Friday, February 16, 2007

Faith Works 2-17-07
Jeff Gill

Love Can Last, Not So Statistics

It was when Mike Huckabee said it that I was startled.

For years, the casual observation has slipped into everyday conversation and general media reports: one out of two marriages end in divorce.

Everyone knows that.

And like most things everyone knows, it isn’t true. Usually social conservatives, like the aforementioned former governor of Arkansas (born in Hope, no less) who wants to be the next Republican president, are up to speed on social data.

But this non-data datum is so pervasive that maybe a candidate, wanting to point to cultural decay and their proposed fixes, can’t resist using it. They should, though, because I worry about how this sounds to young couples. "We got a fifty-fifty shot at lasting, no? Let’s just move in and keep it simple."

So to take apart misconception number one – the reason the "one in two" figure is so readily accepted, is probably something you’ve noticed in the pages of this very publication. You see thirty marriage license application listed, and fifteen divorces and dissolutions. One in two, Jeff, what’s your point?

That’s where actual statistical analysis comes in. When George and Martha have been married for 57 years, that’s one marriage. In the same period, Fred and Ethel marry and break up. That’s a divorce, one out of two; meanwhile, Fred marries and divorces three more times and Ethel twice. How do you count that?

Well, pollster Lewis Harris in his 1987 book "Inside America" wrote that "the idea that half of American marriages are doomed is one of the most specious pieces of statistical nonsense ever perpetuated in modern times." Add in couples that divorce and get back together (not a great many, but more than you might think), and it turns out that an accurate number for the "marriage success rate" is very hard to find.

Our competition over at the New York Times did a detailed demographic analysis two years ago, and concluded that "the percentage of all marriages that end in divorce" peaked at 41% in 1980, and today is at or below 30%.Is a 70% success rate for American marriage better than 50%? It’d sound like it to me if I was 23 and looking at setting a wedding date. Some studies push that number closer to 75%, meaning you could say with perfect accuracy "three out of four marriages last a lifetime."

What makes this info even more critical among couples starting out is the dramatic skew with education and socio-economic factors. Women who have completed college divorce around 20% of the time, while those with less education are divorcing in close to 40% of their marriages. Add in the more than twice that number skew for "out-of-wedlock entirely" births, and you see – well, you see Vickie Lynn Hogan. You see the sad story of Anna Nicole Smith (her stage name), but almost always without the millions or the fame. Just the bad choices leading to disastrous outcomes for the children who become ping pong balls in adult disputes.

The danger of this "well, you only have a one in two chance of making it, anyhow" logic is that those least able to deal with added stress and complication in their lives, the poorest and least educated, are thinking they hear a cultural signal of "it don’t matter nohow." The reality is that their better educated sisters are getting fewer partners, abortions, single pregnancies, and divorces. The wealth gap, which is growing in America, may have more to do with these trends than even NAFTA (and I’m not saying NAFTA doesn’t).

Or did you know that, according to a national survey in 1995, having just one sexual partner, outside of the one you’ll marry, increases your odds of divorce by half? And just a second (that’s only a lifetime total of three partners, if you’re keeping score at home), bumps that figure up another 10%?

So this St. Valentine’s week, as you can probably tell, I’m feeling pretty passionate about us telling the truth to each other about the state of marriage, the role of monogamy, its advantages, and why people of faith have a stake in both family and the economy to say so. Loudly.

And yes, I sent the Huckabee campaign got an email from me. If I hear anything back, I’ll let y’all know.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; send him your tale of faith and life in Licking County at
Notes From My Knapsack 2-18-07
Jeff Gill

Developers Develop

Developers develop projects.

I know that sounds painfully obvious, but as George Orwell liked to say, sometimes the hardest work is facing what’s right in front of us.

A developer, by definition, wants to develop.

First, the upside (yeah, there’s a downside, give me a minute). Developers by their very nature see something that others don’t see. They see homes, businesses, streets to connect them, infrastructure to service them, and even a community surrounding them. They see opportunity, possibility, and yes, profit. Which is not always a bad thing, OK?

Developers do see something different than many of us when they look at a green field or a woody hillside. Even on vacation, or in a national park, they look at a slope and think "how many of which kind of somethings could I put in there? If I put in fifty condos at 12% or build seventeen estate homes at 40%, I’m golden unless the market leaves me with over 5% empty…" and so on. It doesn’t mean they really want to do it, but it’s like me reading the front page of the Dispatch and circling the typos and usage errors. Writers write, and developers develop.

Developers have to be persistent, and think beyond a quarterly forecast, or a biennial budget, or the next election. Ten years is a fairly common timeframe for most developers, which makes them some of the most forward looking people in the area. Whether they’re of a mood to share their forecasts or projections is another matter, because developers aren’t rare. They have competition, competing for green space (cheapest to develop on), tax breaks (which aren’t, contrary to belief, limitless), or financing (ditto). Successful developers are rare; developers going through bankruptcy, not rare.

Then the downside. Developers are rarely into parks or reserve public lands, unless it helps block a competitor’s plan. They don’t actually see any land as permanently set aside as much as not politically viable…at this time. Developers know there are enough people interested in preserving green space that it isn’t their concern. Developers develop, and greenies try to set aside land.

For now.

From Granville to Gratiot, from Pataskala to Perry Township, Licking County is already sized up, planned and parceled up, and vastly overbuilt – in the minds of developers. They’ve gonna do whatever they can do, with the most optimal profit, just as farmers will sell their grain and plants sell product, looking for the best price point and market saturation. And pushing just past it.

There’s a fellow I know who’s been getting quite a bit of flak, behind his back and to his face, over objecting to a recent green space initiative. Actually, when I told him I would likely vote for it, he was nothing but encouraging. It was the task of keeping the wider public aware of the ongoing nature of this question – how much building can we sustain? – that motivated him.

More to the point, I have a strong suspicion that we just saw a very skilled, experienced local developer play a community for chumps at a rigged card game. When every quote they have to give is ominous and threatening, and their phone banks are making calls filled with every loaded adjective to make people feel pushed into a corner, I wonder. It doesn’t take a skilled student of human nature to know that Licking Countians hate to be told they have no choice. Why would those supposedly trying to pass a bond levy push those buttons?

So now we have the hard work of many sincere community leaders, subtly undermined by way too many mailings, push poll phone banks, and a confrontative public stance by the owner of the land (a developer, note), ending in defeat.

So when a hearing over annexation someday is asking "Is this going to be a problem for the communities and schools affected?" the answer will come – "hey, they had a chance to vote and said they didn’t care."

Developers develop. Only the community, in dialogue amongst themselves, can build community.If a developer comes to your community and says they want to help, it could be. But just remember, developers develop.

Or am I repeating myself?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio. Tell him a story through