My grandfather was caramel-skinned with black eyes and thick, dark hair, and until he discovered that he was adopted, he had no reason to suspect that he was not the son of two poor Mexicans as he’d always been told. When he found his adoption papers, according to family lore, he pestered the nuns at the Dallas orphanage where he had lived as an infant for the name of his birth mother. Name in hand, at 10 years old, he hopped a bus to Pennsylvania, met his birth mother, and found out that he was actually Syrian.
At least that’s what we thought until my Aunt Cat mailed a tube of her spit in to AncestryDNA.
Genetic testing suggested that my aunt’s genetic makeup was only a tiny bit Middle Eastern—16 percent, not the 50 percent you might expect if your father was a full-blooded Syrian, as my grandfather believed himself to be. The rest of her Ancestry breakdown provided some explanation, but mostly more confusion. While we typically think of the Caucasus as countries on the Black and Caspian seas like Turkey and Armenia, Ancestry’s test also said it includes Syria. According to Ancestry, the Caucasus accounted for another 15 percent of my Aunt Cat’s DNA. What about the other 20 percent? One line-item stood out as something my aunt hadn’t expected, based on what she knew about either of her parents: She was 30 percent Italian-Greek. My mother’s test revealed similar results.
This caused a minor family scandal.My grandfather’s mother was born in Pennsylvania, but she had lived in an insular Syrian community that never really assimilated. She became pregnant as a teen by her father’s best friend. The assumption had always been that he was Syrian, too. If we weren’t who we thought we were, well, then, who were we?
“I guess we never knew the name of Dad’s father,” my aunt told me, bemused. Suddenly it seemed as though all along we had been missing a gigantic puzzle piece of information about our family tree. At least, my aunt quipped, this was a solid explanation for why she loved pasta.
It’s right there in the fine print of any consumer DNA test, if you bother to read it: DNA testing can come with identity-disrupting surprises, be it an unexpected relative, genetic condition, or, in our case, heritage. But something about this particular surprise didn’t feel quite right.
My Aunt Catis our family’s amateur genealogist, and she has logged hundreds of hours both on Ancestry.com and in my grandmother’s attic, piecing together the story of our family tree. She’s found countless third, fourth, and fifth cousins with ties to Syria, but no one from either Italy or Greece. In her twenties, she even visited my grandfather’s biological mother and aunt. She recalled them passing around a hookah, yelling in Arabic, and expressing repulsion at the American-style cold cut platter served at a community function. Given how segregated the family was, it seemed like a stretch, she told me, to imagine that anyone had ever had so much as a friendly conversation with an Italian.
I suspected the error might lay not in my family narrative, but in the DNA test itself. So I decided to conduct an experiment. I mailed my own spit samples to AncestryDNA, as well as to 23andMe and National Geographic. For each test I got back, the story of my genetic heritage was different—in some cases, wildly so.
My AncestryDNA test revealed that I, too, had geographic roots in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Southern Europe, along with the expected big dose of Scandinavian from my very Norwegian father. Weirdly, though, my percentages of Middle Eastern and Caucasus were almost as high as my mom and aunt’s, though you would expect them to be closer to half.
It got more confusing from there. My test through National Geographic (which partners with the DNA sequencing company Helix for its test) gave me even more links to the Middle East, with 16 percent of my DNA from Asia Minor, 6 percent from the Persian Gulf and 9 percent something called “Jewish Diaspora.” Unlike AncestryDNA, National Geographic’s test assigns your heritage to broad regions instead of modern nation-states. But I could infer that, according to National Geographic, I was less Scandinavian based on my percentage of Northwestern European. I was also more Southern European and, for fun, now had a good chunk of Eastern European thrown in there, too.
23andMe’s ancestry results were the most confounding of all. It found that I was only 3 percent Scandanavian, a number that, based on my recent family history, I know is flatly wrong. It also found I was only 5.5 percent Middle Eastern and a whopping 62.6 percent Northwestern European. And no Eastern European at all.
I also uploaded my 23andMe data to GenCove, a small ancestry-test startup founded by scientists. Based on the exact same data that 23andMe had crunched, GenCove reported that 8 percent of my DNA was from the Indian subcontinent. 23andMe had found I had no South Asian DNA at all.
Fourtests, four very different answers about where my DNA comes from—including some results that contradicted family history I felt confident was fact. What gives?
There are a few different factors at play here.
Genetics is inherently a comparative science: Data about your genes is determined by comparing them to the genes of other people.
As Adam Rutherford, a British geneticist and author of the excellent book “A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived,” explained to me, we’ve got a fundamental misunderstanding of what an ancestry DNA test even does.
“They’re not telling you where your DNA comes from in the past,” he told me, “They’re telling you where on Earth your DNA is from today.”
Ancestry, for example, had determined that my Aunt Cat was 30 percent Italian by comparing her genes to other people in its database of more than six million people, and finding presumably that her genes had a lot of things in common with the present-day people of Italy.
Heritage DNA tests are more accurate for some groups of people than others, depending how many people with similar DNA to yours have already taken their test. Ancestry and 23andMe have actually bothpublished papers about how their statistical modeling works.
As Ancestry puts it: “When considering AncestryDNA estimates of genetic ethnicity it is important to remember that our estimates are, in fact, estimates. The estimates are variable and depend on the method applied, the reference panel used, and the other customer samples included during estimation.”
That the data sets are primarily made up of paying customers also skews demographics. If there’s only a small number of Middle Eastern DNA samples that your DNA has been matched against, it’s less likely you’ll get a strong Middle Eastern match.
“Different companies have different reference data sets and different algorithms, hence the variance in results,” a spokesman from 23andMe told me. “Middle Eastern reference populations are not as well represented as European, an industry-wide challenge.”
As a person of Syrian descent, the British genealogist Debbie Kennett told me, my test was simply not going to be as accurate as fellow Americans whose relatives skew more European. “The tests are mainly geared for an American audience, and they tend to not have a lot of Middle Eastern ancestry,” she said.
