Saturday, May 31, 2008

Older fathers

Regular readers of this blog are already aware that research is beginning to show elevated risks of genetic defects for children of older fathers. Here is another report on this subject.
A mass study found that deaths of children fathered by over-45s occurred at almost twice the rate of those fathered by men aged between 25 and 30.

Scientists believe that children of older fathers are more likely to suffer particular congenital defects as well as autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy. The study was the first of its kind of such magnitude in the West, and researchers believe the findings are linked to the declining quality of sperm as men age.

A total of 100,000 children born between 1980 and 1996 were examined, of whom 830 have so far died before they reached 18, the majority when they were less than a year old. ...
The deaths of many of the children of the older fathers were related to congenital defects such as problems of the heart and spine, which increase the risk of infant mortality. But there were also higher rates of accidental death, which the researchers believe might be explained by the increased likelihood of suffering from autism, epilepsy or schizophrenia....
Previous research using the same data found that older men were four times as likely to father a child with Down's syndrome, while other studies have found that the genetic quality of sperm deteriorates as men age.

Further unintended consequences of our Brave New World of separating sex from reproduction and postponing child-bearing.

Gays Defend Marriage

David Benkof is blogging under the name Gays Defend Marriage David describes himself this way:
David Benkof is openly bisexual, but as an Orthodox Jew he is guided by Jewish law in the areas of sexuality and family life.
A few interesting facts about David:

• He has a master’s in Jewish history from Stanford and is getting a Ph.D. in the subject at NYU.

And he describes his mission this way:
Welcome to, a new voice in the “marriage equality” debate. For years, there has been an apparent consensus in the LGBT community that:

The man-woman definition of marriage is unacceptable and must be replaced by any means necessary with a new approach that allows us to marry our same-sex partners; and
Redefining marriage is overwhelmingly the most important issue facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
Well, I don’t agree. I think insisting on redefining marriage will not help LGBT people very much (other than boosting our self-esteem) and could do real harm to innocents like straight couples, children, and traditionally religious people. I also think issues like the HIV/AIDS epidemic among African-American men who have sex with men, Florida’s bigoted refusal to let gays and lesbians adopt children, the FDA’s abhorrent gay blood ban, the dreadful disease syphilis (which is contracted most often through gay sex), the pointless ban on visitors and immigrants with HIV, and widespread prison rape (whose frequent victims are gay and bisexual men and transgender women) are far more important issues than “marriage equality” - even if you think the benefits of marriage equality outweigh the harms. After all, nobody ever suffered from a horrible death because the government called her relationship a “civil union” instead of a marriage. The LGBT community needs to get its priorities straight.

I discovered David over at Marriage Debate, where I sometimes post. Thank you David, for going against the tide within the gay community. I David's view of himself that gayness is not his one and only defining characteristic. In fact, I have been troubled by the view that sexual orientation is an essential characteristic of a person, while sex itself is relegated to a merely incidental trait. In my view, the exact opposite is the case: gender is essential and sexual orientation is a trait.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Beyond Same Sex Marriage

A lively debate is brewing over at Mercator, where I published my latest article about the CA same sex marriage decision. I expect to have some response to their commentary posted over there soon.
But in the meantime, here is some of what needs to be said in response:
Someone at Mercator pointed out that many of the gay couples who are already raising children had those children from previous heterosexual relationships. In other words, the couple is not raising “their” child. One partner is raising his or her own child, and the other partner is similar to a stepparent. The gay partner doesn’t automatically get parental rights because the child’s other biological parent is not automatically out of the picture. Unless that parent surrenders their parental rights, or is found to be unfit, the child’s biological parent continues to have parental rights toward them. Under this scenario, the child who is living with a same sex couple is not “their” child. Marriage does not and should not attach the child to both members of the gay couple in this situation, any more than a heterosexual divorced woman getting remarried should automatically attach her children to her new husband.
Who are the same sex couples who are raising their own children? They can only be couples who have somehow acquired genetic material from some third party. It is that third party parent who is being ignored. Or more precisely, it is the child’s relationship to that third party that no one wants to look at too closely. One typical scenario is that one member of a lesbian couple gets impregnated by an anonymous sperm donor. All the adults agree to it, and we somehow think that is sufficient. But the child’s right to have a relationship with that parent is fundamentally violated. It is the exact opposite of the trend toward open adoption, which honors the child’s right to relationship.

Friday, May 23, 2008

It Takes a Family to Raise a Village

My lecture of that title was published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute here.
But regular readers of this blog, and recipients of my e-newsletter saw that lecture long ago! BTW, you can sign up for my newsletter here.

