Posted: Tue May 26, 2009 4:55 pm Post subject: SOCIAL TRENDS
May 26, 2009
Liberated and Unhappy
By ROSS DOUTHAT
American women are wealthier, healthier and better educated than they were 30 years ago. They’re more likely to work outside the home, and more likely to earn salaries comparable to men’s when they do. They can leave abusive marriages and sue sexist employers. They enjoy unprecedented control over their own fertility. On some fronts — graduation rates, life expectancy and even job security — men look increasingly like the second sex.
But all the achievements of the feminist era may have delivered women to greater unhappiness. In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of “the problem with no name,” American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.
This is “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” the subject of a provocative paper from the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. The paper is fascinating not only because of what it shows, but because the authors deliberately avoid floating an easy explanation for their data.
The decline of the two-parent family, for instance, is almost certainly depressing life satisfaction for the women stuck raising kids alone. But this can’t be the only explanation, since the trend toward greater female discontent cuts across lines of class and race. A working-class Hispanic woman is far more likely to be a single mother than her white and wealthy counterpart, yet the male-female happiness gap holds in East Hampton and East L.A. alike.
Again, maybe the happiness numbers are being tipped downward by a mounting female workload — the famous “second shift,” in which women continue to do the lion’s share of household chores even as they’re handed more and more workplace responsibility. It’s certainly possible — but as Wolfers and Stevenson point out, recent surveys actually show similar workload patterns for men and women over all.
Or perhaps the problem is political — maybe women prefer egalitarian, low-risk societies, and the cowboy capitalism of the Reagan era had an anxiety-inducing effect on the American female. But even in the warm, nurturing, egalitarian European Union, female happiness has fallen relative to men’s across the last three decades.
All this ambiguity lends itself to broad-brush readings. A strict feminist and a stringent gender-role traditionalist alike will probably find vindication of their premises between the lines of Wolfers and Stevenson’s careful prose. The feminist will see evidence of a revolution interrupted, in which rising expectations are bumping against glass ceilings, breeding entirely justified resentments. The traditionalist will see evidence of a revolution gone awry, in which women have been pressured into lifestyles that run counter to their biological imperatives, and men have been liberated to embrace a piggish irresponsibility.
There’s evidence to fit each of these narratives. But there’s also room for both.
Feminists and traditionalists should be able to agree, for instance, that the structures of American society don’t make enough allowances for the particular challenges of motherhood. We can squabble forever about the choices that mothers ought to make, but the difficult work-parenthood juggle is here to stay. (Just ask Sarah and Todd Palin.) And there are all kinds of ways — from a more family-friendly tax code to a more accommodating educational system — that public policy can make that juggle easier. Conservatives and liberals won’t agree on the means, but they ought to agree on the end: a nation where it’s easier to balance work and child-rearing, however you think that balance should be struck.
They should also be able to agree that the steady advance of single motherhood threatens the interests and happiness of women. Here the public-policy options are limited; some kind of social stigma is a necessity. But a new-model stigma shouldn’t (and couldn’t) look like the old sexism. There’s no necessary reason why feminists and cultural conservatives can’t join forces — in the same way that they made common cause during the pornography wars of the 1980s — behind a social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the “fallen women” of a more patriarchal age.
No reason, of course, save the fact that contemporary America doesn’t seem willing to accept sexual stigma, period. We simply don’t have the stomach for permanently ostracizing the sexually irresponsible — be they a pregnant starlet, a thrice-divorced tycoon, or even a prostitute-hiring politician.
In this sense, ours is a kinder, gentler, more forgiving country than it was 40 years ago. But for half the public, it’s an unhappier country as well.
May 29, 2009
Married With Bankruptcy
By ANDREW J. CHERLIN
IN times of economic crisis, Americans turn to their families for support. If the Great Depression is any guide, we may see a drop in our sky-high divorce rate. But this won’t necessarily represent an increase in happy marriages, nor is the trend likely to last. In the long run, the Depression weakened American families, and the current crisis will probably do the same.
We tend to think of the Depression as a time when families pulled together to survive huge job losses. The divorce rate, which had been rising slowly since the Civil War, suddenly dropped in 1930, the year after the Depression began. By 1932, when nearly one-quarter of the work force was unemployed, it had declined by around 25 percent from 1929. But this does not mean that people were suddenly happier with their marriages. Rather, with incomes plummeting and insecure jobs, unhappy couples often couldn’t afford to divorce. They feared that neither spouse would be able to manage alone.
Today, given the job losses of the past year, fewer unhappy couples will risk starting separate households. Furthermore, the housing market meltdown will make it more difficult for them to finance their separations by selling their homes.
After financial disasters (and natural ones as well) family members also tend to do whatever they can to help each other and their communities. In a 1940 book, “The Unemployed Man and His Family,” the sociologist Mirra Komarovsky described a family in which the husband initially reacted to losing his job “with tireless search for work.” He was always active, looking for odd jobs or washing windows for neighbors. Another unemployed man initially enjoyed spending more time with his young children. These men’s spirits were up, and their wives were supportive.
The problem is that such an impulse is hard to sustain. The men Komarovsky studied eventually grew discouraged, their efforts faltered, and their relationships with their wives and teenage children often deteriorated. Across the country, many similar families were unable to maintain the initial boost in morale. For some, the hardships of life without steady work eventually overwhelmed their attempts to keep their families together. The divorce rate began to rise again in 1934 when employment picked up, providing some unhappy couples with the income they needed to separate. The rate rose during the rest of the decade as the recovery took hold.
Millions of American families may now be in the initial stage of their responses to the current crisis, working together and supporting one another through the early months of unemployment. During the Depression this stage seemed to last a year at most. Today, it might last longer. Wives now share with their husbands the burden of earning money, and the government provides more assistance.
But history suggests that this response will be temporary. By 1940 the divorce rate was higher than before the Depression, as if a pent-up demand was finally being satisfied. The Depression destroyed the inner life of many married couples, but it was years before they could afford to file for divorce.
Today’s economic slump could well generate a similar backlog of couples whose relationships have been irreparably ruined. So it is only when the economy is healthy again that we will begin to see just how many fractured families have been created.
Andrew J. Cherlin, a professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, is the author of “The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today.”
When discussion turns to root causes for many of Canada's social ills, the breakdown of the family is inevitably among them. Single parenthood is statistically a prime catalyst for the creation of more households living at poverty standards, and the resultant social and emotional turmoil among the children affected by it. That is not to say, of course, that single-parent families are all doomed to self-destruct and become a charge on the social welfare net, but rather that marriage offers the best blueprint for creating and maintaining the stability children need to thrive.
Of course, that is also not to say that people in abusive or otherwise destructive marriages should remain in them for the children's sake. But a report from the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada points to a disturbing trend in cohabiting, a trend which would indicate that for the purposes of raising children, living together is deemed to be no different than marriage.
The report's authors, Andrea Mrozek and Rebecca Walberg, point out that when parents live common-law or a single parent raises a child from birth, families are more likely to rely on welfare, low-income housing programs and day-care subsidies. They say a conservative estimate of these costs to the taxpayer amounts to about $7 billion a year. They're calling on the federal government to offer incentives to people to tie the knot, such as cutting off common-law couples from tax benefits married couples enjoy.
There is something about making a vow and sealing a commitment in a marriage ceremony that lends gravitas to a relationship and inspires the couple to work harder at it, than the mere decision to move in together. Four years ago, Statistics Canada reported that in 1981, about six per cent of couples were living together, but by 2001, the figure was approximately 14 per cent. StatsCan also reported in 2003 that 63 per cent of cohabiting relationships end within 10 years, while only 14 per cent of married couples split up in that time.
Finding ways to encourage people to marry is to the government's advantage. Marriage fosters a stable, nurturing environment for children who in turn grow up independent of the social safety net, and emotionally healthy enough to enter into and maintain stable marriages of their own.
Ottawa may have no business in the bedrooms of the nation, but it has a huge social and economic stake in the future of Canadian children. The federal government should use this report to say "I do" to looking into a host of ways, including reforming the tax structure in favour of married couples -- two-in-come or otherwise--that will be an incentive for people to make the bond between them official.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday reflected over the hole left in his life by the absence of his own father, as he called on American men to do their duty by their kids, two days before Father's Day.
Obama launched what the White House termed a "national conversation" on fatherhood, taking aim especially at minority youths and men, and admitted that he had been at times a "far from perfect" father himself.
"Children who grow up without fathers are more likely to drop out of school and wind up in prison," Obama said at a town-hall style meeting at the White House that including several top sports stars. "They're more likely to have substance abuse problems, run away from home and become teenage parents themselves. And I say this as someone who grew up without a father in my own life."
Obama endured a childhood mostly with an absent Kenyan dad, and in many ways launched his political career in his book Dreams from My Father, in which he traced his own ancestry and described his upbringing.
Many years ago--14 almost to the day--a male columnist from Edmonton blamed virtually every human ill he could think of on "career women."
This columnist credited these evil women for teenage pregnancy, murderous children and "half-tamed savages" roaming the streets on "women deciding their professional careers must come first and motherhood second."
His "proof" for his audacious claims? In July 1995, 10 Canadian teenagers had been charged in homicides-- the stabbing of a Calgary father who picked up three teenage girls, the clubbing death of a man in Prince Rupert, B. C., the killing of an 82-year-old woman in Montreal, and the murder of a Saskatchewan seven-year-old.
I wasn't yet a mother then, but I decided to check out his unresearched assertion, to find out how many of those 10 homicidal kids had "career women" as mothers.
This is what I found: not one of those 10 kids charged had a mom who had a full-time job, let alone a career. On the contrary. One of the young killers came from a so-called traditional two-parent household where the mom always stayed home and the father worked. One of the other mothers had a part-time, low-paying job to supplement her child-support income, but she worked only while her children were at school. The rest stayed home full time and I presume were on social assistance.
I was reminded of this because this week Alberta Finance Minister Iris Evans has found herself in a storm of controversy over comments in which she seemed to blame working parents for mental illnesses or horrific crimes.
"The huge failure of Canadians is not to educate the children properly and then why should we be surprised when they have mental illnesses or commit dreadful crimes?" said Evans during a question-and-answer period following a speech she gave to the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Wednesday.
Evans said good parents sacrifice some income to stay at home while their children are young, which is something she did and is something her grown children are now also doing, which is laudable, to be sure.
"They've understood perfectly well that when you're raising children you don't both go off to work and leave them for somebody else to raise," said Evans. "This is not a statement against day care. It's a statement about their belief in the importance of raising children properly."
Sigh. So much to write, so little space. Firstly, many Canadian couples would love nothing more than to have one parent stay home with their kids full time, but the reality of today's world makes that impossible for some and very difficult for most.
After my twin boys were born in 1997, I took almost one year off from work and upon my return and because of the public nature of my work, I received numerous vitriolic letters from women who criticized my return. One was penned by a woman freelance writer, let's call her Marni, who told me I was "no better than a child abuser" and other charming epithets. A couple of years later, Marni set up an appointment to see me and then asked me for a full-time job! She and her husband could no longer make ends meet with one salary and provide the opportunities they wanted to give their children. I was going to suggest she choose a crisp Chardonnay to go with the crow she had to eat, but I decided to take the high road instead. You see, I recognized that if she loved her kids even one-tenth as much as I did mine, she would chop off her right arm for them if need be.
But let's not kid ourselves. Not all career women work because they must bring home the proverbial bacon. In my case, staying home full time would have been a considerable financial blow to our family, but it was doable. However, when I was a teen and I saw what marital breakup did to some stay-at-home moms very close to me, I vowed then that I would never allow myself and my future kids to be put in that predicament. Is that an unreasonable hang-up? In my case, thanks to the man I married--who is now a full-time stay-at-home dad --I believe it is. But I also know I am a happier, more engaged and better mom than I would be had I stayed home full time. It's also my belief that I would have grown very unhappy and potentially depressed had I done so. It's just the way I'm wired. Condemn me and others like me if it makes you feel better, but we are and always have raised our kids "properly" and they are doing fantastic, thanks very much.
Recently, a wonderful man I know tells of how his wife stayed home full time to raise their now grown kids. His now ex-wife lives on $24,000 a year gross, provided by himself as alimony--very nearly poverty level. That's a sacrifice, all right, and not one most men I know--and I'm hoping most women today --are willing to make.
June 21, 2009
Father Meets Son
By JOHN S. BURNETT
THERE was a water-stained photograph, faded from years of tropical heat, of my 10-year-old son and me as we walked away down the pier toward my sailboat. I had my arm around his shoulders and his arm was around my waist; there was a lot of love in that picture. Permanently framed in the boat, the photo captured that sad moment — the last time I was to see my son for 27 years.
