Posts Tagged ‘Child Rearing’

Peak Human

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Now that I’ve (sorta) got internet back in Australia, it’s time to catch up on a passel of backlogged posts. Some of these will address issues that bobbed into my mind months ago, but … that doesn’t bother me with my personal blog. On RTFLC, I try to keep up with current, mostly political events. On this blog, I’m more interested in deep thoughts.

A couple of months ago, Pew indicated that our birth rate has fallen to historical lows. More alarmingly, it’s fallen among immigrant populations, who have usually made up for the anti-reproductive attitudes of native-born Americans. This is part of a global trend of falling fertility rates that have exploded (pun intended) hysteria about overpopulation. Indeed, people are now openly worried about potential under-population:

That might sound like an outrageous claim, but it comes down to simple math. According to a 2008 IIASA report, if the world stabilizes at a total fertility rate of 1.5—where Europe is today—then by 2200 the global population will fall to half of what it is today. By 2300, it’ll barely scratch 1 billion. (The authors of the report tell me that in the years since the initial publication, some details have changed—Europe’s population is falling faster than was previously anticipated, while Africa’s birthrate is declining more slowly—but the overall outlook is the same.) Extend the trend line, and within a few dozen generations you’re talking about a global population small enough to fit in a nursing home.

I must admit that this is a concern I share. Part of it is my penchant for “end of the world with a whimper” type concerns. Part of it is my own decision to reproduce (and thus far frustrated desire to reproduce again). It may be egotistical, but I feel I have a responsibility to create future generations, especially given the lucky hand of genetic cards I was handed (good health, etc.) But I’m also interested in this as a generalized demographic issue. Are we not having enough children?

Expressing concern over this trend is thorny, as Ross Douthat found out last year. He wrote an article about it and was promptly slammed for wanting women to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. But as McArdle notes:

This shouldn’t need saying, but apparently it does: those who say that this is not a real problem, just something that Douthat made up because he thinks that wives should be barricaded in the kitchen until they’ve birthed at least a basketball team, are just wrong. They’re wrong because, well, if you’ve mett Ross’s wife, you know they’re just wrong, is all. But that’s a sidenote. They’re wildly wrong about the policy side. Population decline presents us with big, big problems–ones that we have in no way figured out how to solve.

Our whole economy and social system are designed for a growing economy, and a growing population. Without future growth, savings and investment become more necessary, but less attractive. Without growth, people become less generous towards strangers and more unhappy about their own circumstances. And without the growth around which all of our modern welfare states have been structured, the modern safety nets that governments have spent the last century establishing may not be politically or economically sustainable.

If you think that population decline is going to be a net boon to society, take a long hard look at Greece. That’s what a country looks like when it becomes inevitable that the future will be poorer than the past: social breakdown, political breakdown, economic catastrophe.

You should read the entire McArdle post, but it boils down to this: a society that has no children has no future. Saying so is not sexist; it’s simply reality.

(There’s another ugly aspect of this that comes up frequently in these discussions: the racial/national component. White people are declining far faster than any other race. And various pundits have expressed concern that European countries will soon be dominated by ethnic minorities or that Israel will one day be a majority-Arab state. I really have no idea what to make of these issues. I see the point. I also see that such points have been raised historically and have often turned out to be overblown. That is, unless you think 19th century pundits were right and our country really was ruined by all the Irish and Italian immigrants who came to our shores.)

So are we doomed? Is there a solution? I have no idea but I find concerns over things projected to occur centuries in the future to be a bit dubious. Worries about underpopulation are a little more realistic than past worries about overpopulation; we’re seeing real-life negative consequences of declining fertility in Europe and, very soon, China. But there are a number of things that could change the game dramatically. Medical advances could extend reproductive age (in theory, indefinitely). We could see a Brave New World type society in which children are primarily bred in labs. The state of our population problems five hundred years ago is as murky to us as our problems would have been to Martin Luther.

The fact is that almost all doomsday scenarios — be they overpopulation, underpopulation, global warming, pollution or whatever — rely on humanity not adapting to deal with the problem. So far, we have always found a way to keep going.

Some steps have been taken to fight this trend but I’m dubious of their utility. European countries have massively expanded paternal and maternal benefits and leave. Australia is paying bonuses to women who have children. But these countries have lower reproductive rates than the cold, unhelpful United States. The problem is not financial, it’s cultural. No matter how much money or leave you give someone, that’s going to have a weak effect on their willingness to take on a life-long obligation.