Alice Walker’s Daughter Rejects Feminism


Rebecca Walker, daughter of feminist icon Alice Walker, has published a new book in which she rejects her mother's views in no uncertain terms. Rebecca, now 38, enjoys motherhood and longs for a second child, which she may not be able to have. She suffered from her parents' divorce and its aftermath. She wants lifelong love for herself and stability for her son. Naturally, these views distance her from her mother, Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple.

The ease with which people can get divorced these days doesn't take into account the toll on children. That's all part of the unfinished business of feminism.

Then there is the issue of not having children. Even now, I meet women in their 30s who are ambivalent about having a family. They say things like: 'I'd like a child. If it happens, it happens.' I tell them: 'Go home and get on with it because your window of opportunity is very small.' As I know only too well.

Then I meet women in their 40s who are devastated because they spent two decades working on a PhD or becoming a partner in a law firm, and they missed out on having a family. Thanks to the feminist movement, they discounted their biological clocks. They've missed the opportunity and they're bereft.

Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.

But far from taking responsibility for any of this, the leaders of the women's movement close ranks against anyone who dares to question them  -  as I have learned to my cost. I don't want to hurt my mother, but I cannot stay silent. I believe feminism is an experiment, and all experiments need to be assessed on their results. Then, when you see huge mistakes have been paid, you need to make alterations.

I hope that my mother and I will be reconciled one day. Tenzin deserves to have a grandmother. But I am just so relieved that my viewpoint is no longer so utterly coloured by my mother's.

I am my own woman and I have discovered what really matters  -  a happy family.

Rebecca's story could be the story of her generation. I hear this all the time from students and young adults. In fact, Rebecca could be the poster child for my new institute, the Ruth Institute, which tries to show intelligent women that they can have love and family and education and career, without all the feminism baggage we have all had to suffer with.

Alice Walker essentially disowned her daughter when she announced that she was pregnant, and delighted.

When I called her one morning in the spring of 2004, while I was at one of her homes housesitting, and told her my news and that I'd never been happier, she went very quiet. All she could say was that she was shocked. Then she asked if I could check on her garden. I put the phone down and sobbed  -  she had deliberately withheld her approval with the intention of hurting me. What loving mother would do that?

Read the whole article here. Learn more about her book, Baby Love

I have to warn you: the comments on Amazon are terrible. She really rubbed the feminists the wrong way! So, to me, she must be doing something right! I have not read the book, only this article in the Mail. But, I have to say that Alice Walker doesn't know what she is missing. Based on what I've seen, I'd be proud to have Rebecca as my daughter.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Family Issues are Fiscal Issues

Speaking of poverty, my article on the Acton site takes a careful look at the Institute for American Values study on the impact of family fragmentation on the taxpayers. That study looks at how family fragmentation affects poverty, and after that, asks how dealing with the poverty costs the federal and state level taxpayers.

Poverty Prevention Strategies

About a month ago, I was a presenter at a conference at which James Q. Wilson was also presenting. Prof. Wilson alluded to the results of a rather famous study he did some years ago. He and his colleagues found that there are just 3 things a person needs to do in order to avoid poverty:
1. Graduate from high school.
2. Postpone having children until after age 20 and
3. postpone having children until marriage.
According to Wilson, if a person does these 3 things, his or her chance of being poor is only 8%. If a person fails to do these 3 things, their chances of becoming poor are 78%.
Now that I am thinking about it, I can't remember whether that 78% figure refers to people who fail to do any one of these three things, or to people who fail to do all three.
In any case, it is a pretty interesting summary finding.

Comfort Foods and Stress

Comfort foods seem to be a reaction to stress for the low status monkeys in these experiments.

the dominant females ordinarily eat a little more than the subordinates. The lower-status monkeys can get as much food as they want but seem to have less of a desire to eat, perhaps because of the higher level of stress hormones in their brains.
The anxiety of constantly toadying to their social superiors seems to curb their appetites, researchers suspect, at least when their regular high-fiber, low-fat chow is on the menu.

But suppose you tempted them with the equivalent of chocolate and potato chips and ice cream? Mark Wilson, a neuroscientist at Emory University, and a team tried that experiment at Yerkes by installing feeders with a constant supply of banana-flavored pellets – not exactly Dove bars, but they had enough sugar and fat to appeal even to human palates.

Once these foods were available, the low-status monkeys promptly developed an appetite. They began eating significantly more calories than their social superiors. While the dominant monkeys dabbled in the sweet, fatty pellets just during the daytime, the subordinate monkeys kept scarfing them down after dark. ...
Another possible explanation, the one favored by the Yerkes researchers, is that the snacks activated the reward pathways in the brain. They may have provided the same sort of dopamine reward as cocaine, which was studied in a previous experiment with monkeys by researchers at Wake Forest University.

