No children

The latest Pew report shows that American women are having fewer children.  This is just part of an ongoing trend.

Nearly one-in-five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one-in-ten in the 1970s.

What’s especially notable, though, is that women with advanced degrees (e.g., Kim) are actually having more children now (Kim is certainly doing her part).   Here’s the cool chart:

Though childlessness (there’s a fun word) is still most common among this with more education, the educational differences are flattening out, as the percentages have gone up for less educated and down for more educated in the past decade.  The racial gap, too, are shrinking (though white women are the most likely to not have children):

By race and ethnic group, white women are most likely not to have borne a child. But over the past decade, childless rates have risen more rapidly for black, Hispanic and Asian women, so the racial gap has narrowed…

Among all women ages 40-44, the proportion that has never given birth, 18% in 2008, has grown by 80% since 1976, when it was 10%. There were 1.9 million childless women ages 40-44 in 2008, compared with nearly 580,000 in 1976.

The report also offers up some public opinion data on the matter as way of partial explanation:

Over the past few decades, public attitudes toward childlessness have become more accepting. Most adults disagree that people without children “lead empty lives,” a share that rose to 59% in 2002 from 39% in 1988, according to the General Social Survey. In addition, children increasingly are seen as less central to a good marriage. In a 2007 Pew Research Center survey, 41% of adults said that children are very important for a successful marriage, a decline from 65% who said so in 1990.

Being in academia, where most of the women I know are highly educated, I know more than my fair share of women without children.  I would never suggest that they “lead empty lives,” but obviously given my life decisions, I think they are missing out.  One has to wonder about causality and selection bias, too.  To what degree does being a high achiever make it harder and less likely for women to bear children and to what degree is the type of woman who desires high educational achievement simply the type of person less likely to want children?  I don’t have an answer, just think its an interesting question.

Finally, it’s worth noting that if the flattening out based on education continues, the future horror hypothesized for the greatly under-appreciated Idiocracy, becomes less likely to pass.

Not so precious

So, last night I finished watching the movie with the oddest title of 2009, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.”  Yuck.  I really thought about stopping after the first 10-15 minutes.  I’ve watched plenty of disturbing movies in my day that I’ve enjoyed, but I found this disturbing and definitely not enjoyable.  I simply with I had my hour and 45 minutes back.  I’m sure people do have lives that horrible, but it just really seemed piled on for melodramatic effect.  Not to mention, the “good” parts, like Precious’ teacher were likewise impossibly good.  Her alternative classroom seemed more like a TV sitcom than a movie.   And, the whole thing was way over-directed.  I’m really not a big fan of the “look at what an impressive director I am” style.

Though we don’t always agree, I’m pretty sure I most reliably agree with David Edelstein, formerly of Slate and currently of New York magazine (and NPR).  He’s not a fan.  My favorite review, however, comes from Edelstein’s replacement at Slate, Dana Stevens.  Here’s the conclusion:

But like the outlandish badness of the mother character, the overdetermined tawdriness of these scenes does the movie and its heroine a disservice. Daniels and his screenwriter, Geoffrey Fletcher, are so eager to wring uplift from Precious’ story that they’re willing to manipulate us to get it. Daniels and Fletcher no doubt intended for their film to lend a voice to the kind of protagonist too often excluded from American movie screens: a poor, black, overweight single mother from the inner city. But in offering up their heroine’s misery for the audience’s delectation, they’ve created something uncomfortably close to poverty porn.

Shrinking Republican minority

Ruy Texeira has a nice paper summarizing how demographic changes are very much working against the Republican party and what they should do about it.  Over at Yglesias, Ryan McNeely gives a nice summary.    Steve Greene summarizes McNeely  right here.   Long story short, Republicans are driving away minorities and college educated voters, both of which are only growing in the electorate.  Given my recent theme of Gender and Politics postings, I’ll excerpt McNeely’s nice point on the matter:

Another interesting finding is the significant growth rate of key subgroups of women who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. I’ve found that there is a tendency to discuss “women” as if they are like any other interest group or constituency, but women are in fact the majority of voters. So, by definition, if more and more women identify as Democrats, then to cobble together a majority Republicans must lock in an even largerlead among male voters.


Texeira, who generally offers advice for Democrats, actually lays out a series of steps that would be wise for Republicans to take.  Tom Schaller summarizes them at  Schaller remarks:

What’s interesting to me about most of Teixeira’s suggested changes is that the GOP is either not doing them, or doing something close to the opposite.

I think David Frum may be largely right in that the Republican party is going to drive itself off an ideological cliff.  When they win big in 2010 because of a bad economy and successful obstructionism, they’ll convince themselves it’s because of their conservative ideology and double-down on it even further.  Shouldn’t be hard, as most GOP member of Congress are breathtakingly out of touch with reality.  Democrats are surely in for some pain this Fall, but if Republicans don’t wise up– which they don’t seem to be doing– medium and long-range Democratic prospects look excellent.

