Family Issues

The Breeders

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Dionne quintuplets

Americans keeping having babies. Will Wilkinson does an excellent survey of why American women just can't stop popping 'em out. It's not because we think Jesus wants us to, he says. After all, Italy has almost as much chuch-goin' and not nearly as many offspring:

I like the optimism explanation. It's easy to see why folks would refrain from reproduction if they thought their kids had only a broiling, denuded planet full of wretched consumer-zombies living pointless lives in cookie-cutter McMansions and soulless big box strip malls to look forward to. The data are convincing. This Harris Poll lays it out:

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of adults in the United States say they expect their lives will improve in the next five years [Best in the world!] . . . At the other end of the spectrum, only 23 percent of Germans, 35 percent of Austrians, 36 percent of Belgians, and 37 percent of the Dutch expect their personal situations will improve.

Read Wilkinson writing in Reason on happiness here.

NEXT: Governors Gone Wild!

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  1. And yet we are urged by so many to follow the lead of the Europeans on so many things. If the folks who actually live there think their approach is doomed to failure, why should we emulate them?

  2. It’s not because we think Jesus wants us to, he says. After all, Italy has almost as much chuch-goin’ and not nearly as many offspring:

    Yeah, but Italians are Catholics, and in the past generation God has cursed us Catholics by reducing our fertility. Where once every Catholic couple had 6 kids, now you see married Catholics in their 30’s showing up to church with no kids.

    I mean, what other explanation could there possibly be? 🙂

  3. I think this shows an important element of American culture. While we may not have unity in heritage or customs, there seems to be a sense of optimism, and hope for a better life that all immigrants have brought to this country, and continues to be a trait shared by most Americans.

  4. Or we just want someplace to live when our social security dries up. I see my daughter as an adorable long term care policy.

  5. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of adults in the United States say they expect their lives will improve in the next five years

    Suckers.

  6. RC Dean: The Europeans didn’t say they were “doomed to failure” they merely said that their lot wouldn’t improve in the near future. The difference isn’t policy, it’s outlook. We tend to believe stupid stuff, like when we thought George W. Bush would be a good prez. That was pretty stupid, but we believed it. It’s the belief that matters, not the ability to assess reality.

  7. We don’t have kids because we are optimistic, we are optimistic because we have kids.

    (disclaimer – I just rented Children of Men)

  8. Consider this: within America at least, poor women have more kids than affulent women.

    Surely the poor women of America are not as optimistic about their futures as the wealthy?

  9. We Americans have always been an optimistic, forward-looking bunch. It’s our international identity. The fact that our breeders don’t seem the least bit worried that their offspring will broil in the coming apocalypse is a good thing. Let the Germans fret about global warming. When their economy finally fails they can come here and mow my lawn and fight it out with the Mexicans.

  10. Dan T……don’t call me Shirley.

  11. ed – Yes, the Germans can come; but not the Franks.

    Dan T. – ’cause when you’re poor, there are fewer opportunities for fun, so… you have sex… sex makes babies… affluent women can shop.

    Random thoughts….

    CB

  12. Dan T,

    The poor have more reason to be optimistic, don’t they?
    The rich have it to lose. The poor plan to get it for themselves.

  13. “Surely the poor women of America are not as optimistic about their futures as the wealthy?”

    Sure, they do. They have no where to go but up.

    I don’t know that people living in McMansions see there lives as awful. I think it’s a misconception to paint them as bleiving their lives are as devoid of “meaning” as others see it. But yeah, not for me. No thanks. Kids are too sticky and so very needy.

  14. Tim,

    You need to see Idiocracy

    before it’s too late.

  15. Kids are too sticky and so very needy

    And loud. They always scream when you throw them in the pool.

  16. Herr Tim:

    hier is the NSFW beginning of Idiocracy.

