Tag Archives: culture

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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Breaking: In 2017 names, Donald, Alexa, and Mary plummet; Malia booms

Time to update name trends, with the release of the 2017 data files from the Social Security Administration.

My hot take: Mary is back on the skids; Donald is going down, Alexa is over, and Malia shows that the resilience of humanity is not. Here are the details.

In Enduring Bonds I extend the Mary trend back to 1780, using Census data as well as Social Security records (and now is [always] an excellent time to get a review copy and consider it for your classes). The story is the mother of all naming trends, an unparalleled decline in name popularity, reflecting both the decline of conformity as an aesthetic and changes in how people see religion, parenting, and lots of other things. Then, for a couple years — 2013-2015 — it looked like maybe all the attention I gave the fate of Mary had prompted a revival, but now things are looking even bleaker than before, down another 4.3%. Here’s an updated version of the chart from the book:

mary names.xlsx

Meanwhile, the decline of The Donald has taken on a new urgency. Although the name has been taking for a long time (its association with unpleasant character didn’t start in 2016), but last year’s decline was impressive, at -4.3%. Not a cliff, but a solid slide (this one’s on a log scale so you can see the detail):

names.xlsx

You have to feel for people who named their daughters Alexa, and the Alexas themselves, before Amazon sullied their names. Did they not think of the consequences for these people? In the last year Alexa essentially ended as a (human) name, possibly the worst two-year case in U.S. history of name contamination. [Correction] Another bad year for Alexa. After a 21.3% drop in 2016, another 74% 19.5% last year:

alexa.xlsx

Finally, someone better tell the deplorables to start naming their daughters Ivanka, because in 2017 about nine-times more people are named their daughters Malia (1416) than Ivanka (167). Malia, up 15.4% last year:

names.xlsx

On my OSF project I’ve shared the names data, the Mary code (Stata), and SAS code for making individual name trends. The whole series of posts is under the names tag.

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Vasectomy reversal, divorce, and American optimism

That would be a good title for a longer essay (feel free to use it).

“Studies suggest that up to 6% of such men will request vasectomy reversal,” wrote the authors of a chapter in Clinical Care Pathways in Andrology. “Divorce with remarriage is by far the most common reason for vasectomy reversal.”

So, when in the divorce process do people start Googling “vasectomy reversal”? Is it men with younger girlfriends, considering leaving their wives? Women considering marrying a divorced man? Divorced couples considering another round of kids?

I don’t know, but Google does, or they could if they looked into it. I’ve only gotten as far as the strong relationship between searches for “vasectomy reversal” and state divorce rates:

vasectomy-divorce

I like to think of it as the optimism rooted in the American spirit. We always look forward to the next renewal, the next reboot, rebranding, or escape. Not because I really think it’s true, I just like to think of it that way.

The Google data is from their Trends tool, the divorce data is from the ACS via IPUMS.org.)


(This is a return to an old post, in which I first noticed this relationship, with new data. Now I think divorce per population makes more sense for Google correlations, rather than divorce per married population, which I used before.)

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The liberalization of divorce attitudes proceeds apace

The 2016 Gallup poll results on what is morally acceptable versus morally wrong came out over the summer, and they show that U.S. attitudes toward divorce continue to grow more positive. The acceptable attitude has gained 5 points in the last 5 years:

divorcegallup

This parallels results from the General Social Survey, which asks, “Should divorce in this country be easier or more difficult to obtain than it is now?” The latest GSS is still 2014, but it also shows a marked increase in the liberal easier view over the same time period:

divorcegss

See more under the divorce tag.

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Mary lives? (You’re welcome edition)

Things are looking up since last I wrote about the fate of the name Mary. It’s too early to tell, but it’s just possible things are beginning to turn around.

