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Die Young, Live Fast: The Evolution of an Underclass
July 23, 2010 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Die young, live fast: the evolution of an underclass

"From feckless fathers and teenaged mothers to so-called feral kids, the media seems to take a voyeuristic pleasure in documenting the lives of the 'underclass'. Whether they are inclined to condemn or sympathise, commentators regularly ask how society got to be this way. There is seldom agreement, but one explanation you are unlikely to hear is that this kind of 'delinquent' behaviour is a sensible response to the circumstances of a life constrained by poverty. Yet that is exactly what some evolutionary biologists are now proposing."
posted by modernnomad (78 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Life is hard; the only certainty is uncertainty"
posted by infini at 11:18 AM on July 23, 2010


If by "now" you mean "for the last 15 years at least".
posted by DU at 11:19 AM on July 23, 2010


"Arline Geronimus of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, who has studied health inequalities and reproductive patterns, points out that healthy life expectancy is short for African Americans and women depend on extended family networks for support. This means it is in their interests to have children while they still have relatives in good physical shape to help out."

fascinating. I've always thought that this made a lot of sense; you do see 40-something grandmas (or even 50-something great grandmas) helping out.
posted by yarly at 11:23 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


To all this you might ask the question, aren't poor people bringing their problems on themselves?

Whoa. Put some clothes on that strawman. This is New Scientist, not National Review. Is anything in the article actually news? I mean, it all sounds like rehashed synthesis of Psychology and Political Science 101 with a bit of detached moralism thrown in. I don't necessarily disagree with (most of) what I read, but this feels like a wakeup call shrouded in journal citations. Am I missing some sort of nugget of enlightenment in there?
posted by griphus at 11:25 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


It is not simply a case of teenage girls from deprived backgrounds accidentally becoming pregnant.

Is the suggestion that it's on purpose? Or is it lack of access to abortion? Abortion can be very expensive and clinic/healthcare inaccessible. I can see how a young woman can get pregnant, find herself pregnant, and simply not know what to do and end up in shock/denial until it becomes obvious. That seems more plausible to me.
posted by anniecat at 11:26 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gee Officer Krupke
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:28 AM on July 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


Makes sense to me. I mean, look at marital/child bearing rates in the nineteenth century North American frontier. Girls got married in their teens because there was nothing else for them to do (post-secondary education and a career not being an option) and the boys got married later in their twenties because they had to get the point of being able to support a wife before they could marry. People's life choices usually do make sense in a short-term, immediate context sense, if they don't seem like the wisest choices overall.
posted by orange swan at 11:29 AM on July 23, 2010


Is the suggestion that it's on purpose?

Yes, but not on the part of the human mind. On the part of the programming built into the human mind.

When are people going to understand that the brain is a biological organ?
posted by DU at 11:29 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why would it make a difference to your reproductive strategy whether you live to 50 or 70? Nobody's having kids past 50 anyway.
posted by echo target at 11:30 AM on July 23, 2010


Also, what about the religious factors that come into play?

It's sort of the opposite of the idea the a lot of women put off having kids until they are financially stable/perceive financial stability in their lives.
posted by anniecat at 11:31 AM on July 23, 2010


one explanation you are unlikely to hear is that this kind of 'delinquent' behaviour is a sensible response to the circumstances of a life constrained by poverty

Really? I thought we had all figured that out by now.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:31 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nettle agrees: "Overwhelmingly the poverty into which a baby is born is going to be a big influence, whatever the age of the mother. It may be that there's not much pay-off for waiting and doing other, more middle-class behaviours that public health people want to encourage the poor to do."

See if that sentence even makes sense in any logical manner, its like WTF are you people smoking out there ? and who decided to hit publish?
posted by infini at 11:34 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can see how a young woman can get pregnant, find herself pregnant, and simply not know what to do and end up in shock/denial until it becomes obvious. That seems more plausible to me.

My observations from growing up in a poor rural area: I think there's also the factor that when young women are born to young mothers and grow up in areas where many other teen women drop out of school to have babies, abortion is less sought out. Teenage pregnancy isn't nearly stigmatized among their immediate family and friends the way it is in middle class homes. Abortion is in high demand when a woman feels like pregnancy gets in the way of a better future. And since the poor don't live as long as the rich and insured, the article's point that the age of motherhood adapts for lifespan would have some merit.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:35 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


When are people going to understand that the brain is a biological organ?

I just pictured an angry little Phantom in a half-mask and cape sitting on my brainstem and making me do things. Terrible things. "Of course I want bacon on it..."
posted by griphus at 11:36 AM on July 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Teenage girls from affluent backgrounds are more likely to have abortions than their less-privileged peers. In terms of reproduction, the more affluent girls are best off concentrating on their own career and development so that they can invest more in the children they have at a later stage.

I wonder how much they took into account a) cost of abortion, b) cost to -get- to a provider, including possibly to another state, c) sex education levels, d) sexual abuse, e) religion.

