Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Family structure and poverty

I hadn't realized just how strong is the correlation between family structure and poverty until I happened upon this quotation from James Q. Wilson:

"You need only do three things to avoid poverty in this country: finish high school, marry before having a child, and produce the child after the age 20.  Only 8% of families who do this are poor; 79% of those who fail to do this are poor."  

Now, Wilson implies causality (family structure -> poverty) and responsibility (all the individual) which could be questioned, but, still, the magnitude of the association is startling.  

Monday, March 29, 2010

Wright's law of empirical illustrations

There comes a time in a person's life when they want to create a law, and for me that time is now. I have a law, actually it's probably more like a general principle, regarding how people use empirical illustrations. It's fairly common in a conversation for someone to make a statement like this: assertion/ generalization + supporting empirical evidence.

Here's my law: On average, the further away the empirical evidence, either in time or distance, the less valid the assertion/ generalization.

A hypothetical example: If someone says that it's dangerous to swim in the ocean, and they talk about a shark attack that happened that day at the nearby beach, well, that's probably stronger evidence than if they cite an attack in Australia last month.

A real example: I was talking with a friend about spiritual & church things, and he was wondering if the Christian Church was a positive force in the world. We talked for awhile, and he suddenly he bust out: "What about the Inquisition?" I'm not sure how I answered him, but in thinking about it later, I realized that the very fact that he had to go to a different continent and go back in time about 500 years answers his question.

Can you think of other examples?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Light pole in snow (pic)

Driving home last winter during a snowstorm, the patterns of this scene caught my eye.  So, I got my camera, an umbrella, and went back and snapped it. 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Another Falwell book

Not long after I finished The Unlikely Disciple, a friend sent me the link to this book, In the Land of Believers.  Here the author goes undercover to Falwell's church, Thomas Road Church.  It sounds like an interesting book, but I bet that the author was rather bummed when The Unlikely Disciple came out first.

Maybe I'll down to Liberty/ Thomas Road and write a book about people writing undercover books there.

If nothing else, this book highlights that when people want to study Evangelicals, they often pick more culturally extreme expressions of it, such as Liberty U or the films Jesus Camp or Friend of Jesus.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Unlikely Disciple

I recently finished reading The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose. He grew up as a nominal Christian, went to Brown, and then as a learning experience/ writing project, went to Liberty University for a semester as a student. This book tells of his experiences.

This is a wonderful book for he can flat out write, and he has a keen eye for what is going on around him. Also, he has a gentle attitude toward the people he interacts with, even when he can't make sense of why they are who they are.  I was pleased that he didn't simply mock and ridicule that which he didn't agree with.

In reading the book I felt like a fly-on-the-wall about student life at Liberty. I was struck by several things about life at Liberty:
* Many of the students are diligent and sincere about their Christian faith
* It's really hard to translate Christian faith into an academic curriculum and organizational administration
* Lots of people at Liberty seem obsessed with sex as a sin, especially anything involving gays.
* Being Republican is viewed as a subset of the Christian identity.

Jerry Falwell is in the backdrop of all that happens in the book. Roose returns to Liberty after Falwell's death, and it's clear that changes are afoot. Concerns about social justice and political diversity are increasing. Sociologists have long spoken of what happens when charismatic organizations become more bureaucratic, and that seems to happening here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pastor's attitudes toward their seminary classes

Here are some interesting data from Lifeway Research.  Going to seminary is usually a rite of passage for Protestant pastors, and here are some survey questions regarding what they think about the experience.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Protestant denominations since 1910

Here's another graph using the DENOM16 variable from the General Social Survey. That question asked respondents which religious tradition they were raised in, and by calculating their age, we can generate an estimate of the religious affiliation of 16-year-olds since 1910. (For more details).

As you can see, several of the Mainline Protestant denominations have dropped steadily over the last 100 years. At the start of last century, a full 20% of American youth were raised as Methodists. Now it's about 3%. Protestants and Presbyterians have likewise dropped. Episcopalians, in contrast, have dropped a bit, but there weren't that many to begin with.

Baptists, however, have kept their numbers at 19% to 24% the whole time, though they have lost some of the gains they made in the mid 20th century.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Barn Island (pic)

In wintertime here, there's not a lot of color outdoors, so I've been experimenting with black and white.  Here's from my first day doing it... a photo taken at Barn Island, down on the coast.  It's such a beautiful place.

Friday, March 19, 2010

American's well being had a good month

Gallup has started tracking American's self-reported well-being on a monthly basis.  As shown in this graph, American had a good month in February.  The trend only covers the last two years, so it's hard to speak of historical changes.  However, I was struck by how few Americans report themselves as suffering.  Most of us are thriving or struggling. 

At a different site, Gallup presents measures of a wide range of indexes, and the overriding theme seems to be one of seasonal effects.  We're less happy and healthy during Winter.... who would have thought!

Thanks Mark!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Religious affiliation since 1910

In my last post, I looked at U.S. religious affiliation, and it was based on the General Social Survey question that asked people about their current denominational affiliation.  There's another General Social Survey question that asks in which religion people were raised.  Assuming that people can remember this information correctly, which I think that I can, this gives us affiliation data going back to the early 1900s.  Why?  The General Social Survey began in the 1970s, and some of its elderly respondents then were recalling their religious experiences from many decades before.

Using these data, here are estimated affiliation rates for about the last century.  As you can see, the decline of Mainline Protestantism has been going on for some time now, as has the increase in the religiously unaffiliated.  Also, the percentage of Catholics increased off-and-on during the whole time period, and the percentage Evangelicals hovered steadily around 25%.

I created this graph by using General Social Survey data to determine how many respondents were in each religion during the decade of their sixteenth birthday.  This is divided by the number of Americans alive during that century as per Census data.  Unfortunately, the retrospective religion question in the GSS doesn’t ask about church attendance rates in youth, so I wasn’t able to implement fully Steensland et al.’s coding scheme for nondenominational Christians.  I therefore split the nondenominational Christians between Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants based of on the proportion of each among respondents who identified their denomination.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

UConn Women's Basketball (video)

Yes, they are that good...

Rates of male Evangelicals, by attendance

Scot McKnight, over at Jesus Creed, posted these analyses of gender rates of Evangelicals over time.  As always his posts prompt lots of good discussion, and one issue that came up was whether men are less likely now to attend church regularly than in previous decades.  Here's a plot of the % of Evangelicals who are men, by year, by attendance.  The top line is all evangelicals, the bottom line is those who attend church regularly (operationalized as weekly, several times a month or once a month).

As shown, men are less likely to attend church regularly, compared to women, but the gender ratio appears to be less imbalanced in recent years.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Religious affiliation since 1972

In my forthcoming book, I look at various trends of Evangelical Christianity over the decades.  Perhaps the most basic trend to consider is how many Americans affiliate with an Evangelical denomination/ church.  This question is answered with data from the General Social Survey, as shown in the figure below.

As you can see, the two big changes have been the significant decrease in number of Mainline Protestants and the increase in religiously unaffiliated.  Evangelicals?  They've held steady at 25% of the population for several decades now.  

(Details: I measured affiliation using the RELTRAD coding scheme and then ran a smoothing algorithm for each group.)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Cell phones and church attendance

Richard Beck, a psychologist at Abilene Christian, has been discussing whether or not Facebook and other social media networks are detrimental to Church life in that virtual relationships might be replacing personal relationships.  He makes some good points about FB reflecting, rather than substituting, for relationships.  Then, in the next post, he offers this plot.  Now, I'm not entirely sure how he created it, but it's interesting (Thanks Ben):

Rock and fall reflections (pic)