In that experiment, the dominant monkeys didn't show much interest in pressing a lever that administered an intravenous dose of cocaine. But the subordinate monkeys kept pushing the lever to get more cocaine, just as the subordinates in the new study kept munching on the fatty pellets.

Wilson suggests that the snackers are reinforcing the dopamine systems that had been diminished by stress.

“Essentially, eating high-calorie foods becomes a coping strategy to deal with daily life events for an individual in a difficult social situation,” Wilson said. “The subordinates don't get beat up, but they get harassed by high-ranking monkeys. If they're sitting somewhere and a dominant monkey comes over, they give up their seat and move away. They're always looking over their shoulders.”

These results seem to jibe with the famous Whitehall study of British civil servants, which found that lower-ranking workers were more obese than higher-status workers. Even though the subordinate workers were neither poor nor lacking in health care, their lower status correlated with more health problems.
The new monkey data also jibe with an American study that looked at women's snacking tendencies. After they worked on puzzles and recorded a speech, the women in the study were tempted with an array of chocolate granola bars, potato chips, rice cakes and pretzels provided by the research team, led by Elissa Epel, a psychologist at the University of California San Francisco.

The women who seemed most stressed by the tasks, as measured by their levels of cortisol, ate more of the sweet, high-fat snacks – the same pattern observed in the subordinate monkeys with high cortisol levels.

Women win right to children without fathers


Single women and lesbian couples won landmark parental rights last night as MPs voted to remove the requirement that fertility clinics consider a child’s need for a father.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will replace the rule with a “need for supportive parenting” after opponents were defeated in two votes by unexpectedly wide margins.

The Government had been prepared for defeat but won the free votes by majorities of 75 and 68. The decisions mean that the legislation will grant the most significant extension to homosexual family rights since gay adoption was sanctioned.

It will stop fertility clinics turning away lesbians and single women because their children will not have a father or male role model. While the current law does not block such therapy, it is sometimes used to justify refusals...

Find the rest here: Time Online


Check out this brief article from the London Telegraph.

Following the logic of laws recognising homosexual partnerships (civil unions) and adoption by gay couples, the Labour-led British Parliament has given the status of legal parent to both partners in a lesbian relationship when one of them gives birth by means of in vitro fertilisation. The move was rejected by most Conservative Party MPs, but a bid by one of them -- former leader Iain Duncan Smith -- to retain a rule recognising the need for a father was lost by 292 votes to 217. Mr Smith said the new rule would send the wrong message about fathers to the heterosexual world as well as same sex couples using fertility treatments.

The change comes as part of a Bill updating the UK's rules on fertility treatments, embryo research and abortion. Male gay couples who have children via surrogate mothers are not covered by the law change. Where there is reference to the father of a child, such as on birth certificates, this is to be read as reference to the female partner who did not give birth. The law will now say for the first time that babies born through fertility treatment do not need to have a father figure.
To objections that the change went against common sense, Labour MP Emily Thornberry said the term "common sense" worried her because it was often "a cover for discrimination, narrowness and an inability to face the 21st century".

The "important thing" was to give legal rights to lesbian couples and single women. Dawn Primarolo, the Health Minister (pictured), said reinstating the need for a father would be discriminatory as it would "create an additional hurdle" for such women. This would be "wholly inappropriate" following the decisions to allow civil partnerships and adoption by gay couples. ~ London Telegraph, May 20

Everybody Pays for Single Parenthood - In More Ways Than One

My friend Dutch Martin’s recent article entitled "Everybody Pays for Single Parenthood - In More Ways Than One," has been reprinted by both The Washington Times and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun. Check it out, and see what you think.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Beyond same sex marriage

Civil unions, same sex marriage, then what? The final stop on this train ride is the complete de-gendering of society. Check out my article, based on the new legalization of gay marriage in California here. I know this is a hot topic with strong feelings on both sides. Tell me what you think, but please, let's keep it civil.

8 Ways to Affair-Proof Your Marriage

Check out this worthy article. Some good tips here. Do you agree? Have any of your own to add?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Check out "How to Bimbo-Proof your Daugher."

This is an interesting article on how to keep your teenage daughter from becoming like her celebrity "role models." Find it here. There are several good tips here, and I wholeheartedly agree up to the point at the end stating you don't have to "burn every Playboy in your husband’s stash." Uum, yeah you do! Why would you marry someone with a porn obsession in the first place? I agree with the author's assertion that you wouldn't want your daughter to come across that stash. But also ask yourself, would you want your daughter to marry someone who has such a collection? No? Then why did you?