Friday book post (late again)

I tell you, all this World Cup soccer is definitely eating into my blogging.  I’m happy enough with the trade myself, but I apologize for those of you expecting more out of me.

So, rather than highlight a specific book this week, I’m just going to riff a little bit on not finishing books.  I’m pretty ruthless about stopping and not finishing books that just aren’t doing it for me.  There’s way more books that I want to read than I will ever have time to, so I’d hate to think I’d be missing out on books I love to keep slogging through anything I don’t.  At this point in my reading life, I’m pretty confident of my judgement by 50 pages in, and sometime much sooner.   I say this, because it seems that every time I decide to just give the  book a little bit longer to pick up, it never does.  I think this is because what I really respond to is not necessarily how exciting the plot it, but simply the author’s ability to tell a story in an interesting and engaging fashion.  Sometimes that can take a little while to get going, but in general, it shows itself pretty early.  For example, last night I started Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon.  I’ve only read 10 pages or so, but I can pretty much guarantee I’ll finish it because Chaon clearly just knows how to engage a reader.   In contrast, take Killing Rommel, by Steven Pressfield.  A subject I find intrinsically interesting– WWII in North Africa– and a book that was well-reviewed, but I could tell very early that Pressfield just did not have a style that was ever going to engage me.

That said, what I wonder is, just what is it about Chaon  (or my favorite authors) that is so compelling, while others leave me flat.  There’s a real difference there in the ability to simply tell an interesting story, but what exactly is that?  Or, is that as far as we can reduce things?

Reporting, reality, and female anatomy

Slate’s Hannah Rosin has a really interesting article about the media misportrayal of a doctor who does reconstruction of girls born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a rare, and unfortunate condition that leads to an enlarged clitoris.  Sometimes as enlarged as much as a penis (not something any girl wants, I presume).  Here’s the lede:

The story has all the makings of a gynecological horror flick: “Cornell Surgeon Used Vibrator To Stimulate 6-Year-Olds,” gasped the headline inJezebelDan Savage declared himself so angry that “I hardly know where to start.” (On our own XX Factor blog, my colleague Rachael Larimore called it “appalling.”) The villain in this medical horror story is one aptly named Dr. Dix Poppas, a pediatric urologist at Cornell University who specializes in genital reconstruction.

Alas, things are much more complicated, as Rosin explains.  Basically, the doctor is trying to test that the nerves still work when he does his reconstructive surgery.  I also love Rosin’s conclusion:

To his critics, however, these details don’t matter. Savage calls this a conspiracy of “out and out homophobia.” He claims the medical establishment pushes these operations because girls with bigger clitorises are more likely to be lesbian. This claim is a stretch; girls with CAH are only slightly more likely to be lesbians or tomboyish when they are young. The vast majority are heterosexual and comfortable as girls. Gender norms have shifted pretty drastically in the 40 years that this operation has been performed, and still more than 95 percent of parents choose it for their children. Why? Because much as Savage might like it to be, the world is not yet a place where most little girls can have a clitoris that looks like a penis and feel entirely at ease [emphasis mine]. And few parents would want to use their daughter to test that proposition.

It’s not easy being a female PM

You’ve probably heard that Australia got a new Prime Minister today, the first woman to hold the job, Julia Gillard.  Ask yourself this… would you know the Aussies had a new PM if it were a man?  Most likely not.  On the one hand, it’s great that there’s this new first and another woman leader on the world stage.  On the other hand, I think it will be a great day when it’s not actually a big deal and Americans don’t really care about Australia having a new Prime Minister (you know what I mean).

I found the NYT profile of Gillard really interesting, because it shows how things are still very different for a woman to achieve this level of power.

Unmarried with no children, Ms. Gillard’s personal life has attracted significant attention. In her first year as deputy leader, one outspoken conservative senator, Bill Heffernan, said she could not understand the needs of Australian families and was unfit to govern because she was “deliberately barren.” He later apologized for the remark.

“There’s something in me that’s focused and single-minded,” Ms. Gillard said of her decision not to marry and have children. “I’m kind of full of admiration for women who can mix it together — working and having kids — but I’m not sure I could have.”

Imagine this level of personal scrutiny and commentary about a male politician without children.  Exactly right– not going to happen.  Nobody really cares about these things with a man– certainly not to the same degree.  Or get this, from the main article on the transition of power:

Ms. Gillard, a Welsh-born former lawyer who has been in Parliament since 1998, is widely viewed as hard-working and a clear communicator, despite routinely being mocked for her ever-changing hairstyles [emphasis mine] and a working-class accent.

Again, not going to happen for a male politician.

Also, of course, very much worth noting her comments about trying to strike a work/family balance by essentially giving up on family.  Nobody expects a man to do that.  I looked up German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and was not at all surprised to learn she never had children.

Oh, and by the way, start typing Angela Merkel into google and see what comes up.  It’s depressing (and surprising).  Here’s a taste if you don’t feel like trying.

