Why Is the Teen Birth Rate in the United States So High and Why Does It Matter?
July 23, 2012 5:42 PM   Subscribe

"Why Is the Teen Birth Rate in the United States So High and Why Does It Matter?" Kearney MS & Levine PB (2012) Journal of Economic Perspectives, 26(2): 141–63.

Link to full text pdf.

Abstract:
Why is the rate of teen childbearing is so unusually high in the United States as a whole, and in some U.S. states in particular? U.S. teens are two and a half times as likely to give birth as compared to teens in Canada, around four times as likely as teens in Germany or Norway, and almost ten times as likely as teens in Switzerland. A teenage girl in Mississippi is four times more likely to give birth than a teenage girl in New Hampshire—and 15 times more likely to give birth as a teen compared to a teenage girl in Switzerland. We examine teen birth rates alongside pregnancy, abortion, and "shotgun" marriage rates as well as the antecedent behaviors of sexual activity and contraceptive use. We demonstrate that variation in income inequality across U.S. states and developed countries can explain a sizable share of the geographic variation in teen childbearing. Our reading of the totality of evidence leads us to conclude that being on a low economic trajectory in life leads many teenage girls to have children while they are young and unmarried. Teen childbearing is explained by the low economic trajectory but is not an additional cause of later difficulties in life. Surprisingly, teen birth itself does not appear to have much direct economic consequence. Our view is that teen childbearing is so high in the United States because of underlying social and economic problems. It reflects a decision among a set of girls to "drop-out" of the economic mainstream; they choose nonmarital motherhood at a young age instead of investing in their own economic progress because they feel they have little chance of advancement.
posted by wilful (122 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting, I certainly believe income inequality plays a monstrous role, but presumably the fact that so many American Christians want it this way plays an substantial role too.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:02 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


In teacher training school, we were taught that income is the biggest factor contributing to teen pregnancy is economics - typically, girls from low-income homes do poorly in school.

In order to achieve success - any success - they choose to have a child, so they can achieve prestige, power, and some autonomy.

Environment plays a role. If your mother had children as a teen, so will you.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:05 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


jeffburdges: see Religiosity and teen birth rate in the United States: "conservative religious beliefs strongly predict U.S. teen birth rates, in a relationship that does not appear to be the result of confounding by income or abortion rates."
posted by robcorr at 6:08 PM on July 23, 2012


Sorry, I messed up the link: Religiosity and teen birth rate in the United States.
posted by robcorr at 6:08 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Article seems to be oddly slanted somehow. A search for the word "education" will yield it used several times in the phrase "abstinence education", and rarely in the phrase "sex education"... And in the only mention that perhaps better, more comprehensive sex education which correlates with fewer unintended pregnancies, this is the paragraph:
This section reviews the most compelling evidence to date on whether teen childbearing itself causes adverse outcomes for teen mothers and their children.11 We also review a related, important issue regarding “unintended” pregnancies. A large share of teen (and nonmarital) births are reported by the mother to be “unintended,” which would suggest that providing teens with better access to sex education, contraception, and related policies could help them achieve their “intended” goal of not becoming pregnant. However, we believe that many births that are labeled as “unintended” actually reflflect a degree of ambivalence on the part of the teen mother, in which case the policy prescription is less clear.
I haven't read the whole thing, but that simple search seems to have told me something about this study. I'm just not quite sure what yet.
posted by hippybear at 6:13 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I haven't read the whole thing either, but one thing struck my mind: why use secondary data? What happened to "just ask them why" questionnarie ? Doesn't that suck?

I am being intentionally rethorical, I know relying on secondary data is a pain in the butt, but almost a "necessity" as primary data is harder to come by (expecially for free and at a seriously disaggregated level).

But heck, why should we rely on speculation when we could -just ask- ?
posted by elpapacito at 6:19 PM on July 23, 2012


So, here's my question to your question, elpapacito: do you really think that most poor girls who become teen mommies really know the causal factors that went into it, aside from "I boinked this dude?"

I'm not sure I'd trust their answers to be relevant to the social question, I guess is what I'm saying.
posted by Archelaus at 6:25 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Being Brave about Sex Ed (Page is safe, podcast is NSFW)

Consume at your own risk: this anecdote isn't even plural, much less data.
posted by BrashTech at 6:26 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


What happened to "just ask them why" questionnarie ?

They address their data sources on page 142-- several of them are in fact the result of "just asking" but I believe this is intended as a meta-survey of all of the available data to reframe the debate. I doubt the researchers could reproduce that kind of decades-long research easily.

This is really interesting. Thank you.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:27 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Given that abortion and contraception are under ridiculous amounts of assault by the Christian right these days and the history of the idea, I know this will go absolutely nowhere, but could somehow begin, maybe, to talk about incentivizing sterilization for some folks in some manner? Someone who's never born doesn't miss the life they never had, which makes them a lot better off than a good portion (most?) people alive today, quite possibly including myself. I don't think it deserves a blanket dismissal.
posted by bookman117 at 6:50 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have no idea how to explain a country like South Korea that has non-existant sexual education. Apparently the abortion rate pre-2010 was through the roof with 85% of teens apparently having an (illegal) abortion.

Now they're really starting to clamp down on the anti-abortion laws that are on the books (previously they were tolerating the practice) and with the rise of conservative Christianity in the political sphere there might be an impending teen pregnancy/birth rate disaster in the making.
posted by Talez at 6:52 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't think it deserves a blanket dismissal.

Project Prevention
posted by shivohum at 7:00 PM on July 23, 2012


Yeah, I support the work they do. I know they've been hugely controversial due to dubious funders and the racially tinged focus on "crack babies" made by the lady who heads it, but it's not like they only pay you to get sterilized if you're black, and as far as racism goes, preventing black people from having to suffer an existence in which they're poor and public services suck because a good portion of society simply wishes they would go away isn't so bad.
posted by bookman117 at 7:11 PM on July 23, 2012


the findings of this study are similar to another ethnographic study of poor, young mothers - basically, for women from these poor neighbourhoods, the chances of having a good career are so low, it isn't such a big deal to "derail" their already fuelless career train with young motherhood -- and being a parent is a way to achieve a measure of adulthood and success.
posted by jb at 7:18 PM on July 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


bookman117 - the summary says that, "Surprisingly, teen birth itself does not appear to have much direct economic consequence" so I don't think it provides any justification for incentivizing sterilization. Also, that's a non-starter in the US more because it is associated with the eugentics movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. You'd have virtually no support from the left or right wings.
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:19 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I should have read your comment more carefully. You already addressed it by saying "the history of the idea".
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:20 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Somehow I doubt sterilization would help the lives of teen mothers all that much, or their (generally) low income peers. In fact, I'm not sure at all what it's supposed to do to address what appears to be the huge underlying problem: poverty and a perceived total lack of opportunities.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:23 PM on July 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


Environment plays a role. If your mother had children as a teen, so will you.

My mother was seventeen when I was born and nineteen when my sister was born, and neither one of us went on to become teenage mothers.

KokuRyu, I think you meant to say that having a teenage mother makes you statistically speaking more likely to become a teenage mother. Because if not what you said perpetuates a harmful stereotype and unfairly and utterly dismisses kids' ability to change their own destiny (or have it changed for them through positive interventions like education).

What young women from troubled families need more than anything is for a influential adults in their community to believe that young women from troubled families can succeed in life and break the cycle of poverty. Because if no one in a child's life believes that child can succeed in improving her own lot, how the hell is the child supposed to believe in herself?
posted by BlueJae at 7:23 PM on July 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


I don't know why some Bill Gates or Warren Buffett type can't offer up a fund where you get $1000 cash as soon as you get a tubal ligation (for the ladies) or a vasectomy (for the gents) with proof furnished to them by the hospital.

The destitute, desperate, and stupid would pretty much remove themselves from the equation and much of our social ills would evaporate within three generations.
posted by Renoroc at 7:25 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, here's my question to your question, elpapacito: do you really think that most poor girls who become teen mommies really know the causal factors that went into it, aside from "I boinked this dude?"

