Tag Archives: children

Are middle children going extinct?

In The Cut, Adam Sternbergh has a piece called, “The Extinction of the Middle Child They’re becoming an American rarity, just when America could use them the most.”

This is good for me to read, because I’ve been asked to include more material about sibling relationships in the next edition of my textbook, The Family, and it’s not my expertise. Thinking about sibling relationships is good, but the demography here is off. Sternberg writes:

According to a study by the Pew Research Center in 1976, “the average mother at the end of her childbearing years had given birth to more than three children.” Read that again: In the ’70s, four kids (or more) was the most common family unit. Back then, 40 percent of mothers between 40 and 44 had four or more children. Twenty-five percent had three kids; 24 percent had two; and 11 percent had one. Today, those numbers have essentially reversed. Nearly two-thirds of women with children now have two or one — i.e., an oldest, a youngest, but no middle.

It is true there are a lot fewer U.S. families with more than two children today than there were in 1976. However, by my reckoning (see below), in the most recent data (2016), 38 percent of mothers age 40-44 who have had any children have had three or more. So, there’s a middle child in more than a third of families. And, crucially, that number hasn’t dropped in the last 25 years. I’ll explain.

The best regular national survey for this is the Current Population Survey’s June Fertility Supplement, which is administered to a national sample by the Census Bureau more or less every two years. They ask women, “Altogether how many children have you ever given birth to?” The traditional way to measure total number of children born for a cohort of women is to take the average of that number for women who are ages 40-44. (I would rather do it at ages 45-49, but they didn’t always ask it for women over 44.)

This is what you get for the surveys from 1976 to 2016 (remember these are the years the women reached the end of their childbearing years).

birth order historyh.xlsx

You can see how it’s a little tricky. First, the biggest changes were over by the 1990s, when the last of the Baby Boom parents reached their forties (their first kids were born 25 years earlier). The biggest changes after that were in the number of women having no children, which rose until 2006 but then fell, possibly as access to fertility treatments improved. (Note in all this we’re calling all the children one woman has a “family,” but really it’s a sibling set; some will be living with other people and some will have died, so it’s not a measure of family life in the household sense of family. And it’s all based on children women have, so if there are different fathers in these families we wouldn’t know it, and if these children have half-siblings with a different mother we wouldn’t know it, but that’s the way it goes.)

It’s hard to see what this means for the prevalence of middle children in the country, because the no-children women aren’t relevant. So if your question is, “what proportion of families with children have any middle children?” you would want to do it like this, which excludes the childfree women, and combines all those with three or more:

birth order historyh.xlsx

This shows the big drop in middle-child families that Sternbergh started with, but it puts it in perspective: the change was over by the 1990s, and since then it’s been basically flat at 35+ percent. So, things have changed a lot from the days of the Baby Boom, but the same article could have been written, demographically speaking, in 1992. (Note that the drop in total fertility rate since 2008 [see this] hasn’t yet shown up in completed fertility since it’s among younger women.)

It’s not clear whether the unit of analysis should be the family or the child, however. This says 38 percent of women produce middle-child families. But how many children have the experience of being a middle child (defined as a child with at least one older and one younger sibling)? That might make more sense if you’re interested, as Sternbergh is, in the effect of middle children on the culture. So just multiplying out the number of children per woman, and counting the number of middle children as the total minus two for all sibships of three or more (I think I did it right), you get this:

birth order historyh.xlsx

(Again, this assumes no one died before their mother turned 44, which did change over this period, especially as violent crime rates among young men fell. You could do something fancy to estimate that.)

So, it looks to me that, for the last 25 years, about 20-25 percent of children have been middle children.

On the other hand, looking in the longer run — much further back than Sternbergh’s starting point of 1976 — it’s clear that the proportion of children growing up as middle children has declined drastically. One quick and dirty way to show that is in children’s living arrangements. The final figure uses Census data (decennial till 2000, then American Community Survey) to show how many children are living as the only child, one of two, a middle child, or as the oldest/youngest in a three-plus family. This is messy because it’s just whoever is living together at the moment. So this is answering a question more like, “what proportion of children at any given time are living with an older and a younger sibling?” Here’s the trend:

ceb4.jpg

(Note that, thanks to IPUMS.org coding, this does count people as having older siblings if the sibling is older than 18, as long as they’re living in the household. But I’m only including kids living in the household of at least one parent.)

Wow! In 1850 half of all U.S. children had an older and a younger sibling in the household with them. Now it’s below 20 percent. Still no drop since 1990, but the long-term change is impressive. So if all that personality stuff is true, then that’s a big difference between the olden days and nowadays. Definitely going to put this in the book.

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What if you left your kid alone with YouTube

crazyyoutubevideos

Google Image search for “crazy youtube videos”

YouTube is the educator entertainer that never sleeps. One video leads to the next, literally forever. (YouTube does have a kids channel which is supposed to be a safe space for kids.) They have “YouTube Kids,” which was supposed to help reassure parents. But if your kid is at a random computer and just goes to YouTube.com, or clicks on a link and ends up there, they’re off down Recommendation Alley.

