May 24, 2006

The burden of parenting.

Glenn Reynolds has a Wall Street Journal op-ed on the dwindling incentives to become a parent. He thinks the standards of caring for kids has gone up -- we supervise them all the time and strap them into car seats -- which increases the burden of parenting. Back in the old days, parents let the kids roam around the neighborhood. (I note that they also didn't waste any time slathering sunscreen on our little bodies. I got sunburns every year that I think they'd arrest the parents for these days -- the kind with blisters and sheets of skin peeling off.) And the rewards, Glenn says, have declined. He doesn't say the kids won't love and amuse you but the rest of society doesn't reward you so much anymore:
My mother reports that when she was a newlywed (she married in 1959) you weren't seen as fully a member of the adult world until you had kids. Nowadays to have kids means something closer to an expulsion from the adult world. People in the suburbs buy SUVs instead of minivans not because they need the four-wheel-drive capabilities, but because the SUVs lack the minivan's close association with low-prestige activities like parenting, and instead provide the aura of high-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking. Why should kayaking be more prestigious than parenting? Because parenting isn't prestigious in our society. If it were, childless people would drive minivans just to partake of the aura.
If this means a damaging decline in the birthrate, what can we do? In Russia, Vladimir Putin is working on economic incentives, but Glenn isn't promoting that. He thinks the change should come from the culture. But how? You can't make it cool to have kids just because we need kids. And the people with the kids aren't helping. Aren't they the ones who do the most to make folks without kids see raising kids as an unattractive proposition? It's a deep, deep problem, and it's not going to change.

151 comments:

Dave said...

Being of the age when most people have kids, I've thought about this a lot.

The prospect of having kids is an extremely expensive one; it is a foolish endeavor to pursue.

I don't see myself having kids for at least 15 years, and, then, I will only have 1.

The solution, I think, is to kill public education and reduce taxes.

Sean said...

I'd really have to disagree that parenting means a decline in prestige. It changes the social circles you move in, but you'll certainly find that senior partners at law firms, investment bank SMDs, bank SVPs etc. almost all have children and are happy to make small talk about them. Those are certainly good social circles to move in. But maybe things are different in academia?

(Also, to be accurate, it should be noted that many of the women in the kinds of positions I cite do not have children. But that is a separate point.)

Slocum said...

...because the SUVs lack the minivan's close association with low-prestige activities like parenting, and instead provide the aura of high-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking.

When I see an SUV, I think "soccer mom without a strong enough self-image to drive a minivan". (And if she really is an outdoors enthusiast, mtn bikes and kayaks are easier to load on the roof of a minivan than an SUV).

I'm not sure I'm buying the argument, though. After all, before minivans, station-wagons had exactly the same Mom-mobile image and were similarly uncool when I was a kid in the 60's and 70's. And even then, some people did try to avoid that image by buying SUVs (Jeep Wagoneers, International Scouts).

In general, it's not as if 30 years ago that 'matron' had a more positive connotation than 'maiden' and the two have reversed since then. There is no underwear company called 'matronform'.

So there was always a loss of one kind of status in having kids--it's just that the increases in other kinds of status that compensated seem to have faded.

Dave said...

"It changes the social circles you move in, but you'll certainly find that senior partners at law firms, investment bank SMDs, bank SVPs etc. almost all have children and are happy to make small talk about them."

Partners at law firms (I am the son of a retired one) and investment bankers are not the type of people Reynolds is talking about. These people have annual incomes far in excess of the $200,000 it takes to raise a kid from birth to eighteen.

They are not the people for whom incentives to have kids have declined. The vast majority of Americans do not have incomes so large that costs associated with raising children become marginal.

Goesh said...

Illegal peons from S. America would make good nannies, plus the kiddies could be taught Spanish in the process and appreciation for multiculturalism could be instilled in the kiddos, all for minimum wage, or less - a good incentive for breeding if you ask me - amnesty for nannies has a nice ring to it I think...there could be a big tax break for building a little nanny house in the backyard, they could be taught pet care etiquette, coupon clipping, they could do a little organic gardening for the family in a small plot beside the nanny house, light maintanance, cleaning of course - this doesn't have to be an elitist sort of deal ya' know....there could be a National Nanny Appreciation Day, the Nanny Olympics, the National Nanny Utilitarian Competition, NanniesRus, Rent-A-Nanny, etc

MadisonMan said...

When I see an SUV

When I see an SUV, I think "Sucker."

I'll let you guess what I drive.

Kids roam freely in my neighborhood, but there are always someone's eyes watching them. I suspect that is little different from when I was growing up in the 60s. Don't get me wrong, I'm always afraid something horrible will happen -- my family contains a long line of first-class worriers -- but I see little need for constant supervision. It would benefit me, not my kids.

I will note that I did not become a parent for the prestige. I do little in my life to gain prestige in the eyes of others (is it working? :) )

downtownlad said...

Well whenever I've expressed interest in having kids, I've been told I'm being "selfish".

So no kids for me.

Jim said...

American kids are a super-expensive royal pain in the ass. If Toyota foisted such defective products on the people, the products would be recalled.

As a childfree single guy, I pay through the nose for other peoples' brats, and nowadays it isn't safe for me to offer to babysit for a friend because of the risk that an estranged husband report me for child abuse. It happened to a friend of mine, who spent 2 years in the slammer.

I once made the mistake of talking to a ten-year old girl one day in my local park. She clammed up with fear, probably having been told to shun all strangers who approach you in public. That, in spite of the fact that about in about 90% of child-abuse cases, the perpetrators are family or close friends of the kid.

Rearing kids should be left to folks like the Brazilians, who know how to do it and who still have teeter-totters, jungle-jims, and high diving boards, where kids run free as we did in the 50s and where you as a stranger can strike freely strike up a conversation with any kid of any age anywhere.

Kids are so unfree in Amerika that rearing a kid here should be considered a form of child abuse!

Joseph Hovsep said...

I'm not sure I see this as a problem per se. Its probably bad for people to have kids out of a desire for social prestige. Wouldn't the practical effect of Prof. Reynolds' theory be that kids will increasingly be born by people who want kids for good reasons and are willing to sacrifice to be able to afford to raise them?

If the problem here is identified as low birth rate, increased immigration is one solution.

Balfegor said...

Illegal peons from S. America would make good nannies, plus the kiddies could be taught Spanish in the process and appreciation for multiculturalism could be instilled in the kiddos, all for minimum wage, or less - a good incentive for breeding if you ask me - amnesty for nannies has a nice ring to it I think

Highly unlikely to work. In Seoul, middle class people regularly hire servants from the Phillipines or Southeast Asia at accordingly low rates, and it has not helped their birth rate any. Theirs is even lower than Japan's.

Tristram said...

Partners at law firms (I am the son of a retired one) and investment bankers are not the type of people Reynolds is talking about. These people have annual incomes far in excess of the $200,000 it takes to raise a kid from birth to eighteen.

This number keeps popping up. Damn, where does it come from? No one hands you mortgage for $200k payable over 18 years. We have a 1 year old, so at $200k/18years, he should have cost us what, $11,111? Nope, not even close. Is it that the $200k is back loaded because of school? Well, first, that'll happen after 18, after salary increases, and my kid ain't getting a free ride from mom/dad even if we could. Some personal ownership is certainly in order and part of the transition to adulthood.

And from personal experience, observation of a large number of large families in my local church, where they homeschool or private school their children (that is, voluntarily take on double taxation for education), I don't see that cost as accurate. If true, my Pastor would be paying $79k per year for his 7 children alone, not counting the home schooling or ANY other expense like taxes, rent/mortgage, car payments, etc. Not possible.

So, nope, I am not buying the cost. 'Tis a convienent excuse to rationalize not having kids. The costs invoked are nearly all optional.

SteveR said...

Its certainly true that society has made it more difficult to be a parent. No letting your kids roam the neighborhood until dark thirty, no spontaneous baseball games, no riding bikes without a helmut. An adult really ha to be involved in just about everything, what games they buy/play, internet and cable TV access.

And yes kids will make you run in diferent circles, socially. But overall I just see self absorption as the main problem. If you want to travel freely, drive a nice car, succeed in your career (whatever the hell that means), eat at nice restaurants, go moutain biking, do yoga class, etc. well kids just get in the way.

My sister (no kids) is actually annoyed by minivans, yet drives an SUV.

We have delayed marriage and child bearing until later in life so by the time we are 30 or so, we got all this stuff going on.

You are correct Ann, its not going to change.

Dave said...

The costs Reynolds--and I--refer to are taken from this article in Foreign Affairs.

Those who think the number is too large should consider whether their personal experience is really representative of America at large. You may, of course, live in a low-cost area, in which your total costs may well be much less than $200,000. But your experience implies nothing about the validity of that estimate, as applied to America as a whole.

As to the question of whether costs associated with having kids are "voluntary": well, no, they are not voluntary precisely because having a kid entails a legal obligation to pay for it.

I repeat my earlier assertion: the economic and financial consequences of having a kid, or multiple kids, cannot be ignored.

Balfegor said...

Tristam:
The costs invoked are nearly all optional.

I think this is the point, no? 50 years ago, most of the current costs of child-rearing would have been looked on as optional at best, and probably kind of kooky. But now, large swaths of the population consider them an essential part of keeping up with the Joneses.

Jim said...

There are lots of online calculators for the cost of raising a kid to age 17, like http://moneycentral.msn.com/articles/family/kids/tlkidscost.asp

The give figures ranging from $150,000 to $250,000, depending on pre-tax income. What is not included in those figures is the cost of some $10,000 that is spent annually by the taxpayer to miseducate the kid, during 9 months of school, for 12 years. Not included as well are all the taxes all the minorities and blacks pay to send the white kids to college.

Pogo said...

Any society that fails to reproduce itself is doomed to extinction. The EU is undergoing a similar but more rapid demographic decline. Nations will be replaced by those people actually reproducing, and in France and Germany native Europeans are dwindling away, while the immigrant populations are poised to inherit the continent.

Immigration is one answer, but it is puzzling how immigrants can look at the same economics causing Americans to be less fecund, and make the polar opposite decision: many children.

So I'll have to disagree with Mr. Reynolds here. The problem is a spiritual one. Native, mostly white, Americans, do not see their duty as including the task of raisng kids. Past generations of Americans were indeed advised to be fruitful and multiply.

Now we're advised to be fruitless, and divide.

Balfegor said...

all the minorities and blacks pay to send the white kids to college.

