Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Whither Singles Ministries?

In my last post, I wrote:

the social space in which a non-college-educated woman (for instance) can be courted by a college-educated professional man is much smaller than it perhaps once was.

I started to add that one such social space remaining would be church singles ministries. These usually take the form of age-bracketed Sunday school classes, often specifically advertised as catering to unmarried people. I met my own wife in one such class at a large mainline church in a city Out West and have no regrets.

But I noted some time ago that this church no longer offers such classes. I did a quick check among the larger local Protestant Evangelical churches I knew about (at least one of which is famous enough that you, too, have heard of it), yet found only one that advertised a singles ministry (for 30- and 40-somethings). My RC friends have reported a similar decline in single's ministries for Roman Catholics. What's going on?

Has online dating really sucked dry the market for IRL social spaces? Perhaps all single people today believe the advantages of online dating (large pool of participants, limited personal exposure prior to date commitment) outweigh the costs (Tinder screening factors, date commitment necessary to meet and interact).

Perhaps it reflects the desires of women, or at least of those with the loudest voices. Putting single men and women together inevitably means the former will approach the latter. No doubt some women want to be approached, but it may be difficult for those women to express this against women who do not want to be approached, or for whom being approached by the wrong men or in the wrong way is an intolerable social cost. I expect their complaints would find a receptive ear among the church leaders, older men who met and married their wives in a different age, men who accpet uncritically the claim that today's low marriage rates are wholly the fault of men for their failure to meet women's expectations.

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Bad Decision Handbook

I finished reading Privilege Lost: Who Leaves the Upper Middle Class and How They Fall, Jessi Streib's qualitative study of how children enter downwardly mobile econimic trajectories. It is based on in-depth interviews conducted as part of the "National Survey of Youth and Religion".

The book is badly written, and it's analytical framework is weak and repetitive. Streib wants to explain downward mobility as a function of two factors:

  • Weakness in "inherited resources", here listed as money and academic and institutional knowledge.

  • Identity, falling into one of seven categories, and itself often a function of resource weakness.

The work virtually ignores any consideration of individual intelligence or those qualities of the Five Factor Model that most predict academic and professional success: emotional stability and contientiousness. Instead, Streib relies entirely on the interviewees' own account of their backgrounds and interior lives. This leads to some pretty hilarious incongruities. My personal favorite is the account of "Virginia", introduced in the chapter on the "stay-at-home mother" identity:

Virginia was raised in such a family [that emphasized traditional gender roles] and in a conservative space -- in a variety of red states and by secular parents who spent their formative years as members of conservative religions. Her father earned a high income, but from Virginia's perspective, he was rarely home. When he was home, Virginia tried to learn about the workforce from him, but he did not engage. Virginia explained: "I really wish that he was more vocal, that he would talk about more things . . . ." Virginia was much closer to her mothther, but she could not play this role in Virginia's life. Having dropped out of college to beocme a stay-at-home mom, Virginia's mother never entered the professional workforce or gained the knowledge associated with it.

We then read about Virginia's efforts to navigate the course of her teenage years:

Virginia . . . did not use school to prepare for college and work. Instead, she considered school a holding zone and a romantic zone. Regarding the former, she saw school as the process of "sitting in a classroom learning stuff I don't care about." At the same time, she met her first boyfiriend in high school and enjoyed speding time with him at school. Yet, after Virginia's boyfriend slept with her best friend while Virginia was passed out, drunk, on the other side of the room, Virginia returned to seeing school as a holding zone.

So . . . it's pretty clear there are other problems here than just Virginia's stay-at-home mother identity.

To give Streib some partial credit, I will allow that, however worthwhile being a stay-at-home mother is as a lifestyle choice for those women to whom the opportunity is offered, as a career plan it may be poorly suited as a method of "class reproduction". As Streib points out, most professional class people marry other professional class people, and the social space in which a non-college-educated woman (for instance) can be courted by a college-educated professional man is much smaller than it perhaps once was.

But it might also be true that stay-at-home mother is defined by more than just resource weaknesses. It may be that the track requires its own set of resource strengths. For instance, it may mean not getting blind drunk at parties, not having slutty girlfriends, not dating men living the kind of lives -- or living such a life yourself -- where no-strings-attached sex is A Thing. There may be something about Virginia's background -- having adopted a "conservative" life-goal without having herself internalized any of the conservative values that would support such an ambition -- that is especially likely to end poorly.

Virginia's were not the only bad decisions made by Streib's collection of interviewees, perhaps not even the worst. The subjects adopting the "rebel" identify, and those described as "explorers", by which Streib means those who maintain several competing identities, often including "rebel", were especially self-destructive in their choices. Others' were merely sad: for instance, the decision by a perfectly capable and energetic young woman to try to become a writer for television shows without deep family connections in that industry. It is the counter-example of these stories, and not Streib's analysis, in which the real strength of the book lies.