Let’s See What’s in the News Today: 09/24/2011


  • Could this prove Einstein’s theory that light is the only absolute constant in the universe wrong?
  • Speaking of proving scientific theories wrong, this could prove that we need to rethink dark matter. [H/T Daniel Vecchio]


  • Modern day Lysistrata in the Dado village in the Philippines:


  • This week was National Single and Unmarried Americans Week.  Here’s a great pieceabout how marriage equality still leaves the singles behind, where it’s forming a culture that if one is single, then there must be something wrong with you.  Less and less people are getting married, and so this may have cultural signification.  Indeed, unmarried people actually contribute more:

    [S]ingle people often contribute more to the community — because once people marry, they tend to put their energy and focus into their partners and their own families at the expense of friendships, community ties and extended families.

    In a report released this week by the Council on Contemporary Families, Dr. Gerstel notes that while 68 percent of married women offer practical or routine help to their parents, 84 percent of the never-married do. Just 38 percent of married men help their parents, compared with 67 percent of never-married men. Even singles who have children are more likely than married people to contribute outside their immediate family.

    “It’s the unmarried, with or without kids, who are more likely to take care of other people,” Dr. Gerstel said. “It’s not having children that isolates people. It’s marriage.”

    The unmarried also tend to be more connected with siblings, nieces and nephews. And while married people have high rates of volunteerism when it comes to taking part in their children’s activities, unmarried people often are more connected to the community as a whole. About 1 in 5 unmarried people take part in volunteer work like teaching, coaching other people’s children, raising money for charities and distributing or serving food.

    Unmarried people are more likely to visit with neighbors. And never-married women are more likely than married women to sign petitions and go to political gatherings, according to Dr. Gerstel.

    However, the biggest plight is single woman.  They are more often stigmatized.  Again, my heros–Bella DePaulo and Stephanie Coontz–report that these practices and laws are outdated.  Married people don’t have special status qua married people.

  • Many in the Gen X crowd are opting out of having kids.


  • In a previous post, I talked about will power and the weakness of the will.  I also asked whether this was akin to a muscle where one can strengthen or weaken will power.  Well, there’s a new book coming out on just that topic.  I will definitely purchase.  [H/T Daniel Farmer]

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
This entry was posted in News, Science, Sexuality, Single and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Let’s See What’s in the News Today: 09/24/2011

  1. John says:

    Except for the fact that people who do not get married do not contribute significantly to the long-term stability of the general economy and, thus, the community in which they exist.

    In fact, consider the value of human capital in the development of technology, production, and distribution of goods, and imagine if the birth rate falls to significantly. Indeed, the greatest achievements of mankind are always following “birth booms” so I deny, outright, the claim that “single people contribute far more”. In fact, I would imagine a single professor using that to justify the hard-realization of their own solidarity.

    Also, this study is shortsighted. In modern day society, I can see why single people may be more prone to contribute to community; first, supporting oneself is not too hard, but raising children and coordinating with a souse is given that certain consumption factors compound as the number of family members increases. Given that more goods have to be supplied, one is stuck ensuring productivity in obtaining goods. This view however is false in other cultures where the dual incomes are necessary for support of children; the economic policies that have dominated our society, namely inflation, have made it the case that people can not both raise new generations and contribute equal time to the “community”.

    Nonetheless, I find it quite pathetic to even skip the fact that human capital pound for pound is more value to communities that “communal projects”, running a baking sale, helping old people, or the like. If human capital falls to low, there will be no community for which to help, and no new innovations to fee more time for which to help…. I really don’t and cant take this “study” seriously.

    • shaunmiller says:

      You seem to assume that single people cannot procreate. Obviously, that’s not true. As the article suggests, “unmarried people with or without kids…”.

      I agree with you about human capital, but your comments seem to suggest that one has a responsibility or perhaps an “obligation” to get married for economic reasons. Correct me if I’m wrong on that. By the way, I’m not an expert on economics, but just to let you know, I think there is more to life than economics as this comic will suggest: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2383#comic

  2. John says:

    I agree. I should have been more specific. My point is more complex.

    First, it is a largely accepted fact that reproduction rates fall as people postpone marriage. There are certain moral, spiritual, economic, and psycho focal factors that obtain in marriages (when productive, that is) that do not obtain as easily for single people. Moreover, in economically advanced societies, single people postpone reproduction the more tine they allocate to “extra personal” activities, and, especially, economic activities (there is a positive correlation of lower reproduction as income increases for single individuals).