You probably mean "Hispanics and Blacks," not minorities and Blacks. See the table here at page 5 -- Asian college-level educational attainment appears to be significantly in advance of White attainment, and my recollection is that the subcontinental Indian population in the US does even better.

This is not a White vs. minority issue.

amba said...

This is a subset of a larger issue, which is that outside of devout Christian circles, there are no longer any social or psychological rewards attached to self-sacrifice. Traditionally, it was a particularly female virtue. (Men might work hard to support the family, but they weren't confined to it, and they usually had compensatory pleasures on the side.) The "angel of the house" (Virginia Woolf's term) who selflessly cared for children and husband, or who stayed single to care for her aging parents, could feel she was embodying an ideal -- and would be rewarded for it in Heaven. Men never wanted to do this low-prestige, deferred-reward caring labor, and now a lot of women don't want to either.

The fact is that having children does demand a lot of self-sacrifice. The problem is that as a culture we are shortsighted and have a very one-dimensional and adolescent notion of what's rewarding. We want excitement and pleasure, and are not terribly aware of other dimensions of "rewarding" that are longer, slower, subtler and more solid and steady.

Akiva said...

I repeat my earlier assertion: the economic and financial consequences of having a kid, or multiple kids, cannot be ignored.

This is one of the saddest statements I've ever seen, as are most of the comments. Go check the dictionary under selfish.

It's even sadder to realize that it's exactly those with money and position and power that can't make room in their lives, can't be bothered, by children. They're actually self-selecting success out of American society. Since it's these 'successful' that aren't breeding, aren't perpetuating their genes and passing on their cultural impact, they've (and that's most of the commentors apparently) doomed their impact to themselves, 1 generation.

Indeed, who will replace them?

The West has doomed itself by setting, no selling, a lifestyle standard, a luxury comfort level that's required.

It will be interesting to see if it's just a genetic collapse, with the selfish non-reproducing segment replaced by immigrants and the reproducing lower status citizens, or if the society will undergo a general collapse as there's not enough skilled workers to maintain the techno-economic-infrastructure.

Are you selecting comfort over the future?

Joan said...

I'm able to avoid becoming depressed by articles like this by living in a very child-friendly city. Here in Phoenix and its environs, everyone expects you to have kids and every restaurant has high chairs. It's a completely different vibe than the Boston/Cambridge scene I lived in most of my adult life before moving here. When I take my kids back there to visit, I get looks ("breeder!") because I have three kids. Here, three kids is about average.

I'm not disagreeing with Reynolds so much as disputing how wide-spread these attitudes he catalogs are. I've been feeling that parents have come under particular attack lately. My local paper ran an article last week flatly stating that parents are "more depressed" than people who remain childless. It was the most bogus piece of reporting, and among the silliest pieces of research, I've ever read. Why not just hang signs up everywhere: The cool people have decided that having kids is out, losers!

Give me a break.

Diane said...

There are those who choose not to have children and those who can't. Those who can't, or can't without extreme intervention (such as IVF) seem to be growing as well. In my own social group, half of the couples have tried, but cannot get pregnant, including me.

This is after 5 years of shots, hormones, medicines, etc. My insurance won't pay for IVF and I don't have a spare $20,000 needed for every attempt.

Has anyone done research on the declining birth rate due to non-fertility issues?

MadisonMan said...

Akiva, the graveyards are full of irreplaceable people. I have little fear for the collapse of America as long as education is supported. An educated workforce is the one thing that really does keep America in the forefront. Well, that an freedom and opportunity for all who work hard.

One of the most perversely enjoyable things I have done on vacation in the northeast happened when my wife and I took our 2 kids -- then age 9 and 6 -- to a sit-down restaurant with 3 kids (8, 4 and 1) of our friends' with whom we were staying (wanted to give them some time alone). So anyone there would've seen two parents and 5 kids all looking reasonably related. The looks we received were hilarious.

Jacques Cuze said...

Can someone tell me again what the problem in worldwide declining birthrates is?

Traditionally, birthrate is inversely proportional to education levels, and Reynolds is finally right about one thing, it used to be that farmers had a huge economic incentive to have lots of kids (with missing limbs).

If you are worried about the costs of car seats that are needed until the kids are 18, and not being able to leave kids alone in a house until they are 18, than what you need are incentives to stop creating stupid laws.

Do you folks really have kids for the prestige? If so, that really doesn't sound like "self-sacrifice". And my kids are absolutely worth the burden in terms of the absolute joy and pleasure they return on the investment. Sorry to hear your ROI has been so abysmal. (Full disclosure, my kids are not yet teens.)

If the economic burdens are such that there is diminishing ability to parent kids in the RECENT Amercian family mode, I suspect that other models will crop up. Kibbutz. It takes a village. An extended family with lots of houseworkers that tend to their children as well as yours (while you sip wine coolers and improve your golf game.)

Is there really a problem with worldwide declining birthrates, or are you guys just jumping to a racist anti-immigration beat and an anti-abortion bias against family planning?

Anyway, the other way to keep birthrates high is clear. Keep women from working, made divorce difficult, outlaw child labor laws.

P.S. I suspect that Amba has never met a Jew or an Asian not to mention anyone that is non-Christian. Yes! We have a self-sacrifice gap!

Jacques Cuze said...

I love the comments in this post. It's a blue state problem! Red staters love kids! Clinton!!!!!

tiggeril said...

At some point, parents decided that children were accessories to their success instead of people who needed to be raised to a functional adulthood.

tiggeril said...

I have a crazy proposition.

Stick with me here.

Maybe this has absolutely jack shit to do with party politics and everything to do with self-centeredness.

Madness!

Ross said...

Dave said,

The solution, I think, is to kill public education and reduce taxes.

Yep, nothing like adding 12 years of tuition bills to take the expense out of child-rearing.

INMA30 said...

I find it hard to believe that the furthering of a society really factors into many people's choice to reproduce or not. I would think that concern for one's own well-being and those around them, including the potential child, would be the determining factors. On both counts I think it would be a difficult decision to go ahead with it.

Tristram said...

Those who think the number is too large should consider whether their personal experience is really representative of America at large.

That is always a problem using a population statistic to apply to an individual or small group. That is what among the criticisms I have of people throwing that number around. It is like using National Average tempratrue when talking about the temp in Phoenix or Anchorage.

Also, as for costs, you can break them down as want vs. need. In America, I don't think it is a great exaggeration to claim that we put many, many things in the need category when it is really a want. Of the $200k, my gut feeling is a non-trivial percentage is not need, but want / feel entitled to / are made to feel like failures if we don't provide.

Another thing that annoys me, I certainly don't see raising a child as a sacrifice of any sort. It is the most important thing I can do. NOT having a children or rearing them properly is the sacrfice.

I am not going to make others have them. I am not going to make others want them. I am not goint to make others feel bad for not having them. I certainly don't agree with negativity I hear / observe here and in person with regards to 'breeders' / 'fundies' what have you.

JimNtexas said...

The risk of having and raising children is very high for anyone with any assets.

For example discipline in schools used to be administered by the school teachers and principals. Now it's handled by the police. Many, many adolescent pranks that would have merited a paddling when I was a kid now result in the kids entry into the criminal justice system. The emotional and legal costs of having a rambunctious kid can be very high. And heaven help the parent who's kid tells the teacher that he was spanked at home.

Even if one's own kid doesn't run afoul of the law there are the risks of having his or her friends on your property. A skinned knee or worse yet a bloody nose will again attract lawyers the way feces attracts flies. Of course if the visiting child goes home and says "Mr Smith touched my pee-pee" then you are guilty with no defense, and your life is ruined.

Any child on your property is a walking time bomb.

I do wonder about these posters complaining about having to 'pay through the nose for other peoples' brats'. Will they be complaining when the other people's brats are paying THEIR social security?

It's a very sad situation our country is in. Maybe we do need to just open the flood gates and let 100 million third world people come in.

Pogo said...

Re: "I find it hard to believe that the furthering of a society really factors into many people's choice to reproduce or not. "

But you would be wrong. Prior to the 1950s, the social pressure was indeed less an individual choice as against a societal imperative. Your view is strictly modern.

Pogo said...

Re: "Thankfully, societal imperative or not, there's no going back to those days."

I think you're right, but this is mainly true among among those of European descent. Whether or not to be thankful for the disappearance of european lineage is another issue.

INMA30 said...

re:"But you would be wrong. Prior to the 1950s, the social pressure was indeed less an individual choice as against a societal imperative. Your view is strictly modern."

Perhaps that is true, but I was talking about the here and now. I do not think it is true now. I don't actually believe it was true then either -- probably more to do with appealing to homogenous cultural norms than propogating a particular culture -- but be that as it may. What was true in the 1950's is pretty irrelevant. Not that I am all that concerned with how many babies we are having. Declining birthrates at a time of rapidly declining resources seems a completely natural response.

PD Shaw said...

The Massachusetts court case that legalized gay marriages had a long list of economic and other legal incentives that married people receive under the presumption that they have kids or will have kids. This presumption hasn't held true since wide availability of the pill. I think the incentives should be reconfigured to help childraisers. The State has no real interest in marriage alone.

Richard Dolan said...

I live and work in NYC, and have two girls. There were some aspects of Reynolds' op-ed that rang true while others seemed a bit overstated.

He's certainly right that cost impacts on behavior, and the higher the cost of any activity, the scarcer that activity will become. He's also right that there is a tendency in parenting to overdo the worrying. An insistence on "safety" and avoidance of risk in parenting (as in anything else) carries with it various costs, and the key is to get the balance right. The increasingly bureaucratic nature of government and social institutions in general is skewing that balance towards greater controls across the board; the tradeoff is that imposing such controls and making them work is itself a cost-intensive exercise.

None of this is restricted to parenting -- it's a broader social phenomenon. In the 1990s, for example, Philip Howard wrote a couple of books on the theme of the overregulation of daily live, the omnipresence of law, rules and regulations, the insistence of finding someone else to blame (and to sue) when things go wrong, and the downside of all of that. Certainly that is part of parenting (and much of the rest of life) today.

