Friday, April 29, 2005

Distraction: How rich are you?

This nifty little website let's you enter your annual income and shows you exactly how rich you are compared to the rest of the world. Puts things in perspective.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Q&A: The Marriage Penalty

It's time for fun with math and taxes!

Q: What is the "marriage penalty" and why is it important?

Here's why...

A: The U.S. has a progressive income tax. Households with more income pay at a higher rate then households with less income. Sometimes when two individuals get married, their joint income pushes them into a higher marginal rate when they file jointly.

So if John makes $60,000 and is taxed as an individual at a rate of 25% he owes $15,000. If Susan also makes $60,000, she is also taxed as an individual at a rate of 25% she also owes $15,000 (maybe they met at work). Collectively, they pay $30,000 in taxes when they are unmarried and filing as individuals (but perhaps pooling their resources, such as if they were cohabitating). If John and Susan get married, their household income would be $120,000. If they were to file as a joint married couple, then their $120,000 would be taxed at a rate of 28% and they would collectively owe $33,600. In this example, this leads to a "marriage penalty" of $3,600. Obviously, the potential "marriage penalty" varies widely by couple.

Q: Does it work both ways? Is there ever a marriage bonus?

A: Yes. A "marriage bonus" can occur when married couples pay a lower tax rate then if the couple were unmarried and filing separately. It is important to keep in mind that there are different progressive tax rates depending upon how you file your taxes - single, joint married, married filing separately, head of household, or trusts.

For instance, if you are filing as a single, you can earn between $7,300 and $29,700 and be taxed at a rate of 15%. If you are filing as a joint married (please excuse my lousy grammar), you can earn between $14,600 and $59,400 and be taxed at the same rate of 15%. So if John makes $10,000 and files as an individual he is taxed at a rate of 15% and pays $1,500 in taxes. If Susan makes $100,000 and files as an individual she is taxed at a rate of 28% and pays $28,000 in taxes. Collectively, they pay $29,500 in taxes when they are unmarried and filing as individuals. If they married and filed jointly, their household income would be $110,000 and they would be taxed at the joint married rate of 25% and would pay $27,500.

Q: Is there a way to avoid the marriage penalty?

A: It depends. The marriage penalty occurs most often when two people of similar incomes are married. The marriage bonus occurs most often when two people of very different incomes (one high, one low) marry. This often happens when one spouse (usually the women) forgoes work to raise children. The family loses the income of an extra breadwinner, but gains a marriage bonus when they file taxes due to the more generous joint married tax brackets. But as more and more women enter and stay in the workforce, more couples are likely to be subject to the marriage penalty.

Taxes are much, much more complicated then presented in these examples. They include deductions, tax credits (child credits, the EITC - Earned Income Tax Credit), and lots and lots of loopholes. Again, it varies widely depending upon the particular circumstances of the couple.

Q: Does the marriage penalty discourage couples from getting married?

A: There is conflicting research on this. An recent article by the Urban Institute discusses it at length, and a simple Google search on "marriage penalty" will reveal a wealth of information on the subject.

Q: How many couples are effected by the marriage penalty?

A: The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) estimated that in 1996, between 14 and 23 million married taxpayers incurred penalties totaling between $8 billion and $40 billion. The same year, between 24 and 31 million other couples benefited from between $32 and $45 billion in bonuses.

Statistics: Income and Inequality

From the people at NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research, why, why must everyone have an acronym) we get the newly updated Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998 (with series data up to 2000, though I have no idea why it doesn't go up to 2003 or 2004).

The paper has a ton of useful charts based on official government statistics. More importantly, all of the data involved is available in Excel format. This means that I can actually use it, and not just think about how nice it would be if I could use it. Just click on the html strings that end in .xls, hit Save, and viola! The only down side is that much of their raw data isn't labeled very well. But it everything does refer back to charts that are in the report, which do in fact explain the data. Yeah.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Article: What is the Healthy Marriage Initiative?

From the maestro himself, Dr. Wade Horn:
(full article on in the comments)

I have... found it useful when discussing this initiative to begin by clarifying what the Healthy Marriage Initiative is not about. It is not, for example, about forcing anyone to marry or about turning the government into a federal dating service. Nor does it seek to implement policies that will trap anyone—or encourage anyone to stay--in an abusive relationship. Nor does it endeavor to promote marriage by withdrawing public supports for single-parents.

