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U.S. News Archive
February 14 - February 20, 2002



This page contains news for the period February 14, 2002 through February 20, 2002.  

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Wednesday, February 20, 2002

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Americans concerned about effects of welfare reform on children

A story released today by the Ascribe News reports that a new poll released today by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation shows that most Americans are ambivalent about the success of welfare reform.

While 85 percent of those surveyed agreed that moving people off welfare to work is extremely important, three quarters said that improving conditions for families and children is also very important in judging the success of welfare reform.

Interestingly, while the public supports programs that would encourage greater father involvement with their children, the public does not see welfare policies aimed at encouraging unmarried couples with children to marry as a top priority. In fact, when asked to rank the importance of eight specific goals of welfare reform, making marriage a top priority was the lowest ranked item. Only four in ten people see it as a very important goal.

"What this poll makes clear is that Americans would like to see a number of supports put in place to help families move out of poverty and improve the lives of children," said Margie Shields, editor of The Future of Children journal issue on welfare reform and children, released today by the Packard Foundation. "Americans realize that welfare reform should do more than help families get jobs. It should help disadvantaged children, so that they, along with other children, have the opportunity to succeed in school and life."

Among the poll findings:

- Americans favor welfare policies that help improve the lives of children in low-income families. Strong majorities support funding for quality after-school programs in low-income neighborhoods and helping low-income working parents find and finance quality childcare.

- Americans recognize the importance of families. The public enthusiastically supports efforts to encourage non-custodial fathers to support their children emotionally and financially. However, they are only lukewarm about welfare policies aimed at encouraging unmarried couples with children to marry.

- With the backdrop of the continuing economic downturn, the survey finds Americans are increasingly supportive of efforts to help low-income families through these difficult times. A majority favor lifting restrictions to allow welfare recipients to participate more in job training and education programs. Likewise, more and more Americans favor temporarily suspending the five-year time limit on receiving welfare benefits.

Lake Snell Perry & Associates conducted the national survey of 1,002 adults between January 31, 2002 and February 4, 2002. The purpose of the poll was to explore current public opinion about welfare reform, and measure support for specific policy recommendations.

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White House still views old-fashioned marriage as a solution to poverty


A story published today by the National Post reports that President George W. Bush's recent US$2.13-trillion budget proposal for next year has a provision that would set aside US$100-million for programs geared to help welfare mothers prepare for marriage.

It has been criticized by some women's groups and religious leaders as government invasion of private lives and an effort to force people into unwanted marriages.

"There is no doubt that healthy marriage is good for kids," said Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Health and Human Services Department.

"This money will not be used to coerce anyone to get married or to set up a federal dating service or to trap people in abusive relationships," he cautioned. "We just want to see what works."

The effort has long been a top priority for conservative groups, who see single parenthood as one of the prime reasons 12 million U.S. children still live in poverty.

"This money should help to strengthen marriage and to get at the root cause of family poverty, which is family breakdown," said Bridget Maher, marriage and family policy analyst with the Family Research Council.

"It's probably a good idea," allowed Wendell Primus, director of income security at the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

However, he cautioned that the government should not rule out research looking at strengthening cohabiting couples, and not focus only on getting them to marry. About 45% of out-of-wedlock births are to unmarried couples living together.

One reason there is broad support for the plan is that U.S. statistics are so dismal. Children in single-parent families are four times more likely to be poor than their counterparts in two-parent families. The number of children born to single women has jumped from one-twentieth of births in 1960 to one-third in 2000.

The out-of-wedlock birthrate rose to 33% in 2000 from 7% in 1965, according to census data. The traditional family -- made up of a married couple with children under age 18 -- declined to 24% in 2000 from 40% of all households in 1970.

"There is the potential here for a very broad consensus that it is the legitimate function of government to help couples who have chosen marriage to develop the skills to sustain a healthy marriage because I think it's good for kids," said Dr. Horn, who has long advocated the importance of marriage and the need for fathers to be involved with their children.

Some possibilities for spending include premarital counseling, pro-marriage advertising campaigns and programs to strengthen existing marriages. Churches and other non-profit groups would be able to compete for the funds.

The proposal should be fleshed out in the next month or two by Mr. Bush's administration, part of the larger project of reauthorizing the 1996 welfare reforms signed reluctantly into law by Bill Clinton, the former president.

Republicans feel the welfare revolution has not gone far enough and that work requirements should be strengthened. The government should also put more emphasis on reducing illegitimacy and promoting marriage as poverty-fighting strategies.

"Government should help strengthen marriage," said Ms. Maher. "It's because of the breakdown of marriage that so many people are relying on the government to support them."

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Texas man wants to end ‘no fault’ divorce in state


A story released today by Channel3000.com reports that Houston, Texas resident Peggy Waite has filed for a "no fault" divorce after 31 years of marriage to her husband Dan Waite.

Peggy Waite cited irreconcilable differences for ending her marriage.

"I thought filing the divorce the way I did would be the quickest and easiest way," she said.

But two years later, the case is still in the courts and the divorce is far from final.

Her husband is contesting the divorce, arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

"You can't take God out of marriage," Dan Waite said.

