The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Family Values as a Math Problem

Posted on | December 14, 2013 | 48 Comments

While reading Professor William Jacobson’s take on the Utah polygamy decision, I noticed that in the comments, someone had linked a Census Bureau report that included this odd sentence:

The proportion of one-person households increased by 10 percentage points between 1970 and 2012, from 17 percent to 27 percent.

Uh, no: The proper way to express this is to say the proportion of one-person households increased 59% between 1970 and 2012. The question is how large was the increase relative to the original percentage: 27 minus 17 equals 10, and 10 divided by 17 equals .588.

To say that the increase was “10 percentage points” is misleading, when the increase was actually 59 percent. Only if you’re used to analyzing such data would you notice the deceptive phrasing, and the sad fact is that most journalists aren’t too good at math. Also, most journalists (like most Census Bureau employees) are liberals who don’t really want people to understand the extent to which the American family has declined in the past half-century. The media have generally sought to “hide the decline” (to borrow a phrase from the global warming movement) and have deliberately misinformed the public about demographic issues.

One document that really woke me up to this problem was Maggie Gallagher’s 1999 report “The Age of Unwed Mothers.”

Casting aside the warped worldview promoted by population-control fanatics (e.g., Paul Ehrlich and Planned Parenthood), Gallagher explained that the “teen pregnancy crisis” was phony:

Why have three decades of intensive national effort to reduce teen pregnancy not been more successful? Largely because for three decades, we have framed the problem falsely. What we have called our “teen pregnancy” crisis is not really about teenagers. Nor is it really about pregnancy. It is about the decline of marriage. . . .
Demographically, our “teen pregnancy” problem is inseparable from the disconnect between marriage and childbearing that increasingly characterizes the procreative behavior of adults in their 20s. Culturally, the “teen pregnancy” crisis stems from a widespread ambivalence about marriage , and especially about the importance of marriage when it comes to raising children . . .
The majority of unwed births in the United States today are to adult women in their 20s. These are not “children having children,” nor are they “Murphy Browns.” Almost three-fifths of all births to unwed teenagers in the U.S. are to young women who are either 18 or 19 years old.

Stop there for a minute and think: The “teen pregnancy crisis” rhetoric has a way of conveying the impression that it’s a social catastrophe for these young adult women, ages 18-19, to become mothers. These young adult mothers are lumped in, categorically, with minors 17 and younger simply because this produces a larger number with which to scare people into donating money to Planned Parenthood and other such groups that claim to be fighting the “teen pregnancy crisis” — a crisis which, in fact, does not exist.

Since the early 1970s, the proportion of all teenage mothers who conceived their children out of wedlock, but got married before the birth, has dropped from 47 percent to 18 percent. In choosing unwed motherhood over marriage, these young women are not so much rebelling against, as responding to, reigning cultural values which strongly discourage early marriage.

Bingo! It is the anti-marriage messages in our culture that are the real problem. The decline of the “shotgun wedding” reflects this cultural shift away from marriage. And the idea of a “teen pregnancy crisis” did not arise accidentally from nowhere:

As far back as 1976, the Alan Guttmacher Institute [the research arm of Planned Parenthood] published a widely distributed booklet, “11 Million Teenagers,” proclaiming a teen pregnancy “epidemic.” Two years later, Congress passed a bill doubling family planning funds that the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare [now HHS] described as “the centerpiece of President Carter’s strategy” to combat “the urgent problem” of teen preganancy. . . .
[T]he unwed teen pregnancy rate continued to climb, from 23.9 births per 1,000 single female teenagers in 1975 to 31.4 in 1985, and to an all-time high of 46.4 in 1994.

Notice that Gallagher refers here to the unwed teen pregnancy rate. This is a more important distinction than may seem obvious:

Why is it a problem if a teenager decides to have a child? . . .
One way that this question is almost never explicitly answered in expert discourse is: Because she is not married. . . . The teen birth rate is, and has been for many years, much lower today than it was in the 1950s and early 1960s, when many teens married and began their families young. It is the unwed teen birth rate that has grown rapidly enough to earn the label “epidemic.”

