Friday, October 30, 2009

the Duggars: thank them, don't mock them!

From Jonathan Last in the WSJ...

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar made headlines recently when the Arkansas couple announced that they are expecting their 19th child. The news about the reality-show stars was met with quiet condescension by polite society and impolite mockery in the trendier parts of the Internet. The dirty jokes write themselves.

Yes, the Duggars are an easy target: They have taken the idea of a large family and given it an exponential boost. And their lives are not exactly filled with suburban glamour, fancy college degrees or evenings at home reading aloud from collections of symbolist verse. The family tends toward plain clothes, warehouse-club portions and the New Testament. And yet the discomfort with the Duggars is not merely an expression of class snobbery. It has partly to do with their hyperfertility. There is a creeping anti-natalism in America that has made having large families a radical act....

Even by historical standards, the Duggars' soon-to-be-19 kids are exceptional. In 1800 the American fertility rate—that is, the number of children born to an average woman in her lifetime—was 7.04 for whites and 7.90 for blacks....Today the average American woman has only 2.09 children, just a hair beneath the replacement rate of 2.1. The rate for Michelle Duggar's demographic group, non-Hispanic whites, is just 1.85. In 1800, the Duggars would have been odd. By today's standards, they seem positively freakish.

There are scores of reasons for society's decreased fertility. Better medical care reduced infant mortality....Effective birth control reduced the number of unwanted pregnancies. And, beginning in 1974, widespread access to abortion reduced the number of unwanted pregnancies that were brought to term....delayed age of first marriage to car-seat laws (few vehicles can accommodate more than three child-safety seats). But a big part of the story is economics.

In agricultural societies, including that of early 19th-century America, children were of vital economic importance. They provided free labor in the family business and then, in adulthood, care for their elderly parents. They don't perform either of these functions today....

Whatever its merits, the welfare state is a disincentive to childbearing....

Even as economic incentives for childbearing have diminished, costs have grown. The welfare state required an enormous new tax burden...While the government started taking more of a family's money, the expense of raising a child shot to the moon....Finally, there is the opportunity cost of a parent not working....

To be sure, the Duggars have experienced some economies of scale with their soon-to-be 19 bundles of joy. The marginal cost of each additional child is reduced but still nontrivial....

The Duggars have mortgaged their financial futures for their children. Yet we're the ones who will benefit....In an era when it is rare for a bourgeois couple to have even three children, the Duggars are helping subsidize our retirement at considerable costs to themselves. Instead of mocking them, we ought to thank them.


At October 31, 2009 at 2:11 PM , Blogger Don Sherfick said...

Eric, at this juncture, I'm neither mocking them nor thanking them, because I don't have very much information concerning them. (I don't think "mock" would be suitable in any instance....maybe if appropriate "criticize" might be a better word).

What the piece says concerning the burdens of social security, etc., on the next generation is certainly worth considering. But in the total scheme of things, I'm not sure that a particular set of people exceeding the average so as to help bring it up is necessarily a good thing.

Much depends on the particular circumstances of this family. They may indeed have an income situation and potential, and the ability to prudently manage their resources so as to be able to produce children sufficiently educated and otherwise equipped to do their share in entering the workplace and supporting future retirees. I hope so, and I would not interfere with their right to choose.

Yet at the same time I wonder. I am familiar with more than one "just one big happy family" situation that ended up something far less than that, and the taxpayers/welfare system burdened.

I pray that is not the situation here.

At October 31, 2009 at 10:16 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

No doubt having so much family support is a huge blessing for all of the members.

In their case, raising kids to enter the work force or to be homemakers and nurture their own families is a blessing to us all.

Interesting point about the "replacement" number. It makes sense that you need to have at least as many young people growing into positions of responsibiltity as are retiring in order to support a society economically as well as to care for the senior members.

It seems that a big reason we don't want so many kids these days is selfishness. We feel we don't need extra children for any particular reason and, let's face it, they require lots of time, energy and money.

Too bad more of us don't see them as the blessings they are. The Duggar's set a good example.

Good post Eric

At October 31, 2009 at 10:23 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Don, you make an important point: there is a big difference between raising such a family through God's grace and their own means-- rather than relying on monies coerced from taxpayers.

It reminds me of the immigration debate: if people want to come here to work and be good citizens, bring it on!


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