In response to fears that YouTube was promoting bad things to children, unintentionally or not, and thinking about a possible sociology class exercise, I decided to do an exercise where I start from a Disney princess video and then select from one of the top-10 recommended videos on each page to try to get to things that are bad for children. (In the possibly-vain hope that my experiment wouldn’t be contaminated by my own use history, I used an incognito window without logging in to Google.) My goal was Nazi propaganda, and my strategy was to aim for adult stuff, then look out for disturbing, racist, or violent content. As children do.

I gave up after 113 videos, without getting to Nazi stuff. I would love to know — as YouTube surely does — how children really use YouTube when no one’s looking. I know from limited experience they click around a lot — covering a lot of videos in a short time — and they don’t vet their “content” carefully. So this seems like a plausible browsing session. Anyway, still thinking about how to do something like this, and thought I’d share my notes here:

How fast can I get to Nazi stuff from “Disney kids” using videos from the first 10 recommended? (Spoiler, I couldn’t, but still.)

After searching for “Disney kids,” I chose this innocent Disney Princess video, and starting clicking on recommendations.

  1. Kids Makeup Disney Princesses Pretend Play with Cleaning Toys & Real Princess Dresses https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yl-dYcHTAYg
  2. Emily Became a Princess-Real Princess Dresses https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euGnK3OGU_A
  3. PRINCESS SCHOOL TEST 🎓 Lilliana Helps Isabella To Cheat! – Princesses In Real Life | Kiddyzuzaa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dD-bDjWwtjA
  4. Kaycee and Rachel in Wonderland # 26 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhuGyvxZb3Y
  5. 24 Hours in Box Fort Jail Challenge! 24 Hour Challenge with No LOL Dolls https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noJv8tV0FF8

By #6 I’ve gotten as far as icky

  1. Father & Son PLAY DON’T STEP IN IT! / Avoid The Poo! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoNBU6alsjA
  2. Escaping Hello Neighbors Maximum Security Box Fort Prison / Jake and Ty https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BPdjI697GU
  3. 9 Weird Ways To Sneak Food Into Class / Summer Pranks! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99n2OLtIUwY

A reference to a shooter video by #9. This leads into family conflict…

  1. FORTNITE DANCE CHALLENGE !! In Real Life With Ckn Toys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k96FHPngnwU
  2. FORTNITE Dance Challenge! IN REAL LIFE | NINJA KIDZ TV https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBR0onumDq4
  3. Sister VS Brother Battle! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8AERX2Rolw
  4. Katherine is a Barbie! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pK7idnorApQ
  5. How To Remove White Marks From Your Baby Alive! Commercial Style https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOOWYej1KNc
  6. Lalaloopsy school adventure episode 1: bullying! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvJIODxOTeo
  7. Sketch Smell Challenge https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bjj8O8rhedU
  8. NEVER HAVE I EVER!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix5_v8uLiuk
  9. Older Siblings vs Younger Siblings!! Sisters Trinity and Madison https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqX3nnL2fOE
  10. EXPECTATIONS vs REALITY of Having a Sibling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U88fcNfrKXQ
  11. EXPECTATION vs REALITY OF BEING A PARENT!!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SIXQjkf4Y4
  12. Amelia and Avelina beach vacation adventure https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m80SpeAncyI
  13. HOTEL HOUSEKEEPER CHASED BY COPS AT RESORT!!! POLICE UNDERCOVER https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44bft2AfUWU
  14. A CREEPY STALKER FAN STALKS ME OUTSIDE MY OWN HOUSE *HE HAD MY PHONE NUMBER* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrNLHlL2OEE
  15. Is Nicole a Zombie, Forever? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDouUbA4oME
  16. The Girl Who Collects Cockroaches | My Kid’s Obsession https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9W7J7iW39E
  17. QUEEN BABY: Bath Time https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arSknXl8sko
  18. Power Tool Wins and Fails https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2bAlONGEPw

First real violence by #27. Not that bad, just a skateboard injury, which introduces the people-behaving-badly-in-real-life genre

  1. Skateboarder Crashes into Kid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec4LNeV4CTQ
  2. Lady Yells at Kid on Alpine Slide in Winter Park CO (Fight) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7c82c7ay5s
  3. ex-wife acting out in front of kids https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toz-JgqhI94
  4. Baby Mama manipulating again (Arizona) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcwFYTN_w7o
  5. CPS NOT WANTING TO GO ON CAMERA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juahHP_xYDc
  6. CPS murdered my family https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpIihXia0Yo
  7. CPS Supervisor Calls Parents “White Trash”!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnPmQgekBog
  8. Crazy lady at skate park https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zRmrIG3ehk
  9. Crazy lady yells at kids for standing on table https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJkXQvuTG1A
  10. Lady yells at kids https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C141zVXqrY0
  11. Super mad bus driver and kid trys to escape https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0hhaCVP1Uc
  12. BUS DRIVER REFUSES TO LET CHILDREN ON BUS!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDJOmzwBQv4
  13. Bus Driver Kicks Girl Out of Bus.Miles Away from Home https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xvj4Kg6Ll9I
  14. Mean bus driver https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSrMgZe5UC0
  15. Creepy little girl brings me to bathroom stall and locks the door https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjyb1IMeEpA
  16. My humps remix (Barbie and crazy) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX150oaD2H0
  17. Two girls fighting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNpq1GnCaCc
  18. Two boys and two girls fighting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0czg5hVzld0
  19. This wat happen when a 2nd and 4th grader fight https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8vn7wEQ_Lk
  20. 3rd Grade fight in school https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDAcnde8P3s
  21. Bullying 3rd Grade https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6uOT-A3ZaE
  22. WORLD’S MEANEST LITTLE GIRL – IDIOTS ALWAYS ASK #12 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V22Xw0y7LsY
  23. Little kids fight https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h50amm_gXCY
  24. 8 vs 10 year old fighting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amovxJrgZx4
  25. 8 year old vs 13 year old fighting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNLqypr2Xuc

