The New Normal

From The New York Times comes this report of pregnancy outside of wedlock:

Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington research group that analyzed government data.

More and more, marriage is becoming a means through which we see social, political, and economic power dynamics play out.

The Young and the Unemployed

Discouraging news for the young’uns:

Just 54 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 currently have jobs, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. That’s the lowest employment rate for this age group since the government began keeping track in 1948. And it’s a sharp drop from the 62 percent who had jobs in 2007 — suggesting the recession is crippling career prospects for a broad swath of young people who were still in high school or college when the downturn began.

Woody Harrelson Gets Chased Out of Reddit

Woody Harrelson is starring in a new drama called Rampart. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard it is pretty solid.

A few days ago, some PR wizards decided to use Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) community to do a little publicity for Rampart. They created a page for him that read as follows:

Hi Reddit, it’s Woody here. I’m in New York today doing interviews for my new film RAMPART, which opens in theaters on February 10th. I’ll be checking in from 3-4EST today and will get to as many of your questions as I can, so start asking now! Be back soon.

A deluge of questions followed, as is typical for these AMAs. However, either Harrelson or the PR people running his account were instructed to only answer questions about Rampart (or in ways that referred explicitly to Rampart). In fact, if you read some of his answers, they sound like they’re coming straight out of a press kit for Rampart. As a result, Harrelson ignored the vast majority of other non-related questions, thus violating the “spirit” of Reddit’s AMA section.

Subsequent to this was a Reddit backlash the likes of which has rarely been seen. Reddit was outraged (OUTRAGED!) that Harrelson had attempted to use the site to brazenly promote his new film. But while others have done this sort of promotion in the past (e.g. Louis CK), Harrelson’s attempt struck the community is totally inauthentic and blatantly self-serving. The site is now awash with meme pictures of Harrelson, unpleasant trivia about Harrelson’s family, as well as rumors of some kind of sexual liason that Harrelson ostensibly participated in with a high school student in LA.

PR professionals, take notice: do not toy with forces beyond your control or understanding. Speak to communities such as Reddit correctly and they will reward you with lavish praise and tons of page views. But do it with a hint of insincerity and they will respond with the anger of a thousand suns.

[In fact, to state the obvious, when it comes to this sort of online promotion, or ANY online promotion, the less PR people are involved, the better and more interesting the resulting content usually is.]

Three Stories on Marriage

NPR has produced a lot of coverage about the institution of marriage this month. First up, a broad sociological study on how marriage is becoming obsolete. Among the findings, this shocking statistic:

Half a century ago, nearly 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were married. Today, it’s just 20 percent. But the Pew report finds fewer married people across all age groups.

We’ve also learned that unemployment increases the risk of violence and lowers the possibility of divorce:

Simultaneously, a new paper in the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy shows that as unemployment rises, the divorce rate goes down: For every 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate, the divorce rate goes down by 1 percent.

Weekend Edition elaborates on these findings. One of the interesting and unfortunate implications of this:

[Social scientists] worry that, you know, we have this, now, inequality in marriage. And is that then is going to exacerbate inequality in the next generation? As the next college-educated Americans have children, bring them up in these very, you know, nuclear family homes, their children, studies would suggest, have a greater chance of themselves going on to college and then being high achievers. Whereas children raised in homes where the parents are not married, while there may be many happy such relationships and the children will be just fine, on average, they have much poorer outcomes. They’re less likely to go to college. And so there’s a concern that you’re going to exacerbate this inequality.

It’s fascinating (and maybe a little frightening?) that we’ll soon have a generation for whom marriage is obsolete.

Thoughts on Gift-Giving

Matthew Iglesias at Slate offers a cool, microeconomic perspective of gift-giving:

The problem with presents is that you’re never going to do a better job of satisfying the gift-recipient’s preferences than she could do herself. But preference sets aren’t fixed. If someone had handed me $10, I never would have spent it buying the Cults album, for the simple reason that I hadn’t heard of the band. When it was given to me, I immediately checked it out and loved it. When you step outside the circle of things you know for sure your gift-getter likes, you risk creating a massive deadweight loss. (You give her a ticket to Las Vegas, without knowing that she hates gambling.) But with the greater risk comes a greater potential reward. You may introduce the recipient to something marvelous she would otherwise have never encountered. Giving stuff rather than cash is a way of saying you know better than the recipient what she really wants. The riskier the present, the more likely it is to generate significant benefit. (So, not a sweater.)

Meanwhile, David Bry has a screed over at The Awl against gift-giving at all:

Why do we buy each other gifts? Why do we go to the trouble? So everyone can have to fake more excitement and gratitude than they actually feel upon opening them? “Oh, thanks for this book I told you I wanted that I could have just as easily bought for myself! Thanks for these gloves, this blouse, this bottle of wine. I’m so glad to have this pile of stuff to pack into the car or check at the baggage claim when I could have just bought it on my own time nearer to my own home, or even had it delivered directly to my door. Here, I got you something, too.” It’s like we’ve all entered into this mutual pact that makes everybody’s lives a little bit worse.

As for me? I think there’s nothing like a thoughtful, valuable-but-not-too-expensive gift. But most of the time, gift-giving does tend to be a socially and psychologically burdensome task. Caveat emptor. Especially if you’re giving it to someone else.

Maybe #FirstWorldProblems Aren’t Really That First World After All…

Alexis Madrigal points to Teju Cole’s analysis of the #firstworldproblems hashtag on Twitter:

I don’t like this expression “First World problems.” It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.

Action and Inaction

John Scalzi discusses the Penn State debacle, and explains how reality can be stranger than fiction sometimes.

See also Sarah D Bunting’s piece on the matter (via MZS):

I would love to tell you that, coming upon a grownup raping a child, in the act, I would grab the nearest heavy object and brandish it and yell at the grownup to get away, and stuff the child into some clothing and drive him to the nearest police precinct. I would love to tell you that; we would all love to tell ourselves that. Everyone’s cape flutters attractively in the breeze of the subjunctive.

What probably would happen instead is that I would back out of the room in horror. Flee, in fact, on tiptoe, to somewhere small and dark, to process the upside-down wrong thing I’d seen.