There's a lot of factors that go into whether people get to even have the option of treatment or not - it's not like abortion is always equally available to everyone.
posted by yeloson at 11:36 AM on July 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


"The bottom line, if young people are to avoid being channelled into a fast reproductive strategy with the disadvantages that this entails, is that they should have the chance to develop a longer view - through better availability of jobs and health support. They need reasons to believe they have a stake in the future."

This is not a revolutionary conclusion, in fact, I'm not sure introducing evolutionary biology is helpful to the poverty discussion, at all. I get nervous when people start talking about the biological imperatives of reproduction in poor blacks and how to encourage "middle class behaviors," especially when those people probably know very little about the communities behind the numbers they're crunching.

Is the suggestion that it's on purpose? Or is it lack of access to abortion? Abortion can be very expensive and clinic/healthcare inaccessible.

Exactly, this is exhibit A. How can you come to a conclusion about why women in different social classes may or may not access these services without discussing how those services are typically funded? Medicaid doesn't cover abortions. Middle class women pay for them out of pocket. How does a woman living on TANF pay for an abortion out of pocket? I've had clients who want abortions but ultimately don't get them because if paying for one means not making rent that month.
posted by The Straightener at 11:38 AM on July 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm squeamish about any bio-truth. I buy the ideas presented in the article, but get uneasy at the evolutionary explanations for them.

Is the suggestion that it's on purpose? Or is it lack of access to abortion? Abortion can be very expensive and clinic/healthcare inaccessible. I can see how a young woman can get pregnant, find herself pregnant, and simply not know what to do and end up in shock/denial until it becomes obvious. That seems more plausible to me.

I know it makes me sound like a bourgie poverty tourist (and, if I'm being honest with myself I sort of am), but The Corner by David Simon looks at this. He follows a drug addicted family over the course of a year - the dad is a full-on addict, the mother is addicted but somewhat functional and attending rehab, the son is a corner boy. The son gets a 14 year old girl pregnant, and they actually approach the desicion to have an abortion (which is available in the legal system of Baltimore). Neither one wants it. For the first time their parents are paying attention to them, their relationship is working, and they have hope for a future in the child. Things fall apart after the child is born, but its their desicion to have it... not just an accident of poor planning.
posted by codacorolla at 11:39 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why would it make a difference to your reproductive strategy whether you live to 50 or 70? Nobody's having kids past 50 anyway.

Grandparents. If your family life expectancy is 50, and your average child bearing age is 30, that child's grandparents have been dead for 10 years (30+30=60).

On the other hand, if your average child bearing age is 15, then that child's grandparents are around 30, and can help raise the child, and the child's great-grandparents are around 45, and can even help for the five years more they have.
posted by fings at 11:43 AM on July 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


People in deprived areas face two kinds of hazard, Nettle says. First, there are constraints on what they are able to do to mitigate their situation. Diet is a prime example: "It's much more expensive to get 2000 calories a day from fresh fruit and vegetables compared with eating junk food," Nettle says. Then the environment is often physically more dangerous and unhealthy. "People are doing more dangerous jobs. There is probably more air pollution, more car accidents, a higher crime rate, poorer housing - things you cannot really do much about, which trigger a downward spiral of faster living and less attention to health."
This is not a new conclusion. However, the political right wing seems to dislike any policies that address those problems. If our society is going to focus on making changes, these issues would be an excellent place to start, rather than vilifying, demeaning or mocking the poor.
posted by zarq at 11:43 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, if your average child bearing age is 15, then that child's grandparents are around 30, and can help raise the child, and the child's great-grandparents are around 45, and can even help for the five years more they have.

Yes. Exactly. Raising a family with a built in support system makes things much easier. Often those of us who don't have access to that kind of support system must spend money to create / hire one, like day care or a nanny.
posted by zarq at 11:45 AM on July 23, 2010


Nettle agrees: "Overwhelmingly the poverty into which a baby is born is going to be a big influence, whatever the age of the mother. It may be that there's not much pay-off for waiting and doing other, more middle-class behaviours that public health people want to encourage the poor to do."

See if that sentence even makes sense in any logical manner, its like WTF are you people smoking out there ? and who decided to hit publish?


It makes perfect sense to me. Which part is giving you trouble?
posted by Naberius at 11:46 AM on July 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


anniecat: Is the suggestion that it's on purpose? Or is it lack of access to abortion? Abortion can be very expensive and clinic/healthcare inaccessible. I can see how a young woman can get pregnant, find herself pregnant, and simply not know what to do and end up in shock/denial until it becomes obvious. That seems more plausible to me.

Remember that this is looking at the US and the UK, which have similarly high poverty statistics. Lack of access to abortion is not an issue in the UK, and the cost even for women in poverty is accessible. The abortion rate in the UK is the highest in Europe, but not as high as the US where there are major issues with access.

I passionately believe in access to abortion but I don't think that's the issue here. Even with ready access to abortion, women are *choosing* to become mothers and raise children 10 years earlier in poverty.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:53 AM on July 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


the part that implies that middle class behaviours can be aped by the poor without the accompanying middle class income streams and sense of fiscal security changing their operating environment
posted by infini at 11:54 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, if your average child bearing age is 15, then that child's grandparents are around 30, and can help raise the child, and the child's great-grandparents are around 45, and can even help for the five years more they have.