Trying to get out of the kids-fighting loop, I chose this one, which led to stuff for parents…

  1. Kid Pukes at Dentist after Getting Mold Removed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT6pw58CWKU
  2. 10 year old Isabella shouldn’t know The ‘C’ Word #LyttleFight https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcIVTZxnTkU
  3. Slap Her https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6CDvSDkeAM
  4. Doll test – The effects of racism on children (ENG) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRZPw-9sJtQ
  5. Disturbingly Racist Moments in Cartoons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cftUIdSr_T8
  6. Top 10 Insanely Racist Moments In Disney Movies That You Totally Forgot About https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKWGQyz-oLw
  7. 10 Dark Theories About Dead Disney Characters https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbfpJ7gZl44
  8. Sausage Party: 10 Important Details You Totally Missed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSiQkslhg7A
  9. 15 Moms You Won’t Believe Actually Exist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OlmYhaGkGI
  10. Most Inappropriate Children Coloring Book Drawings! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UD81kn5L7O0
  11. Bunk’d Stars ★ Before And After https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhm01EsBEkU

Somehow this led to freaky or scary images and general danger…

  1. 10 STRONG KIDS That Can Lift More Than You https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoG5_LWChVQ
  2. World’s Strongest Kids Girl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EV39CR7v7gA
  3. Remember This Viral Photo Of A Nigerian ‘Witch’ You Should See Him Now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7zN75E7rOg
  4. 10 SHOCKING Incidents When Kids Left Alone With Pets https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B56hVR8QhoE
  5. 10 Times TOYS Got Kids In TROUBLE With Police Officers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-XH7ylO5ls
  6. ILLEGAL and BANNED Fidget Spinners https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLG4sL_MF5Q
  7. WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS FIDGET SPINNERS!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZiRxVFdDsw
  8. NAUGHTY BABY DOES SECRET TOY RITUAL AND SUMMONS GHOSTS FROM CARTOON!! || Baby Hands Gameplay Part 15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb0wgPFYAIQ
  9. Creepy texts from babysitter.. | TEXT STORY REACTION https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRFccgkGQ9w

No idea why this Trump parody was here but I thought it might lead to more political content. Instead it took me into a video game loop, which I only got out of by going back to bad parenting…

  1. SAVE TRUMP! \ Mr. President https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ClhcQYRqig
  2. Realistic Minecraft – Highschool Girlfriend ❤ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kR98shYOpYo
  3. You Can’t Say No To Ella! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F66gmHWTks8
  4. CAN PARENTS GUESS WHAT THEIR KID DOES WITH 100 DOLLARS? Ep. # 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVjHOyKQn3M
  5. What would your kid do if they found a gun? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkcfQTavqyk
  6. Kids found home alone https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cM7a_BppUIE
  7. 19 kids found alone in filthy, hot Kentucky home https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_i-7BbEr9YI
  8. Baby Buried Alive https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_1ykYYRcyI
  9. Newborn baby found abandoned near Tampa intersection https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDwkUG0qQNI
  10. angry lady yells at kid for no reason… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNv-ToebU8U
  11. Man slaps crying baby in it’s mothers arms on Delta airline flight, calls it n-word https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrhZuG3zAGM
  12. Boy Passes After Putting Blue Stain In Carpet. 14 Years Later Mom Floored By Real Meaning https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTCaZzsQPMg

Then we’re back to freak shows, and from there to child brides, poverty, and then – fake poverty…

  1. she was born with an elephant’s trunk, this is what they did to her… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WflgtnSvtMs
  2. Worst Bug Invasions Ever https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Wl7aF4qUyI
  3. Mom Thinks She’s Having Twins, But Drs Quickly Learn She’s Making History With Rare Delivery https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfVdG6crFAg
  4. Child Marriage in Ethiopia’s Amhara Region HD https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYk37j9g300
  5. Mamoni’s Story: The Child Bride https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCxcfEOEMoI
  6. The Ugly Face of Beauty: Is Child Labour the Foundation for your Makeup? (RT Documentary) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOpZkstB5jc
  7. The Poorest of the Poor – On the Edge of Europe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEZSjtpHo44
  8. Fake Homeless People CAUGHT On Camera And EXPOSED! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbYRqSeqJIg

Fake stuff leads to the “what would you do” genre…

  1. White Woman Introduces Asian Fiance To Disapproving Parents | What Would You Do? | WWYD https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kom9wMpLIzE
  2. Christian Discrimination for Praying in Public | What Would You Do? | WWYD https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4SkVFrQFW4
  3. Foster Care Cruelty | What Would You Do? | WWYD | ABC News https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bvn91N92VCw

And from there back to suffering children.

