5 Fast Highlights from the American Family Survey

The Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy (CSED) at Brigham Young University released the report of their annual American Family Survey. By surveying 3,000 adults, principal investigators Chris Karpowitz and Jeremy Pope, both professors of political science at BYU, are studying the current state of families in America and how they are affected by current events and policies.

The 2021 survey is the seventh annual survey and identifies important trends on how American families view marriage, how they think society should deal with issues of race and racism, and how favorably they view their national and state governments, among other data.

Below are five fast highlights from the study. We encourage you to read the full report or watch the press conference hosted by the American Enterprise Institute.

Karlyn Bowman, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, hosts a press conference to highlight the findings of the 7th Annual American Family Survey conducted by YouGov for BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and the Deseret News.

1. More than 70% of low-income Americans who received stimulus funds said they needed them to get by.

COVID aid—the stimulus checks especially—had very different impacts depending on the economic state of the families receiving the help. Nearly 3/4 of the people surveyed with an annual income below $40,000 said they needed the money to get by, compared to the 1 in 4 with annual incomes above $80,000 who said they needed the money to make ends meet. Single parents were among the most vulnerable to economic crisis and 2/3 of single parents said they needed the aid.

2. 45% of Americans think marriage makes society stronger.

There is a slight downward trend in positive opinion on marriage in America. The opinion that marriages make society stronger is at an all-time low and dropped 4% from 2020 to 2021. In addition, the belief that marriage is old-fashioned and out-of-date has risen from 12% in 2015 (the first year of the survey) to 19% in 2021. Respondents were asked to rank 12 possible problems facing families. The top three were: “structural (definition of marriage, lack of discipline, single-parent homes, or the digital age), economic (work demands, lack of programs to help, costs, and lack of good jobs), and cultural (decline in faith, sexual permissiveness, drugs/alcohol, and crime).” Questions about the impact of COVID on marriages found that while COVID did create added stress on the family, respondents didn’t feel that COVID had made their marriages weaker.

3. Americans view the government more favorably now, possibly due to COVID checks.

The survey found that between 80% and 90% of families received some sort of government aid, whether in the form of stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, an eviction moratorium, or nutritional assistance. “The aid was overwhelmingly popular and many low-income people were pulled out of poverty or back from poverty by the stimulus bill…,” shared Pope. In an evaluation of the helpfulness of different institutions during the pandemic, the federal government’s rating moved from 37 in 2020 to 54 in 2021, a 17-point jump. Democrats found the federal government to be much more helpful — giving it a 70% rating — whereas Republicans found it to be less helpful. Respondents from both ideologies said the local and state governments had been more helpful in 2021 than in 2020.

4. 1 in 5 Latinos reported losing a family member to COVID-19.

COVID had a more devastating impact on certain families based on racial, economic, or other types of disadvantages that predated the pandemic. Compare the statistic of 1 in 5 Latinos reporting a family death with the 1 in 10 that Whites reported. While some families have gone through the pandemic mostly unscathed, others have experienced a sense of deep grief, loss, and hardship.

5. 24% of White Republicans say Black families face additional obstacles.

Respondents were asked about their impressions of race-based obstacles and while most Whites recognized race-based obstacles, it was not to the extent that racial minorities did. Partisan identities showed a stark contrast between the percentages of people that believe racial minorities face barriers that Whites do not; 88% of White Democrats believe that Black and Hispanic families face obstacles that White families do not, and around 80% of White Democrats answered similarly about Asian families.

Read the full report from the 2021 American Families Survey and learn more about the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

Why You Need a Mission Statement

Honored Alumni Lecture from Leslie Hinchcliff Edwards

Living in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War will undoubtedly presents opportunities that are never to be forgotten. Leslie Hinchcliff Edwards, the 2021 Honored Alumni from the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, graduated from BYU in 1971 with a BS in social work and teaching certificates in history and sociology. But her work in Saudi Arabia was with TV and radio as an NBC on-site coordinator. 

Edwards and her husband Jack were given the chance to leave Saudi Arabia with their three children as tension thickened, but each of the family members received a distinct impression to stay and be of service. 

