Why Must Some Women Have a Child From Their Own Body? — Part I

            The so-called biological urge to have a child is most probably a myth. Danielle Friedman, senior editor of the Daily Beast, reports that “few scientists have actually studied women’s so-called biological drive to reproduce, so no universal explanation has emerged in the literature.”  In her article, “Childless and Loving It,” Friedman points to evolutionary biologist David Barash’s belief that having children is more socially acceptable than not having children. He, like many scientists, believes that the drive to procreate isn’t triggered by biology but by culture.  In his book, The Surprising Connection Between Sex, Evolution and Monogamy, Barash points to evolution, which has given women the desire for sex and the physical means to bear children, but the rest is free will. 

            Laura Carroll, author of The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking about Parenthood and Reproduction Will Create A Better World,  gives us something to ponder in her Huffington Post article, “The ‘Biological Urge’: What’s the Truth?”  “Realizing that a yearning for parenthood is not a biological imperative allows us to look harder at why we think we want children and ferret out how much of it comes from external conditioning.”

The cuyltural expectations for parenthood lead to overpopulation

. . . LEADS TO THIS.

 

The desire for mother hood is cultural, not bioligical

alivewithchrist.com
THIS . . .

            To add a one-two punch to the probability that cultural influences shape the decision  to bear children, Carroll quotes researcher and psychoanalyst Frederick Wyatt: “When a woman says with feeling she craved her baby from within, she is putting biological language to what is psychological.”

            Why then, do so many women want a child from their own body? Carroll asks the question another way. “What is at the essence of this feeling of longing? Is it truly to raise a child, or is it another yearning I think a child will fill for me in my life?”

            Is it possible that having a child from our body has little to do with what is considered the greater good of sharing genes or the romantic notion of making a deep connection with a being that comes from our bloodline and is therefore “thicker than water?” It’s not beyond possibility that having a biological child—as opposed to an adopted one—is an ingrained habit of our culture and has so penetrated a women’s (and sometime men’s) psyches that millions continue to believe in its magic.

            Modern cultures deserve a degree of shame for foisting outdated traditions on society and for not realizing that there are Enough of Us. As our book points out, millions of children are alone and in need of a nurturing environment. So why create more babies? Tune in to Part II of this column, where we discuss women who haven’t let questionable conventions influence their decisions about whether or not to give birth. 

            And if you are interested in more of this topic, Enough of Us is available in paperback, hard cover and as an ebook right here.

Should politicians be encouraging overpopulation?

Let’s start with a disclaimer. We are not Mitt Romney-bashing, elitist journalists who can’t wait to pick on the guy. But sometimes we wonder whether politicians think past the immediate objectives of their guidance to the populace. For every action, Isaac Newton informed us, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

On April 27, Mr. Romney, speaking at the Southern Virginia University commencement ceremonies, advised the graduates to marry young and have “a quiver full of kids if you can.” A quiver, in case you are not familiar with archery, is that tube archers carry on their backs that hold the ammunition, as in arrows. How the heck did babies become metaphorical arrows?

Mitt Romney wants students to put lots of kids in their quivers

Mitt Romney. Photo: Gage Skidmore

In the Bible’s Book of Psalms, Psalm 127 to be exact, it is written, “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”

We agree that some kids can be like arrows, tearing right through their parents’ emotional guts. But the Bible sees them as a blessing; you know, the whole “be fruitful and multiply” thing. It even exhorts man (the Bible predates gender political correctness) to cover the earth with more of himself. Following this exhortation, there is a movement afoot called Quiverfull that believes God gave women bodies to make kids—so make them. Forget contraceptives. Be like Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar.

Here’s where we see the problem. What is mankind supposed to do once it actually does cover the earth with its progeny? ‘Cause guess what, mission accomplished. Before long there will be eight billion of us. As in “Earth, we’ve got you covered.” After all, aren’t we also supposed to be guardians of the Garden of Eden? Thou cannot protecteth that which thy overpopulateth.

During his presidential campaign, Romney ridiculed global warming. That would fit with his seeming disregard of the consequences of filling quivers with kids.

