorce. The  Meditteranian effect dwarfs all other typical sociological considerations with the exception of maternal employment.


*Just a brief word about maternal employment.  Female employment is highly correlated with divorce but the Australian authors (quite rightly) seem more circumspect with regard to its relationship when compared to American ones. Anecdotally, I grew up in a large Mediterranean immigrant community. In my little bit of the world, the Italian mothers hardly ever worked outside the home, the Croatian mothers nearly all worked in factories and the Greek mothers were 50/50. Divorce in all communities was rare.  I also didn't know what people used for contraception but most families had only two kids.

Now if the Pill, no-fault laws and maternal employment were all causative factors with regard to divorce why do people from Mediterranean cultures seems so powerfully resistant to these corrosive effects when exposed to them?

Briefly, Mediterranean cultures are far less individualistic and see the individual as not only having rights but as also having obligations, especially when it comes to family.  Divorce, even when easily available, is not an option they will choose.

On the other hand, people from  North Western European cultures will take the option when it is available.

I personally don't think that the 60's were a period of cultural revolution, rather it was period of institutional revolution.  The culture had changed well before then and it was a time when the institutions of the land finally caught up with the popular will of the people.  The reason why the whole traditional edifice came tumbling down so rapidly once the floodgates were open is because its foundations were rotten.  The people had already given up on traditional morality and its guise was only maintained by the coercion of the state.  The fact that the Pill made its appearance at the same time is a classic case of correlation rather than causation. It was culture, not the Pill, which drove the divorce epidemic.

*In another interesting paper, aptly titled Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample Followed for 32 Years shows just how pernicious peer group norms are at promoting particular behaviours.



14 comments:

Kathy Farrelly said...

"It was culture, not the Pill, which drove the divorce epidemic."

I agree SP.


"Being the town bike, yet without children, was no mark of distinction."

Indeed, SP. Apart from the religious and health aspects, I have also rammed home the town bike ramifications to our nearly 17 year old daughter.

So far, so good.

One cannot EVER become complacent about this stuff.

Kathy Farrelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brendan said...

The case is well made, I think, but it seems also likely to me that even if the pill is not a primary cause, it is an aider and abbeter. In other words, it's one thing for the culture to change to support promiscuity without shame, regardless of whether there are kids or not. It's another for a magic pill (and a magic legal and generally effective procedure) to come along and make even the possibility of having said kid, and all of the practical complications it entails regardless of social shaming around sex, promiscuity and unwed motherhood, away. It has a practical impact on behavior, even if it may not be the driving force. Culture and technology always play with each other in tandem, I think, because the technologists -- be they inventing the pill or Google -- are themselves a product of the culture and influenced by it, yet their own creations also influence the culture. It's likely the case that the stronger and more pervasive influence is cultural, but the technological also plays some role in impacting behavior and driving cultural developments forward.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Brendan.

Japan is an interesting case in point. The pill was banned there till 1999 (abortion being the socially accepted way to avoid birth) and still the promiscuity rates rose.

As I said before, when I started practicing medicine I was shocked at how few girls were on the pill I honestly thought the majority of them would have been on it. I can't tell you how many times I've had this conversation:

Me: Ms Smith, Are you sexually active?

Ms Smith: Yes.

Me: Are you using any form of contraception?

Ms Smith: No.

I mean WTF?

A lot of the girls (at least the ones I see) who are on the pill seem to be in stable relationships. Most girls don't like taking the pill because it's just another hassle (and they're all under the illusion it's going to make them fat).

Did the pill promote promiscuity? Intuitively, it would appear so but on further reflection I'm not sure. In Eastern Europe and Japan, where abortion was the method of dealing with "inconveniences" promiscuity arose as well.

I think the Pill's greatest service to the swinging sixties was cultural It and Kinsey opened the door to the discussion about sex which was so taboo in polite Western Society. It provided a respectable medium by which to broach the otherwise impolite subject, and thus the subject of sex (which had been repressed for so long) become one of the predominant cultural preoccupations.

@Kathy
Nice of you to drop by.

@Anon

Blogger ate your comment. But yes pill availability is not as good as actual pill usage. But it's the only data available from the times. That's why I included the the pill effect on mate selection and marriage duration data in the post.



Brendan said...

I think the Pill's greatest service to the swinging sixties was cultural

Yes, likely true. But I still think that technology and culture march in tandem, with each having an influence on the other (and culture likely being the stronger influence at all times because it is deeper and broader and more all-encompassing).

Interesting for the Japan case, but I would, unlike Roissy (perhaps, not sure if this is his view or not), place legal, safe abortion in the same category, in terms of behavioral influence, as the pill. That is, it's a culturally accepted way to mitigate the practical aspects of unwanted consequences from sexual activity. So I don't think that's really a contra case, unless the argument is very pill-specific to the exclusion of available, safe abortion.

Still, the cultural case is well made and likely true I think

Drew said...

The next question is, then, why did the culture change in this direction?


I'm not aware of your thoughts on William Strauss and Neil Howe's books on generations, but even these historical generational musings only explain circumstance and timing of changes, not the substance of which path is chosen.

For example, previous culture changes brought out the Second & Third Great Awakening which led directly to the Civil War. But that doesn't explain why they chose that form of culture/spirituality and those particular issues to bring to bear righteous indignation, whereas a substantially different spiritual path is chosen 140yrs later (depending on how one dates these different movements).

The Social Pathologist said...

@Drew

The next question is, then, why did the culture change in this direction?