There was an infamous case in NY some years ago involving a Dutch couple visiting NYC with their infant. As I remember it, they were having dinner at an E. Village place, and parked their child in the stoller on the sidewalk outside the restaurant (within sight but not reach). Someone was appalled and called 911. They ended up getting arrested, the child was put into the care of the social welfare bureaucracy here (a much worse fate, frankly, than anything that awaited the child on the sidewalk), and the whole thing became a huge media circus here and in Europe. The defense was that it was common in Holland to do this, and that the child was never in any danger. Eventually, after much sturm und drang, the charges were dropped, the kid was returned to the parents, and all flew off to Holland. But it must have been quite the nightmare. Obviously the bureaucratic busybodies imposed their views about the proper balance between safety and parental comfort on those parents, and the moral of the story was hardly lost on those of us following the drama from the sidelines.

Where I think Reynolds overstates his case is in the idea that parenting has become "low status." Before my wife and I had kids, I barely noticed all the kids living in our brownstone neighborhood in Brooklyn. It just wasn't something I was tuned into. When we became parents, and especially when our kids started pre-school, we became part of a completely different social set. Having kids was almost the sine qua non of entree into that subculture of kid-focused activities, etc. The adults are from all backgrounds, professions and walks of life, and by and large are interesting and lively. While many have an active interest in sports, I don't know too many who have any interest in white water kayaking -- that stuff really is for overgrown kids. I really don't know any who feel that they gave up any significant portion of their pre-parenting lives or activities that really mattered. Interests changed, but in the sense that growing up always brings a change of focus.

For those in a younger age group, including those in this thread who swear off ever having a child, don't be so sure or quick to form an opinion. It may be true, as Reynolds says, that a concern about loss of status may make parenting seem unattractive. But the "status" in play isn't so great to begin with, won't last anyway, and isn't worth hanging on to for the long haul. Raising a child is the greatest creative challenge anyone can face; you get to try to do it "right" (however you may understand that idea) without any guarantee that it will work out. That's a huge benefit, and outweighs a lot of the costs Reynolds is talking about.

David said...

The future of our culture depends on children. A price cannot be placed on the joys of children.

Women, in particular, must be encouraged to choose what is right for them. Having children is arguably the highest calling for women despite what the radfems screech.

Even Hollywood gets it. Sex In The City shows the inevitable confusion engendered by those who preach selfishness over self-sacrifice. The ladies on the show forever gaze at the forest but never see the trees.

Our culture is in the process of returning to a more family oriented state of being. Superficiality rings hollow for most as the house morphs back into a home we want to come back to every day.

Our mortality is assured. What a shock! Deal with it and remember what it is like to see the world through the eyes of a child versus the insipid meanderings of a self-indulgent vapid escapist at the local yuppie watering hole.

Our future and culture depend on loving parents and children with a dream. What is your legacy!

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

"white water kayaking -- that stuff really is for overgrown kids"

Hey! I resemble that remark!

chuck b. said...

I understand how statistics can deviate from personal experience, but I have to say my personal experience diverges STRONGLY from these statistics I'm always hearing.

While I do not have kids, all my friends do--we're in our 30s. Charles and Abigail, and Amy and John both have three kids. Kimi and Manuel, and Amy and Tom each have two kids--she put her life on the line to have the second one, and nearly died. Tim and Aimee just had their first kid, and Jonah and Rebeccah had one awhile ago.

There are three kids four doors down from me on my right, and two kids right next door. There's one little girl two doors down on my left, and two girls across the street from whom I sometimes buy cookies. That right there is more kids than I had on my street growing up in the burbs in the 1970s.

This is all happening in San Francisco, and none of these people happen to be immigrants. Very nearly everyone in my social circle has at least a Master's degree, many have Ph.D's. I see children in restaurants all the time, and I tend to go to nicer restaurants. When I go see a baseball game, there are kids in front of me, on both sides, and behind me. 75% of the people I worked with at my last job had PhDs and 75% of them had at least one kid.

I know way more kids than my parents did at my age.

Goesh said...

- it's on par with my nanny incentive idea, Sippican

tcd said...

David said: "Having children is arguably the highest calling for women despite what the radfems screech." Really? What century is this now? Maybe you should crawl back under the rock where you obviously dwell.

Susie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ann Althouse said...

"I have no idea what to make of that comment."

Well, first of all, it's a question. If you think the answer is no, you can say that.

The reason I think the answer may be yes -- and it would make little sense to ask the question if I didn't -- is because our ideas of what it's like to live with children are strongly affected by looking at the people who have children. What do we see them doing? How are they living? When you see people with children in public, do you think, that's the way I want to live? Or do you think, if/when I have children, I don't want to be like that? What are we seeing? Undisciplined, demanding, whiney brats? Parents loaded down like pack animals with all sorts of ridiculous equipment? Crazy stories of vast expenditures and complaints about school? Horrifying stories of abuse? All I'm saying is the people who already have children are presenting the evidence. They are the culture.

chuck b. said...

(I also fondly recall roaming freely about the neighborhood, and getting terrible, terrible sunburns--for which I got little sympathy. They bought the sunscreen; it was apparently my responsibility to use it.)

MadisonMan said...

Undisciplined, demanding, whiney brats?

Mmmm. Bratwurst! See you at the Brat tent this weekend! But I hope they're beery, not wine-y.

But Ann, you make a good point. There's little to attract in becoming a parent if all you see are haggard parents. But that's if you make the decision based on logic, not emotion, and I wonder how many people do -- or don't do -- that.

When my wife and I decided to become parents, it's not like we really considered how other people lived with children -- as Richard Dolan said, kids at the time were below our radar screen. It was more a reflection of how we were brought up. I don't think I was a big burden on my parents, therefore I didn't expect my kids to be a big burden on me. Maybe the key to expanding birth rates is for parents to hide from their children just exactly how burdensome the kids are, so when the kids are grown and contemplating children, they think it's easy.

altoids1306 said...

Glenn forgot to mention one thing hypothesized by the Foreign Policy article - that the decline in birthrates in progressive societies perpetuates paternalism. (I believe the cover of FP was "Long Live the King.")

Among the people I socialize with, getting married and having kids still brings prestige. (Of course, I'm also in my early-20's and church-going, so what do I know.)

But ultimately I think Glenn is wrong. In Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, there is incredible social pressure to get married and have children - yet birthrates are lower than the US as a whole, and similar to whites. So I'm not sure culture is the problem, but economic realities.

Balfagor - I could be very wrong, but I think in Taiwan and Korea at least, some of the drop is temporary, since both countries have seen a rapid economic growth, and lots of people are postponing marriage as it becomes more expensive. The other, more permanent problem, is that the number of kids per family is decreasing.

And Koreans...well, at least among the Koreans I know, it's a minor disaster if a woman is not married before 30. (As we Taiwanese say, Koreans are more Chinese than Chinese.)

Ann Althouse said...

Chuck: Yeah, they not only let us get sunburned, they didn't even comfort us! Unless Noxema counts. Or you could put baking soda in the bath. And on day 2 at the beach, you could wear a T-shirt over your bathing suit. My mother's standard response to any kind of woe I might experience was "Well, if that's the worse thing that ever happens to you..." She would also periodically announce "I hate whiney kids." She was one of those 50s women who stayed home with the kids and never expressed any dissatification with her situation. The Depression and WWII were her reference points. You think you're sunburn is bad? Think again!

Pastor_Jeff said...

What Amba said (9:43).

Of course, Ann's comments may reflect the reality of how some poeple perceive parenthood, but that doesn't ring true to my experience or sound like any of the parents I know.

And parents are hardly the only ones who shape ideas about family. Mark Daniels just wrote a good piece on this. Where are functional, healthy families portrayed in the media? If raising a family really were like Ann's description (11:21) or what we see on TV, I wouldn't want one either.

Ann Althouse said...

Pastor Jeff: You raise the additional observation: the burdens of marriage. If we look at people who are married, is that something we want for ourselves? And awful lot of people are choosing to live alone. Some may deny that they are really choosing it, but they are rejecting the good-enough partners that people in the past would have accepted. With women able to support themselves and men able to get sex outside of marriage, the incentives have changed. You could write a piece about marriage that would parallel the arguments made in the linked op-ed.

jvgordon said...

In the long term, this problem of selfish non-parents will sort itself out, because they simply won't reproduce. Whatever genetic or cultural tendencies help produce their non-parenting choice will be likely to die with them.

It is frankly amazing to me that people who know they are descended from a stream of life 4 billion years old want to end that stream with them. That is a breathtaking lack of humility, to stare the history of life in its face and say "No!" It is akin to saying "My existence has been the purpose of all life on earth to this point. Thank you, you have done your job. Good night and good luck." Or is it an equally astounding alternative, the rejection of the efforts of all life before, because the non-parents find their lives so dissatisfying?

Disclosure: I do not yet have children, but I hope to in the next few years.

Dave said...

"In the long term, this problem of selfish non-parents will sort itself out, because they simply won't reproduce. Whatever genetic or cultural tendencies help produce their non-parenting choice will be likely to die with them."

Your foolish argument erroneously assumes that all members of subsequent generations will have children.

You don't establish the validity of that assumption.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Goesh said...

-somehow grandparents factor into all of this...

Dave said...

"Bataan Death March of care and woe"

I like that!

Hopefully I won't endure it!

Mike said...

"It is frankly amazing to me that people who know they are descended from a stream of life 4 billion years old want to end that stream with them."

4 billion years! That's quite a guilt trip you want to lay on us. In my case, I don't make a point of wanting to end that stream. I am indifferent to it, however. And I think the humility argument cuts the other way. Human life won't end with my passing. In fact, it won't even notice (which I have no problem with, humble being that I am!)

SteveR said...

My treatment for sunburn was vinegar. I don't how well it treated the burn but it was a hell of a good prevetative measure. Walking around like a red pickle..

Pastor_Jeff said...

Ann,

I'm not disagreeing with you or Glenn, nor saying there aren't spoiled brats and compaining, self-absorbed parents.

I'm just saying that those perceptions of parenting don't reflect what I or my friends seem to experience.

And the devaluing of parenting is also due to the popular portrayals of dysfunctional families in vogue since the 70s.

Remember how movies, TV and songs in the 70s and 80s regularly showed NYC as a dirty, crime-ridden, urban dystopia? We don't see NYC portrayed that way much anymore. But that's still how families are depicted. And that can be changed.


vw: uwujv. UW-Union, junior varisty. Definitely not the big time.

Dave said...

"Remember how movies, TV and songs in the 70s and 80s regularly showed NYC as a dirty, crime-ridden, urban dystopia? We don't see NYC portrayed that way much anymore."

Because that's how New York City actually was in the 1970s and 80s!

By the logic of your argument, kids are a burden to bear because that's how they're presented on TV.

Not sure that's what you intended, but that's where your argument leads us.