A traditional bow and quiver that's full

Quiver (sans kids) and bow. Photo by Traumrune [GFDL (httpwww.gnu.orgcopyleftfdl.html)

According to an article by Kathryn Joyce in Mother Jones magazine, the Quiverfull movement “has a long-term campaign to win the culture wars by outnumbering its opponents.” We are not saying that Romney is part of Quiverfull. But we are associating him with a blatant disregard for the consequences of the get-pregnant-as-soon-and-as-often-as-you-can mentality. According to Mother Jones, for years, conservative leaders of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church have joined the Catholic Church and right-wing evangelicals on so-called pro-family issues. A Mormon think tank leader coauthored a statement of principles, “The Natural Family: A Manifesto.”

This manifesto was once adopted by the town council of Kanab, Utah. The Mother Jones article says that in the manifesto “families are described as the fundamental unit of society, individual rights are valued only insofar as they correspond with pro-natalist, pro-family goals, and women’s rights are qualified as follows: ‘Above all, we believe in rights that recognize women’s unique gifts of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.’”

The article goes on to assert that Quiverfull sees feminism and family planning as a slippery slope that involves women taking over a body that actually belongs to God. That slope leads to gay rights, abortion, divorce and witchcraft.

Personally, we feel that what a woman does with her body is her own business (with the exception of Dolly Parton, who went just too far), and that includes Mormon women and their fellow travelers. We are not out to skewer LDS. There is plenty of room for most belief systems. We just wonder why people with these fecundity beliefs fail to address the current environmental messes, the numbers of troubled kids, the levels of mental illness and disabilities, and the shortage of natural resources.

There are Enough of Us. And when high profile pols like Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and others trumpet the blessings of doing God’s work by popping out kids, we have to question whether they also speak for God’s feelings about the attendant consequences. This is certainly the wrong advice to be giving young women who just spent four years getting educated about all kinds of valuable stuff.

 

 

 

 

A Baby Shortage? Here we go again with that fertility argument – Part II

In our prior column we began our response to Jonathan Last’s essay, “America’s Baby Bust,” in the Wall Street Journal Review section. He laments the current and soon-to-be-“worsening” baby shortage that will leave our economy in bad shape. After all, without a growing population, who will pay the bills for the ever-increasing number of senior citizens?

     Briefly, here is our response:

     Those seniors without kids, or with fewer of them, will be better able to afford to support themselves (see last week’s column);

  • If increasing the population of little ones is a good thing, why are we so stressed about being able to care for the current spate of baby boomers?
  • Increasing the size of our consumerist society means more pollution, trash, demand for energy, climate change and its ramifications, demand for renewable resources, water shortages, etc.
  • Increased population means expanding roads, public transportation, water supply and disposal systems, and myriad other public works needs. As things stand right now we cannot even afford to maintain America’s crumbling infrastructure.

Fertile land can become desert

As a result of climate change, loss of rainfall leads to desertification in some areas

      Thanks to immigration, US population has been growing at a fairly healthy clip. But immigration can be a double-edged sword. It provides a resource to pay for the needs of aging Americans by bringing a new generation of taxpayers into the country, but it also means that shrinking fertility is merely being replaced by another form of population growth. The United States could simply become an overflow receptacle for developing countries’ excessive populations, which would perpetuate the same drawbacks as having our numbers increase from within.

     Jonathan Last’s take on this is, “it’s unlikely to last. Historically, countries with fertility rates below replacement level start to face their own labor shortages, and they send fewer people abroad. In Latin America, the rates of fertility decline are even more extreme than in the U.S.” What does that tell us? In his essay, he lays out various plans, including tax incentives, to get folks to keep contraception out of the bedroom. This, he contends, will help motivate Americans to have the children they already desire.

     For their first 18 years and beyond, children tend to be burdens on society. In the current economic crisis large numbers of recent college grads can’t find work and must remain living with their parents. Folks with advanced degrees are working as unskilled labor in an effort to pay their bills. Many jobs are being shipped overseas or transferred to robots. And we don’t know what the odds are that many of those lost jobs will be replaced by employment openings that require domestic labor.

     It seems that society pays little attention to the burdens young people can place on their predecessors. These burdens are especially true for adults of any age who do not have their own children but must nevertheless share the expense involved in bringing up a new gneration..

