Justin Katz of Dust in the Light. has responded to my post describing the deceleration in the rate of change in the US non-marital birth ratio and its relationship to the campaign for same sex marriage. My argument is analogous to that of Dr. Stanley Kurtz. Just as Dr. Kurtz argues that the acceleration in the rate-of-change in the Dutch non-marital birth ratio is caused by the Dutch campaign for same sex marriage, I argued the deceleration in the rate-of-change in the American non-marital birth ratio is caused by the American campaign for same sex marriage.
In my June 8 article, I listed the categories of flaws Mr. Katz identified. I also addressed one category of flaws. Today, I will address this second category of flaws:
I will consider three theories Mr. Katz suggested might explain the data. These are:
- The beneficial effects of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act which might lower the non-marital birth ratio.
- The “boost” phenomena which might lower the non-marital birth ratio.
- The tendency of campaigns for same sex marriage to raise the non-marital birth ratio, as Dr. Kurtz has speculated.
The Welfare Reform Act of 1996
Mr. Katz suggested The Welfare Reform Act might explain the American Data:
Justin Katz is correct; I did not consider that the 1995 deceleration might have resulted from The 1996 Welfare Reform Act, signed into law in late August. Women who became pregnant the day the bill was signed would give birth in May 1997, contributing to the 1997 birth statistics. In any case, one might expect a somewhat longer time lag. After all, it is possible that co-habiting couples might spend a few months deciding to marry and then a few more planning their wedding.
Consequently, the first full year when one would expect to note any effect of The Welfare Reform Act of on the birth statistics would be 1998. Any attempt to assess the impact of the legislation at an earlier date would be premature. In 1998, the non-marital birth ratio rose to 32. 8% after remaining at 32.4% for two years running.
To address my omission, I added passage of The Welfare Reform Act to my graph. The line between 1996 and 1997 denotes passage; the later line shows when women who became pregnant the day before the act was signed would have given birth.
Examining the graph, it appears unlikely The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 caused the decline in birth rates in 1995.
The boost effect
Mr. Katz suggests I overlooked the theory that discussions of SSM might cause people to better value marriage. He refers to this as the “boost” phenomenon. I thought that general theory was precisely the one I suggested!
As I see it, when gay rights advocates demand the right to marry, the demand itself suggests marriage is a valuable. When advocates explain why couples wish to marry, describe the numerous advantages of marriage, and how marriage benefits children, other people may listen. If listeners are swayed by these explanations, they may decide to marry rather than to co-habit. Collectively, their decisions could lead to a reduction in the non-marital birth ratio.
The campaign may have another positive effect. In his articles, Dr. Kurtz has suggested that cohabitation may be contagious. When some couples cohabit, others imitate them. One might speculate that marriage can also be contagious. The pure joy of watching happy people marry often causes people to value marriage. We see this effect described in blogs like this one posted at Notes From the Tundra!, in which a woman describes how watching a same sex wedding in Oregon caused her to better value her own heterosexual marriage.
Witnessing this joy, might it not be possible that a co-habiting heterosexual couple would decide to marry? Might not a young black teenager insist on marriage before pregnancy? Would this contagion tend to explain not only the overall deceleration in out-of-wedlock births I illustrated in my graph, but also the deceleration in out-of-wedlock birth among black teens that Mr. Katz noted?
However, I suspect, neither of these mechanisms are the one Mr. Katz believes I overlooked. Possibly he refers to positive influence that might occur if opponents of same sex marriage were to modify their message as advised by Dr. Gabriel Rosenberg:
This boost theory seems plausible. If a group describes how marriage helps children, some people might believe them. They might choose to marry rather than cohabit.
However, to believe opponents of SSM actually contributed the effect we saw during the 90′s, their message would have had to focus on promoting marriage. Some probably did. To evaluate how many, I reviewed a variety of articles and web pages that appear right now. It seems to me that, at least currently, pro-marriage voices are drowned out by those shouting the five phantom menaces: bestiality, pedophilia, incest, polygamy and male philandering caused by polygamy which is caused by SSM. There is also plenty of evidence that the opponents, like those at United Families, also go to significant length to communicate the idea that marriage is not a right and possibly not really about love and commitment.
Moreover, the underlying message of opposition to same sex marriage is this:
If that message doesn’t unlink marriage and parenthood, I don’t know what does!
If the eight messages I found were the dominant themes of opposition to SSM during in the nineties, as they currently seem to be, it is unlikely opponents’ arguments contributed to the deceleration in the non-marital birth ratio. More likely, it would lead to an acceleration. So, I find idea that the deceleration in the non-marital birth rate was due to the themes promoted by the opponents of same sex marriage highly unlikely. It seems fortunate to me that people listened to the advice of advocates of SSM who said marriage is valuable, and all parents should be married.
Mr. Katz also suggests I should consider Dr. Kurtz speculations that discussions of same sex marriage will cause people to devalue marriage. The essence of his argument is:
Readers will note that by removing the word “not” and changing “won’t” to “will”, Dr. Kurtz’s suggested cause and effect mechanism becomes mine. As logical arguments both say: If people say something, others may believe them. Then others may act on that belief. So, since our logic is identical, anyone who finds Dr. Kurtz’s mechanism plausible must find mine so, and vice versa.
Katz provides lengthy direct quotes wherein Dr. Kurtz speculates as to the various stages involved in destroying matrimony as an institution. Dr. Kurtz finally concludes “this will result in a rapid increase of out-of-wedlock births as a result of loosening sexual and marital mores and laws”.
Suffice it to say that Dr. Kurtz’s theory which predicts a rapid increase is not supported by the US data which shows a factor of four deceleration in the rate-of- change in out-of-wedlock births during the American campaign for sex marriage.
I believe I have addressed the three possible explanations suggested by Mr. Katz.
- It is highly unlikely that the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 caused the changes observed in 1995.
- The arguments by opponents of same sex marriage probably did not lead to the deceleration in the non-marital birth ratio.
- Dr. Kurtz’s theory that the campaign same sex marriage will lead to a rapid increase in non-marital births is not supported by the American Data.
Having evaluated these possible theories, I find that the theory advocacy of same sex marriage, accompanied by the message that parents should be married, must have caused the deceleration in the non-marital birth ratio,
 Dr. Kurtz discussed other factors that might explain the data he published in May, in his June article. He discussed his theory about the decay of marriage in Scandinavia in Feb. and told the American people and Congress his theories were supported by the Dutch data in April, (pdf).
 Julian, a poster at Alas a Blog, believes the idea that discussion of SSM, or even legalization of SSM could in affect the nonmarital birth rate in any way at all is entirely implausible. As both my theory and that of Dr. Kurtz rely on this assumption that the discussions could affect the non-marital birth rate, Julian rejects both. I believe he, and others who share his view about this causal mechanism, would not be convinced unless either Dr. Kurtz or I provided evidence showing a the relationship between legalized SSM on the change in the non-marital birth ratio was statistically significant. Such a study would require legalization in numerous countries.