Sunday, July 01, 2007

For every public opinion poll, a new social program 

The Pew Center has issued a new "World Values Survey," and according to the A.P.'s write-up it reveals that Americans no longer regard children as the principle basis for a happy marriage:

The Pew Research Center survey on marriage and parenting found that children had fallen to eighth out of nine on a list of factors that people associate with successful marriages — well behind "sharing household chores," "good housing," "adequate income," a "happy sexual relationship" and "faithfulness."

In a 1990 World Values Survey, children ranked third in importance among the same items, with 65 percent saying children were very important to a good marriage. Just 41 percent said so in the new Pew survey.

Chore-sharing was cited as very important by 62 percent of respondents, up from 47 percent in 1990.

Without having read the survey, it seems to me that there must be a difference between the keys to a happy marriage and reasons for getting married. Surely people do not get married in order to "share chores." Never mind that, though. Take a gander at this absurd "conclusion":
Virginia Rutter, a sociology professor at Framingham (Mass.) State College and board member of the Council on Contemporary Families, said the shifting views may be linked in part to America's relative lack of family-friendly workplace policies such as paid leave and subsidized child care.

"If we value families ... we need to change the circumstances they live in," she said, citing the challenges faced by young, two-earner couples as they ponder having children.

Without in any way characterizing the brains required to become "a sociology professor at Framingham (Mass.) State College," I respectfully suggest that Virginia Rutter is spewing nonsense on stilts. Are we to believe that the family-friendliness of America's "workplace policies such as paid leave and subsidized child care" has gotten worse since 1990? If not, how can the change in attitudes since then be attributed to the absence of European-style rules and subsidies? More to the point, how is she able to square America's substantially higher fertility rate with profoundly infertile European countries that have those policies? Finally, does the Associated Press locate "experts" such as Professor Rutter because they will advocate for huge new social programs on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, or are the A.P.'s ideological blinders so opaque that it does not comprehend what it is doing? Is there a possible third explanation?


By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Jul 01, 11:26:00 PM:

As the Red Queen said "Sentence first, then the verdict."  

By Anonymous Bird of Paradise, at Mon Jul 02, 12:18:00 AM:

Thats becuase too many paresnts have had this over population poppycock of wackos like PAUL EHRLICH shoved at them WE HAVE TOO MANY ECO-WACKOS LIKE EHRLICH  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 02, 12:57:00 AM:

The Puke Center is a bunch of commie rats masquerading as a "public interest" research center. Most of their polls are based on the "four legs good, two legs bad. Guess who has two legs.


By Blogger whiskey_199, at Mon Jul 02, 02:32:00 AM:

TH -- the higher fertility of Americans vs. Europe is mostly the result of Hispanic immigrants who have a lot of kids.

When you factor in White fertility, it's about the same as many European levels and below replacement, at around 1.8. Not as low as Italy or Greece or Spain though. They are around 1.1. They simply won't exist soon.

The phenomena of marriage collapse and fertility too is seen around the world. Take a look at the CIA World Factbook, the fertility rate for Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, and Iran is below replacement rates and around 1.7 or so. Caveat: Malaysia and Indonesia are well above 2.1 though.

Mark Steyn has an item up in the Corner linking to the Economist: Frauenmangel, i.e. poverty of women. East German men in some cases have only 40 women to 100 men. Women can leave for the West or elsewhere, because attractive young women are always welcome. The young men with no skills desired by employers are left at home though. And they are not pretty. So they join the neo-nazis.

Nearly everywhere the phenomena is the same. Rising incomes and security for women allows them to pursue the highest status men possible. Think the cast of Sex and the City. They will generally delay children and marriage until the highest status guy comes around. Which for most of them it won't.

What HAS changed since 1990 likely is more and more emphasis on status, particularly in the marriage market. A quick look at women's TV, particularly Lifetime, the View, Oprah, etc. along with the magazines can show how much status and status alone seems to dominate women's preferences. This status emphasis is likely the twin result of consumerism/materialism which tends to increase status competition in a mass-market society, often one atomized, and increased wealth which allows women to trade along status preferences for other things.

One thing that is interesting among European countries, the relative low status of most men seems to strongly correlate with the relatively low fertility rate of women. Most Greek and Italian and Spanish men don't have much status, so their countrywomen don't seem much interested in them.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Jul 02, 07:29:00 AM:

whiskey -

Interesting comment, especially about status. I wonder if that condition has really changed, though, or whether it is only that it is acknowledged openly. Women have always cared about status -- the availability of young women as "trophy wives" to rich and powerful men is hardly a new phenomenon.