     There are no simple answers to the issues raised by increased populations, or smaller ones, both domestically and worldwide. But thinking only in current economic terms without consideration of environmental and sustainability concerns is not a healthy approach. And prognosticating is a tricky business. But sooner or later we will have to decide that there are more than Enough of Us. And if we wait until much later, the generations that Jonathan Last wants so desperately to increase may have hell to pay for their parents’ profligacy.

 

 

Have Child, Will Abandon Pets

            People love their pets, especially when their dog or cat is put into the role of a child. “Bella (the cat) is my baby,” a pet owner coos to friends and family.  That said, in way too many cases pet guardians’ love loses its luster when they have children of their own.  On babble.com, a blogger mom says it all:

            “This used to be a love story. . . two cats and a puppy found their way into my home and my heart. . . I had rescued them from an uncertain future in the shelter. . .I had groomed them. . . kept them alive for most of my adult life. . .We had been warned that pets would get the shaft once the baby became the focal point of our existence. . .What I was not prepared for was the depth of my hatred for beings I once claimed to love, and how quickly the switch happened.”

            According to 2010 ASPCA statistics, about 5 to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters in the United States each year. As many pets are turned in by their owners (some animal rights groups prefer the term “guardians”) as are picked up by animal control. 

Photo - CToutandabout.com

Photo – CToutandabout.com

            We feel for pets that have been “replaced” by children and, in essence, disposed of.  The best of guardians see to it that their dogs and cats are sent off to relatives or friends. Those are the lucky ones. But millions are sent to shelters. A big question, of course, is do companion animals suffer about the loss of what was once their “forever” home?

            Although science is inconclusive in this area, some researchers point to the strong bond between humans and dogs, which goes back some 15,000 years when the two species wandered the Earth together. If you have ever pet sat for a few weeks while the human family is away, you can probably draw your own conclusions. Although, we have to admit, we so spoil the dogs we pet sit for that they don’t seem all that thrilled when their “parents” come to collect them. But that’s not the same as being dumped into a shelter.

Indeed, both dogs and cats may mourn as deeply as humans do. Something for parents to think about is that for an animal, banishment from their human family may cause emotional pain similar to what a child feels when separated from mom and dad. 

            We think those who adopt and fall in love with animals before they have children should think long and hard about their motives. Is the animal a substitute for a yet unborn child? Are those who decide to become parents willing to make a lifelong commitment to their animal and realize that this creature is indeed a member of the family? Do the expectant mom and dad have the “heart” to prepare their pet for a new human addition to the family? (There are plenty of tips on the Web about this and veterinarians are good sources of info as well.)

            We also believe it’s imperative that prospective parents think twice about having a dog or cat in their midst. The most compassionate decision may be not offering a home to an animal that will one day be evicted because a child demands too much time and energy. 

 

 

           

           

             

           

           

             

           

 

“If you don’t intend to have kids, don’t get married.” What?

We just returned from a two-and-a-half-week sojourn to New Zealand, where we were able to put non-South Pacific news out of our minds. Those Kiwis are the friendliest people we’ve ever met. Nevertheless, we had plenty to think about when we learned how this beautiful country–the last to be discovered by humans–managed to get its fauna screwed up, starting with the arrival of humans on its shores. For the animals on the land of the Kiwis it became a sad tale. That story, however, is for another day.

But no sooner had we arrived home and flicked on the TV than we were immersed in the controversy over the constitutionality of a ban on same-sex marriage (evidently the so-called budget sequestration issue had been resolved in our absence, as evidenced by the fact that in the five days since we returned, we have not seen or read a single story about it). Stand where you may on the gay rights issue, but one argument enrages us and should likewise raise the hackles (wherever they may be on humans) of anyone who does not or cannot have children.

There are those who argue that the purpose of marriage is procreation. In Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as in Tuesday’s hearing on California’s Proposition 8, the procreation argument came up.

If procreation is the sole purpose of marriage, it raises the following questions:

Should women over age 50 be permitted to marry?

Should infertile couples be allowed to marry?

Should couples who intend to use donated eggs or sperm be allowed to marry, since the donated gamete will not belong one of the prospective parents?

And the greatest stick-in-the-craw question of all: Should ordinary heterosexual couples who have absolutely no intention whatsoever of having kids—like the two of us—be authorized to tie the knot?

