Sunday, February 17, 2013

Opposition to premarital sex over time

A few years ago, I looked at trends in US public opinion on seven major social issues and came to the conclusion that, with the exception of same-sex marriage, traditionalists are doing a decent job of holding the line (see Dan's comments for a more finely grained, contemporary discussion of as much). Levels of support for abortion, capital punishment, affirmative action, wealth redistribution, and permitting prayer in public schools are at the same levels today that they were forty years ago (the seventh issue, support for marijuana legalization, has crept up slightly but remains a minority position).

Here's another pervious point in the traditionalist's perimeter, however. The following graph shows the percentages of respondents over time who said that sexual relations between two people prior to marriage are either "always wrong" or "almost always wrong" (the other two options were "sometimes wrong" and "not wrong at all"):

The mean liberal position of a generation ago has become the mean mainstream position of today. The mean mainstream position of a generation ago has become the mean conservative position of today. When the ratchet turns, it turns to the left.

The treatment in popular culture of the idea that a couple should refrain from having sex until they've tied the knot as something quaint, prude, anachronistic, and, most importantly, unserious, demonstrates how the Establishment is comprised primarily of progressive standard-bearers. Not that I can legitimately distance myself from said treatment--while I'm sympathetic and theoretically supportive of the idea that premarital sex is civilizationally destructive, my behavior doesn't adhere abide by it, nor do the behaviors of just about everyone I know.

According to one of Jayman's hypotheses (and the guy seems to be generating an intriguing new one every week), it's plausible to think that not only will traditionalists hold the line, but that in the future, aided by a conservative advantage in fecundity, they will stage a counter offensive and push progressive positions on these issues back from whence they came.

Maybe. While the seven issues mentioned above are reasonably representative, they are of course not exhaustive, as the persistent shift towards moral acceptance of premarital sex illustrates. It gets at the question of how substantive the Jayman hypothesis will be if it plays out as predicted. If self-identified conservatives increase as a proportion of the total population but the positions they hold morph into those their parents' generation opposed, are traditionalists on the receiving end of little more than empty semantic success, of a Pyrrhic victory?

GSS variables used: PREMARSX(1-2)(3-4), YEAR, POLVIEWS(1-3)(4)(5-7)


Thursday said...

There are some people that are going to be opposed to premarital sex no matter what. If they have higher fertility, and it appears they do, then they're going have more and more cultural influence in the future.

Thursday said...

In other words, the ratchet may turn to the left, but it only turns so far.

This is tied to Jon Haidt's idea that conservatism is a moral orientation, not an attitude towards change.

asdf said...

Not having sex before marraige is really hard. Especially for the guy. The simple reason being that people put off marraige for too long today. Wait till 20 and then basically have a semi arranged marraige? Ok. Wait till 30 when your both out of school, established in your careers, and aren't moving cities sometime soon again? That's impossible.

The reason its so hard is that a 30 year old virgin is a loser. He will have all sorts of hangups, no game, just generally have problems. Even if he wanted to be serious and get married his virginity would be a massive black mark lowering the value of the woman he could get.

As such the optimal male strategy is to date and have sex in his 20s while learning to master women and grow his career. Then at 30 when his value is starting to peak find a girl, hopefully much younger with a low N count or virgin, and marry her.

The female strategy is to take as many shots at obtaining an alpha as possible. That means being able to fire off as many bullets as possible in her 20s. She balances the fact that additional N count lowers her value with the fact that each N is another chance to snag an alpha. Some equilibrium is reached. Some are luckier then others. A few hit the wall and end up being single mothers or marrying a beta. However, in this age of plenty those aren't terrible options.

Obviously you can see how these two strategies don't result in an equilbrium that works for most people, and yet we are caught in a prisoners dilemma.

Anonymous said...

Seems mostly an issue of self identification. I mean, if you are a liberal but still think that extramarital sex is wrong like some 12% according to the graph, then how liberal are you. Likewise, how do you figure you are conservative if you don't think it is wrong, ie the 55% of self identified conservatives. WTF

This graph is a great illustration of the cognitive dissonance inherent in self identification and alignment with a particular label.

In all honesty the liberal position as I am reading it actually makes more sense. That is, the person thinks it is wrong, but they aren't going to force their values on others, vs the conservative who doesn't think it is wrong and still wants it to be considered wrong by others, LOL.

