Tag Archives: Parenting

Home birth is more dangerous. Discuss.

How dangerous is too dangerous?

We don’t prohibit all dangerous behavior, or even behavior that endangers others, including people’s own children.

Question: Is the limit of acceptable risks to which we may subject our own children determined by absolute risks or relative risks?

Case for consideration: Home birth.

Let’s say planning to have your birth at home doubles the risk of some serious complications. Does that mean no one should do it, or be allowed to do it? Other policy options: do nothing, discourage home birth, promote it, regulate it, or educate people about the risks and let them do what they want.

Here is the most recent result from a large study reported on the New York Times Well blog, which looks to me like it was done properly, from the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Researchers analyzed about 2 million birth records of live, term (37-43 weeks), singleton, vertex (head-first) births, including 12,000 planned home births (that is, not including those where the home birth was accidental). They also excluded those at freestanding birthing centers.

The planned-home birth mothers were generally relatively privileged, more likely to be White and non-Hispanic, college-educated, married, and not having their first child. However, they were also more likely to be older than 34 and to have waited to see a doctor until their second trimester.

On three measures of birth outcomes, the home-birth infants were more likely to have bad results: low Apgar scores and neonatal seizures. Apgar is the standard for measuring an infant’s wellbeing within 5 minutes of birth, assessing breathing, heart rate, muscle tone, reflex irritability and circulation (blue skin). With up to 2 points on each indicator, the maximum score is 10, but 7 or more is considered normal and under 4 is serious trouble. Low scores are usually caused by some difficulty in the birth process, and babies with low scores usually require medical attention. The score is a good indicator of risk for infant mortality.

These are the unadjusted low-Apgar and seizure rates:

homebirthoutcomesThese are big differences considering the home birth mothers are usually healthier. In the subsequent analysis, the researchers controlled for parity, maternal age, race/ethnicity, education, gestational age at delivery, number of prenatal care visits, cigarette smoking during pregnancy, and medical/obstetric conditions. With those controls, the odds ratios were 1.9 for Apgar<4, 2.4 for Apgar<7, and 3.1 for seizures. Pretty big effects.

Two years  ago I wrote about a British study that found much higher rates of birth complications among home births when the mother was delivering her first child. This is my chart for their findings:

Again, those were the unadjusted rates, but the disparities held with a variety of important controls.

These birth complication rates are low by world historical standards. In New Delhi, India, in the 1980s 10% of 5-minute-olds had Apgar scores of 3 or less. So that’s many-times worse than American home births. On the other hand, a number of big European countries (Germany, France, Italy) have Apgar<7 rates of 1% or less, which is much better.

A large proportional increase on a low risk for a high-consequence event (like nuclear meltdown) can be very serious. A large absolute risk of a common low-consequence event (like having a hangover) can be completely acceptable. Birth complications are somewhere in between. But where?

Seems like a good topic for discussion, and having some real numbers helps. Let me know what you decide.


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The remarkable centrality of Unequal Childhoods

I had the privilege of introducing Annette Lareau at our department’s annual Rosenberg Forum. She is the current president of the American Sociological Association and the author of the book Unequal Childhoods: Race, Class, and Family Life.

Her talk was about exciting new research into the reproduction of social class through parents’ selection of schools and neighborhoods. But to set it up I showed the place of Unequal Childhoods in the citation network of sociology journals created by Neal Caren. The network includes the works most cited in 5,471 articles in sociology journals in the years 2008-2012, with lines connecting works cited in the same articles, and colors for the clusters of works commonly cited together. The size of the nodes represents times cited.

In this version I labeled the bigger clusters either with a term for the subfield (e.g., Religion) or key work (e.g., Bowling Alone). Click on the image to enlarge my version, or see it in full here, with the details and data.

PowerPoint PresentationI am amazed by the centrality of Unequal Childhoods, which isn’t part of a big cluster but has thick ties to a bunch of different ones, which is why it’s in the center. These are the works that Unequal Childhoods was cited with five times or more:

Hays S 1996 Cultural Contradicti 16
Blau P 1967 Am Occupational Stru 14
Bianchi SM 2006 Changing Rhythms Ame 13
Stone P 2007 Opting Out Why Women 12
Blair-loy M 2003 Competing Devotions 12
Bourdieu P 1977 Reprod ED Soc Cultue 12
Dimaggio P 1982 Am Sociol Rev 11
Lamont Michele 1988 Sociological Theory 10
Farkas G 2003 Annu Rev Sociol 9
Edin K 2005 Promises I Can Keep 9
Bourdieu P 1984 Distinctions Social 9
Hochschild Arlie R 1989 2 Shift Working Pare 8
Mclanahan Sara 1994 Growing Single Paren 8
Hochschild AR 1997 Time Bind Work Becom 8
Swidler A 1986 Am Sociol Rev 8
Townsend NW 2002 Package Deal 8
Bourdieu P 1986 Hdb Theory Res Socio 8
Bowles S 1976 Sch Capitalist AM 7
Bourdieu P 1990 Logic Practice Trans 7
Jacobs JA 2004 Time Divide Family G 7
Sewell W 1975 ED Occupation Earnin 7
Downey DB 1995 Am Sociol Rev 7
Jencks Christopher 1972 Inequality Reassessm 7
Raftery AE 1995 Sociol Methodol 5

* * *

That’s some reach!