Likewise, Kennett said, because relatively few English people have taken tests from American companies like Ancestry or 23andMe, residents of the U.K. are likely to find less useful results.
“A lot of English people come up with a low percentage of British. My dad was only 8 percent British and most of his ancestors as far back as I can trace came back from Great Britain,” she told me. “People in America come up with much higher percentage of British, often.”
Another anecdote that stuck with me came from my friend Alexis Madrigal. Initially, he said, his Mexican family came up as Arab North African, which was surprising. As 23andMe refined its test and its data set grew, it also refined the results: Now, he was descended from Jewish people from Southern Europe. The number of Madrigals in central Spain had long led the family to suspect that their migratory path to Mexico had at some point passed through this region. As more people took the test, the picture of where his family was “from” changed. The Canadian bioethicist Timothy Caulfield shared a similar story. At first a DNA test revealed he was entirely Irish, but as the data set changed, he gradually became less Irish.
When we talk about “ancestry,” we also don’t always mean the same thing. Ancestry just implies people you’re descended from. But when? In America, we often mean whenever our relatives came to the U.S. On my dad’s side, I expected to see a lot of Scandinavian, because just a few generations ago my great grandparents came from Norway to North Dakota. On my mom’s side, my grandmother has a relative that came to America on the Mayflower. Both are what come to mind when I think of my “ancestors,” but they are separated by several generations and hundreds of years in time. Rutherford pointed out that if we went 5oo years back, my ancestors were probably from all over Europe.
“You and I are probably fifth cousins,” he said.
Where your ancestors are from depends on what period in time you’re talking about. Why don’t I instead say I’m 50 percent North Dakotan and 50 percent Texan?
Tests also differ from one another because they’re simply looking at different things. The results of ancestry tests aren’t based on a reading of your whole genome. The vast majority of every human’s DNA is identical to any other human’s. Ancestry tests look at SNPs, the places on your genome where an individual letter tends to differ between people and give us insight into characteristics like disease, ancestry, and physical appearance. When an SNP occurs within a gene, then, in science-speak, that gene has more than one allele, or alternate forms of a gene that exist in the exact same place on a chromosome. To make matters more confusing, some tests look at mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA, while others don’t.
The CEO of GenCove, the company where I had uploaded my 23andMe data to get drastically different results, told me that even though he expects a fair amount of variability between algorithms, even he was surprised at how differently his company and 23andMe had interpreted my DNA data. He asked me to also upload my Ancestry data, and ran both data sets again after GenCove’s algorithm had been updated. The results were all over the map.
“To be honest I’m a little confused about what’s going on,” CEO Joseph Pickrell told me.
Each testing company is looking at different alleles from different parts of the genome, and using different algorithms to crunch that data. (You can see a list of how company tests differ here.) It’s worth mentioning that genetics is also probabilistic: just because you have the gene, doesn’t mean you have the trait.
“One British company identified an allele in me that gave me ginger hair, and 23andMe didn’t,” said Rutherford. “That’s a simple case where they just used different alleles. That’s relatively simple to explain.”
And sometimes, the algorithms might just get it wrong. Rutherford told me his 23andMe test came back with a tiny amount of Native American DNA. The finding actually linked up with one anecdote from his family lore, about a relative of his father’s that was a Native American tribesman and horse jumper in a British traveling circus.
“As a geneticist, I am absolutely convinced that they’re not related,” he told me. “It’s just statistical noise that happens to coincide with this cool story.” Statistically, it’s unlikely that such tiny amount of Native American DNA would have been enough to show up on Rutherford’s test.
A big problem is that many of us have a basic misunderstanding of what exactly we’re reading when Ancestry or 23andMe or National Geographic sends us colorful infographics about how British or Irish or Scandinavian we are. It’s not that the science is bad. It’s that it’s inherently imperfect, an estimation based on how much our DNA matches up with people in other places around the world, in a world where people have been mixing and matching and getting it on since the beginning of human history.
“You’re creating different algorithms and you’re using different data sets as your reference points, so it makes sense that you’re going to get some different responses,” the Harvard geneticist Robert Green explained to me, as I tried to make sense of my own DNA data. “It’s not that one’s wrong and one’s right. It’s that there isn’t an agreed-upon approach to pick the right number of markers and combine them mathematically. Everyone is sort of just making it up as they go along.”
At the continental level, said Kennett, ancestry testing is useful. It can tell you pretty reliably whether you are African or Asian or European. It can also reliably identify close familial relatives, as distant as third or fourth cousins. Otherwise, Kennett said, “take it with a large pinch of salt.”
Nearly everyone I interviewed for this story said that, taken with the right mindset, ancestry DNA testing can be fun. As more people take DNA tests and company data sets grow, the results from those tests will also become more detailed and accurate. Anecdotally, I saw this in my own results. Ancestry has the biggest DNA database, and its interpretation of my DNA was also most in-line with what I expected.
“The more people that take tests, the better the experience for all of us,” an Ancestry spokesman told me. “Your DNA does not change, our science does.”
But consumer genetic testing companies have also fueled the misunderstanding of their products, suggesting that those colorful results reveal something profound about what makes you, you.
Take this AncestryDNA ad about Kyle Merker, who, the ads explains, grew up German, wearing a lederhosen and performing traditional German dances. Then an AncestryDNA test revealed he was actually Scottish and Irish. He bought a kilt.
Ancestry.com is suggesting—quite heavy-handedly—that your DNA can define your identity. A few changes to those As, Gs, Ts, and Cs, and all of the sudden you’re river dancing.
“Your culture is not your genes,” said Caulfield. “But the message these companies send is somehow where your genes are from matters. That’s not necessarily constructive. The role of genes in who we are is very complex. If anything, as genetic research moves forward we’re learning that it’s even more complex than we thought.”
In truth, your specific ancestors actually have relatively little impact on your DNA. Some 99.99 percent of your DNA is identical to every other human’s. We’re mostly just all the same. But instead of embracing our genetic similarities, we cling to those differences as symbols of what makes us unique. Consumer DNA testing tends to reinforce that—even though the difference that one test reveals might not even exist in another.