Anonymous said...

I am sure gay 'marriage' has something to do with the recent shift, since the modern discourse insists that all questions must be examined through the lens of the butt pirate.

As in,

"Yes, I believe that people should wait until they get married, but if the bigots are stopping them from getting married then how else are they supposed to pack fudge as God intended for them?"

Jokah Macpherson said...

I may live in a bubble but the norm in my social circle seems to be date the same person from, on average, age 20 through 25 and live with/have sex with them for most of that time, then finally marry them. This, of course, makes no sense to me. If you're not going to be playing the field then why not make official what already exists in practice.

I asked my then boss this question one time since she had mentioned she dated her future husband from 17-23 and started living with him during college and she responded with something along the lines of, "Well, you've got to see if you're compatible." I'm dubious because none of these people I know have ever broken up with their live-in relation - if you're in love you're not going to judge them effectively and if you're not you're probably not going to end up moving in together in the first place.

Of course, there's little social pathology in this outside of diminishing the importance of the ceremony/contract, but I suspect among the lower classes the scenario I describe above is less common and lots of children wind up conceived out of relationships that quickly dissolve if they ever even began.

Getting around to my point, I don't think the opinion metric on premarital sex is very meaningful since so few in the mainstream of society practice what they preach.

Jokah Macpherson said...

I double checked in the GSS and those in the 1-2 category for PREMARSX bat around .450 pretty consistently over time for not having had any sex partners within the past year!

Jokah Macpherson said...

(limited to those never married, that is)

Audacious Epigone said...


Yes, delayed (and reduced rates of) marriage does make the ideal that much more difficult to realize, even without cultural shifts in perceptions.


Hah, wow, so it's "do as I say, not as I do". For a practicing Christian, though, there are lots of areas where one is expectedly and understandably going to fall short of his own moral aspirations, but that doesn't mean it hurts to try anyway. Opposition to premarital sex and piety presumably rise and fall together.

Audacious Epigone said...


You think it's more of a pendulum than a ratchet? Forever is a long time, but as we've seen here and from Jayman, among other places, conservatives have outbred liberals for a century now but there hasn't been much turning back to the right--some halting of the ratchet on things like gun control and abortion, but not much I can think of where the conservative fertility advantage has pushed things to the right.

Anonymous said...

Looking at that graph, I notice that it is not whites only. Is the graph the same when it is whites only? It would be nice to see a graph of whites only for comparison as well as a graph of young whites only vs. old whites only to see if there is some kind of trend there. Others seem to think there is a pattern of whites getting more conservative when they live with ever more NAM's. I wonder whether we could see it there.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anonymous - would you kindly re-examine that "force their values on others" cliche? It has enough truth to be plausible, but not enough to be correct.

All law (including, to a lesser extent, custom) is an enforcement of someone's morality, the question being "whose?" Having an opinion that something is wrong rather necessarily implies that you think it's wrong for others. No force involved, unless one counts social pressure - which you are yourself using here.

It's one of those things that people just say without having thought it through, and it has become part of the culture. You don't have to adopt it uncritically.

As for whether the culture is swinging back or ratcheting, I can't say. I suspect the latter.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - would you kindly re-examine that "force their values on others" cliche? It has enough truth to be plausible, but not enough to be correct.

Let me say that I already agree with what I think you are saying. The "I don't want to force my values on others" thing exists mostly in their own minds. Those same folks are generally quite willing to force their values on others in other circumstances. I value clean water, and I am going to force that value on my community if I possibly can, including penalties for violating it, etc. Observant Jews value kosher food, but they don't expect us to. Then there is all that stuff in between. Obviously illegitimate kids are everyone's problem because disproportionally many grow up and become burdens on society. Premarital sex is the direct cause. So those folks are forcing their values on all of us when they use welfare etc for their illegitimate kids.

Dan said...

As for ratchet versus pendulum, it seems to me that nature is, I would point out that all the most leftist regimes of a generation ago (USSR, Israel, Red China, Eastern Europe) are pretty much the most rightward regimes today.

Not merely rightward w.r.t. other countries but far rightward w.r.t. their own past. From Communism to extreme from markets.

Also, it seems that pretty much all of the Arab world has moved hard to the right socially in the last generation. That's > 1 billion people so it is not nothing.

Dan said...