And here’s one for “dessert.” If two women want to marry with the intent of having one of them having in vitro fertilization, does that put them above a heterosexual couple who merely want to adopt? … and the beat goes on.

While half of American women who give birth under age 30 do so without being married, the marriage/procreation connection becomes even more tenuous. As for those who argue that marriage for the sake of procreation is the only way to go, we hope that fewer of those folks marry, ideally because it dawns on them that there are already Enough of Us.

The Latest Trend in Risks to Newborns – Part II

Last week, in Part I, we began this discussion of Judith Shulevitz’s The New Republic article, “The Grayest Generation,” in which she lamented the societal and biological risks of older parenting.

 

Men over 50 are three times more likely than men under 25 to father a schizophrenic child.

Fertility doctors do a lot of things to sperm and eggs that have not been rigorously tested, including keeping them in culture media teeming with chemicals that may or may not scramble an embryo’s development.

Commonly used, “Clomid . . . came out particularly badly in a recent New England Journal of Medicine study that rang alarm bells about ART [assisted reproductive technology] and birth defects,” reports Shulevitz. “ICSI (intracytoplasmic) sperm injection shows up in the studies as having higher rates of birth defects than any other popular fertility procedure.”

A child with trisomy-18

Trisomy-18 child. Photo: Emilyscookiemix.com

While she recognizes that women do not want to cut their careers short for the sake of having kids, Judith points out that if they don’t have children, they’re denying themselves s full life.

But older parents have emotional disadvantages. “Procrastinators” become members of the “sandwich generation,” caught between toddlers tugging on one hand and elder parents sharing the latest updates on their ailments. Elderly grandparents provide less support than their younger counterparts.

What haunts her about her own kids is the gamble of dying before they’re ready to set out on their own.

And these problems could proliferate if  “aging parents are, in fact, producing a growing subpopulation of children with neurological or other disorders who will require a lifetime of care. Schizophrenia, for instance, usually sets in during a child’s late teens or early twenties. [British psychiatrist] Avi Reichenberg sums up the problem bluntly. ‘Who is going to take care of that child?’ he asked, ‘Some seventy-five-year-old demented father?’”

The birthrate has dropped by a significant 45 percent around the world since 1975. By 2010, the average number of births per woman had decreased from 4.7 to 2.6.

While Shulevitz is making compelling arguments about older parenting, ones with which we agree, the goals of her arguments are where we part company. She makes the case that society needs to reform itself so that parents become parents at earlier stages of life. That way there will be fewer disabled children, more individuals to care for older generations, and enough workers to replace the aging people who will be better able to adapt to new technologies. She concedes that fewer people means less demand for food, water, land and energy.

Let’s start with the latter first. As we have written on several occasions, when societies move into the middle classes, their per capita consumption of food, water, land and energy skyrocket. Bigger homes, conspicuous consumption, wasted water, cars, heating and air conditioning; you get the picture.

It seems to us that there are three choices for the career-focused. Have your career or your kids. If you want them both, do as many others have done, and burn the candle at both ends earlier in adulthood. But making kids in order to provide preceding generations with a support system is selfish, reckless, and the world’s ultimate Ponzi scheme. We have to stop at some point. Are the projections of 10 billion-plus devourers of natural resources, clean air, and water by the end of this century not enough to scare the bejeezus out of us?

 

The Latest Trend in Risks to Newborns – Part I

The average age of first-time mothers has increased by four years over the past half century, according to science editor Judith Shulevitz in the December 20, 2012 issue of The New Republic. Many professional urban couples are postponing making babies until their 30s and early 40s. The downside is, as Shulevitz herself has experienced, recent rises in developmental disorders.

            Some examples: The average new mother from Massachusetts is 28; in Mississippi it is 22.9. The Asian American first-time mother is 29.1; African American 23.1. A college-educated woman has a better than one-in-three chance of having her first child at 30 or older.

           Shulevitz decries late-in-life reproduction, due to the amplified risks to the child and because delayed childbearing will result in a shortage of younger people to support, and replace, their progenitors. While we agree with the former, we dissent from the latter because of its societal self-serving motives. 