“These companies are asking people to pay for something that is at best trivial and at worst astrology,” said Rutherford. “The biggest lesson we can teach people is that DNA is probabilistic and not deterministic.”
Your DNA is only part of what determines who you are, even if the analysis of it is correct. Plenty of people love pasta, with or without Italian DNA.
If the messaging of consumer DNA companies more accurately reflected the science, though, it might be a lot less compelling: Spit in a tube and find out where on the planet it’s statistically probable that you share ancestry with today.
Learning he was Syrian did not seem to impact my grandfather’s identity as a Mexican man. And how could it? His life story was the story of so many children of immigrants. His father, Manuel, had swum the Rio Grande from Mexico to America in hopes of a better future. He worked as a waiter, and my great-grandmother as a seamstress. At age 10, my grandfather was sent to work at a Coca-Cola bottling plant to help the family make ends meet. He lost a finger. Eventually, he met my blonde-haired, blue-eyed grandmother and moved to California, hoping to raise their children somewhere it would matter less that one of their parents spoke Spanish as a first language.
But me, I don’t even look the part. I’m fair with blue eyes. As a kid, I remember wincing when my friend’s mom made xenophobic comments directed at Mexicans, never suspecting her daughter’s fair friend had some Mexican ties, even if they were not by blood but by heart. As an adult, I learned Arabic and perfected my tamale-making, all in search of some sort of an identity fit. When my grandfather was dying, I struggled with the relationship between DNA and cultural identity. I wondered what would become of my Mexican heritage, once my last living link to it was gone.
In the end, I finally found the same wisdom my grandfather never seemed to question. Sometimes your heritage doesn’t have anything at all to do with your genetics—and I didn’t even have to spit in a test tube to figure it out.
In a major upcoming Supreme Court case that weighs equal rights with religious liberty, the Trump administration on Thursday sided with a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
The Department of Justice on Thursday filed a brief on behalf of baker Jack Phillips, who was found to have violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to created a cake to celebrate the marriage of Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012. Phillips said he doesn’t create wedding cakes for same-sex couples because it would violate his religious beliefs.
The government agreed with Phillips that his cakes are a form of expression, and he cannot be compelled to use his talents for something in which he does not believe.
“Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights,” Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall wrote in the brief.
Plaintiff in landmark Supreme Court case says: ‘One person can change the world’
The Post’s Steven Petrow sits down with Jim Obergefell, the main plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, and talks about gay marriage, equality for the transgender community and his late husband John.(Video: Erin Patrick O’Connor/Photo: Maddie McGarvey/The Washington Post)
The DOJ’s decision to support Phillips is the latest in a series of steps the Trump administration has taken to rescind Obama administration positions favorable to gay rights and to advance new policies on the issue.
But Louise Melling, the deputy legal counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the couple, said she was taken aback by the filing.
“Even in an administration that has already made its hostility” toward the gay community clear, Melling said, “I find this nothing short of shocking.”
Since taking office, President Trump has moved to block transgender Americans from serving in the military and his Department of Education has done away with guidance to schools on how they should accommodate transgender students.
The DOJ also has taken the stance that gay workers are not entitled to job protections under federal anti-discrimination laws. Since 2015, the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission has taken the opposite stance, saying Title VII, the civil-rights statute that covers workers, protects against bias based on sexual orientation.
Federal courts are split on that issue, and the Supreme Court this term might take up the issue.
Indeed, lawyers for Jameka Evans, who claims she was fired by Georgia Regional Hospital because of her sexual orientation and “nonconformity with gender norms of appearance and demeanor,” on Thursday asked justices to take her case.
Citing a 1979 precedent, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected her protection claims.
Taking that case, along with Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, would make the coming Supreme Court term the most important for gay rights issues since the justices voted 5 to 4 in 2015 to find a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.
The case of Phillips, a baker in the Denver suburbs, is similar to lawsuits brought elsewhere involving florists, calligraphers and others who say providing services to same-sex weddings would violate their religious beliefs. But these objectors have found little success in the courts, which have ruled that businesses serving the public must comply with state anti-discrimination laws.
Mullins and Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in July 2012, along with Craig’s mother, to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. Mullins and Craig planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages were legal at the time, and then hold a reception in Colorado.
But Phillips refused to discuss the issue, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to have anything to do with same-sex marriage. He said other bakeries would accommodate them.
The civil rights commission and a Colorado court rejected Phillips’ argument that forcing him to create a cake violated his First Amendment rights of freedom of expression and exercise of religion.
The court said the baker “does not convey a message supporting same-sex marriages merely by abiding by the law.”
HARLEM, Manhattan — A controversial Harlem pastor known for his anti-gay sentiments added a TV to the message board outside his church so his sermons can be seen and heard by pedestrians.
James David Manning, pastor of Atlah World Missionary Church, came under fire in recent years after he posted messages implying that people who support LGBT individuals should be “cursed” with cancer, HIV, syphilis, stroke and madness. He’s now hoping to use the TV to get his message out in a new way.
“It ain’t going nowhere,” Manning said about the TV. “They don’t have the right to tell me how to preach.”
Pastor Manning noted that a picture is worth a thousand words and, in a neighborhood that’s rapidly changing, it’s important for him to stand his ground and share his message.
“The TV gives an opportunity to do live and living color,” he said.
But residents have begged the pastor to take the messages down.
“Some of the message that you see here are disturbing,” said Isseu Campbell, a local who walks by the church every day. “I think it should be a positive place with positive energy.”
Columbus Day is no more in the nation’s second-largest city.
The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 on Wednesday to officially mark the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day on the city’s calendar — a day to commemorate “indigenous, aboriginal and native people.” The day will remain a paid holiday for city employees, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The vote followed a contentious hearing, during which some Italian-Americans said the switch would eradicate a key portion of their history, while others argued that city lawmakers needed to “dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of genocide of indigenous peoples” and dismissed the idea of celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day on a different date altogether.