“How to serve in a potential warzone?” Edwards mused. “We had no idea, but we packed and returned to the Kingdom, led by faith and sure answer to prayer.” 

And serve they did. The family offered refuge to the U.S. soldiers, whether a much-needed hot shower, freshly baked cookies, or a phone call home. Edwards shared that when their time in Saudi Arabia was complete they didn’t have a church magazine or book left in their home because the soldiers were desparate for any reading material they could get their hands on. The Edwards family had a mission there that was created by a spiritual experience that gave them purpose and direction. 

Speaking to students last week, Edwards taught the importance of identifying your purpose through a mission statement. She taught about three principles in the mission statement from the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences that could help students identify purpose and direction, much like her family’s spiritual experience did for them during wartime. 

Part of the mission statement is here for reference, with Edwards’ principles in bold: “Through exacting research and dedicated teaching, that integrate the values and doctrines of the restored Gospel, we hope to provide an education that helps students become informed citizens and thoughtful leaders who make the communities and families in which we live more just, equitable, and happy.”

Edwards touched on each principle with examples from her own life and the lives of her family members. She encouraged listeners to be informed, identify values that are important to them, and lead with care and compassion. 

On being informed, Edwards shared, “As a former journalist and very judicious American citizen, let me tell you that if you do not operate on a foundation of facts, no one is going to take you seriously… If you don’t know something, it’s okay! Be teachable and use your knowledge for good.” 

Edwards’ daughter Kristin has had a decorated career with the U.S. government, especially with counter-terrorism work. Kristin has faced some difficult decisions in her line of work but in speaking to a group of students a few years ago, she said, “You’ve been taught your entire lives about setting goals, working for something important, and having a plan. That’s part of life. But the other part of life is knowing that the plan is always going to change. Identify what matters most to you, establish the values you want to live by, and then life’s tough, pressure-filled decisions will be easier.” 

Each of us will face kinks in even the most well thought-out plan. But just as Edwards’ daughter taught, if we decide what is valuable to us, we will be able to stay true to ourselves when forks in the road do come. 

The last principle Edwards touched on was the goal to be “thoughtful leaders.” She asked a series of questions to help reflect on your leadership style. She asked, “Are you collaborative? Are you action-oriented? Do you serve? How do you communicate? Are you resilient?”

Edwards ended her lecture with the story of the Ubuntu tribe of South Africa. When a tribe member does something wrong, that member is taken to the center of the village, where the tribe surrounds them. For two days, the tribe will remind the wrongdoer of all the good he or she has done. The tribe believes that each person comes into the world only desiring safety, love, peace, and happiness. They recognize that people make mistakes and that these mistakes are a cry for help. So, the tribe recounts all the good the wrongdoer has done to reconnect them back to their true nature. 

How different would our lives be if we were constantly reminding those around us of the good they’ve done? Edwards shared that, “if we look for the good, we will find it,” and that our personal mission statement can help us want to find the good in ourselves and others. 

To develop your personal mission statement, Edwards encouraged the following: Think about your most formative life experiences and how they have shaped you, “craft a concise purpose statement that leaves you energized, and finally, develop a purposeful plan.” 

Take some time this week to think about what’s important to you and how you’re going to get there! Rest assured, plans will change, but a mission statement can remind you of why you started your educational journey and where you want it to take you. 

For more about Leslie Hinchcliff Edwards and her career supported by a social science degree, check out this Y Magazine article

Watch more honored alumni lectures.

Bill Designating 988 as National Suicide Lifeline Number Has Contributions from Political Science Alum Ryan Leavitt

“Suicide across the nation has become an epidemic, especially with young people,” says Ryan Leavitt (BA ’11), partner at Barker Leavitt and BYU political science alumnus. He served as a lead staffer for the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018, which led to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ultimately designating the phone number ‘988’ as a connection to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Crisis Center. 

By July 16, 2022, all calls made to the number ‘988’ will be directed to the national crisis center. In Utah, you can already call this number and be directed to lifesaving resources. 