Dan said that his argument is biblical -- what God joined together, man shouldn't tear apart.

"Where does man, through the state, get the authority to enter into, intervene in that relationship?" he asked.

His lawyer's legal argument is that marriage is religious by nature.

"If the court comes in and says, 'Mr. Waite, what do you believe marriage means?' And he said, 'My religious beliefs mean I can never be divorced other than adultery or some other reason found in the Bible, the judge can't make that decision.' He can't force Mr. Waite's religious beliefs to be an issue in the case," said Dan Moody, Dan Waite's attorney.

Dan Waite now hopes the Texas Supreme Court will hear the case and make all "no fault divorces" illegal.

Peggy Waite believed her husband's argument is more personal than principle. Her legal team believes it won't stand up in court.

"I feel like he's just trying to put off the inevitable, which is I will have my freedom from him," Peggy Waite said.

So far, the courts have denied Dan Waite's argument. But one appellate judge did agree, which is why his lawyers believe the Texas Supreme Court could hear the case.


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Oklahoma governor attacks lawmaker for shelving covenant marriage bill


A story published today by the Oklahoman reports that Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating accused a Shawnee senator Tuesday of being anti-family for not allowing a covenant marriage bill to be heard in a Senate committee.

The governor said he was shocked and disappointed that Sen. Brad Henry, D-Shawnee, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, refused to let the committee consider Senate Bill 1556, the covenant marriage bill by Sen. Owen Laughlin, R-Woodward.

The covenant marriage would be optional if it became law. People opting for a covenant marriage would undergo counseling.

After marrying, it would be difficult to get a divorce, but the couple could divorce under certain conditions, including adultery, abuse or abandonment for 18 months.

Keating said the only possible explanation for Henry's action is he is "anti-family, anti- progress and opposed to the idea of promoting strong and healthy marriages in Oklahoma."

Henry countered that he doesn't believe government should be sticking its nose into the private lives of Oklahomans, especially when it comes to marriage.

The bill is a bad bill, Henry said.

It lures young, idealistic people into a covenant marriage in which the only way they can get a divorce is to commit adultery, abuse or abandon the family, Henry added.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

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Time off makes employees more productive


A story released today by Business Wire reports that according to the February 2002 Xylo Report: Vacation Habits of Working Adults, 94 percent of American workers feel that time off from work increases their productivity.

In spite of the rough economic landscape over the past year, more workers are planning vacations this year - more than three in four (77 percent) are planning to take time off in the upcoming year, compared to 70 percent in 2001. Seventy-two percent of workers also believe that they will travel during their time off, indicating an eight percent increase from last year.

The Xylo Report is a national survey on work/life issues conducted six times yearly by Wirthlin Worldwide for Xylo, Inc. Xylo is a leading provider of Web-based work/life solutions used by Fortune 500 and other thought-leading companies to retain employees.

The February 2002 Xylo Report: Vacation Habits of Working Adults studies the changes in public opinion today on vacation habits as compared to responses to the same questions asked a year ago in January 2001.

The report also revealed that singles are more likely than married workers to say that time off makes them a lot more productive (78 percent vs. 66 percent). Age also factors into time off and productivity, as almost eight in ten (79 percent) workers under 35 report that vacation time makes them a lot more productive, compared to less than seven in ten (67 percent) workers between ages 35 to 54.

Compared to 2001, singles are 18 percent more likely this year to report that time off makes them a lot more productive (78 percent vs. 60 percent). Almost three in four women (72 percent) also report that vacations make them a lot more productive, an 11 percent increase from last year (61 percent).

Certain trends develop relating to vacation plans and an employee's marital and parental status:

-- 83 percent of married parents plan to take vacation; 76 percent will travel

-- 87 percent of married non-parents plan to take vacation; 84 percent will travel

-- 65 percent of single parents plan to take vacation; 60 percent will travel

-- 70 percent of single non-parents plan to take vacation; 67 percent will travel

Outdoor activities, sightseeing and water activities most popular.

The top three picks for vacation activities are outdoor activities; visiting museums, famous landmarks, national parks or sightseeing; and beach and water activities . Men are much more likely to engage in outdoor activities than women (45 percent vs. 32 percent).

"Taking time off from work is increasingly important for both employees and their respective companies," said Judy Meleliat, senior vice president of Xylo, Inc. "Getting away from daily routines will help workers gain a fresh perspective, and return to work rejuvenated and prepared to take on new challenges."


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Oregon’s divorce rate on the rise


A story published today by the Oregonian reports that according to a special supplement to the 2000 Census, Oregon has a higher share of divorced single women than any state in the nation.

About 14 percent of women in Oregon are divorced and single. Only Nevada has a higher percentage.

It's not that Oregon necessarily has a higher divorce rate. The rate, when based on population, is about the national average: It has held steady around five divorces per 1,000 people each of the past five years, says Joyce Grant-Worley, manager at the state Center for Health Statistics.

However, if annual divorces are calculated as a percentage of marriages, Oregon's divorce rate is 20 percent more than the national average, contends Dr. Herman M. Frankel, director of The Divorcework Center, a Portland agency offering services to help protect children during divorces.