  17. “She found that the more the father was involved in the chores of looking after the child and household, the more likely his wife was to want and have a second baby. The survey indicated that Italian men do little around the house – fewer than six per cent of mothers responded that their husbands “always” or “often” did household chores . Consequently many women cannot face the dual burden of going out to work and looking after an extra child. They have to give up one of those two options: they usually decide to sacrifice the extra child.

    There is evidence from other countries that men’s participation in household chores affects the chances that a wife will have a second baby. Sweden’s birth rate is nearly 50 per cent higher than Italy’s. Swedish men are rather more willing to share the burden of domestic chores and surveys of Swedish women reveal that 90 per cent say that they could not imagine having children if the father was not prepared to share the responsibilities of the household.”

    Perhaps evolution will bring gender equality more certainly than any policy could.

  18. oh – most important line (.WAV, NSFW):

    hier

  19. The Germans will have to fight it out with more than just the mexicans. That damned gardener with his 6:30am leafblower is Russian. Him and his entire crew. It doesn’t do any good cussing them out in Spanish, because they don’t understand a word of it.

    p.s. I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right.

  20. Perhaps the reason Americans have so many children is in part, because the government subsidizes child-rearing through tax credits and various other incentives – free education being one.

  21. Having just escorted my spouse through the baby process, I have to say that the pregnant women came in two flavors:

    1. Affluent women in their mid 30’s having their first and only child.

    2. Trailer trash in their teens and early 20’s having their second or third child and talking loudly in the waiting room about how their baby daddy [or baby daddies] don’t help with shit.

    Maybe America has a higher fertility rate because we have more of the #2 kind.

  22. They have to give up one of those two options: they usually decide to sacrifice the extra child.

    Well, that may be sensible, but sacrifice the extra child to whom? For my money, you’ve gotta go with Baal. Anything else is small potatoes.

  23. Perhaps evolution will bring gender equality more certainly than any policy could.

    If the evolutionary forces were that powerful in this regard. Wouldn’t there be gender equality be widespread 3,000 years ago?

  24. I also have to ask: why is higher female fertility a good thing?

    Other than the fact that it helps foot the bill for government schemes to redistribute income generationally, why should we care?

    That portion of economic growth based solely on population growth we can do without.

    Personally, I take the crashing fertility rates in affluent nations as one more sign that the Magic Free Market will take care of all that pesky Malthus stuff in the end. If 200 years from now there are under 1 billion humans on Earth it will probably be indistinguishable from the Earthly Paradise of myth. If there are 20 billion humans, probably not so much.

  25. p.s. I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right.

    What’s the difference – other than the fact that the pessimist is not going to suffer any disappointment or disillusionment?

  26. Suckers.

    Why are Americans suckers to believe that the trend of the last several decades (or more) will continue?

    Where did you get that “doomed to failure” statement from?

    My keyboard. I typed it all by myself.

    Basically, the Europeans are in the process of committing demographic suicide. From that, I infer that they are pessimistic about the future of their society, e.g., that European society is doomed to failure, and so what’s the point? And I don’t think this pessimism is limited to the next few years, either. Rather, it is a profound pessimism about the future as a whole.

    Optimism and pessimism, in my experience, are very much self-fulfilling prophecies.

    Grotius points to an uptick in European optimism, but note that the absolute levels are still lower than in the US, which also experienced an uptick in optimism.

  27. jw,

    Are you implying that Europeans don’t heavily subsidize such things? You mention education for instance. As far as I know, the vast majority, if not all, European countries have some form free primary and second education.

    Several countries I can think off-hand also have child tax credits, and in many cases, heavier subsidy of health care, maternity leave, et cetera.

  28. jw,

    Are you implying that Europeans don’t heavily subsidize such things?

    No, not at all.

  29. Oh, okay, was just confused there for a second.

  30. You could also look at Japan–pretty low on the birth replacement chart.

    Again, tied to the fact that it’s very expensive to raise a kid from birth through college, plus a lot of Japanese women don’t like getting totally shut out of work and confined in tiny apartments with no one else to talk to but other young moms.

    Japanese men don’t lift that much of the housework load, either.