I don't know, but I guess asking them would be a good start to figure out what the actual causal factors, other than sex, might be. At the very least their perceptions are interesting in and of themselves, considering that our perception of what "really" happened may influence our future decisions/behaviors.
posted by elpapacito at 7:25 PM on July 23, 2012


controversial, no kidding.

how about more money towards substance abuse recovery? programs that help keep women together with their children? poverty alleviation? education?

their statistics yes, do show a disproportionate # of minorities in the program. ...

getting access to free birth control and free sterilization if desired = awesome! but holding out a carrot of $$$ to women in poverty is coercive. especially such a tiny amount of money, jeez. and it's ridiculous - this person has a drug problem, so, uh, you're going to give them a pile of money to do... what exactly with? take that whopping $300 to get into treatment? or, say, buy drugs?
posted by circle_b at 7:26 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


the summary says that, "Surprisingly, teen birth itself does not appear to have much direct economic consequence"

Yeah, but I guess I'm not really directly grappling with what this study is about, because I'm talking about the quality of the existence of the person who is born, not their pre-existing parents. I would put access to decent health care, dignified jobs with good wages, and abundant natural resources for existing persons way above the right of existing persons to extend their bloodlines. Maybe I'm introducing a bit of a derail here, but it's pretty germane to what we're talking about nonetheless.
posted by bookman117 at 7:26 PM on July 23, 2012


The destitute, desperate, and stupid would pretty much remove themselves from the equation and much of our social ills would evaporate within three generations.

Wait seriously you think stupidity is an inherited trait?
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:27 PM on July 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


El Papacito-- there's this study which looks like it more closely address the questions you want answered. I think the one in the OP is specifically designed to look more at the overarching question of international statistical differences and how that plays out in the data set, not so much the less-quantifiable personal data. It also looks like there just aren't as many years of data on that, so I suspect it wouldn't have filled in their models the same way the giant data sets did. I could be totally wrong, but if nothing else, it looks like there's a lot of fascinating literature on this out there!
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


and it's ridiculous - this person has a drug problem, so, uh, you're going to give them a pile of money to do... what exactly with? take that whopping $300 to get into treatment? or, say, buy drugs?
I'd rather enable a person to get high a few more times and prevent the existence of someone who has horrifically awful parents than do neither of those things.
posted by bookman117 at 7:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


as for why they did secondary analysis rather than just "ask" - other researchers already have done survey and ethnographic research, they are approaching the issue with another methodology.

from the article:
To the extent that income inequality is associated with a lack of economic opportunity and heightened social marginalization for with a lack of economic opportunity and heightened social marginalization for those at the bottom of the distribution, this empirical fi nding is potentially consis-tent with the ideas that other social scientists have been promoting for decades but which have been largely untested with large data sets and standard econo-metric methods.
posted by jb at 7:36 PM on July 23, 2012


This is pretty much the premise behind the movie Idiocracy.
posted by eye of newt at 7:37 PM on July 23, 2012


Would you also incentivize abortions for the same people? just curious about your spectrum.
posted by circle_b at 7:38 PM on July 23, 2012


Something that some of you aren't grasping is that there has to be a cultural explanation for this, it's not just a matter of poor mothers. Don't believe that all of these other first world countries don't have poor young women. Yet they don't have any thing like the rates of teen pregnancy. it's not only a matter of poverty, it's also how that is dealt with socially/culturally.
posted by wilful at 7:39 PM on July 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


for women from these poor neighbourhoods, the chances of having a good career are so low, it isn't such a big deal to "derail" their already fuelless career train with young motherhood -- and being a parent is a way to achieve a measure of adulthood and success

This is a big part of it, but I think it's worth noting that the other part of it is that the opportunity cost of having children is lower when you are younger, and people (even young, poor women) realize this even if they can't put it that precise of terms.

When you are younger, you tend to have stronger friendships. If you have girlfriends who also have children, you can swap childcare or even share an apartment. I know four different women who did this when they became moms in their late teens/early twenties. You are just getting started in life, so you don't have much to lose. You're only making minimum wage regardless. Your parents are still young enough to have the energy to help out with your kids.

I've known a lot- A LOT- of people who are single,childless, middle aged, and working class. They usually are kind of a mess. It's not that they've always made crap wages, but they've never gotten ahead. They usually drink quite a bit, out of loneliness and boredom. I've ridden the line between working and lower middle class my entire life, and these people are seen as cautionary tales. When you have a child, you have a strong motivator to get your shit together. You have a family that will (hopefully) outlast you. You have status and a way to connect to others like yourself. Or, you can wait, maybe too long, and end up old and alone.

Listen, when young parents don't get their shit together, it's a disaster. But a lot of them manage okay. If you know you are going to work service sector, mind numbing jobs, why seek validation through work? Most folks of any class find their family/personal lives more rewarding than their careers, anyway. If you are going to be poor either way- and most poor people realize that they will be- why cut yourself from the joy of family (not to mention sex) just to avoid judgement from some ivory tower assholes?
posted by Athene at 7:39 PM on July 23, 2012 [50 favorites]


Would you also incentivize abortions for the same people? just curious about your spectrum.
Yes
posted by bookman117 at 7:40 PM on July 23, 2012


I know this will go absolutely nowhere, but could somehow begin, maybe, to talk about incentivizing sterilization for some folks in some manner?

For whom? Healthy teenage girls? I don't even....no. The idea does indeed deserve a blanket dismissal.

Surprisingly, teen birth itself does not appear to have much direct economic consequence"

I think this is probably true, but what is the control group? If you're comparing poor people with a baby, an inadequate education and few employment prospects to poor people with no baby, an inadequate education and few employment prospects , then no, we can't blame the baby for the problem of lack of progress, but that doesn't mean the context is all fine for either person. And the situation for the baby, as a result of all that, is decidedly different than it would be were the economic prospects far better. From the baby's point of view, there is a pretty significant set of consequences of being born to a young, poor, inadequately educated mother with few employment prospects - especially in the US - as opposed to being born to the same person in a different context.
posted by Miko at 7:42 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The destitute, desperate, and stupid would pretty much remove themselves from the equation and much of our social ills would evaporate within three generations.

That's funny that you think that.
posted by Miko at 7:44 PM on July 23, 2012 [25 favorites]


bookman 117:"as far as racism goes, preventing black people from having to suffer an existence in which they're poor and public services suck because a good portion of society simply wishes they would go away isn't so bad."

So, by making sure that black people actually DO go away by sterilizing them, you're NOT being racist??

In case you don't understand why this is offensive to minorities, I'd suggest you read this article.
posted by rhymeswithcheery at 7:46 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Religion (mostly) aside for a moment, in America it's still accepted by a large majority to make sex the ultimate forbidden fruit. Not only are so many adults embarrassed by sex themselves by using euphemisms and a lot of fill-in-the-blanks to talk to each other, but these persons of authority pretty much avoid the topic with their kids. Religion or not, Americans love to allude to sex, but we hate actually talking about it.

We're all dirty, hot, tempting, wrong, wet, hard, "sexy", wanting you, needing her, throbbing, ball-busters, woody, rug-munchers, tasty, hungry, into that boom-boom, buttering muffins, burying bones, dipping the wick, making whoopee, getting busy, getting laid, parking, mounting, nailing, watering the lawn, sweeping the chimney, sexercising, scratching our itches, screwing, scoring, pounding, riding, porking, ramming, humping, and fucking but once you try to have a casual chit-chat about sex using words like "sex", "penis", and "vagina", oh shit! all of the scary, ugly terrors crawl out of our brains and attempt to beat each other to death.

We're a country that loves making everything about sex but writhes in fear when we realize people, especially experimental teenagers, are actually taking part. Or once we figure out that certain persons are having sex, we offer as much ridiculous advice as we apparently are able, perhaps in order to throw these overly bold adventurers off the trail.
It's a big deal for a number of people to buy condoms, much less be teased about it. Many girls aren't aware that birth control can be an option for them; it's just some pills that those other, possibly whorish, girls take. Good luck to you if you think you're pregnant, since quite a few pharmacists think it their business to deny the morning after pill to girls of a certain age. And even more doctors consider it their right to deny the sterilization that some women are begging for. Add to this the certainty that your parents/friends/nosy neighbor/church will find out you've had an abortion and VOILA! the perfect recipe for a veritable feeder guppies breeding tank filled with children born unwanted but containing little souls ripe to be caught up in the net of Jesus' love. Hallelujah.