I find particulary rewarding this readers comments:

"That doesn’t mean you have to burn every Playboy in your husband’s stash. But you might do well asking him to consider how he’d feel if his daughter found a copy."
And therein lies the problem. My recommendation: burn them. Don't ask, just burn--and expect more.
As a husband, and father of two sons and two daughters, I suggest wives ask more from your husbands, and husbands, expect more from yourselves.
I can ask my son to respect women, or I can show him how--and that begins with respecting my wife and not allowing another woman, printed, painted or otherwise in my home or bedroom. My daughters see--and comment--on my exacting standards, and already expects as much, or more, from whomever they marry.
And to all the naysayers out there:
No, I'm not a Puritan
Yes, I appreciate fine art and the female form
Yes, my wife is the love of my life
No, I don't have a secret stash of porn
No, I'm not lying
Yes, I'm straight

Posted by Betsy

To read more on the dangers of porn, read Dr. J's review of the book Pornified here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

CA Same Sex marriage chronology

I have submitted an article on the CA ssm ruling, so I can't say much until it appears in print (make that, in electrons.) Anyhow, in the course of researching that article, I came across this chronology of key events in CA's policy march toward same sex marriage.
I discovered that one of the facts on the list is not quite right.
— 2002: Domestic partners given additional rights under state law, including the right to draft wills for each other ...

OK, that doesn't make sense. Do I have the right to draft a will for my husband? I don't think so. I think this statement is referring to AB2216 in 2002, which provided for intestate succession for domestic partners. That is, if a domestic partner dies without a will, their estate will be distributed to their surviving partner and any blood relatives, on the same terms as married couples. I think that is what the note in the Mercury News chronology is referring to.
You can get information about AB 2216 by going here, and clicking on the 2001-2002 session on the drop-down menu. Then type in either AB 2216 or just "domestic partners," and this bill should pop up.

Same Sex Marriage Imposed on California by Our Robes Masters

Maggie Gallagher's commentary is here. National Review Commentary is here.

Economics for a Crowded Planet: Which One would that be?

Jeffrey Sachs evidently believes the earth is overcrowded. I can't believe I'm reading this. His book is called: Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet. Which one is the crowded planet?
Sachs presents “four compelling reasons why the poorest countries need to speed the demographic transition,” “a list of seven requirements to enable family planning programs to accelerate the decline in fertility."

He has missed out on the news, even supported by the United Nations, that underpopulation is likely to be the big new problem on the horizon, not overpopulation.
To be fair, I am only quoting from a review in the NYT, and have not read the book itself. I'm not likely to, unless somebody pays me. Life is too short.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Non-Conservative Defense of Pro-Family Policies

I just got this message in my inbox:

Check out this book by a U.C. Berkeley professor who suggests policies that favor stay-at-home parents are good. I think you'll enjoy this bit of fresh air now coming from the Left. What Nel Gilbert says in A Mother's Work is policies that reward working mothers/fathers really reward consumerism and corporations. So I think the problem here is not socialism, but unrestrained capitalism or just plan corporate greed manipulating the public.

The she is referring to is A Mother's Work. I have read it, and think it is a good book. I don’t think he thinks the problem is “corporate greed.” And I wouldn’t necessarily call him a man of the Left. I think he is more of an old-fashioned New Deal Democrat, type of person, a type that is almost a dying breed. This book is as much an indictment of feminist ideology as of capitalist greed.

Also, I seem to recall that he was sceptical of some of the more extreme feminist claims about domestic violence. I think he was on a panel sponsored by the Women's Freedom Network, back in the late 80's or early 90's, that tried to take a hard look at some of the data concerning various feminist arguments. If I'm not mistaken, it was published in this first volume of teh Women's Freedom Network, Neither Victim Nor Enemy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Collapse of the Family in Europe

The Times of London reports on this massive EU study of the family. Highlights:
It said that almost one million fewer babies were born in the 27 EU countries last year than in 1980. There were six million more over65s than under14s in Europe last year, against 36 million more children than pensioners in 1980.

The institute said: “Europe is now an elderly continent.” Almost one in every five pregnancies ends in abortion. The marriage rate fell by 24 per cent between 1980 and 2006. Two out of three households have no children, and nearly 28 per cent of households contain only one person.

The EU suggested solution? I'm not making this up:
The report urges national governments to set up a ministry for the family.

You might think they would ask themselves whether setting up yet another government ministry could be part of the problem, rather than the solution.
Cross-posted at Marriage Debate.

It's About Time...

It's about time somebody thought of correcting the huge marriage penalty built into our entitlements programs. Now, David Blankenhorn and Sen Sam Brownback have come up with a simple proposal to end one of the policies that discourages marriage among the lower classes. Here is their summary of the problem:
What if the federal government forced couples to pay 20% of their annual income just to get or stay married? And suppose a couple could avoid this tax if they either got a divorce or never got married in the first place?

