Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Indulge Me

I can't remember exactly where, nor exactly who, as it's been a couple of weeks (I think) since that post. (Brian, was it you?), but somebody brought up,as a tangent, the topic of breeding levels in the not-so-developed world in comparison to the more-developed world, with the suggestion being that it may be the higher breeding levels that keep the poorer nations the way they are.

I want to discuss this a little bit, but I think we need to determine what has come first in the developed nations: increased wealth/technology/modernisation, or decreased breeding,in order to identify a proper cause and effect.

I going to go with the idea that wealth is the cause behind lower breeding rates. There seems to be a pattern of larger families throughout history when these families were beneficial to the breeders (like agricultural families).
But the industrial revolution didn't put and end to 4-8 child families. The cities were full of them. As was my own family.

Breeding patterns didn't change in the developed world until after the end of World War Two, and the rise of socialistic governments as the accepted standard.
Though I cannot speak for others, I know what prevented me from having more than the two kids I did have: economics. So much of my labor goes to taxes, coupled with the 'unseen' regulations that dictate safe housing standards, city codes as to how many may live in a room,etc... the combination of factors made every additional child twice as expensive as the previous.
By contrast: in prior times, every additional child was only a fraction as costly as the one who came before it. And in agricultural societies, an extra mouth came with two hands that paid their own way.
(Try to rent an honest apartment when you have six kids.)

Also, wealth creates the expectation of greater expectation. In today's advanced society, if every child isn't furnished with his own bedroom,cell phone, stereo, computer,and cable television then something is wrong with his life. He'll end up on Oprah in twenty years bemoaning his childhood of poverty. (While both his parents worked full time jobs to provide those luxuries that have now become necessities.)

What I'm saying, I guess, is that the leisure modern life provides, along with the governmental/social structure does something to us as a civilization. Where families were once seen as the center and purpose of our lives, they are now practiced as optional phases of a life.

I'd like to have your input on this.


Mark Heuring said...

I suspect you're right, good sir. My own family history confirms this. My mother, who spent at least part of her childhood in a rural setting, was one of 13 children. I am one of 7 children, growing up in a small city. I have 2 children, living in a large metropolitan area (Minneapolis-St. Paul).

Brian said...

1) Yeah that was me. Though I don't think it's a simple cause/effect relationship where having fewer children makes you richer, nor where being richer means you have fewer children. It's a lot more complex than that, and something I believe social scientists are still very much in the process of sussing out.

2) What you've pointed out is certainly more stuff that correlates with falling birthrates in this country. But as to how/whether they relate, see point 1.

3) The thing you seem to be leaving out of your analysis is the the changing role of women. WWII is an important turning point: the war necessitated unprecedented numbers of women entering the workforce, a trend that continued long after the war was over. And a few years later came the pill. Between those two things, women gained unprecedented levels of economic independence and control over their reproductive activities.

I would argue that the main reason we have fewer babies is because that's what women by and large have chosen and are choosing to do. Given the disproportionate physical and economic burden born by women in the process of having kids, I can hardly blame them.

4) "Where families were once seen as the center and purpose of our lives, they are now practiced as optional phases of a life."

I agree. Where we disagree, I imagine, is that I consider this to be a good thing.

Don't get me wrong: I think anyone who wants to and can responsibly have lots and lots of kids should.

What I care about is the "optional" part.

Bike Bubba said...

Is it a change in wealth primarily, or a change in our attitudes towards it? That is, is wealth the end in itself, or is it the means by which we care for those we love? I personally think an attitudinal shift is a bigger issue than wealth itself.

Among other factors, of course.

kr said...

When I was in college, which wasn't so long ago, I was informed that it was a twenty-ish year gap (so, I guess, one generation) between traditional breeding and developed nation breeding ... ie, the argument at the time was, once a society has economic security, it takes a generation before they 'realize' (by the kids who have grown up with new assumptions) that the old assumptions don't apply anymore.

That in pretty much every pocket of development (eg, modern city in depressed nation, or modernizing nation), the pattern was the same: the people who moved to that area continued in the olde way, the people who grew up there didn't. I believe this was also said of immigrant families to America (eg., Irish and Italian, although their Catholic faith undoubtably muddled their "progress").

Also a factor, is olde agricultural societies literally budget for child-loss. They ASSUME a rate of loss (probably higher in Africa than the Ozarks, but ... ). So a woman having four kids would be considered very irresponsible if the farm needed 4 children to help ... because she's taking resources for two non-contributors without ponying up the help needed for the long term. (I've always heard these things blaming the women ... it has been the m.o. to blame women for birthrates either way since forever.)

Anyhow, that's my 4c (which in this economy counts as 2 ;) ).

Gino said...

brian: yes,i did forget about the pill, but even before that, there was reliable contraception, so i dont think thats it. the pill is mostly a boon for casual sex, as opposed to what happens in a marriage/family situation anyway.

but you are right that what women choose as a birthrate seems to dictate the birthrate. my own life is no exception: after two, the wife and i were talking plans for adoption. (she had two rough pregnancies, and wasnt going there anymore.)

kr: 20yrs. yeah, thats seems to be the pattern i see as well.

economic security: my dad's family, with large land holdings, had more economic security than 99% of the developed world, but the families were still large,cause on a farm, kids come free, though life still didnt contain the level of leisure we know today.