“Right now if someone experiencing a mental health emergency needs assistance, the lifeline number they dial to get help is really long. People who are having a hard time are not going to know where to get help,” says Leavitt. “The idea is to have a simple three-digit number like you have for life-threatening emergencies (911) that everyone knows.”

Because the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number isn’t easily remembered, people end up calling 911 instead and then, according to Leavitt, “We are directing resources inefficiently.”

Utah has the fifth-highest suicide rate in the nation and suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control. The state of Utah was in desperate need of more streamlined resources before this bill was proposed. 

Leavitt worked under the direction of former Senator Orrin Hatch and Congressman Chris Stewart, who authored the bill requiring the FCC to change the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from 1-800-273-TALK to 988.

Leavitt is currently a partner at a Government Affairs and Political Consulting Law Firm in Washington, D.C. and he attributes a large part of his early career success to his educational opportunities starting with his undergraduate education at Brigham Young University. Leavitt earned a degree in political science in 2011. He took full advantage of internship opportunities throughout his undergraduate career, participating in the Washington Seminar and interning with the Utah State Legislature.

Over nearly a decade serving as a Congressional aide, Leavitt advised several of Utah’s Members of Congress, including Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator Mike Lee, and Congressman John Curtis among others. Utah State Senator Daniel Thatcher and Utah House Representative Steve Eliason had begun advocating in the Utah State Legislature to designate a three-digit number as the suicide prevention hotline number in Utah. The Utah senators then solicited the help of Senator Hatch and Congressman Stewart to expand their proposal nationally.

Leavitt describes the bill as a “great hope” for those struggling with mental health.

To get help in Utah, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. There is also a crisis text line. 988 is not currently active throughout all the states in the U.S. and 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is still in use. 

If you’re looking for resources other than a hotline, please consider the following: BYU CAPS (for students), the SafeUT app, and webinars from The Hope Squad.

Latinx Activism in America: How the Young Lords Contributed to the Latino Freedom Movement

Manuel Ramos was shot and killed by a police officer on May 4, 1969. He was a member of the Young Lords, a street gang turned activist group. Made up mostly of Latinx community members, the Young Lords led service activities like providing food for the youth of the neighborhood and advocating for safe, low-income housing options in the increasingly wealthy areas of Lincoln Park, Chicago. 

Manuel Ramos’ story and how his death impacted the trajectory of the Young Lords was recently shared with BYU students at the first Fernando R. Gomez Latino Lecture Series in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. 

Dr. Felipe Hinojosa, associate professor in the Department of History at Texas A&M University, spoke with students about his book Apostles of Change: Religion, Radical Politics, and the Latino Freedom Movement

After describing the death of Manuel Ramos, Dr. Hinojosa recounted the actions of the Young Lords. Spurred on by the injustice of Ramos’ death, the group of young people occupied the local Presbyterian McCormick seminary. It was peaceful; they handed out food and sang and spent time among each other, and they had the support of many seminary members, especially students. The Young Lords had a list of demands they wanted the community, especially the leaders of Lincoln Park, to agree to. Their most important goal, though, was to stop the displacement of low-income families due to “urban renewal” policies, such as the building of more expensive housing units. 

The Young Lords would continue to host community events, occupy other seminaries, and even receive a grant to hire urban planners to create a low-income housing pitch for the city. In short, the majority of the demands were not met and their dreams went mostly unrealized in Lincoln Park. However, their story does showcase the power of banding together and peacefully but assertively sharing your story. The Young Lords opened the eyes of many, including many white, Presbyterian church leaders, by showing their determination to bring an end to poverty, police brutality, and racism.

With this lecture being one of the first of its kind to honor Hispanic heritage, students were grateful for the opportunity for the BYU community to hear of the positive changes made by Latino and Latina people of their own age. Erick Calderon, president of the BYU Hispanos Unidos club, shared, “These young men described in Dr. Felipe Hinojosa’s book were my age and they were changing policies, feeding children in the neighborhood, organizing tuberculosis exams, and more. It made me realize just how much of an impact I can create in my neighborhood if I just have the desire to create change.” 

The Young Lords of Chicago were community outsiders who used a local church as a vehicle for change. What will your vehicle for change be? 

Learn more about the fight for Latinx civil rights in the Civil Rights Seminar.

Civic Charity and Bonds of Affection Help Us Moderate and Unify

Latter-day Saints’ greatest contribution to the world is our ability to build community and unity, declares Judge Thomas Griffith in his Constitution Day presentation on Sept. 17 on BYU campus. The event was a Q&A between Judge Griffith and Justin Collings, professor of law. 

Thomas B. Griffith has enjoyed a varied legal career for several decades. From general counsel for BYU to federal judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to Senate Legal Counsel, his experiences give him a deep understanding of the judicial branch. Currently, he lectures at Harvard Law School and is special counsel at the international law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden appointed Judge Griffith to the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court. 

While serving as a missionary in South Africa, Judge Griffith saw the devasting impacts of apartheid. Even more powerful though were the hands of both black and white community members that he saw stretch across barriers to fellowship loved ones and strangers. This gave him an optimistic view of the role of politics. Judge Griffith recognized that politics are for the reconciliation of men. He shared that, “this may be impossible, this may be a pipe dream” but compromise and unity are what make politics work. 

Through serving for many years on different courts and in various positions, Judge Griffith has studied the Constitution backward and forwards. He has recognized that the Constitution, our basis for all this country’s laws, depends on two things that it cannot guarantee: civic charity and bonds of affection. No law can force us to show kindness and this is why it can be so hard to see it in the political sphere. An important consideration about the men who produced the Constitution and is that they spent time getting to know each other well, outside of politics. They had bonds of amity, or friendship, that allowed them to compromise while making laws. 

While we may not be able to ensure that our elected officials get together on the weekends for family dinners, Judge Griffith suggests that we build bonds of friendship in our own community by getting to know those who disagree with us. He shared the admonition from President Dallin H. Oaks in the April 2021 General Conference of the Church that “On contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify.”

“We are in the most perilous times because of lies and mistrust,” says Judge Griffith. “If you can’t stand the idea of living in the same country as someone who has different ideas than you, then you are a huge part of the problem.”

In this time of distrust and division, Judge Griffith encouraged the audience that we can do our part to create “a more perfect union” by fostering collaboration and a feeling of unity. 

“Black Marriages Matter”: School of Family Life Professors Study Qualities of Successful Black Marriages

Past research on Black families has focused on topics like the causes of single-family households or the impacts of divorce, rather than the skills and support needed to thrive. Antonius Skipper, assistant professor at Georgia State University, is working to include more in academia that focuses on attaining and nurturing successful Black families, as well as providing a more positive outlook on the Black family in general.

In collaboration with Loren Marks and David Dollahite, both professors in our School of Family Life, Skipper published the study “Black Marriages Matter: Wisdom and Advice From Happily Married Black Couples.” The study was published in the journal Family Relations

Marks shares the following about his experience with the research, “We hope that our efforts and the remarkable families we interviewed will influence research and broader culture by providing something beautiful to consider: long-term, loving marriages. There is so much division and contention and animosity in the world today. What a refreshing contrast to take a deep look at unity, harmony, and love in lasting marriages — and how these relational qualities are developed, nourished, and maintained.”

The gap between the number of Black Americans who want to marry (80% according to research cited in the study) and those who do get married (29% as reported by the U.S. Census) shows how important it is to switch the focus from deficit-based research to “strength-focused discussions.” Much of the previous academic rhetoric has made a successful Black marriage look unattainable.

In-depth interviews were held with 35 couples from several different states and the findings have powerful implications for couples of all backgrounds. However, they are especially important for the Black community, which fights against the long-perpetuated idea of the broken Black family along with other systemic barriers. The study outlines the following three principles and skills:

Cultivating Open Communication 

The interviewees shared that the ability to have conversations about potentially uncomfortable topics is crucial to a successful relationship. In order to avoid things from becoming barriers, it’s important to take care of them when they’re just a small issue. Like a snowball rolling down a hill and picking up mass and speed, a tiny conflict that isn’t resolved can turn into a much bigger problem later. One interviewee shared, “Whatever problem[s] arise in the young couple’s life, they should nip it in the bud. Don’t hold it in because [you] don’t want to hurt their feelings or they don’t want to hurt your feelings. … We must bring it out, sit down, and talk.” Many respondents shared that open and frequent communication and the sharing of feelings can contribute to conflict resolution, personal growth, or simply be a means of expressing love and appreciation. 