    Which is why a lot of women are looking at the trade-offs and saying “screw this, I’m not going to bother to get married or have kids.”

  31. To what extent do upticks in optimism reflect the increased use of anti-depressants?

  32. from Malthus to Solow
    hier (PDF!)

    Hansen and Prescott (2001)

    (just seeing Ivan’s last name in the “thank you” section is worth the PDF)

  33. Italians are Catholics
    Racist stereotype!

    poor women have more kids than affulent women
    Racist stereotype!

    We Americans have always been an optimistic, forward-looking bunch.
    Racist stereotype! [1]

    Europeans are in the process of committing demographic suicide.
    Racist stereotype!

    [1]”Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, … blah blah blah”
    (Quote is courtesy of the Seattle Skewl Sistim, before they got busted.)

  34. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of adults in the United States say they expect their lives will improve in the next five years

    Suckers.

    Actually, it’s all in how you define “improve” really.

    Some people think Orwellian cameras are “improvements”, others, not so much. Some people think socialist health care is “improvement”, others, not so much.

    Is the top spinning clockwise or anticlockwise, and which is better?

    That kinda thing.

    Going back to sleep now until Jennifer starts blogging again.

  35. To what extent do upticks in optimism reflect the increased use of anti-depressants?

    I’m wondering how much of the optimism can be explained by living in a country that controls the world’s money supply. Need some more money? Print it – or borrow it. It’s all just markers anyway.

  36. Oy! All this angst over rug-rats.

    Folks, we’re here for one reason and one reason only: perpetuation of the species.

    Everything else, like modern civilization and all, is just icing on the cake. Mmmmm….cake….

    FWIW, the missus and I stopped after 2 of the scamps, ‘cuz that was about all we could take.

    Having just escorted my spouse through the baby process, I have to say that the pregnant women came in two flavors:

    Wrong. One. Mother frakin’ nuts.

  37. Why, if we are talking about the US birthrate, are you showing a picture of the Dionne Quintuplets?

  38. Why, if we are talking about the US birthrate, are you showing a picture of the Dionne Quintuplets?

    Are you suggesting Canada isn’t a part of the U.S.?

  39. Maybe America has a higher fertility rate because we have more of the #2 kind.

    I see it as a evolutionary advantage. The offspring of stupid people have a lower likelihood of making it into their reproductive years; the more children the stupid people have the more likely some of them will live to reproduce. As an added bonus the rest of us get to help pay for it. Oh and Jerry Springer never runs out of guests.

    Other than the fact that it helps foot the bill for government schemes to redistribute income generationally, why should we care?

    There are policy makers in some of the finer European welfare states well aware of that fact and it makes them very nervous. That is why they have little option but to encourage population growth through immigration. The fact that all Ponzi schemes eventually go down in flames does not seem to occur to them.

  40. Just think how much better off we’d be with Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, five time Ultimate Smackdown Champion and porn legend, in the White House right now instead of the Chimperor.

  41. I KNOW my life will improve in the next 5 years; I’ll be moving out of the US.

  42. This thread has been brought to you by Carl’s Jr.

  43. Ah, yes. Baal. God of Boche.

  44. This thread’s got what plants crave. It’s got electrolytes.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go pick up some Jack inuh Box.

  45. To follow up on what “Other Matt” was saying.

    I wonder how many of the Europeans were taking in their whole feelings towards the future. That is, wondering where they will be financially, existentially, physically, emotionally and others in five years while the Americans were just thinking about how many awesome new Toby Keith albums will be released in the next five years.

  46. You can lead, follow, or get out of the way.

    Brawndo obviously selects “getting out of the way”.

    (He’s actually getting a latte)

    and:
    – congrats to WSD and Dave W on their civil union in Canada! [keed keed]

  47. It might be remembered that the non-immigrant population of Europe is composed of the descendants of people who were content enough with their lot in life to stay where they were while the U.S. population is composed of people or the children of people from all over the world who wanted more. It might also be remembered that there is a difference between expecting one’s life to improve and being dissatisfied with one’s current life.