But would they help? What would the motivation be? If you're resource stressed, wouldn't it make more sense to get rid of the stress, by kicking the mother and baby out? The statement seems to say that it's encouraged by the built-in support system, that the mother would feel secure in knowing her mother and grandmother would be available, but how often is the support system supportive in the first place? I don't see the incentive (other than love) for helping out someone draining the family's existing resources. If anything, I would think it would be discouraged.
posted by anniecat at 11:54 AM on July 23, 2010


I think that what this really goes to the heart of is the conservative conception of poor people as being poor by choice: they're lazy and shiftless, so therefore they're poor. This also is why, in my experience, conservative people have such a low opinion of "average" people. Every person is stupid. Every person is a sheep. Every person always does the stupidest thing. Except for them. Of course... not them... it's those shiftless poors and the clowns in government. It's like in Brother's Karamazov where the priest hates humanity but loves humans.

A more realistic explanation is that people have average intelligence and always try to do the best thing for themselves and their families. Poverty breeds more poverty because it constricts choices and doesn't offer a way out. A lot of choices that lead to bad results for the individual and the rest of society (drugs, child mothers, indifference to education) make sense if you're living in a hopeless and brutal position.

There's nothing glamorous or noble about poverty, and it's a testament to the good in human nature whenever someone makes the best of their bad situation.
posted by codacorolla at 11:55 AM on July 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, uh, it isn't like r-K selection as a response to environmental conditions, even on the behavior level, is unknown. Haven't we seen stuff on relatively early puberties occurring in children with stressful home lives?
posted by adipocere at 11:55 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


But would they help? What would the motivation be? If you're resource stressed, wouldn't it make more sense to get rid of the stress, by kicking the mother and baby out? The statement seems to say that it's encouraged by the built-in support system, that the mother would feel secure in knowing her mother and grandmother would be available, but how often is the support system supportive in the first place? I don't see the incentive (other than love) for helping out someone draining the family's existing resources. If anything, I would think it would be discouraged.

It's not like being poor makes you inhuman. They love their children as much as any mother, and in my experience, realize the importance of providing for them. Drugs get in the way of this, of course, because a chemical addiction is serious competition for family bonds.
posted by codacorolla at 11:58 AM on July 23, 2010


If you're resource stressed, wouldn't it make more sense to get rid of the stress, by kicking the mother and baby out?

Well, if you want to play Amateur Evolutionary Biologist, I would hazard to guess that if the grandparent is out of child-bearing age, that behavior would effectively snuff the bloodline, which I think is behavior we're built to avoid.
posted by griphus at 11:58 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Isn't it saying the exact opposite of that, though? Isn't the point that you can't just turn the poor into successful middle class folks by having them ape middle class behaviors, and that so many attempts by people at higher class levels to help the poor fail because they assume the reason for the different circumstances the poor find themselves in is the choices the poor make that are different from those made by their more successful peers?

In Victorian England there was actually a benevolent society called something like the Society for the Promotion of Cleanliness Amongst the Poor, which saw a bunch of people living in squalor, and figured the problem was that they don't take baths. We take baths, after all, and it seems to do us a world of good. In other words, they saw the dirtiness of poor people as the source of their problems rather than a symptom, and their efforts to help uplift the poor therefore didn't accomplish much (other than being somewhat obnoxious and patronising).

I think that's more or less the argument Nettle is making, and seems to be where you're coming from, so I don't see the source of disagreement.
posted by Naberius at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


It makes perfect sense to me.

Yeah, I admit it didn't exactly present major problems for me either.

It's funny how a lot of comments here are dismissing the study and start looking for explanations that are themselves debunked in the study. "They are in shock. They just don't know any better." In other words: they're irrational, stupid, borderline retards.

Read the article: the study says that they are making a rational and biologically defendable decision to keep a child and rear it as a teenage mother. So: they seem to know what they do, and their assessment seems to be pretty much spot on for someone in their situation. From their point of view, being a teenage mother is an optimal strategy, even though for you - middle class MeFi reader - it wouldn't be optimal.

The idea that teenage motherhood is a choice is something that Elijah Andersen ('The Law of the Street') already touches upon, by the way (his argument is that ghetto girls get kids to become financially independent).
posted by NekulturnY at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


In fact, the article concerns only the U.K. where Abortions are provided under NHS subject to the 1967 Abortion Act's mild hurdle that the mother must obtain the recommendation of two doctors. So you're golden if you can easily reach a city large enough for two family planning clinics.

I'm pretty sure Britain has never escaped it's class system, unlike France and Germany. And that kinda ruins the article's whole premise. I'm also unsurprised that upper class Brit's don't like the media focusing on lower class Brits.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2010


(Rather: if you want me to play Amateur etc. You might be an actual Evolutionary Biologist and I just dropped my oversized pants and honked a horn.)
posted by griphus at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2010


Then it was written in such an offhand sideaways manner that it was extremely difficult to parse as you have done.
posted by infini at 12:02 PM on July 23, 2010


Remember that this is looking at the US and the UK, which have similarly high poverty statistics. Lack of access to abortion is not an issue in the UK, and the cost even for women in poverty is accessible. The abortion rate in the UK is the highest in Europe, but not as high as the US where there are major issues with access.