  1. Foster Care Support – They Come In The Night – With Nothing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7hICHJOiAI
  2. Annie’s Story (Neglect) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lB2iujfv5A
  3. Russian Orphans – Master Thesis Documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adPF39ozmMs
  4. Inside AK Orphanage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSy6vc7Jijo
  5. Nigeria Beggar Abandons 3 Babies on Street https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyeE1K6yziU
  6. Hungry Kids In Africa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_Zt_J0UEb4
  7. child survival in Africa | survive a tout prix https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrDuVwCSF94
  8. AIDS Orphans in South Africa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oSR9SM0Se0

Don’t know why sassy girl was here, but it got me away from sad orphan stories and back to bad parenting…

  1. Sassy little girl blocks the slide at the zoo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQ8VPezlOg0
  2. MOST SPOILT BRAT KIDS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BqTmuuzXek
  3. Most Spoiled Kids Compilation 6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bexSD2uD3Ms
  4. Kids Who Are Crying For The Most Ridiculous Reasons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzrqyB62IVA
  5. What Would You Do: Mother Uses Harsh Punishments on Son | What Would You Do? | WWYD https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpiSeuSU8EE

Bad parenting is related to sappy family stories, like soldier homecomings, which led to family separations…

  1. Soldiers Coming Home || Emotional Compilation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oT8j2Vm8PaY
  2. Military Homecoming – Meeting Baby Elijah https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIOkrjMrW_I
  3. Babies Behind Bars – Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWaZ34Vmaf4
  4. Mom Puts Baby Girl To Bed. Hours Later Hears Screaming & Realizes Hidden Danger In Her Room https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvg1nSpmdIE

Which led to bad parenting again…

  1. Police officer finds pregnant mom and toddler asleep on sidewalk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cHzrUBtnZg

And finally back to Disney Princesses. Phew!

  1. Moms Dress Like Disney Princesses For Maternity Photos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW15sbLH-Ts

 

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Against Trump’s family separation policy

fearhatredracism

The policy of separating parents from their children when they enter the country without permission has generated a spike of outrage and shock that’s actually noticeable over the background level of outrage and shock.

At the Council on Contemporary Families we don’t take formal policy positions or make partisan appeals, but the board (on which I sit) decided to organize a statement of opposition for individual family researchers and experts to sign. We passed a hundred signatories after the first few hours. You can sign it here, or view the list of signatories here. Here’s the text, and then I have a few comments.

Family Scholars and Experts Statement of Opposition to Policy of Separating Immigrant Families

We write as family scholars and experts to express our opposition to the Trump Administration policy of separating immigrant parents and children at the border as they enter the United States to seek refuge. This practice is an inhumane mistreatment of those seeking refuge from danger or persecution, and goes against international law. As scholars and experts devoted to identifying and sharing information relevant to policies to improve individual and family wellbeing, we deplore the Administration’s callous disregard of the overwhelming scientific information demonstrating the harm of separating children from their parents. This practice is known to be extremely traumatic for dependent children who stand a strong likelihood of experiencing lasting negative consequences from the sudden and inexplicable loss of their caregiver. Government should only separate children from their parents as a last resort when children are in danger of imminent harm. We urge the Administration to reconsider and reverse this policy. Although the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) as an organization does not take partisan positions or advocate for policy, the CCF Board has decided to circulate this statement so that individual like-minded scholars and experts may join together to express their views publicly.

Comment

The policy has been a vivid showcase of human cruelty, racist political manipulation, hypocrisy, and misdirection.

The human cruelty is most important. The people working for the U.S. government that carry out this policy seem to be no more or less evil than rank-and-file Nazi concentration camp guards. They rip children from the arms of their parents — parents risking life and limb to give their children a chance at safety, or a better life — sometimes under false pretenses, and rationalize their actions as somehow in the service of social order, or the law, or the will of their superiors. Human-tip: quit your job before you follow such orders.

The racist political manipulation comes from the top, where Trump and his legions of lying liars repeat lies about illegal immigrants overrunning our borders, bringing violence and mayhem and taking American jobs and welfare. These lies find fertile ground in the consciousness of people who already don’t consider Latino immigrants to deserving of basic human rights and protections because they don’t see their humanity. Things I’ve heard on Twitter from supporters of the policy include:

The hypocrisy is well represented by the invocation of the Bible to justify these atrocities, a literal chapter and verse repetition of the godless defenses of slavery, Nazism, and apartheid perpetrated by Trumpism’s (recent) ancestors. In the typical up-is-down-wrong-is-right formulation of Trumpism, Elizabeth Bruenig writes, “[Jeff] Sessions and [Sarah] Sanders radically depart from the Christian religion, inventing a faith that makes order itself the highest good and authorizes secular governments to achieve it.”