Simon said...

Strange that thusfar, nobody has mentioned the two A words: abortion and adoption. For example, Diane notes that many members of her peer group have spent thousands of dollars in failed attempts at becoming pregnant; why not adopt? Is there a shortage of children who are in need of a good home? Before we worry about declining birth rates, would it not be wise to do something about those who are already born but who lack adequate parenting?

Bissage said...

SippicanCottage: I think that's beautiful.

Sean said...

Prof. Althouse is on to something, and Prof. Reynolds was on the wrong track: it's marriage that has become less attractive, not child-producing. I know a lot more people with backgrounds like mine who are unmarried than who are married without children. (For women of our class, the social and economic consequences of having children out-of-wedlock are severely negative, and I don't think most men even think about children until they have a marital partner.) What's interesting is that most studies I have seen indicate that married people are both wealthier and happier than unmarried people; apparently that isn't enough of an incentive for many people.

Dave said...

"What's interesting is that most studies I have seen indicate that married people are both wealthier and happier than unmarried people"

I've read about these studies, as well. I'd be curious to know if the authors of such studies correct for things like education, income, etc.

It seems to me that if you are sufficiently well-educated to make it on your own, there is less incentive to be married. That isn't to say that all educated people don't get married, because that's clearly not the case. It is to say, however, that with education comes income potential, and the ability to finance one's own life removes a lot of the incentive to partner with someone else.

Here I go again, talking about finance and incentives and economics. God forbid that we construe human relationships in this way. Because these things can't be quantified, right?

Pastor_Jeff said...

Dave,

You've got the cart before the horse. I'm suggesting that parenting and family life are more diverse and rewarding than as commonly portrayed.

TV and movies are good at taking a few extreme examples and making it seem like that's reality. Even in the 70s New York was more than "The French Connection" or "Taxi Driver." Are you really saying that NYC was a gritty urban dystopia because that's what it seemed like? Nobody could safely walk in the park? I know crime rates were higher, but come on. Not everybody was snorting coke at 51 or getting mugged in dark alleys. People were actually staying married, raising kids, and going to work.

Just because the media lead us to think that all fathers are selfish boors, all mothers are manipulative, and all kid are smart-alecks doesn't mean that's the way it really is for most people.

But if that's what people are led to believe, why would anyone visit New York or raise a family?

Dave said...

Pastor Jeff:

I don't disagree with you, however, your argument makes it sound like you don't think New York City was a dystopia in the 1970s and 1980s.

I would argue that, on average, it was a dystopia in the 1970s, and through much of the 1980s, except for a tiny sliver of very wealthy people. (And most people who snort coke, then and now, are very well off financially, not that that matters a whit. It's crack that was the choice of the urban poor, at least in the '80s.)

Today, many more areas of New York City are safe and habitable.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

For those interested in the question of whether NYC was an urban dystopia in the 1970s and 1980s see this speech given by former Police Commissioner, William Bratton, in 1996.

Ann Althouse said...

Sean: "What's interesting is that most studies I have seen indicate that married people are both wealthier and happier than unmarried people; apparently that isn't enough of an incentive for many people."

That's statistical garbage, in my opinion. Not only are married people more likely to claim they're happy, even to the point of lying to themselves, right up to the point where they break up, but the ranks of unmarried people are swollen with people who are unmarriagable because of the kinds of problems that make people unhappy anyway (mental and physical health problems, economic problems, involvement in crime and substance abuse, and negative personalities).

Ann Althouse said...

About NYC in the 70s and 80s. I lived there from 1973 to 1984, on the Upper East Side, in Greenwich Village, and in Park Slope. It was great fun, especially Greenwich Village from 1976 to 1981. I never saw any crimes committed. No one ever harassed me on the street. It wasn't as clean as it is now, but it was alive and wonderful.

Dave said...

Ann: I don't mean to imply that all of NYC was uninhabitable, however, it is nonetheless true that many neighborhoods which are now safe were not for much of the past 40 years.

To wit: Morningside Heights, Washington Heights, the Meatpacking District, Spanish Harlem, Harlem, the Lower East Side, Carroll Gardens, Williamsburg, Red Hook, Astoria, etc., etc.

I still remember getting lost on Ave A and 10th St. about fifteen years ago, and, using a payphone to call my parents to ask where the hell I was, to which question my parents responded: get the hell out of there now. I was in front of a shooting gallery (i.e., heroin den). Apartments in the same building now sell for 1 million plus.

The places you mention--the Village, the Upper East Side, and, to a lesser extent, Park Slope, have been where well off people have lived for a century or more.

Sanjay said...

My wife and I are a young couple with a kid and it's hard, yeah (although the kid is adorable and honestly I wouldn't have it otheise of course), and it seems dreadfully unhip in terms of, there's a lot of thing we used to do that we can't.

But Professors Althouse and Reynolds are wrong in at least one respect: it seems to me that it has become quite hip to have a kid when you're in your 40's. There seem to be an awful lot of them around here and indeed one of the big problems we have is, my wife goes to the playground with our kid and feels a little crowded out of the much older women with the much kitted out toddlers. It's a weird dynamic.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Dave,

You apparently have first-hand experience that I don't. Based on stats, violent crime is about half what it was at its height -- around 6 per hundred then versus 3 per hundred now. I'm not saying it wasn't bad; I'm not saying it isn't better now. But at its worst, 94% of people apparently didn't experience a reality of uncontrolled urban violence, corrupt cops, and rampant drugs.

Grim, ugly, and sensational sell. But instead of defining deviancy down (as Bratton quoted Moynihan), why don't we have more portrayals of marriage and family as positive, rewarding, and important?

Pogo said...

Doubtless, family life has its rewards, and there is much to recommend single life. but across Europe and, to a lesser extent in the US, people are choosing to remain childless, whether alone or as a couple, and the rate of marriage is in similar decline.

Whatever the merits of childlessness, the prospect of a working-age population insufficient to meet the social welfare obligations is already true in Japan and the EU. It will be similar in the US, but to a lesser degree, and later.

Whether one finds this a concern now or when it comes to pass is immaterial, inasmuch as that generational cohort is already born, and its number too small for the task.

At a minimum, we can go along as we are, and let the population fall (pleasing the 1970s Malthusians, surely), and spend more time pursuing our own individual ends. But the bills must be paid, and that party will end. And thus have other civilizations melted away, unwilling to even muster the desire to reproduce itself.

Dave said...

"But at its worst, 94% of people apparently didn't experience a reality of uncontrolled urban violence, corrupt cops, and rampant drugs."

No, they didn't.

They experienced the ancillary effects: namely, a bankrupt city, racial tensions, etc.

Noumenon said...

"Bataan Death March of care and woe"

Very nice.

It's risk aversion or perfectionism that makes people like me shun marriage and baby raising. There's absolutely no drawback to spending your life playing Playstation and masturbating. (So far -- I'm 29.) There are definite drawbacks to yoking yourself to actual flawed people for life. Every marriage and child causes annoyance and sometimes a lot of pain. There are enough sure things in modern-day life that there's no need to take a chance on commitment. I'll just cash in Treasury bonds to pay my cable and Doritos bill and pull the plug with no one to mourn my passing.

It is frankly amazing to me that people who know they are descended from a stream of life 4 billion years old want to end that stream with them. That is a breathtaking lack of humility,

At this and everyone making arguments about preserving genetic material I'll quote Steven Pinker:

"I'm not sure what "the defining quality of being a woman" and "fulfilling your destiny" even mean, but I do know that happiness and virtue have nothing to do with what natural selection designed us to accomplish in the ancestral environment. They are for us to determine... Well into my procreating years I am, so far, voluntarily childless, having squandered my biological resources reading and writing, doing research, helping out friends and students, and jogging in circles, ignoring the solemn imperative to spread my genes. By Darwinian standards I am a horrible mistake, a pathetic loser, not one iota less than if I were a card-carrying member of Queer Nation. But I am happy to be that way, and if my genes don't like it, they can go jump in the lake.

Aspasia M. said...

I really didn't realize people thought children were a sort of Bataan Death March of care and woe.

I laughed out loud at that one.

My age group is reproducing. So far it's been friends and family, and so I've had the joy of being able to spoil other people's kids.

Most of us are looking forward to having kids. I will say that I think our culture is a little too saftey-paranoid. The Johnny Jump-Up I loved as a baby is now considered unsafe. Likewise - none of us wore helmets when we rode our bicycles or roller skated.

And we don't live in Iceland, where apparently parents can leave their kids outside of stores in strollers without worry.

But, yeah, kids are expensive. And unlike the colonial era, they are not a source of labor, beginning at age three.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Okay, Dave, I give up. NYC was hell on earth.

In fact, nobody had a single positive experience in NYC from 1965 to 1994. It was nothing but grim fear, unchecked corruption, brutal violence, and urban chaos.

I have no point worth recognizing. You win.

Atticus said...

Before we had children, I heard quite a bit about how expensive children were. I didn't think about it much--I wasn't planning to have a family, after all. Now, after two children, I laugh at those outrageous estimates of how expensive children are. I remember being astonished at how inexpensive the first year was. I think those estimates assume that parents will purchase foolishly: $500 crib set, for example. For the uninitiated, that's $500 for crib sheets that you will use and for a lovely comforter and bumper pads that you should not use. Plenty of parents spend foolishly, but it is completely possible not to go that route. Babies don't even need cribs, when it comes down to it. I wonder how much of the $200,000 is assumed to be spent on PlayStations and video games and golf lessons and designer shoes and satellite TV and cell phones... all of which can be done without. Happily, too.

INMA30 said...

re:"the prospect of a working-age population insufficient to meet the social welfare obligations"

Can't speak to the other countries, but of course we can meet our obligations. We just need to reverse all the tax cuts, raise taxes further and reduce benefits. Either that or the elderly (and to a lesser degree the young and poor) will not be adequately provided for shortening their lifespans and lowering the social welfare obligations. Its all a question of will, market forces (including politics) and nature. Birth rates, while potentially a factor, seem easily worked around by policy choices.

Mike said...

Cost estimates, frequency of occurance estimates, death and disease estimates (in this case, the cost of raising children) are often produced and promulgated by advocacy groups, who have a vested interest in making the numbers as high as possible. I have come to view such estimates with a very skeptical eye.

Icepick said...

I wonder how much of the $200,000 is assumed to be spent on ... golf lessons ... all of which can be done without. Happily, too.

No golf lessons? What if Tiger Woods' father had thought that?!!?