Does it sound like good public policy to force a couple earning, say, $60,000 a year to pay $12,000 just for being married?

That's more or less what we demand of millions of low-income Americans who receive government welfare benefits. For most couples on welfare, getting married is among the more expensive decisions they will face as newlyweds, because saying "I do" will reduce the benefits they receive, on average, by 10% to 20% of their total income.

Here is their idea for a solution:
it's time to eliminate the marriage penalty for low-income Americans. Our proposal is simple: Don't make them pay it. We should allow newly married couples to continue to receive all of their benefits for the first three years of marriage, thus mitigating the marriage penalty currently paid by lower-income couples. This adjustment should give newly married couples a sufficient grace period to realize the economic benefits of marriage – and save some money to stabilize their financial situation – before government benefits cease.

They suggest trial programs in several states and cities across the country. Perhaps they already have places in mind. But if not, this looks like a very worthwhile program for churches with an inner city presence to volunteer themselves for. Most Catholic dioceses, for instance, have some poor parishes, as well as better off parishes. Some diocese should volunteer to partner suburban parishes with inner city parishes to offer them the support, information and guidance they need to take advantage of the temporary end of the marriage penalty.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Rare Acheivement of Disagreement

is the title of Ryan Anderson's recap of the Princeton conference "Is it wrong to end early human life?" He had an experience similar to the one I had at Harvard: a genuine, yet civil disagreement on issues of fundamental importance. In my case, it was the signifance of a mother's decision to care for her own child. In Anderson's case, it was the significance of a mother's decision to terminate the life of her child. Here is Anderson's summary of the conference:
Taken as a whole, the discussions revealed several salient points. It was instructive to witness the ease with which various speakers could embrace infanticide or dehumanize unborn life—recall (philosopher Elizabeth) Harman’s argument that unborn children “really are a lot like plants.” But even more instructive was how unalarmed many in the Princeton audience seemed to be by any of this. I had forgotten that, for more than a few in the academic elite, this is just par for the course.

It was gratifying to see that all of the panelists agreed that the pro-life argument did not rest on illicit theological beliefs (something the Princeton biologist Lee Silver absurdly charges), though it was frustrating to see that, while pro-choice philosophers feel they have to take the pro-life argument seriously, they frequently respond to caricatured versions of it. ... Nonetheless, most anyone present would agree that Lee, George, Haldane, and Marquis showed that the pro-life argument was every bit as intellectually sophisticated as the pro-choice alternatives—indeed, from my perspective it is more coherent and more plausible, since it does not entail bizarre premises (“I was never an embryo” claimed by Rutgers professor Jeff McMahan) or repulsive conclusions (such as the moral legitimacy of infanticide, argued by Peter Singer)....
When it comes to bioethics, much is at stake for the foundations of our political life. At the end of the panel, one questioner expressed this well. If we redefine our founding principle so as to exclude those without consciousness or rationality from an inalienable right to life, he asked, what is to keep others from redefining it again to exclude those who aren’t morally upright (as he thought the “radical right” might do) or who aren’t religiously upright (as he thought radical Islam would dictate)? At this time in our national and world history, he wondered, shouldn’t we be uniting around the principle of the Declaration of Independence?

Peter Singer responded by pointing out that we don’t agree on who counts now, and we seem to get along just fine without agreeing on it. To unify around fair “civil procedures,” not around any particular value, is all we need to survive. Pat Lee, agreeing with the questioner, stressed the importance of the self-evident truths of the Declaration, reminding us of the role they played for Lincoln in his Gettysburg’s Address. Lee added that, while we are not equal in most respects, we do have a fundamental moral equality founded in our dignity as equally human—and we mustn’t forget this truth. Picking up this point, Robert George stressed how, in the history of the world, only America has been built on the principle of the “profound, inherent, and equal dignity of all human beings.” When you stop to think about it, he went on, “I think it’s a remarkable thing.” Given all the profound and manifest inequalities, it is remarkable that we’ve come to see this conclusion as self-evident.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

More Time of Grace

This is my first Mother's Day since my mother's death. I realize that I am the oldest living woman on either side of my family. My mother and mother-in-law are now both gone. All my aunts are deceased. I have a few female cousins who are older than I am. I guess that puts me at the top of the generational ladder. I feel slightly disoriented.

Shortly after returning home from my mother's funeral, I learned that friends of ours lost one of their sons. He had committed suicide in another state. They held a memorial service for him there, at exactly the time that our family was burying our mother. No one in our circle of friends realized what had happened until they returned to Southern California, and held a funeral here. By that time, almost 10 days had passed.

All of us swung into action, to bring them dinners, send cards and call on them. And I must say, looking out for them has made it much easier to deal my the loss of my own mother. Not only is their loss deeper and more difficult, but I feel better when I am not preoccupied with myself.