As far as the strongest religious voices are concerned, it's not the babies they want. It's hardly even their little innocent souls. It's because people, especially women, are having sex because they WANT to. All of that *waves hand at the above* is therefore due to fear.
Not even fear of people having sex! It's the fear of sin. Of some blind mewling terror borne from their own lack of understanding which they themselves are unwilling to abort by becoming knowledgeable and aware of their bodies and their wants. People are afraid of themselves, so they have to push this fear on everyone else. Those that step outside of that fear are to be crushed and contained and annilhilated lest one's fear be confronted and acknowledged.
posted by DisreputableDog at 7:49 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've known a lot- A LOT- of people who are single,childless, middle aged, and working class. They usually are kind of a mess. It's not that they've always made crap wages, but they've never gotten ahead. They usually drink quite a bit, out of loneliness and boredom. I've ridden the line between working and lower middle class my entire life, and these people are seen as cautionary tales.
I see where you're coming from, but I have trouble with the idea that you should birth someone else into existence in order to make yours better. That may be harsh, and maybe it's because I'm only twenty, but I think we as a society could do a helluva lot better in terms of raising the quality of life for the typical individual than encouraging them to have kids.
posted by bookman117 at 7:53 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not really sure why we should be so worried about teen pregnancy. Is it a guarentee that children of teen parents are worse off then children of adults when adjusting for economic circumstances?

I read a study indicating that, in the UK at least between sisters women who have kids as teens actually do better in life. When you have a kid, usually it makes you more responsible. They're more likely to stop partying and instead stay home and take care of their kids. It gives them a strong reason to study hardy and do well in school that they might not otherwise have.

I remember hearing that in Iceland, for example teen pregnancy is a cultural norm. And that's the thing: We view teen pregnancy as a "problem" because it doesn't fit with our cultural "plan" where you go to high school, then college and then start "adulthood" at 20-23.

But if Teen pregnancy were culturally acceptable, as it is (supposedly, according to that article) in Iceland, and society were designed to accommodate it, then what's the problem?

I don't really understand why people doing what people evolved to do is supposed to be a bad thing.

If you took a poll of people who were born to teenage parents, a lot of them might not say their lives were perfect, but I would be willing to be they prefer being born to teen parents then non-existance.
Environment plays a role. If your mother had children as a teen, so will you.
Well, technically speaking these people are actually more successful at passing on their genes. If group A has children at age 16 on average, and group B has them at age 24, assuming 2 children per generation a couple from group A would have 6 decedents to group B's 2
posted by delmoi at 7:54 PM on July 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'd like to see the birth rate divided by some other factor. For example, Mississippi has half the population density of NH and about 1/8th the population density of Swizterland. I would expect places with lower population density and easily livable land (so Mississippi, but not Alaska) to have more growth and therefore more teen pregnancy.

People get this deep assumption of uniformity when talking about population growth that I find makes conversation about them pretty meaningless. People in, say, Idaho, should be having more babies than people in Swizterland.
posted by fleacircus at 7:57 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Something that some of you aren't grasping is that there has to be a cultural explanation for this, it's not just a matter of poor mothers. Don't believe that all of these other first world countries don't have poor young women. Yet they don't have any thing like the rates of teen pregnancy. it's not only a matter of poverty, it's also how that is dealt with socially/culturally.

According to the study, it's not a matter of absolute poverty, but of inequality. If you live in the bottom decile of household income in a more unequal society, you are more likely to be/become a teen parent, and that this holds both between states in the US and between countries as a whole (although they don't show any data for the international comparisons).
posted by kithrater at 7:57 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The destitute, desperate, and stupid would pretty much remove themselves from the equation and much of our social ills would evaporate within three generations.

hahahah have you met the children of rich people? You want society handed over to THEM?
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:04 PM on July 23, 2012 [25 favorites]


I see where you're coming from, but I have trouble with the idea that you should birth someone else into existence in order to make yours better. That may be harsh, and maybe it's because I'm only twenty, but I think we as a society could do a helluva lot better in terms of raising the quality of life for the typical individual than encouraging them to have kids.

Okay, WHOAH. I can totally see now how you may have misinterpreted what I was getting at, but in the interest of clarity, I was/am not encouraging anybody to have kids as a means of life improvement. I was trying to explain a cultural difference. For whatever it's worth, I was 28 when my oldest was born, and I'm glad I was well and truly grown before I became a parent.
posted by Athene at 8:05 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, by making sure that black people actually DO go away by sterilizing them, you're NOT being racist??
What level of human suffering are you willing to put up with to ensure that racism and racist individuals are defeated and know it?
In case you don't understand why this is offensive to minorities, I'd suggest you read this article.
No, I understand why it's offensive, which is why I would never say it outside of a venue as considerate and thoughtful and devoted to reasonable discussion as Metafilter and without a lot of qualifiers, especially since I have zero actual power in society, but just because you're an oppressed minority that doesn't mean that when you find a proposed policy offensive it's axiomatically wrong and you're axiomatically right.
posted by bookman117 at 8:07 PM on July 23, 2012


I see where you're coming from, but I have trouble with the idea that you should birth someone else into existence in order to make yours better.
So are you saying you hate your life and thing non-existence would be better, or are you simply saying that you selfishly would prefer fewer people exist so that you can have more for yourself? (and, I suppose, people like you)

So, by making sure that black people actually DO go away by sterilizing them, you're NOT being racist??

In case you don't understand why this is offensive to minorities, I'd suggest you read this article.
Yes, eugenics was practiced in the US for a long time. Much more so before WWII, for obvious reasons, but there was still plenty going on after. Hitler actually considered California's eugenics program a model to emulate.

From the article:
She had accompanied my dad from Sri Lanka to Washington State University in 1968, so he could complete his doctorate as a Fulbright Scholar. The school was in Pullman, a small town near the Idaho border. Fluent in English, she worked as a university librarian.

During her pregnancy, at age 30, she received care from one of Pullman's few obstetricians. She endured labor without drugs, and I was born healthy in 1972. Because fathers weren't allowed in the maternity ward overnight, my dad went back to their apartment when I was a few hours old.

As soon as he left, the doctor cut out my mom's uterus.

He didn't ask permission to perform the hysterectomy. In fact, he ignored her pleas. "There are too many colored babies already," he told her. Exhausted from labor, my mom was too weak to resist as she was wheeled into the operating room and put under anesthesia. On her medical record, the doctor wrote "exploratory" as the reason for the operation. The real reason, of course, was eugenics, the racist pseudoscience of human breeding.
But I'm sure if you were implementing the program there wouldn't be any abuses at all!
posted by delmoi at 8:08 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


What level of human suffering are you willing to put up with to ensure that racism and racist individuals are defeated and know it?
Why don't you go up to some black people and tell them you think their lives are so miserable that it would be better their parents were sterilized against their will. Report back and let us know how it goes.
posted by delmoi at 8:09 PM on July 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


delmoi, this table from the UN completely contradicts any suggestion that Iceland has a high teen birth rate.
posted by wilful at 8:10 PM on July 23, 2012


The article basically seems to be saying that the reason American teens have a lot of babies is because they don't use contraception as responsibly as teens from other developed countries. In other words, a lack of serious sex education has borne fruit.

The destitute, desperate, and stupid would pretty much remove themselves from the equation and much of our social ills would evaporate within three generations.

Dunno bout that. Much of what makes people destitute and desperate in the US is baked into our socioeconomic system.

High unemployment serves to keep wages down.

Ruinously high housing and educational costs keep the lower castes from escaping poverty, and serve as a tax on the working/middle classes payable to the rich.

Victimless crimes have to be criminalized in order to feed the prison industry.

We need lower income young men in order to have recruits for our armed forces.

We need minorities in order to give our lower-end workers a class of people to look down upon.

As a result of these things, we require a class of poor people, and getting rid of some members will just cause others to take their place.
posted by xigxag at 8:11 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The article basically seems to be saying that the reason American teens have a lot of babies is because they don't use contraception as responsibly as teens from other developed countries. In other words, a lack of serious sex education has borne fruit.

This is, in fact, nearly the opposite of what the study is saying. I suggest rereading it.

A search for the word "education" will yield it used several times in the phrase "abstinence education", and rarely in the phrase "sex education"...

The phrase "sex education" appears five times in the study. The phrase "abstinence education" appears four times in the study, with an additional mention of "abstinence-only education" in a footnote.
posted by kithrater at 8:14 PM on July 23, 2012


just because you're an oppressed minority that doesn't mean that when you find a proposed policy offensive it's axiomatically wrong and you're axiomatically right.

Just because you're not an oppressed minority (and where did I say that I was, anyway?) doesn't mean that you get to decide and/or coerce people who are darker-skinned than you and/or female into doing what the Good Smart All-Knowing White Man thinks they should do with their bodies.
posted by rhymeswithcheery at 8:21 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


So are you saying you hate your life and thing non-existence would be better
A lot of the time yes, though I can't decide if this is because I'm seeing the world rationally or because I'm bipolar/depressed (maybe a bit of both?)
posted by bookman117 at 8:21 PM on July 23, 2012


teen mommy and little or no money? fret not: welfare and the govt will take care of you.
what if we said: no welfare for teen mothers unless they finish high school?
posted by Postroad at 8:23 PM on July 23, 2012


what if we said: no welfare for teen mothers unless they finish high school?