The misdirection runs beneath all Trumpism’s atrocities, in this case simply inventing a story that the current policy is the result of Democrats’ “horrible and cruel legislative agenda.” This is part of the demagoguery playbook, which predictably cycles from it’s-not-true to it’s-no-big-deal to Obama-was-worse to nothing matters. (When I tweeted a link to the statement above, a Trump supporter asked, “They do realize they’re here illegally?” and then, “So why the hard push now except to smear the President?”) “We are following the law,” said federal prosecutor Ryan Patrick, before possibly accidentally confirming, “Well, it is a policy choice by the president and by the attorney general.”

No

Patrick’s interview is a nauseating testament to how this authoritarianism is corrupting human integrity, as he describes the policy as an attempt to restore fairness to law enforcement:

“I’ve heard the attorney general say – it is not – in his estimation, it is not equitable or fair to simply, like I said, wave a wand over an entire population of crossers just because they come in in a family unit or they have a child with them and we simply ignore them on the criminal prosecution. They’re still crossing the border illegally.”

And what about the documented atrocities?

“I think some of these stories are outliers. This is not the norm. I don’t think this is a standard operating procedure on how all of the agents conduct their business. There’s going to be some situations that are going to be regrettable or that break your heart or – and it is unfortunate.”

OK, so not everyone experiences the very worst abuses. And what about the legal protections of the accused and their separated children?

“So when apprehended, if they’re a family unit, they’re given a card in English and in Spanish that has different 1-800 numbers for them to be able to contact. And there’s also a text line. There’s an email address, if they have access to those in their different holding facilities, where they can track not only their own case but also the location of their child.”

OK, so, Kafka. And about that due process for children?

“And then, when it comes to the juveniles who are in HHS custody, there are some space limitations with attorneys. At any time in the process, they can hire their own attorney.”

And finally, putting it all together: it’s not so bad, but really it’s their fault, and law and order, so.

So, obviously, there are still family units being broken up. But the average stay of those children in those facilities is less than 20 days. It would be – it would be incredibly difficult, if I was a parent, to see my child one of the situations. But at the same time, it also is difficult to wrap my mind around – and I’m not in their situation – but they’re also taking incredible risk to their own life and safety on crossing the border illegally in the way that they do, with their children, and putting them in danger.

This policy is the bad turning the blind against the innocent. It’s vile and inhumane. No one has to tolerate this system of atrocities, and that includes all of us.

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Made in America, by immigrants: children

Immigrants make a lot of great things in the USA, like communities and ideas and political organizations. And they also make American children. So for Made in America Week, a quick look at children born in the U.S. whose parents were not. That is, children made in America by immigrants.

For this table I used the American Community Survey, made available by IPUMS, and selected children ages 0-17 who live with two parents. Then I narrowed that group down to those for whom both parents were born in one of the top 20 countries (or regions), from those listed in the birthplace variable (described here), including the USA. The table shows the birthplace of mother and father (same-sex parent couples are excluded). The blue outer band shows the children who have at least one US-born parent. The green diagonal shows the number of children with two parents who immigrated from the same country. For the rest, the colors highlight larger cells, growing darker as cells surpass 1000, 5000, and 10,000. I’ll mention a few below.

You’ll have to click to enlarge:

Children made in America by immigrants

The green cells are the largest in each row and column, except the blue US-born-parent cells. In most cases the green cell is larger than the blue ones — for example, there are 3.5 million U.S. born children who live with two Mexican-born parents, outnumbering the 950,000 who have a Mexican-born father and U.S.-born mother, and 650,000 in the reverse case. But in some cases the green cell is very small, for example England, as there are more than 100,000 children with one England-born and one U.S.-born parent, but only 4,000 who have two England-born parents.

In other cases there are big gender differences reflecting migration and marriage patterns. So there are 10,000 children with a Chinese-born mother and Vietnamese-born father, but only 6,000 of the reverse. Also, in the case of Asia parents, there are more U.S.-born kids with Asian-born mothers and U.S.-born fathers than the reverse, presumably reflecting the greater tendency of Asian women to marry White men (this doesn’t apply to Laos and India).

Anyway, happy Made in America week.

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Now-you-know data graphic series

As I go about my day, revising my textbook, arguing with Trump supporters online, and looking at data, I keep an eye out for easily-told data short stories. I’ve been putting them on Twitter under the label Now You Know, and people seem to appreciate it, so here are some of them. Happy to discuss implications or data issues in the comments.

1. The percentage of women with a child under age 1 rose rapidly to the late 1990s and then stalled out. The difference between these two lines is the percentage of such women who have a job but were not at work the week of the survey, which may mean they are on leave. That gap is also not growing much anymore, which might or might not be good.

2. In the long run both the dramatic rise and complete stall of women’s employment rates are striking. I’m not as agitated about the decline in employment rates for men as some are, but it’s there, too.

3. What looked in 2007 like a big shift among mothers away from paid work as an ideal — greater desire for part-time work among employed mothers, more desire for no work among at-home mothers — hasn’t held up. From a repeated Pew survey. Maybe people have looked this from other sources, too, so we can tell whether these are sample fluctuations or more durable swings.

4. Over age 50 or so divorce is dominated by people who’ve been married more than once, especially in the range 65-74 — Baby Boomers, mostly — where 60% of divorcers have been married more than once.

 

5. People with higher levels of education receive more of the child support they are supposed to get.

 

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‘Start a family’ started to mean ‘have children’ more recently than you think

Or more recently than I thought, anyway.