In the course of talking with people about bringing them dinner, I found out that another person in our circle of friends had lost her sister. Her sister died right around the time of the son's funeral in Southern California. She called up the mother to bring her a meatloaf dinner. And the mother replied that she had just made a shepherd's pie for her family. The Gift of the Magi.

This whole period has reminded me why we pray. (I realize that not all of my readers are religious: I ask your indulgence for a moment.) Prayer works at the natural levela and at the supernatural level. Set aside the supernatural for the moment, since we don't really know how that works. Sometimes non-believers ridicule prayer, thinking that we are indulging ourselves in wishful thinking to make ourselves more powerful than we really are, or avoiding responsibility for genuine action. At best, prayer is a harmless distraction. At worst, the distraction immobilizes us, by creating the impression of doing something, while actually doing nothing substantial.

I actually think the opposite is true: prayer helps us confront our limitations directly. Often, we pray precisely because we know we don't have the time, the money or the proximity to do anything to help. Prayer works at the natural level because it focuses our minds on the good of the person we pray for. Often, we can't do much for the other person. We feel powerless, and in fact we are powerless over the biggest and most important facts: I can't bring my friend's son back. We can't do anything for the typhoon victims in Burma.

But in the act of praying, sometimes it will come to our minds that we can do something. I can't bring my friend's son back, but I can bring dinner to her family. And in that act of doing what we can, we shape ourselves and our characters. We form the kinds of person we will be the next time some difficulty confronts us. That is most decidedly not nothing.

I talked about this in one of the later chapters of Love and Economics.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Private and Social Costs and Benefits of Children

The argument that having children pollutes the earth is really an argument against the human race itself. Quoting Europeans who have decided to forgo children for the sake of the planet, Arthur Brooks observes that this may well be an argument for avoiding the tough private costs of having kids.

The 2004 General Social Survey shows that, if two adults in 2004 were the same in age, sex, income, marital status, education, race, religion, and politics--but one had kids but the other did not--the parent would be about seven percentage points less likely than the non-parent to report being "very happy."

Furthermore, the average happiness of adults--correcting for all the other personal characteristics like before--falls as more kids are added to the family. This is true, however, only up to four kids--with the fifth, parental happiness appears to start to rise again. The reason for this is because, in modern America where the average number of children per family is close to two, a large brood generally belongs to a certain unusual type of heroic parent (who fall into the category of saints and martyrs).

These facts should not be interpreted as evidence that non-parents are, as a group, happier people than parents. People who have the most kids today generally have other traits that more than offset the children in their happiness. For example, political conservatives have far more children than liberals (41 percent more kids per couple in 2004), but their worldview brings them up more than their kids bring them down: 42 percent of conservative parents are very happy, versus 21 percent of liberal non-parents. (In case you're wondering, 52 percent of conservative non-parents are very happy.)

I am suspicious of these happiness comparisons between parents and non-parents. It seems to me that moving to parenthood changes a person's preferences so dramatically that it hardly seems fair to use the same measuring rod for happiness. Parents and non-parents derive happiness from very different things. Children draw us out of our self-centeredness in a way that nothing else can do. Taking happiness in another peron's happiness or success surely counts as a different sort of thing than finding happiness in the enjoyment of ordinary consumption items.
Or, you could look at it from the reverse side: parents have different worries and concerns than non-parents. There are a whole host of problems than simply aren't on the radar screen of the non-parent.

And it is simply not the case that children are a net burden on society. Brooks points out the social benefits to government revenues.

Economists estimate that the net benefits to society from children are, on average, significant and positive. Balancing the negative and positive socioeconomic impacts from children, one well-regarded study from 1990 in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science placed the benefit in net government revenues in excess of $100,000 per American child--a number that has obviously greatly increased since that time.

What we choose to do with this public surplus per child is obviously up to us--it reflects our society's values. As our population rises, we can use our resulting public wealth increases to ensure the preservation of our natural environment, for example. To argue against human reproduction to save the planet amounts to arguing that lowering our prosperity is the best strategy to cut resource consumption and greenhouse gases. A common complaint about the current environmental movement is that it cares more about trees than people. This complaint is certainly not weakened by arguments for negative population growth.

More children also have the potential for more productivity in the private sector as well as in generating tax revenue for the government.
Read all of Brooks' article here.
More on the connection between parenthood and happiness here.

Dr J on the radio, for Mothers Day

I had the opportunity to talk with Denny Schaffer today, on motherhood and feminism. Click here, Scroll down to "Today's Rant," and click for the Windows Media Player to listen to the 15 minute interview that ranged from my new Institute, to adultery, feminist nagging and the paperback version of Love and Economics.