In 2014, Mary held steady at the 120th most-popular girls name in the U.S., as recorded by the Social Security Administration. That’s two years she’s been above her worst-ever showing of 123rd in 2012. Here’s the trend, starting with her last year at Number One, 1961:

Mary2014

You may recall that I first breathlessly reported Mary’s fall in 2009 when she dropped out of the top 100 U.S. girls names for the first time in recorded history (presumably ever). At the time I also speculated that she might have a chance of bouncing back, especially given the historical precedent of Emma, currently enjoying rare return to Number One:

Mary2014

Note that Emma had about 10 years of uncertainty before definitively tracking upward. With just a couple years of stall it’s way too early to write Mary’s triumph narrative, but you have to weight her odds of recovery higher than average because of the whole Christianity thing — especially with Catholics, who are holding their own amidst the general crisis of Christ.

names.xlsx

What is the basis for a potential Mary revival? We have seen before that popular events can hurt a name (Forrest, Monica, Ellen), or help a name (Maggie, Brandy, Angie, and my favorite, Rhiannon). In this case historians my someday date the resugence of Mary to the appearance in 2012 — her worst year ever — of my essay in The Atlantic with the memorable illustration:

atlanticmary

Call it a classic bottoming out.

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Selfie culture, tourism, and the challenge of the authentic self

Just kidding — who would give a blog post a title like that?

The author on vacation.

The author on vacation.

Our family vacation this summer, to London and Paris, was my first since the Year of the Selfie Stick (which is this year). This is also the year in which 59% of “millennials” (only 40% of whom understand that they are millennials) answered “yes” when asked whether the phrase “self-absorbed” describes “people in your generation overall”?

DSC_7487

At Admiralty Arch, London

I can’t add much nuance to the theory of selfie culture, which has already taught me a lot. For example, I learned on NPR that vanity isn’t vanity if it’s part of constructing your “personal brand” — so it’s OK to edit your selfies:

“I think that while a lot of people find it easy to say, ‘Well, you’re taking a photo of yourself, and you’re posting it online for people to sort of rate.’ I could see how that superficially looks like vanity,” she says. “At the same time, I think that it really gives a lot of the younger generation a platform to express themselves without being incredibly harshly judged — because the selfie is such a casual form of expression, no one is going to expect you to look absolutely perfect.”

What interested me is the intersection of artificiality and authenticity that the selfie brings to the experience of tourism. Taking 1,000 pictures of yourself in order to post just the right spontaneous look is the normal business of personal brand construction. It creates a presentation version of yourself. It’s an expected form of inauthenticity, just like most people expect you won’t post pictures of your kid crying at her birthday party.

But when you’re a tourist, selfies are about authenticity. They’re the picture that proves you were really there — and really in that mood at that moment that you were there. As the culture studies journal Forbes Leadership put it:

In the age of social media, authenticity for Postmoderns is characterized by a consistency and continuity between their online personas and their lives in the real world. The more congruence there is between the two, the more authentic the Postmodern appears to be.

You can’t have that unless the famous thing is clearly visible behind you. Which produces the endlessly entertaining spectacle of tourists taking and retaking selfies with every different expression and pose in front of popular monuments and attractions.

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At Buckingham Palace.

Social media is social. We share pictures and updates with real people. Even when you’re alone, you’re not alone on social media. Which I think is great. But like the person staring at his phone through dinner, it seems antisocial when you do it publicly. The selfie-takers are alone in their Instagram bubbles in the middle of a sea of other people.

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At Buckingham Palace.

And when you’re going in for the money shot — say, the Eiffel Tower at sunset — you can’t afford to mess around. It seemed like these people were oblivious to me setting up for a shot of them from 10 feet away. (Also, like driving, it seems that operating the selfie stick in different-sex couples is the man’s job.)

At the Eiffel Tower.

At the Eiffel Tower.

Or, in this case, the daughter totally not noticing that her parents are collapsing from boredom while she works up her umpteenth Buckingham Palace selfie.

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I have nothing against all this. (Our story is that every moment of the vacation was deliriously fun, and we have the pictures to prove it.) Having a good time seeing new people and things without hurting anyone is what I love about tourism.

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Still, it’s funny that people go to such trouble to get the perfect picture of themselves — creating at least a moment that is artificial — in their quest for an image of authenticity. What would this picture mean if I weren’t really in Paris, contemplating all there is to contemplate in exactly that spot?

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As affirmed by the behavior of thousands of people crowding around to take pictures of famous paintings, perfect reproductions of which are available online for free, it has to be real or it’s nothing. A lie.

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The fake-smile selfie is a lie, too. I guess it’s just not a very important one.

One disappointing thing, though, is that suddenly the ritual of strangers asking each other to take their pictures is disappearing. That was a nice part of tourism, because it involved strangers smiling at each other.

Note: Help yourself to these photos, which are in this Flickr folder.

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