Whoa! Teen birth rates were actually higher in 1950s, the Golden Age of Tradional Family Values, but this wasn’t viewed as a “crisis” because the teenagers were married — what a concept!

In fact, the birth rate for females ages 15-19 decreased 62 percent between 1960 and 2010. During the same time, however, the median age at first marriage increased significantly. Look at the data:

Birth Rates (per 1,000 women) 
Age  ………… 1960 … 2010 … Decline
15-19 …………. 89.1 ….. 34.2 …. -62%
20-24 ………. 258.1 …. 90.0 …. -65%
25-29 ………. 197.4 … 108.3 …. -45%
30-34 ………. 112.7 ….. 96.5 …. -14%
35-39 ………… 56.2 …. 45.9 ….. -11%
40-44 ………… 15.5 …. 10.2 ….. -34%
Total 15-44 … 118.0 … 64.1 ….. -46%
TFR* ………….  3.65 … 1.93 …. -47%
* Total fertility rate: Average number of lifetime births per woman, if annual birth rate remained constant.

Median Age at First Marriage
Sex  ……….. 1960 …. 2010 … Increase
Female ………. 20.3 …… 26.1 ….. 5.8 years
Male …………. 22.8 ……. 28.2 ….. 5.4 years

There has been a 46% decline in the birth rate, and birth rates for teens actually decreased even more than the overall birth rate. What proportion of births typically occurred in each age group?

Age  ….. 1960 … 2010
15-19 …. 12.2% …. 8.8%
20-29 …. 62.5% … 51.5%
30-39 … 23.2% … 37.0%
40-44 …. 2.1% …… 2.6%

What you see is that in 1960, nearly 75 percent of babies were born to women under 30, a proportion that declined to about 60 percent in 2010. Suppose we broke it down another way:

Age  …… 1960 …. 2010
15-24 ….. 47.6% …. 32.3%
25-44 ….. 52.4% …. 67.7%

So in 1960, when the typical woman had 3.65 children in her lifetime (TFR), nearly half of births were to women under 25, whereas in 2010, when the typical woman had 1.93 children in her lifetime, more than two-thirds of births were to women age 25 or older. Yet the shift toward later childbearing was outpaced by the increase of the age at first marriage. Most out-of-wedlock births (71.2% in 1960 and 56.8% in 2010) are to mothers under age 25. Births to unmarried women, which were 5.3% of total births in 1960, increased to 40.8% by 2010.

The decline of traditional family values, then, is largely correlated to this trend toward later marriage. We could greatly ameliorate the  problem of unwed mothers by two fairly simple measures:

  1. Encouraging young people to get married — And I mean actively, vocally encouraging them. As soon as the lovebirds pair up, start asking them, “When’s the wedding?” Some kids nowadays seem to have the crazy idea that it’s wrong — irresponsible, immoral, perhaps even illegal — to get married before they graduate college. Others are apparently under the impression that getting married requires a big, expensive ceremony. But you can go to the courthouse and get married by the judge, and the only cost is the license fee. Eloping used to be considered romantic. It sure was cheaper than these elaborate weddings with all the receptions and what-not.
  2. Married couples having more babies — This is something that people don’t understand. One reason the percentage of unwed births is so high is that the number of births to married couples has declined. If married people had more babies, a larger percentage of children would have two parents. Q.E.D. Not saying you have to go the full Duggar family trip, but if married couples would start thinking in terms of having three or four children instead of just one or two, it could produce a profound shift.

These ideas probably sound strange, because they are counter-cultural. Our media and education establishments have been dominated for so long by liberals devoted to the population-control Planned Parenthood mentality, people have trouble thinking outside the cultural box. Thinking of family life in terms of data — statistics, numbers, math — is one way to escape that box.