The Value of Motherhood, in Dollars and Cents

At least one company has calculated the value of the work that mothers do:

If a stay-at-home mom could be compensated in dollars rather than personal satisfaction and unconditional love, she'd rake in a nifty sum of nearly $117,000 a year.

That's according to a pre-Mother's Day study released Thursday by, a Waltham, Mass.-based firm that studies workplace compensation.

The eighth annual survey calculated a mom's market value by studying pay levels for 10 job titles with duties that a typical mom performs, ranging from housekeeper and day care center teacher to van driver, psychologist and chief executive officer.

This year, the annual salary for a stay-at-home mom would be $116,805, while a working mom who also juggles an outside job would get $68,405 for her motherly duties.

Studies like these seem to be pro-motherhood. But in a way, they undermine the genuine value of motherhood, which is in building relationship. It is a serious mistake to view the family as a special case of a series of contracts or economic relationships. That was the whole point of Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village.

Alaska Governor Looks out for the Little Guy

The Governor of Alaska just gave birth to her fifth child, who happens to have Down Syndrome. Sarah Palin had just completed a stunning first year in office as a maverick Republican governor, when her doctor gave her the news that her baby would have Down's Syndrome.
The doctor's announcement in December, when Palin was four months pregnant, presented her with a possible life- and career-changing development.

"I've never had problems with my other pregnancies, so I was shocked," said Palin, a mother of four other children.

"It took a while to open up the book that the doctor gave me about children with Down syndrome, and a while to log on to the Web site and start reading facts about the situation."

The 44-year-old governor waited a few days before telling her husband, Todd, who was out of town, so she could understand what was ahead for them.

Once her husband got the news, he told her: "We shouldn't be asking, 'Why us?' We should be saying, 'Well, why not us?'"

There was never any doubt the Palins would have the child, and on April 18 she gave birth to Trig Paxson Van Palin.

"We've both been very vocal about being pro-life," Palin said. "We understand that every innocent life has wonderful potential."

The Pro-Abortion Left and their allies in the Main Stream Media seldom realize that the pro-life movement is dominated by women, courageous, strong women, like Gov. Palin.
Another elected official who has a child with Down syndrome said Palin will likely have detractors, but that shouldn't change ambitions for the mother or child.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington state, has just celebrated the first birthday of her son Cole, her first child, who was born with Down syndrome. She is busy campaigning for a third term, and Cole often travels with her between Washington, D.C., and the Pacific Northwest.

"Cole opened my eyes to the pain and trouble a lot of families endure," Rodgers said. "He's allowed me to see people and circumstance more deeply, and the generosity of people.

"It's in human nature to focus on the negative, on what the person can't do. In our mind, we are focused on what he can do, what he will be able to do and do very well."

I have had this very same experience. The vulnerability of the special needs child opens the heart of those around him, not only his immediate family, but others as well. Kudos to these pro-life, Republican women.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Psychological Parenting Doctrine

The Volokh Conspiracy has an extended discussion of psychological parenting. This is the legal doctrine that says a person not biologically related to the child can be given parental rights if they have formed a psychological bond with the child and are functioning as a psychological parent. The back and forth gives an idea of the potential for mischief, as well as some of the heart-rending cases that emerge in this area of family law.

Jim Caviezel Shares the Fears and Joys of Adoption

Jim Caviezel, best known for his role as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ shared his story of adopting two children with serious medical conditions. He believed he was called by God to take these children, with all of their challenges.
Caviezel, 39, ...talked about overcoming fear to adopt two children suffering from brain tumors.

Caviezel and his wife, Kerri, adopted the children, a boy and a girl, from China. But the decision wasn't easy, the actor acknowledged.

"I was completely terrified and felt like, why; I felt like, 'Yes, I know you want me to take this child but I feel fear, great fear,'" Caviezel said. "But if I looked in my soul, which I was used to, at that point, I knew that God wanted me to do it. So I felt all the emotions of the negativity, of the burden it was going to … what it was going to do to me."...

"So my wife and I believe strongly in life, that all men are created equal. So it was time to put my money where my mouth was," Caviezel recalled.

A friend challenged him to prove the authenticity of his faith by adopting "not just any child, but a really disabled child."

Caviezel challenged back: "And I said, 'OK, so when I do, will you become pro-life?' So I adopted this child and I called him up.

"He didn't make good on his word, but it didn't matter to me because the joy that we had, have from this child -- he's like our own. I was there with him through the surgery with my wife and we did not know if he was going to live."

Caviezel explained a little of his son's history: "This little boy had nothing. He was left on a train. And he grew up in an orphanage. […] He lived there for five years in an orphanage. They were told that they came from the ground, that they had no mommy. That they didn't come from a stomach, but that they were born from the dirt."