Ann Althouse said...

For people who can't figure out why kids are expensive (other than to pay for college), let me remind you of the need to live in a larger place, a house, probably, instead of an apartment, with all the taxes and maintenance that go with that. You'll need to live somewhere child friendly, where the schools are decent, which will require high property taxes (or live somewhere where the schools are bad and pay for private school). Now, you need health insurance and to pay for all the things it doesn't cover, like braces and dental care. You can avoid vacations, but if you take them, you'll have to pay for more people. You'll probably need some childcare, unless you have a stay-at-home caregiver and never go out. There's all the usual clothing and food and so on. Presumably, you will help the child participate in some sort of sports or arts activities.

But it's good that you can't visualize all the expenses and all the changes that will occur if you have children. Your idealized picture of your life and how you will handle it will help you go forward with the perpetuation of the human race. We need you to do that.

And if my sons are reading this: I'm certainly glad you were born! And I'm hoping for grandchildren!

Pogo said...

Re: "Birth rates, while potentially a factor, seem easily worked around by policy choices."

Easily? Tax hikes and benefit cuts are a certainty, but I don't think anyone has yet described these options as 'easy'. Severe, maybe, even draconian, but not easy.

And these aren't even options for the EU, where the current tax burden is so high already that economic growth has all but ceased. Penury is their lot, I expect, as I doubt the Islamic nation inheriting their land wil feel much socialist brotherhood when the bill comes due.

Aspasia M. said...

Babies don't even need cribs, when it comes down to it.

A couple I know put their infant in a dresser drawer on the floor.

But the Baby Einstein Bouncer rocks. It's a must have!

Aspasia M. said...

Now, you need health insurance and to pay for all the things it doesn't cover, like braces and dental care.

Just wanted to say - yes - health care and dental are two big expenses that really shouldn't be avoided.

The crib is optional. You can get kids clothing cheap at consignment stores. But the health and dental care are two big expenses.

A bacterial ear infection, for example, can result in deafness if it's not taken care of.

Noumenon said...

If people are going to keep talking about that $200,000 number, here is the source. MSN article about the Dept. of Agriculture survey, which visits four thousand families and asks them what they spend (self reporting, I guess).

American wealth distribution not being a bell curve but a ski slope, lower-income families spend less than higher. Make under $41,700 and you will spend $134,730 total on the first child. I'm not clear on whether succeeding children cost more or less each. You'd assume less but the text is confusing.

David Blue said...

In assessing changes to the cash value of kids relative to costs, it's wise to remember that the kids don't necessarily remain yours.

You can be deprived of them, and given instead a burden of maintenance payments that will define you as a failure in life, with a greatly reduced chance to try again at parenthood and at life in general.

"You're being divorced."
"What?"
"He/she is taking the kids."
"What?"
Game over. Better luck next incarnation.

If you were looking to the long term, you would have done better to spend your money on holidays and memories that you could keep, not on children that you won't get to keep.

When we talk about the reduced status of parents, let us not forget about the status of former parents. Because there are a lot of them. That's not a status that used to be common, but it is now.

One reason slums in many places in the world remain awful is insecurity of property and tenure. Whatever you build can be taken away from you. So people don't build and improve as they would if they were secure.

We have profound insecurity of marriage and of parenthood. It makes sense to me that people refuse to build as they would if they were secure.

That's not the only factor by any means. You can have a culture where people marry early and stay married, and where there is a great incentive to invest yourself in your marriage and in kids, because you get to keep both, but people just plain want money more than they want progeny. Fine.

But if we're talking economics, radical and pervasive insecurity of possession has to affect property values.

And if we're talking simple human realities, knowing what goes down has to affect people.

In divorce, very often the attacker, the initiator of the divorce, comes out the winner. Defenders, deeply invested in the marriage and children, are losers. And they are basically illegitimate in our moral system. Hanging on to someone who doesn't want you to hold on to them is wrong, pathetic and futile. Loyalty has no rights.

Nobody wants to be in that shameful, defeated, unhappy situation.

Since this is what we see, and since people don't want to be losers and don't want to suffer injustice, conclusions are obvious. You should look to security not in loyalty in children, as they provide none, but in qualifications and in being ready to handle yourself whatever may come.

That is long term thinking: insurance first - however long it takes, and whatever it means for family and fertility. If you have your first and maybe your only kid in your thirties, or never, so be it. But protect yourself, because nobody else will protect you.

That's not a pro-fertility mind-set.

Are important people going to continue to insist on control of their fertility "by any means necessary," and on a convenient flexibility in getting rid of unwanted partners and in seizing their children? Yes.

Is that going to continue to create incentives not to be the victim of these selfish moves, at whatever cost to the next generation? Yes. The life-chances cost of getting punked in this game of bad faith is too high. People can't afford it. And they can afford to defer or do without kids - very much so.

So this problem is not going away - except that the cultures that have this problem will themselves go away, from lack of children and being replaced by more fertile and aggressive (non-assimilating) newcomers.

INMA30 said...

re:"Severe, maybe, even draconian, but not easy."

It is certainly draconian to the generation that is forced to pay for the sins of their fathers. Ideally, we would be able to redistribute the burden back on those that enjoyed the benefit of the tax cuts today, which is why cutting benefits to the baby boomers seems like the most reasonable outcome. It is apparently what they wanted anyway, in terms of reduced spending and lower taxes. Perhaps an age/income tax matrix is another option, whereby older folks are taxed at higher rates than younger folks for any given tax bracket, effectively recouping some of the lost tax revenue from the recent cuts.

Atticus said...

"But you better have a bundle of cash on hand if you want to raise one." Oh, for crying out loud. You don't need a bundle of cash ON HAND. You don't need it all at once, and I'd wager that much of it is money you'd spend anyway. If you aren't spending money on little Tiger's golf lessons, you'd be spending it on lunches out or drinks after work. Families make the choice to spend the money differently. Some, of course, choose to continue with the drinks after work and skip the golf lessons. Others continue spending it on meth and skip the insurance. Having children is FUN--it isn't just one long check-writing session. More fun without the meth, I'd bet.

Sean said...

I don't think that studies showing benefits to marriage can be so readily dismissed as "statistical garbage." For instance, it isn't just that married people tell surveyors that they are happier, they actually have lower suicide rates. Similarly, it isn't that Yale graduates get both money and babelicious blonde wives (though we do), it's that married Yale graduates have higher incomes than unmarried Yale graduates. And married high school graduates have higher incomes than unmarried high school graduates. (I've never seen a study, but $5 says that married felons have higher incomes than unmarried felons.) Of course, you can always argue that there is some hidden quality that produces marriage, wealth and happiness. You can also argue that there is some hidden quality that produces both cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

Dave said...

"For instance, it isn't just that married people tell surveyors that they are happier, they actually have lower suicide rates. "

What are you implying here? That people who are not happy commit suicide?

Not every depressed person kills himself.

PD Shaw said...

The Dept. of Agric. survey ($200,000) does not include the cost of saving for kid's college. On the other hand, I do not believe it considers whether health care expenses are reimbursed by insurance.

Nor does it appear to fully address the foregone salary of a parent staying home full-time, part-time or otherwise modifying career choices. I think I saw a study that showed a woman's lifetime earnings were disproportionatly larger for each year she delayed childbirth. Each year delayed increases the odds that she will not have more than 2.1 kids.

XWL said...

A point missing from this discussion that I think should be mentioned. There's one key reason why lower native birth rates in the USA differs in social effect when compared to other major economic powers.

The USA is an idea more than it is a nationality.

In Europe and Japan there's been traditional and legal resistance towards conferring citizenship on foreign born folks.

Assimilation and acceptance of immigrants is the norm here, not the exception (even with the brouhaha regarding illegal immigration).

Whatever the birth rate of native born Americans is now and in the future, the growth of the US as a nation and an idea is assured, so long as we remain a welcoming refuge for bright hardworking folks looking for opportunity for themselves and their children.

(and just to add to the politics of it, even the NYT did an article on differing red state/blue state birth rates)

PD Shaw said...

Becoming more dependent on immigration to maintain a working population has diminishing returns as the country has to become less selective in terms of worker skills, age, health, and language skills. In other words, a non-English speaking non-skilled laborer is going to have to work a lot to pay for my retirement and health care and his/her own.

Aspasia M. said...

Similarly, it isn't that Yale graduates get both money and babelicious blonde wives (though we do), it's that married Yale graduates have higher incomes than unmarried Yale graduates. And married high school graduates have higher incomes than unmarried high school graduates.

1) It sounds like this, uh, stereotype of the "blond wife" is a material or status posession in your world view?

2) Are these studies looking at a single income or a joint marital income?

And even if these studies are only looking at a single income, the other adult contributes to the relationship.

(Cleaning, driving the kids, making dinner, organizing the bills, writing thank-you-cards, helping the other partner with his/her work, ect. Life is easier with somebody to help out.)

A couple consists of two people, and each does some sort of labor. A stay-at-home parent (or spouse)does a lot of work. It makes sense that a married person will have more resources with which to negotiate his/her life.

Truly said...

Prof. A, your mom and mine would get along famously. My mom (who's been teaching in elementary for twenty-odd years) has always been glacially unsympatetic to whiny kids, including (especially) her own. 'Suck it up and quit complaining' was my family's motto. Bracing stuff!

Aspasia M. said...

xwl,

I may have misread your comment. But I believe the total fertility rates in Japan are lower then those in the U.S.
------------

Actually, Mexico's birth rates have gone through a surprising decrease. Prior to 1960 Mexico's average total fertility rates were above 7/woman. Now they are 2.something/women.

That's an amazing decrease in demographic statistics. In comparison it took America 200 years to go through the same decrase in fertility rates. (America has not had total average fertility rates of around 7/woman for native born females since 1810.

Green_Fermina said...

Women are faced with a much different proposition these days when it comes to having children. Who wants to run the rate race, perform the majority of household chores, and over-supervise her over-committed-to-extracurriculars children? But can she literally or emotionally afford to drop out of the workforce? Is she fortunate enough to work for a company with very flexible work arrangements? Imo, this phenomenon is entirely unsurprising.

Aspasia M. said...

The article mentions that in the author's state, leaving a 9 year old unsupervised for any time is now seen as neglect.

When I was 9 I began baby sitting my younger sister. And by the time I was in fifth grade the neighbors were paying me to baby sit their children. As an 8th grader I was paid to baby sit for a family of five kids.