Last point… this is also very much in keeping with the fact that when women make it to become national leaders, it is almost always as a Prime Minister where she is elected by her peers within the Parliament/legislature (this is the case with the German Chancellor), not voted on by the electorate of the country as a whole.

So, short version.  New woman national leader– great.  But, still shows we’ve got a long way to go.

The problem with old people

Nice post by Ezra Klein pointing out that while old people already have excellent “socialized medicine” from the government, they just don’t what other people to get any similar benefit.  An “I’ve got mine, you’re not getting yours” attitude:


In all fairness, older people are also simply more Republican, but it sure is strking to compare the views of the youngest adults who really stand to benefit, from the oldest adults, who’ve already got coverage under Medicare.  Pathetic, honestly.  Here’s to not being hopelessly selfish when I’m old.


I know you’re just dying to know what I think about General Stanley McChrystal’s impolitic comments (and more than anything, lack of control of his staff in this regard) and Obama’s relieving him of his command.  Basically, McChrystal was really stupid and used incredibly poor judgement.  Like it or not, the commander of a major field of battle is a very political position, and if you can’t handle that part of the job well, it shouldn’t be your job.  Furthermore, if McChrystal truly possessed the military savvy and experience to bring about success in Afghanistan that no other leading generals possess, he’d still be there.  If he were truly indispensable, Obama would not have been dumb enough to dispense with him.  Given that, you really just can’t have your military command in open opposition to civilian leadership.  Ezra Klein has a nice take on this:

The outrage, however, was fueled by military rules and traditions that allow very little public criticism of civilian leadership in order to ensure that political and strategic disagreement doesn’t curdle into a culture of opposition among the people with all the weapons. McChrystal was clearly lax on policing criticism within his command, but when the system was made aware of that failure, the system worked. You did not see politically disgruntled generals rallying around McChrystal.

In short, its good for our way of government and civilian-military relations that McChrystal had to go.


The Post ran an interesting article earlier this week about how text messaging is the latest tool for stalkers, etc., to harass their victims.  I doubt it makes many more people engage in this nasty behavior, but for those inclined, it certainly makes it easier.  I discussed the issue with my students and most all the female students knew of someone who had been harassed in this way.   Yet, they were surprised it had not received any media attention.  My theory, it’s because it doesn’t have a catchy, media-friendly slang.  Half the reporting on “sexting” has to be due to the fact that its such a fun word.  My suggestion: we just need a better term for stalking by text message.  Stexting?  Too much like sexting, but I, nor my class, couldn’t come up with anything better.  See what you can do in comments.

Good for NC

Governor Bev Purdue signed a law today that makes it a serious felony with jail time at stake for the:
“malicious abuse, torture or killing” of an animal.  Hooray for NC.  People who do these sorts of things are surely guilty of plenty of unsavory activities and don’t belong on the streets.  As usual for legislation like this, it took a single dramatic incident to build the legislative momentum:

The law is a named after Susie, now a 1-year-old pit bull-shepherd mix. As a puppy, Susie was beaten, set on fire and left to die. Susie survived, was rescued and has been adopted. She lost her ears, though, and still bears scars.

Lashawn Whitehead, 21, of Greensboro, was convicted of felony cruelty to animals and sentenced to probation.

Advocates of Susie’s Law said they were outraged that state law allowed White to be sentenced only to probation.

Of course not all animal abusers go on to become serial killers, but its a pretty well-established fact that most serial killers start out this way.  Of course, this law won’t stop the problem, but when it comes to criminal law, there’s something to be said for straight out retribution.  I’m glad I live in a state that now says anybody who undertakes such a heinous act deserves to spend some time in jail for it.

Quote of the day (puppy version)

“What motivated him to throw a puppy at the Hell’s Angels is currently unclear,” said a spokesman for local police.

From this.

US health care is not good

The Commonwealth Foundation has released a new report that assesses the overall quality of the US Health Care relative to the rest of the world.  It addresses a number of the complaints that led people the WHO rankings that put the US at 37 in the world.  Short version: no, we really are not so good compared to most other developed nations.  Ezra Klein summarizes:

But even with all that spending, “the U.S. ranks last overall, as it did in the 2007, 2006, and 2004 editions of Mirror, Mirror. Most troubling, the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the U.S. is last on dimensions of access, patient safety, coordination, efficiency, and equity. [emphasis mine]

Last!  But, alas you say, who really cares about access and equity as long as I get my health care.  Nope, still not so good.  Things like patient safety and coordination really matter and work much better in a coordinated national system.

“Even when access and equity measures are not considered, the U.S. ranks behind most of the other countries on most measures. With the inclusion of primary care physician survey data in the analysis, it is apparent that the U.S. is lagging in adoption of national policies that promote primary care, quality improvement, and information technology.” Here’s a summary table:


This pretty graph paints a not at all pretty picture for health care in the US.  The Affordable Care Act is a good start, but we’ve got a long way to go.


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