On the question of fertility and in the influence of Hispanics on American fertility rates, it has always been thus. Read Thomas Sowell's Ethnic America -- if memory serves (I read it at least 20 years ago) back in 1900, Jewish immigrants were having more than 5 children per family and the political rhetoric at the time was full of concern that we were going to be overrun by all of those oversexed Jews.

In any case, I believe Mark Steyn (whose book I read almost immediately after its publication) argues that American non-Hispanic fertility rates remain high outside of the coastal cities -- he at least attempts to distinguish American fertility rates from European. Don't know whether it is valid or not.

Finally, your points reinforce, I think, my point: that fertility rates really cannot be a function of work rules and government social programs.  

By Anonymous Ken, at Mon Jul 02, 05:24:00 PM:

Yup, there's a third possibility. Ms. Framingham [Mass] forwarded the press release and offered her services as an expert available for commentary.

Just a guess, though!

Either that, are she was the only person who answered the phone.  

By Blogger littlebeartoe, at Mon Jul 02, 05:41:00 PM:

I've been thinking more and more that the whole "demography is destiny" argument is out of date, and that the reality is that culture is destiny. Fertility is the ultimate expression of that.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 02, 05:48:00 PM:

A couple of thoughts.

1st it's not surprising that children have dropped down on the list. Children are a massive investment and take away time from the mating partners. Most individuals consider their individual time far more valuable than some nebulistic future. Thus they're weighing the options and opting out, rather selfishly I might add. Personally, I blame the "me" generation for this attitude.

2nd, the ease at which to not have children has made the opt out plan so easy to come by that it's the default for most "civilized" countries. By the time most persons finally decide to have children its often too late biologically speaking. We see a rapid incline in fertility issues in partners in their 30s+, the time at which most adults are now ready to have children. Personally, I blame 3 things for this: a) the pill and free-for-all sexuality (b) abortion as an easy opt out plan, and (c) again the "me" generation who helped delay the maturation process of the next generation, aka Gen X.

3rd, Tigerhawk's point is valid that a social program would not solve our national fertility ills. To solve this problem I'm afraid we have to reimbrace some old fashion values and invest in the next generation up front and enjoy our leisure on the backside.

As a reproductive biologist I was once asked when was the ideal age for a woman to become pregnant. I answered that the ideal age was 16 (to the shock of the woman who asked me). Biologically speaking, I answered her truthfully. Mentally and emotionally speaking I was off by about 4 to 8 years, but somewhere in the early to mid 20's lies the ideal age for motherhood. Unfortunately that's also the years for "self-discovery", developing a career, and just plain having fun while you are young. Until we realize that all that can happen in your mid-40s and beyond, then we will continue to see a decline in our fertility rates as more and more women put off child-rearing in favor of self.

Also men could use a swift kick in the tuckus as well. Men as a group are taught that it's not manly to be a father and thus see that responsibility as a burden rather than a period of masculine growth and learning. It's cooler to chase skirts than to raise kids and pass on to the next generation one's knowledge and values so that it to can succeed.

Despite my rambling thoughts, I'd like to point out that no social program could ever do what two parents who see the inherent value in children could do. Ever.

An honestly, I'm younger than I sound.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 02, 05:56:00 PM:

More and more adults are trying to lead the life of an overgrown child.

It should be no surprise that such people don't want children of their own.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 02, 05:58:00 PM:

Isn't there a massive social program already in place which actually makes the problem *worse*? Social Security promises an alternative to having children to take care of you financially in your old age.

Not sure if enough people believe that dubious promise to have an effect, but it seems plausible.  

By Blogger Matthew, at Mon Jul 02, 06:08:00 PM:

They asked Americans. Not married couples. Nuff said.

Also lots of people have children without getting married. So the marraige/children link has been almost totally broken, except with retrograde fossils like myself. And I'm only 28.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 02, 06:16:00 PM:

Taxes. Dramatically higher taxes (combined Fed, state & local) have had a major impact over the past 40 years.

As a young married couple, can you now buy the house you want on one income? Then can you afford children? In the face of all the 'it's all about me' choices?

Taxes. We don't need no stinking taxes. We need a tax revolution, a paradigm shift in the expectations game. Take our continual growth in taxes forward another 30 years and project what life will be like. We need a reverse social program or six.

Maybe the gay marriage movement will lead to 3-somes and 4-somes just to pay property taxes.

But still fewer & fewer kids.


By Anonymous Dusty, at Mon Jul 02, 06:16:00 PM:

It seems to me that Pew was the outfit that preplaced that farce of public opinion results leading to McCain-Feingold.