I agree with you -- access to clinics is terrible, plus there are horror stories of protesters in front of clinics, etc. I live in the DC metro area, and by another thread, I was inspired to look up where there are abortion clinics and maybe 1 was metrobus accessible and had limited hours.

But I still can't agree that teenagers are really choosing to have a baby, as in they are having sex expressly for the purpose of conceiving a baby. Maybe after they're pregnant, they choose to, but only if other factors are influencing their decisions, and I don't think it's because mom and grandmom are jumping to help out. Maybe they're choosing so because they think they can keep their boyfriend, or because it makes them feel grown up, or because it would be nice to have a baby because they think the baby will love them or because Grandmom told her people who get abortions go to hell. Choice is different than informed decision-making.

I'll looks up more stats on who/which socioeconomic class is actually getting abortions in the US. The only thing I found on abortions in the US on wikipedia, citing a 1998 study of reasons why women chose abortions in 1987-88:

Another study, in 1998, revealed that in 1987-1988 women reported the following reasons for choosing an abortion:[27]

* 25.5% Want to postpone childbearing
* 21.3% Cannot afford a baby
* 14.1% Has relationship problem or partner does not want pregnancy
* 12.2% Too young; parent(s) or other(s) object to pregnancy
* 10.8% Having a child will disrupt education or job
* 7.9% Want no (more) children
* 3.3% Risk to fetal health
* 2.8% Risk to maternal health
* 2.1% Other

posted by anniecat at 12:06 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Read the article: the study says that they are making a rational and biologically defendable decision to keep a child and rear it as a teenage mother.

You mean rational if the ultimate goal is to stay poor and die young? Most of the young women I've worked with that were having children as teens weren't aware of the mathematical correlations between age of entering motherhood and decreased lifetime income. How much information does one need as a child (we are talking about girls, not adults) to make this decision and have it be considered and rational?

In other words: they're irrational, stupid, borderline retards.

You are introducing this demeaning language, not anyone else in the thread.

From their point of view, being a teenage mother is an optimal strategy, even though for you - middle class MeFi reader - it wouldn't be optimal.

Check your assumptions. Some of us can't have children even if we want as educated adults because we can't afford them.
posted by The Straightener at 12:07 PM on July 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Then it was written in such an offhand sideaways manner that it was extremely difficult to parse as you have done.

"Public health people encourage the poor to engage in certain behaviors. These behaviors are performed by the middle class in place of having children as early as the poor. The poor do not see a pay-off in engaging in these behaviors and do not wait to have children."
posted by griphus at 12:10 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Again, re the abortion issue:
In a study of over 8000 families, he found that in the most deprived parts of England people can barely expect 50 years of healthy life, nearly two decades less than in affluent areas. And sure enough, women from poor neighbourhoods are likely to have their babies at an early age and in quick succession.
At a meeting last year, Sarah Johns at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, reported that in her study of young women from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds in Gloucestershire, UK, those who perceived their environment as risky or dangerous, and those that thought they might die at a relatively young age, were more likely to become mothers while they were in their teens.
It's the same story in the US.
Given that the US and the UK have vastly different access to abortion, but a similar outcome in terms of young mothers in poverty, I do not think abortion access explains this.

So you're golden if you can easily reach a city large enough for two family planning clinics.

That is not how it works. You do not need to go two clinics; you see two doctors at one clinic. And you do not particularly need to go to a large city, either. Abortion is really very readily available in the UK. I am a fan of this.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:10 PM on July 23, 2010


anniecat: But I still can't agree that teenagers are really choosing to have a baby, as in they are having sex expressly for the purpose of conceiving a baby. Maybe after they're pregnant, they choose to, but only if other factors are influencing their decisions

Well, my take is that this whole article is attempting to explain a component of "other factors." Add to that the fact that it's socially normative given teen motherhood rates and that's a lot of social influence. Add to that the fact your mother probably had you early and you think you turned out OK. Add to that cycles of poverty entrapment and the question "why not?" becomes a very valid one.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:16 PM on July 23, 2010


It's funny how a lot of comments here are dismissing the study and start looking for explanations that are themselves debunked in the study. "They are in shock. They just don't know any better." In other words: they're irrational, stupid, borderline retards.

No. Some women who find themselves pregnant and are either in precarious situations feel pretty shocked. They can be extremely well-educated, and be in relationships that aren't good for them or not where they thought they wanted to be in life, or not with the person they want to be with or with someone they want to be with and the person they think will react badly, and it's just shocking. It's a lot to take in. Sometimes, it's hard to confront, in the "I can't be pregnant, not now" kind of way, and even in the "I can't be pregnant, pregnancy is for x,y,z" There's enough stigma associated with abortion for all classes that it's not like, "Oh, I have a UTI, let me hop over to the MinuteClinic." There's also a fair amount of, "Maybe it's a false positive" and "maybe it's the flu" or "there's something going around." There's an Indian medical student who had a baby in the toilet of an airliner recently. Suffice to say, either she had no symptoms or her mind was diverted to something else. She's not retarded, she's troubled.