Judith Shulevitz

Photo: jtsa.edu

           Judith and her husband weren’t ready for parenthood until she was in her mid-30s and her husband was “forty-something.”  The doctor started her on a regimen of ovulation-stimulating hormones. The most popular fertility drug is clomiphene citrate, marketed as Clomid, or Serophene.

            If the Clomid didn’t work, she might move on to: IVF (in vitro fertilization), ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer), or even ZIFT (zygote intrafallopian transfer). The Clomid and IVF worked.

            “My baby boy seemed perfect. When he was three, though, the pediatrician told me that he had a fine-motor delay.”  He needed occupational therapy for his mild case of “sensory-integration disorder.”

            She soon found what she describes as, “a subculture of a subculture: that of mothers who spend hours a week getting services for developmentally challenged children. It seemed to me that an unusually large proportion of these women were older.”

            Subsequently, the couple had a “natural” daughter. But Judith found herself meeting women of approximately her age with kids who had Asperger’s, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit disorder, and sensory-integration disorder.

            As we have previously discussed on this blog, and in our book, Enough of Us, according to the Centers for Disease Control, learning problems, attention-deficit disorders, autism and related disorders, and developmental delays are on the rise.  Between 1997 and 2008 there has been about a 17 percent increase in these disabilities. According to Shulevitz, one in six American children had a developmental disability between 2006 and 2008. That’s about 1.8 million more children than a decade earlier.

            Scientific evidence indicates that aging bodies of potential parents should elicit more cautious behavior than they apparently do. Would-be parents consistently underestimate how sharp the fertility drop-off can be for women after age 35. Inversely, the chances that children will carry a chromosomal abnormality, such as a trisomy—which includes Patau and Edwards syndromes—increase.  Patau syndrome gives children cleft palates, mental retardation, and an 80 percent likelihood of dying in their first year. Edwards syndrome, features oddly shaped heads, clenched hands, and slow growth. Half of all Edwards syndrome babies die in the first week of life. In previous posts we have given the examples of the unfortunate offspring of politicians Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin.

            The risk that a pregnancy will yield a trisomy rises from 2–3 percent when a woman is in her twenties to 30 percent when a woman is in her forties. When born to an older mother: spontaneous abortion, premature birth, being a twin or triplet, cerebral palsy, and low birth weight—leading to chronic health problems later in children’s lives—increase.

            Researchers suspect a link between the 78 percent rise in autism over the last decade and the rise of parental age. One theory “is that the same wised-up, more mature parents have had longer to absorb airborne pollution, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and herbicides.”

We will continue this discussion next week in Part II of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Oppose Abortion and Oppose Subsidized Contraception? It’s a Recipe for Disaster

Across America the righteous right seems to have no shortage of barriers in its arsenal that are designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for women to obtain safe, legal abortions. When these very same folks also oppose government-sponsored or insurance-sponsored family planning (read: contraception) they fall into the category of biological Luddites.

As part of a study published last October 4 in Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis gave more than 9,000 women and teenage girls free contraceptives.  Participants were 14-45 years of age, at risk for unintended pregnancy, and willing to start a new contraceptive method.

The number of accidental pregnancies fell to between 62 and 78 percent below the national average. Teens are at particularly high risk for unintended pregnancies and, therefore, abortions. The study concluded that free contraception could reduce the number of abortions in the United States by a whopping two-thirds.

When we hear the likes of former senator and would-be presidential candidate Rick Santorum as well as Catholic contraceptive naysayers, decry the idea of government involvement in the contraceptive “business,” it leaves us scratching our heads. We have no argument with the church instructing its adherents about how to deal with their own genitalia. That’s their business. But when you comprehend the realities of unwanted pregnancy, it seems to us that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; the “cure” in this case being abortion.

The research found that providing free, reliable birth control to women could prevent between 41 percent and 71 percent of abortions in the United States.

Three-quarters of the women in the study elected to use long-acting contraceptive methods like intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants, which have lower failure rates than birth control pills. In the United States, IUDs and implants have initial costs in excess of $800 that sometimes aren’t covered by health insurance, making these methods unaffordable for many women. We can only guess that the insurers don’t want to fork over more than 800 bucks for each fertile female client when the insureds might be able to provide their own individual-use contraception.