“To make us celebrate on any other day would be a further injustice,” said Chrissie Castro, vice chairwoman of the Los Angeles City-County Native American Indian Commission.
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, a member of Oklahoma’s Wyandotte Nation tribe, had pushed for the change, saying Wednesday that the move would provide “restorative justice.” In a blog post prior to the vote earlier this week, O’Farrell said the “historical record is unambiguous in documenting the horrors” Christopher Columbus and his men imposed on the native people in present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
“Removing Columbus Day and replacing it with Indigenous Peoples Day is the appropriate action for this city to take,” O’Farrell wrote. “We must send a signal to Washington D.C. that there is no better day to honor our original inhabitants while highlighting the absurdity of celebrating a historical figure responsible for such profound suffering, still felt by generations of Indigenous People everywhere. This is more than symbolic. It is spiritually and morally necessary.”
Councilman Joe Buscaino, a first-generation Italian-American, suggested replacing Columbus Day with a new name to celebrate “all of the diverse cultures in the city” before being the lone city lawmaker to oppose the switch, asking fellow councilors not to “cure one offense with another.”
With the change, Los Angeles joins a growing list of places that have already replaced Columbus Day — first recognized as a federal holiday in 1937 — with Indigenous Peoples Day, including Alaska, Vermont, Seattle, Albuquerque, San Francisco and Denver. Most recently, the Bangor City Council in Maine voted to rename the holiday, the Bangor Daily News reports
A new petition calling on the Trump administration to formally recognize the so-called antifa as a “terrorist organization” has generated nearly 300,000 signatures in a week — well beyond the threshold that is supposed to trigger a formal response from the White House. But there’s been no indication under President Trump that it will.
The petition, created by last week in the wake of the violent clashes between white supremacists and antifascists in Charlottesville, Va., argues that the group’s tactics are akin to ISIS:
Terrorism is defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political aims”. This definition is the same definition used to declare ISIS and other groups, as terrorist organizations. AntiFa has earned this title due to its violent actions in multiple cities and their influence in the killings of multiple police officers throughout the United States. It is time for the pentagon to be consistent in its actions – and just as they rightfully declared ISIS a terror group, they must declare AntiFa a terror group – on the grounds of principle, integrity, morality, and safety.
At a campaign rally in Phoenix earlier this week, Trump himself referred to the masked antifascist protesters by name.
“You know, they show up in the helmets and the black masks and they’ve got clubs and they’ve got everything,” the president told the crowd. “Antifa!”
“The Administration does not support blowing up planets,” Paul Shawcross, a White House science and technology adviser, replied in a statement. “Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”
But the Trump administration has yet to respond to any of the 10 other petitions that have crossed the 100,000 threshold.
Another petition, also launched on Inauguration Day, demands that Trump “divest his financial and business holdings or have them administered by a truly blind trust.” That one has 350,000 signatures. A petition urging the administration to preserve the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities received more than 200,000 signatures.
It’s Going Down, a website that bills itself as “a digital community center from anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements,” called the idea of labeling antifa a terror group “absurd.”
“We see this petition as a part of a political campaign to criminalize dissent,” a spokesperson for the website wrote in an email to Yahoo News. “It is insidious accusation that anti-fascism is ‘terrorism’ given the number of actual murders, mass casualty incidents and violence white supremacists are directly responsible for.”
“To lump ISIS in with anti-fascism in the same sentence as if anti-fascists are not actively fighting ISIS in Syria is an intentional effort to conflate two polar opposite efforts,” the spokesperson added. “Anti-fascists see ISIS and the alt-right as two sides of the same fascism.”
A Christian football coach suspended for kneeling and praying on the 50-yard line after high school games Wednesday lost a bid to be reinstated and allowed to worship in front of students.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said that Bremerton, Wash., High School football coach Joseph A. Kennedy was serving as a public employee when he prayed in front of students and parents immediately after games, and the school had the right to discipline him.
The Bremerton School District, located in Kitsap County across Puget Sound from Seattle, serves about 5,057 religiously diverse students, the court said.
Kennedy, an assistant football coach there from 2008 to 2015, led students and coaching staff in locker-room prayers before and after most games and also prayed on the 50-yard line after games.
Students eventually joined him in the prayers on the field, and he gave motivational speeches with religious content, the court said.
The school district objected, saying its employees could not publicly endorse a religion, and Kennedy asked for a religious exemption under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The school said he could pray on the 50-yard line after students and parents had left. Kennedy did this for a while, but eventually renewed his postgame practice of praying before people left.
Kennedy’s religious activities gained media attention, and a Satanist group said it too wanted to pray on the football field.
The district eventually suspended Kennedy with pay and did not rehire him when his contract expired.
Kennedy charged in his lawsuit that the school violated his 1st Amendment rights.
Disagreeing, the 9th Circuit panel said the fact that Kennedy insisted on praying in front of students and parents showed his speech was directed at least in part to others, not solely to God.
“When Kennedy kneeled and prayed on the fifty-yard line immediately after games while in view of students and parents, he spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen, and his speech therefore was constitutionally unprotected,” wrote the 9th Circuit, upholding a decision by a district court judge.
Out all the shows of on TV, HBO’s Game Of Thrones is probably the last one you’d accuse of withholding intra-family sexual relationships from its viewership. So it’s not wholly surprising to learn that Alan Taylor—the episode director who handled last Sunday’s penultimate episode of the show’s seventh season, “Beyond The Wall”—has seemingly promised that the relationship between Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen is going exactly where we all expected it’s going, despite the fact that Dany is almost certainly Jon’s secret aunt.
Taylor has been making the rounds this week for interviews, but he seemingly confirmed the news to The Daily Beast, stating, “There’s no secret that this is where this is going. Readers of the book have known that things were heading towards this destination for a while. Even the characters in this story know it’s heading in this direction. Tyrion is making fun of Dany about what’s brewing.” And while he didn’t comment on the fan-theory-turned-fan-firm-belief that suggests Jon is the son of Dany’s dead brother, Rhaegar, he did confirm that, sex-wise, “It’s clear that that’s our destination at this point.”