I met him again in a crowded hotel lobby in New York City. We had agreed to meet, to test the waters. A son was now ready to find out who his father was, a father wanted to know how his son turned out. I heard a man’s voice behind me and I knew it was him.
There are no guidebooks on how to prepare for that first awkward meeting. There is no Web site that will tell a reappearing father what to expect or how to act when he and his son meet for the first time since his childhood. And what about those crucial first words? “Hey, son, how are you?” “Long time, no see.” Or: “I’m sorry, son. It was not your fault.” It is a moment that a father, possibly defensive, and a son, probably resentful, have played out in their minds for years. We had to tread carefully.
There are millions of absent fathers; there are at least that many children out there who are wondering who their fathers are. Barack Obama recalled in “Dreams From My Father” that when he was small, his father just vanished. “It was into my father’s image ... that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself,” he wrote. When Mr. Obama was told that his father had died, he said, “I felt no pain, only the vague sense of an opportunity lost.”
My son was not going to miss his opportunity. I had tried to make contact a few years earlier but it was not the right time. His best friend had just lost his brother to a roadside bomb in Iraq. But the hours he spent helping his friend try to make sense of what had happened got him to thinking. “I realized it can all end so suddenly,” he told me later. “There were some things I realized I wanted to get done and one of them was to know who my father was.” That death and my previous unanswered attempt to make contact were the forces that caused him to make his own move. He greeted me with a firm handshake and a strong voice. But it was not until later that I recognized him as my onetime 10-year-old buddy.
So that first evening, we met as strangers. Our wives were present, necessary buttresses for this delicate moment. He spoke first: “I recognize you from the white hair.”
“Yeah, like a beacon in a fog-bound channel,” I said.
He had once seen me on CNN in a hotel in India and thought, “Jeez, that’s my father.” But he had already known I existed, for his mother often said, in a fit of pique I would imagine, “You’re just like your father!” The first he knew I was still among the living was when he noticed a book with my name on it on a table in Barnes & Noble, and he wondered if the author was his old man. He saw the photo on the jacket and he knew. When he read a reference to himself in the book it was then that he realized that he had never been forgotten.
The evening was strained but friendly enough that we agreed to meet again the next day in Central Park. Our wives walked behind us as he and I spoke about his work, about mine. His wife said, “Look, they even walk the same way,” and indeed I am told our mannerisms, the way we move our hands when we speak, even our voices are similar.
“Why did you leave?” he asked me suddenly, a question I had expected, but still had some trouble answering. I had come from a dysfunctional family, exiled to boarding schools at a punishingly early age, and instead of going to college, I bolted down to the Brooklyn docks and signed on a merchant ship. I had not been groomed to know much about the obligations of a dad. As Mr. Obama has said, fathers often “abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men.”
“I thought of myself as a seaman,” I said. “It was not your mother and it was not you, I just had no sense of responsibility. I just dropped out, sailed away. I’m sorry... You must still be very angry, have a lot of resentment.”
“I got over that years ago,” he said. “Maybe some resentment. You know I don’t need a father now, something I didn’t have; I only wanted to know who you were.”
Late at night in the apartment of my sister, whom he had also not seen since he was a child, he asked other questions. About other marriages, about other children, and I bared all. There was no reason to lie, no reason to hold back. I wanted him to judge me. His condemnation would free me of my new responsibilities. His forgiveness might allow me to try to become the father I never was. It was his call. After my wife had gone to bed, I answered all his questions, in detail. Indeed, he and his wife now know more about me than my own wife, more than any living person. And my son was, on that night, still a stranger.
There must be so many absent fathers, burdened with guilt, regret, defiance and defensiveness, who like me wonder who their sons are now that they are grown men. And if they consider making that first move, they surely speculate about that first meeting: could it be anything but confrontation, his anger, his sorrow, his pain? These things do not always turn out well.
It is too late to pick up where we left off so many years ago and I certainly won’t make the mistake of now acting like a dad. But there is a chance we might at least become friends, even one day feel the love we had for each other when he was a little boy. The relationship is still fragile but we are in contact; I think that we will slowly, cautiously build something lasting. There is some hope. On our last evening together, just before I had to return to Europe, we faced each other awkwardly and then hugged. Not a hail-fellow-well-met hug, but a serious bloodline hug, and I felt for the first time in 27 years something I had forgotten existed.
It looks as if my boy turned out O.K. The credit goes to his mom. He is a sort of a geek working on fiber-optic technology. He’s a good-looking kid and I admire him not only for what he has overcome and become without the benefit of a father, but also for his courage to contact his grateful dad.
John S. Burnett, the author of “Where Soldiers Fear to Tread: A Relief Worker’s Tale of Survival,” runs the Web site ModernPiracy.com.
June 21, 2009
Son Meets Father
By JASON BURNETT
LATE last year, while resting in my hotel room on a business trip to India, I saw my father being interviewed on CNN International; this was the first time I had seen him or heard his voice in 27 years.
The coincidence intrigued me enough to attempt to contact him and after I returned to the States, I spent the next few days trying various combinations of e-mail addresses until I finally hit upon the right one, and received a response. Before I knew it, we had set a date in February to meet. I was about to find myself face to face with a man who was more influential in his absence than he could have been in his presence.
My mother struggled to raise my younger brother and me on her own; in one way or another we always got by without our father. We had what we needed. We went to great schools. We spent the summers with our grandparents. We were good children, relatively speaking. My mother always let me think I was the man of the house, but everyone else knew differently. When I was asked by a guest if I was the “man of the house” my brother piped up and said, “The man of this house is a woman.” She was and she was all we had, and my brother and I knew it. And though she did what she could to make up for the absence of a father, for me, the absence was inescapable.
As a child, I waited for my father to contact me; as a teenager, I realized it wasn’t going to happen. So as an adult I wanted closure. I wasn’t interested in retribution or making him feel sorry for leaving because somehow I knew he wasn’t sorry at all.
I knew as well that I was not in search of a “Father” or seeking advice or absolution. I surely didn’t expect him to fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness at the sight of his long-slighted son. Nor did I expect him to act any differently than he did.
As the date for our meeting neared, I tried to remember the endless list of questions that, as a boy, I promised myself I would ask him if I ever had the chance. But the truth was that the answers to these questions weren’t important to me anymore. I had either answered them for myself or asked them of others.
I realized, though, that I wanted to find the man — not the mythical figure my father had become over the years. I had heard so many fantastic stories and I didn’t know what to believe: tales of sailing solo across oceans, thwarting a band of pirates aboard his small boat in the Strait of Malacca, doing relief work in Somalia, writing a screenplay for David Bowie. I needed to know who this guy really was.
We met in a hotel lobby. After we dispatched with the initial pleasantries, we headed straight for the bar. Over drinks and dinner, we nervously chatted about the past 27 years. The conversation focused on the superficial similarities that a father and son might share. Still, the mundane chitchat, which most fathers and sons must take for granted, was, in hindsight, what I really wanted.
And so it went for the weekend. I asked questions, he answered. I listened to him talk about previous marriages and relationships, other children he’d fathered, his feelings for my mother — things he wasn’t very comfortable talking about. I began to see the mythical character as a man. I learned that he is as fragile as he was powerful in a young son’s eyes. Toward the end he asked if I would call him Dad; I cannot. But now that I know more about him, we can move forward.
I am still digesting our reunion and will be for quite some time. While he is no longer this mythical figure in my life, he is who he is and I am who I am, partly because of his absence. Already, though, I feel relieved and free to move forward.
I have always wanted to be a father and a husband. I want to be there for those who count on me and I want to be counted on. I have made a good life for myself in the suburbs of Washington. I am married and still very close to my brother and our mother. While I am hopeful that my new relationship with my father is a lasting one, I learned the closure that I needed comes from relationships that I had all along.
July 3, 2009
Tales of Republicans, Bonobos and Adultery
By EDUARDO PORTER
You’d think the family values branch of the Republican Party would have this down pat: Americans disapprove of adultery. They disapprove of it so much that they rank philandering as less morally acceptable than the death penalty, cloning humans or suicide.
A Gallup poll of 1,015 adults nationwide — conducted in May just before we were treated to the saucier details of the lives of South Carolina’s Republican governor and Nevada’s Republican senator — found that 92 percent of Americans think it is morally wrong for a married man or woman to have a fling.
Just as many said it is morally O.K. to condemn criminals to death. And the opprobrium doesn’t merely reflect a fleeting new impulse to protect marriage. In the last decade, adultery’s approval rating has never risen above 9 percent.
Sex between nonmarried straights was considered morally acceptable by 57 percent of those polled. Gay sex had an approval rating of 47 percent. Another poll conducted by the Pew Research Center three years ago found that Americans considered adultery worse than abortion, smoking marijuana or cheating on taxes.
It is hard not to be bemused by the contrast between the straight-and-narrow political persona of Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and his messy, steamy circumstances. Still, I am somewhat perplexed by the surprise and the outrage over a transgression that has been around forever.
We all have heard the Kinsey statistics: half of married men reported having an extramarital affair at some time during their marriage; a quarter of married women had an affair by the time they were 40. Even if we account for men’s propensity to brag, there is still a lot of illicit sex going on.
So it is curious how American society arrived at its current moral positions.
It’s been nearly 40 years since the biologist Robert Trivers posited that the evolutionary imperative to maximize offspring would lead to mostly promiscuous males and nonpromiscuous females. Because males only invest a small amount of sperm in reproduction, philandering increases their reproductive success. Females, who invest much more time and energy in each offspring, would prefer one high-quality mate.
But females could be unfaithful, too, if it improved their chances to pass on their genes. Female bonobo chimpanzees have sex with dozens of males to obscure the paternity of offspring and thus stop males from killing infants to get their mothers to stop breastfeeding and become fertile again.
Human strategies have responded to similar considerations of reproductive success. Polygamy stretches back at least thousands of years to the Babylonian empire, not only because powerful men wanted as many women as they could afford and could impose their will on. Even when women had a choice, it could make more sense for them to be the second wife of a rich man than the first wife of a poor one.
The anthropologist Laura Betzig is quoted as saying, “Which woman would not rather be John Kennedy’s third wife than Bozo the Clown’s first?”
Today, studies have found that men still prefer young, healthy women who can produce healthy babies, while women prefer wealthy men who can contribute resources to rear them. But while polygamy is still practiced in parts of Africa and the Middle East, the industrial West is uniformly monogamous. Philandering remains as a vestigial appendage, a counterproductive urge that can end marriages and political careers.
Some suggest the end of polygamy came through the empowerment of women. Others think it was outlawed by Christianity. But the church condoned the practice among the European nobility for centuries. And the women’s movement was too recent. The waning of polygamy did not spell the end of patriarchal societies. A more plausible explanation is the opposition of less fortunate men that were left out of the mating game. It was not about the sex. It was about the inequality.
I’m not sure that fuels the outrage with philandering politicians. I do know that only one behavior came close to the disapproval of adultery in the Gallup poll. Polygamy — deemed wrong by 91 percent of Americans.
Growing population is not to be feared
By Andrea Mrozek,
For The Calgary HeraldAugust 16, 2009
When World Population Day came and went on July 11, it was with the usual fearmongering about there being too many people.
But, this accepted view --the fear of people falling off the globe--is not true. Underpopulation is in fact likely the more pressing problem in our future, not merely in rich industrialized countries, but everywhere. This sounds so foreign as to be false, which is evidence of the success of modern Malthusians, who believe the world's societal ills could be staved off if only there were fewer people.
Enter Demographic Bomb, released July 1, a documentary highlighting the history and dangers of population decline. The documentary highlights how even the United Nations is predicting a global population decline by 2050 and questions why it is we simply never hear about it.
The documentary makes, put very simply, two major points.
There are not too many people on this earth, and efforts to control population have often been coercive and anti-democratic, intrusive and dangerous for different cultures that depend entirely on family --and large ones, at that --for well-being. It's the worst of a modern form of colonialism to assert they'd all be happier with 2.1 kids, a white picket fence and the Saturday edition of the New York Times.
But for cynics about that, perhaps the second point is more critical: Even if the population did "explode" --why are people the problem?
The movie cites experts who show demographic decline is not associated with economic well-being. The past century has seen the largest population growth in global history, yet simultaneously, the standard of living has risen and life expectancies have increased as well.