 

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Comments

  • http://saberpoint.blogspot.com Stogie Chomper

    The tax code, I suspect, adds significantly to the problem. The “marriage tax” is often severe, an unmarried couple with children can often get the earned income credit for one or both, and one of the unmarried partners can file as head of household. By getting married, they lose a large chunk of change. Last tax season, most of the young couples with children for whom I prepared tax returns, were unmarried. They outnumbered the young married couples by three to one.

    Modern tax laws, I believe, greatly suppress marriage.

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  • http://boogieforward.us/ K-Bob

    Places like Detroit have huge numbers of homes where a fifty-ish grandmother owns or pays the rent for her mid-thirty-ish daughter and teenaged grand-daughter(s), both generations of whom are raising children by several absentee fathers.

    It’s a food-stamp and welfare culture so far removed from the notion of family that it would be better if they reverted to tribes. (Tribalism is nothing less than the archetype of racism. Even so, they would be better protected from the ravages of living in a Democrat voter plantation.)

    Males (I hesitate to call them ‘men’) in that context are like a separate society of unrooted, irresponsible sperm donors. Until the women put a stop to it, it’s going to continue to get worse. And until the states wrest control over their cities from federal mandates, any incentives to create genuine families built around parents will remain imperceptible.

  • J. Clap

    Jonathan Turley is an immature libertarian turd is all I gotta say about this case

  • Zohydro

    It’s apparent that our esteemed host has risen above the “New Math” that has handicapped so many of our generation!

  • Art Deco

    You have two impediments to your plan:

    1. Elongation of adolescence through formal schooling and ineffectual schooling. We need to improve primary and secondary schooling, amend the credentialing benchmarks in primary and secondary and tertiary schooling (providing for one-year and two year degrees with all courses in a single subject), and repealing the employment discrimination law which effectively grants to tertiary schools the function of sorting the labor market

    2. The young at given ages are simply less equipped to build a domestic life than was the case in 1958, when people often married as soon as they could afford. Some of this is derived from general affluence and some of this is derived from unsalutary cultural shifts (among young women in particular). If I understand correctly (I may not), delay of marriage past the age of 25 adds little to indices of marital durability; ‘ere that, the younger you marry, the thicker are the mines planted in the field.

  • Art Deco

    Agreed. Those sorts of perversities need to go.

    However, contemporary matrimonial law (in black letters and in its administration) is deeply troublesome and both reflects and re-inforces a culture of seeing people (particularly fathers) as optional and disposable. One critic offered that the way it works in practice is that mothers have plenary discretion to change a marriage-based household economy into a child-support based household economy.

    The distrust young men have for young women induces young men to be very wary of marrying, but it has not induced them to keep their pants zipped. This imbalance is very unfortunate.

  • Quartermaster

    For a young man, finding a woman worth marrying is problematic. My son, 35, has been thru 3 women in 3 years, and all three of them were insane. Meeting them in church, alas, is no guarantee of worthiness either, as he has found.

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  • RS

    No argument here. I would note, the portions of the tax code which “punish” marriage were written when there was a stigma attached to cohabiting without clergy and to being an unwed parent. The government could get away with taking more money from families because there was no socially acceptable alternative. As the stigma has been removed commencing in the 60′s, the financial incentives for eschewing marriage and the traditional family have grown exponentially. Only a complete dolt would believe those consequences were unintentional. Strong, healthy institutions of marriage and family are the first and best defense against the socialist, nanny state. For that reason, I refuse to go along with those, nominally on the Right, who say we should avoid discussing social issues or make them a part of the political discussion. Ignoring them guarantees the inevitable decline to monolithic government intrusion in our lives, no matter how we deal with other, so called, purely “economic” issues.

  • http://saberpoint.blogspot.com Stogie Chomper

    RS, I completely agree – I do believe the tax code suppression of marriage is intentional.

  • http://saberpoint.blogspot.com Stogie Chomper

    Well said.

