At Large : The gift of affirmation
At this time of year, in this space, you've often been taxed with excerpts from the texts of many troubling Christmas letters we've received from friends and family, and also, inexplicably, from people we can't recall ever meeting. Perhaps, as I supposed, the letters that appeared here resembled letters you've received in Christmases past. I certainly apologize if any of the examples printed in this space were written by you or your friends.
But this year, the eleventh in which I've been committing this weekly column, I figure you deserve a change of pace, and a Christmas gift. And what could be better than some good news, in the form of a few heartening results from a study of you, and me, and others like us. The real gift, apart from what may surprise you about what I am about to reveal, is the pleasure you will realize when I tell you that you were right not to believe everything you've read in the newspapers, or find online, or on cable, or broadcast TV, or in popular magazines. The swinish, hopeless, fevered picture of Americans and their culture that all these information outlets wallow in and invite you to accept as revealing and true is neither. Isn't that a bit of affirming information worth finding under the tree?
Ben Schott, a New York Times writer and the author of the Schott's Vocab blog found at nytimes.com/opinion, hunts for factual information and arrays his findings in interesting and useful ways. I became acquainted with Schott's Almanac a couple of years ago. It was a gift. Better than that old faithful Information Please Almanac, Schott's version of everything you ever wanted to know and more has been a column-writing staple.
You can find comforting stuff that will help in an argument, for instance when someone tells you to forget about how your parents raised you, no one spanks kids anymore, it's inhumane. You need to dialogue [sic] with the little monsters, not spank them. Oh, yeah, well Schott reports that 71.3 Americans either strongly agree or agree with the assertion that it is "sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking." That's what I'm saying.
Or someone says, of course your kid needs to go to college. Every kid has to have a college degree nowadays. And, you say sure, but Theo may not be cut out for college. Schott says, of Americans 25 years of age or older, whether they went to college or not, only 18.1 percent have bachelor degrees, and only 9.6 percent have advanced degrees. In each case, the percentage is a little higher for men, a little lower for women.
Now, for those of us who've been manacled together with a husband or a wife for lo these many, many years, how's chances that we're happy? Not good, you say, especially given the divorce rate. Not so, Schott says, in fact 97 percent of married Americans describe themselves as very happy or pretty happy. You'll say, that's a survey of those of us who've drunk the Kool Aid. I say, may I have another glass, please?
Monday, Schott offered some stuff that I found happily affirming, especially as another year in such a long, increasingly draining, string of years comes to an end. Schott appeared on the OpEd Page of the New York Times. He reported data from the national Social Life, Health and Aging Project, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging.
Here is some of the good stuff. Perhaps you thought that Americans are increasingly flying solo, taking comfort not from other humans, but from the images of other humans on the computer screen. Well, the news is a lot better. Among women 57 to 64, 74.1 percent have partners. They're not loners. Among men, it's 89.1 percent. Sixty-seven percent of women are married, as are 82.3 percent of men.
It's the unhappy case that men still die before women, and divorce plays a part in the apparent discrepancy in these numbers too, so that fewer women have married male partners as they age, which seems sad but may be regarded as a blessing by the women involved. Who knows?
With men, if they survive their 50s, chances are that so have the women to whom they are married. Ditto, if the man survives into his seventies and eighties. At 85, he's still likely to be married and living with his female partner.
Nobody's healthy forever, but among 64 year olds, only 9.5 percent will have had a heart attack, only 5.6 percent will have had a stroke, and only 8.5 percent will have had cancer. I'm not going to mention the enlarged prostate stats. These values are nothing to do cartwheels over, but they are not as bad as you would have guessed, are they?
Here's some more news worth knowing and savoring. More than 51 percent of men and women between 57 and 64 like spending time with their partners. Eighty-six percent of women and 89.4 percent of men report they can rely on their partners. And, only 5.2 per of women 57 to 64, and 3.1 percent of men, report that their most recent relationship is unhappy.
And finally, a wake-up call to Tiger, who has not yet achieved our noble demographic. But by the time he is between 57 and 64, only 46.8 percent of the women among us will have had more than two male sex partners. Among men, 71.6 percent will have, but most of them will tell you it was a mistake. (Oh, and by the way, no matter what the media pretends, only 2.7 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men will have had more than two same sex partners.)
So, watch out, Tiger, you're lapping the field, which may be survivable if we're talking about your trashy catting around, but if it's about the chances of heart attacks, strokes, and cancer, you're raising your risk profile to beat the band.