A growing population is associated with economic well-being, points out Gary Becker, the 1992 winner of the Nobel Prize for economics. "Adam Smith wrote," he says, citing the renowned economist, "that prosperity is associated with growing populations and [depression] is associated with declining populations."
Matthew Connelly, author of Fatal Misconception, a book about attempts to control the global population, adds Malthus was wrong in his predictions of mass starvation due to a rising population because people don't merely suck life out of the planet. "The reason [Malthus] was wrong," he says, "was because every new person brings not just a mouth to feed but also two hands to help." Across the globe today, abject poverty is highly correlated with bad government, not "too many people."
Still, Malthus has a long shadow. When Paul Ehrlich wrote Population Bomb in 1968 he again predicted mass starvation. That this prediction did not come true has not put the kibosh on overpopulation talk.
Still, Malthus, Ehrlich, even Margaret Sanger, the founding godmother of Planned Parenthood and a proponent of improvement of the human race by ensuring undesirable populations are not born--none of this would be enough if individuals had not also privately wanted fewer children. In developed nations, the fear of overpopulation fed into private decisions. Says Jennifer Roback Morse, formerly a professor of economics at Yale University, "[t]he zero population growth movement would not have gotten off the ground except that people had a personal interest in wanting to control their own fertility in the first place. It gave them a rationalization for having sex without having babies." Birth rates fell, as did marriage rates. Sex without the corresponding responsibility of children has always sounded like a good idea: Now it would be a moral mandate to save the planet.
UN graphs reveal a prediction of a declining global population by 2050. The graphs show the prediction for the zero to age 14 category fall slightly off, while the older age ranges increase, likely due to the fact people today live longer. Indeed, another demographer, Nicholas Eberstadt, points out why it may appear that we have a "population explosion" today. "The reason the world has experienced a population explosion over the last century is not because human beings started breeding like rabbits," he says in the film. "It's because they finally stopped dying like flies."
Demographic Bomb has numerous shortcomings, not the least of which is the narrator's unnecessary alarmism--even the basic facts are put forward with conspiratorial overtones, making her into a caricature of those who worry about demographic implosion. Some valid questions also go unanswered. Yes, the developing world is in population free fall, but does this necessarily imply long-term recession? Is it not largely public pensions and state-run social security that will go bankrupt? Do we not perpetuate population decline by the very existence of socialized programs? (Who needs to have a family in old age when pensions are generous and health care is free?)
Still, taking this topic on is no small feat. There is a nefarious history to population and fertility control --coercion and eugenics. Then there are the better intentioned efforts to bring about a higher quality of life for everyone. But as Connelly writes in his history of population control, "when people set out to save the world, the devil is in the details."
The devil, as it turns out, is also in the overarching world view. Are people a burden or a promise?
Modern, developed nations have already decided. It's a question of whether we care enough to change the prevailing zeitgeist for places where the trend can still be changed.
Andrea mrozek is the manager of research at the institute of marriage and family Canada. iMFCanada.org
The broken mommy track caused by myth
By Susan Martinuk, Calgary Herald
September 25, 2009
Tick tock. Tick tock. Like a Timex watch, that ol' biological clock just keeps on ticking and ticking. Loudly. But a just released Statistics Canada report on fertility suggests that growing numbers of Canadian women are determined to ignore the noise. They're postponing childbirth and that reduces their babymaking chances by pushing the limits of Mother Nature and medical technology.
The good news is Canadian women are having more babies. The number of births increased each year from 2003-2007 and, according to some, this upward trend suggests we may be in the midst of a "mini-baby-boom."
However, to keep this in perspective, our national birth rate remains a meagre 1.66 -- well below the rate of 2.1 that is needed replace our population and prevent all sorts of social and economic chaos.
The bad news is, in 2006 and 2007, a majority of these babies were born to women between the ages of 30 and 34.
That's a marked upward shift from a decade ago when the highest fertility rates were found in women aged 25 to 29. Before that, women having the most babies were under 24. You can see the trend, and it's not a good one if the goal is reproductive success.
Most women over 30 have chosen to establish themselves in their career prior to hitting the Mommy Track. This makes for more mature, responsible parenting, but it's hardly a foolproof plan for having a baby.
A woman's chances of reproductive success (given that all body parts are working well) drop from a maximum of 22 per cent at 25 to 15 per cent at 35, and 7.5 per cent at 40.
Clearly, the odds of winning the babymaking gamble greatly diminish with age.
Almost unbelievably, even the brightest, highly-educated and ultra successful women are still surprised by this. A groundbreaking 2001 survey by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett showed that, at mid-life, 33 to 50 per cent of high-achieving women in the United States and 49 per cent per cent of corporate ultra-achievers (who make more than $100,000 per year) are childless. For the majority, it's not by choice.
Many of them believed they had plenty of time to have a baby. Fully 90 per cent were confident (wrongly) that they could have a biological child when they were well into their 40s -- even if it meant spending tens of thousands of dollars and subjecting themselves to complex medical procedures and reproductive technologies. But, by that age, it's often too late.
Other surveys suggest that women make a conscious choice to put career first. A 2004 survey by Carleton University's Sprott School of Business showed that 28 per cent of professional women had no children and another third had just one child. The majority indicated they had made a decision to limit family size so they could focus on their careers.
What happened? How is it that we've raised generations of women who think that they can put off childbearing until a time in life that is convenient for them -- and still beat the biological limits of reproduction?
Part of the problem is the mistaken messages that society has fed women.
Since the advent of reliable birth control, feminists and society have led women to believe that they can have it all. By controlling when, or if, they had a child, women could essentially slot in time periods for obtaining an education, having a career, getting married and giving birth.
But we now know that increasing maternal age and long-term use of the birth control pill both act to diminish the chances of conception. In other words, control over contraception doesn't mean that women have control over the time of conception.
One woman, writing in an infertility magazine, says society and feminist ideology encouraged her to believe that using birth control and pursuing a career was "a way to improve women's place in society." But following "a lifestyle that has been promoted and supported by our societal institutions" only left her infertile.
The idea that women can have it all isn't a myth. Women can get an education, have a career and have a child -- they just can't wait until their late 30s to do so. The real myth is that women can have it all at the time of their own choosing, and the present statistics suggest that women are still buying into that lie.
By Bradley Bouzane, Canwest News ServiceOctober 2, 2009
O ne hundred candles on a birthday cake may eventually become a more common sight, according to a Danish study that suggests more than half of babies born in wealthy nations since 2000 could become centenarians.
The study, released Thursday by the University of Southern Denmark's Aging Research Center, says mortality trends suggest more longevity and decreased disability could be experienced by the latest generation of children as they age.
"We are not only living longer than before, but those extra years are spent with less disability and fewer limitations on daily life than in the past," said a news release from the university. "Furthermore, preliminary evidence suggests shortened working weeks over extended working lives might further extend increases in life expectancy and health."
The study looked at Canada and seven other nations: the United States, Japan, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and the U. K.
In Canada, for example, the study says children born in 2007 could live as old as 104 years. The oldest estimate for those born in 2007 was found in Japan, where people could live to be as old as 107.
Statistics Canada reported that between 2000 and 2002, average life expectancy for Canadians was 77 years for males and 82 years for females.
By contrast, based on figures from 1920 through 1922, the average Canadian life expectancy was 59 years for men and 61 years for women.
The study notes the huge increase in mortality rates over the course of the previous century, with some nations recording jumps of more than 30 years.
In addition to the extended life periods, the Danish study says because of a projected higher quality of life, three-quarters of newborns could live to enjoy their 75th birthday.
"Most evidence for people younger than 85 years suggests postponement of limitations and disabilities, despite an increase in chronic diseases and conditions," reads the university release about the study. "This apparent contradiction is at least partly accounted for by early diagnosis, improved treatment, and amelioration of prevalent diseases so that they are less disabling. People younger than 85 years are living longer and, on the whole, are able to manage their daily activities for longer."
Last week, The Washington Post ran a front-page story that said most stay-at-home moms aren’t S.U.V.-driving, daily yoga-doing, latte-drinking white, upper-middle-class women who choose to leave their high-powered careers to answer the call to motherhood. Instead, they are disproportionately low-income, non-college educated, young and Hispanic or foreign-born; in other words, they are women whose horizons are greatly limited and for whom the cost of child care, very often, makes work not a workable choice at all.
These findings, drawn from a new report by the Census Bureau, really ought to lead us to reframe our public conversations about who mothers are and why they do what they do. It should lead us away from all the moralistic bombast about mothers’ “choices” and “priorities.” It should get us thinking less about choice, in fact, and make us focus more on contingencies — the objective conditions that drive women’s lives. And they should propel us to think about the choices that we as a society must make to guarantee that the best possible opportunities are available for all families.
The basic finding of this latest report — that the more choices mothers have, the more likely they are to work — has been known, to anyone who’s taken the time to seriously look into the issue, for quite some time now. Ever since 2003, when Lisa Belkin’s article in The Times Magazine about highly privileged and ultra-high-achieving moms — “The Opt-Out Revolution” — was generalized by the news media to claim that mothers overall were choosing to leave the work force in droves, researchers have been revisiting the state of mothers’ employment and reaching very similar conclusions.
In 2005, the Motherhood Project at the Institute for American Values surveyed more than 2,000 women and published a report that said most mothers, given free choice in an ideal world, would choose to be employed — provided their employment didn’t impinge excessively on their time with their kids. Approximately two-thirds said they’d ideally work part-time or from home; only 16 percent said they’d prefer to work full-time. (Interestingly, the researchers said, it was the least-educated mothers who expressed the strongest preference for full-time work.)
In 2007, the sociologists David Cotter, Paula England and Joan Hermsen looked carefully at four decades of employment data and found that women with choices — those with college educations — were overwhelmingly choosing to stay in the work force. The only women “opting out” in any significant numbers were the very richest — those with husbands earning more than $125,000 a year — and the very poorest — those with husbands earning less than $23,400 a year.
You might say that the movement of the richest women out of the workforce proves that women will, in the best of all possible worlds, go home. But these women often have husbands who, in order to earn those top salaries, work 70 or 80 hours a week and travel extensively; someone has to be home. Many left high-powered careers that made similar demands on their time. They are privileged, it’s true, but very often they have also been cornered by the all-or-nothing non-choices of our workplaces.
The alternative narrative — of constricted horizons, not choice — that might have emerged from recent research has never really made it into the mainstream. It just can’t, it seems, find a foothold.
“The reason we keep getting this narrative is that there is this deep cultural ambivalence about mothers’ employment,” England told me this week. “On the one hand, people believe women should have equal opportunities, but on the other hand, we don’t envision men taking on more child care and housework and, unlike Europe, we don’t seem to be able to envision family-friendly work policies.”
Why this matters — and why opening this topic up for discussion is important — is very clear: because our public policy continues to rest upon a fictitious idea, eternally recycled in the media, of mothers’ free choices, and not upon the constraints that truly drive their behavior. “If journalism repeatedly frames the wrong problem, then the folks who make public policy may very well deliver the wrong solution,” is how E. J. Graff, the associate director and senior researcher at Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism once put it in the Columbia Journalism Review. “If women are happily choosing to stay home with their babies, that’s a private decision. But … [i]t’s a public policy issue if schools, jobs and other American institutions are structured in ways that make it frustratingly difficult, and sometimes impossible, for parents to manage both their jobs and family responsibilities.”
It looked, not so long ago, as though things were going to change. Barack Obama made increasing women’s work/life choices and providing more supports for working families a cornerstone of his campaign. All those lofty ideals, though, seem to have been forgotten in the realities of this recession, where plans to expand universal pre-K, paid family leave and subsidies for child care have gone the way of state budget revenues. Even workfare, The Times reported this week, is being scrapped in California in favor of old-style no-work welfare, because it’s been deemed too costly to give poor mothers job skills while providing decent child care.
In Fresno County, one of the first places in California where welfare recipients are being told about the policy change, which is voluntary for now, the new regulations aren’t being viewed as good news.
“Especially when you have kids, you can’t just sit around and collect checks,” one mother told The Times. For now, 90 percent of beneficiaries in Fresno County are choosing to keep working and receiving child care subsidies.
When mothers can choose, they choose self-empowerment. Because they know that there is no true difference between their advancement and the advancement of their children. Why do we so enduringly deny them the dignity of choice?
Judith Warner's book, "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety", a New York Times best-seller, was published in February 2005. "Domestic Disturbances" appears every Friday.
A homecoming dance at a California high school took a horrific turn last Saturday night when a 15-year-old student was gang-raped and beaten. For two-and-a-half hours.