It looks like the phrase “start a family” started to mean “have children” (after marriage) sometime in the 1930s, and didn’t catch on till the 1940s or 1950s, which happens to be the most pro-natal period in U.S. history. Here’s the Google ngrams trend for the phrase as percentage of all three-word phrases in American English:

startfamngram

Searching the New York Times, I found the earliest uses applied to fish (1931) and plants (1936).

Twitter reader Daniel Parmer relayed a use from the Boston Globe on 8/9/1937, in which actress Merle Oberon said, “I hope to be married within the next two years and start a family. If not, I shall adopt a baby.”

Next appearance in the NYT was 11/22/1942, in a book review in which a man marries a woman and “brings her home to start a family.” After that it was 1948, in this 5/6/1948 description of those who would become baby boom families, describing a speech by Ewan Clague, the Commissioner of Labor Statistics, who is remembered for introducing statistics on women and families into Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. From NYT:

claguenyt

That NYT reference is interesting because it came shortly after the first use of “start a family” in the JSTOR database that unambiguously refers to having children, in a report published by Clague’s BLS:

Trends of Employment and Labor Turn-Over: Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 63, No. 2 (AUGUST 1946): …Of the 584,000 decline in the number of full-time Federal employees between June 1, 1945 and June 1, 1946, almost 75 percent has been in the women’s group. On June 1, 1946, there were only 60 percent as many women employed full time as on June 1, 1945. Men now constitute 70 percent of the total number of full-time workers, as compared with 61 percent a year previously. Although voluntary quits among women for personal reasons, such as to join a veteran husband or to start a family, have been numerous, information on the relative importance of these reasons as compared with involuntary lay-offs is not available…

It’s interesting that, although this appears to be a pro-natal shift, insisting on children before the definition of family is met, it also may have had a work-and-family implication of leaving the labor force. Maybe it reinforced the naturalness of women dropping out of paid work when they had children, something that was soon to emerge as a key battle ground in the gender revolution.

Note: Rose Malinowski Weingartner, a student in my graduate seminar last year, wrote a paper about this concept, which helped me think about this.

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8 years later: Children of the Deported Wonder, “Who Gets A Family?”

Huh. I published this essay, Children of the Deported Wonder, “Who Gets A Family?”, eight years ago today on Huffington Post. I invite you to draw your own conclusions.


kidswayback

A picture I took of some kids.

Children of the Deported Wonder, “Who Gets A Family?”

Over the 10 years up to 2007, the U.S. deported 108,434 adults whose children were U.S. citizens, according to a Department of Homeland Security report [link updated]. The exact number of citizen children left behind in these deportations is unknown, because no one in the government cared to count them. The homeland security of these citizen children does not seem to have been the paramount concern of the U.S. government. Well, maybe excepting 13 of the removed adults, who were deported for “national security and related grounds.” (Altogether, about half were undocumented immigrants and half were deported for criminal violations.)

Either keeping your parents from being dumped over the border isn’t a right Americans enjoy, or someone in power doesn’t really think these kids are American. Or both.

The New York Times quoted an anti-immigration spokesman as saying, “Should those parents get off the hook just because their kids are put in a difficult position? . . . Children often suffer because of the mistakes of their parents.” As if this is unavoidable.

It is true that children suffer for the mistakes of their parents. They also suffer for the policies of their neighbors’ parents, and for the poverty and discrimination their parents experience. Most children lose out to those whose parents have one advantage or another, but the extent of this intergenerational transfer is something we can affect.

One measure of a society’s meritocracy is the level of advantage – and disadvantage – passed from parents to children. Whatever your own ability and effort, equal opportunity only exists to the extent that your parents’ problems are not your own.

If children get burned by their origins, adults also face unequal opportunities to originate the families they want. Just as deported immigrant workers are denied the right to parent their children, poor parents can’t get Medicaid to cover their infertility treatments – though it might pay for some Viagra. (Even without fertility coverage, economists worry that just providing prenatal care and other services to poor women might increase their tendency to have children. Now that would be a shame.)

Having a family – your family – is not a right of American citizenship, for parents or children. And in a society where intergenerational privilege and disadvantage are deeply entrenched, the denial of that right is a cornerstone of our system of inequality.

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Cause and effect on myopia

It’s funny for a non-eye specialist to read articles about myopia, which in my line of work rarely means myopia, literally, which is nearsightedness. Takes some getting used to.

Anyway, in my book I use as an example of misleading correlations the link between night lights and myopia in children. Checking it to make sure it is still a good example to keep for the second edition, I was glad to see that it holds up well.

Here’s the story. In a 1999 paper (paywalled | sci-hub), Quinn and colleagues reported a “strong association between myopia and night-time ambient light exposure during sleep in children before they reach two years of age.” That is, kids who slept with night lights were more likely to be nearsighted. This was potentially big news, because we actually don’t fully understand why people become nearsighted, except we know it has to do with reading a lot and spending a lot of time indoors as a kid. They had some idea that light penetrating the eyelids at night might do something, but no real mechanism, just an association over a few hundred kids.