Then we would have a lot more homeless children and babies.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:26 PM on July 23, 2012 [25 favorites]


Dude, we did away with welfare back in '96. You won. Please quit beating the dead horse.

Also, finishing high school is a poor use of time if you have a baby. You are way better off getting your GED. You'll be eligible for all the same jobs as you would with a regular diploma, and you can get on with the serious business of earning a living and/or getting a bachelor's.
posted by Athene at 8:27 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


what if we said: no welfare for teen mothers unless they finish high school?
This just makes people's lives a living hell. If they can't help doing what they evolved to do even under pain of having kids under the most awful circumstances we can dream up for them, then we just need to do as much as possible to keep them from having kids in the first place and fully support them when they do.
posted by bookman117 at 8:28 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


one thing struck my mind: why use secondary data? What happened to "just ask them why" questionnarie ?

In addition to the other reasons,

(1) Why reinvent the wheel if existing data are good enough?
(2) I don't even want to think about the IRB nightmare of asking minors about their sexual habits.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The destitute, desperate, and stupid would pretty much remove themselves from the equation and much of our social ills would evaporate within three generations.

First of all, this is simply false; humans beings are incredibly complex and a highly simplistic eugenics analysis such as yours is just flat out wrong. Not only that, but it's extremely dangerous when it has actual clout and highly discrediting of more reasonable contraception and population control measures when it doesn't
posted by bookman117 at 8:36 PM on July 23, 2012


Just because you're not an oppressed minority (and where did I say that I was, anyway?) doesn't mean that you get to decide and/or coerce people who are darker-skinned than you and/or female into doing what the Good Smart All-Knowing White Man thinks they should do with their bodies.

Younger people should be given priority over older people in terms of access to health care resources for perfectly good utilitarian reasons. A lot of US conservatives dislike this idea, which is implemented with good social outcomes in countries such as Britain, and they dislike it because, well, who are you to say who we should save and who we shouldn't? Unless you agree with this idea I don't see how you're being consistent here.
posted by bookman117 at 8:45 PM on July 23, 2012


Unless you agree with this idea I don't see how you're being consistent here.

What does healthcare for young/old people have to do with thinking that coercing (black, since you mentioned it) women into being permanently sterilized is a terrible, racist, sexist idea?
posted by rhymeswithcheery at 8:53 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


What does healthcare for young/old people have to do with thinking that coercing (black, since you mentioned it) women into being permanently sterilized is a terrible, racist, sexist idea?
I'm not for coercing anyone to do anything, I'm just in favor of giving them a strong push in a certain direction, which is already done in our society at all sorts of levels in ways that increase net human suffering far beyond what I'm proposing, and it has to do with the example I gave about healthcare because when utilitarian calculations are being made (which certainly can lead to all sorts of problems when taken to their logical extremes), who is doing the calculating is irrelevant.
posted by bookman117 at 9:06 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dude, we did away with welfare back in '96. You won. Please quit beating the dead horse.
It's amazing how many people don't know this.
A lot of the time yes, though I can't decide if this is because I'm seeing the world rationally or because I'm bipolar/depressed (maybe a bit of both?)
Your miserable life has nothing to do with the age your parents were when they had you. As far as I know, people who were born to teenage parents are no more likely to suffer from depression then anyone else.

Believe it or not there are lots of people in the world who enjoy life, have loving families and are happy to exist even if they are dealing with tough financial circumstances.
posted by delmoi at 9:06 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


[folks, please don't make this thread into bookman117 vs. everyone? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:09 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is very little help for young women to improve their lives before they have children. Same goes for young men.
That means if you are a poor teenaged girl, having a child may just improve your life.
Helping people before they are teenage parents makes good sense.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:14 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


when utilitarian calculations are being made (which certainly can lead to all sorts of problems when taken to their logical extremes), who is doing the calculating is irrelevant.

So you think that giving black women a "strong push in a certain direction" (i.e., to permanently destroy their chances of having children, and to make this decision at an age when people are notoriously bad at making decisions, while being coerced (YES, coerced) with money) would basically lead to the best outcome for society as a whole (which is what utilitarianism is, essentially)? And you think that it makes no difference whether the person "doing the calculating" of what is utilitarian is a poor minority woman or a wealthy, privileged, white man? Really? You think that the poor minorities will just logically agree with your idea of what's best for society, which is (apparently) for them to not reproduce, and for their communities to not exist in the future?

Okay, now apparently I'm not supposed to argue with bookman117. I'm done, then.
posted by rhymeswithcheery at 9:22 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


@rhymeswithcheery: You make some good points. I'll be doing a lot more thinking about this.
posted by bookman117 at 9:26 PM on July 23, 2012


delmoi, this table from the UN completely contradicts any suggestion that Iceland has a high teen birth rate.
I don't really see how. It shows Iceland having a higher teen birth rate (ages 15-19) then most of the other countries in europe. The list the rate as 14.5. Most of the European countries with higher birth rates in that age range are former eastern block countries and other poor countries including Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Malta, Montenegro, Moldova, Macedonia Slovakia, Serbia, Romania, Russia, and Ukrane.

The only other countries with higher 14-19 rates were Ireland (16.3), Portugal (15.3) and the UK (25.0)

All the other European countries (Sweden, France, Denmark, Germany Spain, Greece, the Netherlands, Finland, etc) were lower then Iceland.

So basically if you exclude old eastern block and otherwise "poor" European Iceland is pretty high up there. The main point is that when you look at wealthy, high GDP European countries, Iceland has a high teen birth rate, but it's not looked down uppon the way it might be in the UK and I assume Ireland. I don't really know about Portugal.
posted by delmoi at 9:28 PM on July 23, 2012


I find it amazing that certain Americans will grasp at all straws up to and including "soft" eugenics (?) rather than looking at how and why other rich countries manage to not have staggeringly high teen birth rates.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:30 PM on July 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


bookman117: First of all, this is simply false; humans beings are incredibly complex and a highly simplistic eugenics analysis such as yours is just flat out wrong.
"In the 1920s and 1930s, scientists from both the political left and right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous – though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change.

Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The spectre of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from “ought” to “is” and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as “these are not one-dimensional abilities” apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice.

I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler’s death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn’t the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?" -Richard Dawkins
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 9:39 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Breeding for "designer" cows is OK because no one really cares about the quality of life of the cows and other farm animals. They are doing lots of crazy stuff when it comes to breeding cows for various milking qualities, or for more muscle mass and stuff like that. And of course horses are bread for speed.

But that kind of breeding causes a lot of health problems. Racing horses routinely break their legs and need to be shot, while (presumably) normal horses don't injure themselves as often. purebreed dogs have lots of problems as well.

Also, modern breeding doesn't work by selecting the top pair, it's done by taking semen from the best male specimens by machine, freezing it, doing some 'test' offspring and if they turn out good using the frozen semen from. There was an Interesting FPP on cows done recently. Given the freakout over polygamy can you imagine how people would react to humans doing that?

But anyway, there is a huge difference between trying to constructively 'breed' an someone with some desirable quality, and trying to eliminate groups of 'undesirable' through sterilization pogroms. Especially when you lard it up with some bullshit about how it's "for their own good" because apparently their lives must be so miserable they'd be better off not existing.

A conclusion of which is so obvious you clearly don't even need to bother talking to any of them and actually asking them how they might feel about it.
posted by delmoi at 9:56 PM on July 23, 2012


I live in a high-poverty U.S. urban area. I'm on the school board, and one of the things school board members have to do is go to graduations. I always try to go to the graduations for the "special programs" because the general high school graduations for 400 students at once are a little dull. Much more fun are the ones for the small, specialized programs.

One of my favorite ones to attend is for an alternative program for teenagers at high risk of dropping out. We graduate around 14 students a year from this program, where they attend school half-days and work, for money, the other half, at companies that agree to mentor the students in work skills and life skills. For a lot of these students, finishing high school wouldn't be possible otherwise because they have to help support their families.

It's such a small graduation that every student speaks about their challenges and triumphs getting there. And invariable, about half of the girls speak -- and dissolve in tears every time -- about their success in graduating high school before having a baby. Being the first in the family to do that. Their mothers cry. Their classmates cry. I cry. And invariably, the other half of the girls speak about graduating high school in order to make a better life for their babies, and an adorable chubby little two-year-old escapes from grandma and toddle-runs up to 18-year-old mommy in her cap and gown shouting, "MOMMY! MOMMY!" And everyone cries, except the toddler, who is busy trying to grab mom's tassel.