    In any case, on the one hand as Fran Lebowitz once observed, children are rarely good conversationalists and almost never have anything one might wish to borrow. On the other hand, as I have observed, they obviate the need to struggle with questions like whether one will take the Tahiti vacation or buy the Porsche. So it all works out.

    The lower birth rate almost universally experienced by the more affluent, by the way, poses an interesting question for evolutionary psychology. If all we are ultimately are gene reproduction mechanisms, why is it that the most successful among us reproduce at the lowest rates?

  48. Maybe America has a higher fertility rate because we have more of the #2 kind.

    Is that a reference to dookie or muggles (20s slang, not boy-wizard)?

  49. “Are you suggesting Canada isn’t a part of the U.S.?”

    Oh, right. I forgot. USA (Canada) Inc.

    wsdave

    Right. Please don’t move to Canada. As D.A.Ridgely pointed out, it’s part of the US anyways.

  50. “It says on your chart you’re fucked up. You talk like a fag, and your shit’s all retarded.”

  51. “why is it that the most successful among us reproduce at the lowest rates?”

    Us poor folks tend to see tricycle motors as a gift from God.
    Successful folks know that the best gifts are from neimann-marcus

  52. R.C. Dean,

    Basically, the Europeans are in the process of committing demographic suicide.

    No they aren’t. Demographic changes in Europe are not even remotely uniform; some European nations have close to or positive growth rates while others do not.

    Besides, with those nations that are supposedly primed to have negative growth we’re talking about predictive time windows ranging from forty three to ninety-three years.

    Grotius points to an uptick in European optimism, but note that the absolute levels are still lower than in the US, which also experienced an uptick in optimism.

    So, European optimism is up but somehow that is still a bad thing?

  53. D.A.R.,

    It might be remembered that the non-immigrant population of Europe is composed of the descendants of people who were content enough with their lot in life to stay where they were…

    Actually you are wrong about that. The 19th and 20th centuries (as well as this one) have seen a whole lot of immigration within Europe itself. I mean ask yourself where Sarkozy’s family comes from.

  54. D.A.R.,

    If all we are ultimately are gene reproduction mechanisms, why is it that the most successful among us reproduce at the lowest rates?

    Well, how are you defining success?

  55. D.A.R.,

    By the way, approximately 1/3rd of all immigrants to the U.S. went back to their home country (at least in the 19th century) and large portions of the European population which did immigrate went to locales like Argentina and Canada. A course I once took allowed me to focus on immigration history.

  56. The great sage David Barry said: Having babies causes amnesia; why else would we have more than one?

  57. wsdave | May 1, 2007, 5:13pm | #

    I KNOW my life will improve in the next 5 years; I’ll be moving out of the US.

    Don’t let the door hit ‘cha in the ass on the way out, motherfucker!

  58. I’m quite happy with how my life is going and expect things will get even better within the next five years. But this would cease to be true if I had a baby. So I gaze with optimism upon my childless future.

  59. Yes, the Germans can come; but not the Franks.

    I think we should encourage Franks to immigrate to the US.

    Then mad-scientist geneticists can experiment on combining French and Mexican immigrants to create a super-race of gardeners and home-builders who not only work hard for very low wages, but also possess a very highly developed aesthetic sense.

    We will call these wondrous chimeras “FrankenBeaners.”

    NOTE: This comment did not contain any objectionable terminology or stereotypes when posted. If you see any such, they must have been added after posting by mischievous Reason staff. For shame.

  60. What’s the difference – other than the fact that the pessimist is not going to suffer any disappointment or disillusionment?

    A pessimist will tend to have more worry, more stress, and more ulcers. He will be grumpy and angry. He has no hope, nothing positive to look forward to. Who wants to go through life being a sorry ass son of a bitch?

    If life really is the ultimate downer, and I’m on the highway to hell, at least let me enjoy the scenery!

  61. Optimism is cool until is crosses over into can’t-recognize-reality-ism. I’m sure there is something similar for pessimism, but from what I can see, America has this can-do attitude that drives people insane, especially when we can’t but still try. This is the most abstract crap I’ve written here.

  62. *passes Stevo a martini made with highest-possible end vodka and the finest of bleu cheese olives…*

    (for this and the sun tan thread)

    May Urkobold Bless Stevo!

  63. Who wants to go through life being a sorry ass son of a bitch?

    Apparently a bunch of ignorant, thoughtless, Pollyannish optimists.

  64. Damn, VM, I am suddenly craving a martini. It’s 4pm…coffee, or a chilled, freshly shaken martini? The choice is clear.

  65. Perhaps evolution will bring gender equality more certainly than any policy could.

    If the evolutionary forces were that powerful in this regard. Wouldn’t there be gender equality be widespread 3,000 years ago?

    Because the selective pressure recently changed. In the past, father’s who brought their offspring food and battled enimies had more surviving offspring. Mother’s who went to war had few surviving offspring, because young children couldn’t live separated from them. Today, food is plentiful and breast pumps and bottles are available. Now, helping with housework leads to having more children. If helpful fathers average 3 children and non-helpful fathers average 2 children, then in 10 generations, helpful fathers will sire 99% of the population. Of course, this is a very speculative model. Like all predictions for the year 2200, it relies on none of the current witnesses being around to see if I’m wrong.

  66. NOTE: This comment did not contain any objectionable terminology or stereotypes when posted. If you see any such, they must have been added after posting by mischievous Reason staff. For shame.

    So, instead of “FrankenBeaners” what was originally posted was the far less objectionable “Frogbacks”?

  67. Grotius: (1) that’s why I wrote “non-immigrant population of Europe”; (2) I’m not, but if evolutionary psychology contends that all behavior is ultimately geared toward gene perpetuation, it would be an awfully sophisticated gene that figured “Okay, my host is an engineer, so I can trust him to procreate only once or twice”; (3) So?

  68. The lower birth rate almost universally experienced by the more affluent, by the way, poses an interesting question for evolutionary psychology. If all we are ultimately are gene reproduction mechanisms, why is it that the most successful among us reproduce at the lowest rates?

    Evolution will cause more fit traits to appear and spread overtime. On an individual level, each person will still have some less fit traits. Remember, fitness is just a meassure of how many grandkids you have compaired to your neighbors. It has nothing to do with good and bad, or successful and unsuccessful. From and evolutionary perspective, having fewer kids so you can afford an annual vacation is a less fit trait. From a moral perspective, it’s your gamates, do what you want.

  69. *passes Stevo a martini made with highest-possible end vodka and the finest of bleu cheese olives…*

    God love ya, VM. *imbibes*

    To Ukobold!

    So, instead of “FrankenBeaners” what was originally posted was the far less objectionable “Frogbacks”?

    Actually, it was “tortilla-eatin’ surrender monkeys.”

  70. Correction: Urkobold.

  71. STEVO,

    ?POR QU? ME HAS CONVOCADO?

    ASUMO QUE HABLAS ESPA?OL PORQUE TU NOMBRE TERMINA EN EL “O.” ?S??

  72. Americans keeping having babies.

    …keeping having…? Isn’t that some kind of transitive error or something?

  73. D.A.R.

    “Why is it that the most successful among us reproduce at the lowest rate?”

    Depends on how you define successful — the most successful people in evolutionary terms are those who reproduce at the highest rates. If you drive a Mercedes and live in a mansion, and had a vasectomy to avoid having kids, you’re a huge loser, evolutionarily speaking. In economic terms, time and money spent raising kids pretty much guarantee that someone with lots of offspring will have fewer material trappings than someone equally talented who isn’t diverting resources like that.

  74. As the father of 5, I would just like to mention that I’m glad not to have been the father of only 4. There isn’t one of them that I wouldn’t have wanted in my life.

    If someone else doesn’t want to have kids, that’s their decision to make. I made mine.