Oregon children see more broken marriages, Frankel says. "Divorce is the most commonly occurring traumatic event in the life of American children," he says.

Whatever the reasons, the large numbers of divorced singles may reflect an unusual facet of life in Oregon: The state is a destination for people who divorce elsewhere; and those who divorce in Oregon are not remarrying.

"I bet it's a combination," says Barry Edmonston, director of the Population Research Center at Portland State University.

Other sources of data also show a large share of divorced people in Oregon.

State health surveys compiled by the national Centers for Disease Control rank Oregon fifth-highest in the nation for the percentage of divorced men and women.

And Claritas Inc., a marketing firm in San Diego, recently calculated the portion of divorced men and women in each of the 318 metropolitan statistical areas defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Medford-Ashland area ranked seventh-highest for divorced singles, Eugene-Springfield ranked ninth, and Portland-Vancouver ranked 16th. Washington cities also ranked high: Spokane, 11th; Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, 12th; Olympia, 15th.

The state's high proportion of divorced people is probably rooted in its economy, says Peter Collier, professor of sociology at Portland State University.

Many of the 580,000 people Oregon gained in the past decade were young, high-tech workers flocking to the state for jobs, Collier says, and young adults have a higher proportion of divorces.

What's more, primary industries in the state such as timber and agriculture, traditionally dominated by male workers, declined during the past two decades. That has driven some men elsewhere for work and left others without the income to afford the responsibility of marriage, Collier says.

"I think it is all economic," he says. "I don't see this as a moral crisis."

Oregon also may be more tolerant of divorced people than other regions of the nation, notes Alan Acock, an Oregon State University sociologist.

"We're fairly progressive," he says. Divorced Oregonians are "under less pressure to change their status and under less pressure to leave."


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Iowa governor lends support to marriage bill


A story published today by the Des Moines Register reports that Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack indicated some willingness Monday to sign a bill that would allow Iowans planning to marry to seal their vows with a contract full of options that would make it harder to get divorced.

"If it just creates a process by which people could enter into a covenant and requires them, in some way, to think twice before they make the decision to get divorced, why, that would be something I would be - I think people should have the right to do that," Vilsack said in his weekly news conference.

The proposal, called an "optional marriage agreement," may be debated by the Iowa Senate as early as this week. It's a revision from an earlier "covenant marriage" proposal, which also would have established a more binding form of marriage in Iowa but would have offered less flexibility.

Vilsack was among those had concerns about the original "covenant marriage" proposal. He said it would have required couples to establish fault in a divorce, would have created more animosity and would have had a negative impact on children.

He said the new proposal makes more sense.

"If people want to enter into agreements and promises and covenants and they want to formalize that in some way, government shouldn't necessarily step in the way of them doing that," Vilsack said.

But Sen. Maggie Tinsman, a Bettendorf Republican who voted against the original "covenant marriage" proposal in committee, said she doesn't think changes in the proposal will change her mind.

"Alternative marriage sounds a little strange to me," said Tinsman, who will celebrate her 44th wedding anniversary Thursday. "I think there should only be one kind of marriage license. It's a commitment, I think, for life, and I don't think it should be connected with divorce."

Tinsman said she doesn't think the state can make couples stay together.

"The government shouldn't have anything to do with marriage," she said. "That's really, to me, a covenant between God and the couple."


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Buffalo, New York suburbs experiencing a new image


A story published today by the Buffalo News reports that a new study form the Brookings Institute shows that nuclear families - once the epitome of the suburban lifestyle - are now outnumbered by "non-family households" throughout the nation's suburbs.

It's part of a 21st century makeover occurring in America's suburbs. And the suburbs' emerging new image - which includes a more diverse racial makeup - is breaking down old stereotypes of the typical suburban household that Ozzie and Harriet created.

There are now 12.8 million non-family households in the suburbs of the nation's 102 largest metropolitan areas, compared with 11.7 million households in the married-with-children category, the Brookings study shows. In 1990, the situation was reversed.

The suburban transformation reflects any number of social and demographic factors, experts said.

The volume of people moving to the suburbs over the years created a wide array of households, from young singles who want to live closer to their suburban jobs to single-parents choosing the suburbs for their schools.

Meanwhile, the lives of those already in the suburbs changed.

Suburban households are being shaped by divorce and unmarried couples buying homes. Senior citizens - once in a couple, now widowed - want to remain in the neighborhoods where they raised their children.

"I like the area," said one 85-year-old Amherst woman who lives alone and didn't want her name used. "It's close to my friends and close enough to Buffalo so I can still go to Studio Arena, the symphony and the Irish Classical Theater."

But changing households aren't limited to the suburbs.

The good news is that married-with-children families, often thought of as typically suburban, are increasing in many cities, the study shows.

The bad news is Buffalo isn't one of them.

During the 1990s, cities grew more than they had in three decades. Fast-growing cities in the South and West attracted married couples with children - many of them immigrant families - because those cities tend to have a more suburban feel, the housing stock is newer, and they're not as densely populated, demographers said.