    Basically, they don’t reproduce as much. In fact, some studies performed by Deluci and some other French economist, showed that the replacement rate among individuals is less than .021! Basically, kiss a community goodbye over the span of 95 years (thats assuming absolute carrying). This study is not really that surprising, given that one child, unmarried, is a tuff job, but imagine two children! I mean, you need approx 2.5 children to ensure statistical replacement, but no individual is going to be able to pull that off -unless you are awesome like Euler 😉 (he could do math while watching his 5 children!).

    Also, there are some cultural factors that are being ignored by the study, Shaun. First, I think that individuals in advanced society tend to contribute because the amount of leisure time that they have is significantly more than in lower-order societies; serious and consecutive communal cooperation, in my opinion and from some of my observations obtained from working in close-knit impoverished communities, comes from children being raised to accept working together with your children as a norm. This is not usually the case in more advanced societies. I think religious sub-cultures counter this study; I mean, the LDS church had more volunteer man hours logged than any other organization. So, there seems to be a strong cultural element here.

    My last point is a psychological one: some would argue that individuals that choose to remain single are still subject to the natural propensity to engage in social interaction. This the supererogatory actions, in the form of service and what not, are the result of avoidance from being alone, isolated, etc…. Basically, they are seeking a way to remedy a loose of companionship and belonging. I mean, we have serious empirical evidence that shows the aging, illness, and overall happiness is still in favor of those who are not single (even homosexual couples report great overall happiness than single heterosexual individuals).

    Then, again, I could probably have live as a single man. In fact my current relationship is very much in my favor given that I am somewhat of an individualist; basically, my wife hates the whole “I have to be around you every waking second and I will do anything to be by you”.

    • shaunmiller says:

      There are a lot of things that I agree with you, and a lot that I disagree with you. Let me start with the ones that I agree with first.

      I agree that the more advanced society is, there’s more contribution because of the leisure time. Aristotle even mentioned this saying that philosophers can’t exist unless that society is affluent. Why? It’s because philosophers just think; they don’t contribute to society. To simply think is a leisurely activity. I find this to be very helpful as a test to see if a society’s affluence correlates with the presence of leisurely or academic philosophers. The LDS church has more voluntary hours logged in, but that may be dealing with the values of voluntary work within that community. If you could, could you see if single LDS people vs. married LDS people volunteer more? That may be telling.

      As for the disagreements:

      In terms of factors that married people have that singles don’t, I think it’s true, but not a priroi true. I don’t see how a single person is “less moral” or “less spiritual” than a married person. Perhaps I’m reading you wrong, however. But for the psychological and the economic factors, this is partly due to the social conditions on how single people are treated. Because they are castigated more so than coupled people, they social climate has conditioned our society that being single is inferior than being coupled which could result in a psychological tendency to see oneself as single as an inferior person. As for the correlation between lower reproduction and increase in income with single people, I’m not really surprised by that, but I fail to see how that’s significant. For the replacement factor, I don’t see how this affects much because those who are single and choose to be single are a huge minority. It’s not as if a segment of the population refuses to have kids. The single people who choose not to have kids contribute to society and then leave nothing for their progeny. I guess I’m missing something. If you’re worried that the next generation won’t be replaced, it won’t affect me since I’m an anti-natalist. 🙂

      For contribution, I think the article was suggesting more than just human capital. I’m thinking of something simple. For example, if I’m single and I want to watch TV, then I go to the store and buy one. One TV for one person. However, if I’m married, I go to the store, buy the TV but that entertainment is split for two people. If they were single, they would have to buy two TV’s. For married people, almost everything is split. It’s as if married people only need to buy (almost) half of what single people buy.

      As for the psychological effects, I agree with you that single people want social interaction. It’s a natural propensity that all people want. (I’m hesitant to use the word “natural” since this word has had so many meanings for philosophers, but I’m ignoring it for the moment.) But as for the empirical evidence suggesting that overall happiness belongs to those who are not single, I would question its veracity. For one, we live in a culture that is very couple-centric. It’s as if being single is blameworthy and considered a vice. This may have ramifications toward single people, and so one starts to perceive oneself as not being happy because of their peers. It’s analogous to any minority that has low self-esteem issues because that minority hasn’t been accepted in mainstream society. Think about our culture. Once a couple are together, they aren’t “really” a couple until they are married. Oh, but they aren’t “truly” a family unless they have children. These ideas bring out some normative claim to the point where if one isn’t fulfilling that obligation, then one perceives oneself as incomplete, lacking, or worse, doing something wrong which could contribute to one’s unhappiness. Two, when I mean “single” I don’t mean someone who stays at home alone. I mean simply one who isn’t married or even in a relationship. These people can still be happy, lively, engaging and have many important people in one’s lives.