My sister and I also rode our bicycles to the park and local swimming pool without adult supervision, climbed trees and swung from the branches (and we occasionally got stuck in those trees), and played swords with popsicle sticks.

The paranoia saftey attitude I see today, I think, is quite out of control.

Jacques Cuze said...

Noting there is a red/blue state difference is different from saying that there is a) a problem and b) it is a blue state problem.

At first glance, there is little in the Times article apart from the known knowledge that it is more an urban/rural phenomena related to farm accidents, cheap labor, and the opportunity costs of schooling in the early 20th century.

I am still not sure what the problem is apart from the earth's population rising to a "stabilized" amount of 10B people.

I do agree with you that I would in general prefer more blue staters than red staters -- red staters are apparent here are mainly bigots and idiots, often both. We do have our share of cretinous blue state professors that would rather fiddle while rome burns, but I am not sure the cure for that is to encourage more babies overall.

Jacques Cuze said...

Actually, Mexico's birth rates have gone through a surprising decrease. Prior to 1960 Mexico's average total fertility rates were above 7/woman. Now they are 2.something/women.

I am not sure how surprising it is versus predictable. My understanding is that birthrate is inversely proportional to education, and directly proportional to urbanization.

In that time, some quick googling shows that Mexico doubled its population but the population of Mexico City tripled. So this fits the model that as ignorant, less successful red state populations die out due to evolutionary pressures, the increasing more superior blue state lifestyles find it natural to reduce birthrates. Higher education, fewer farm accidents, less tolerance of child labor laws all favor the superior trait of having fewer babies.

Jacques Cuze said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
PD Shaw said...

The problem is that our entitlement programs are dependent upon workers paying for non-workers. Workers pay the taxes so the over 60-somethings can travel the country in r.v.s, smoke medicinal marijuana and listen to Beatles records. They also have to pay to raise their children, so they can do the same. Unless they save $200,000, and hope that someone else raises good worker ants to help prop up the system.

Jacques Cuze said...

My sister and I also rode our bicycles to the park and local swimming pool without adult supervision, climbed trees and swung from the branches (and we occasionally got stuck in those trees), and played swords with popsicle sticks.

Sure, but there are different effects here. When we rode our bikes to the park, the roads were not as busy, cars were not as fast, cars were not as quiet and insulated from the outside world, there were no Hummers and Expeditions, nor were there cell phones, and Rush Limbug, and hate radio.

While you had no supervision, there was in general fewer white males and priests to go around molesting kids (though it certainly did happen.)

The playgrounds were in fact more dangerous AS well as more fun, developmentally appropriate, and educational. For that you can thank the junk science of psychology as well as rich jerks with access to lawyer vermin that started to sue the pants off of any city or school when lil mary beth got scratched.

Jacques Cuze said...

Also, as birthrates decline and the numbers of kids a family has decline, it is reasonable to assume that a parent's utility function for each child changes.

When you have eight children all named Cletus, your utility function for each is not nearly as high as when you have two children, Brittany Muffy Cakes and Jake Sloan Thomas.

With the enormous increase in the utility function, it is as night follows day that the demand for child safety, supervision, and coddling also goes up.

So in addition to junk science psychology, and creepy lawyers, you also have to factor in the changing utility functions of each child.

Again, there is a difference between observing a trend and finding a problem.

What's the problem?

Kurt said...

Regarding Green Fermina's questions and the general topic over all, couldn't one make the case that the increased cost-of-living which many say requires more women to work outside the home to make ends meet is also in some respects a perverse by-product of the fact that more women started pursuing careers in earnest from the 1970s onward? In other words, isn't this partly a matter of supply and demand? Since dual-income couples and families have become much more ubiquitous since the 1970s than they were in the 1950s or the 1960s, can't some of the rising cost of expenses pertaining to raising children also be explained by the higher income levels of families? If families didn't have the kind of money to spend on the kinds of luxuries that Atticus remarks about (the kinds of things that contribute to the increased average costs of raising a child), then there wouldn't be a market for them, or at least the market would be much smaller than it is.

Ann Althouse said...

Sean: "Sean said...
I don't think that studies showing benefits to marriage can be so readily dismissed as "statistical garbage." For instance, it isn't just that married people tell surveyors that they are happier, they actually have lower suicide rates."

Read my whole comment. I said the unmarried ranks are swollen with people with problems. The deeply depressed are going to have trouble getting married. There's a disproportional number of suicides in the unmarried group because suicidal types aren't successful at finding a mate. It's not as though they could get married as a path to happiness. They are unmarriagable because of their unhappiness. The married are all people that had at least enough going for them that they got someone to agree to marry them. That skews all the numbers!

"Similarly, it isn't that Yale graduates get both money and babelicious blonde wives (though we do), it's that married Yale graduates have higher incomes than unmarried Yale graduates."

Yes, because the unmarried ones include a lot of folks with depression, extreme negativity, antisocial disorders, and substance abuse problems. That affects their ability to earn money. Exclude the impaired unmarrieds and then show me the numbers.

"...Of course, you can always argue that there is some hidden quality that produces marriage, wealth and happiness."

It's scarcely hidden. It's blatantly obvious.

Noumenon said...

David Blue, that was a very good post. You should repost it somewhere permanent. It really addresses my point that it's about risk aversion. Suppose marriage and kids have big payoffs, higher incomes, evolutionary fulfillment hormones, etc. Think of it like buying an immediate annuity that pays out over time. If there's a good chance the insurance company will default on you, maybe it's better to go with the smaller payoffs in a savings account so you can have the flexibility to switch banks.

married Yale graduates have higher incomes than unmarried Yale graduates. And married high school graduates have higher incomes than unmarried high school graduates.

There was even a study that said married identical twins make more. But I am happy with my marital status, and if economists don't like it, they can go jump in the lake.

Sean said...

Prof. Althouse, suicide rates for the widowed are higher than those for the married. It isn't some inherent quality of those people that leads to both widowhood and suicide; it's being unmarried that increases their unhappiness.

Simon said...

PD Shaw said...
"Becoming more dependent on immigration to maintain a working population has diminishing returns as the country has to become less selective in terms of worker skills, age, health, and language skills. In other words, a non-English speaking non-skilled laborer is going to have to work a lot to pay for my retirement and health care and his/her own."

There's another problem with the "immigration solution," too, as our German cousins are now discovering.

Simon said...

Quxxo:"I would in general prefer more blue staters than red staters -- red staters are apparent here are mainly bigots and idiots, often both."

Well, that's going to be a problem for you, insofar as red states have higher birthrates than blue states, something that can only be exacerbated in the post-Roe hinterland, wherein abortion will be principally a blue state phenomonon, so far as it exists.

And that's the good news. The bad news might be that blue staters are more likely to share your ludicrous belief that "having fewer babies" is "the superior trait."

Aspasia M. said...

My understanding is that birthrate is inversely proportional to education, and directly proportional to urbanization.

Oh yeah, I'm sure urbanization had a lot to do with it.

We have friends in Mexico city -- the parents had 11 children. They were an upper middle-class family & the high birth rate was tied to a desire for a large family and cultural reasons. But the children (who are my age) are all themselves only choosing to bear 0-3 kids.

It was just surprising to me that it happened over such a short period of time. The US had a similar decrease, but it happened from 1800-1930s. (There was a little bump after the Great Depression (the Baby Boom) and then total fertility rates went down again.

Aspasia M. said...

Prof. Althouse, suicide rates for the widowed are higher than those for the married. It isn't some inherent quality of those people that leads to both widowhood and suicide; it's being unmarried that increases their unhappiness.

Although being widowed is a different experience then simply being not married.

A widow or a widower has lost a dear companion & partner.

Aspasia M. said...

couldn't one make the case that the increased cost-of-living which many say requires more women to work outside the home to make ends meet is also in some respects a perverse by-product of the fact that more women started pursuing careers in earnest from the 1970s onward?

We'd need to see the numbers on the percentage of women working in the 1950s and 1960s versus those in the 1970s.

I'm not sure that the percentages began changing in the 1970s and early 1980s as much as the type of careers available for middle-class women changed.

Many working class women worked outside the home in the 1950s & 1960s. And, of course, farm women have always worked. I would be curious to see the statistics.
----------

I find three things interesting in terms of changes in the economic situation of younger people who are in their fertile years:

1) Housing prices (And, related to this, the structure of mortgages, first time home owner loans, and the willingness of banks to give mortgages.)

2) Student educational debts

3) The fluidity of credit cards and the easier access that people have to credit in general.

Bruce Hayden said...

I do agree that Ann has a point about adverse selection as to marriage - that some of those not married have problems that keep them from getting married, and also contribute to their shorter expected lifespans.

But the other interesting factoid that is missed by the aggregate statistics, and may color Ann's comments, is that men benefit from marriage far more than men do, as far as longevity. Last figures I saw showed it being almost a wash for women, with most of the increase in expected lifespan going to the married men.

And I don't think this unreasonable. What men miss in not being married is the care they get from their spouses. As men, we are far more likely to not get routine checkups and the like. And, indeed, to not go in to see a doctor when we do need it. It is this missing preventative medicine that women are far more likely to partake in themselves, and to induce their spouses to partake in, that I suspect is why we unmarried men benefit from marriage more than the women do.

Bruce Hayden said...

Glenn, et al. do have some good points. I can remember growing up, and in Jr. High and into High School, getting on our horses after school and riding for miles on the mesa behind our house (the one on some of the Coors beer cans and bottles). We moved into that area when I was ten, and from the start, we would run free throughout the neighborhood and up onto the mesa. Yes, we were boys, but some of the girls in the neighborhood also had horses, and rode with us.

That just isn't done these days, or at least not in the part of society I grew up in (most of the fathers were doctors, lawyers, or execs at Coors). My friends with kids would be appalled if they heard that we had allowed that, but of course, we never do or did.

It is not that it is any more dangerous these days. There aren't any more child molesters running around, etc. It is that our perception of the dangers for our kids are that much more acute - maybe too acute. I am reminded of a discussion a year or so ago about whethher to allow your kids to go to a house that had guns. Never mind that fewer kids are killed accidently by playing with guns than drown in mop buckets most years. People are petrified of something that kills less than a half dozen kids a year most years.

So, back then, tens of thousands of kids died every year being ejected from cars because they weren't in seat belts. Indeed, I almost did - I opened the door, fell out, and maybe only survived because my father caught my foot. Ditto for drowning, and all the other childhood things that still kill some, but used to kill a lot more kids every year.