Many cities in the North and Midwest, where the population is declining or growing slowly, didn't enjoy the same trend.

Buffalo, in fact, lost nearly one-quarter of its married-with-children households during the last decade.

So who is living in Buffalo?

Almost half of city households are non-family homes - singles, roommates, elderly living alone, unmarried partners - 17 percent are single-parents, while just 12 percent are married couples with kids.

"It's probably a reflection of several things going on," said John B. Sheffer, director for the Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth at the University at Buffalo.

Monday, February 18, 2002

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Kansas lawmakers endorse ban on common law marriages

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed a bill Monday that would end common law marriage in the state.

"I don't see that we need common law marriages today," said Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Common law marriages, which require no marriage certificate, have been recognized in Kansas since at least 1886, when the Supreme Court upheld a Shawnee County man's bigamy conviction based on the law.

Only the District of Columbia and seven other states still recognize such marriages -- Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

The Kansas House Judiciary Committee has a bill that would require a parent, guardian or judge's approval if one of the parties to a prospective common law marriage is under 18.

House Judiciary Chairman Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said common law marriages give partners, particularly women, property rights should those relationships end.

"I would be reluctant to completely end it," he said of the practice. "Our bill modernizes it."

Sen. Ed Pugh, R-Wamego, raised the property issue Monday in the Senate committee's discussion, then voted against endorsing the bill.

Since 1913, Kansas courts have declared the common law age of consent for marriage is 14 for boys and 12 for girls and that they don't need the permission of their parents or guardians. Also, courts have said a common law marriage is valid if the partners are able to marry and live together as a married couple -- even only briefly.


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Government counseling or love connection?


A story released today by Fox News reports that the Bush administration’s program designed to promote love and marriage between low-income couples is drawing fire from different sectors of society.

The brainchild of marriage czar Wade Horn, a marriage and fatherhood advocate who was appointed assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families at the Health and Human Services Department, the proposal would give local governments money from failing welfare programs to educate low-income parents about marriage skills and the benefits of two-parent households.

"Marriage is one of the most intimate associations in our lives, and the government should stay out of it," said David Boaz, executive vice president of Cato Institute. "Marriage has lasted for thousands of years without a federal program to encourage it."

Supporters say the program isn't a matter of government-arranged marriages; it's a program to help couples develop the foundations for a healthy marriage.

The plan proposes using $100 million already appropriated to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that was designed by Congress to encourage states to reduce unmarried birth rates, an initiative that has seen few tangible results.

National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy said that the stakes might be too high if the federal government winds up funding unhealthy or violent marriages or penalizing states that aren't successful in increasing marriage rates.

"For individual people, marriage may or may not be the right choice, especially if the person is an abuser," said Gandy. "To say to these women, where the father of their children has abandoned them or abused them, 'You've got to track him down and marry him or your check is going to be reduced,' that's terrible," she said.

Even with good intentions, some aren't convinced that a government-sponsored marriage plan will actually lower child-poverty rates and strengthen families. Such services already exist in a number of local communities, in states such as Oklahoma and California, but there are not definitive, widespread statistics that show they're getting results.

"I'm skeptical that the kinds of programs we have right now are going to make much difference. But I would not argue against some experimental efforts," said Brookings Institution senior fellow Isabel Sawhill.


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Women should sets their sights on the future


A story released today by the Associated Press reports that according to a study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, D.C., the average income for American men over 65 is more than $28,500 while the average for women is $15,200. This evidence is alarming statistics about today's elderly.

Yet many couples don't consider any of this when they plan for retirement. The question for baby boomers, the next generation to head into retirement, is whether they can create more balance, experts say.

"Couples need to plan together," said Rhonda M. Ecker, co-author of the newly published J.K. Lasser's Winning Financial Strategies for Women. "Many times, especially among older boomers, one tends to push it off on the other. It's important for both to play a role."

The risks of poor financial planning are especially great for women, she added. "They're most likely to end up alone, a divorcee or a widow," Ecker said. "And if there are kids, there can be estate tax issues or guardianship issues she shouldn't have to face alone."

Financial adviser David Bach believes women are playing a greater role in family financial planning than they did in previous generations, but he also thinks they need to be more aggressive in getting their mates to help build retirement savings.

Mandee Heller and Tamara King, who operate the Women's Financial Network at Siebert, believe men and women should be aware of their differing financial needs -- and talk about them. "If women are living seven years longer than men, a couple needs to take that into consideration when setting budgets," King said.

"And what are you going to do if either of you gets sick? You need plans in place in advance." Heller said women also need to know what rights they have to their husband's assets: Does the woman need to be named a beneficiary on his retirement plan? How does she get access to the funds if he dies, and when? Must she share with a former spouse? With children? And what about his insurance policies?

"These are questions that should be answered before there's a crisis," Heller said.


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Finances before nuptial plans

A column written today by Jeff Brown for the Philadelphia Inquirer focuses pre-nuptial preparations and discussing finances with you partner. The complete text of the column can be viewed by clicking on the link below:



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Settle your debts before divorcing


An article published today by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that divorce and debt are both unpleasant realities that can sometimes spell disaster. After all, the same amount of income has to be spent maintaining two separate households now where there used to be just one.