What the initiative is about is this: helping couples--who have chosen marriage for themselves--gain greater access to marriage education services, on a voluntary basis, where they can acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to form and sustain a healthy marriage. Yet the initiative is about more than marriage. We also believe that promoting healthy marriages represents a sound strategy for increasing the well-being of children. This is because the empirical data show that children, in general, who grow up in healthy, two-parent married households fare better that those who do not. They are less likely to drop out of school, suffer from depression, commit suicide, and engage in criminal or violent behavior.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Article & Statistics: Divorce Rate is NOT 50%

From the NY Times, via

Divorce Rate: It's Not as High as You Think
NY Times
April 19, 2005

How many American marriages end in divorce? One in two, if you believe the statistic endlessly repeated in news media reports, academic papers and campaign speeches.

The figure is based on a simple - and flawed - calculation: the annual marriage rate per 1,000 people compared with the annual divorce rate. In 2003, for example, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 7.5 marriages per 1,000 people and 3.8 divorces, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
But researchers say that this is misleading because the people who are divorcing in any given year are not the same as those who are marrying, and that the statistic is virtually useless in understanding divorce rates. In fact, they say, studies find that the divorce rate in the United States has never reached one in every two marriages, and new research suggests that, with rates now declining, it probably never will.

The method preferred by social scientists in determining the divorce rate is to calculate how many people who have ever married subsequently divorced. Counted that way, the rate has never exceeded about 41 percent, researchers say. Although sharply rising rates in the 1970's led some to project that the number would keep increasing, the rate has instead begun to inch downward.

"At this point, unless there's some kind of turnaround, I wouldn't expect any cohort to reach 50 percent, since none already has," said Dr. Rose M. Kreider, a demographer in the Fertility and Family Statistics Branch of the Census Bureau.
Two years ago, based on a 1996 survey, she and another demographer at the bureau predicted that if trends then in place held steady, the divorce rate for some age groups might eventually hit the 50 percent mark. But in February, the bureau issued a new report, based on 2001 data and written by Dr. Kreider.

According to the report, for people born in 1955 or later, "the proportion ever divorced had actually declined," compared with those among people born earlier. And, compared with women married before 1975, those married since 1975 had slightly better odds of reaching their 10th and 15th wedding anniversaries with their marriages still intact.

The highest rate of divorce in the 2001 survey was 41 percent for men who were then between the ages of 50 to 59, and 39 percent for women in the same age group.
Researchers say that the small drop in the overall divorce rate is caused by a steep decline in the rate among college graduates. As a result, a "divorce divide" has opened up between those with and without college degrees, said Dr. Steven P. Martin, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland.

"Families with highly educated mothers and families with less educated mothers are clearly moving in opposite directions," Dr. Martin wrote in a paper that has not yet been published but has been presented and widely discussed at scientific meetings.
As the overall divorce rates shot up from the early 1960's through the late 1970's, Dr. Martin found, the divorce rate for women with college degrees and those without moved in lockstep, with graduates consistently having about one-third to one-fourth the divorce rate of nongraduates.

But since 1980, the two groups have taken diverging paths. Women without undergraduate degrees have remained at about the same rate, their risk of divorce or separation within the first 10 years of marriage hovering at around 35 percent. But for college graduates, the divorce rate in the first 10 years of marriage has plummeted to just over 16 percent of those married between 1990 and 1994 from 27 percent of those married between 1975 and 1979.

About 60 percent of all marriages that eventually end in divorce do so within the first 10 years, researchers say. If that continues to hold true, the divorce rate for college graduates who married between 1990 and 1994 would end up at only about 25 percent, compared to well over 50 percent for those without a four-year college degree.

"It's a big wow sort of story," Dr. Martin said. "I've been looking for two years at other data sets to see if it's wrong, but it really looks like it's happening."
Still, some researchers remain skeptical about the significance of the small drop in overall divorce rates.

"The crude divorce rate has been going down," said Dr. Andrew J. Cherlin, professor of public policy in the sociology department at Johns Hopkins. "But whether the rates will ultimately reach 45 percent or 50 percent over the next few decades are just projections. None of them are ironclad."

