Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fertility Class Divide - Why It Matters

I have been thinking about the 'Fertility Class Divide' for a long time now and I can't shake a few troubling thoughts about what it means that women in high socio-economic class are not having children or having much fewer children than women in lower socioeconomic classes.  But most importantly, more of those children born to lower income women are unintended. So here are my take aways:

1. Too many women are having unintended pregnancies and births.
2. The ranks of women and children living in poverty are likely to grow substantially over the next decade (given the fertility trends and current economic situation).
3. The class divide will only grow and become more severe.

According to a report from Guttmacher Institute the unintended pregnancy rate for women living in poverty was 132 in 1000 pregnancies in 2006, up 50% from 1994.  Concurrently the unintended pregnancy rate for higher income women (those 200% of the federal poverty line and greater) was decreasing from 34 in 1000 pregnancies in 1994 to 24 in 1000 pregnancies in 2006.  Unintended pregnancies result in abortions and unintended births, neither of which should be desired by a society that cares about children and women. 

But what does this all really mean?  If we are doing ok, as far as replacing the needed number of people to keep society moving along, who cares what end of the socio-economic spectrum the kids are coming from?!  Well, we all should.

The surest way to grow the ranks of the poor are for poor women to have unintended pregnancies and births.  Children born into poverty are more likely to be adults living in poverty. Women are more likely to live in poverty once they become mothers. Mothers earn less than other workers, even controlling for education.  I don't think there's anyone who thinks there should be more people living in poverty, we already have 17 million women living in poverty and 7.5 million in extreme poverty .  Among women who head families, 4 in 10 (40.7 percent) lived in poverty in 2010 (up from 38.5 percent in 2009) (NWLC).   From my point of view, we should be ashamed at the number of people who live in poverty in the richest nation on earth.  But as my favorite old dead white writer said:

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves. 

So what are we going to do about it?  Increase funding for family planning and contraception?  Ensure all young people get fact-based sexual education? No, none of that.  Cause those things cost money and ask people to acknowledge that people like having sex, especially young people. We are a nation of irrational prudes who would rather wring our hands over all the unintended pregnancies than do a damn thing about it.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts.