Monday, April 28, 2008

FLDS and common law marriage

Googling around, I found a web page from the Travis Country, Texas, Domestic Relations department (bureau? agency?), detailing the requirements for common law marriage in Texas. So far as I can tell, an FLDS couple meets those requirements, provided that the woman was his first wife and old enough to legally marry him. The page claims that being in a common law marriage has the same effect as an ordinary marriage. If so, the assertion by the Texas authorities that the couples were not legally married looks distinctly shaky.

[After I posted this, someone in a Usenet discussion pointed out a provision in the family code that prohibits persons under 18 from entering into a common law marriage. I don't know how that applies to someone who entered into it in another state and then moved to Texas.]

The Texas authorities claim that, out of 53 girls 14-17, 31 either are pregnant or have had at least one child--a way of putting it that obscures the fact that only two are actually pregnant. The age of consent in Texas is 17, so a 17 year old girl can be pregnant without any law having been violated. The minimum legal age for marriage (with parental consent) is 16, so if there was a legitimate marriage, a sixteen year old girl can be pregnant without any law having been violated. It sounds from the page I found as though a common law marriage counts.

The minimum marriage age was raised from 14 to 16 only three years ago. So a woman who is currently 17 might have been legally married at 14 and had one or more children by now.

There is a further point worth making here. A lot of the support for the attack on the FLDS comes from the widely held view that the normal pattern is for girls to be married off to older men shortly after they reach puberty and promptly start having babies. It is hard to see how that can be true if, as the Texas authorities have admitted, only two girls out of 53 in the 14-17 year age group were pregnant. And if that picture is false, that undercuts the whole argument for the extraordinary treatment they have been subjected to.

21 Comments:

At 10:39 PM, April 28, 2008, Blogger Stephen said...

Two are pregnant, but far more than that already had children, according to your last post.

 
At 12:32 AM, April 29, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

I didn't say that far more had had children, I said that the Texas authorities claimed far more had had children.

The CPS figures imply that on average over the past four years, six times as many women 14-17 were pregnant as are pregnant now. You may believe that if you wish; I don't.

 
At 7:09 AM, April 29, 2008, Blogger Mike Huben said...

What amazes me is that David is so wrapped up with this case that he indulges in wildly speculative statistical exercises. David has no credible model of the population dynamics of this cult as ANYBODY with any population modelling experience could point out. Nor does he have any firm data about the cult members. But that doesn't matter when all you want to do is appeal to the confirmation bias of your readers.

Nor does David take into account the recent history of this cult: the imprisonment and conviction of Warren Jeffs might well have brought about a temporary halt to new marriages, which could be responsible for a recent reduction in marriages and thus pregnancy. Nor does David take simple biology into account: how many of the young women with children have been nursing (which often inhibits conception)?

 
At 8:08 AM, April 29, 2008, Blogger Joe Bingham said...

The point isn't whether these speculations are correct, it's whether there's more reason to believe they're incorrect than to believe Texas' speculations are incorrect. Has Texas investigated these possible scenarios? If they have, why haven't they explained the situation more thoroughly/forthrightly to the media?

 
At 9:00 AM, April 29, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Whereas I continue to be surprised by Mike's credulity.

The fact that nursing mothers are less fertile is irrelevant--that was true last year and the year before as well. That part of Mike's argument would require, not only that there are a sixth as many pregnant women in the group as the average over the past six years, but that for some reason there were many more than the average a year or so back, to make so many more than average nursing over the past nine months.

Presumably Mike did notice that, along with this announcement, CPS announced that they had decided to reclassify a bunch of women as under 18. And that CPS is refusing to accept birth certificates as proof of age, and going on how old they think girls look.

Even without all of that, I would think the mere fact of continually emphasizing the sum of the number pregnant and the number who supposedly were mothers, and deemphasizing the former figure, would be enough to arouse the suspicion of anyone familiar with standard methods of misleading with statistics. It's the same technique as "X million children are either hungry or at risk of becoming hungry."

 
At 12:25 PM, April 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

mike, if there are fewer pregnant teens because jeffs' conviction led them to halt marrying young girls...

where does that leave texas' case...

 
At 2:02 PM, April 29, 2008, Blogger Mike Huben said...

David, you seem to be totally ignorant of the complexities of population models, and so you are attempting a far-too-simple statistical model. I recommend that you talk to a population biologist who is willing to explain why you're wrong. Not to mention the classic garbage-in garbage-out problem due to fragmentary data.

The fact that nursing mothers are less fertile IS quite relevant, because it greatly affects the reproductive availability. And the starting times and ages of breeding are also quite relevant, and quite unknown to you.

And of course, the cult has two major sites: it's town on the border of Arizona and Utah, and Texas. You have no idea of the migration between those sites: it's quite possible that many pregnant girls are visiting their parents for the duration. You just don't know, and your speculative statistical analysis is more likely to show that your assumptions are flawed than it is to show conspiracy.

anonymous, after his conviction, Jeffs abdicated in favor of his son. Presumably, his son has resumed the practices of his church. My speculation.

 
At 2:22 PM, April 29, 2008, Blogger jimbino said...

David,

I can only congratulate you for delving into this case, which is an example of the Amerikan idea that sex is the only moral question, which, of course, only Muslims seem to share.

But I would like to hear your opinion on "male genital mutilation=child abuse," since you consider yourself to be an atheist.

 
At 6:15 PM, April 29, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

jimbino,

As far as I am concerned this has squat to do with sex, and a hell of a lot to do with due process of law, and rights of the accused, and also the rights of individuals against unjust laws. I think that David feels the same way.

 
At 8:17 PM, April 29, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

While David's argument is pretty compelling to me it is statistically possible that only two of 31 mothers and pregnant women who became pregnant over a four year period might be pregnant at any one time.

Noting that statistically the time period is going to be half of that 4 years as on average new young women will age into the 14-17 y/o group and others will age out of it, on average in any given year 7.75 will age out and 7.75 will age in, except that the fact of the matter is that the FLDS has a high birth rate and a growing population so the population should skew toward the younger side.

So ignoring that as we have no way to quantify it, we have 24 months for 31 women to have at least one baby each, that means the average would be 31*9/24=11.6 should be pregnant on average at any one time, and the proverbial die has 24/9=2.667 sides, with having a result of "1" being pregnant and the result of 1.667 being "0" or not pregnant, and we have 31 dice (young women). The probability of any one woman being pregnant at any one time is 37.5% (1/2.666667), the probability of one given woman of that group not being pregnant at any one time is 62.5%. The probability of only one woman of 31 being pregnant at a given moment is (.625 to the power 30) or 7.52e-5%. The probability of only two of them being pregnant is about .625^29=1.2e-4%= 0.00012%.

In other words it is pretty damn improbable.


I do not buy timed reproduction idea as it is;

1 -- difficult to do, I recall a polygamist man on a talk radio show in Salt Lake City about 15 odd years ago talking about how he was (for the lark of it)trying to have more than one of his three wives pregnant at one time. He had been unable to do it even with their cooperation, though he had children by all of them.

2 -- most of the more religious ones do not discuss marital sex with each other.

 
At 11:07 AM, April 30, 2008, Blogger jimbino said...

The last time I looked at the Texas law regarding common-law marriage, one of the elements necessary to establish that a common-law marriage exists is "intent" to be married. Intent can be shown by circumstantial evidence in normal monogamous relationships, but I fail to see how an FLDS man (or woman) can be shown to have the requisite intent.

 
At 2:43 AM, May 01, 2008, Blogger Mike Huben said...

montestruc, you and David are calculating probability of one RANDOM outcome. There's nothing that warrents that assumption of randomness, and lots of history and human population biology that would suggest otherwise. And of course the big fallacy is that if you calculate the minute probability of being dealt your exact poker hand, you would conclude that you didn't believe it because it was too improbable.

Classic statistical abuse.

 
At 5:34 AM, May 01, 2008, Anonymous RKN said...


I do not buy timed reproduction idea as it is;

1 -- difficult to do, I recall a polygamist man on a talk radio show in Salt Lake City about 15 odd years ago talking about how he was (for the lark of it)trying to have more than one of his three wives pregnant at one time. He had been unable to do it even with their cooperation, though he had children by all of them.


Assuming these women were capable of recurring estrus, and were as he indicated cooperative, it's difficult to understand why he was supposedly unable to impregnate multiple women over a one month period.

Further, multiple men on the FLDS compound are married off and encouraged to make babies with multiple wives. In that light, the coordinated reproduction of 29 girls in a short period of time is not at all improbable, and as I postulated, may have practical benefits in a community lifestyle.

Huben is correct here; the underlying assumption that the reproductive rate on the FLDS compound is similar to Texas at large should be, at the very least, met with some skepticism. Indeed, I Googled "FLDS pregnancy rate" and the 3rd hit provided evidence(1) that pregnancy rates on an FLDS compound could be as much as 7X higher than the background average.

Don't get me wrong, I share the objection that the state may very well have been wrong to break up the Texas compound. Nevertheless, I think one has to be skeptical of the basis for David's criticism of the CPS's "arithmetic." Their claim regarding the number of girls pregnant may turn out to be wrong, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they were correct either.

1. http://tinyurl.com/53fruw

 
At 10:03 AM, May 01, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

rkn writes:

"Nevertheless, I think one has to be skeptical of the basis for David's criticism of the CPS's "arithmetic." Their claim regarding the number of girls pregnant may turn out to be wrong, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they were correct either."

I think you have my claim backwards. It isn't their figure for the number of girls who are pregnant that I am questioning, it's their figure for the number who have had babies—because it is difficult to make the two numbers consistent with each other. And the pregnancy figure, which they deliberately obscured by the way they announced the data, is strikingly inconsistent with the account of FLDS reproductive practices that the media and lots of other people have been taking as true, and basing their views of the FLDS on.

In case it isn't obvious, I have concluded, on grounds discussed in my posts, that the CPS people have been trying to distort the facts of the case in ways designed to justify their actions. Thus, for instance, they make press releases asserting things about "minors" of various ages without explaining that they have refused to accept documentary evidence of age, and what they mean by a fifteen year old is someone they say they think looks fifteen.

They haven't explained what their evidence is for concluding that women have had children—merely asserted a summary figure, lumping together pregnant and no longer pregnant women in a way that conceals the small number of the former.

On the evidence so far, they might have gotten their figure by allocating children to women on their conjectures of relationship, they might have gotten it by genetic testing, they might have gotten it by physical examination of the women--and whichever method they used, they almost certainly interpreted the evidence in whatever way made the figure largest.

Finally, we know that they sizeably increased the number of supposed minors shortly before announcing their figures—because they said they did. It's entirely possible that they simply reclassified any woman who had a child, or was pregnant, and looked young enough so that they could claim to have decided she was a minor.

 
At 11:26 AM, May 01, 2008, Anonymous RKN said...

I think you have my claim backwards. It isn't their figure for the number of girls who are pregnant that I am questioning, it's their figure for the number who have had babies -

I didn't misunderstand your claim, I wrote poorly. I meant to write: "Their [CPS] claim regarding the number of girls [who they claimed had been] pregnant."

And the pregnancy figure, which they deliberately obscured by the way they announced the data, is strikingly inconsistent with the account of FLDS reproductive practices that the media and lots of other people have been taking as true, and basing their views of the FLDS on.

I'm wondering what accounts of FLDS reproductive practices you're referring to ("media and lots of other people")? The only relevant cite I was able to find was the one I posted in my last comment, which, if true, would seem to weaken your claim.

I still have not heard why multiple men impregnating 29 girls over a relatively short period of time would be "strikingly inconsistent" with FLDS practices, especially since the reproductive practices which actually occurred there over the relevant years remain a mystery to most of us.

You are correct that the CPS hasn't - to my knowledge anyway - said how they determined the 29 girls had been pregnant. I doubt they measured cervix dilation on all of them, which is one way to do it, tho in-looking pediatricians will correct me if I'm wrong. But that's a different criticism entirely from the one that their arithmetic makes no sense, or that they have tendentiously re-assigned the girls' ages. I mean what if, on a non-cynical view, CPS had in fact determined those 29 girls had been pregnant? Would you still claim that that can't be true because the arithmetic doesn't make sense, or would you instead concede your assumptions were wrong?

The rest of your comments are based on reasonable suspicions of a state agency that may have an "agenda", suspicions I largely share with you.

 
At 11:54 AM, May 01, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

I may be wrong, but I think rkn is still misreading my argument. He writes:

"I still have not heard why multiple men impregnating 29 girls over a relatively short period of time would be "strikingly inconsistent" with FLDS practices,..."

It wouldn't be. What's strikingly inconsistent is that, out of 53 women aged 14-17, only two were pregnant.

CPS releases two figures. One supports what they obviously want people to believe, one doesn't. They report the figures in a way that appears designed to obscure the second, emphasizing only the sum.

I am, for obvious reasons, more willing to believe the figure that goes against their interest than the figure that supports them, given that both were generated by them.

 
At 3:03 PM, May 01, 2008, Anonymous RKN said...

It wouldn't be. What's strikingly inconsistent is that, out of 53 women aged 14-17, only two were pregnant.

It's only inconsistent against the null hypothesis that rates of reproduction in FLDS were not significantly different from that of a relevant cohort outside FLDS.

As I've alluded to, it's not difficult to imagine a greater than average number of babies being produced by a punctuated rate of reproduction in an anomalous community like FLDS. If this were in fact the case, the data reported by CPS (2 are pregnant, 29 had been pregnant) would not be inconsistent.

Point is, we don't know what the reproduction pattern was inside the Texas compound. Basing your condemnation of CPS on the assumption you do, seems to me pretty arbitrary and reckless.

(Incidentally, if the 29 girls identified as having been pregnant in fact had been, and assuming it happened as I've postulated it might, that is more or less at once sometime in the last 2-3 years, then there ought to be about 29 2-3 year old infants in custody as well. Anyone know if a detailed breakdown by age of the children has been reported?).

 
At 4:01 PM, May 02, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

Re huben's comments on statistics.

Using normal human sexual methods of impregnation, no hormones or other drugs, no in-vitro, no constant monitoring of body temperature, to have sex immediately before or after ovulation, you are going to have a random spread.

So the probability of only 2 being pregnant at that point in time is about what I said it was, on the order of 0.00012%, for the sake of argument I could buy that efforts to time the pregnancies w/o use of artificial means like drugs and hormones or invitro would perhaps skew the results by a factor of 100, that makes the probability more like 0.012%.

Still absurd.

The state has shown no evidence of any such artificial means, and you have not postulated and reason why they would try to time the pregnancies.

In fact as I understand it, that would go against their religion. So a random spread is the only reasonable assumption unless you have hard evidence showing otherwise.

 
At 4:02 PM, May 02, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

rkn

look at my math, it is absurdly improbable.

 
At 7:52 PM, May 02, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

It's worth noting that there has been at least one news story claiming that many of the women refused pregnancy tests. So one possible explanation of the discrepency is that the two were the only ones who were obviously pregnant.

Even that seems a bit unlikely. The women presumably had some sort of physical exam--at least, CPS has been making statements about signs of past fractures, which probably require X-rays. So you would think they would have picked up a large fraction of the pregnant ones--perhaps not those in the first few months. And, of course, if they aren't doing tests without permission, what sort of exams did they use to determine who had had children?

 
At 8:55 PM, May 02, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

rkn on timed reproduction.

First off you pose no reason at all, let alone a plausible one as to why the whole Eldorado FLDS group would want to time pregnancies to have a very low number of underage women pregnant at some times and, and presumably at other times have a large excess. It is more work that way, and it is more likely to call down the attention of law enforcement if a large number of teens give birth in a short time.

Second you are dead wrong, it is nothing close to a sure thing for a woman to get pregnant per act of intercourse even when she is trying to get pregnant. See the cite to a medical textbook which also states that younger (teen soon after puberty) females have a harder time getting pregnant than more mature women do. So it is not possible to time the pregnancies very well w/o drugs and hormones and a lot of medical help, especially with teens.

http://preview.tinyurl.com/68z2jr

 

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