I guess I don't really have a point, except that babies -- supporting them or avoiding them -- are the central fact of these girls' lives. And the ones who make it through high school at least have a chance.

One time in a stump speech I got asked what I thought about abstinence-only education, and without thinking I replied that it was "clearly moronic" and I got a standing ovation. Because the community knows it's a problem, even though it's a community in which teen pregnancy is endemic and even though there's a great deal of love and support for the girls who have these early babies. And even the 16-year-olds with babies want their own kids taught how not to have babies quite so young.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:59 PM on July 23, 2012 [67 favorites]


delmoi:

All these ethical objections don't mean it isn't possible, that's the main point Dawkins is making. People who oppose eugenics often try to go an extra step from saying "eugenics is wrong" to "eugenics wouldn't work anyway", which is just untrue. And, a human eugenics program wouldn't need to go to the extremes seen in modern animal breeding to get results. Animal breeding worked prior to these techniques after all.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 10:17 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


True, L.P. Hatecraft. A small peeve of mine, speaking as someone who's studied a reasonable amount of evolutionary biology, is the claim that "eugenics doesn't work, is rubbish science". I've seen this statement gone into at great length, with fairly spurious reasoning.

The point is supposed to be that eugenics is evil. Not that it is ineffective. We can safely reject it on moral grounds, indeed rejecting it on practical grounds kind of gives weight to the other side that suggests it should be considered.
posted by wilful at 10:49 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


bookman117's variety of eliminationalist classism has gained power before. An FPP I did on the subject: America's Deep Dark Secret,
"One of the deep, dark secrets of America's past has finally come to light. Starting in the early 1900s, hundreds of thousands of American children were warehoused in institutions by state governments." An early part of the American experiment with Eugenics, the Walter E. Fernald State School inspired scores of similar institutions across the country, and more recently, one of the definitive histories of the era.

"We thought for a long time that we belonged there, that we were not part of the species. We thought we were some kind of, you know, people that wasn't supposed to be born," says Boyce.

And that was precisely the idea.

The Fernald School, and others like it, was part of a popular American movement in the early 20th century called the Eugenics movement. The idea was to separate people considered to be genetically inferior from the rest of society, to prevent them from reproducing.

Eugenics is usually associated with Nazi Germany, but in fact, it started in America. Not only that, it continued here long after Hitler's Germany was in ruins.

At the height of the movement - in the '20s and '30s - exhibits were set up at fairs to teach people about eugenics. It was good for America, and good for the human race. That was the message."

Fernald was also the site of human research involving exposure to radioisotopes performed by researchers from Harvard and MIT, and sponsored by the Quaker Oats company, between 1946 and 1953 for which informed consent was never provided.
Never Again
posted by Blasdelb at 11:41 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wish I could favourite Eyebrows McGee's comment more than just once.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:42 AM on July 24, 2012


Teen childbearing is explained by the low economic trajectory but is not an additional cause of later difficulties in life. Surprisingly, teen birth itself does not appear to have much direct economic consequence.

This is surprising. I have understood that economic consequences for young girls becoming pregnant in America were rather dire. The report debunks that as a myth. There's very little economic downside at all. Maybe harsher economic consequences - a heavy fine for example - would discourage these young girls from getting pregnant? Isn't that one of the ways China enforces its one child policy? With heavy fines on peasants who try to have more than one?
posted by three blind mice at 2:04 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re:Iceland...

That whole happy go lucky tone kind of wierded me out, given recent Iceland news during that whole "Global Financial Crisis thing"...so critically reading the article this pops out at me...

the fastest-expanding banking system in the world

*Checks date or article* 2008....OHHHHHHHHHHHH....

Everyone is always happy during peak bubbleness. I don't think that different attitudes about teenage were responsible there.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:24 AM on July 24, 2012


I'm not really sure why we should be so worried about teen pregnancy. Is it a guarentee that children of teen parents are worse off then children of adults when adjusting for economic circumstances?

But if Teen pregnancy were culturally acceptable, as it is (supposedly, according to that article) in Iceland, and society were designed to accommodate it, then what's the problem?

I don't really understand why people doing what people evolved to do is supposed to be a bad thing.


I wonder the same things, but I'm usually reluctant to do it aloud because it's such an article of friggin' faith in the US that teenagers reproducing is inherently BAD and WRONG, despite the fact that, as Athene noted above, they are in many ways more equipped for parenthood and their life circumstances less likely to be disrupted by childrearing than your average 32-year-old. And despite the fact that teen parenthood has been totally normal and routine for 99.999999% of human history.

About the only built-in negative is that the early-to-mid 20s are apparently the optimum physical/medical time to be pregnant, but we don't wring our hands over the many women who have kids after that "prime time" and incur a bit more risk as a result. Other than that, young girls having babies is problematic only because we choose to make it so.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:31 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I lived in Iceland and anecdotally did not observe anything resembling a high teen birth rate. What's "normal" in Iceland is to have kids outside of marriage, maybe that's what you're alluding to? Anyhow, did not observe any pregnant teens out and about and the youngest Icelander I personally know who had a baby was 20.
posted by sonika at 4:45 AM on July 24, 2012


Here's some more info on the study/book jb linked above, from American Prospect, back in 2005, which seems to align with the newer research linked in the post, as well as, say, Eyebrows McGee's personal observations.

It's particularly a shame that this thread was largely knocked so far off course by the eugenics (!) derail, because it seems to me that the teenage pregnancy question tends to be a blank "proof canvas" for anyone's pet social theories (including, to some degree, this otherwise good article I've linked, which yet can't resist playing political football). It seems that people are much more interested in promoting their personal social/economic/self-interested causes than actually paying serious (or even empirical, scientific) attention to the reality of the people who constitute the demographic under question.

This is an emotionally evocative issue that seems to lend itself to both the necessary high feelings and lovingly massaged statistics that excite nearly any political warrior, but rarely address the realities of the individuals and communities that provide tasty, tasty grist for multivarious mills. To me, the info linked in this post and the earlier study jb referred to makes so much more sense than anything else I've read: people do things for the same reasons that people always do things. They assess their own likely opportunities, possibilities, restraints, limitations, and obstructions and choose the course they think will allow them to get eke out as much happiness and satisfaction as possible in their own circumstances.

It makes great sense to me that the vast majority of teen moms are not: an alien subculture we can't possibly understand; pathetically ignorant of the mechanics of reproduction; in the grip of religious extremity; willing to give up their reproductive future for $300 to buy crack; having children in order to live the luxurious life offered by federal/state benefits to young mothers. It's that the economic or educational opportunities that they are supposed to be "giving up" by having a child do not actually exist for them, and they are choosing an alternative approach to self actualization and satisfaction that actually exists within their economic reality. Solve that, concerned entities.
posted by taz at 5:03 AM on July 24, 2012 [15 favorites]


I have understood that economic consequences for young girls becoming pregnant in America were rather dire. The report debunks that as a myth. There's very little economic downside at all.

Well, at least for some teen mothers-- the article taz linked to above sums it up pretty well, I think:
Disadvantaged teen mothers have about the same long-term earnings as similarly disadvantaged youth who wait until their mid- or late 20s to have a child. Put another way, poorly educated young women, unlike middle-class girls, have very low “opportunity costs” when they become mothers.
Which is probably why there's that footnote in the original article noting that the income levels of teens having abortions is much higher. I actually would have liked to see studies on how healthy it actually is for (young) teens to have kids; while it's prime time by the time you're in your late teens/early twenties, I always thought there were legitimate health risks to the parent from too-early pregnancies especially without consistent medical care.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:16 AM on July 24, 2012


There is not and has never been an equivalent to the trades for working class/poor women with a high school diploma/GED to be able to reasonably aspire to a middle class living/career on their own power. Society pooh-poohs upper class women for eschewing motherhood and "sacrificing their prime childbearing years" to become partner at a law firm, and yet expects these women to do the same so they can perhaps manage a Burger King someday? Motherhood is one of the few attainable positions of social esteem/founts of authority available to them, can seem like an inevitability in an environment where reproductive knowledge is difficult to attain and contraceptives are used sporadically at best, and is a goal that is in step with a religious upbringing where traditional gender roles are heavily endorsed.
posted by Selena777 at 5:32 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


What bothers me the most about these kinds of articles is that they seem to think that young women have children by parthenogenesis. Since humans reproduce sexually, wherever there is a teen mom, there is a (teen or not) father. Where is the conversation about them? And why not hold them equally responsible?