The answer to that is complex. Briefly, I think it was the cumulation of several factors. Firstly, the retreat of religion against the onslaught of science. Secondly, the deligimisation of authority and the ennoblement of the proles. The protestantisation of culture with it's emphasis on the right of the individual to determine their own morality. Fourthly, the alignment of ideology with biological desire. I mean after you've rejected God and regard it as superstitious, why not embrace a philosophy that appeals to hedonic instincts? Atheistic asceticism is far harder to stomach than atheistic hedonism.

Drew said...

I'm not expecting easy answers on why this culture path was chosen. And everyone has opinions on the cause, but I've seen very little coherent data. Being born a couple generations later (millennial), makes it hard to cut through the revisionist narrative (read: lies).

Not say your explanation is invalid, but it needs supporting evidence for each part.

Firstly, the retreat of religion against the onslaught of science.
I am a bit skeptical of this reason. Primarily because the attack on Christian foundations began long before the 20th century. Before modern archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc, the intelligentsia and even Biblical scholars were absolutely convinced that there was no way the Old and New Testaments were historically accurate. And anything prophetic was written centuries after the events prophesied.

These attacks were made primarily in the 18th and 19th century, but faded away when intense scrutiny of historical documents and archaeological work was brought to bear.

My point is, why could such powerful attacks have little to no effect in their own time, but now are assumed to be effective in our time.



Atheistic asceticism is far harder to stomach than atheistic hedonism.
I'd say the environmental/naturist movement flavors are trying very hard to fill this role.

Nick B. Steves said...

"Dubious with regard to methodology," but willing to use the statistics if it fits the narrative, I see. The States where there were "Sales bans" in 1980 were certainly not the same as on the list in 1950. It is therefore impossible to tell if (Marcem's) Figure 1 is lying or just unadulterated bullshit.

Now if the Pill, no-fault laws and maternal employment were all causative factors with regard to divorce why do people from Mediterranean cultures seems so powerfully resistant to these corrosive effects when exposed to them?

Lies, damn lies, and statistics... to find out we could just look at the divorce rate in (oh, say) Italy, where it seems to have approximately trebled in the last 40 years even while the marriage rate went down by a factor of two.

Yes, Italians are fantastically immune from the deleterious effects of the pill and no-fault divorce and cohabitation... compared to Danes or Swedes... but not compared to themselves... which is the actually interesting question.

These are naturally difficult questions to tease out of statistics, made all the more so when based on self-reporting. But there is also a sociological and psychological mainstream quite hell-bent on maintaining The Narrative about "women's liberation". We should at least be skeptical of our skepticism when it comes to (in some cases clearly massaged) statistics that run counter to good ol' common sense.

Correlation may not prove causation, but it certainly doesn't disprove it.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Drew

This is a complex topic. I'll try and be brief by drawing a parallel with socialism. Once socialism started being taken seriously, very good arguments were developed (and later proven true) about why it would fail when compared to capitalism. Now with over a hundred years of historical experience, you'd expect no one to want to be socialist, and yet the opposite is true.

People, en masse, are weak thinkers. The assault on Christianity in the 18th and 19th C's whilst logically and evidentially poor, was successful in creating a aetheist culture which many people joined, especially the elites. Most of the middle ground Christians were at Church by habit and when their superiors provided them with reasons to defect, they did so in droves. Following your instincts is much easier than maintaining self-control. The God is dead ethic was quite influential in the slide towards hedonism.

I'd say the environmental/naturist movement flavors are trying very hard to fill this role.

Agreed.

@Nick

Why the rage? The discussion's been civil so far.

I admit the methodology is flawed, but it studies appear to be the best ones out there. If you can find any better studies I'd be more than happy to have a look at them. If I'm wrong I'll be more than happy to acknowledge it.

Next, focus.

The issue here isn't whether the Pill promoted promiscuity, or whether the pill delayed marriage, rather, did the pill influence divorce rates? The evidence does not seem so overwhelming when you look at it.

I'm not here to push a particular "narrative" be that either feminist or traditional. The aim is to see whether the data fits the interpretation. The data, as far as I can see, is simply not there to prove that the pill is a solvent of marriage.

Yes, Italians are fantastically immune from the deleterious effects of the pill and no-fault divorce and cohabitation... compared to Danes or Swedes... but not compared to themselves... which is the actually interesting question.

Reframe.

Firstly, it is interesting to see why Italians and Danes differ in divorce rates, especially when material standards of living a pill availability are the same. The whole point of this post was even if the pill has an pro-divorce effect on marriage its effect is dwarfed by the effect of culture.

Nick B. Steves said...

SP, no rage intended.

The whole point of this post was even if the pill has an pro-divorce effect on marriage its effect is dwarfed by the effect of culture.

You're still comparing Danes and Italians. It doesn't compute.

Let's consider a toxin in the air thought to increase the incidence say of birth defects in some subset of populations. Now it turns out the Danes, by their very nature, suffer from this defect far more than Italians even in complete absence of the toxin. It is much more rare amongst Italians.

So we test out the toxin and find that it increases the odds of Danish birth defects by a factor of two, but Italian incidence by a factor of three.

Now I'm not saying the differential divorce statistics (1970-2010) can be laid entirely at the feet of the pill, correlation does not imply causation yada yada... But we certainly wouldn't be looking at the changes in those odds ratios and concluding that the toxin was relatively benign.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Nick

Italian divorce rates have increased over the period in question, but as conservative Mediterraneans have often mentioned to me, they feel that the reason why the divorce rates have risen is because people have become Americanised.

Nick B. Steves said...

"They feel that the reason why the divorce rates have risen is because people have become Americanised."

Well, yeah, that's a fine word for it... doesn't mean the pill isn't a big part of that though.

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