My editors will tell me to write "allegedly" prior to gang-raped and beaten, but that's a difficult word to use when police estimate at least 10 people participated in the attack and more than 20 stood back and enjoyed the show. The lengthy attack gave students ample time to invite others to the spectacle--to watch, participate, share a few laughs and record the event on cellphones.
Sadly, not one of them bothered to help the victim or call the police. At the end, the crowd walked away as if nothing had happened, leaving her unconscious and under a bench.
Perhaps this is the "rape-rape" that Whoopi Goldberg alluded to last month as she discussed director Roman Polanski's rape of a 13-year-old girl. She didn't know how to describe what happened, but told the audience she was quite sure that it wasn't "rape-rape." If anything is "rape-rape," it has to be this.
So far, five young men have been arrested. One policeman summed up his-- and the public's--reaction by saying, "These suspects are monsters, and I don't understand how this many people capable of such atrocious behaviour could be in one place at one time."
As the most brutal teen crime to have surfaced in some time, it's led to a great deal of introspection and conversation about what the hell is wrong with these kids.
Most point to "the bystander effect," a sociological theory found in every first-year psyche text. It essentially states that people are less likely to get involved or assist someone in need when they are part of a larger group of people. On a practical note, that means, when victimized, it's best to pray for one good Samaritan to come by--not 10.
The term stems from an infamous incident in 1964 New York, where apathetic neighbours watched as a woman named Kitty Genovese was raped and murdered. As an explanation, one witness simply said, "I didn't want to be involved."
In the best case scenario, we might believe that people shirk from involvement because they assume that someone else will take responsibility. But the crowd's response in the California rape case demonstrates the absolute worst-case scenario-- where people are so desensitized to violence that they don't even care about the victimization of a fellow human being.
This might be explained by experts who say some children are so conditioned to violence in their own lives or homes that it's accepted as normal behaviour. They don't act because they're desensitized to the pain and suffering of others.
It could also be that an overdose of violent video games and television has desensitized some people to the point where they no longer have an accurate perception of reality.
Several years ago, nurses at an American conference spoke about their most frightening experiences in the ER. One talked about a youth who came in with a gunshot and was absolutely astounded that he was in pain and that bullets hurt! After all, they didn't seem to hurt the people in video games or on TV.
A commonly quoted statistic says the average American child watches 100,000 acts of televised violence, including 8,000 depictions of murder, by the time he/she finishes Grade 6. A study just released by the Parents Television Council suggests much of that violence is against women. Violent incidents against teen girls on television increased 400 per cent since 2004. Beatings were the most frequently depicted forms of violence, followed by violent threats, shooting, rape, stabbing and torture. The mind of a child is a sponge; that's a lot for kids to soak up by the age of 11.
Studies on the mental health and well-being of Ontario children (OSDUS, 1991-2005) show that, for whatever reason, Canadian kids are similarly conditioned to violence. Statistics (on students from Grades 7 to 12) show that 12 per cent assaulted someone during the past year, while 10 per cent carried a weapon such as a knife or gun and six per cent participated in gang fighting. Do you think any of these nice Canadian kids would have stepped up to assist the California rape victim?
When it comes to rape, another culprit is society's refusal to provide sexual boundaries for teens. In 1993, California police laid rape charges against members of a high school athletic clique called the Spur Posse. Members received a point each time they had sex with a different girl; the highest scorer had 66 points. A 17-year-old who was arrested passed the blame, saying, "They pass out condoms, teach sex education and pregnancy-this and pregnancy-that. But they don't teach us any rules."
All of these messages tell kids that violence and sex have no consequences. In the undeveloped and unconstrained minds of immature teens, it can become a lethal combination that leads straight to social depravity.
November 3, 2009
Cellphones, Texts and Lovers
By DAVID BROOKS
Since April 2007, New York magazine has posted online sex diaries. People send in personal accounts of their nighttime quests and conquests. Some of the diaries are unusual and sad. There’s a laid-off banker who drinks herself into oblivion and wakes up in the beds of unfamiliar men. There’s an African-American securities trader who flies around the country on weekends to meet with couples seeking interracial sex. (He meets one Midwestern couple at a T.G.I. Friday’s.)
But the most interesting part of the diaries concerns the way cellphones have influenced courtship. On nights when they are out, the diarists are often texting multiple possible partners in search of the best arrangement.
As the journalist Wesley Yang notes in a very intelligent analysis in the magazine, the diarists “use their cellphones to disaggregate, slice up, and repackage their emotional and physical needs, servicing each with a different partner, and hoping to come out ahead.”
Often the diarists will be on the verge of spending the evening with one partner, when a text arrives from another with a potentially better offer. To guard against not being chosen at all, Yang writes, “everyone is on somebody’s back-burner, and everybody has a back-burner of their own, which they maintain with open-ended texts.”
The atmosphere is fluid, like an eBay auction. This leads to a series of marketing strategies. You don’t want to appear too enthusiastic. You want to invent detached nicknames for partners. “Make plans to spend day with the One Who Cries,” a paralegal, 26, from the East Village writes. You want to appear bulletproof as you move confidently through the transactions. “I have a Stage Five Clinger on my hands,” a TV producer writes. “He asks me to hang out again this coming Sunday. I do not respond.”
People who send in sex diaries to a magazine are not representative of average Americans. But the interplay between technology and hook-ups will be familiar to a wide swath of young Americans. It illustrates an interesting roadblock in the country’s social evolution.
Once upon a time — in what we might think of as the “Happy Days” era — courtship was governed by a set of guardrails. Potential partners generally met within the context of larger social institutions: neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and families. There were certain accepted social scripts. The purpose of these scripts — dating, going steady, delaying sex — was to guide young people on the path from short-term desire to long-term commitment.
Over the past few decades, these social scripts became obsolete. They didn’t fit the post-feminist era. So the search was on for more enlightened courtship rules. You would expect a dynamic society to come up with appropriate scripts. But technology has made this extremely difficult. Etiquette is all about obstacles and restraint. But technology, especially cellphone and texting technology, dissolves obstacles. Suitors now contact each other in an instantaneous, frictionless sphere separated from larger social institutions and commitments.
People are thus thrown back on themselves. They are free agents in a competitive arena marked by ambiguous relationships. Social life comes to resemble economics, with people enmeshed in blizzards of supply and demand signals amidst a universe of potential partners.
The opportunity to contact many people at once seems to encourage compartmentalization, as people try to establish different kinds of romantic attachments with different people at the same time.
It seems to encourage an attitude of contingency. If you have several options perpetually before you, and if technology makes it easier to jump from one option to another, you will naturally adopt the mentality of a comparison shopper.
It also seems to encourage an atmosphere of general disenchantment. Across the centuries the moral systems from medieval chivalry to Bruce Springsteen love anthems have worked the same basic way. They take immediate selfish interests and enmesh them within transcendent, spiritual meanings. Love becomes a holy cause, an act of self-sacrifice and selfless commitment.
But texting and the utilitarian mind-set are naturally corrosive toward poetry and imagination. A coat of ironic detachment is required for anyone who hopes to withstand the brutal feedback of the marketplace. In today’s world, the choice of a Prius can be a more sanctified act than the choice of an erotic partner.
This does not mean that young people today are worse or shallower than young people in the past. It does mean they get less help. People once lived within a pattern of being, which educated the emotions, guided the temporary toward the permanent and linked everyday urges to higher things. The accumulated wisdom of the community steered couples as they tried to earn each other’s commitment.
Today there are fewer norms that guide in that way. Today’s technology seems to threaten the sort of recurring and stable reciprocity that is the building block of trust.
Bad divorces can haunt children: study
By Shannon Proudfoot, Canwest News Service
November 20, 2009
The persistently cited statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce stems from misunderstanding of how divorce rates are calculated and the dominance of American figures from the 1980sFewer marriages in Canada are ending in divorce than is commonly thought, but the effects of the split can affect every member of the family, a new report indicates.
The popular notion that half of all marriages fail is not true, according to the report released Thursday by the Vanier Institute of the Family. But there is also no sign Canadian divorce rates will drop in the future.
"What we're not talking about is the impact of parent conflict after the divorce and while they're separated," says Anne-Marie Ambert, an emeritus sociology professor at Toronto's York University and author of the report.
"It's what happens after--when the parents bicker over everything, over every cent, over every visit, and the kids are placed in the middle of that -- that is bound to be very bad."
Most children of divorce do not experience severe developmental problems, she emphasizes, but they are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, behavioural problems, receiving bad grades or leaving school earlier, becoming young offenders or experiencing their own relationship problems down the road.
The latest estimates from Statistics Canada in 2008 suggest 38 per cent of married couples in Canada will divorce by their 30th wedding anniversary (divorce beyond that point is rare).The percentages range from 22 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador to 48 per cent in Quebec.
In the U.S., the figure is 44 per cent.
The persistently cited statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce stems from a misunderstanding of how divorce rates are calculated and the dominance of American figures from the 1980s, when divorces peaked and half of all marriages in the U.S. did end, Ambert says.
When divorce rates peaked in Canada in 1987, there were 362 divorces per 100,000 population. That number now sits at 221 divorces per 100,000 people.
The average marriage that ended in divorce in 2005 lasted 14.5 years, or 1.7 years longer than a decade ago.
November 22, 2009
Who Knew I Was Not the Father?
By RUTH PADAWER
It was in July 2007 when Mike L. asked the Pennsylvania courts to declare that he was no longer the father of his daughter. For four years, Mike had known that the girl he had rocked to sleep and danced with across the living-room floor was not, as they say, “his.” The revelation from a DNA test was devastating and prompted him to leave his wife — but he had not renounced their child. He continued to feel that in all the ways that mattered, she was still his daughter, and he faithfully paid her child support. It was only when he learned that his ex-wife was about to marry the man who she said actually was the girl’s biological father that Mike flipped. Supporting another man’s child suddenly became unbearable.
Two years after filing the suit that sought to end his paternal rights, Mike is still irate about the fix he’s in. “I pay child support to a biologically intact family,” Mike told me, his voice cracking with incredulity. “A father and mother, married, who live with their own child. And I pay support for that child. How ridiculous is that?”
Yet despite his indignation — and despite his court filings seeking to end his obligations as a father — Mike loves his daughter. Every other weekend, the 11-year-old girl, L., lives in Mike’s house in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Western Pennsylvania. Her bedroom there is decorated to reflect her current passion: there’s a soccer bedspread, soccer curtains and a soccer-ball night light. On her bed is an Everybody Loves Me pillow covered with transparent sleeves filled with photos of her and Mike, the man she calls “Daddy,” canoeing, fishing and sledding together.
As the two of them prepared breakfast together one Saturday in June, just after L. finished fifth grade, Mike sang a little ditty about how she was his favorite daughter. A few minutes later, when he noticed L. sneaking a piece of raw biscuit dough, he poked her. She looked at him impishly until they both giggled.
“Just because our relationship started because of someone else’s lie,” he said later, “doesn’t mean the bond that developed isn’t real.” Still, his love became entangled with humiliation and outrage, and each child-support payment stung so much that he felt compelled to take a stand on principle. In doing so, he also took the small but terrifying risk of losing his child.
Mike’s conundrum is increasingly playing out in courts across the country, a result of political, social and technological shifts. Stricter federal rules have pressed states to chase down fathers and hold them responsible for children born outside of marriage, a category that includes 40 percent of all births. At the same time, DNA tests have become easier, cheaper and more reliable. Swiping a few cheek cells and paying a couple hundred dollars can answer the question that has plagued men since the dawn of time: Am I really the father?
W omen are working and earning more than ever before, and more of them are taking on the role of family breadwinner, several recent reports show.
The gradual trend was accelerated by the economic crisis that hit hardest in such male-dominated industries as manufacturing over the last year, but experts say it's likely to shift things permanently.
"I think there is evidence that there's some profound changes underway that are having all sorts of implications for family life," says Clarence Lochhead, executive director of the Vanier Institute of the Family.
The catalyst was more education for women, he says, and at the same time, the male-dominated industrial workplace transformed into a knowledge economy. As women moved into the workforce, men have taken on more at home, he says, but women still shoulder most of the responsibility and that gap needs to narrow if families are going to rely on both partners for income.
"It's a negotiated, contested and sometimes difficult terrain to walk but I think there are families doing it every day," Lochhead says.
A Statistics Canada report released earlier this year found that 18 per cent of women are now their families' primary breadwinners in terms of hourly earnings, bringing in 55 per cent or more of the household income. That's up from 14 per cent in 1997.At the same time, the proportion of women earning approximately the same as their husbands has climbed from 37 per cent to 42 per cent.