They say they are non-partisan, and maybe they are, but that doesn't mean they don't have an agenda. Spewing factiodal statistics that consistently appear to comport with big government solutions to everything which later are exposed as fraudulant leave me with no option other than never trusting them again.  

By Blogger Michael, at Mon Jul 02, 06:31:00 PM:

One thing I never see mentioned in these fertility rate metrics is the fact that *when* people are having children is changing due to increasing life spans.

My father was the oldest of 7. Which makes me 10 years younger than his youngest sibling. Interestingly, his youngest brothers and sisters are just now getting into having kids (in their forties), which means I have a number of cousins the age of my two kids.

How, in terms of fertility, is all of that measured? How do we account for the fact that lots of Boomer Kids are skipping 'Gen X' and heading straight for 'Millennial'? Is this a widespread phenomenon? Or just an aberration? And what about people who have had 2 families? One when they were younger, and another as the Boomers get divorced, remarry and then mid-life crisis?

Am I missing something in these studies? Because I've never seen these issues addressed on any significant level? What if fertility rate is significantly higher than advertised - We're just not measuring it correctly because our models are FUBAR?  

By Blogger Brian, at Mon Jul 02, 06:57:00 PM:

Lack of "family-friendly" workplaces? That silly liberal dunce works at a university, where her fellow liberals are upset when you don't pick your career over motherhood and get really mad when you don't have an abortion or two.

I work as an attorney in a civil defense firm and they couldn't be more caring about my kids. If they weren't, I wouldn't work here. I suspect the free-market will ensure that most places are family-friendly regardless of what the law says. FMLA is really meaningless when your daughter is sick and you have to leave to pick her up from school  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 02, 08:02:00 PM:

I'd like to pose a question to Ms. Rutter: If the poll had indicated that people felt that having children was first on the list, would that indicate that we should scale back "family-friendly" workplace mandates since they are obviously unnecessary?

I'm guessing she'd say no.  

By Anonymous Walt, at Mon Jul 02, 08:27:00 PM:

It's a lot tougher to raise kids in 21st century U.S. You gotta give the little boogers money for the mall, and I-pods and Nikes and dance lessons and tae kwon do lessons and four varieties of car seats. They need educational toys and playgrounds wrapped in nerf and they can't leave the house without supervision for fear the pedophiles will snatch them -- until they get their own laptop and can communicate with the perverts directly. They have to be taught values and they have to be supplied with a vehicle to bear the message, that war is not the answer,and they have to be provided an education of sorts so as to maintain parental social status. And then, they expect to inherit your stuff. Back in the olden days, you just had to feed them and let them sleep indoors and give them an apple for Christmas. I say, screw it.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 02, 08:45:00 PM:

I know several families who have huge families and home school them. They are part of a traditionalist Catholic movement that seems to operate entirely below the media radar screen, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there are other, similar, movements. What percentage of kids are home-schooled now, and how does it correlate to big families?

I had three children, now all grown, and always worked full-time, and if I had to do it over, I'd have six and home-school them. I even have the names of my unborn children picked, and I'm now 57. Most of my friends who are my age regret not having more children. A word to the young.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 02, 11:21:00 PM:

The National Bureau of Economic Research published two papers awhile back showing that high marginal tax rates and the presence of social security both depressed fertility. The first because high taxes make it hard for young people to accumulate enough money to start a household. The second state care in old age reduces the need for children to care for one in old age. I think this piece shows nothing more than Pew studies tend to be methodologically problematic and that the AP never knows what it is talking about.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Jul 02, 11:32:00 PM:

To echo anonymous at 8:45 - I am 54, have four sons, and now wish it were six.

As to home-schooling, it is growing in evangelical families as well. It is likely also growing in fundamentalist families, but I don't have much info about them. I'm glad to hear the traditional Catholics are on the same course.  

By Anonymous Robert, at Tue Jul 03, 03:46:00 AM:

"If we value families ... we need to change the circumstances they live in,"

Like getting women back home and in the kitchen?

Ooohhhh, zing!  

By Blogger Radish, at Tue Jul 03, 10:38:00 AM:


I'd love to be home baking for children, but men who want children don't marry ugly women who have professional degrees and good jobs. They marry attractive dependent women. *sniffle* I appreciate being capable of supporting myself, but if I could do it all over again, I'd major in pre-Columbian poetry or something wholly unemployable so I could get married and have babies.

Yeah, having a baby with a father is a personal hang-up I should just get over or something. *rolls eyes*  

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