The paper didn’t have some important variables controlled, notably parents’ nearsightedness. Since the condition is also genetic, this was acknowledged as a problem. Still, they wrote:

Although it does not establish a causal link, the statistical strength of the association of night-time light exposure and childhood myopia does suggest that the absence of a daily period of darkness during early childhood is a potential precipitating factor in the development of myopia.

As I stress ad nausem in this post, the “strength” of an association is not an argument for its causal power. And neither is the number of studies in which the association is found. Real spurious findings can produce very strong, easily-reproducible results. And when researchers have a story to fit the rationale can seem strong. Also, the prospect of publishing in a top journal like Nature has to figure in there somewhere. (This problem is endemic in studies of, for example, family structure and child outcomes, among many other subjects.)

In this case there is a very nice explanation, which was reported less than a year later by Zadnik and colleagues (paywalled | sci-hub), who found no association between night lights and myopia – but they did report a very strong relationship between night lights and parents’ myopia. The same pattern was reported in another response to the Quinn paper, in the same issue, by Gwiazda and colleagues. It appears that nearsighted parents like to leave night lights on. Alternately, some other factor causes parental nearsightedness, child nearsightedness, and night light preference, such as education level (e.g., more-educated people read more and use night lights more).

Several other studies have also failed failed to confirm the night-light theory, and now the thing seems to have blown over. It’s not a perfect example, because the bivariate correlation isn’t always found, but I like it as a family-related case. So I think I’ll keep it in.

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International adoption to the US has fallen 75%

Just updated my data series on international adoption. You can see previous posts, with commentary, at the adoption tag.

The data are the US State Department, which grants the adoption visas. It’s kind of a mess, back to 1999, here. (I have an old spreadsheet that goes back to 1990 for the big countries but I can’t find the link anymore.) The most recent report is here, and the briefer narrative is here. For the first time in those documents I saw an official description of what’s changed in China, which partly explains the broader trends. The State Department says 20,000-30,000 children are placed domestically in China now, as a result of increased government focus on domestic adoption, although without providing comparison numbers. They also say more than 90% of children adopted to the US from China now have special health needs, up from 5% in 2005. They conclude, reasonably it seems, that this results from “overall positive changes made to the child welfare system in China over the last decade.”

Anyway, here’s the chart. I show detail on those that ever had more than 2000 adoptions in one year, plus Haiti (because of the important history there), and Uganda and Ukraine (which are among the top five sending countries in the most recent year).

adoptions stats.xlsx

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US policy fails at reducing child poverty because it aims to fix the poor

If we want to help kids, it’s time to focus on money, not marriage.

[This piece was originally published by the Washington Post at Post Everything.]

From the first federal social welfare program for Civil War widows to Social Security and the 1960s War on Poverty, government support for poor families in the United States has attempted to enforce a moral hierarchy based on marriage: Widows got pensions they were considered to have earned, for example, while single mothers got shame and stigma for their moral misdeeds.

Since the 1960s, as marriage rates have fallen and women’s employment opportunities have improved, fewer and fewer women rely on husbands for their material needs. Now, the majority of children no longer depend primarily on the income of a married father. And yet, our policies to alleviate poverty still remain focused on correcting the behavior of poor people – especially their marital behavior – rather than addressing poverty itself.

The stated goal of the 1996 welfare reform law, for instance, was not to alleviate poverty but to encourage marriage and reduce single parenthood. The problem was seen as poor character rather than poor income, and the solution was imagined as a matter of replacing the dependency of so-called “deadbeat” parents on the state with dependency on a spouse. Those who insisted on remaining unmarried were singled out for special censure: In the words of one architect of the reform effort, Ron Haskins, “mothers on welfare, even those with young children, should be encouraged, cajoled, and, when necessary, forced to work.”   Today, many policymakers still want to impose conditions on families receiving food stamps and housing support, and as of 2015, marriage-promotion programs aimed at reducing poverty through matrimony had cost the federal government nearly a billion dollars.

One wonders if the money could have been better spent. There are about 6 million poor families with children in the United States — which means nearly 1 in 5 families with children in the wealthiest nation on the planet are living in poverty. My analysis of the latest federal data shows that, on average, these families’ income — including tax credits and all sources of welfare — is about $9,000 below the poverty line. That means ensuring no children grow up in poor households would cost $57 billion a year. (To put that in perspective, that’s how much money we’d get if Apple brought back the $200 billion it has stashed overseas, and paid just 29 percent tax on it – it’s a big problem, but it’s small compared to the wealth of our society.)

We know growing up poor is bad for kids. But instead of focusing on the money, U.S. anti-poverty policy often focuses on the perceived moral shortcomings of the poor themselves. We don’t try to address poverty directly, or alleviate it; we simply try to change the way poor people behave, especially poor parents. Specifically, we offer two choices to poor parents if they want to escape poverty: get a job, or get married. Not only does this approach not work, but it’s also a cruel punishment for children who cannot be held responsible for their parents’ decisions.

Policy that addresses poverty by punishing the poor for their perceived misdeeds plays on some popular misunderstandings, especially about marriage and parenting. Many non-poor people mistakenly believe that our lax attitude toward marriage is behind the child poverty problem. That’s why a Heritage Foundation claim that marriage reduces the chance of living in poverty by 82 percent has been a staple on the Republican campaign trail this season, and welfare money has been diverted from alleviating poverty to promoting marriage among the poor.