      By the way, Euler was a bad-ass.

  3. John says:

    Yes, Euler was a badass -rockstar type ;).

    You points are well received. Let me comment on a few concerns.

    First, leisure is an indication of advancement in both the economic platform of the social sphere and the political platform. And such societies tend to, in my opinion, loose the need for volunteerism given that the availability of goods, services and technology are usually so high that the cost to “contribute” time is high. Which leads me to my general question: why would unmarried individuals seek to provide more service? The point about the LDS church may help us here. Te LDS church, as you well know, is renowned for it’s ability to provide service to various causes, but I would have to say that the unmarried minority probably clocks more hours per capita than the married population -in the USA. However, this surely does not hold in other countries (I.e. South Korea, Japan, India, and, especially, Africa and South America). The article sites things like time preferences in the form of isolation as a major factor; this claim does not answer the question. It only provides a minor explanation which, may or may not be a byproduct of some other cause. I believe this cause is culture.

    As you have pointed out: the attitude toward single people may contribute to how single people see themselves. And this is especially true in the LDS church (I have been there). In the bounds of the church unmarried people have about 3-5 years of “freedom” from not being married; basically, they are not harassed by their leaders or elders for not “being married”. However, during this time, they tend to be actively engaged in service, social “improvement” activities, dances, single-group service projects, etc. If they are not doing these things, they are expected, then, to be married or be “looking” for a mate. So, in the name of preserving their unmarried lifestyle, they tend to be more involved than their peers.

    Now, the culture of South America and Africa is very different. The single people are usually not involved in service as married people -especially, older married women. I have tried to figure out why, but I am unsure. I mean, the older men usually, even in places like Chile (which is compatible to the US in some respects), have the say in what project gets done, but not HOW it gets done. The young men are expected, from as far as I can tell, to be working and learning a trade so as to have money to support a spouse -indeed, they spend huge amounts of time trying to get some, any, skill. This seems, to me, to solve a coordination problem: if you are to get married, you must be able to support a new life, and a spouse; so, the sooner you get a viable skill, the sooner you have the income and ability to get engage with prospects.

    This is why I found the article short-sighted. It does not address cultural dynamics and conditions; it also avoids game-theoretical coordination as a subset of cultural response to conditionals, and, the most serious omission arrives in the form of a disturbing oversight of human capital and the “contribution” that married couples make on future members of the community by raising them, or providing the human capital -which, is the driving force behind a society that can allow for *professional* philosophers to exist (I mean, Aristotle is great, but philosophers have been busy with full-time, non academic employment and had the ability to “think”: Leibniz comes to mind 😉 ).

    Also, married people do consume far more goods than unmarried people. I mean, while it is true that two single people will have to buy two television sets if they are to obtain entertainment, married people tend to consume more often. Children are great way to stimulate the economy; first, children are very good at degrading resources by breaking them, eating them, or demanding new ones. Not to mention that the need for higher earnings by one or both spouses requires the purchase of extra services and external goods that can be classify as higher order (I.e. Daycare, education for spouses and children, medical bills, security, and the like).

    I think, economically, it is fairly obvious that there are more positives factors obtained for society at large by married people (or, at lest people who have children, and, yes, I know I you don’t need to be “married” -I am referring to “married” in the “mate” and “natural unit” sense). So, I think that a elementary evaluations of the positive outcomes vs. negative outcomes of the two groups would provide some moral justification, or at least the claim that being a non-single reproductive person is morally praiseworthy over the alternative.

    Now, about the psychological claim. Culture does effect this, but the fact that married couples report more happiness than single people is not exclusive to a set or subset of societies. Indeed, it is almost universal among humans in the sense that individuals belong to a tight-knit relationship system or community that, usually, involves intimacy and caring factors. Indeed, there are some religious groups and the like that purport to value singlism and detachment, but such groups are a extreme minority in the global society and even more in human history -not to mention among all of animals.

    Also, culture cannot easily account for the fact that married men (or men that exist in a intimate, caring, and long-lasting cooperative relationship) live longer, have a statistically signification chance at being more healthy that single men. Women benefit similarly.