IUDs

Copper (l) and hormonal intrauterine devices

According to lead author Professor Jeff Peipert, MD, “The impact of providing no-cost birth control was far greater than we expected in terms of unintended pregnancies. …We think improving access to birth control, particularly IUDs and implants, coupled with education on the most effective methods has the potential to significantly decrease the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in this country.”

Health-care professionals insert IUDs and implants, which are effective for five to 10 years, and 3 years, respectively. They provide superior effectiveness over short-term methods. But only a small percentage of U.S. women using contraception choose long-term implanted methods for a variety of reasons, including expense and fear of implanting devices into their bodies. “Unintended pregnancy remains a major health problem in the United States, with higher proportions among teenagers and women with less education and lower economic status,” Peipert says. “The results of this study demonstrate that we can reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy and this is key to reducing abortions in this country.”

As for those who cannot see the forest for the trees, doesn’t it make more sense for state and federal governments to provide contraception, and to require insurance companies to do so for those low-income folks who are lucky enough to have coverage, than for the government to pick up the tab for pre- and post-natal medical care of mother and child?

In addition, we wonder what other burdens—like education, housing, child support services, and healthcare—such families, especially single-parent households, will impose on society. We say that regardless of the immediate financial costs, Enough of Us already inhabit this planet. So let’s cough up the 800 bucks every three or five or 10 years and save ourselves all the other potential costs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Sandy Shows Floodgates Needed—Population Floodgates

            John Seager is the president of Population Connection (you may have known it by its former name, Zero Population Growth), a nonprofit that seeks to mitigate, through family planning, the problems inherent in overpopulation . We are long-time members of the organization.

John’s update on global human impacts is an eye-opener. We reproduce his insights with the permission of Population Connection. Its web site is www.populationconnection.org.

Population Connection President Jon Seager

Population Connection President Jon Seager

  As people along the East Coast struggle to recover from super storm Sandy, there has been serious talk of building giant floodgates to protect parts of New York City from the next such event.

 Giant floodgates might be part of a long-term solution, but we need to find others that address the looming consequences of climate change, and recognize that family planning is part of the mix.

 As weather threats have grown, so has our world population. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last year the United States suffered a record 14 weather events, each costing at least $1 billion in damage. And every year, more than 80 million people join our human family. That’s like adding another New Jersey every six weeks.

 Rapid population growth and fossil fuel emissions are two leading characteristics of our modern age. Since 1800, world population has grown sevenfold, while per capita CO2 emissions have increased 150 times. Put the two together, and you have about 1,100 times as much in terms of emissions.

 It’s taken about 200 years of carbon emissions to create our current climate crisis. Barring miraculous technological breakthroughs, it’s going to take centuries to set things right again.

 At first glance, it is hard to see how population growth in less developed nations is linked to climate change. After all, people who live in places with the lowest carbon emissions tend to have the largest families. Residents of the African nation of Chad have about six children each, yet their annual per capita carbon emissions are less than 1 percent of those of the average American. It would be unfair to blame climate change on people in less developed nations who seek the same creature comforts many of us take for granted.

 But we can’t escape this fact: A 2005 London School of Economics study concluded that, if each of us living in a highly developed country reduced our carbon footprint by 40 percent over 40 years, all of that would be cancelled by our present population growth rates alone. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that emissions will rise dramatically if and when billions of people are able to escape from poverty.

 What sort of future do we picture for people in the poorest places on earth, where most people live on less than two dollars a day and where people lack access to clean water and basic sanitation? Many now-impoverished people in Africa and elsewhere would like to have – as many in the developed world do – central air conditioning. And cars. And air travel to other continents. All of these luxuries will increase per capita emissions.

 Rather than assume long-term poverty for billions of our fellow human beings, we must cut our own emissions even as emissions of the poorest people increase to a level that yields a decent quality of life. To insure that the reduction of emissions in the developed countries is not cancelled by increases from the developing world, we must slow the growth rate of our human family.

Today, more than 222 million women in developing nations would like to limit their family size, yet they are unable to do so because of a host of obstacles. Lack of information about modern contraception and cost are important factors. But the most serious barriers are often more subtle and complex. They include misinformation about side effects of birth control methods, including the false notion that they lead to sterility. In many societies, women – especially young brides – have no power over their own lives. Husbands, clerics and even mothers-in-law occupy the positions of authority. Failure to procreate can have violent consequences for women, some of whom are barely into their teens.