I'm all for education and training for teenagers - not just moms, but ALL teens - so they can function well in society. I am also for some kind of parenting classes or parenting advice for young mothers - especially if their families of origin were abusive or they have no help raising the baby, because parenting is HARD and it does worry me if an emotionally immature mom (and women in their 30's can fall into this category) has a child hoping that the child will fulfill THEIR needs, finds out that having a kid isn't exactly an Anne Geddes photo op, and winds up abusing the child or milking the child for emotional gratification. (And, again, I see plenty of older mothers doing just this. And I've seen very young women with strong support systems do just fine and raise good kids.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:30 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Shouldn't we be screaming at each other about Teen Mom?
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:53 AM on July 24, 2012


Motherhood is one of the few attainable positions of social esteem/founts of authority available to them, can seem like an inevitability in an environment where reproductive knowledge is difficult to attain and contraceptives are used sporadically at best, and is a goal that is in step with a religious upbringing where traditional gender roles are heavily endorsed.

Immensely frustrating situation: our culture pounds into girls' heads that females can do only three things of significant value then says teenagers will go straight to hell if they do two of the three. So what does that leave as a source of self-worth? Vacuuming.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:14 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Good luck to you if you think you're pregnant, since quite a few pharmacists think it their business to deny the morning after pill to girls of a certain age.

Really this should be "if you think you might become pregnant (because you had unprotected sex or a contraception failure in the past 1-3 days or so)". The early contraception pill won't help you if you're already pregnant and is meant to prevent pregnancy. It can prevent fertilized eggs from implanting, but this is relatively rare and/or just a small part of how it works (depending on who you ask).

So what does that leave as a source of self-worth? Vacuuming.

And there's only so many positions available as an obstetrician who performs abortions.
posted by NoraReed at 7:21 AM on July 24, 2012


One of the more interesting (and lucrative) part time jobs I had was as a "wedding officiant" (ie, fake priest) performing ersatz wedding ceremonies in rural Japan.

While the sample here is drawn from the clientele who typically have weddings at a certain chain of wedding chapels (a different socioeconomic demographic might patronize a different wedding chapel chain), I can say that of the 500 couples/1000 people that I "married" in Shiga, Fukui and Ishikawa, there were no small amount of shotgun marriages, where the bride was visibly pregnant beneath her rented wedding dress.

Typically, the clientèle consisted of teachers (teachers marry teachers, and their children marry the children of other teachers - it's a subculture or tribe) who generally got married in their late 20's, or construction workers and farmers.

The construction workers and farmers were all young, about twenty. If the girls were not pregnant at the ceremony, they would likely be having children within the next year.

In rural Japan women (from a certain social class) tend to have kids really, really young, as soon out of high school as possible.

One reason is that there is not a lot of work for women in this part of Japan outside of working in a hair salon, convenience store or supermarket. And wages are quite low. So if you don't go on to college or university, you're having children. And that's that.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:26 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


getting access to free birth control and free sterilization if desired = awesome! but holding out a carrot of $$$ to women in poverty is coercive. especially such a tiny amount of money, jeez. and it's ridiculous - this person has a drug problem, so, uh, you're going to give them a pile of money to do... what exactly with? take that whopping $300 to get into treatment? or, say, buy drugs?


By the same token, you could say that destitute young women are currently economically "coerced" into having children, because of income assistance available to mothers. It's counterintuitive, but if we paid young women as much to not be mothers as we currently pay them to become mothers, that might be parity rather than coercion.
posted by grobstein at 8:45 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dude, we did away with welfare back in '96. You won. Please quit beating the dead horse.

It's amazing how many people don't know this.


I keep forgetting, because it's such a horrible thing. I think my subconscious is trying to protect me.
posted by jb at 8:56 AM on July 24, 2012


I don't know why some Bill Gates or Warren Buffett type can't offer up a fund where you get $1000 cash as soon as you get a tubal ligation (for the ladies) or a vasectomy (for the gents) with proof furnished to them by the hospital.

Sounds like Project Prevention, aka Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity or CRACK, to me. (Previously.)
posted by elsietheeel at 9:25 AM on July 24, 2012


I don't know why some Bill Gates or Warren Buffett type can't offer up a fund where you get $1000 cash as soon as you get a tubal ligation (for the ladies) or a vasectomy (for the gents) with proof furnished to them by the hospital.

Wouldn't this disproportionately target poorer people, to whom $1000 is a bigger chunk of change?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:27 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had my first child when I was 32. That experience really opened my eyes to the wisdom of having children in one's early twenties. There was a lot about it that just would have been so much easier when I was ten years younger.

I am surprised that having kids before age 20 isn't as much of a crushing economic blow as was previously thought, although I shouldn't be. I personally know three women who started having children before they turned twenty. One has a Master's degree in public policy and works directly for our Governor; one is a social worker, which is not a great job particularly in our current funding crisis but she's not in grinding poverty or anything, and one is a mid-level program manager at a large software company. Two of them are married to the fathers of their children.
posted by KathrynT at 9:33 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of my mentor's primary research interests is the way life expectancy affects age-at-first-birth. While the average life expectancy in the US is comparable to other developed countries, there is an unsurprising heterogeneity between different population groups. There was a Psychology Today blog series a few series ago that touched on her work and similar work being done by human reproductive ecologists: Life in the Fast Lane. One study conducted in Chicago neighborhoods showed that local neighborhood life expectancy had a relationship with a number of 'risky' behaviors, including early average age-at-first-birth and homicides: Wilson and Daly, Life expectancy, economic inequality, homicide, and reproductive timing in Chicago neighbourhoods.

The work done in my mentor's lab is more internationally oriented, but one of the most interesting findings was that, even where countries were similarly impoverished in terms of GDP per capita, those countries with longer average life expectancy had later age-at-first birth for the women. (PDF of the published article here: http://www.snre.umich.edu/sites/snre.umich.edu/files/Ccr_08.pdf).

The takeaway from these types of studies is that, while economic inequality certainly plays a role on young age at first birth, improving the health and safety of impoverished people can improve their life expectancy, even where there is no other impact on economic metrics. It is not surprising to me that other OECD countries tend to have lower rates of teenage motherhood, and that almost all of them provide comprehensive universal health care. When people believe they will live longer, there is less urgency to accomplish one's biological imperatives.
posted by palindromic at 11:42 AM on July 24, 2012


ADOPTION!!! It is still a viable, wonderful option for so many. I would love to see the day when teenage girls are given accurate, non-emotional information about this mysterious third choice. In this country, you are either pro-choice or anti-abortion. And too many teenage girls are brainwashed (yes, I use that term) by celebrity moms, their parents, their doctors and social workers into thinking they can be an effective mom when they are still a child. Adoption advocates have done a most shitty job of getting their agenda out as the win-win third option. Dave Thomas died too young...he was on his way toward making adoption the hands-down best choice for most.
posted by Kokopuff at 12:03 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Adoption advocates have done a most shitty job of getting their agenda out as the win-win third option.

Win-win? There are no emotional costs for teens who give up their children? There are no health problems with pregnancy? It's such an efficient system that no children are in foster care or waiting for an adoption? There are no social or cultural pressures involved? Seriously?
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:00 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Having my first child when I was 22 i Founded it to be difficult back then with no father support. Cannot image before 20 having a child and not having any father figure support since I am thinking these father of the teenagers that are getting pregnant are so young themselves.
posted by DonnaH at 1:05 PM on July 24, 2012


I don't think adoption is mysterious at all (It's a lot easier to find an organization to facilitate your adoption than it is to find a place to get an abortion). In fact, a lot of us know a little too much about it. And it's not an easy choice in the least. It's often heartwrenching and always permanent, it is often not the kind of experience that fades in intensity over time for the mother, and has negative effects on both parties as well as the obvious (usually) positive ones.

I was just reading that in nations with generous social services, adoption is so rare as to be almost unheard of. That indicates that most people willing to carry a baby to term are also more willing to raise it, if they have adequate support in terms of medical care, food security, childcare and education.

Adoption can be a useful response to a shitty set of circumstances all around, but that doesn't make it by any means an easy "win-win."
posted by Miko at 1:10 PM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


By the same token, you could say that destitute young women are currently economically "coerced" into having children, because of income assistance available to mothers. It's counterintuitive, but if we paid young women as much to not be mothers as we currently pay them to become mothers, that might be parity rather than coercion.