Flexible Roles and Responsibilities 

Whether because of personal preferences or a change in employment or lifestyle, interviewees shared that a willingness to “play any role on [the marriage’s] team” was vital. Using a biblical reference, one woman shared, “You need to be the Eve for your Adam. Every Eve has her Adam, and you need to be the Eve your Adam needs. I’m the Eve my Adam needs right now. If he needed another Eve to support him where he’s at, then I’d be that Eve.” This flexibility allowed couples to conquer many difficult situations, especially ones that come disproportionately to Black families. 

Money and Marriage 

Interviewees wanted people to recognize that “the crux of almost every issue” is finances. If you can manage your money from the beginning and facilitate conversations about it (there’s that open communication popping up again), then a load of stress will be taken off your marriage. When it came to money, many participants shared how important it was to play to the other’s strengths. “I feel that [each spouse is] supposed to stay with [their] strong things. … I think that’s why we’ve stayed together so long. … The things that she do well, I don’t even tread on that part. The things that I do well, she just lets me do that part of it … Let me tell you right now, no two people can handle the money … if you have two people [and] both [are] paying certain bills and stuff like that, it never works out. … You have to get one person that [will] handle the money” (quote). Existing research suggests that African Americans experience a disproportionate amount of financial strain, which makes the principles shared in the study especially powerful. 

The study contributes to a larger trend that is trying to flip the script on Black families. Rather than seeing them through the lens of shortcomings, many of which have been created and perpetuated by barriers that lie beyond their control, we can view the relationships Black families have as another example of enduring and happy marriages. This research can help Black couples and singles have more power over things within their control to obtain marital stability.

Let’s Talk: Suicide Prevention and Loss

We all have a part to play in understanding and preventing suicide. Whether or not suicide has impacted your life, each of us can ease one another’s burdens and send an undeniable message that everyone is valued and worthy of love. It’s worth improving our awareness of how to support both those who may be considering suicide and the family members or loved ones of those who have died by suicide. 

To strengthen prevention efforts, we can look at mental health problems as seriously as we consider physical issues. Michael Staley, a psychological autopsy examiner and suicide prevention research coordinator for the State of Utah believes that mental health screenings should be just as common as getting our blood pressure checked. And similar to the way CPR training is widespread and required for many jobs to respond to life-or-death situations, so too should suicide prevention training be just as common. Such training would provide valuable skills in many settings, including at work and in schools.

Help prevent suicide by talking about it

Among college students, suicide is the second leading cause of death. It impacts our lives, but it can still be difficult to talk about. However, both Staley and Quintin Hunt, assistant professor of marriage and family therapy at BYU, share that the most important thing we can do to prevent suicide and help people heal from suicide loss is to talk about it. If we feel that something is wrong, we should ask the person we’re worried about if they are considering suicide. 

“If you know somebody who’s going through a hard time or had someone tell you something that sounds suicidal, you can be the difference between life and death for that person. If you leave with a pit in your stomach that tells you ‘Maybe I should do something more’ or ‘Maybe I should ask that one question,’ do it,” says Staley. 

You may be worried about saying the wrong thing, but often doing nothing is worse. Staley recommends practicing asking the difficult question of “Are you considering suicide?” with those around us. If we’ve prepared ourselves, we’ll be empowered if the time ever comes to ask the question in a real-life scenario.

If someone shares that they are considering suicide, let them know that you offer a safe space by reassuring them that they are loved and that you will listen without judgment. Staley explains, “A lot of people feel that they’re going to be abandoned or be stigmatized if they share suicidal thoughts. If you share things like ‘I still care about you, I love you, and I want you to live’ that’s going to create a safe space and help them to recognize their value.” You should then refer them to a suicide hotline, mental health professional, or the emergency room. Follow through and assist them in getting the help they need. 