Taylor also discussed some of the, let’s say, odd choices the characters made in the most recent episode, and expressed what appears to be mounting frustrations at the show’s fans, and their wacky need to watch something that can keep a basic timeline straight. “There’s been tremendous amount of talk about the airspeed velocity of the raven,” he noted, “Which seems to be catching some people a lot. I don’t have an answer for that, except to say those ravens are really fast.”
Writer-director Christopher MacBride has already written and is directing Amnesiabased on the Arcana Comics graphic novel by Dwayne Harris. He also adapted Tim Truman‘s comic book series Scout for Studio 8 and producer Braden Aftergood. And now, third’s the charm: Deadline is reporting that he is tapped by Sony and producer Josh Bratman at Immersive Pictures to adapt the Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire graphic novel A.D.: After Death.
Summary: WHAT IF WE FOUND A CURE FOR DEATH? Two of comics’ most acclaimed creators, SCOTT SNYDER (WYTCHES, Batman, American Vampire) and JEFF LEMIRE (DESCENDER, Moon Knight, Sweet Tooth) unite to create a three-part epic like no other, set in a future where a genetic cure for death has been found. Years after the discovery, one man starts to question everything, leading him on a mind-bending journey that will bring him face-to-face with his past and his own mortality. A unique combination of comics, prose, and illustration, A.D.: AFTER DEATH will be serialized monthly as three oversized prestige format books written by SNYDER and fully painted by LEMIRE.
“Cooke is aware of the tensions between his parents, their losses, failures, and hopes, in a highly charged, novelistic, way. These are people struggling to find meaning and a sense of being in life, just as their son is, and he becomes obsessed with recording it as if it is all fragile, something precious that can be lost. Cooke’s life as narrated by him is depressing, scary, and beautiful.”
Over the last several decades, the proportion of Americans who get married has greatly diminished—a development known as well to those who lament marriage’s decline as those who take issue with it as an institution. But a development that’s much newer is that the demographic now leading the shift away from tradition is Americans without college degrees—who just a few decades ago were much more likely to be married by the age of 30 than college graduates were.
Today, though, just over half of women in their early 40s with a high-school degree or less education are married, compared to three-quarters of women with a bachelor’s degree; in the 1970s, there was barely a difference. The marriage gap for men has changed less over the years, but there the trend lines have flipped too: Twenty-five percent of men with high-school degrees or less education have never married, compared to 23 percent of men with bachelor’s degrees and 14 percent of those with advanced degrees. Meanwhile, divorce rates have continued to rise among the less educated, while staying more or less steady for college graduates in recent decades.
The divide in the timing of childbirth is even starker. Fewer than one in 10mothers with a bachelor’s degree are unmarried at the time of their child’s birth, compared to six out of 10 mothers with a high-school degree. The share of such births has risen dramatically in recent decades among less educated mothers, even as it has barely budged for those who finished college. (There are noticeable differences between races, but among those with less education, out-of-wedlock births have become much more common among white and nonwhite peoplealike.)
Plummeting rates of marriage and rising rates of out-of-wedlock births among the less educated have been linked to growing levels of income inequality. More generally, these numbers are causes for concern, since—even though marriage is hardly a cure-all—children living in married households tend to do better on a wide range of behavioral and academic measures compared to kids raised by single parents or, for that matter, the kids of parents who live together but are unmarried.
Whether this can be attributed to marriage itself is a contentious question among researchers, since some studies suggest that what really drives these disparities is simply that those who are likeliest to marry differ from those who don’t, notably in terms of earnings. (Other studies, however, find better outcomes for the kids of married parents regardless of the advantages those households tend to have.) Regardless, it is clear that having married parents usually means a child will get more in the way of time, money, and guidance from their parents.
Why are those with less education—the working class—entering into, and staying in, traditional family arrangements in smaller and smaller numbers? Some tend to stress that the cultural values of the less educated have changed, and there is some truth to that. But what’s at the core of those changes is a larger shift: The disappearance of good jobs for people with less education has made it harder for them to start, and sustain, relationships.
What’s more, the U.S.’s relatively meager safety net makes the cost of being unemployed even steeper than it is in other industrialized countries—which prompts many Americans to view the decision to stay married with a jobless partner in more transactional, economic terms. And this isn’t only because of the financial ramifications of losing a job, but, in a country that puts such a premium on individual achievement, the emotional and psychological consequences as well. Even when it comes to private matters of love and lifestyle, the broader social structure—the state of the economy, the availability of good jobs, and so on—matters a great deal.
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Earlier this year, the economists David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson analyzed labor markets during the 1990s and 2000s—a period when America’s manufacturing sector was losing jobs, as companies steadily moved production overseas or automated it with computers and robots. Because the manufacturing sector has historically paid high wages to people with little education, the disappearance of these sorts of jobs has been devastating to working-class families, especially the men among them, who still outnumber women on assembly lines.
Autor, Dorn, and Hanson found that in places where the number of factory jobs shrank, women were less likely to get married. They also tended to have fewer children, though the share of children born to unmarried parents, and living in poverty, grew. What was producing these trends, the researchers argue, was the rising number of men who could no longer provide in the ways they once did, making them less attractive as partners. Furthermore, many men in these communities became no longer available, sometimes winding up in the military or dying from alcohol or drug abuse. (It’s important to point out that this study and similar research on employment and marriage focus on opposite-sex marriages, and a different dynamic may be at work among same-sex couples, who tend to be more educated.)
In doing research for a book about workers’ experiences of being unemployed for long periods, I saw how people who once had good jobs became, over time, “unmarriageable.” I talked to many people without jobs, men in particular, who said that dating, much less marrying or moving in with someone, was no longer a viable option: Who would take a chance on them if they couldn’t provide anything?
