The Other McCain

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

‘Shut Up, Moron’

Posted on | November 21, 2010 | 7 Comments

That’s a direct quote, one of the nicer things my children say to each other. Because there are six of them — the oldest 21, the youngest 7 — my kids have to put up with lots of stuff, including frequent verbal abuse from their siblings.

Which is a good thing, I think, in the sense that Marine boot camp at Parris Island is a good thing: You survive this, and whatever comes next isn’t quite so bad.

My wife is one of seven kids in her family, a factor that I credit for her admirable emotional resiliency. She is not a “drama queen.” She is not a “high maintenance” personality.

This anecdotal evidence informs my skepticism toward the claim by British researchers that only children are happier:

One of the widest-ranging research projects on family life conducted in Britain has revealed that the fewer siblings children have, the happier they are — and that only children are the most contented.
The findings, shared exclusively with the Observer, suggest that “sibling bullying” could be part of the problem, with 31% of children saying they are hit, kicked or pushed by a brother or sister “quite a lot” or “a lot”. Others complain of belongings being stolen by siblings and being called hurtful names. . . .
The findings are based on in-depth questionnaires completed by 2,500 young people, which have been analysed by Gundi Knies from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex where the Understanding Society study is based. She suggested that factors such as competition for the parents’ attention or the fact that toys, sweets or space need to be shared could be to blame.

One blogger mocked: “This could be fodder for those advocating for population control . . . Or to convince Michelle Duggar to tie those tubes already.”

Hold your mockery for a moment, and think about the social-science methodology of that research: Asking kids if they’re happy — their subjective assessment of their own happiness — is not necessarily going to tell you anything about how well-adjusted they are.

To return to the Parris Island analogy, if you surveyed Marines in boot camp, their self-reported happiness might not be too high, but the purpose of boot camp isn’t to make the recruits happy, it’s to prepare them for military careers. And the purpose of the family is to prepare children for life.

Furthermore, the British researchers offer no separate analysis of children’s happiness correlated to their parents’ marital status. If, as I suspect, a sizeable proportion of the children with more siblings came from families with never-married, divorced or re-married parents (welfare mothers, step-families, etc.), then the reported “unhappy” feelings likely resulted from circumstances other than the number of siblings, per se.

Rather than being overly impressed with the supposed “scientific” findings of this British study, then, I would refer you to the vast research showing that the best environment for children (however few or numerous their siblings) is to be raised by both biological parents, who are married to each other.

The British study’s reported findings are therefore misleading. Why? Because if this research encourages married-parent families to have fewer children — if more married couples limit themselves to just one or two kids — then a smaller percentage of society’s children will be raised in such families.

Allan Carlson has frequently referred to the marital birth rate (i.e., the average number of children born to each married couple) as the best overall indicator of the condition of family in society. Carlson has observed that, since the 1960s, the United States has “witnessed mounting disruption of American families, marked by a low marriage rate, a very high rate of divorce, soaring illegitimacy, and a sharp decline in marital fertility.”

Common sense tells us that these various phenomena are somehow related, and I think that all of these phenomena are consequences of the rise of the Contraceptive Culture — the idea that reduced fertility is essential to a better life.

If my wife and I had stopped at one child, yes, that child would have been happy. But we didn’t stop there, and so five other children share that happiness. Not that the kids always appreciate this beneficial experience. They constantly tease and taunt and torment each other.

“Shut up, moron.”

Sounds like happiness to me.


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