    I also tend to admire nature and the way coordination occurs within an ecosystem, so I tend to think that higher order mammals tend to “need” close intimate and loving contact. This fact, for me, seems to be “programed” if you will. It is almost like some essential function, the removal of which would drastically harm the coordination and carrying factors of our specie’s advancement and, in some cases, existence. But, hey, I tend to follow hold on to the idea that no other possible world could have actualized in such a way to obtain what we call “humans” were it not for these “basic functions” that we exhibit.

  4. John says:

    And, yes single people be happy and contribute to other’s lives, but their contribution to society at large is not as great as those who reproduce and raise new human capital (which Marx deemed to be the most value resource in existence). Not to mention that a affluent economy requires, as a necessary condition, a higher birth rate (at least above or at replacement). Plus the fact that the wonderful contributions and experiences generated by any single person are, in part, thanks to a reproductive couple. The value of that fact seem incalculable.

    • shaunmiller says:

      Good comments.

      Let me start with the idea of bringing in culture. I think you bring in a lot of good input that helps the discussion across. However, I think the article was mainly concerned with just American culture. So if one asks about these other cultures, I could imagine the authors’ reply would be, “Fascinating, but my project is to only concentrate on and in America. Anything beyond that would be beyond the scope of the study.”

      Secondly, you make a good point of children creating a demand to buy more stuff, but I’m not exactly sure how this affects single people. After all, single people can still have children. I need to look at some numbers on whether married people consume more stuff. I mean, food would be a good example. A married couple would generally buy enough food to feed them both, and so they can relatively buy cheaper things and make them at home. It’s harder for a single person because it’s time-consuming, there’s too much food, and there’s a market to buy food for single people (e.g. TV dinners). On the other hand, getting married (usually) means pooling resources together which makes the couple able to buy more (expensive) stuff. Basically, I’m looking at numbers on the article, but if you can show me numbers suggesting that married people contribute more.

      Yet, your next claim sounds disturbing. It almost sounds like one should have a moral obligation to have children, or at least one has a moral obligation to not be single. This is what the article is getting at: these norms get inculcated into society and anything not following those norms gets treated as outsiders.

      I see your point about those who are in relationships live longer, and I agree. But I don’t think those relationships necessarily need to be some intimate/romantic kinds. Again, I think it’s confusing the cause with the effect. How can we tell that living longer is the effect of the intrinsic value of being in an intimate relationship? Perhaps culture has made this prioritized and anything other than that is a degraded relationship. Thus, anyone who sees oneself (or others) as not following that norm is deemed unhappy. Of course, there is a correlation between happiness and longevity of life, and so that person dies from unhappiness. But is that unhappiness from being single, or of the stigmatization of being single?

      I also agree that humans generally need some intimate connection and closeness. I’m not sure that this necessarily entails marriage, or even some long-term relationships. We’ll have to define “long” but I think this may suffice for now.

      As for contributions, I think that there have been valuable contributions from reproductive people, but I don’t see that as a necessary connection. Suppose that Steve Jobs was single. He’d still be a computer genius and a great contributer to society.

  5. John says:

    Nice point.

    Married people tend to consume more. I don’t have the exact numbers with my, but I think Brad Delong has a article on it. In fact, they constitute about 60 of total consumption, which is really disturbing to me because how much of that is pure waste!

    Now, I would like to clarify: I am, as you know, all for marriage privatization and open relationships; however, there seems to be some serious moral values that are tampered and improved in relationships that require or posses what I call a “trust operator”; basically, this operator allows for you to coordination efforts while knowing, with a high degree of confidence, that your mate will be there to fulfill their end of the agreement, that they will ensure that the children that you produce are taken care of, that you improve each other and tolerate the process of improvement -not to mention things like long-suffering, tolerance, and charity. These values need not require that people possess some state-backed agreement or contract, only sometime of heartfelt seriously statement of ones dedication resulting for the abstract emotion of love. That is why I admire homosexual couples that are together for 20-25 or more years without the societal definition of marriage being applied to them. Single people cannot take advantage of this unless they were, logically, at one point not single. These is something about being intimate with people for long periods of time and in loving nurturing ways that allow for the actualization of the previously mentioned values.

    And if a single person has a child, then either they were not really “single” or they merely wanted to reproduced…which diminishes the child’s opportunity to experience and play a part in couples or love-groups working out complex situations of moral coordination. There could be some moral problems with having children only for the sake of reproduction.

    I don’t know, Jobs did find great motivation to return to apple and work because of his wife’s support. Indeed, the last thing he wanted over the last years of his life was to be around his wife and children, I would not be so quick to assume that intimate relationships that are loving and authentic do not provide serious motivation to achieve things on a higher level that you would normally have done.

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