I also know of a friend of a distant relative who found out she was pregnant while at college and apparently stepped in front of a subway train. I'm sure she knew there were alternatives. And honestly, I have horrible cramps and was advised to see the gynecologist, but I seriously don't want to find out there's something wrong with me right now. And I have a master's degree and everything, and while I probably don't qualify for MENSA, nobody's discovered I'm retarded...yet.
posted by anniecat at 12:19 PM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Really, the interesting part of that article is near the end, where they point out that the level of income inequality in a country is the best correlate to the social problems we think of as "the problems of poverty." Perhaps our approach to those problems would change if we thought of them as problems of excessive wealth instead.
posted by rusty at 12:43 PM on July 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


I highly recommended Kristin Luker's book, Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of Teenage Pregnancy, and not just because she was my advisor in grad school. It does a great job of explaining why some teenage girls from poor backgrounds might view a teen pregnancy as a rational choice, but without the evolutionary biology baggage that is giving people pause here.
posted by jonp72 at 12:45 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


As far as biological explanations for grandmothers, there's a huge body of primatological literature trying to figure out what the benefits of having post-reproductive females wandering around is. It's a huge biological outlay for no obvious reproductive gain, but as was alluded to above - ideally they will support their offspring and the offspring of their offspring. There's been some evidence of grandmother Japanese macaques taking over for their daughters - supporting infants when the mother disappeared or had another, even younger infant. If we're going to be explaining human behavior from a purely evolutionary biological standpoint (which is stupid, because there are few places as far away from the environment that human ancestors evolved on as the inner city), there are certainly explanations.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:46 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


great thread. interesting comments.

also, this made me laugh, to view the whole article costs $25 per day, which seems a bit expensive, so could someone in the US tell me if this could be deemed expensive for poorer USAians?

"Pay per View - If you would like to purchase short-term access you must have a personal account. Please sign in with your personal user name and password or register to obtain a user name and password for free. You may access this article for 1 day for US$25.00. "
posted by marienbad at 12:49 PM on July 23, 2010


I've had clients who want abortions but ultimately don't get them because if paying for one means not making rent that month.


So, having a baby and raising it costs less than an abortion? I don't get it.
posted by L'OM at 12:52 PM on July 23, 2010


So, having a baby and raising it costs less than an abortion? I don't get it.

No, having the baby means not becoming homeless. When you're really poor, planning for the future doesn't go past when the rent is due.
posted by griphus at 12:59 PM on July 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


With respect to rates of teenage pregnancy across economic classes, the article says:
Evidence from many sources suggests that teen pregnancy rates are similar in poor and affluent communities.... Teenage girls from affluent backgrounds are more likely to have abortions than their less-privileged peers.
Which is interesting, if tenuously supported. It unfortunately isn't clear whether this applies to the US, the UK, or both, which is sloppy, given the issue of access to abortion in the US. But it doesn't argue that teenage girls, at least, are deciding to get pregnant younger in poorer communities - it highlights that a different set of factors are going into their decisions about whether or not to seek abortion.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:00 PM on July 23, 2010


I used to rent a big warehouse space in downtown St Louis, that I ended up sharing with a girl in her early 20's. I can still recall my amazed amusement, listening to her and her boyfriend fight about how she wanted him to get her pregnant so she could have a child with his genes, how she wanted him up front to be on board with not being a part of the kid's life, how he didn't want her to have a kid, but couldn't use a condom because of all his piercings (I was never clear if it was a comfort issue or a they-will-just-rip-so-it's-pointless issue). After the fight, they'd have sex, and she did indeed get pregnant and start raising the kid on her own. She was supporting herself entirely by spare changing when she made the decision to start trying to get pregnant.
posted by nomisxid at 1:02 PM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


And I have a master's degree and everything, and while I probably don't qualify for MENSA, ...

You might qualify.
posted by benzenedream at 1:07 PM on July 23, 2010


So, having a baby and raising it costs less than an abortion? I don't get it.

It costs less that day. If your rent is $400 and an abortion costs $400 and you have $400 and you are not going to get any more, no way, nohow, not in this universe, month or year, than you will generally pay your rent and hope for a miracle because the landlord is going to kick you out tomorrow and the baby is seven months away. In the US, abortions cost a significant amount of money and that money must be paid upfront. Poor people don't have access to large chunks of money at any given time. Babies, on the other hand, are free - you can go to the emergency room and have one without paying for it and/or you can go to the medicaid office and get on one of the pregnancy plans so your health care, at least, is paid for. In fact, poor pregnant women are one of the few demographics in this country who can actually get free or nearly free health care.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:10 PM on July 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


This surprised me:

"In a US study looking at pairs of low-income sisters, the ones that became mothers in their teens quite often did better [in terms of employment and earnings] because they had something to focus their energy into and create a better life for."

posted by chaz at 1:12 PM on July 23, 2010


It's sort of sad that this thread is fresh on the heels of Mila's daydreams. It's like a terrible vignette of opposing ideologies: one thread happens when a country denies universal healthcare, often relies on abstinence-only sex-ed, stigmatizes abortion and ensures it's difficult to acquire, refuses to subsidize childcare, treats maternity leave as a privilege rather than a right, and has hardly even heard of paternity leave; in the other thread, a Finnish mom positions her fat baby on DIY dreamscapes she made on the carpet at home while on extended maternity leave.

