It’s a real relief to see the takedowns pile up in response to Mark Regnerus’s ill-conceived new study, “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” which purports to challenge the claim that there are few differences between children raised in same-sex and heterosexual households. Just a small sampling includes John Corvino at TNR, Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin, and Will Saletan at Slate.
Now the bigger question: Will this embarrassing piece of statistical acrobatics mark the beginning of the end of Mark Regnerus’s credibility with respectable news outlets?
Fingers crossed. Regnerus is a regular on the op-ed circuit and tends to get the first call when a sex-and-youth piece in one of the big dailies needs an expert voice. But for all his statistical abilities (a disaster though this latest study was, he’s still got research chops), Regnerus’s preeminent contribution to mainstream conversation has been his personal retrograde ideas about sex and marriage.
Take the book he co-authored in 2011, Premarital Sex in America, most notable for its embrace of “sexual economics,” a theory holding that all sex between unmarried heterosexual people, from fleeting one-night-stands to sex in relationships of many years, is sterile, transactional, and satisfying almost exclusively for the male participant. That weird and icky concept is also the basis for most of his moralizing essays—like this one for Slate, which blames male commitment problems on women who have failed to be “more fully in charge of how their relationships transpired.” (If they were, “we’d be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on.”)
Or take this Washington Post op-ed he wrote in 2009, which is informed more by his personal conviction that “marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you're fully formed” than by actual research. In it, he frets about the increasing tendency among young people to marry later in life than did previous generations (a trend he admits wouldn’t worry him if it were only a tendency among men):
Marriage will be there for men when they're ready. … But according to social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs, women's "market value" declines steadily as they age, while men's tends to rise in step with their growing resources (that is, money and maturation). Countless studies -- and endless anecdotes -- reinforce their conclusion. Meanwhile, women's fertility is more or less fixed, yet they largely suppress it during their 20s -- their most fertile years -- only to have to beg, pray, borrow and pay to reclaim it in their 30s and 40s.
What do we need with a retrograde researcher who instructs young women to reorder their lives according to men’s “market value”; who treats women like a uniform mass of economic actors seeking only to turn their relationships into marriage with kids; who can’t quite imagine a world in which women have sex for sexual reasons (once describing female consent as “sexual strategies for making men 'fall in love’”); and who traffics in the mid-century notion that the timing of marriage should be arranged around a woman’s “most fertile years”? Now that Regnerus has definitively added “provider of ill-conceived research to Focus-On-The-Family types” to his CV, here’s hoping that more news outlets will decide that his isn’t a voice we need at all.
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