No, I think the changes are going to be cultural and technological. One advance might be group families, as shown in the works of Robert Heinlein, where multiple couples can pool time and resources in the way that extended families once did. Grandparents, living longer and better than ever before, can step in to effectively be stay-at-homes for working young people. As mentioned above, fertility tech that extends the time of child-bearing into the forties or beyond is already combatting the declining fertility trend by allowing women to build a career and then have a family. Improvements in robotics might ease the crushing burden that a newborn places on a young family.

And the ultimate X-factor is space exploration, which could potentially create a baby boom that would dwarf anything that’s come before.

But that’s in the future. And there’s little government can do about it, other than stand out of the way. In the meantime, we’ll just enjoy what might be “peak human”. Right now there are more people than there have ever been and those people are richer, healthier and happier than they’ve ever been. That’s something worth celebrating, whether it is the peak before our inevitable decline or just the resting point on a journey that ends with quadrillions of us spread across the Galaxy.

Texas Linkorama

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
  • The idea of building gondolas in Austin strikes me as a really dumb. Gondols are slow and would take up lots of space for the number of passengers they transport. Texans aren’t big on mass transit to begin with (the light rail system is likely to be a flop). And what do you need a gondola for in a city that is really flat? This crosses me as a solution in search of a problem. And if it doesn’t have high ridership, it’s bad for the environment. And expensive.
  • Down with homework!
  • I always suspected that the high I got off parenting was an evolutionary thing. I find these things intriguing and fascinating. Much of what we feel in life: compassion, empathy, love, tenderness is the result of millions of years of evolution making us into creatures that look for the species rather than ourselves.
  • A really good post on the Jefferson slave thing. Also, highly recommended on the subject: Ta-Nehisi Coates. Actually, TNC is just recommended, full stop.
  • One day, parenting authorities will get it through thick skulls like that fun physical activities are good for children even when they involve a low amount of risk.
  • Ah, peak oil. These days, the biggest energy concern is that we won’t run out of fossil fuels and that global warming will be worse than feared.
  • A fascinating story from NPR about how our image of Jesus has changed with social norms.
  • While it strikes me that global helium supplies are a legitimate concern, the idea that our technical needs in 50 years will be the same as they are now crosses me as silly. Think about the chemicals that were important 50 years ago. Are we in the grips of a global lead shortage?
  • Tuesday Linkorama

    Wednesday, November 28th, 2012
  • An interesting article on how child abuse panic is keeping men out of the childcare industry. My daughter had a male teacher at her school for a while. She really liked him and it was good to see her having a male role model in her life beyond me. But I also admired the man’s courage; I would not put myself in such a vulnerable position.
  • One of my favorite things to do as a grad student was to look up heavily referenced papers to see if they said what people said they said. At least a quarter of the time, they didn’t. Maggie McNeill just dug up a 30-year-old bit of Mathematical Malpractice that’s been cited incorrectly in support of innumerable bad laws.
  • A frustrating story about why we can’t watch WKRP in its original format. We really have to do something about fair use. The Republicans indicated that they might; then ran away from that position.
  • This video, of a hilarious bug in the FIFA 2012 video game, had me giggling.
  • I have to disagree with almost everything in this article claiming the alcohol industry is trying to make us drunks. It assumes alcoholism is entirely a function of government policy. And it mainly reads like a press release from the powerful forces trying to overturn the SCOTUS decision on out-of-state liquor importation, an issue of particular relevance to Pennsylvania.
  • Is airport security taking more lives than it is saving? Seems like.
  • I’ve been sitting on this story, about how doctor witheld information about a child’s medical future from the parents, for a while, trying to think of a way to approach it. Might still write a long form post. But I default to thinking people have a right to know. To presume to make that decision for them is arrogance. As our diagnostic tools get better, we need to give people the legal option: do you want know if we find anything bad? What happens if a cure is invented and this kid doesn’t know that he needs one?
  • The Kindergartner and the Bear

    Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

    I think one of the biggest reasons people choose to reproduce is so that they can relive their childhoods. Scratch that. I think it’s the biggest reason. I’ve blogged before about rediscovering cartoons and musicals with my daughter. And she’s now gotten old enough for me to slowly rediscover the thrill of Halloween. She’s still young enough that I escort her on her trip through the neighborhood. This has the benefit that I get to see the sheer delight as she runs up to a house, is given candy and runs back, buzzing with the sense of adventure.