And for those already in serious relationships, the loss of a job can be devastating in its own way. One man I met, a 51-year-old who used to work at a car plant in Detroit, had been unemployed on and off for three years. (As is standard in sociology, my interviewees were promised confidentiality.) Over that period, his marriage fell apart. “I’ve got no money and now she’s got a job,” he told me. “All credibility is out the tubes when you can’t pay the bills.” The reason his wife started cheating on him and eventually left him, he said, was that “a man came up with money.”
His loss of “credibility” wasn’t just about earnings. He worried that, like his wife, his two young kids looked down on him. He’d always been working before; now they wondered why he was always home. In his own mind, being out of work for so long had made him less of a man. “It’s kinda tough when you can’t pay the bills, you know. So I have been going through a lot of depression lately,” he told me. Unemployment makes you unable to “be who you are, or who you once were,” he added, and that state of mind probably didn’t him make an appealing person to live with.
The theory that a lack of job opportunities makes marriageable men harder to find was first posed by the sociologist William Julius Wilson in regard to a specific population: poor, city-dwelling African Americans. (Disclosure: Wilson was my advisor in graduate school.) In later decades of the last century, rates of crime, joblessness, poverty, and single parenthood soared in cities across the country. Many conservatives blamed these trends on a “culture of poverty” that perpetuated indolence, apathy, and instant gratification across generations. Some, such as the political scientist Charles Murray, argued that federal assistance programs made these communities dependent on outside help and discouraged marriage.
Many liberals criticized these “cultural” explanations, pointing out that, among other things, the inflation-adjusted value of welfare and other benefits had been falling over this period—which meant overly generous government aid was unlikely to be the culprit. In a 1987 book, Wilson put forward a compelling alternative explanation: Low-income black men were not marrying because they could no longer find good jobs. Manufacturers had fled cities, taking with them the jobs that workers with less in the way of education—disproportionately, in this case, African Americans—had relied on to support their families. The result was predictable. When work disappeared, people coped as best they could, but many families and communities frayed.
Decades later, the same storyline is playing out across the country, in both white and nonwhite communities, the research of Autor, Dorn, and Hanson (as well as others) suggests. The factory jobs that retreated from American cities, moving to suburbs and then the even lower-cost South, have now left the country altogether or been automated away.
The predicament of today’s working class is no longer just about the decline in manufacturing jobs. A study last year by the sociologists Andrew Cherlin, David Ribar, and Suzumi Yasutake found that in places with relatively large disparities in earnings, parents were more likely to have at least one child outside of marriage. Part of the reason, the researchers concluded, was that these highly unequal areas had little in the way of jobs that paid well and that high-school graduates could get—not just factory jobs, but also lower-level office and sales jobs. What have replaced jobs like that are, for the most part, low-wage service jobs as janitors, restaurant workers, and the like. “The kinds of jobs a man could hold for a career have diminished,” the sociologists wrote, “and more of the remaining jobs have a temporary ‘stopgap’ character—casual, short-term, and not part of a career strategy.” The result: As many men’s jobs have disappeared or worsened in quality, women see those men as a riskier investment.
At the same time, they are not necessarily postponing when they have kids. As the sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas have found in interviews with low-income mothers, many see having children as an essential part of life, and one that they aren’t willing to put off until they’re older, when the probability of complications in pregnancy can increase. For mothers-to-be from more financially stable backgrounds, the calculation is different: They often wait longer to have children, since their career prospects and earnings are likely to improve during the period when they might otherwise have been raising a child. For less-educated women, such an improvement is much rarer.
One wrinkle to the marriageable-man theory has to do with the role cultural norms—whether it’s socially acceptable not to marry, or to have kids outside of marriage—play in people’s decisions about starting a family. A study released earlier this year, by the economists Melissa Kearney and Riley Wilson, looked at a scenario that was the opposite of what Autor and his co-authors examined: What happens when men’s wages increase? Do men become more marriageable in women’s eyes, and do out-of-wedlock births decline? Kearney and Wilson compared marriage and childbirth rates in areas that had seen a bump in wages and the number of jobs (thanks to fracking booms) to the rates in areas that hadn’t. They found that, contrary to what the marriageable-man theory would predict, areas where fracking boosted wages did not see an uptick in marriages. The number of children born to married couples rose, though births to unmarried parents also increased somewhat.
How do these findings square with those of Autor, Dorn, and Hanson? The authors of the fracking study suggest that the disappearance of good jobs could well have played a crucial role in an initial turn away from marriage, as well as childbirth within marriage. But what had taken over since then, they speculate, was a new set of social expectations: Over several decades, Americans have come to view marriage as less of a necessity, and more of an ideal, and this shift has continued into recent years. Now that singlehood and out-of-wedlock childbirth have shed a degree of social stigma, the theory suggests, an increase in men’s incomes won’t revive norms that have already faded away.
As evidence of how social standards have changed, Kearney and Wilson describe how people living in Appalachian coal-mining communities responded in a quite different way to a similar economic boom in the 1970s and ’80s. Back then, spikes in income led to dramatic increases in marriage and the proportion of births within marriage—the very things that apparently have failed to resurge in today’s boomtowns. The way that most couples decide matters of marriage and children nowadays, Kearney and Wilson argue, has taken on a momentum of its own, one that short-term improvements in the economy won’t easily redirect.
This model may seem to focus unduly on men’s economic prospects, compared to women’s, but that’s actually the point. Americans still on the whole expect men to provide, meaning their worth as partners is more closely tied to their income. In fact, what seems to be decisive in Autor, Dorn, and Hanson’s study is not really whether men’s incomes go up or down, but whether they go up or down relative to women’s. For instance, when competition from China chipped away at jobs in female-dominated manufacturing sectors, such as the leather-goods industry, marriage rates actually increased. As women’s wages fell compared to men’s, the economists argue, marriage was more likely to lead to economic security, and single motherhood became less attractive.