For every 1 person that dies from suicide, there are 25 people who have made a suicide attempt. If someone shares that they have attempted suicide, reassure them that you are glad they’re here and ask them if they’re still considering taking their life. Let them share their experience with you and get them help if they need it.

Process grief from suicide by talking to other loss survivors 

Hunt shared that an understudied field of research is how suicide loss affects family members and friends. This is important because those who are exposed to suicide are at greater risk of suicide themselves. Hunt shared the following from past research, “One-hundred percent of suicide loss survivors have said that the most useful thing for them in healing has been talking to other suicide loss survivors.” Whether we’ve been impacted by suicide or not, a powerful thing we can do is simply ask suicide loss survivors about the experience in a sensitive and caring way. 

We can all equip ourselves with the emotional and mental capability to talk about suicide. Our care for others will show through our words should we be faced with that situation, but just as importantly, our actions will demonstrate whether we are a safe space for someone to share their struggles. Hunt says, “Regardless of your depth of belief, sexual orientation or gender identity, your political affiliation or marital status, we’re all just people trying to help others recognize their value right here and right now.” 

Learn more about suicide prevention training at https://www.qprinstitute.com.

If you have been personally affected by suicide loss, Hunt, Erin Holmes, professor of family life at BYU, and Rebecca Sanford, associate teaching professor at Thompson Rivers University School of Social Work and Human Services, are studying suicide bereavement. Follow their social media for more information: 

Family eats dinner

6:15 is the Dinner Time Sweet Spot

Summer relaxation ended with Labor Day and the back-to-school season is signaling a return to routine. In parallel, family dinners signal an important transition in our day. Recently published research demonstrates how the placement of our dinner can help us to improve our family life and get more out of our day. 

“The act of dinner actually helps us shift into different activities than we were focused on before dinner. It signals a transition from the day-time schedule of work, school, and activities to evening leisure and togetherness,” says Jocelyn Wikle, assistant professor of family life at BYU, who published the research in Review of Economics of the Household along with Joseph Price, professor of economics at BYU, and Luke Rodgers, assistant professor of economics at Florida State University. 

The research is the first to study whether the timing of family dinners has an impact. Using data from over 41,000 families in the American Time Use Survey (2003-2019), the team determined that the optimal time to eat dinner is 6:15 p.m. Parents who served dinner by 6:15 spent 27% more time reading to their children in the evening, 18% more time playing with their children, 11% more quality time with their children, and 14% more overall time with their children. This effect occurred across all family types.

By having dinner earlier in the evening, you can ensure more time for enjoyable and important evening activities. And if you have a family, that time is important because it “institutes more serious family time and more quality time together. It’s a time when parents aren’t being spread thin and can give more attention to their children,” says Wikle.

“What an earlier dinner is doing for families in the evenings is giving parents time with children both at the table and also after the meal,” says Wikle. This is important because when we invest time in children, we’re investing in their learning and social capacities. To sum up decades of research, positive quality interactions between parents and children are good. Family dinners, in particular, are associated with fewer behavioral problems (Musick & Meier, 2012; Sen, 2010), and increased academic achievement (Eisenberg et al., 2004), for example.

“Parents are a child’s best teacher and parents are really supporting their kids in so many ways. This is just one more way parents can give time and attention to their children,” says Wikle. 

Dinner also can be a struggle. There are going to be times that your children are eating fast food at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday. However, Wikle encourages parents simply to do their best. “Just an awareness of how the time after dinner can impact your family is powerful,” she says.

Wikle’s tips to have dinner ready by 6:15 include prepping food beforehand, doubling-up on food prep, involving your children — dinner prep itself is an opportunity for quality time, and keeping it simple. Her family’s go-to meal is waffles: “It’s a family favorite that can be whipped up quickly.” 

We’d love to hear about your best tips to get dinner done on Instagram @byufhss.