"The roles of men and women are converging in the sense that men are doing more housework relative to their wives and wives are doing more paid work relative to husbands," says Katherine Marshall, a senior analyst with Statistics Canada.
But Kathleen Lahey, a law professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., says women's financial gains have stagnated in recent years and Canada has slipped badly in international rankings of gender income equity. Women are being treated as a "reserve labour force," she says, and there's significant inequality at home and in the workplace lurking beneath the numbers.
"We're literally going backwards in time," she says. "I haven't figured out what year we're actually back to, but we're definitely no better than the mid-1980s in terms of the equality of women in Canada."
In the U.S., 26 per cent of women out-earned their employed husbands as of 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, up from 18 per cent in 1987.When families where the husband isn't working are included, it's 34 per cent.
Don't look to television for your role models
By Naomi Lakritz, Calgary Herald
December 6, 2009
What's all this talk about Tiger Woods being a role model? He's a top golfer. How is he a role model for anyone but possibly aspiring golfers? Even then, it's not about his personality or his deeds--it's about his technique on the golf course. I'm glad to see that the super-shallow cult of celebrity worship has taken a hit. Maybe people will smarten up and realize that just because someone makes a lot of money for doing something particularly well --golfing, hitting a puck, throwing a football, singing, dancing--doesn't make him or her a role model.
A psychotherapist named James P. Krehbiel told CNN: "I think part of it is we are fascinated with heroes because they become an extension of who we are. We live through them vicariously, and we develop an identity based on who they are." Krehbiel added: "Tiger Woods would fit in with the definition of being a hero."
No, he wouldn't. Woods is not a hero. He makes a lot of money because he can swing a golf club. He can swing it extremely well, but neither golfing nor making money is a heroic action. He has not used his golf club to save anyone from a burning building or held it out as a lifesaver for some drowning person struggling against the current in a river. Those are heroic actions. So while Krehbiel comments cogently on the psychology behind this phenomenon, he still, unfortunately, has succumbed to the jargon. As for living through these "heroes" vicariously and developing our own identities based on who they are, maybe it's time we learn to develop our own identities based on who we are. It would be a whole lot healthier. Because what has anybody's life got to do with that of Tiger Woods, anyway?
Columnist Jill Painter, writing in the Los Angeles Daily News, quotes a woman attending the Chevron World Challenge (from which Woods was conspicuous by his deliberate absence) as saying: "I held him in such high regard. I felt he was the best role model for our youth. I felt like I was his mother . . . "
The best role model for youth? How so? I feel sorry for Woods. He's had this ridiculous label of "role model" slapped on him by people who never knew him personally, people who weren't privy to his thoughts, his character or his daily deeds, and now that he's shown he can mess up, just like all the rest of us have messed up, they're stripping him of the label they themselves invented for him, a label that was purely fictitious. People need to stop confusing "celebrity" with "role model." The two are not synonymous, although some strange pop-culture brainwashing has led us to believe they are.
As someone posting on the CBC's website wrote: "Hopefully, we will reflect on this as another indication of our misplaced idolatry of celebrities." Well, "hopefully" is a nice word, but don't hold your breath. On Newspost Online, a regretful fan wrote: "We, the countless Tiger faithfuls, are presently in a bind, not knowing what to take him as. " That's easy. How about taking him as a guy who can play golf, and has made big bucks off it, but whose achievements do not merit submitting his name to the Pope as a candidate for canonization?
Woods himself wrote, as part of his unnecessary public apology: "Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions." Too bad he didn't take his own advice by not penning the apology in the first place.
And it's too bad those "countless Tiger faithfuls" are in such a bind, but maybe now they will gain a little insight and start to look at the real role models--the people in their daily lives who go about quietly getting amazing things done, people who, regardless of their golf swing or the size of their bank account, put their values into action to make the lives of those around them better. These are real people, not images on a TV screen who will never interact with the foolish fans who worship them as "role models." Just what "role" has Tiger Woods modelled?
The distinction between admiring someone from afar for his or her athletic ability, acting talent or singing voice, and calling that individual a hero because of it, has become so blurred as to be pathological. You want role models? Look around you. They're everywhere. Ordinary people are the heroes and the role models, but they go unnoticed because they're not rich or glamorous and no cameras are trained on them.
Celebrity worship is so pervasive that it has convinced people that all that glitters really is gold when, instead, true gold is to be found in far more prosaic places.
By Susan Martinuk, Calgary Herald
December 11, 2009
It's possible that Diane Francis, one of Canada's leading financial columnists, lies awake at night worrying about monsters in the closet. In her weekly Financial Post column, she confided to us her belief that world leaders meeting in Copenhagen are deliberately ignoring the real "inconvenient truth" that is the cause of world's environmental problems -- overpopulation.
People are the problem. Their "soaring reproduction rate" is ruining the world's vegetation, oceans and atmosphere. Since individuals have obviously been irresponsible in controlling their own fecundity, she advocates the implementation of worldwide, government-controlled population control laws. In her words, "a planetary law, such as China's one-child policy."
Obviously, it's a rather extreme solution. Maybe it would be easier to just get everyone to hold their breath (and cease pumping out those nasty carbon gases) for 10 seconds every minute.
We've heard this Malthusian nonsense before. Paul Ehrlich made it a popular fear in the 1970s after he published The Population Time Bomb. His writings predicted that mankind's uncontrolled reproduction would bring about the destruction of human life. He believed that the world's population would fall to 1.5 billion by 1985 and the U.S. would have a population of only 22.6 million by 1999.
Over the past decades, Ehrlich's fearmongering and predictions have been proven wrong and even ludicrous. Yet, every once in a while, someone like Francis decides it's time to beat that worn-out drum again.
Francis quantifies her need for a global dictatorship based on a statistic that the Earth's population will reach an "unsustainable" number of nine billion by 2050. But whether the world is full or half-empty very much depends on context.
For example, The Economist (Oct. 29, 2009) considers that same statistic within the context of worldwide fertility rates and proclaims that the world is reaching huge milestones in stabilizing and reducing population growth. One-half of humanity is having enough children to replace itself -- the rest have fertility rates that are below replacement rates.
Fertility rate is the hypothetical number of children a couple must have to replace themselves. The global average is about 2.3 (considering that some children die) and more than 70 countries (from every continent) now have fertility rates that are less than the replacement rate. It's not just western nations; the average fertility rate in developing countries has fallen from six to three children in the past 20 years. Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, South India and many others are already at -- or below -- the replacement rate.
In other words, population numbers such as those used by Francis may continue to climb for a time. But they will diminish on their own with lower fertility rates. There's no need to impose draconian measures such as mass sterilization or government population control.
We've already seen the horrific consequences of China's one-child policy (as advocated by Francis) in female infanticide, a lopsided ratio of boys to girls with the resulting social crisis of not having enough women to marry young men, and abortion rates that are higher than birth rates. By 2030, China will have the oldest population in the world -- with a very small population of young people to drive the economy and support their elders. Then what?
The consequence of low fertility rates is already evident in Canada, where fewer young people available to support the social and medical costs of an aging population. In 2007, a Maclean's article on our "baby bust" mused about paying women to have children.
So are we in the midst of a population explosion? Or implosion? That depends on how you view mankind. If man is just another animal resource to be managed or, worse still, a blight on the planet Earth, then there will always be too many people.
Conversely, if you believe that human capital is a benefit, then more people are always needed to stabilize society, to care for the elderly, to drive the economy and build a better world.
Unable to have a baby of her own, Amy Kehoe became her own general contractor to manufacture one. For Ms. Kehoe and her husband, Scott, the idea seemed like their best hope after years of infertility.
Working mostly over the Internet, Ms. Kehoe handpicked the egg donor, a pre-med student at the University of Michigan. From the Web site of California Cryobank, she chose the anonymous sperm donor, an athletic man with a 4.0 high school grade-point average.
On another Web site, surromomsonline.com, Ms. Kehoe found a gestational carrier who would deliver her baby.
Finally, she hired the fertility clinic, IVF Michigan, which put together her creation last December.
“We paid for the egg, the sperm, the in vitro fertilization,” Ms. Kehoe said as she showed off baby pictures at her home near Grand Rapids, Mich. “They wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for us.”
On July 28, the Kehoes announced the arrival of twins, Ethan and Bridget, at University Hospital in Ann Arbor. Overjoyed, they took the babies home on Aug. 3 and prepared for a welcoming by their large extended family.
A month later, a police officer supervised as the Kehoes relinquished the swaddled infants in the driveway.
Bridget and Ethan are now in the custody of the surrogate who gave birth to them, Laschell Baker of Ypsilanti, Mich. Ms. Baker had obtained a court order to retrieve them after learning that Ms. Kehoe was being treated for mental illness.
“I couldn’t see living the rest of my life worrying and wondering what had happened, or what if she hadn’t taken her medicine, or what if she relapsed,” said Ms. Baker, who has four children of her own.
Now, she and her husband, Paul, plan to raise the twins.
The creation of Ethan and Bridget tested the boundaries of the field known as third-party reproduction, in which more than two people collaborate to have a baby. Five parties were involved: the egg donor, the sperm donor, Ms. Baker and the Kehoes. And two separate middlemen brokered the egg and sperm.
About 750 babies are born each year in this country through gestational surrogacy, and twice that many surrogacies are attempted. Most are less complicated than the arrangement that resulted in the birth of Ethan and Bridget.
But as the dispute over the Michigan twins reveals, surrogacy arrangements that go badly can have profound implications, particularly for the children. Surrogacy is largely without regulation, with no authority deciding who may obtain babies through surrogacy or who may serve as a surrogate, according to interviews and court records.
Census questions mirror shifts in social attitudes
By Shannon Proudfoot, Canwest News Service
January 24, 2010
The history of census taking is full of quirks, controversy and language that changed with society -- or sometimes lagged behind -- and has offered an understanding of how society has evolved over time.
Photograph by: Herald Archive, AFP-Getty Images, Canwest News ServiceThe U.S. Census Bureau has come under fire in recent weeks for including the word "Negro" on its 2010 questionnaire, which will be sent out on March 1.
The statistical agency defended use of the socially charged term -- which appears alongside Black and African-American as a single racial option -- because some older African-Americans self-identify as such and wrote in that specific response on the 2000 census.
Canada's census has never included that particular word, but the history of our census is full of quirks, controversy and language that changed with society or sometimes lagged behind -- from taking stock of weapons and family members of "unsound mind" to asking who owned a flush toilet.
"One of the important uses of the census is to understand how society evolves over time," says Marc Hamel, Statistics Canada census manager for 2011, when the next Canadian census occurs.
Pre-Confederation census tallies were concerned mostly with raising taxes and armies -- assessing the housing stock, muskets and swords owned by households, the agency says. Until 1911, the census asked whether anyone in the household was deaf, blind or of "unsound mind" and, soon after, questions on "insanity" and fertility were dropped from the questionnaire.
"These were the only surveys the government and provinces and territories had to be able to determine information on the population," says Dale Johnston, project manager for census communications.
"So when they went out to do a census, they really asked them everything."
Through to the 1971 census, questionnaires explicitly defined "head of household" as the husband and discussed other family members in relation to him.
Due to "growing opposition" to the "sexist, paternalistic" tone of the term, it was redefined to mean husband or wife on the 1976 census and, in 1981, abolished altogether.
Until the 1970s, the census also asked about such cutting-edge household amenities as a flush toilet, bath and shower and sewage disposal.
The 1991 census was the first to ask about common-law relationships and, in 2001, the definition was expanded to include same-sex couples.
"I would assume probably that 30 years ago we would not have been able to put a question like that on the census. Society would not have been ready to do that," says Hamel, adding the 2006 census was the first to count same-sex married couples, after Canada legalized same-sex marriage the previous year.
Today's census questionnaire contains what is essentially a patriotic error, with "Canadian" listed as an option on the question about ethnicity.
Prior to the 1991 census, the Sun Media newspaper chain launched a "Count me Canadian" campaign encouraging people who viewed themselves as Canadian "first and foremost" to give that response on the ethnicity question.
Because the sample answers beside each question are based on the most popular responses on the previous census and many people wrote in that response, "Canadian" is now ensconced as a common ethnicity.
"Part of it was based on their misunderstanding that Canadian was an ethnicity rather than being a nationality," says Johnston, noting there's a separate question about nationality.
"We can't tell people if this is a correct answer or how you should answer the question. We want people to tell us what it is that they feel."
A handful of groups is lobbying to change the wording of the religion question for the next Canadian census in 2011; the question currently asks people to identify their religion even if they're "not currently a practising member."