I really, really wish that people who talk about how much "we" pay young women in welfare and assistance would, for example, have to help a young, poor, single friend negotiate the "welfare" bureaucracy and try to live on the munificent fruits thereof. The maximum of $250 per month you get towards rent! The additional perhaps $200 you get in food stamps! The fact that there is no cash involved, ever, which means that you have to scam and scrounge your toothpaste, shampoo, soap, toilet paper. The fact that you have no money for maternity clothes. The fact that up until the eleventh hour of your pregnancy you are expected to attend workfare classes, and that you're pushed into workfare soon after your kid is born!

When I went through this with a friend, the welfare caseworker (a working class woman of color herself, and much nicer than anyone else in the whole process including the white dude at the front desk making racist remarks) nudge-nudge-winked-winked me about how to work a little scam on the rent money (which was being paid to me, as my friend was living with me) so that my friend could get a little cash out of it.

"Welfare" is not enough to live on. The de facto assumption of welfare is that you are living with family or friends who cover a big chunk of your expenses, and the extra ~$500 a month you receive in benefits just helps out. It's a shitty, immoral system endorsed by the stupid and intellectually lazy and put through by greedy asshole politicians, may they rot in hell.
posted by Frowner at 3:33 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Everybody does know that US teen pregnancy rates have fallen 40% in the last couple of decades, right? Right??

Having a whole conversation about this without discussing the huge fall in rates is more than a little weird.
posted by feckless at 4:00 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Welfare" is not enough to live on. The de facto assumption of welfare is that you are living with family or friends who cover a big chunk of your expenses, and the extra ~$500 a month you receive in benefits just helps out. It's a shitty, immoral system endorsed by the stupid and intellectually lazy and put through by greedy asshole politicians, may they rot in hell.


Hey, this sucks, and if I made the law we would give out more cash rather than strict in-kind benefits, and we would not insist on stripping people of their dignity in order to get social assistance.

I really don't think my post commits the sins you're associating with it.
posted by grobstein at 4:04 PM on July 24, 2012


It wouldn't be targeting, it would be assisting.
posted by Renoroc at 4:52 PM on July 24, 2012


The fact that up until the eleventh hour of your pregnancy you are expected to attend workfare classes, and that you're pushed into workfare soon after your kid is born!

But why are people having kids when they clearly cannot afford it? Doesn't there need to be a message communicated that this is utterly irresponsible?
posted by shivohum at 6:40 PM on July 24, 2012


it would be assisting.

Assisting? Assisting? $1000 for your lifelong, irreplaceable individual reproductive ability? That's chump change. Come on.

Given our piss-poor social safety net, children are one of the few forms of an old age pension plan many people have, among only one quite legitimate reason for choosing to have them. One lousy grand - not even enough for a couple months' section 8 rent and some electric bills - to trade in your ability to produce a family? For the rest of your life? It doesn't make sense. The sad thing is that so many people are often so in need of quick emergency cash that a few people would take you up on it without sufficient forethought - making this decision as minors, no less, as you've postulated it - and then many of them would regret it for the rest of their lives.

This "solution" is so naive, so condescending, so ill-informed and so paternalistic that profound shame should accompany its very utterance. It shows no understanding of the issue at hand, and an embarassingly poor frame of reference.
posted by Miko at 6:40 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Doesn't there need to be a message communicated that this is utterly irresponsible?

Irresponsible does not equal illegal. Rich and middle-class people do all manner of utterly irresponsible things, too.

Besides which, when do you think this information about family planning needs to be communicated? Before or after a baby is on the way?
posted by Miko at 6:42 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Irresponsible does not equal illegal. Rich and middle-class people do all manner of utterly irresponsible things, too.

So what? That other people do other bad things makes this bad thing ok? It's not acceptable for people who can't afford kids to bear them, and force them into an environment where other people are going to be forced to take care of them. It hurts the kids and it hurts society.

It should be very clearly condemned.

Besides which, when do you think this information about family planning needs to be communicated? Before or after a baby is on the way?

Both.
posted by shivohum at 6:51 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, the more I think about it, one of the irresponsibl things middle-class and affluent people do is have children. A ton of 'middle-class' people have children they can't afford. They usually rely on things like Pell Grants and financial aid and scholarships subsidized by other people to get through college; they run up insane amounts of debt for children's needs and family activities - debts that they can't pay down; have no rainy-day fund for emergency needs; sacrifice quality child supervision to requirements in working hours; go without health insurance themselves (putting the whole family at risk for bankruptcy) and sometimes even lose their jobs and have their house foreclosed.

Maybe we should sterilize the middle-class people.
posted by Miko at 6:54 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


It should be very clearly condemned.

I don't think so. I sort of reject the argument that your particular set of morals about when and where people should have children should dictate that decision for everyone. What hurts children and society is children and families not having adequate support. Guess what? That's true for almost every child and family in this society who is not abundantly supplied with privately accrued wealth. Solve that, and then we'll talk about whether your morals belong in someone else's childbearing decisions.
posted by Miko at 6:56 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Solve that, and then we'll talk about whether your morals belong in someone else's childbearing decisions.

If someone wants to use their own money to have children, that's fine. If they want to take someone's money, then yes, they're going to have someone else's morals in their childbearing decisions.

And your silly analogy of the middle class to the poor in this regard is really not going to persuade any non-Marxist.
posted by shivohum at 6:59 PM on July 24, 2012


Silly analogy? What's silly about it? Is it not true that any family with negative assets cannot afford the children they have? How many people do you know paying cash, full price, out of pocket for their children's education?

If they want to take someone's money, then yes, they're going to have someone else's morals in their childbearing decisions.

Then let's have mine, because they're far more humane than yours. Anyway, let's get away from this spurious rhetoric about taking "someone else's money." They're taking what they are entitled to by virtue of their citizenship and their use of the processes set up for those in need, when they are needed. When things change, they and their children will be putting back into that system as well. You may personally condemn a behavior, but once it's managed via public funds, you no longer have the power to dictate it. I'm sure there are other things you consider "irresponsible," but you are simply not in control of other human beings in this way. Thank God.
posted by Miko at 7:03 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it not true that any family with negative assets cannot afford the children they have? How many people do you know paying cash, full price, out of pocket for their children's education?

College is a choice that the offspring, not their parents, make. People having kids are not required to pay for their eventual higher education. If you want to talk about the offspring irresponsibly borrowing $150,000 for a degree in sociology without any plan for how to get a job, that's a different topic.

They're taking what they are entitled to by virtue of their citizenship and their use of the processes set up for those in need, when they are needed.

Ok, the same system that "entitles" them to the welfare money by virtue of their citizenship -- if that's established by law -- can also "disentitle" them from it, or strongly condemn their choices.

When things change, they and their children will be putting back into that system as well.

Many of the poor will never be putting back into the system anything remotely resembling what they were given.

You may personally condemn a behavior, but once it's managed via public funds, you no longer have the power to dictate it.

You seem to have some confusion about the concept of a political discussion like this one. It's quite clear that neither of us actually have "the power" to dictate what is done with public funds, or, for that matter, with private funds in nearly every single case. Discussions are hypothetical that way.
posted by shivohum at 7:13 PM on July 24, 2012


"But why are people having kids when they clearly cannot afford it? Doesn't there need to be a message communicated that this is utterly irresponsible?"

Because they may be well aware of the reality that we're discussing - that they'll never be able to properly afford it, so why not get it done during their (truncated) period of peak health? How else do people generally glean value and purpose from life when other avenues for doing so are closed to them?

"Assisting? $1000 for your lifelong, irreplaceable individual reproductive ability? That's chump change. Come on."

There's a reason that large scale attempts to sterilize the poor are rife with misinformation and/or the use of force - because by and large, they deem it a bum deal. It also goes against the better interests of the middle and the upper class - they don't *really* want a bunch of sporadically employed people with no clearly acknowledged social standing and a negligible personal investment in the future of society running around. That's not a stable situation, that's a powder keg.
posted by Selena777 at 7:36 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Selena777 - those are some very thoughtful arguments, thanks
posted by shivohum at 7:47 PM on July 24, 2012


Many of the poor will never be putting back into the system anything remotely resembling what they were given.

And they will not be given the opportunity to utterly destroy the system after sucking it dry like the best and brightest working in the financial industry.

Having children is a financial mistake only the rich can afford, except in societies where ones children are their retirement plan.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:17 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Many of the poor will never be putting back into the system anything remotely resembling what they were given.

The realpolitik of welfare is that it's believed to be cheaper than the alternatives. The goal isn't to maximise what the least productive members of society contribute, but rather to minimise what they could potentially detract from the rest of society.
posted by kithrater at 8:37 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Many of the poor will never be putting back into the system anything remotely resembling what they were given.

well that's true - if you string them along on half or quarter-measures like food stamps or TANF.