But even if expectations around gender and earnings remain firmly in place, they are clearly changing, likely in response to the reality that, nowadays, women are the primary breadwinner in four out of 10 families. I spoke to a 54-year-old former factory worker in Mount Clemens, Michigan, who told me that her husband’s resentment about the frequent temporary layoffs (which came during slow periods at her plant) eventually spilled over into vicious fights over money. “Anytime I got laid off, he got pissed,” she said. The two later separated. In today’s economy, when oftentimes both partners must pitch in their wages to make ends meet, it’s increasingly hard to see how anyone in the working class has the luxury of sticking with someone without a job—male or female.
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Does it really have to be this way? Must a job—or a lack of a job—shape one’s romantic and family life? When I was doing research for my book, I talked to both Americans and Canadians affected by the retreat of manufacturing jobs, many of whom were separated by just a quick drive across the border between Michigan and Ontario. I was surprised, though, that unemployment appeared to be more toxic to the romantic relationships of the Americans I talked to, who were more likely to go through a separation or divorce following a layoff than my Canadian interviewees were.
To some extent, this reflects cultural differences. As Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist whose research was cited above, noted in his 2010 book The Marriage-Go-Round, Americans tend to place great importance on both marriage and personal autonomy, which is reflected in their very high marriage and divorcerates (higher than in other advanced industrialized countries, including Canada). An intensely individualistic worldview, when applied to relationships, may make someone more willing to end them when their partner doesn’t have a good job; the can-do, competitive values that America rightly celebrates can, when taken to extremes, make relationships seem to be as much about self-advancement as about unconditional love and acceptance.
At the other end of the earnings spectrum, this view of relationships leads well-educated people to search for partners who, on some level, will set them (and their children) up to be financially better off. Increasingly, this means that well educated people marry other well educated people—something that has always been the case, but not to this degree.
In discussing this trend—which researchers call “assortative mating”—in his recent book Dream Hoarders, the Brookings researcher Richard Reeves brings up the time a prominent Princeton alum advised current female students to snag a husband in college, where they are most likely to find someone “worthy” of them. The love life of a Princeton grad is an extreme example, but across all levels of education and income, there may be more of this weeding out of potential partners than there used to be. Finding a “worthy” partner is increasingly important in today’s economy, and for the working class, this sorting would be based on employment more than education.
All that said, the difference I detected in the durability of Americans’ and Canadians’ relationships following the loss of one partner’s job may also have to do with how the two countries’ social policies shape residents’ views on the stakes of being employed. Of course, some researchers believe that a strong safety net may actually discourage people from getting married in the first place. They point to the fact that in European countries with expansive government programs, there tend to be lower rates of marriage and childbirth within marriage. But it’s unclear whether the explanation is different values, or different policies. In many European countries, for example, cohabiting relationships are often long-term and stable, such that they look much like marriages. In the U.S. that tends not to be the case, which suggests that attitudes about live-in relationships, like views on marriage, diverge across the Atlantic.
My own research looks more narrowly at one question in this debate: Can certain policies help keep working-class married couples together after one of them loses a job? Ample support for worse-off families may keep the stresses of unemployment, and financial problems more generally, from tearing couples apart. In Windsor, Ontario, I met a 60-year-old Canadian man whose family went through a difficult time after he lost his job. One day, he walked to a highway overpass and decided he would kill himself by jumping in front of a truck. He stayed out there, on a cold December morning two days after Christmas, for three hours. But, unable to bring himself to carry out his plan, he went home.
He and his wife talked things over, and he decided to get help. A local support program for people out of work—an “action center” funded by the government and staffed by some of his former coworkers at the plant—provided him with a support network of peers who understood his situation. The center also lobbied his former employer to extend his remaining health-insurance coverage so that he could pay for his therapy. (Even under Canada’s single-payer system, not all health-care costs are covered by the government.) He said he emerged from that experience with a stronger marriage and a stronger relationship with his daughter. “Before, we didn’t have that openness, that communication,” he said.
The Canadian safety net later helped him in other ways. He took remedial courses to get his high-school degree and then trained to become an addiction counselor; the government paid all his tuition, which included a job placement at the end of the program. Even when his public unemployment benefits ended, he continued to receive income through a special program for laid-off workers like him who had worked at least seven out of the previous 10 years. The fact that he could still bring home a check every other week, he said, made him feel less ashamed about not working. “Everything is moving in the right direction,” he told me at the time. For that he credited his family, his own motivation, and the government’s help.
While a patchwork of programs in the United States provides similar kinds of retraining support, it tends to be less generous and more narrowly focused. Whether one’s partner is out of work matters more in America, where the safety net is thinner, because less of a lost paycheck is going to get replaced by the government (if any of it is in the first place). In their recent research on the white working class, the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton note this link. “The repeated re-partnering in the US,” they write, “is often driven by the need for an additional income, something that is less true in Europe with its more extensive safety net.”
Canada has a robust set of policies that help struggling families, especially those with just one earner. For example, Canadian parents receive “baby bonuses,” monthly tax-free cash benefits for each child under the age of 18, which were greatly expanded for lower-income households last year. (America’s federal government offers a child tax credit, but it helps only those who have done a certain amount of paid work that year, and jobless workers and low-income families who don’t pay much in the way of federal income taxes receive less or none of it.) Canadians with modest incomes also receive quarterly, tax-free payments to offset the costs of various sales taxes. Policies like these make having two full-time incomes less crucial in keeping a Canadian household financially afloat. They may also make the relationships in that household less transactional—that is, less dominated by a calculus that tallies what one partner does for another.
Confronted, like the United States, with global economic realities such as free trade and automation, some countries have built or strengthened safety nets to give their residents a measure of financial stability. There’s a reason American family relationships have been shaped so much by labor markets. It’s not a matter of destiny, but policy.
Brands such as Buffalo Wild Wings, Ruby Tuesday, and Applebee’s have faced sales slumps and dozens of restaurant closings as casual-dining chains have struggled to attract customers and increase sales.
In August, Applebee’s announced it would close up to 135 restaurants, in part because it focused too much on winning over millennials and forgot its “Middle America roots.”