 If the United States were to invest one additional dollar per American per year in awareness-raising and education campaigns, we could help break down these barriers in partnership with other nations. Added to our current investment in international family planning, this would amount to one billion dollars per year.

 Meeting the challenge of climate change is likely to take dedicated efforts over many generations. We also need a plan that will help lift out of poverty people in the developing world. Family planning should be a key part of that plan.

 

 

Poor Parents May Encourage Failure in Their Children

                Should low income families have children? Many would say it’s unfair, even un-American, to preclude would-be parents from having kids before they climb a socio-economic ladder to the middle class. Should those who yearn for children be penalized because they might never earn a decent wage? There is no easy answer. But we, as a society, need to consider several issues.

            In a column entitled “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy,” in the December 9, 2012 New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes about anti-poverty programs in the Appalachian hill country of Kentucky that, ironically, work against children. If a child who qualifies for a monthly $698 Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) because of an intellectual disability, attends literacy classes and learns to read, the youngster’s family will no longer collect that check. As a result, some poverty-level parents obviously don’t “go for broke.” Instead, they pull their kids away from their only hope for a successful future – the reading program. 

            Because of illiteracy, many kids from poor families remain unproductive as they reach adulthood. Instead of joining the military, which offers an opportunity for some young adults to escape the poverty of rural America, they stick around in “them thar’ hills” and depend on food stamps and disability payments. 

Appalachian cabin. Photo – SUNY Geneseo

           Kristof points out that about forty years ago, SSI was designed to aid children with mental retardation and/or severe physical difficulties. As time went by, the diagnosis that qualified young people for SSI became “fuzzier,” and less related to specific disorders. The resulting problem is that 8 percent of all low-income children in America now receive SSI payments. This amounts to $9 billion-plus and creates quite a burden on taxpayers.

Columnist Nicholas Kristof

The real shocker is that low-income families with questionable scruples have a stake in their children failing at school. Consequently, many of these kids become failures in life. They transition from the SSI dole they receive until age eighteen to collecting adult SSI benefits, and they become  stuck in a cycle of poverty. Due to their parents desperation to keep the SSI cash cow “milk” flowing, 1.2 million children across this country have essentially “learned” to fail.

            Adding insult to injury, because SSI is means tested – meaning benefits depend on family income – some parents avoid marriage in order to qualify for higher benefits. Yet, single-parent families produce five-fold as many kids growing up in poverty as do two-parent families.

            A mother of two who lives in the hill country told Kristof, that “her $500 car had just broken down and she had to walk two miles each way to her job at a pizza restaurant.” He says,“That’s going to get harder because she’s pregnant with twins, due in April.” Is it fair that she’s voluntarily bringing two more children into the world when their chance for failure might well trump their meager chance for success? Everyone must decide for themselves in this free country of ours. But there is much our society can do to stem this behavior to the benefit of all.

            We believe that government programs should be more proactive in discouraging poverty-stricken  young adults from making kids in the first place. Consider this:

  • Children from low-income families tend to do more poorly on tests, have lower graduation rates, and are less likely to attend or graduate from college than their middle-class counterparts. 
  • Poverty affects a child’s brain. When comparing the brains of children ages 9 -10, from both low- and high-income families, the prefrontal cortexes showed that the “poorer” brain was akin to that of a person who had suffered a stroke. Poverty also affects a child’s IQ and behavior.
  • Children who live in a low-income family usually suffer from malnutrition. In this case malnutrition means not eating enough healthy foods, or eating too many unhealthy foods. Parents stretch their precious dollars by buying cheaper, processed groceries. The results are obesity, vitamin defiency, and myriad health problems for the kids.

Let’s boil this down to a simple mathematical formula: poverty + illiteracy + single parenthood = stupidity. We agree with Nick Kristof – some of SSI funding should be diverted to programs like Save the Children, which work in areas where kids aren’t going to school and where parents are unable to read to their children. But we also believe that schools should be teaching our formula to kids before they’re old enough to get pregnant.