Harder road

Adopting the little girl was another opportunity for Caviezel to act on his faith, he said: "We actually asked God for a girl and we got a newborn girl, […] but the following day, we got another girl -- she was a 5-year-old.

"And she had a brain tumor. We knew that girl would never get adopted and the little baby would. So we took the harder road. And we have chosen that. […] That's what faith is to me. It's action. It's Samaritan. It's not the one who says he is. It's the one who does."

I salute Caviezel and his wife for this decision. But I am concerned: The fact that both these kids were in orphanages for five years is a bright red flag for attachment disorder. I wrote about attachment disorder in Love and Economics. I pray that these children attach to Caviezel and his wife. Attachment disorder can be more difficult, and long lasting than medical conditions.
Let's pray for this family.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Feminism: An attack on the human body

    I had the opportunity to visit with Harvey Mansfield after the Harvard conference on feminism. I made the comment to him, "in some ways, feminism is a revolt against the human body." He replied, "feminism is a revolt against nature." We didn't talk any more about it, as it seemed that we intuited what the other was saying. But as I thought about it some more, I have become convinced that the revolt against the body is a key part of feminism, and perhaps of modernity more generally. Here is what I mean.

    The various forms of feminism have tried to teach us that our "real self" exists somehow independently of our gender. According to some feminists, gender differentiation is a cosmic injustice, that demands correction or compensation. More modest forms of feminism hold that gender differentiation is insignificant, or irrelevant to anything important. And the social changes that feminism has inspired have attempted to minimize anything distinctively feminine. The proper goal for a woman, especially an intelligent, promising woman, is to behave exactly as a man her age would. She should get an education, pursue a career, and work long hours to establish her financial independence.

She should remain oblivious to the fact that child-bearing will have a very different impact on her than on men her age. Her opportunity for child-bearing is limited in a way that a man's fertility is not. Giving birth will affect her body: every cell in her body responds to the fact of her pregnancy. Motherhood affects her differently than fatherhood affects a man. She should follow the same life-plan as men, and she should demand that her husband share identically in all the chores necessary to maintain a household. She is entitled to demand equality as her right, even though behaving identically will be unnatural for both her and her husband.

But as I say, feminists don't view gender differentiation as a biological reality to which sensible people must adapt. Sex differences are a cosmic injustice. No demand for social change is too extreme in the service of wiping out these differences. This is great if you happen to be a radical, intent on justifying revolutionary social changes. But if you are a normal person, living in a normal body, this ideology is more than a nuisance. We have painted ourselves into a corner. Under feminist tutelage, we have insisted that women change their fertility in order to accommodate the labor market. We have insisted on the right to raise our children alone, and to spend larger and larger portions of our lives alone.

  I was thinking of all this, not just because of my conversation with Harvey Mansfield about feminism. I noticed at my mother's (Catholic) funeral: we take the body seriously. We treat the body, even the dead body, with respect. Catholics are not supposed to cremate the body, but to bury it as intact as possible. We believe that we will get our bodies back in glorified and perfected form, at the Last Judgment, and live in those bodies forever. The priest incenses the casket, to show reverence for the body, which was once a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

    I also was thinking about this because I have been rereading the new translation of The Theology of the Body, by the late John Paul II. The translator, Michael Waldstein observes in his introductory essay that The Theology of the Body is John Paul's response to Cartesian dualism. The body is not only relevant, but deeply significant. In effect, JPII asks, "God created us male and female. What is God trying to say to us?" the whole book is an answer to that question.

More on Family Issues as Fiscal Issues

see previous post: The Institute for American Values estimates that family fragmentation costs the state of California a minimum of $4.8 billion annually. Here is a story on education budget cuts in California:
Statewide, 14,000 teachers received pink slips in response to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed $4.4 billion reduction in education spending.

Read it and weep.
By the way, Love and Economics is up on Amazon. Both editions: the Collegiate Edition and the Streetfighter Edition.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Family Issues are Fiscal Issues

Ever since I wrote Love and Economics, I have been trying to explain to economists, libertarians and fiscal conservatives that the family is a fiscal issue. Now, the Institute for American Values comes along and documents this point by point, state by state. Here are a few highlights.
family fragmentation costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion each and every year, or more than $1 trillion each decade.

Me: This is the equivalent of the entire Gross Domestic Product of New Zealand.
Of these taxpayer costs, $70.1 billion are at the federal level, $33.3 billion are at the state level, and $8.5 billion are at the local level. Taxpayers in
California incur the highest state and local costs at $4.8 billion.

Me: CA now faces a state budget deficit of around $12 billion. This means that family fragmentation accounts fo over a third of CA's deficit.