Leftism seems to be a ratchet that breaks. You get these projects that run counter to human nature and they succeed politically but are smashed on the rocks of reality.

Audacious Epigone said...

As for ratchet versus pendulum, it seems to me that nature is, I would point out that all the most leftist regimes of a generation ago (USSR, Israel, Red China, Eastern Europe) are pretty much the most rightward regimes today.

But with the exception of Israel, those were all authoritarian and what I think we'd loosely define as very socially conservative by contemporary Western social standards. Israel seems pretty nationalistic, but socially it's libertine, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Minor point. The Arab world is about 373 million.

Maybe you mean the Islamic world? In that case yeah, about a billion have moved away from classical liberalism as well as away from modern liberal social policy.

Dan said...

As for a shift toward social liberalism, I think it is complicated. There is plenty of social marxism in the air, but maybe this is not as crazy as the original upheaval of the sexual revolution.

In the US:
- Nudity is now banned in San Francisco as of this past month after a very long run.
- Premarital sex is down from its peak, even as blacks and hispanics are a larger share of the population
- Divorce rate is down in America
- As far as homosexuality goes, actual practice by gays seems much more conservative than in the past. San Fran and NYC gays in the late 1970s had to be the most hedonistic human beings in world history according to accounts I've read. Partner totals were staggering. We all know how that turned out. Now the gay community is trying to act straight, as it were.
- Crime is down by a lot; hardly any large riots in ages
- The Dusk in Autumn blog
has talked a lot about cocooning in modern times
- In my Maryland there has been a massive crackdown on prostitution with lots of stings using lures of both genders just hauling people in.
- Pederasty is way the hell out.
- Child porn is way the hell out
- Anyone ever heard of swinging in the last decade?

Dan said...

As for those for communist countries turning socially conservative, again its mixed, but here are a few items:

- A massive great Christian awakening in China
- A noticable revival of the Russian orthodox church.
- Both the USSR and China were murderously antagonistic toward religion in the recent past, slaughtering millions of the religious. Now they are favorable toward and protective of religion as a source of nationalistic strength.
- China fights porn hard
- Russia has banned 'homosexual propaganda' in 2013. That is not feasible in America because we'd be left with no university system, no political system and no media.
"Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, voted 388-1-1 for the law that makes public events and the dissemination of information on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, community to minors punishable by fines of up to $16,000 (£10,000). " (Guardian, Jan 25, 2013)
Arrests are aplenty. How 'bout them apples?

- Hungary put traditional marriage in its new constitution.

Dan said...

I wrote above "- Premarital sex is down from its peak, even as blacks and hispanics are a larger share of the population"

What I meant to say was, teen sex is down from the peak.

Anonymous said...

Jesse Jackson Jr. will serve time?,0,1510803.story

Anonymous said...

Russia has banned 'homosexual propaganda' in 2013. That is not feasible in America because we'd be left with no university system, no political system and no media.

Meh, you overstate the case. There are tons of normal people who naively go into journalism, academia, politics but can't move up due to crony capitalists, and those they have struck a deal with, the gay mafia. If every gay loving journalist and academic dissappeared tomorrow, there would still be more than enough talented, experienced real men to take their places in a heartbeat. Just because we have been told that only these super rare folk have talent, don't make it so. Academia is overpopulated. Every spot could be filled by a talented paleo conservative tomorrow. There are very few seats and many many contenders.

JayMan said...

Excellent stuff!

"but as we've seen here and from Jayman, among other places, conservatives have outbred liberals for a century now but there hasn't been much turning back to the right"

See Dan's comments. It's slow, but there are clear signs that the population is creeping towards the right, or, at the very least, that the "progressive" motion is halting.

It's good to keep in mind that even with the current fertility disparity, which is only about two or three generations old, the genotypic change in the population will be slow (see Greg Cochran here). It will take several generations before the conservative swing manifests itself, and that's assuming that fertility trends will persist in the direction they have been.

Anonymous said...

Jayman - the descendants of the prolific and God-fearing Victorian Brits didn't turn out to be prolific and God-fearing themselves - far from it.

From 'Memsahib' to 'white meat' in three or four generations.

Anonymous said...

Christian religious conservatives like Creationists are a completely different beings from WASP-Puritans-Victorians.

WASP-Victorians-Puritans = SWPL/White American Social Liberals

Abrahamic Creationist Religious conservatives are something else. They are probably descended from another line.