Yes, the children of single parents face steeper odds of success than their fellow citizens whose parents are happily married. Many single parents – the vast majority of whom are women – experience chronic shortages of money, time and social support. Their children are less likely to be closely supervised, to be well prepared for kindergarten, to graduate high school, and to make it through young adulthood free from entanglements with the criminal justice system. The intuitive case for more marriage is easy to see.

How then, as the share of children born to unmarried mothers has risen from just 1-in-20 in 1960 to 8-in-20 today, is it possible that child poverty has fallen, educational attainment has risen, and (at least since the 1990s) crime rates have fallen dramatically There are two answers.

First, single parenthood doesn’t just cause these social ailments, it also reflects them. Some of these problems are merely the consequence of whatever caused their parents to be single in the first place: poverty, illness, incarceration, weak relationship skills, and so on. In other words, successful people are more likely to raise successful children and to have successful marriages. Research on marriage among poor Americans clearly shows that the majority want to be married, but they aren’t for a variety of reasons related to their poverty. Faced with poor prospects in a marriage partner, some women reason, “I can do bad by myself,” as reported in the book “Promises I Can Keep,” by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas. Some couples place marriage on a pedestal, and plan to postpone it until they are financially stable. As one young man with a pregnant girlfriend put it, “I’d rather get engaged for two years, save money, get a house, make sure … the baby’s got a bedroom.” For too many, however, that moment never arrives.

Poverty clearly lowers the chance of a successful marriage, even as being single may make it harder to escape poverty. This pattern is the subject of a long-running debate among social scientists. Although we can’t agree on the exact breakdown of cause and effect, any reasonable researcher will concede it runs both ways.

But the second answer is perhaps more important for today’s poverty debates. It is that the number of single-parent families doesn’t drive the poverty rate – rather, it mostly helps determine which families and children will be poor, not how many will be. How many people live in poverty is largely the outcome of our policy choices, about jobs and wages, and support for poor families. Akey study compared poverty rates and family structure in 18 countries, finding that the United States had the highest rate of poverty among single-mother families – more than 40 percent, compared with 5 or 10 percent in the Nordic countries. No country had as large a difference in poverty rates between single mothers and the rest of the population as the United States  – that’s our unique penalty for single parenthood.

So how could we actually do it? A new report from the Century Foundation – by the respected poverty scholars Irwin Garfinkel, David Harris, Jane Waldfogel and Christopher Wimer – lays out some of the options. They take two approaches, expanding the current child tax credit (CTC), or joining much of the rich world in using a child allowance that gives families with children cash without conditions.

Our current tax policy (principally the CTC and the Earned Income Tax Credit) reduces child poverty to the shameful 17 percent it is from the catastrophic 24 percent it would be otherwise. The problem with these credits is that they only help people with jobs, leaving those who can’t work – which is most of the poorest families – without assistance. They mostly aren’t working because they don’t have valuable skills, have health problems, or can’t manage a job (or jobs) while caring for their families. Yet you need a job to claim the CTC, on the cruel logic that the government doesn’t want to “disincentivize” work. The current CTC costs about $50 billion per year but does almost nothing to help the very poor, because coercing or cajoling them into getting a job is useless. So we have 3.4 million children living in “deep poverty,” in families with incomes less than half of what the government says they need (again, after accounting for all government benefits).

On the other hand, a universal child allowance could help everyone, and it might be more popular since middle-class voters would get a check, too. Although you end up giving non-poor people money they don’t really need (some of which you could tax back), this is better than the tax credits because it more efficiently reaches the poorest families. Using a child allowance, the report says we could cut child poverty in half, and reduce deep poverty by two-thirds – for about $200 billion per year. That seems like a lot – it is, after all, about one-eighth of what the Pentagon has spent on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq* – but wouldn’t you sleep better at night knowing your poorer neighbors were sleeping better at night?
What about those pro-marriage policies? In short, they have failed; despite more than a billion dollars, marriage promotion programs have produced no increase in marriage. Furthermore, just as our tax policy doesn’t help people who can’t work, marriage doesn’t help people who can’t marry workers capable of supporting them and their children. A child allowance would provide an income floor for those who aren’t married (they’ve been widowed or divorced, had abusive partners, have no one to marry – or, more rarely, don’t want to get married). And it would do so without coercing them into marriage or shaming them for being single, because all parents would get it, married or not.

Our social policy – especially in the post-1996 welfare reform era – says a spouse’s income is a good way to pay for children, and a job is a good way to pay for children, but government support is not. And the people behind our policy feel this so strongly that, rather than shape welfare policy to provide for the needs of children, they have crafted programs instead to pressure parents into either getting a job or getting married. And when neither of those is possible – or they are practically so undesirable that they may as well be impossible – then the suffering of the parent and her children is the cost of teaching that lesson to everyone else.

We know enough now to see that this approach doesn’t work: It doesn’t increase compliance with social norms on marriage and employment, and it doesn’t stop the scourge of child poverty. We can do better.

* Note: In the original I mistakenly described this as the annual Pentagon spending in that region. I have notified the Post of the error, which I regret.

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