Maybe it was that with four or five kids, you had a spare or so. So, losing one maybe be traumatic. But if you only have one, then losing it is a 100% loss (and we did lose one of five, but not until he was a senior at Dartmouth). But I think it is more. I think that a lot of it is that the MSM has attuned us to the danger much more than when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s.

Bruce Hayden said...

Mary,

I can see why a woman would think that way. For most of our history as a species, women needed men to provide for them, as they had and raised the kids. But that is no longer the case. Half of law and medical school grads are now women, as well as a notable majority of new bachelor degree recipients. Financially, we are no longer strictly necessary, esp. if you chose to do like you have indicated you are doing. I would argue that it is much better to be married if you do have kids, but that is apparently not your chosen path.

But not all men chose to marry to be mothered. I sure didn't, and if I marry again, it won't be for that reason. To the extent I was mothered last time around, it was something I put up with. But I tend to spend time with women who don't tend to mother their men either, except to nag them to get that annual check up and see a doctor when they should. But for me, too much mothering is smothering.

But now that I am on that subject, another reason that I think men may benefit more from marriage than women do, healthwise, is that women are far bettter, on average, of connecting with other people and society in general. Many of the unmarried men of my generation have become recluses over the decades. It is the women in our lives who tend to connect us to most everyone else. Older single men are, IMHO, much lonier than their female peers, and, I will suggest, that has a significant negative effect on their health and lifespans.

Bruce Hayden said...

You are right. It was crude to call having an extra kid a spare. But the reality is that for eons that is precisely what was going on. You would have 8 kids so that maybe 3 would make it to adulthood and have kids of their own.

In a family burial plot in Mich., there is a four sided grave, with four names on it. My great-great grandfather had four brothers who all died between one and two years of age. He, and a sister or two, are the only ones who lived to adulthood. That was just what happened then.

Which brings up another point - that a lot of our worry about childhood accidents I think is a result of practically eliminating childhood death through disease. When you would lose four kids to disease, losing a fifth one to an accident was not as noticable, as if that were the only way that you lost kids. So, almost eliminating losses from childhood diseases revealed how many kids were dying from accidents.

And, Mary, sorry if it sounds crude. I am not meaning for it to offend, though I can see why it might.

Bruce Hayden said...

Mary,

Another post on the "spare" post. No, I don't consider my lost brother to have been a spare. If he had been, he wouldn't have been so accomplished. He had been on the Dean's List at Dartmouth since his first semester there, and didn't look like he was letting up.

Maybe because I am sensitized to this sort of thing, I have noticed though that so many of the larger families I knew growing up lost one kid. Maybe it is superstition, but most of these families with five or more kids have lost one before college graduation. Maybe I just notice this sort of thing because of my own loss. I don't know.

Rule 403 said...

What burden??? For years and years I've heard arguments about how expensive it is to have kids and how hard it is to raise them. It seems to be the greatest of all urban legends.

I'm the oldest child of five and the mother of four. We live in a medium sized city, earn one very modest income and have absolutely no regrets. Kids haven't interfered with my schooling, happiness or anything else other than sleep. They make life complicated in some ways but more than compensate with their love, wit and energy.

What people forget is that the abstract idea of kids is a hundred times more burdensome than the reality of kids -- your kids. It is a tragedy that increasing numbers of the educated elite lack direct and profound ties to the next generation. Parenthood provides a perspective on life that can't be replicated.

Mark Daniels said...

Just as an aside, alluding to Ann's comments about getting sunburns as a kid, I have to say I'm pretty hard-core anti-sunburn. Tomorrow, my wife has a visit scheduled with a surgeon for the removal of basel cell skin cancer from her nose. She's had to have a number of small tumorous growths removed from her face and body over the past several years, all the result of those sunburns she got at the pool. This incident is a bit scarier than the others because they were removed by a dermatologist in her office.

By the way, Pastor Jeff, thanks for mentioning the brief note I presented on dysfunctional families on my blog. Because of your mention, Glenn Reynolds linked to it on his blog.

Like Reynolds, demographer Phillip Longman has had me thinking about a future of lower fertility rates. According to Longman though, this is happening in more than just developing countries. The decrease in fertility rates in Mexico is striking, meaning that in the not-too-distant future, the debate over illegal immigration into the States will seem as quaint as gas wars. I linked to an interview with Longman here: http://markdaniels.blogspot.com/2006/05/is-it-time-to-encourage-americans-to.html. (According to Robert Samuelson's article in today's Washington Post, I don't have my numbers on the US fertility rate exactly right, but the point I make there still stands, I think.)

Bruce Hayden said...

I agree 100% with Rule 403 when she says "Parenthood provides a perspective on life that can't be replicated."

I think that a lot of people ask why anyone would want kids. But for many of us who have had kids, there is no question why. We know.

David Blue said...

Thanks for the kind words, Noumenon. On your recommendation, I saved the post to a text file in case I want to revisit the ideas in it later.

You got my points completely.

"Think of it like buying an immediate annuity that pays out over time. If there's a good chance the insurance company will default on you, maybe it's better to go with the smaller payoffs in a savings account so you can have the flexibility to switch banks."

Just so.

Risk aversion isn't the whole story in fertility, but it has to be part of the mix when you look at economics.

DRJ said...

I suggest providing larger tax benefits for married couples with children, increasing with each added child and preferably in the form of tax credits. Admittedly it won't make everyone have more children but with a large enough tax credit, I'm certain a statistically significant percentage of people will take the plunge.

Brendan said...

Let's stop pussyfooting around and start identifying the real villains: feminists!

Jeff said...

Ah yes, more blue-state elitism.

Brittany and Jake will be lucky if they have one offspring each; more likely they will adopt childlren from Thailand or Venezuela. The adoptees real parents made an evolutioanarily smart choice by having offspring that were of ethnicities considered "exotic" by decadent childless Westerners.

Meanwhile, Cletus can look forward to grandchildren who resemble him and Brandine and remind him of his own parents and grandparents.

Rick Lee said...

Whew.. I don't have time to read this whole thread right now, but here's 2-cents from me. I am a 50yo male who has been married for 25 years with no children (my wife has health problems). In the business circles I move in, I can tell you that I'm considered a real weirdo. When people (men and women) find out that I have never had children, the look of pity on their faces is something to behold. It's rare to find people in responsible positions with no kids and it's a huge topic of conversation. At least in this neck of the woods, it's definitely considered the thing to do and there is no societal pressure against having them.

Jacques Cuze said...

I didn't even realize that identical twins could marry! What sort of backwoods behavior is that? Is this what comes from allowing man-on-dog?

Jacques Cuze said...

Meanwhile, Cletus can look forward to grandchildren who resemble him and Brandine and remind him of his own parents and grandparents.

Who are one and the same!

My sister! My daughter! Is it too tought for you?

reader_iam said...

Parenthood provides a perspective on life that can't be replicated.

I hope that one stands out among the many comments here.

Everyone alive has been a child (someway, somehow, of someone or people). Everyone alive has had an experience of parenting--good or bad, in abundance or lack, of blood or not--whatever.

That sort of happens just because, well, you were born, were somehow raised, and now are grown.

You have insight into being a kid and what it's like to view parents from the perspective of being a kid.

Ah! But to have the experience of being a parent, you actually have to be a parent--whether the "old-fashioned" definition of biologically, or by surrogacy, or by in vitro, or by adoption, or by ... well, the drift is clear.

It really is one of the experiences (I mean internally, not this stuff about cost vs. benefit etc.) least susceptible to vicarious understanding. I say this, for what it's worth, as someone who can quite clearly imagine what life would be like without children (for good and even better, in some ways, btw, but so far away far away from being good enough that it's not funny), because I didn't have a kid until the start of my 40th year.

This is not, in any wayshapeform, to look down at people who have made other choices or have had not had the opportunity to make the choice or have had the choice denied to them. Or disapproved of. Or even legislated against. (And with in terms of this comment, the political, historical, demographic etc. etc. etc. issue are beside the point.)

It's not to say my choices were superior. Better. Not without consequences. Negative, even. (As well as positive.) Blah blah.

And it is not put those without children down because you cannot know. It doesn't mean that you don't have standing or to speak about the full range of policies etc. that touch upon kids, from education to taxation to--whatever, or important insights to which everyone, including parents, should listen.

Still, I say: You don't know. Not in the same way.

It really is one of those experiences least susceptible to vicarious understanding.

reader_iam said...

To be crystal clear:

so far away far away from being good enough absolutely, positive, had an implied for me.

I absolutely do not prescribe that, and even eschew the idea that, parenthood is or should be for everyone as individuals.

Under different philosophies, circumstances, yadda yadda (I'm so sick of qualifying, btw), however, it likely would be for more.

For society overall, it would be better if it were.

Richard said...

>>> Parenthood provides a perspective on life that can't be replicated.

So does hammering a railroad spike into your forehead.

Mr. Snitch said...

What a thoughtful, witty, and constructive thread. This must be what blogs look like in the Bizarro World.

AprilLP said...

Just finished reading all the comments here. I want to respond to a few things.

RE: to those who blame the declining birth rates on feminism and selfishness - I am a 45 yr old woman who realized at a very early age - about 8 years old - that motherhood was not for me. My non-reaction to babies at that age stood out in sharp contrast to my peers. I simply never understood what the fuss was about - and still don't. I know other women like me...it was never even an issue for discussion or debate. I simply got my tubes tied as soon as I figured out my health insurance would pay for it! I guess you could argue that in a more traditional society, with no feminist influence, I would have simply followed suit to fit in and had kids like everybody else. But feminism simply is not a good explaination for women like me. There was no desire for motherhood in me for feminism to squash in the first place!

RE: Selfishness. I find it hard to swallow the idea that not having kids is selfish...as if that were the ONLY way to contribute to society. I have done extensive volunteer work in my time, have been involved in organizing major fundraisers, and generally contributed at level that was more akin to a middle-management position in the organization - I was not just showing up to put in my few hours a week, I made some major committments (on top of a full time job). In my years of volunteer work, I observed it is most often those WITHOUT children that put in the most time - I rarely met an involved volunteer that had kids. It was very typical for female volunteers to drop out of the program once they got pregnant, and those that DID have kids were much older, and the "kids" were adults.

Do you really think an individual that does not want kids, but devotes themselves instead to something else that benefits society (cancer research or what have you) is "selfish"?

Aspasia M. said...

Let's stop pussyfooting around and start identifying the real villains: feminists!