Hamel says the question is phrased that way to capture information on "affiliation and not so much practice," and to keep results consistent so they can compare from one census to the next.
Justin Trottier, executive director of the Centre for Inquiry Canada, an educational group devoted to science and secularism, says the question ignores the growing ranks of atheists and agnostics and provides warped results on the proportion of non-religious people in Canada.
"A lot of people who otherwise have described themselves as atheists and agnostic chose instead to answer the question by affiliating themselves with a religion, since they're asked by the government to do that," he says.
"I do believe the government is not getting accurate data and it's a result of this historical legacy and this weird oddity in the framing of the question."
VIEWPOINTS: Discovery Middle School shooting shows our consumer culture hurts children
By Special to The Birmingham News
February 14, 2010, 5:20AM
By JOHN DAVIS
Discovery Middle School is on a street busy with SUVs and vans. It is an asphalt metaphor for middle-class hyperactivity. Strip malls, sports centers, government buildings, homes and a host of churches line that street. Its students have all the advantages our wealth can bring.
But at Discovery Middle School two weeks ago, a 14-year-old boy calmly shot another in the head. Then, a witness observed, he calmly cocked the pistol again and walked away.
Madison, Ala., noted for its space and missile engineers, now joins Columbine as a place where young people kill one another at school. Not only did medical teams, lawyers and city officials descend rapidly on the place, but cordons of police security went into effect. Information was relayed well and accurately. We've come to this: We are technically prepared for the next ghoulish event of the culture of death we have become.
We've lost our way and don't know why. Inside us somewhere, we know something is missing. We instinctively know that all the metal detectors and emergency-response training won't stop this problem. Despite all we throw at it, it resists solution. It laughs at our rational responses; no technology, no bullet, magic or otherwise, will stop this mysterious, baffling horror.
What's missing is not material. We are a consumer culture, and our troubled children are the result. They learn their dread lessons early; that what is valuable are "things," not people. We define ourselves by what we have; our problem is we've lost compassion. We don't care about one another anymore. We love our possessions more than our own children.
Our kids don't see Mom and Dad as much because the job demands their time. Of course, the kids get plenty of time alone with their computers, televisions and virtual friends. Mom and Dad don't spend time with the family, but they sure spend money on activities and electronics. Kids learn that money is what matters, because money is why they are ignored. Mom and Dad work; spontaneous fun with the kids is almost unheard of. Dinner is caught on the fly, because networking trumps being with the kids. So the kids look elsewhere to fill the void.
They look to whatever Pied Piper is nearest. If they are lonely, imaginary friends may help. It is not for nothing that virtual identities, or avatars, are a reality in more than a blockbuster movie. Or they identify with something that expresses their suppressed anger. Web sites of gangster rappers, Nazi skinheads, drug dealers and pornography fill voids created by loneliness. These sites offer a world where a violent life gets money, sex and admirers. Or maybe they try for the real things. Kids now murder for another's sports shoes or because he was put down or because he just felt like it or because someone convinced him to do it.
The 1940s writer Eric Hoffer said: "A man by himself is in bad company."
Lonely young people want to be like the heroes they watch in movies, so their imagination runs like a rudderless boat. Mom and Dad try in vain to control their child's every waking hour when they are not there. Filters can't replace parents.
Murders in schools are not caused by Web sites or bad influences or poverty. They are caused by empty lives.
Here is Hoffer again: "An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish." If no one is there to love, listen and care for a young person as he or she grows up, then anyone can be his secret "parent."
Parents work relentlessly to provide, because they believe their possessions make them valuable. A caring adult is value enough. If a son or daughter knows the parents are always there, and not just during "quality time," he'll go to them. He'll trust them. Their home will be a place of safety and openness. Their kids will astound, because they'll carry their parents' compassion to others. No parent, even if he should lose his job, is ever alone if he's got a child to love, and a child who loves him.
Compassion learned at home spreads to school. My wife, a teacher, said: "School is a place where we learn all others aren't like us. But we learn to live with others, to tolerate them, and to someday maybe see them as brothers and sisters. It's not 'all about me.'"
School is a place where we learn our common citizenship and dignity. You can't shoot someone if you believe in this.
Compassion begins at home, with a loving, caring, present parent.
February 18, 2010
No Fault of Their Own
By RUTH BETTELHEIM
AS we have just passed the 40th anniversary of that much vilified institution, the no-fault divorce, it is an appropriate moment to re-evaluate how divorce affects families, and particularly children. The California law took effect on Jan. 1, 1970, and was followed by a wave of marital separations that continues to this day — and also a wave of rhetoric condemning divorce for harming children and undermining the fabric of society.
As divorce is clearly here to stay, it may be more productive to instead ask how the process of dissolving a marriage might be changed to avoid, as much as possible, damaging children.
This challenge is not as great as widespread preconceptions would suggest. Studies conducted in the past 20 years have shown that on all meaningful measures of success — social, economic, intellectual and psychological — most adult children from divorced families are no worse off than their peers whose parents remained married.
Researchers have found two explanations for this. Children who have to cope with their parents’ separation and post-divorce lives often grow resilient, self-reliant, adaptable and independent. And children benefit from escaping the high-conflict environment of a rocky marriage. After their parents’ separation, as conflicts fade, children recover.
Sustained family conflict can cause children to experience the kinds of problems that are usually attributed to divorce: low self-esteem, depression, high anxiety, difficulty forming relationships, delinquency and withdrawal from the world.
Given that reducing family conflict is good for children, the best way to protect them during divorce would be to minimize the acrimony of the proceedings. No-fault divorce, now practiced in every state except New York, has been one step toward this goal. But issues relating to children in divorce cases are still very often decided by long, heated contests between the parents. Custody disagreements are settled by a judge’s determination of what is in “the best interests of the child.” In practical terms, this means that both parents do their utmost to demonstrate that they are the better parent — and that the other one is worse, unfit or even abusive.
At stake are not only the participants’ self-esteem and their relationships with their children but also their financial security. As child support is often linked to the proportion of time the children spend with each parent, the days and hours of their future lives become tools for one parent to extract payment from the other. This is a recipe for warfare, with the children’s well-being both the disputed turf and the likely casualty.
What children need instead are no-fault custody proceedings — which could be accomplished with two changes to state family law. First, take the money out of the picture by establishing fixed formulas for child support that ensure the children are well taken care of in both homes, regardless of the number of days they spend in each. Second, defuse tension by requiring parents to enter mediation to find a custody solution that best meets the needs of all concerned.
Agreements reached through mediation would need to be binding (subject to the approval of a judge), so that they could not be discarded or contested later if new disagreements were to arise. Although some parents might worry that this would diminish their opportunities for recourse, mediation would actually give them greater control over the outcome than a judge’s unilateral verdict does.
In an adversarial custody battle, no one wins, but children are the biggest losers of all. Intelligent legislation could promote the one thing that children of divorce need most: peace between their parents.
Ruth Bettelheim is a marriage and family therapist.
March 30, 2010
The Sandra Bullock Trade
By DAVID BROOKS
Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?
On the one hand, an Academy Award is nothing to sneeze at. Bullock has earned the admiration of her peers in a way very few experience. She’ll make more money for years to come. She may even live longer. Research by Donald A. Redelmeier and Sheldon M. Singh has found that, on average, Oscar winners live nearly four years longer than nominees that don’t win.
Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.
This isn’t just sermonizing. This is the age of research, so there’s data to back this up. Over the past few decades, teams of researchers have been studying happiness. Their work, which seemed flimsy at first, has developed an impressive rigor, and one of the key findings is that, just as the old sages predicted, worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.
For example, the relationship between happiness and income is complicated, and after a point, tenuous. It is true that poor nations become happier as they become middle-class nations. But once the basic necessities have been achieved, future income is lightly connected to well-being. Growing countries are slightly less happy than countries with slower growth rates, according to Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution and Eduardo Lora. The United States is much richer than it was 50 years ago, but this has produced no measurable increase in overall happiness. On the other hand, it has become a much more unequal country, but this inequality doesn’t seem to have reduced national happiness.
On a personal scale, winning the lottery doesn’t seem to produce lasting gains in well-being. People aren’t happiest during the years when they are winning the most promotions. Instead, people are happy in their 20’s, dip in middle age and then, on average, hit peak happiness just after retirement at age 65.
People get slightly happier as they climb the income scale, but this depends on how they experience growth. Does wealth inflame unrealistic expectations? Does it destabilize settled relationships? Or does it flow from a virtuous cycle in which an interesting job produces hard work that in turn leads to more interesting opportunities?
If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.
If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).
The overall impression from this research is that economic and professional success exists on the surface of life, and that they emerge out of interpersonal relationships, which are much deeper and more important.
The second impression is that most of us pay attention to the wrong things. Most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions. Most governments release a ton of data on economic trends but not enough on trust and other social conditions. In short, modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most. They have an affinity for material concerns and a primordial fear of moral and social ones.
This may be changing. There is a rash of compelling books — including “The Hidden Wealth of Nations” by David Halpern and “The Politics of Happiness” by Derek Bok — that argue that public institutions should pay attention to well-being and not just material growth narrowly conceived.
Governments keep initiating policies they think will produce prosperity, only to get sacked, time and again, from their spiritual blind side.
The Birth Control Pill's 50th Anniversary, From Three Generations of Women
Frances Tobin: Going On the Pill: An Empowering Moment for Young Women
When I was 16 years old, I took the advice of my fifth-grade teacher -- whose sex education class taught me all I needed to know about my body, its power and the personal responsibility and authority I had over it -- and asked my doctor for my first prescription of birth control pills. Though I wasn't yet sexually active, the prescription was something I had planned, for quite some time, to discuss with my family doctor, who had been treating me for as long as I could remember.
The Pill was -- and still is -- a symbol of personal empowerment. For me, at 16, the Pill was as important as getting my driver's license and buying my first car. The license, the junky car and the pill were all momentous steps in my young adulthood, epitomizing both freedom and responsibility -- and I craved both. I wanted the freedom to drive my parents crazy every time I jumped into my car and dashed away, but I also wanted the responsibility that was required to have my own car, to put gas in it and drive myself to and from school and work. Similarly, with the Pill, there was a particular feeling of freedom in knowing that when I did eventually have sex, I didn't have to depend on a guy for everything. At the same time, I knew what responsibilities the Pill carried with it: to be diligent in taking it and to still practice safe sex.
As I approach my 25th birthday, I look back on the last nine years and think about how much of it would have been different if a kid were in the picture. I have lived my life as a woman who was not forced into motherhood simply because of biology and sexuality. Some girlfriends of mine have had children since high school and are raising beautiful families, and that's wonderful for them. It's a choice they've made, just as I've made one to ensure that my life is child-less (for now). Reproductive rights: They're a lovely thing.
Get the new
I may have never known a world in which birth control was not a choice, but that doesn't mean I would dare take this power over my own body for granted. Though the Pill has dramatically changed our social and cultural landscape for the better, women's bodies are still very much a battleground. I can't speak for all women my age, but for those of us who rely on the pill and our reproductive rights to live by our own volition, the fight still very real. What gives me comfort is knowing that there is an entire generation of women whose work and activism are there to be built upon, and I plan on doing just that.
Here's to the next 50 years!
Joann M. Weiner: How the Pill Changed the Course of Women's History
Back in about 1976, my high school history teacher asked us which of the following inventions had had the bigger impact on society: the Pill, or the TV.
I had had no contact with the pill at that time but lots of TV time, so I was amazed that the Pill was even in contention. As with Delia Lloyd, who was surprised when her mother said that the birth control pill was the most important invention that had happened during her lifetime, the question puzzled me. Surely there are inventions --- the internet, Facebook, TV, or the credit default swap (that's a joke) --- that have had a greater impact on history than the birth control pill.
But many disagree with me, including The Economist magazine, which calls the Pill the 20th century's greatest advance in science and technology. But, where's the proof? Let's look at the research.
The Pill was approved as an oral contraceptive on May 9, 1960 and within five years, 40 percent of married women under age 30 who used contraception were using the Pill. But, its influence really hit in the early 1970s when the "age of majority" was reduced to 18 years old. Young, single women could now get on the Pill, and within a couple years, 73 percent of all single women age 18 and 19 using contraception were using the pill.
These facts come from a 2002 study by Harvard economists, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, called "The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women's Career and Marriage Decisions" that shows the pill's incredible impact on women's lives.