    And to those who whine about “overpopulation,” I’d be more than happy to help them reduce the world’s population, one whiner at a time . . .but none of them ever take me up on it! So I guess the issue isn’t how many people are “squandering resources,” it’s WHO gets to do the squandering.

  75. Brandybuck | May 1, 2007, 6:52pm | #

    “What’s the difference – other than the fact that the pessimist is not going to suffer any disappointment or disillusionment?”

    A pessimist will tend to have more worry, more stress, and more ulcers. He will be grumpy and angry. He has no hope, nothing positive to look forward to. Who wants to go through life being a sorry ass son of a bitch?

    Actually, I’d rather go through life being a smartass son of a bitch and right, than either a dumb or sorry one. But whatever. Don’t worry; be happy! Dum, dum, da diddly dum! ????????…..

  76. How could any one not want kids? Anyone else think of it as being billions of years of evolution ending with you? We went from bacteria, to fish to some other stuff and you’re gonna end the line because you want two vacations a year instead of one?

    Get out there and reproduce you bums.

  77. D.A.R.,

    …that’s why I wrote “non-immigrant population of Europe”…

    Which is a creature that basically doesn’t exist (despite myths about the heimat that stretches back to the beginning of time, etc.). Europe’s population has been and continues to be in constant motion.

    I’m not, but if evolutionary psychology contends that all behavior is ultimately geared toward gene perpetuation, it would be an awfully sophisticated gene that figured “Okay, my host is an engineer, so I can trust him to procreate only once or twice”

    I’m sorry, but this statement makes very little sense.

  78. ?POR QU? ME HAS CONVOCADO?

    Only to hail thy mighty name, O Urkobold!

    ASUMO QUE HABLAS ESPA?OL PORQUE TU NOMBRE TERMINA EN EL “O.” ?S??

    Un poco solamenta. Estudio espanol en la escuela, pero no recuerdo mucho.

  79. Grotius, while I decline to debate the point much further, my original contention went to the relative attitudes of the European population and the U.S. population over the last, say, 400 years. Sure, there’s no such ‘thing’ as Europe and people have always been in some state of flux just about everywhere, but it’s a relative phenomenon. Everybody, Indians aside, came here from somewhere else fairly recently. Also, having lived in Europe for years, I found time and again people who had lived not only in the same nation but the same village and even the same neighborhood for multiple generations. Can you find that sort of thing in the U.S.? Yes, but far less frequently.

    As for whether my other statement made sense, well… [shrug] it makes sense to me. Perhaps I’ll expand the point at my own blog sometime soon and we can have at it then.

  80. poor women have more kids than affulent women
    Racist stereotype!

    Let’s throw some data on the subject:

    The General Social Survey is a massive survey in the U.S. that includes all the data you need to address this question. For example, here is the average number of children that white females age 40-50 (their fertility is nearly complete) actually had by family income category:

    less than $25k = 2.71
    greater than $25k = 2.14

    Here’s the same measurement and group broken down by educational attainment:

    0: LT HIGH SCHOOL = 3.13
    1: HIGH SCHOOL = 2.46
    2: JUNIOR COLLEGE = 2.14
    3: BACHELOR = 1.88
    4: GRADUATE = 1.57

    You can access all the data here:
    http://sda.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/hsda?harcsda+gss04

    The variables I used here are:
    CHILDS
    INCOME
    DEGREE
    SEX(2)
    RACECOMB(1)
    AGE(40-50)

  81. Hmmm, looks like attending school reduces your fitness. If that’s true, why in the world would people attend school? The population of people who believe in higher education would steadily decline over the generations, eliminating this preference. Maybe schools actively recruit new members to compensate for their negative effects on fitness. That would make higher education like some sort of mind virus that survives at the student/hosts expense. 😉

    Bottom line, if you think a school is right for you, go for it. If not, don’t. Just realize the opportunity costs of your choices.

  82. We Americans believe that our lives will improve for two reasons: 1) weak math skills, 2) how could they get any worse?

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