I wish the world had more Milas and less accidents.
posted by zoomorphic at 1:14 PM on July 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


I agree with you -- access to clinics is terrible, plus there are horror stories of protesters in front of clinics, etc

I volunteered at a Planned Parenthood in college, and one of the things I did while I was there was escort women into the building past the protesters. Those assholes were out there every single that day the clinic was open, without exception.

I could tell plenty of horror stories. :(
posted by zarq at 1:15 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The sociologist Kristin Luker wrote about this exact phenomenon in her book Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of Teenage Pregnancy in 1996, albeit from a standpoint of rational decision making rather than evolutionary biology. One of her main points was that for poor young women, their teenage years are the healthiest they are ever going to be in their lives, and when they have the most familial support to rely on to care for a baby. But maybe a biological explanation is more palatable to some people than considering teenage mothers as rational decision makers.
posted by Tesseractive at 1:17 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


it's like a terrible vignette of opposing ideologies: one thread happens when a country denies universal healthcare, often relies on abstinence-only sex-ed, stigmatizes abortion and ensures it's difficult to acquire, refuses to subsidize childcare, treats maternity leave as a privilege rather than a right, and has hardly even heard of paternity leave; in the other thread, a Finnish mom positions her fat baby on DIY dreamscapes she made on the carpet at home while on extended maternity leave.

Well, not exactly, since the article is in equal parts about the UK and the US -- in the UK, there is free universal healthcare, public sex ed, and ready access to abortion. The better conclusion to draw is that indicated by the article itself -- that the US and UK are both marked by significant levels of inequality within their societies and that is driving many of these problems. Universal healthcare can go some way to reducing that inequality, but clearly it's a lot more complicated than that. All the free healthcare in the world will not eliminate the social inequalities in an inherently 'individualist' society.
posted by modernnomad at 1:20 PM on July 23, 2010


I highly recommend Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefelas' book Promises I Can Keep for anyone who wants to understand why poor men and women have children at a young age.
posted by vespabelle at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is also a default assumption that having a baby as a teen and particularly as a teen in poverty is by definition a bad idea. It's a cultural bias, and one I do not believe necessarily holds up if you examine it.

Basically, the studies tell us that if you're poor, you're fucked, regardless; you're just as poor if you have raise a child as a teenager as you are if you delay raising a child. Furthermore, they tell us that when you use data from sister pairs, one who has a child as a teen and one who waits, there is no difference in outcomes for the children either. There is no clear statistical consensus on outcomes like you'd expect there to be:
In sum, research findings highlight the important and previously underemphasized role that disadvantaged conditions prior to pregnancy play in the poor outcomes seen among teen mothers and their children. There is general consensus that earlier studies exaggerated the consequences of teen child-bearing because they failed to effectively take these background factors into account. [Source]
Basically we do not know that teen mothers and children of teen mothers do worse; we just assume they do. There are very righteous teenage mothers out there, doing the best they can against enormous odds, not the least of which is the bias of the society they live in against them.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:46 PM on July 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


From my experiences working with young women in a poor rural community, pregnancy seemed to always be accidental and yet the option of abortion or even using birth control never seemed to be considered. Partly, the abortion thing was a religious issue, but there is certainly a lot of acceptance for and encouragement of childbearing in certain communities.

There were certainly lots of problems of access to abortion, i.e. needing to travel 40 miles to a Planned Parenthood with no public transportation. But I definitely got the impression from several women that they simply wouldn't have an abortion, though they didn't want a child or another child. I know in a couple of cases, it was the fathers that wanted to have the baby. Of course in six months or so the father was rarely still around.

And then there's the proliferation, at least in this part of the world, of "Pregnancy centers" run by non-profit Christian organizations that provide support to pregnant women while discouraging abortion. They seem to do a good job of counseling expectant mother's right up until they actually have to deal with a child and then they don't have much to offer.
posted by threeturtles at 2:04 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Basically, the studies tell us that if you're poor, you're fucked, regardless

And this is exactly why you see people in poverty displaying behaviors with short-term rewards irregardless of the long-term consequences. Cause they know that ultimately they're fucked.
posted by threeturtles at 2:06 PM on July 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


The issue with people in poverty, is that there really isn't a reason to not have children. Middle class reproductive strategies fail, because middle class opportunities aren't available. Yes, middle class people can look at the situation, and say, "Hey, having a child makes it harder to succeed. I won't have kids." A working class person looks at it and says, "Why the hell not? It's not like it's going to get any worse."
posted by Xoebe at 2:09 PM on July 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


You mean rational if the ultimate goal is to stay poor and die young?

Others have covered this, but if you are in this kind of poverty, whether you have a child or not, the chances are you are going to to stay poor and die young no matter what.