Filed under Me @ work

Parents live in the gendered world of their children, too

I did a little research hinting at the way gendered childhood might affect parents – by looking at how the gender of their children affected their favorite colors.

Because gendering – especially around consumption – is so fierce, I figure that’s got to be the tip of the iceberg. I thought of that walking to the kids’ school the other day:

Maybe the mothers dressed to match the kids because it was the first day of school. Or maybe they have more matching clothes so that coincidences like this happen more often at random. Who knows?


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Time with young children

On weekdays, women in households with young children spend twice as much time caring for the children as men do. On weekends the ratio is only 1.5-to-1. Details on the chart, which has grid-lines at 6-minute intervals (click to enlarge):


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are averages per day calculated from time diaries recording the “primary activity” at each point in the day. Note that this does not do anything with marital status or household composition, so a lot more of these women are single mothers. That’s not a flaw in the presentation, though. Part of having a lot of single mothers means they spend more time with children, as these data show.


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Be a man, a Morehouse Man — and treat your boyfriend right

I’m sure other people will have more insightful things to say about Obama’s speech to Morehouse College’s graduation today [official transcript here, one copy of the video here]. But let me just point out the juxtaposition of what seemed like serious heteronormativity with whatever the opposite of heteronormativity is.


He opened with jokes about the rain, including this:

I see some moms and grandmas here, aunts, in their Sunday best — although they are upset about their hair getting messed up.

And he gave several references to what it is to “be a man” — such as, “a family man, and a working man, and a Morehouse Man,” and, referencing previous Morehouse graduates…

…what it means to be a man — to serve your city like Maynard Jackson; to shape the culture like Spike Lee; to be like Chester Davenport, one of the first people to integrate the University of Georgia Law School.

And then there was this:

Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. Be the best husband to your wife, or your boyfriend or your partner [some response, and he wags his finger at them.] Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important.

That’s my transcription from the video at 22:17. For whatever reason, this passage has been transcribed incorrectly by some people. The White House website quotes it as:

Be the best husband to your wife, or you’re your boyfriend, or your partner.

While USA Today had it as:

“Be the best husband to your wife, or boyfriend to your partner.”

Anyway, he also had an interesting passage on what it means to be an outsider in America:

As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share. Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back. Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share. Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith. Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work — she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. So your experiences give you special insight that today’s leaders need.

Including “gay and lesbian Americans” in that list of outsiders isn’t shocking anymore. But I was intrigued by his reference to “parenting skills.” Could it be a nod to the Regnerus affair, in which the parenting outcomes of gays and lesbians were at issue?


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“No differences” survives the Regnerus paper

Coming soon (or at least sometime in the future): An article by Andrew PerrinNeal Caren and myself, now accepted by the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health, “Are Children of Parents Who Had Same-Sex Relationships Disadvantaged? A Scientific Evaluation of the No-Differences Hypothesis.”

Here is the abstract:

In a widely publicized and controversial article, Regnerus seeks to evaluate what he calls the “‘no-differences’ paradigm” with respect to outcomes for children of same-sex parents. We consider the scientific claims in Regnerus in light of extant evidence and flaws in the article’s evidence and analytical strategy. We find that the evidence presented does not support rejecting the “no-differences” claim, and therefore the study does not constitute evidence for disadvantages suffered by children of same-sex couples. The state of scientific knowledge on same-sex parenting remains as it was prior to the publication of Regnerus.

I have posted a preprint of the article here.



Filed under Me @ work, Research reports

Why do anti-gay people (maybe, possibly) beat their children?

The other day, Mark Regnerus (of Regnerus study fame) speculated in a blog post that pornography, with its “veritable fire-hose dousing of sex-act diversity,” might be increasing support for gay marriage:

In the end, contrary to what we might wish to think, young adult men’s support for redefining marriage may not be entirely the product of ideals about expansive freedoms, rights, liberties, and a noble commitment to fairness. It may be, at least in part, a byproduct of regular exposure to diverse and graphic sex acts.

As I was working on a chapter on family violence and abuse, I was trying to decide how to divide the discussion of corporal punishment between the abuse chapter and the parenting chapter. I checked the General Social Survey for attitudes toward spanking and found a solid (but declining) two-thirds who agree that sometimes kids need “a good, hard spanking.” (Would the number be lower if they didn’t include “good” in the question?).

So on a whim I asked: What could cause this virulent anti-child attitude, which seems to prevalent in our society? May it be, at least in part, a byproduct of hostility toward some other group, such as gays and lesbians? Sure enough!


I’m not saying anti-homosexual views are the only cause of child abuse, but it’s something to look into.


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