  • http://saberpoint.blogspot.com Stogie Chomper

    It’s a food-stamp and welfare culture so far removed from the notion of family that it would be better if they reverted to tribes.

    This is a very concise yet accurate description of the underclass. Well said!

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  • Art Deco

    A disagreeable aspect of contemporary culture is that young women are getting encouragement (not likely from anyone palpable to them, but from the kultursmog and sometimes institutional functionaries) to be obnoxious and not to cultivate self-possession. Mr. Dalrock has a perspective on what that looks like:

    http://dalrock.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/the-crazy-dictator/

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  • Quartermaster

    Alas, Dalrock, and his commentariat are utterly correct. I found myself in a bad position with my wife 20 years ago and I warned her coldly and sternly that I would not put up with being assaulted. That I may go to jail, but I will finish what she started.

    I’m afraid my son will probably have to offshore his wife search.

  • http://wizbangblog.com/ Adjoran

    Occam’s Razor: the “marriage penalty” wasn’t a big factor when it first came into the code because fewer two-earner couples suffered from it, and they usually had more dependent children than couples today.

  • http://wizbangblog.com/ Adjoran

    On another site, a lawyer posted that the actual decision in Utah merely overturned criminal penalties for cohabiting while still married to someone else. He claimed it really had nothing at all to do with polygamy laws except that the anti-cohabitation law was being used against some faux polygamists (they were not married to multiple wives, but cohabiting with them).

    If this is true the whole “see, this is what comes of gay marriage” hysteria I’ve seen over the decision is just misplaced.

  • Steve Skubinna

    Sometime in the past decade being a bitch has become the ultimate expression of womanhood. It’s a status eagerly sought and proudly borne, and greeted by cheers of “You go, girl!”.

    I still don’t get it. Outside of professional sports, most men would be ashamed to be known as jerks or assholes or whatever the male analog is.

  • Steve Skubinna

    Math is racist.

  • Steve Skubinna

    Sorry, I mean “waaaaaacist!”

  • Quartermaster

    Wombat – for some reason the comments on the Bill Ayers book thread are not coming up. I’m not having any trouble on the others, however.

  • Zohydro

    And the post about Huffpo’s Gay Voices columnists wasn’t showing in the queue…

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  • Wibbins

    Polygamy is being married to more than one woman, not being married to multiple women means you’re not breaking the law. The judge ruled one a case where the guy had multiple wives, that lawyer is an idiot and most likely pro samesex/polygamy marriage . Also, since having an affair is no longer a crime, cohabitating while married is not illegal

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  • CruisingTroll

    While I agree with most of what you’ve said above, your persnicketiness about the “10 percentage points” is unsporting and unfounded. A percentage POINT is a discrete thing, and one can express differences using them. It is just as confusing (or clear) to say that single family households increased by 59%, and then give the 17% & 27% numbers. hmmm, the change is… wait for it… 10! The cynic within me suspects that had they framed it in your “59%” fashion, you would have jumped on them anyway. Why? Because the underlying reality the numbers speak to stinks now matter how you frame it, and attacking the framing is a handy way to segue into the topic you really want to talk about.

    Using percentages of percentages is a time tested recipe for muddying issues, regardless of whether you say “points” or “percentage of change”.

  • CruisingTroll

    While I agree with most of what you’ve said above, your persnicketiness about the “10 percentage points” is unsporting and unfounded. A percentage POINT is a discrete thing, and one can express differences using them. It is just as confusing (or clear) to say that single family households increased by 59%, and then give the 17% & 27% numbers. hmmm, the change is… wait for it… 10! The cynic within me suspects that had they framed it in your “59%” fashion, you would have jumped on them anyway. Why? Because the underlying reality the numbers speak to stinks now matter how you frame it, and attacking the framing is a handy way to segue into the topic you really want to talk about.

    Using percentages of percentages is a time tested recipe for muddying issues, regardless of whether you say “points” or “percentage of change”.

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