We have this blind spot about teen pregnancy in this country, that it's the one thing keeping girls/families poor. But it's not. It's not even the tip of the iceberg. Childlessness /= escape.

And girls don't just have kids because they want a pet, or are bored, or think the baby will love them, (though certainly those play a part) but because the urge to reproduce is a strong one. And it is the only ambition, in many ways, that they know they can achieve.

These girls don't believe in a future, or an escape, as something within their grasp. Graduate, go to college, become a member of the middle class? Out of reach. Become a mother? Achievable.

If you want them to put off motherhood, you have to give them a reason to do it. And for lots of them, there simply isn't one.
posted by emjaybee at 2:12 PM on July 23, 2010 [12 favorites]


If there's nothing stopping you, having babies close together when you're very young is a great idea to lots of people. Young grandparents, when the kids grow up you're still young enough to enjoy yourself. Have babies or work in crappy underpaid jobs (if they're even available, which they often aren't) wasting your youth. My sister was a grandma at 37, quite old considering she could easily have been at 31 or 32.

At 24 I was the oldest first time mother on my maternity ward, and was assumed to have had trouble conceiving, because why else wouldn't I have had a baby by then? There's just an expectation that although you might not actively plan a child, when you do nothing to stop it it's all kind of up to the universe and will all work out somehow.
posted by shinybaum at 2:23 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder too whether there's some disconnect about the value attached to having and rearing children for its own sake from one culture to another.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 2:54 PM on July 23, 2010


Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. About a thousand women fly over to England/Wales/Scotland to have an abortion each year, for which they must pay.

That's about 1000 abortions per 1,750,000 people = 570 per million. England and Wales has about 180,000 abortions per 53,340,000 people = 3370 per million. The United States have about 1.3 million abortions per 308 million people = 4230 per million. (Do check my maths, I'm very tired!)

So, assuming all the populations are roughly the same in demand for abortions, and taking Northern Ireland as "expensive abortions" and England and Wales as "free abortions" then the United States appears to be more like England and Wales. So the cost or availability of abortions may not be significant for the whole US. Maybe restrictions in some areas is balanced by easier availability in major cities, for example.

So poor women are choosing to have babies young. Of course, technically, biologically, evolutionarily, they are right, and we hand-wringing middle-class late-birthers are wrong. We've chosen a path - more investment in children - that might make sense in a world of scarce resources but is evolutionarily completely wrong in a world of effectively-unlimited food. We are the ones that have failed to adapt or act rationally, not poor teenage mothers. Look at our well-fed children hitting puberty earlier and earlier - Nature is dropping some pretty enormous hints but we refuse to see it. Why, we've even started educating our daughters, which is disastrous for having lots of offspring and passing on our genes!

Which is just as well for the carrying capacity for the planet of course. In fact, this universally erroneous strategy - as we get richer we have fewer children - is the only hope for population control!
posted by alasdair at 3:39 PM on July 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Nthing DarlingBri's comments. The link in her source is full of fascinating stuff
posted by marienbad at 3:51 PM on July 23, 2010


alasdair: "Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. About a thousand women fly over to England/Wales/Scotland to have an abortion each year, for which they must pay. "

Just as a data point, for the Republic of Ireland (where abortion is also illegal) it's 4,600 women per year. Population: 4.425million. That's about 1,000 per million total population. And it's a very, very expensive abortion, literally and figuratively: you need three days for the return trip, airfare or ferry travel, accomodation, and the out-of-pocket costs of services.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:33 PM on July 23, 2010


Re: Ireland & N.Ireland, the factors that make abortion illegal may also contribute to less demand due to social conditioning and milieu, so may not be a good compartor.

Regarding the article overall, I'd be interested to see consideration of the full range of economic options for the individuals concerned, at the point in time they become pregnant. What benefits accrue to prospective mothers, if any? If they percieve that they have a realistic chance of a better option for themselves then are they more likely to consider abortion than if they percieve there to be less options. For example, there has historically been a suggestion in the UK that young women become pregnant as this allows them to access additional benefits and advantages as regards housing. To what extent is this the case, or to what extent is it considered by the prospective mothers to be the case? How does this compare with other available options?
posted by biffa at 5:21 PM on July 23, 2010


Why the hell are they using expected reproductive success as the metric for what humans should do with their lives? Diminished care and attention for the individual children is OK, because it's the wellbeing of the parents' genes that counts?

I understand the point about young poor women having something to focus their energy on, but I have to guess that this is an issue primarily in neighborhoods where there really is nothing else to care about beyond having children, which brings me to this:
To change behaviour we have to change the environment, which means that actually reducing poverty in the most deprived areas is likely to do a much better job than education schemes or handing out morning-after pills.
That's a bizarre false dichotomy and ignores the fact that the uneducated are the first to go into poverty when the economy goes down. Given the carelessness with which the writers throw these ideas around, I don't know whether they're nihilists or fundie christians.
posted by Anything at 5:22 PM on July 23, 2010


> To change behaviour we have to change the environment, which means that actually >reducing poverty in the most deprived areas is likely to do a much better job than >education schemes or handing out morning-after pills.