    (And I have to agree with Cracked on the “trunk-or-treat” thing. That and other attempts to move trick-or-treating to a “safe” environment are insane, stupid and, frankly, cruel. It’s depriving children of one of the few real adventures they get to have.)

    Anyway, the other night, my daughter stopped at a house where they were offering a choice: candy or a stuffed animal. I talked to a neighbor later and found out the owner, whose children were older, had more stuffed animals than she knew what to do with and wanted to get rid of some. Abby spied a small pink teddy bear and fell in love. I don’t mean she liked it. I mean she showed it to me in a giddy haze, introduced it to her beloved koalas in bed and slept with it in her arms that night. The next morning, she took him to the bus-stop and I brought him out later when I picked her up. I don’t know if this will last: she inevitably returns back to her koalas. But for now, she’s got a new man in her heart.

    It’a amazing to see the sheer joy that something like that can bring out. It’s amazing to think of this thing being knocked out an assembly line with thousands of teddies, not knowing that it would become so beloved so quickly.

    I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for soft animals. I still have a stuffed turtle I was raised on as well as some dinosaurs, a tiger and a unicorn that have special meaning for me (the unicorn, for example, I won at the Wisconsin State Fair when I was about 8 or 9. It was one of the best moments of my childhood). But the soft spot isn’t really for the animals themselves. I mean, I’m 40. No, it’s for the meaning behind them, the effect the have and the love and happiness they can provoke in a five year old. It’s a Velveteen Rabbit kind of thing.

    She’ll grow up soon, much faster than I want. And the day will come when these things will not provoke such rapture (indeed, that’s one of the reasons we are so desperate to have another child, an enterprise that has only burned money and produced heartache so far). But for now, I can walk into her room, see her sleeping with her little “Teddy Sparkle” and enjoy the moment.

    Wednesday Linkorama

    Wednesday, October 17th, 2012
  • Distracted parenting is a problem, obviously. But, despite the horrible tragedies described, it’s not clear how big a problem it is. Mobile devices free parents up to do more things with kids and to supervise them more. I will let on, however, that they can occupy your attention. I was at a park when a kid broke his arm and didn’t notice immediately because of my phone. Don’t know if it would have been different with my kid.
  • I’m really looking forward to reading Nate Silver’s book.
  • Statues at the bottom of the sea. Amazing. And heart-breaking, when you think of what they represent.
  • I think this author has a good point that the Star Wars universe is likely illiterate. However, I think it’s less a conscious “where is modernism driving us” thing than a reflection of Star Wars being built on medieval narratives and cliches.
  • An interesting take on one of the more panned documentaries of the year. It does seem that people have a problem accepting that being anti-Big Education is not the same as being anti-education. Or even anti-teacher.
  • This story made my day. This is religion at its finest.
  • Whatever the political fallout of Benghazi, the story of the attack is an amazing one.
  • This is NOT the way to fight global warming. And they say all the greed and abuse is on the skeptic side.
  • Toys. In. Spaaaaace.

    Thursday, September 27th, 2012

    I love this:

    The coolness and wow factors are there, yes. So is the idea that this sort of thing can be done so cheaply and easily. But the real gem is the look on that kid’s face. This is something he will never forget. I have to steal this idea for my kid one day.

    Friday Linkorama

    Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

    Long-form

  • I encountered this problem with my own child. Some pediatricians are simply obsessed with child growth charts, even to the point of stupidity. We had one pediatrician — who we quickly dumped — freak out because Abby was supposedly way too short for age. It turned out they’d put her height in as centimeters instead of inches. It was simply bizarre watching this medical professional insist that our daughter, one of the tallest in her class, was dangerously short. We quickly switched to one who uses the charts for reference but is not defined by them.
  • The most telling part of this story, about Iran banning women from certain college majors, is the note that Iranian women were massively outperforming their male counterparts. Can’t have that, can we?! Looks like the Islamists are figuring out what the Communists did: when you educate a person, they are halfway to freedom.
  • I’m of two minds about peoples who have not contacted civilization. On the one hand, I don’t like forcing civilization on people. On the other, there seems a bit of condescension in the “don’t disturb their culture” mentality.
  • This article, in which Megan McArdle argues that we like to be conned, seems dead accurate to me. Gregg Easterbrook has made the same argument. Bubbles don’t happen because people are stupid. Bubbles happen because people are greedy. They know, deep down, it’s an illusion; but they keep hoping the roof won’t cave in on them.
  • Tuesday Linkorama

    Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
  • Starry Night … in dominoes.
  • A great interview with the Skeptical Environmentalist.
  • The DEA can’t justify it’s own War on Drugs.
  • This post, on whether kids should hate their parents, deserves a feature-length post from me. Suffice it to say that I, uh, split he baby on this one. I’m my daughter’s friend when I can be but if she doesn’t hate me once a week, I’m not doing my job.
  • No Sleep

    Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

    I suspect that the century long concern that children aren’t getting enough sleep is at least partially bogus. There are many problems with the scientific studies backing the supposed recommendation up, not the least of which is the assumption that all children need a similar amount of sleep. But why would we assume this when it’s so obviously not true for adults? There are may adults who function fine on a few hours of sleep, others are zombies with less than ten. And there is some evidence that sleeping a lot is correlated with a shorter life span.

    I personally love a good night’s sleep, but I’m averaging about 5-7 hours. A good night is 7-8 hours. And while I wake up groggy and confused, I find that I really can’t go much beyond that. Is is shortening my life? I don’t know. No one knows. What matters more to me is quality of sleep, rather than quantity. A hard four hours is better than a broken eight.

    I do think there may be a genetic component to it. Although Sue needs 8-9 hours, Abby only needs about 9, about 1-2 less than recommended for her age group. And like me, if we try to force her to get more, she just lies in bed wide awake.

    Weekend Linkorama

    Sunday, December 4th, 2011
  • A magical photo.
  • Turns out there are only four or five degrees of separation.
  • Cracked again, this time on gadgets lying. I always wondered about my laptop battery.
  • This is very true; says the man who just bought an iPad.
  • I should blog more on Israeli efforts to discourage Israelis from marrying American Jews. This is not the first time I’ve encountered that attitude. And it won’t be the last.
  • Monday Linkorama

    Monday, June 20th, 2011
  • An archive of the internet? Nice idea but good luck. The whole point of the internet is to generate more information than paper could ever keep up with.
  • Dreadful story about a vintage airplane being destroyed. Although a least everyone was OK.
  • This is how science works (H/T: Astropixie.
  • More matching old photos to current locations.
  • More pictures of volcanoes.
  • This is one of the more interesting articles I’ve read on parenting. It suggests that coddling kids is a good way to land them in therapy.
  • I can’t wait until my vacation in the Outer Banks.
  • Post-Submission Linkorama

    Saturday, May 21st, 2011

    Non-political links:

  • Some round-up of May 21 humor. Best tweets, God’s computer, the weather forecast and, of course, the housing market.
  • France’s national disgrace.
  • Man, I do like me some Sir Charles.
  • It’s OK to be Takei. Brilliant. The best thing you can do with bigots is to make them look foolish.
  • Lenore Skenazy with two more stories to reminds us that we live in a sane society.
  • Political links:

  • This is why HUD should be cancelled. It’s not because building homes is a bad thing; it’s because our government can barely do anything competently.
  • I like Huntsman. I just don’t think this is his time.
  • Submission Linkorama

    Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

    Non-political links:

  • The caption on this says it all.
  • An interesting article on efforts to conserve water in Las Vegas.
  • One day, computers may make it completely unnecessary for me to speak. If one comes out that bring up relevant Simpsons quotes, I’m doomed.
  • Now playgrounds are being ruined by safety hysteria and the unaccountable CPSC.
  • Political Links:

  • It just goes to show you — if it exists, some political asshole will want to outlaw it.
  • Weekend Linkorama

    Saturday, April 30th, 2011

    Non-political links:

  • It seems to me that this should be bigger news. Law schools are openly lying about their graduate employment numbers.
  • This is ridiculous. Priceless jazz recordings will never be played because of rights concerns.
  • I don’t entirely agree that 3-D is a scam. But I mostly agree with it.
  • The latest baseless child-related freakout: iPads.
  • Political Links:

  • Oh, that liberal media! Right.
  • A very thoughtful piece on jury nullification.
  • Bolivia goes the stone age route on rights for nature. This is a perfect example of the terrible effects of good intentions. The primary result here will be to further empower the already oppressive Bolivian government.