Debts incurred before the marital breakup must be handled correctly in order to protect the parties involved. Divorcing couples need to realize that a divorce decree doesn't mean anything to creditors when it comes to joint credit accounts. Even though a divorce settlement might specify that one or the other spouse is to be responsible for paying off a certain debt, creditors have the right to expect payment from either party.

The best solution for divorcing couples is to:

1) Arrange a pay off all joint debts before signing the divorce agreement.

2) Pay off the amounts you each decide is responsible for.

3) Close the accounts and then go on with life separately.

4) Retain a divorce attorney and have him or her advise you.

Saturday, February 16, 2002

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Sign a contract before you start dating your co-worker

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that co-workers who date can now sign a pre-emptive contract of their own, designed to prevent sexual harassment suits.

The legal documents are drafted for people involved in workplace romances who agree to keep their professional and private lives separate should their relationship ever go south.

In a time when unwelcome sexual advances and hostile work environments have generated thousands of complaints, legal experts say this new breed of legal documents can help protect employers from sexual harassment claims.

"It's an acknowledgment by both parties that they're entering into a consensual relationship," said Greg Miller, a Pittsburgh employment lawyer who's drafted a few agreements. "Obviously, this can't work if one or the other is in a marriage."

The concept was first suggested to Miller by a few business clients, who knew some of their workers were dating superiors. Miller, a shareholder at the Pittsburgh law firm Buchanan Ingersoll, said he had heard of the contracts and it made sense to him to document a couple's relationship to protect both parties from unforeseen dating disasters.

"I've never heard of anything like this, but it doesn't surprise me that it's out there," said Janis E. Eggleston, a senior staff attorney for the National Employment Lawyers Association. The San Francisco-based group represents clients in employment disputes.

Eggleston said workers considering the agreements shouldn't be so quick to sign on the dotted line.

"I actually think it's a way for an employer not to fulfill their obligations to create an environment free of sexual harassment," Eggleston said.

Nancy L. Heilman, an employment discrimination specialist at the Pittsburgh law firm Cohen & Grigsby, said the best weapon against sexual harassment is employee education.

"I think the safest thing is to train their people and have good policies in place," she said.

Heilman also cautioned that it's unlikely the agreement would constitute a waiver of legal rights.

Miller concedes the agreement doesn't protect either party from being sued, but argues that it serves a purpose by providing documentation in the employer's defense.

Some legal experts also see the potential benefits of the contracts.

"Some offices have no dating policies because it can look bad for a superior to be dating a subordinate," said Dianna Johnston, assistant legal counsel for the EEOC. "But when you have an acknowledgment that it's voluntary, it sort of eliminates that."

Friday, February 15, 2002

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Single men at risk of dying early


A story released today by the BBC News reports that men find it difficult to communicate their emotions

Emotional rather than physical factors may better explain why death rates are higher among single men than their married counterparts.

Psychologists believe that a marital relationship may benefit men's long-term health by giving them emotional security.

Researchers in Stockholm found boys whose growth was slowest were least likely to marry. Unmarried men were shorter at the age of 18, by an average of 1cm.

They also found that death rates from heart disease and stroke were higher in unmarried men than in married men.

However, they could find no firm evidence that slow growth in itself increased the risk of heart disease. Instead, adult occupation, income and education appeared to be far more important factors.

There was little difference in death rates between married and single women.

Dr. Janet Empson, principal lecturer in psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, said the difference in the way men and women form social relationships may have a greater bearing.

She said: "Social relationships are good for physical and mental health and well being." said Empson. "Having a confidante is good for mental health."

"Men are more likely to confide in their wife than a friend, while women are more likely to have confidantes who are friends, in addition to confiding in their husbands."

However, Dr. Empson puts forward another hypothesis, which has its roots in childhood growth.

"Males who reach puberty early do better in their education, have better relationships with their peers and are more attractive to the opposite sex." said Empson.

Researchers used data from the Uppsala birth cohort study of people born between 1915 and 1929.

They used official registers to follow their marital status and mortality from 1970 through to 1995.

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Iowa’s marriage-contract bill given more flexibility


A story published today by the Des Moines Register reports that Iowans planning to marry could be allowed to seal their vows with a contract full of options that would make it harder to get divorced.

Supporters of an effort to establish a more binding form of marriage in Iowa have dropped the religious-sounding name ("covenant marriage") from their proposal and given it more flexibility in an attempt to win over skeptical legislators.

The revised proposal, called an "optional marriage agreement," would allow couples to draw up a customized marriage contract.

The terms could range from mandatory counseling to mediation or arbitration of marital disputes before seeking a divorce. Couples also could list specific conditions for dissolving their marriage, such as adultery or abuse.

The marital agreements would be voluntary. People who wed could still follow existing law.

"It gives the power back to the couple," said Michael Hartwig, vice president of Marriage Matters of Iowa, an advocacy group that wants to work with churches to develop model contracts.

Critics of a covenant marriage law said that the new version is an improvement, but that they still have serious reservations.