That's a bizarre false dichotomy and ignores the fact that the uneducated are the first to go into poverty when the economy goes down. Given the carelessness with which the writers throw these ideas around, I don't know whether they're nihilists or fundie christians.


huh? What makes you think they're setting it up as a dichotomy? They're not saying "don't improve education schemes" or "don't hand out morning-after pills", but rather "don't do those things and think they will alone solve the problem." What they're saying is that politically-expedient schemes that can be proposed and implemented in a single electoral cycle (ie hand out morning-after pills) are insufficient on their own. Reducing poverty is a difficult task that requires a multi-faceted approach. Accusing those suggesting that as being either nihilists or fundies is just bizarre.
posted by modernnomad at 6:06 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Actually I probably misread that part, since the same paragraph speaks of sex education instead of education in general, which is what I first took the quoted sentence as talking about.
posted by Anything at 6:26 PM on July 23, 2010


See also : Families Make Adults vs. Adults Make Families

To me, this explains a lot of the cultural reasons why a lot of low-income families may not seek abortions. Worth a read.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:18 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can't recommend New Scientist as a source of trusty articles.
posted by Twang at 9:07 PM on July 23, 2010


reposting my own comment about a related theory (from the 1980s):

There is some good research done by psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson that addresses and dispels of the notions of the "irrationality of crime" and "crime as pathology". They write:
There is considerable evidence that persons who engage in risky criminal activities discount the future steeply.
What would make persons discount the future? Perhaps they have good reason to believe that they don’t have much of a future.
in Chicago, there are large variations in life expectancy between neighborhoods, and expected future life span is a good predictor of neighborhood-specific homicide rates, even if expected life span is computed with the mortality effects of homicide itself removed
If the mortality rates in your neighborhood are high, and it is possible that you can die any day from causes outside your control, and you know it, taking risks and engaging in criminal behavior is quite appealing. Daly and Wilson are quick to point out that
such inability to delay gratification is usually interpreted as a sign of immaturity and pathology
and are quick to dispel the notion. They write:
steep discounting of the future is just what a properly functioning evolved psyche might be expected to do in the sorts of social and material circumstances that are especially likely to foster violent crime.
posted by AceRock at 9:11 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think as well as actual life expectancy, it's how old people feel compared to the rest of the world. I meet lots of teenagers who tell me they've 'lived enough for three lifetimes' at age 16. They feel old. Their lives might have recently settled into a pattern after years of drama and moving house and whatever.

Miley Cyrus seems light years behind in maturity, she's looking forward to a lifetime of change and there's ten yr olds who feel like they have more life experience. Life on estates is immediate - the future is next week, not in four years.
posted by shinybaum at 2:30 AM on July 24, 2010


Poor people actually have more children. I was shocked to hear that there was anywhere in the UK where the life expectancy was 50 given everyone gets free health-care.

Anyway, I'm weary of Evo-psych. We all know poor people have children sooner. There are a lot of cultural reasons to wait and the fact that this matches with some evo-psycho hypothesis could be a coincidence. When you already know the result then all you're really doing is coming up with a "just-so" story.

If poor people had fewer children you could easily say "Well, they just want to save resources for themselves in hopes of the situation improving, while rich people have resources to raise children properly, etc"
posted by delmoi at 2:43 AM on July 24, 2010


You mean rational if the ultimate goal is to stay poor and die young? Most of the young women I've worked with that were having children as teens weren't aware of the mathematical correlations between age of entering motherhood and decreased lifetime income. How much information does one need as a child (we are talking about girls, not adults) to make this decision and have it be considered and rational?
That's only "irrational" if you an autistic, chicago school econo-tard who measures the rationality of all results in dollars. If you just go by evolutionary imparitive, it clearly "makes sense" for your genes to have more babies sooner.

(If you want to look at this in terms of 'economics' then sure your lifetime earning will drop, but your kids lifetimes will start earlier so the sum total of your earnings + your childrens earnings could end up being higher, especially as you exend into more generations)
Some of us can't have children even if we want as educated adults because we can't afford them.
The baby itself is free. Maybe you mean all the ancilary stuff like clothes and food, but you're only aware of those costs if you're "educated"
So, having a baby and raising it costs less than an abortion? I don't get it.
It might cost more, but it's a delayed cost and one that you pay month to month, not right away. They don't eat that much at first and they don't really start to get expensive untill they start school
posted by delmoi at 3:04 AM on July 24, 2010


More data:
Unmarried adolescent mothers who keep their babies have lower rates of juvenile delinquency than girls who have abortions or give up their babies for adoption, according to new research... Moreover, there is little connection between receiving welfare and delinquency among young girls.
So basically at this point, I am going with "the reality of being a teen mother is not the stereotype of teen motherhood."

I would also point out this comment that turned up in my Recent Activity this morning and seemed relevant to me.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:28 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


(I just dropped in to note my amusement that the graffiti in the background of the article's photo is "I love you" in Korean. Carry on.)
posted by Someone has just shot your horse! at 2:33 PM on July 24, 2010


Babies are super cute, ya'll.
posted by eegphalanges at 5:42 PM on July 24, 2010


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