It gave college-educated women the freedom to pursue advanced degrees in the professions. Before the Pill, a woman faced the risk of spending a lot of time studying for an advanced degree only to have to give it all up if she got pregnant and had to quit to take care of the baby. The Pill liberated her from this mental ball and chain and she scurried off to graduate school. The result: the number of female physicians tripled between 1970 and 2000, while the share of female lawyers and judges soared by 600 percent.
The Pill also made women less choosy about whether to have sex or not --- without the fear of getting pregnant, she could now have sex outside of marriage just as freely he could. This freedom allowed her to delay marriage. Although almost 50 percent of female college graduates born in 1950 were married by age 23, just 30 percent of those born in 1957 and who had free access to the Pill were married by age 23. The Pill also made it less likely a woman would get divorced. Goldin and Katz speculate that because women on the pill got married later, they took more time finding the right mate, and thus had a better quality of marriage than women who married at a younger age.
Economist Tim Harford showed another side of the Pill's benefits in his book, "The Logic of Life": The lifetime earnings of women who delayed marriage, which also meant they delayed having children, were ten percent higher for each year she waited to have her first child, which the Pill allowed her to do.
The Pill is not the sole factor in explaining women's expanded opportunities, but as the Harvard economists report, "a virtually foolproof, easy-to-use, and female-controlled contraceptive having low health risks, little pain, and few annoyances does appear to have been important in promoting real change in the economic status of woman."
Bonnie Erbé: The Pill at 50: Not All of Us Were So Thrilled by Its Advent
As a card-carrying member of the Woodstock generation, I did not imbue the Pill with game-changing qualities. Rather I saw it as part of the broad, blurry pastiche of the '60s and '70s that made the era so singular and special. There was peace, love, music, psychedelic drugs, communes and oh, yes, the Pill. We "loved the ones we were with" and plenty of them. But we gave credit for our sexual liberation not just to the pill but to the panoply of birth control options available to us.
While I had plenty of friends who used the Pill, I never actually did. I recall being alarmed by reports of possible health hazards from early high-dose versions of it. The alarm bell was sounded first by the 1969 book "The Doctor's Case Against the Pill" and again by Sen. Gaylord Nelson's (D-Wis.) congressional hearings on the Pill's safety. In 1970, the Food and Drug Administration was prompted by those hearings to order drug manufacturers to provide a nasty dose of information about possible risks and side effects with each prescription package of pills. Those warnings made a bigger impression on me than the fadvent of the Pill itself, scaring myself and many others off hormones for life. A little-known fact about the Pill is that these warnings were a first for any prescription drug and helped launch the consumer health movement.
One thing I never thought I'd live to see 50 years hence is today's high rate of unintended pregnancies, now running just below 50 percent nationwide. Among women 18-29 years old, a shocking seven in 10 pregnancies are unintended. That is the kind of problem I had thought the pill, the diaphragm, the IUD, et al., would have tossed on the junk heap of history by now. But the Pill is much more expensive now than when it first came on the market, as are other forms of birth control, so poor and uneducated women have limited access. That, my dear, is a full-fledged shame.
In last few years or maybe a decade or so, I observed that, there has a been a trend which is surfacing or appearing on a mainstream social lifestyles in North America where straights and homosexuals are much more comfortable and enjoying each others’ companies in a much open and welcoming spirits. I personally have couple of good gay buddies (my hairdresser and a classmate at the Univ. of Ottawa)
Following is an article from Globe and Mail that reflects what I am talking about:
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
He’s my date for weddings, my wingman and the person I always call first. He’s gay, I’m straight and we’re best friends.
Here we sit across from each other, my best friend and I. For the past few years this has been our Sunday morning routine – go for brunch, chat, read the paper, people watch and plan our day.
I wonder if this is what my life is going to be like in 20 years.
Waiting for our food to arrive, we are surrounded by other twenty something couples. From the outside, we probably look just like them.
The truth is we’re not dating. We’ve never kissed, never held hands. Never felt those butterflies for each other. We’re in more of a Will & Grace-type relationship. He’s a gay guy, I’m a straight girl and we’re best friends.
It wasn’t always like this. I was in a serious relationship before. It was my first love and I pictured a happy future together, until I came to the realization that he just wasn’t right for me. My first breakup was a tough one, and to guard my fragile heart, I carefully avoided anything resembling a relationship.
Shortly after the breakup, I found my “Will.” He was exactly what I needed at the time. A nice, good-looking, smart, funny guy, and he came without the pressures of dating or the possibility of breaking my heart.
We quickly bonded and became best friends, but it has grown into something deeper than that. We connect on a different level than most male-female friendships. It could partly be because we know there is zero possibility of us ever becoming romantically involved with each other. Sharing the same interests, from politics to men to celebrity gossip, doesn’t hurt either.
He has a way of making everything more fun, and we laugh our way through any situation. I don’t worry he’ll be less attracted to me if he sees me at my worst. We seldom fight. Cheating is never an issue – in fact, we are each other’s wingman.
When it comes down to it, he’s the person I choose to spend my free time with, the person I always call first. Basically, what a boyfriend is to most women.
He fills that role almost perfectly, minus the whole romantic relationship thing. He’s my date for weddings. I spend my summer vacations at his family cottage. My parents invite him over for dinner. We have moved into the same apartment building so now we’re neighbors too – Will and Grace, indeed. Once in a while I’ll catch a rerun of an episode and I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe when I see my life reflected.
Some people are confused about our situation. I’m often asked, “Why are you spending all your time with that gay guy?” Most of my critics divide into two camps: the ones who think I’m trying to turn him straight, and those who say I need to spend less time with him in the hopes of attracting a man for myself. It doesn’t seem to matter that I’m content with my life: I’m happy, single and enjoying my 20s.
We sit and drink our coffees, and I smile at the memory of a moment from early in our friendship. It was a miserable, grey Saturday morning, and I came home from the gym to find him sitting on my doorstep, after walking half an hour in the rain, waiting to surprise me with a newspaper and my favorite tea. I knew that I had found myself a catch, and wondered if I would ever find a real boyfriend who could live up to this guy.
Don’t get me wrong – I date. I try to be open-minded. But each potential suitor is in the unenviable position of being compared to my best friend.
Part of the problem is I find it difficult to open my heart to someone new. I find it even harder to come to grips with the idea that if I am to fall in love with someone, it will mean less room in my heart and in my schedule for my best friend.
He dates too. More often than I do. We joke that each guy has a two-week expiry date. He got serious about one guy, and to my surprise I was jealous. Now there was no time for me, and our suddenly infrequent conversations mostly involved him talking about his boyfriend. I can’t say I was too disappointed when they broke up, but it made me realize that our close relationship is going to have to change one day for us both to move on with our lives. I just hope that we can stay friends, because I can’t bear the thought of having to go through a breakup with him too.
Sometimes I wonder if there is a cruel joke being played on me – that this is the guy I’m meant to spend my life with, but obviously it’s never going to happen. Even with my doubts, I stay optimistic that I’ll one day find the entire package in a straight guy who loves me completely.
For now, I make sure to live in the moment and enjoy the time we spend together. I know it won’t be like this forever. But when I do find “the one,” I hope he will be understanding when, 20 years from now, I meet my best friend for brunch on the occasional Sunday morning.
Over time, the best ideas – the ones delivering the most prosperity and well-being – have tended to win out
I can barely stand to read the newspapers. Just as we thought the world economy was on the road to recovery, Europe has imploded. The nations of the euro zone are desperately hacking and slashing at the welfare state to salvage their credit ratings. Two years ago, when the banks got into trouble, nations stepped in to bail them out. But who will step in to bail out nations?
In Canada, we have our troubles, too. A few years from now, oldsters in this country will outnumber children. As schools are rapidly converted into retirement homes, our streets will be thronged with nannies for grannies – if people can afford them, which seems increasingly unlikely. On top of that, the Earth is bleeding oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Pardon me while I go back to bed, permanently.
But wait a minute. Every previous generation in history would have happily traded places with us. So what if the Germans will have to sacrifice a week or two of paid vacation time, or if hairdressers in Greece will no longer be able to retire with a pension at the age of 50? Almost all their babies live. And they’ll still be stupendously well off. The world has become so much richer that today, the average Botswanan earns more than the average Finn did in 1955. And she probably has TV and a cellphone too.
Here in Canada, there wouldn’t be an oldsters problem if only oldsters were considerate enough to expire at the age they used to. Instead, they insist on living longer and longer (and enjoying better health). The greatest nutrition crisis in the richer half of the world isn’t malnourishment or rickets. It’s obesity. Let’s face it. Compared to plagues and famines and the necessity of setting Granny loose on an ice flow when she got to be a burden, these are good problems to have.
Perhaps this sounds impossibly Panglossian. But for most people on the planet, the human condition has immeasurably improved. And according to an exuberant new book by British science writer Matt Ridley, things will keep on getting better. It’s called The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. Not that Mr. Ridley thinks people will be easily persuaded. “A constant drumbeat of pessimism usually drowns out this sort of talk,” he admits. “Indeed, if you dare to say the world is going to go on getting better, you are considered embarrassingly mad.”
What is it about humans that has enabled such astonishing cultural progress? And what makes Mr. Ridley think it will continue? It’s not our big brains or our opposable thumbs, or even language, he argues. Genetically, we’re pretty much identical to the people who drew pictures in the Chauvet caves 32,000 years ago. He argues that the key to cultural progress is our facility for exchanging – something no other animal does. Through exchanging – first things, then ideas – humans specialized their efforts and talents for individual gain. This encouraged innovation, which improved prosperity and living standards.
Mr. Ridley, who is the author of the best-selling Genome and three other books on evolution, draws an inviting analogy between biological and cultural evolution. The key to biological evolution is sex, which mixes up the gene pool in an infinity of ways, some of which are highly beneficial. The key to cultural evolution is exchange. “At some point, human intelligence became collective and cumulative in a way that happened to no other animal,” he writes. “Ideas began to meet and mate, to have sex with each other.” Over time, the best ideas – the ones that delivered the most prosperity and well-being – tended to win out.
That, in a nutshell, explains how we got from the hand axe to the computer mouse in a mere couple of hundred thousand years. The hand axe is a single object reflecting the skill of a single individual. The mouse is a complex object with intricate design reflecting multiple strands of knowledge. No single person can make a mouse. It’s the offspring of millions of ideas, having sex.
The rapid evolution of cumulative and collective ideas should give us plenty of confidence about our ability to overcome our current problems, whether demographic, financial or environmental. Of course, things go wrong (see above) and pessimists are sometimes right. But not nearly as right as we imagine. Mr. Ridley admits in an interview with The Guardian that he, like other boomers, grew up reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. We all expected a cancer epidemic to strike us down. It never did. “The search for a widespread epidemic of cancer caused by synthetic chemicals, relentlessly and enthusiastically pursued by many scientists ever since the 1960s, has been entirely in vain,” he says. Genetically modified foods have been consumed by millions, without a single casualty. A new genetically modified gene (developed in a lab in Alberta) could allow plants to achieve the same yields with half the nitrogen, resulting in cheaper food, cleaner water and dramatic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.
Alarmism over global warming, he predicts, will meet the same fate as alarmism over cancer epidemics. Even though the Earth may indeed be warming, he’s confident that humankind will adapt. He even has the audacity to argue that fossil fuels are, on the whole, a good thing. “You can regret the sinful profligacy of the modern world, which is the conventional reaction,” he told The Guardian. “Or you can conclude that were it not for fossil fuels, 99 per cent of people would have to live in slavery for the rest to have a decent standard of living, as indeed they did in Bronze Age empires.”
Yet for reasons he confesses he doesn’t fully understand, gloom sells. “The generation that has experienced more peace, freedom, leisure time, education, medicine, travel, movies, mobile phones and massages than any generation in history is lapping up gloom at every opportunity.” He has every reason to doubt that his highly readable, deeply observed tour through the history of civilization can compete for readers with the likes of Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Ehrenreich, Al Gore, George Monbiot, David Suzuki, Michael Moore and all the other best-selling dystopians who clog our bookshelves. On the other hand, he may cheer you up enough to consider getting out of bed again.
May 30, 2010
The Birds and the Bees (via the Fertility Clinic)
By ROSS DOUTHAT
If you want to adopt a child in the United States, you’ll face an array of bureaucratic roadblocks and invasive interrogations. Adoption agencies will assess your finances, your relationships, and your fitness as a potential guardian. The interests of the child, not the desires of the would-be parent, will be treated as paramount throughout.
If you want to procure sperm or eggs, the process is completely different. You can shop for gametes the way you’d go shopping for a house or a car — buying ova from an Ivy League undergraduate, or sperm from a 6-foot-8, athletic, blue-eyed Dane. The person selling you the right to bear and rear their biological offspring can do so anonymously, with no future strings attached at all.