"They're taking a lot of the religious connotation out of it," said Sen. Johnie Hammond, an Ames Democrat. "But I still don't think the state should get involved."

Hammond said entering into a marriage "is a private, personal and religious commitment that should be outside the state's jurisdiction."

The Senate could debate the issue next week. Previous attempts to pass a covenant marriage have not made it beyond committee approval. The Senate Human Resources Committee voted 7-5 in favor of a "marriage covenant" bill last month.

Supporters contend the state should do what it can to help the institution of marriage and make at least a dent in the thousands of divorces recorded in Iowa each year.

"I want to strengthen marriage. I want to reduce the divorce rate in Iowa. I want to keep families together," said Sen. Neal Schuerer, an Amana Republican.

There are about 45 divorces for every 100 marriages in Iowa.

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New York lawmakers discuss no-wait wedding bill


A story published today by the Buffalo News reports that New York state legislators said they will take another look at their proposed no-wait wedding bill after hearing the concerns of Catholic bishop Henry J. Mansell as well as comments from local citizens in the past few weeks.

Both state Sen. Byron W. Brown, the chief sponsor of the bill, and Mansell said they thought the meeting was productive. Also attending were State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda, and Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Niagara Falls, who co-sponsored the bill with Brown.

The bill calls for the 24-hour waiting period to be dropped for licenses obtained in Niagara Falls and to allow satellite locations, or so-called wedding kiosks, in the downtown area where licenses could be obtained outside of normal business hours.

Mansell made it clear that while it was good that the four had the opportunity to discuss the issue, there are no modifications to the bill that would satisfy him and he would prefer that the bill be dropped from consideration in the State Legislature. He said leaders of many churches and social and behavioral scientists agree there has to be greater deliberation by couples before they enter marriage.

"The quickie-marriage bill flies in the face of that," Mansell said. "Even proposing this bill doesn't show an awareness of the seriousness of the problem."

"Those are serious concerns and valid concerns we agree must be taken into consideration," Brown said. "Because with this particular piece of legislation there is the reality of what it will do as well as the perception of what it will do, we want to make sure if we do anything with the bill it would reinforce the sanctity of the institution of marriage and not detract from it."

But he stopped short of saying that he would withdraw or modify the bill. He said the bill has generated a great deal of response on both sides of the issue. He said the local business community still has a high level of enthusiasm for trying to do something to energize tourism and to look at marriage as a potential engine for the tourism industry in Niagara Falls.

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Starter marriages: When the going gets tough, leave


A story published today by the USA Today reports that divorcing before age 30 is becoming so common that it is creating a demographic phenomenon called starter marriages.

Even though the divorce rate actually leveled off in the 1990s, from about 50 percent of new marriages to about 43 percent currently, a 2001 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 20 percent of divorces in first marriages now occur within five years.

Statistics on marriage and divorce are difficult to come by. But Pamela Paul, 30, an editor at American Demographics, says her research shows that "the most common time for a marriage to end in divorce is in the first five years. And of those early divorces, about one-quarter end within two years."

Paul's findings are in a new book, The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony .

The twentysomethings who marry do expect it to be permanent, Paul says. "They are not testing the waters and intending to trade up for something better later. This generation is extremely optimistic about marriage," she says, even though they have seen marriages shatter all around them. "Generation X believes they can do marriage better."

Yet many unions crumble like stale wedding cake in less time than it takes to plan them, Paul says. "These couples devote 11/2 years to planning the wedding, this huge party, and don't give a thought to the idea they will be with this partner for 50 years."

Some of the risk factors for having a starter marriage, according to Paul:

- The divorces of parents. "These are the first children of the divorce generation," Paul says.

- Lack of guidance from parents. Aware that they themselves had divorced, parents backed off from talking about what makes marriage work, Paul says.

- Culture of impatience. When the young hit a pothole, they abandon the road.

- Living together. Divorce rates are higher for those who have lived together -- some studies show up to 48 percent higher -- than for those who have not cohabited. Reasons vary, from conflict over where the relationship is going, to a union of two nontraditionalists who basically don't believe in marriage.

- Pressure to marry. Paul cites a "marriage culture" that promotes "matrimania."

- About 94 percent are looking first for a "soul mate" in marriage; 86 percent expect to find theirs.

- The overall divorce rate for all new marriages is about 43 percent.

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Looking for the right chemistry in a relationship


A story published today by the Washington Post reports that John Gottman, a psychology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, and others are trying to understand why as many as one in two marriages end in divorce, and why so many couples seem to fall out of love and break apart.

Some of the most revealing answers, it turns out, come from the couples who stay together.

While conventional wisdom holds that conflicts in a relationship slowly erode the bonds that hold partners together, couples who are happy in the long term turn out to have plenty of conflicts, too. Fights and disagreements are apparently intrinsic to all relationships, but couples who stay together over the long haul don't let the fighting contaminate other parts of the relationship, experts say.

"What we've discovered is surprising and contrary to what most people think," said Gottman, author of "The Mathematics of Marriage." "Most books say it's important for couples to fight fair, but 69 percent of all marital conflicts never get resolved because they are about personality differences between couples. What's critical is not whether they resolve conflicts but whether they can cope with them."