Dr. Larry Bumpass, an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin's Center for Demography and Ecology, has long held that divorce rates will eventually reach or exceed 50 percent. In an interview, he said that it was "probably right" that the official divorce statistics might fall below 50 percent, but that the rate would still be close.

"About half is still a very sensible statement," he said.
What all experts do agree on is that, after more than a century of rising divorce rates in the United States, the rates abruptly stopped going up around 1980.
Part of the uncertainty about the most recent trends derives from the fact that no detailed annual figures have been available since 1996, when the National Center for Health Statistics stopped collecting detailed data from states on the age, income, education and race of people who divorced.

As a result, estimates from surveys have had to fill in the gaps.
"The government has dropped the ball on data collection," said Dr. David Popenoe, professor of sociology and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.

Joshua R. Goldstein, associate professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton's Office of Population Research, said the loss of detailed government data, coming at a time when divorce rates were at their highest, might have distorted not only public perception, but people's behavior.

"Expectations of high divorce are in some ways self-fulfilling," he said. "That's a partial explanation for why rates went up in the 1970's."

As word gets out that rates have tempered or actually begun to fall, Dr. Goldstein added, "It could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy in the other direction."

About once a month I have to explain this to someone. Now, here it is in a convenient place.

Also, here's a nifty chart on the same topic:

Divorce Chart

Book: Motherhood

This is actually an article on an excellent book about motherhood by Ayelet Waldman, ''Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race and Themselves.''

Truly, Madly, Guiltily
New York Times
March 27, 2005

HAVE been in many mothers' groups -- Mommy and Me, Gymboree, Second-Time Moms -- and each time, within three minutes, the conversation invariably comes around to the topic of how often mommy feels compelled to put out. Everyone wants to be reassured that no one else is having sex either. These are women who, for the most part, are comfortable with their bodies, consider themselves sexual beings. These are women who love their husbands or partners. Still, almost none of them are having any sex.

There are agreed upon reasons for this bed death. They are exhausted. It still hurts. They are so physically available to their babies -- nursing, carrying, stroking -- how could they bear to be physically available to anyone else?

But the real reason for this lack of sex, or at least the most profound, is that the wife's passion has been refocused. Instead of concentrating her ardor on her husband, she concentrates it on her babies. Where once her husband was the center of her passionate universe, there is now a new sun in whose orbit she revolves. Libido, as she once knew it, is gone, and in its place is all-consuming maternal desire. There is absolute unanimity on this topic, and instant reassurance.
Except, that is, from me.

I am the only woman in Mommy and Me who seems to be, well, getting any. This could fill me with smug well-being. I could sit in the room and gloat over my wonderful marriage. I could think about how our sex life -- always vital, even torrid -- is more exciting and imaginative now than it was when we first met. I could check my watch to see if I have time to stop at Good Vibrations to see if they have any exciting new toys. I could even gaze pityingly at the other mothers in the group, wishing that they too could experience a love as deep as my own.

But I don't. I am far too busy worrying about what's wrong with me. Why, of all the women in the room, am I the only one who has not made the erotic transition a good mother is supposed to make? Why am I the only one incapable of placing her children at the center of her passionate universe?

WHEN my first daughter was born, my husband held her in his hands and said, ''My God, she's so beautiful.''

I unwrapped the baby from her blankets. She was average size, with long thin fingers and a random assortment of toes. Her eyes were close set, and she had her father's hooked nose. It looked better on him.

She looked like a newborn baby, red and scrawny, blotchy faced and mewling. I don't remember what I said to my husband. Actually I remember very little of my Percocet- and Vicodin-fogged first few days of motherhood except for someone calling and squealing, ''Aren't you just completely in love?'' And of course I was. Just not with my baby.

I do love her. But I'm not in love with her. Nor with her two brothers or sister. Yes, I have four children. Four children with whom I spend a good part of every day: bathing them, combing their hair, sitting with them while they do their homework, holding them while they weep their tragic tears. But I'm not in love with any of them. I am in love with my husband.

It is his face that inspires in me paroxysms of infatuated devotion. If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone else in the world, I am not a good mother. I am in fact a bad mother. I love my husband more than I love my children.