The result is a freewheeling fertility marketplace whose impact on American life keeps increasing. Sperm donations generate between 30,000 and 60,000 conceptions every year, and roughly 6,000 children are conceived through egg donation annually as well. About a million American adults, if not more, are the biological children of sperm donors.
Not surprisingly, these Americans have a complicated relationship to the reproductive marketplace that made their existence possible. Their inner lives are the subject of a fascinating study from the Institute for American Values, based on a survey of younger adults, ages 18 to 45, who were conceived through sperm donation. The authors — Elizabeth Marquardt, Norval Glenn and Karen Clark — depict a population that’s at once grateful to the fertility industry and uneasy about the way they were conceived, supportive of assisted fertility but haunted by the feeling of being a bought-and-paid-for child.
On the one hand, Americans conceived through sperm donation are much more likely than their peers to say that “every person has a right to a child” and to support policies that encourage sperm and egg donations. (Indeed, 20 percent already had made such donations themselves.)
But these libertarian instincts coexist with angst, disquiet and even anger. Large minorities report being troubled both by “the circumstances of my conception” and by the fact “that money was exchanged in order to conceive me.” The offspring of sperm donors are more likely to oppose payments for sperm and eggs than most Americans and to say that “it is wrong to deliberately conceive a fatherless/motherless child.” And a substantial minority said that if a friend were pondering having a baby by a sperm donor, they “would encourage her not to do it.”
Americans conceived through sperm donation also are more likely to feel alienated from their immediate family than either biological or adopted children. They’re twice as likely as adoptees to report envying peers who knew their biological parents, twice as likely to worry that their parents “might have lied to me about important matters” and three times as likely to report feeling “confused about who is a member of my family and who is not.”
And the realities of commercialized reproduction — in which desirable donors can father dozens of children by different mothers, creating far-flung networks of half-siblings who will never know each other — weigh heavily on them. They are more likely than adoptees to say that “when I see someone who resembles me, I often wonder if we are related,” for instance, and much more likely to worry about accidentally falling into a romantic relationship with a relative.
Some of these burdens are inherent to a process that replaces natural conception with scientific technique. But some of them could be eased if the legal system treated sperm and egg donation with the gravity it deserves — as a process that’s far closer to adoption (and potentially more traumatic for the child involved) than our culture cares to admit.
Despite their reputation for permissiveness, many European nations have done much more than the supposedly socially conservative America to recognize that children as well as adults have an interest in the way assisted reproduction works. Britain, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland have banned anonymous sperm and egg donation, allowing donor-conceived children access to their family histories once they turn 18. Many countries also have limited the number of children a sperm donor can father to well below the 25 that the American Medical Association recommends.
Such restrictions would reduce the pool of willing donors and create longer waiting times (and greater emotional anguish) for aspiring parents. But they would also untangle some of the webs of secrecy and uncertainty that donor children find themselves born into. And they might diminish, if not completely undo, what one grown-up donor baby quoted in the study describes as the feeling of existing entirely for “other people’s purposes, and not my own.”
June 3, 2010
The 40-Year Itch
By DEIRDRE BAIR
THERE’S an old French expression I found useful when I wrote a book about couples who divorced after long marriages: “I wasn’t holding the candle.” It means that I couldn’t know what happened between the two people in a marriage, so how could I possibly know why they split?
That hasn’t stopped speculation about Al and Tipper Gore, who are behaving with grace and dignity as they keep to themselves their reasons for ending 40 years of marriage. Public reaction has followed a pattern, beginning with shock and disbelief: “They seemed like the ideal couple, so perfect together.” Outrage came next: “Was it all a sham, especially that kiss on the convention stage?” And finally fear: “Are all marriages doomed to wither and die — and will mine be among them?”
But such questions expose just a few widespread but unrealistic assumptions about late-life divorce. Divorce lawyers tell me the fastest-growing segment of their clientele is the middle-aged and elderly. And their divorces do not all that often involve husbands running off with someone new, leaving wives alone and bereft. A 2004 AARP survey of 1,147 people who divorced in their 40s, 50s or 60s found that women initiated late-life divorces more often than men did, and if the divorced women wanted a new partner, they usually found one.
For my book, I interviewed 126 men and 184 women who divorced after being married 20 to 60-plus years. And what surprised me most was the courage they showed as they left the supposed security of marriage. To them, divorce meant not failure and shame, but opportunity.
“People change and forget to tell each other,” Lillian Hellman said. Still, many couples seem to have an “aha!” moment when they realize that it’s time to split up. No matter how comfortably situated they are, how lovely their home and successful their children, they divorce because they cannot go on living in the same old rut with the same old person.
Men and women I interviewed insisted they did not divorce foolishly or impulsively. Most of them mentioned “freedom.” Another word I heard a lot was “control”; people wanted it for themselves for the rest of their lives. Women had grown tired of taking care of house, husband and grown children; men were tired of working to support wives who they felt did not appreciate them and children who did not respect them. Women and men alike wanted time to find out who they were.
One spouse might have wanted to keep working while the other wanted to retire. Often, there was an emotional void; one would say that the other “doesn’t see me, doesn’t know who I am,” while the other hadn’t a clue: “I thought everything was just fine; we never argued, we don’t fight.” One grew disenchanted with the wrinkled person across the dinner table and wanted someone new and exciting.
I talked to men who were serial marry-ers with trophy wives they abandoned, as one of them put it, the minute the woman “got broody and wanted babies.” And I found women who wanted a man who would take them dining and dancing, but then go home to his own bed and leave them alone until the next party.
Many stories ended with some rendition of, “It’s my time and if I don’t take it now, I never will.” No matter whether they had spent years gearing up for divorce or decided on the spur of the moment after one minor disagreement too many, few had regrets. Men who wanted new companionship easily found it, and women who wanted new partners had them within two years.
Divorce is easier now. Our retirement years are longer and healthier. Both men and women often have enough money to make changes. And the stigma of divorce has long since faded. A century ago, Elizabeth Cady Stanton called it a “social earthquake.” But several decades later, Margaret Mead thought every woman needed three husbands: one for youthful sex, one for security while raising children and one for joyful companionship in old age. In the 21st century, Margaret Drabble, the British novelist, calls life after divorce “the third age.” The heroine of her novel “The Seven Sisters” says, “Our dependents have died or matured. For good and ill, we are free.”
So let us not feel shocked or sad about the end of Al and Tipper Gore’s marriage. Let us instead wish them well, and hope that they might enjoy their third age, individually and in peace.
Deirdre Bair is the author of “Calling It Quits: Late-Life Divorce and Starting Over.”
By Misty Harris, Canwest News ServiceJune 30, 2010
Nearly one in five U.S. women see their child-bearing years come and go without having a baby, up from just one in 10 in the 1970s.
The dramatic increase, described in a new report by the Pew Research Center, is consistent across all racial and ethnic groups, and most education levels.
But at the same time the reproductive imperative is being rethought, critics say the language used to express the trend remains shockingly retrograde, with "childless" -- appearing throughout Pew's analysis -- implying a deficit or disability.
" 'Childless' has such a depressing connotation," says Danielle M. Stern, assistant professor at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. "Some women and couples are . . . choosing to be 'child-free.' "
Between 1996 and 2006, Statistics Canada reports that the percentage of married or common-law couples with children of any age declined from 59.3 per cent to 54.3 per cent. Looking at the window between 2001 and 2006, households consisting of couples with children (defined as age 24 or younger) crawled ahead 0.4 per cent, compared with 11.2 per cent growth in households consisting of couples without children.
"We're at the turning point of generations who value family in multiple ways versus a more traditional understanding of family," says Stern.
Though it may seem like trivial semantics, Stern says the language used by a society is indicative of its values.
As child-bearing is brimming with gender and family politics issues, she says it's important to call attention to rhetoric "so that we can move toward more inclusive language."
Pamela Tsigdinos, who spent more than a decade trying, unsuccessfully, to conceive with her husband, says the term "childless" has become a "legacy reminder of that painful period."
She finds the jauntier "child-free" no more respectful, with its implicit message of embracing liberation from a life of parenting -- a sentiment often expressed by those who've chosen not to have kids but rare among those whose dream of a family is unfulfilled.
Parents have similarly taken offence at the modern term's uprising, as "child-free" bears a negative insinuation that anyone with kids is somehow tethered down in life.
Though Tsigdinos wishes people weren't identified by child rearing at all, "non-mom" is her trope of choice.
Tsigdinos, author of Silent Sorority: A Barren Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found, says "there are so many value judgments placed on those labels."
Roger Pierson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Saskatchewan, agrees but isn't sure such a multi-faceted issue can ever be justly portrayed by a single term. "Everyone has their own expectations of what it means to be sub-fertile, infertile or childless by choice. . . . English might not be equipped (to describe) all that."
Teenage Schoolgirls in Delhi India. Alamy
They are idealized, victimized – and doing most of the hard work
The Alam family lives in one of the more squalid corners of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and make their living in a pretty typical way: by deploying their teenaged daughters.
Each morning, 14-year-old Panchali walks down the mud lanes to her house-cleaning job in the nearby high-rise apartments, and 16-year-old Amolika goes out to spend 10 hours at a garment factory. Their brother, Sumon, 17, has a far less rewarding job unloading trucks and carrying heavy objects on bamboo poles, as does his father.
Together, the two teenage girls earn about three-quarters of the family’s income. That’s not unusual here, or in any of the fast-growing cities of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America: These places are the domain of the adolescent girl.
What you see in the streets and workshops and houses of the fast-growing parts of the world are young women, generally under 21, working hard. What you see aboard the trains and minivan-buses and horse-carts of the world are teenage girls, moving to the city.
As in Europe in the 19th century, young women often make up the largest group of people leaving villages for the city, sent to work alone, often in domestic service or garment piecework, and save their families. Half the world’s urban population is under 25, and considerably more than half of these are young women, because the men so often stay behind.
The girls tend to have more job opportunities in the informal, hustle-based economies of modern cities; they also tend to be treated far, far worse than anyone else, abused sexually, mutilated, impregnated, forced into prostitution, married to strangers. They are both the main agents of change and its predominant victim.
The opportunity and the danger tend to amplify each other. Fear of such fates, and other mythic images of debased innocence stoked by the terrifying shock of sudden change, leads the fathers and brothers of newly urbanized daughters into the hysterical comfort of extreme religious and political beliefs. The cruel ascetic offshoots of Islam in much of the Arab world, the violent political perversions of Hinduism in India and the waves of fundamentalist Christianity across the Southern Hemisphere, are in large part responses to, or manipulations of, anxieties over the idealized images of one’s daughter.
In fact, you could say that the most potent forces in the world right now – both the most promising opportunities for improvement and the most menacing and destabilizing movements and ideologies – are all centred around the mythic figure of the teenage girl.
This dual role will be brought into stark contrast next week with the release of a major study, by the charity Plan, of the situation of adolescent girls in the world’s cities. Titled “Because I Am a Girl,” it rightly recognizes that the fate of these girls and young women is precisely the fate of their countries and communities.
In many ways, the flight into urban work is turning girls into powerful figures – in large part by letting them escape marriage. In Bangladesh, the study notes, 31 per cent of adolescent girls who had migrated from rural to urban areas for work were married by the age of 18, compared to 71 per cent in rural areas, and “adolescent girls in cities are more likely than their rural cousins to go to school, marry later, give birth more safely and have more of a say in their own lives.”
And this flight often allows them to escape a fate that would turn them into baby-making machines: In Addis Ababa, a quarter of all women in the city between 10 and 19 had moved there from the village in order to escape early marriage.
That can change the world: Over and over, studies have found that the level of poverty reduction and economic growth in a country is directly correlated to the levels of education attained by women – more so than any other factor.
But the risks are real. Sexual predation is an ever-present concern in societies that still treat women little better than livestock. A study in Lima found that 41 per cent of girls between 10 and 24 had “experienced coerced sex.” Similar figures, or worse, were found around the world.
The flip side of this risk is the ideological defensiveness that leads fathers to marry off daughters earlier, cover their heads (even in countries, such as Bangladesh and Turkey, where this isn’t traditional), mutilate their genitals and throw them into the hands of religion. Of course, this is the same thinking that leads men to rape teenage girls – thus creating a self-sustaining cycle of backwardness.
Beyond this idealization and victimization are the actual lives of hundreds of millions of real girls, on the streets of the world’s major cities, avoiding dark corners and doing most of the hard work.
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