Almost 90 percent of Americans marry at some point. An overwhelming number of those who divorce marry a second time, meaning they may have lost faith in a partner but not in the promise of the institution.

At the same time, changing social mores and expectations are stressing long-term relationships. Two-income couples juggle demanding jobs and professional advancement can sometimes detract from family and intimate relationships. The rising number of women in the workforce has given women the economic security to leave unhappy relationships, the sexual revolution has made sex before and outside marriage common, and divorce has lost its stigma.

Nevertheless, most Americans still seek lifelong soul mates - and expectations from love and marriage have never been higher.

The juxtaposition of high expectations with the stress and cycles of relationships appears to be an important reason why many relationships don't work, said Ted Huston, a professor of human ecology and psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who tracked 168 couples over 13 1/2 years.

Huston found that changes in the first two years of marriage often predicted the outcome of relationships. Almost half of all divorces occur within the first seven years of marriage, according to national census data, and many of these "early exiters" report a decline in "bliss" right after marriage.

"When you look at them as newlyweds, they look like they are mutually enchanted and deeply in love and a prototype of your perfectly wed couple - they hug, kiss, say "I love you' all the time," he said. "Two years later, they've lost a lot of that romance. They think, "We once had this great romance, and now we don't.'"

"People have this fairly unrealistic idea: "I have got to have bliss and it's got to stay or this is not going to work,'" he said. "At some level, you don't need the bliss. The Hollywood romance may not be the prelude to a long-term happy marriage."

Couples who were happy over the long term reported being content at the start of relationships and still contented two years later. Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, said her study of 6,000 couples also revealed that couples in long-term relationships tended to have mutual respect, took pride in each other and saw themselves as equals.

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Being happy in a relationship starts with one’s self


A story published today by the Kennebec Journal reports that Dick Watson a licensed clinical social worker who works at HealthReach Network in Augusta, Maine believes one of the most important influences on a relationship has nothing to do with dating and marriage.

"To be happy in a relationship, you need to be happy in yourself," said Watson. "But if you look for someone to make you happy, you're really going to have a tough time."

What may lead couples into therapy is unhappiness stemming from communication problems, which in turn can result from a variety of causes. They may have disagreements about money, sexual problems, disagreements about how to raise children, or problems with step-parenting, Watson said.

A spouse may begin a relationship thinking the other is ideal, Watson said. With growth and change, the spouse may wake up one day and ask, "Who is this person? You need to be happy when you get to a relationship, and not think a relationship can fix that," he said.

Watson sees acceptance as a meaningful step couples take together.

"It's really a very profound thing in a relationship to be able to accept the other person for who they are in a relationship, and in some ways, that's more satisfying and more important than getting them to change into who they want them to be," he said.

James L. Gill, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Gardiner, describes his work as coaching couples, recognizing possible differences and how to work with them.

He asks couples to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator test. The first part of the test determines whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert.

After learning more about a spouse's nature, Gill tries to get his patients to understand the motivations for behavior, and not necessarily feel rejected.

Watson stresses to his clients that differences are normal.


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Love and companionship doesn’t fade when you get older

A story published today by The Morning Call reports that senior romance isn’t necessarily about sweaty palms and pounding hearts. People over 65 may be quite happy holding hands, going for walks at sunset and laughing over a cup of coffee.

"It’s not about sex, it’s about other things," said Glendale Johnson, assistant vice president of the National Council on Aging. "It’s about sharing and loving someone for who they are." The goal is companionship, but if sparks should fly, all the better.

"It’s very lonely, especially after you’ve been married a long time," said Watson, who had been married for 41 years when his wife died. "You start saying ‘I need someone in my life,’ especially after you’re walking around and seeing people holding hands and having a good time."

With people living longer, healthier lives, dating and intimacy have become common practice among older people. About 12 percent of marriages today are between people over 50. Among second marriages, the number of over-50 couples rises to 25 percent.

Robin Flores, executive director of the Lehigh County Office of Aging and Adult Services, believes the desire for companionship and an emotional connection exists regardless of age.

"It is a difficult transition to make from being part of a couple to being single," she said. "It puts them in a peculiar situation to work out."

But jumping back into the dating pool after losing a longtime spouse isn’t always easy, especially if you’re a woman. According to the 2000 Census, 60 percent of people age 65 were women and 40 percent were men. At age 75, it’s 73 percent women and 27 percent men.

At 86, Louis Terplan knows all about having to beat women off with a stick. He’s a charmer who believes you’re never too old for romance.

"When you stop thinking and stop looking, it’s time to pack it in," said Terplan, hunched in a wheelchair at Gross Tower senior center, where he’s a resident. After his wife died, Terplan said he had a companion who would "check on him and tuck him in at night," but she died four years ago. At his age, he said, it’s about "personality, not femininity."

He’s currently soft on a woman who is a paraplegic.

"I love her for the person she is, not what she can do," he said, before whispering that he plans to give her a diamond ring today, accompanied by a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

And what will he say when he hands his beloved the velvet box?