Hopefully this is a joke - says a feminist raised by feminist parents with feminist relatives. And we're all reproducing and making in the process of making more feminists!!! (We're having a little baby boom in my family.)

(hahahahah...evil laugh....)

Ok - seriously people. Yes, there is risk involved in having children.

Just as there is risk involved in getting married or loving people. There's even risk in loving your pets. Any time you get attached to someone you run the risk of loosing them. And as we all die, there is going to be loss and pain in life unless you isolate yourself from everybody.

That said...nobody should have kids unless they really want them because they need a lot of time and nurturing.

Bob's Kid said...

I am sorry, but I LOVED having kids. I have 3 I gave birth to and one I adopted as a teenager. If I could have afforded it, I would have had a few more. They're all grown now, and I still treasure every single moment from the first bout of morning sickness to driving to Berkeley on Sunday to move my youngest home for the summer.

I didn't work and yeah, we were poor as churchmice. But it was worth every single sacrifice. I've got great kids who will be contributing members of society and not leeches, and in their turn they will raise up another generation of a future to look forward to.

And that, my friends, is all the prestige I need.

reader_iam said...

So does hammering a railroad spike into your forehead.

You've had that experience, I take it?

Apart from all the other available responses, there's this: Reproduction has been around longer than railroad spikes. So even if that were an actual parallel, it has not the history.

(What, is that last paragraph silly? A hell of a lot less silly than the one that inspired it.)

reader_iam said...

Do you really think an individual that does not want kids, but devotes themselves instead to something else that benefits society (cancer research or what have you) is "selfish"?

I sure don't!

That said, I know a a whole number of people who, with kids, volunteer and donate a lot of time

On the other hand, I volunteered vast amounts of time before my son was born--as you are and have.

I've continued to do so since then.

All of that said, my observation and experience is that voluntarism is talked about more than done--regardless of what group or cause about which you're speaking.

My generation (broadly speaking), for reasons utterly understandable, and sometimes with justification and sometimes not so much, fall down on the job, and rather markedly--male and female--in key comparisons.

I say this not just as a someone who spends a lot of time volunteering, but someone who has functioned specifically in volunteer coordination roles--not just now, but also 7, 14, and 21 years ago. (Yeah, that seems odd, and it is coincidental: I just now noticed the odd "math-ness" about that).

I have some perspective, even not counting all the experience volunteering way, way before the 21-years-ago apart.

But that is OT in this thread, and even more out of scope.

I salute volunteers, aprillp, and admire them. I'd think it wouldn't matter what I think, but in case it does:

Thank you!

Keith said...

As children become rarer, they will also become more 'valuable' and parenthood will be more prestigious. This will result in more children.

Economics is at the root of the birth dearth trend and it will be at the root of the next baby boom trend.

-am said...

Okay... my wife and I have 4... currently 23, 20, 19 and 17. Three in college fulltime. Yes, it sucks up all your money. Yes, it sucks up all your time. We've never been on a cruise, in Europe, or gone diving in Tahiti, even though we'd really like to. We'll probably be using whatever is left of the Social Security program to pay off student loans. It's been a joy. Don't knock it unless you've tried it. Boy Scouts, field trips, ER visits all night long, proms... the list goes on. All worth it. (okay, almost all...)

Rowena Hullfire said...

Not having children is "selfish?" Having children is a woman's highest calling? Yikes!

I would like to thank those who don't want children for not having them! "Every chile a wanted chile!" Much better for everyone concerned.

My challenge, being single, never married, no kids, no baggage, and 40, is that my dating pool is now primarily divorced men who have children (usually part time) from their first marriage. What amazes me is how many want to knock me up, too. Why not focus on loving and providing for the ones you already have? If you want more children, why date a 40 year old woman rather than someone more fertile? Why the need to knock up each partner? I don't get it. Especially since it's guaranteed poverty, having to pay child support to the first batch and then removing your new partner from her well-paid job, the proceeds from which would normally go into the household budget and the aforementioned child support payments. It's a scary prospect, and a bad bet. Divorced men who have already left a wife and children have proved of what they're capable.

Oh, for a fortysomething man who doesn't want to impregnate me. They are rare.

I am not having children. I exercise my maternal spirit in the world generously to others who are not required to share my DNA. My siblings and friends have taken care of the replacement quota, I feel no obligation to pop one out. My function is to accumulate and concentrate family wealth for my siblings and their offspring, for whom they paid the price. The single doting auntie will restore their coffers. The high-achieving, individualist, wealth accumulating/sharing single woman has a long history in my family. Not everyone in the days of yore was forced to be a breeder.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Auntie. If you had 'been impregnated,' then you might be able to get away with not being hunted. A family is like a wolf pack which really must function on Marx's dictum 'from each according to his means..' But then you are associated with a pack/family and contributing. It wouldn't be as much fun without cubs. Depending on the collectivist benefits of the state is like choosing to be a zoo animal.

EFB said...

In New York, the child population is on the rise. Countless children's boutiques have popped up all over the city and there is a heated debate in the local press and public about the "nuisance" children pose in bars and coffeehouses where parents insist on taking their kids. Some bartenders have taken to posting signs banning children from their bars.

It's also not uncommon to see celebs waltzing around with their children a la SJP.

So if it's true that trends start in New York, then the rest of the country has nothing to worry about.

Being a parent certainly hasn't lost prestige in New York.

Joshua said...

Don't knock it unless you've tried it.

There, I think, is the real rub in this whole debate, one that amazingly hasn't been brought up yet. Parenting is not something that you can simply take for a test-drive before committing to it, and it certainly isn't something you can just walk away from should you decide, for whatever reason(s), that it isn't your cup of tea. Once you're a parent, you're stuck with being a parent for at least eighteen years, come what may.

Given that harsh reality, it's no surprise at all that people (such as myself) with any doubts at all about their desire and/or fitness to raise children are steering well clear of it.

howzerdo said...

AprilLP: Thank you; you have expressed my feelings perfectly. I have been married for 26 years and we are childfree. I come from a large, very close family, I adore my parents and siblings, I was very dear to my grandmother - so there is no "dysfunctional" source for my choice. Even as a little girl, I didn't like dolls, and I too have never felt any desire to have a child. Babies and kids under age 12 just have never interested me. I dote on my adult nieces and nephews, and they are now having children. I volunteer and contribute to my favorite charities, I teach at a college, I write, I garden, I love animals, and I don't resent paying taxes. I contribute plenty to society, I am not selfish, I do not live an unexamined life, and I am not afraid of the future. The choices others make, different or the same as me, are none of my business. I noticed that in my 20s people rarely commented to me about my not having children, but when I was in my 30s, nosy people often did. The biological clock was ticking, you see...when was I going to realize my mistake and do my duty, producing a grandchild for the in-laws? Then once I was in my 40s, those type of rude questions stopped, hooray.

Simon said...

"My challenge, being single, never married, no kids, no baggage, and 40, is that my dating pool is now primarily divorced men who have children (usually part time) from their first marriage."

My wife is seven years older than me. If, at forty, your dating pool is restricted, it's a self-imposed restriction, not a serious one.

Rowena Hullfire said...

I said "primarily." I don't impose restrictions. However, when twentysomething men express interest, they are usually college boys and it becomes quickly apparent that they think I'm a horny middle aged Mrs. Robinson there for the taking. It's not appealing whatsoever. The twentysomething and thirtysomething are just as eager to knock me up as the fortysomething. Older retired men want a woman who doesn't work who can join him in the RV and hit the road. I like my work and I'm not ready to retire. Maybe in twenty or twenty-five years, but not yet. I wouldn't have guessed it would be this difficult to date at this age, that men would be so insistent about wanting to knock me up. What is the deal???!!!

jult52 said...

OK, so this sentence is apparently objectionable: "Having children is a woman's highest calling?" How about if we substitute the "a man and woman's" for "woman's"? Is it still objectionable.

I want to second the praise for Dave Blue's long post. Worth reading. Thanks Dave.

Noumenon said...

It's also not uncommon to see celebs waltzing around with their children a la SJP.

So if it's true that trends start in New York, then the rest of the country has nothing to worry about.


Au contraire, remember when tanning became fashionable? When the working class moved inside and their skin became white. When children are something only the rich can afford, then they will be fashionable.

"Having children is a man's highest calling"

If anyone had ever uttered this version of the sentence, the other would be objectionless.

The weird thing about all those 40-year-old men is that so many other men are looking to date only women who don't have children.

The high-achieving, individualist, wealth accumulating/sharing single woman has a long history in my family.

"Would you work so hard to help your brother?"

"No, but I would for two brothers, or eight cousins."

AlaskaJack said...

"childfree" or "childless"? The use of language on this question revealing.

Jay said...

Out here in the what remains of the industrial midwest and distant from contact with any outpost of academia, the female professionals of my acquaintance are doctors, lawyers, accountants, nurses, and teachers. Except for the very young, all of the lawyers, accountants, and doctors and probably 90% of the teachers and nurses have children. This seems normative to me. Opinion leaders living in places like NYC, Cambridge, and Frisco may have different ideas as IMHO those places have a disproportionate share of highly visible overage adolescents to whom the Sex and the City types may seem normative.

Majo said...

I am enraged at the person who thinks they are paying my Social Security. No, your whiney stinkin' brats are not paying for my retirement!!! Especially if you´re on welfare, in jail, etc.... These are the people who become a drain on the system, not me.... I theink the person that points out that the behaviour of baby boomers was irresponsible and they should be slapped with the bill for their carelessness... And no, as a WOMAN I don't believe that motherhood is the "highest calling". It just remind me of the reasons why I decided not to have children in the first place, bur rather than being selfish, I though over the long-terms consequences of it... To begin with here we do not really need any more children, There are a lot of population problems in both America and the whole world, that encouraging more breeding is just plain stupid, not to mention narrowminded. Many people irresponsibly have them "far too many "accidents", and damn the consequences on anyone else!!!!
Second, I think parenthood is overrated, I get all sort of questions and get pitied by nosy parents who think I'm a freak, not the other way round... I also had a mother that sat around all day with her goddamned soap operas, and just told me never to bother her, when I had the aforementioned sunburns, she just locked me up in the house all day, and wouldn´t let me get out... She gave me no lotion, nothing... I don´t want a childhool like that...Seriously. Then, you have the risk of being overprotective, and putting your children in a cotton cloud, a mistake I could possibly make, to compensate for what was not given to me... A difficult balance I will probably not archieve. Let´s blame feminism for everything!!!!