“Millennial consumers are more attracted than their elders to cooking at home, ordering delivery from restaurants, and eating quickly, in fast-casual or quick-serve restaurants,” Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith wrote in a letter to shareholders earlier this year.
In late July, Goldman Sachs downgraded both Boston Beer Company and Constellation Brands based on data suggesting that younger consumers prefer wine and spirits to beer, as well as the fact that they’re drinking less alcohol than older generations more generally.
Beer penetration fell 1% from 2016 to 2017 in the US market, while both wine and spirits were unmoved, according to Nielsen ratings.
The Post points to a survey conducted by Mintel, which highlights that only 56% of shoppers said they bought napkins in the past six months. At the same time, 86% surveyed said they had purchased paper towels.
Paper towels are more functional than napkins and can be used for more purposes. And the Post noted that millennials are more likely to eat meals out of the home, contributing to the decline.
For “breastaurants” like Hooters and Twin Peaks, a loss of interest in breasts is bad for business. The number of Hooters locations in the US has dropped by more than 7% from 2012 to 2016, and sales have stagnated, according to industry reports.
Hooters has struggled to win over millennials for some time now. In 2012, the chain attempted to revamp its image with updated decor and new menu items to attract more millennial and female customers.
“From the golf industry statistics, we know that rounds are down,” Matt Powell of the industry-research firm NPD said in a video in 2016. “We know that millennials are not picking up the game, and boomers are aging out. The game is in decline.”
While millennials have created new fitness crazes, like SoulCycle and barre classes, golf has failed to capture their interest in the same manner.
“Our data suggests the younger Gen Y population is adopting motorcycling at a far lower rate than prior generations,” AB analyst David Beckel said in a July note downgrading its rating of Harley-Davidson shares from “outperform” to “market perform.”
“We believe the delay in homeownership is due to tighter credit standard and lifestyle changes, including delayed marriage and children,” Michelle Meyer, a US economist at BAML, wrote in a recent note.
“We do not expect these factors to change in the medium term, keeping the homeownership rate low for young adults.”
Yogurt — especially light yogurt
Unsplash / Peter Hershey
Light yogurt sales fell 8.5% in the year ended in September 2016, dropping $200 million from roughly $1.2 billion to $1 billion, according to Nielsen data.
Wider yogurt industry sales declined 1.5%, the fourth consecutive year of falling sales.
The decline in light yogurt can be traced to a growing demand for natural, protein-rich foods that fill up health-conscious consumers, instead of simply low-calorie and low-fat options. That’s been a huge help for Greek yogurt, which appeals to customers seeking a filling option packed with protein.
On the flip side of the rise of protein and organic options is the fall of sugar.
Low fat-diets were the norm in the US in the 1980s and ’90s. As food makers worked to cut fat from products, they began replacing it with another ingredient: sugar. As a result, “light” yogurts were often packed with sugar yet advertised as low-fat, healthy choices.
Bars of soap
Bar soap sales fell 2.2% from 2014 to 2015, a time when the rest of the shower-and-bath category grew, according to Mintel.
And, millennials are to blame.
“Almost half (48%) of all US consumers believe bar soaps are covered in germs after use, a feeling that is particularly strong among consumers aged 18-24 (60%), as opposed to just 31% of older consumers aged 65-plus,” Mintel wrote in a press release.
Fewer millennials are getting married, and those who are are increasingly choosing nontraditional rings, CNBC reported.
As sales of diamonds have slowed globally, trade associations such as Diamond Producers Association have attempted to win over millennial customers by retooling how the jewels are branded.
According to Downy maker Procter & Gamble’s head of global fabric care, millennials “don’t even know what the product is for.”
Getty Images/Justin Sullivan
Millennials distrust financial establishments and rarely visit physical banks.
“There’s a massive shift in consumer behavior and consumer trust,” Rick Yang, a partner at the venture-capital firm New Enterprise Associates, told Business Insider. “I think coming out of [the financial crisis], millennials have a massive distrust of existing financial services.”
While banks themselves will probably never die, bank branches and physical bank locations may soon be a thing of the past.
Nearly three-quarters of millennials with a bank account visit a branch once or less a month, according to BI Intelligence data. And slightly less than 40% of millennials do not visit physical banks at all.
Part of the reason is that when millennials do spend money, they’re spending more on experiences like restaurants and traveling. Millennials are less drawn to aspirational, designer brands, and they’re perfectly happy saving money by buying private-label lines, which further hurts traditional department stores.
Brands like Michael Kors and Kate Spade have been forced to sell handbags at major discounts as millennials lose interest (and lack the money to spend on the bags). In some ways, the brands’ mega-popularity contributed to their downfall.
Widespread popularity is the “kiss of death for trendy fashion brands, particularly those positioned in the up-market younger consumer sectors,” industry expert Robin Lewis wrote on his blog.
While millennials like to workout, they’re ditching gyms in favor of boutique, class-centric centers.
“Millennials don’t want to be tied down,” Megan Smyth, the CEO of FitReserve, a service that lets members book boutique studio classes, told the New York Post. “It’s a spontaneous demographic.”
In July, Foursquare found that mid-market gyms like 24 Hour Fitness, Snap Fitness, and New York Sports Club lost 5% of their gym visit share in the past year, as boutique fitness visits grew.
Home-improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s
While people have been investing more in their homes, some experts have questioned whether millennials’ reluctance to buy homes could ultimately hurt these retailers.
“Millennials are redefining the American family,” Jeff Fromm wrote in Forbes. “Millennials are delaying marriage and childbirth at rates never seen before. This cultural shift will have a near-term impact on housing: millennials may not need the same space, permanence, and practicality that most Americans want out of their housing.”
McKinsey found that 14% of millennials say they would not want to work in the oil and gas industry because of its negative image — the highest percentage of any industry. And a recent survey by EY found that millennials “question the longevity of the industry … Further, they primarily see the industry’s careers as unstable, blue-collar, difficult, dangerous and harmful to society.”
Teens are even more critical, with two out of three saying the oil and gas industry causes problems instead of solving them.