An example: I often engage in the parental pastime known as God Forbid. What if, God forbid, someone were to snatch one of my children? God forbid. I imagine what it would feel like to lose one or even all of them. I imagine myself consumed, destroyed by the pain. And yet, in these imaginings, there is always a future beyond the child's death. Because if I were to lose one of my children, God forbid, even if I lost all my children, God forbid, I would still have him, my husband.

But my imagination simply fails me when I try to picture a future beyond my husband's death. Of course I would have to live. I have four children, a mortgage, work to do. But I can imagine no joy without my husband.

I don't think the other mothers at Mommy and Me feel this way. I know they would be absolutely devastated if they found themselves widowed. But any one of them would sacrifice anything, including their husbands, for their children.

Can my bad motherhood be my husband's fault? Perhaps he just inspires more complete adoration than other husbands. He cooks, cleans, cares for the children at least 50 percent of the time.

If the most erotic form of foreplay to a mother of a small child is, as I've heard some women claim, loading the dishwasher or sweeping the floor, then he's a master of titillation.

He's handsome, brilliant and successful. But he can also be scatterbrained, antisocial and arrogant. He is a bad dancer, and he knows far too much about Klingon politics and the lyrics to Yes songs. All in all, he's not that much better than other men. The fault must be my own.

I am trying to remember those first days and weeks after giving birth. I know that my sexual longing for my husband took a while to return. I recall not wanting to make love. I did not even want to cuddle. At times I felt that if my husband's hand were to accidentally brush against my breast while reaching for the saltshaker, I would saw it off with the butter knife.

Even now I am not always in the mood. By the time the children go to bed, I am as drained as any mother who has spent her day working, car pooling, building Lego castles and shopping for the precisely correct soccer cleat. I am also a compulsive reader. Put together fatigue and bookwormishness, and you could have a situation in which nobody ever gets any. Except that when I catch a glimpse of my husband from the corner of my eye -- his smooth, round shoulders, his bright-blue eyes through the magnification of his reading glasses -- I fold over the page of my novel.

Sometimes I think I am alone in this obsession with my spouse. Sometimes I think my husband does not feel as I do. He loves the children the way a mother is supposed to. He has put them at the center of his world. But he is a man and thus possesses a strong libido. Having found something to usurp me as the sun of his universe does not mean he wants to make love to me any less.

And yet, he says I am wrong. He says he loves me as I love him. Every so often we escape from the children for a few days. We talk about our love, about how much we love each other's bodies and brains, about the things that make us happy in our marriage.

During the course of these meandering and exhilarating conversations, we touch each other, we start to make love, we stop.

And afterward my husband will say that we, he and I, are the core of what he cherishes, that the children are satellites, beloved but tangential.

He seems entirely unperturbed by loving me like this. Loving me more than his children does not bother him. It does not make him feel like a bad father. He does not feel that loving me more than he loves them is a kind of infidelity.

And neither, I suppose, should I. I should not use that wretched phrase ''bad mother.'' At the very least, I should allow that, if nothing else, I am good enough. I do know this: When I look around the room at the other mothers in the group, I know that I would not change places with any of them.

I wish some learned sociologist would publish a definitive study of marriages where the parents are desperately, ardently in love, where the parents love each other even more than they love the children. It would be wonderful if it could be established, once and for all, that the children of these marriages are more successful, happier, live longer and have healthier lives than children whose mothers focus their desires and passions on them.

BUT even in the likely event that this study is not forthcoming, even in the event that I face a day of reckoning in which my children, God forbid, become heroin addicts or, God forbid, are unable to form decent attachments and wander from one miserable and unsatisfying relationship to another, or, God forbid, other things too awful even to imagine befall them, I cannot regret that when I look at my husband I still feel the same quickening of desire that I felt 12 years ago when I saw him for the first time, standing in the lobby of my apartment building, a bouquet of purple irises in his hands.

And if my children resent having been moons rather than the sun? If they berate me for not having loved them enough? If they call me a bad mother?

I will tell them that I wish for them a love like I have for their father. I will tell them that they are my children, and they deserve both to love and be loved like that. I will tell them to settle for nothing less than what they saw when they looked at me, looking at him.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Blog created, huzzah!

I have created this blog. Hopefully, it will act as a massive online database of all the detritus that spews forth from my head.

If you're reading this, you are either:

A) Me
B) Horribly, horribly lost

Enjoy the blogging goodness.