"You’re a wonderful, caring person," he said."All I want is companionship until I close my eyes."


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Divorce and the different reasons that go with it


A story published today by New-Press reports that Valentine’s Day is a day for lovers; it’s the rest of the year that’s the problem.

While there were 18,624 marriages between 1997 and 2001 in Lee County, Florida, there were 11,649 divorces.

It’s not surprising news, considering Americans have heard for years that 50 percent of marriages are doomed to fail.

"I think men and women have different expectations in marriage, and those expectations are usually not the same," said Florida attorney John Mills. "It’s always the other person’s fault. I let them spout, let them tell everything that’s wrong. They ask me, ‘‘What do you think?’’ I say, ‘‘Well, you married her.’’ "

But why can’t couples work it out?

"There’s no one reason," said attorney Frank Mann, 40. "I get 20 different divorce clients and there could be 20 different reasons. Maybe they didn’t know exactly what they were getting into."

Divorce is on the rise because people have decided they don’t want to be unhappy, said Lois Bomberger, a clinical social worker with Genesis III Counseling Center in Fort Myers.

"There used to be a time when people thought they just had to live with their problems," said Bomberger. "Women are not willing to accept everything anymore and are becoming more active in the work world and marriages."

People who divorce and remarry almost always end up marrying clones of their first spouses, Bomberger said.

The cycle begins in childhood, she said. People marry other people who remind them of their parents’ good qualities.

"But they always have their faults, too," she said. "This repeats itself over and over."

Records show 361 more people married in 2001 than in 1997, but the number of divorces increased by only 74 in the same period.

The best advice for people who are thinking about getting married may come from Mann, who has never been married, but has seen enough people get divorced to have learned a thing or two about making it work.

"Just know the person you’re getting married to," he said. "Take your time."


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Organization helps needy singles start anew


A story published today by the Tri-city Herald reports that because of the Benton Franklin Community Action Committee, homeless people have a roof over their heads and a place to escape winter's cold.

Eighteen apartments on the top floor of the Bateman Building in the 300 block of Kennewick Avenue in the Kennewick, Washington are available for the organization's homeless prevention project, which began in September.

"Ninety percent of the people who come here have nothing except what is on their backs, not even a toothbrush," said Beverley Rowland, program director.

Currently, the Bateman Building has apartments occupied by five women and nine men, all single and all in some kind of handicapped condition. The residents are screened before being allowed to move in, Rowland said. Families are not allowed, and the program is not transitional-type housing or a halfway house.

Anyone who is accepted as a resident has to have been clean and sober for at least 30 days, Rowland said.

The remaining four vacant units -- 14 are full -- will be occupied soon, Rowland said. She has eight applicants on a waiting list.

A grant from the federal Housing and Urban Development program covers the cost of making the apartments available, but the Community Action Committee has no extra money to provide furniture, clothing or other personal necessities for the new occupants, said Jessica Cap, committee spokeswoman.

To help cover those personal needs, the Bateman Building is having an open house for the public from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday. Donations of dishes, linens, bedding and basic furniture are requested.

Cap said residents are given a healthy, safe place to live and a support system that teaches life skills and educational classes. Counseling with a professional counselor, who works at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, and volunteers is offered one night a week. There are also volunteer tutors to help with adult literacy, she said.


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Putting off marriage and staying single longer


A story published today by the Montgomery Adviser reports that putting off marriage until one is better prepared to deal with its demands is growing in popularity in America. The latest census numbers show the median age for first-time marriages among both men and women has increased by about four years from a generation ago.

According to Census 2000, the median age for first-time marriages is 26.8 for men and 25.1 for women. That’s an increase of about four years from 1970, when the median age was 23.2 for men and 20.8 for women.

That pattern is mirrored in Alabama, where the median age for first-time marriage rose to 25 for men and 23 for women in 2000, compared to 21.9 for men and 19 for women in 1972, when the state’s Department of Public Health started keeping such figures. That same year, 70 percent of all the marriages in the state were first-time marriages. In 2000, that figure dropped to 56 percent.

In a country where roughly half of all marriages end in divorce, the upward creep in age of those taking their first stab at matrimony represents a significant shift in Americans’ thinking about their relationships. It’s a change that actually bodes well for the institution of marriage, said the Rev. Charles Wise, singles minister at Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church.

"We have a saying: ‘‘Time is a friend, not a foe, so go slow," " Wise said. "I think people are more serious about their relationships and very much want to do it right. They’ve seen relationships that were jumped into and didn’t work, so they want to learn more about themselves and maybe get a healthier perspective."

The 2000 census revealed that the percentage of single Americans is indeed growing. Of all people 15 and older, 44 percent of men and 48 percent of women were single in 2000. A generation ago, in 1970, only 35 percent of men and 40 percent of women were single.

While marriage as an institution is still held in high esteem and remains a goal that many singles aspire to, Wise said societal pressure to be married is steadily weakening, allowing singles of all stripes to feel more comfortable with their personal situations.

"Being divorced or single isn’t the stigma it used to be, and I think that contributes to people staying single longer," he said.


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