If you have a decent social welfare system, poor children have so much better a chance to actually get an education and improve their economic possibilities. My family was on welfare and in subsidized housing for a decade or so when I was a child -- I have a graduate degree now and pay much higher taxes than I would have done if we had been left destitute and homeless.
posted by jb at 9:01 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just fyi, there is an insanely cheap a permanent but reversible serialization procedure for men developed in India. One single injection coats the vas deferens with a polymer that confuses sperm, vaguely like how copper IUDs work, another injection devolves the polymer.

You could pay men the first time they received the procedure, and offer seconds for free, but charge a modest fee for reversal. In effect, you'd simply pay men for participating in sensible family planning. You could offer free IUDs for women as well. Women don't usually require incentives to participate in family planing.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:54 AM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can say the same as jb. My mother had me - responsibly enough, I like to think, when she was 19, and my dad was in the Army. After his discharge and during the low economic years of the late 1970s, she was raising two of us while getting a degree part-time, on partial scholarship, while my father worked, and we used food stamps and heating assistance. Thanks to that, she had better employment prospects and developed a powerful career which she is still active in. Meanwhile, her children, being adequately supported, benefited from those programs. I attended college on a full scholarship and am now working on a master's degree, am professionally employed with a nice income and advancing in my career, making donations and paying taxes. My brother started his own business last year and is doing the same. Enduring the sometime noisy resentment of the lucky few is well worth the personal and societal gains my family made through the availability of public assistance.
posted by Miko at 7:07 AM on July 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


So I guess it's only poor folks who shouldn't get paid for producing children then. Because you're aware that the federal and state governments happily fork over cash annually to everyone else who procreates, right?, even those who are plenty able to support their own progeny. If not, you might want to compare the adjusted gross income line on my 1040 form to that of someone who makes exactly the same salary but has a couple of kids.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:30 AM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


FelliniBlank - I get your point re income taxes (and I agree with you that complaining about poor people is hypocritical seeing as middle-class people benefit so much more from government services), but I was thinking today about tax deductions (they were talking about them on the radio).

We need tax deductions per human being that an income supports, because we want to have a progressive tax system. Someone who makes $40,000/year, but has to support from that one spouse and two children really does a lower income in proportion to their needs than a single, childless person with the same income. It's not "paying people to have kids" - since even after the deductions they have less money left over. For the last several years, either my SO has been earning or I have - and though our individual incomes have been okay, our lifestyle reflects the reality that two people can't live as cheaply as one. Deductions for dependents just recognizes that the income/human in that household isn't the same as the other income/human, just as we do when we tax the single childless person making $10k/year less in percentage terms than a single, childless person who makes $100k/year.

For me, fairness in the tax system really should be about paying in proportion to income-post-necessities. We don't have a good measure of "necessities", so that's why we have personal deductions (in Canada, the first 10k earned is excepted from tax for every single person, through the personal non-refundable tax credit) and deductions for dependents.

if we eliminated all tax deductions for dependents, we would create an unprogressive tax system whereby people with children will be paying much more of their income-post-necessities in taxes than those without -- even though they have less of that income already. We would especially be hurting working-poor families. I don't know about the US, but in Canada the deductions for dependents are set at a relatively low level, such that they benefit working-poor people far more than well-paid.
posted by jb at 7:58 AM on July 25, 2012


an unprogressive tax system whereby people with children will be paying much more of their income-post-necessities in taxes than those without

Well, to paraphrase you, if they can't afford to pay their fair share, then they were irresponsible to choose to have children in the first place, weren't they? I happen to support 15 quadruped dependents at present, and nobody's handing me any kickbacks or crying towels, nor am I asking for any. If I were instead splitting my single income with 4 non-disabled adult human housemates (let's call them Davy, Mike, Peter, and Mickey) who had no income of their own, I would still be paying the same amount of my income in tax.

It's fine with me if our culture has decided to subsidize (or privilege, or promote, or whatever term you want to use) reproduction, but let's not pretend otherwise, and if we consider procreation some sort of holy right, let's at least extend it to all citizens regardless of their income level.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:34 AM on July 25, 2012


Well, to paraphrase you, if they can't afford to pay their fair share, then they were irresponsible to choose to have children in the first place, weren't they?

I don't understand how that is paraphrasing me at all.

Also, I happen to believe that reproduction is a holy - or rather, human right, and I would agree that we have to extend that right to all citizens regardless of income level. That's why we have made eugenics illegal - even people with genetic conditions have the human right to reproduce if they wish to. Owning pets is not a right anything like the right to have and/or raise children. (For one thing, I don't have a human right to have a horse in a city - and that's fine. But I have the right to raise a child in an apartment building, regardless of what Doug Holyday thinks). That is what makes paying for dependents a "necessity" - it's not a luxury, but a human right, just like food, shelter or (in my country at least) healthcare.

But what I'm saying is that the tax system does not "pay" people to have children - having children still leaves you with less disposable income than not having children. What the tax code does is recognize that people with human dependents have NECESSARY costs that the person with no human dependents does not (given that non-human dependents is a choice not a right or necessity, and no where near the cost of human dependents). We also recognize that people with disabilities or illnesses may have costs that healthy people do not - for medications, disability aids, etc - and they can deduct those from their taxes. We are not offering special benefits, we are equalizing the system.

Moreover, children are an essential part of the future of our planet. You could say that parents are subsidizing the future of all non-parents, by paying a great deal to raise the people who will be paying the taxes that support all people in their old age. We don't tell anyone that they can't have medicare/social security because they didn't raise children to pay into the system, even though their care will be dependent on the taxes paid by the children their contemporaries did raise.
posted by jb at 9:47 AM on July 25, 2012


I should correct this sentence, "having children still leaves you with less disposable income than not having children" to

"having children still leaves you with less disposable income than not having children, even after the tax deductions".
posted by jb at 9:48 AM on July 25, 2012


Me: Well, to paraphrase you, if they can't afford to pay their fair share, then they were irresponsible to choose to have children in the first place, weren't they?

jb: I don't understand how that is paraphrasing me at all.


And right you are -- I had an artery harden or something and misread that as something you had typed when it was someone else entirely. That person's claim was that poor people should choose not to reproduce since they (supposedly) cannot afford to support children on their own without leeching off the public. My initial and follow-up responses were more to that idea -- that middle- and upper-class folks have no problem accepting publicly funded $$ assistance for childrearing, and the rest of us have no problem financing it. (I hearken back to the happy deduction dance my parents undoubtedly did when my older sister was born on Dec 31 instead of Jan 1.)

But god forbid some poor person who really, really needs the help should get it.

I was trying to point out the pernicious double standard at work:

Privileged people have an absolute right to reproduce and an entitlement to have the rest of us offset some of their expenses. Nobody ever tells them, "Well don't have so many goddamn kids then."
vs.
Non-privileged people have no absolute right to reproduce and no entitlement to one thin dime should they dare to do so.

So I'm absolutely ready to grant all your (way speciesist) points so long as we agree they apply to every parent without regard to social class, income level, or employment status.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:02 PM on July 25, 2012


Plus I think that every financially stable parent who kvetches about "greedy welfare moms" etc. should give back their own dependent deductions and not claim them anymore.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:08 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


All these ethical objections don't mean it isn't possible, that's the main point Dawkins is making. People who oppose eugenics often try to go an extra step from saying "eugenics is wrong" to "eugenics wouldn't work anyway", which is just untrue. And, a human eugenics program wouldn't need to go to the extremes seen in modern animal breeding to get results. Animal breeding worked prior to these techniques after all.
1) It's impossible to know whether or not it would work without doing the experiments.

2) Doing the experiments would be unethical.

3) Therefore, there is no way to know whether or not eugenics can work (or how to do it) without doing unethical experiments.

We could greatly improve our knowledge of the human brain if scientists could experiment by intentionally destroying parts of people's brains. In fact a ton of our knowledge of the various functions comes from people who have had accidents or cancer or whatever. But we don't do those experiments, because they are unethical.

Without empirical data, there is no way to say what is and isn't true.
If someone wants to use their own money to have children, that's fine. If they want to take someone's money, then yes, they're going to have someone else's morals in their childbearing decisions.
Wow, that's one of the most fucked up things I've ever heard. Why wouldn't people want to take resources away from you if they knew how you felt about them? If poor people having children results in you having less money, then I'm all for it!
posted by delmoi at 10:30 PM on July 27, 2012


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