As I’ve been talking to people about getting knocked up and what this means in terms of getting married and my career, I’ve found myself saying rather astonishing things, like, “I’m not that concerned about my career. It’ll be there no matter what I decide to do.” Similarly, while my partner and I are a couple, I’m not concerned about getting married because I know he is going to be involved with our child and in my life no matter what our official status is. Both of these things are big changes in American society which are turning out to have huge and mostly positive effects on families and fertility rates.
I write in Slackonomics about how educated, middle class Generation X parents are having more children than similarly situated baby-boomers, and in fact are nudging up the fertility rate here in the US not seen since the 1960s. I explain this in my book — and so does yesterday’s Times magazine — in a somewhat astonishing and counter-intuitive way.
Professional American middle class couples are more open to flexible gender roles, as I noted in a previous blog post about shared parenting, which make it easier and more attractive for professional women to have more children than previous generations. While fertility rates were dropping among the more educated and professional classes for many decades, that changed with Generation X as strict rules about who does what in the household have loosened considerably, and as post-Boomer men have become more equal partners in child-rearing even when the marriage or partnership dissolves. So getting married and having kids is a whole lot more attractive for women who now have more options about what to do with their lives. (A spate of Gen X fatherhood books attests to how Xers have brought shared parenting into the mainstream; see Neal Pollack’s book, Alternadad, as one example).
What’s more, the Times magazine piece adds another interesting dimension to the American fertility puzzle. Read the rest of this entry » »
Today’s Times has 10 short essays about how to deal with $4 gas (here in LA I’ve seen $5+ per gallon — talk about a place with inelastic demand). One of the more interesting pieces is from my friend Tom Vanderbilt who has a book coming out titled, “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do.” His solution? In a nutshell, Slackonomics, i.e. use less fuel by slowing down. Various methods have proven effective, such as real-time fuel consumption information (as the Prius provides), traffic circles that slow people down, and others. The salient point, however, is this: “An Australian study found that ‘aggressively’ driven vehicles saved a mere five minutes over a 94-minute course compared to a ‘smoothly’ driven vehicle — but the smooth car used 30 percent less fuel.” Keep in mind, I’m not arguing we can save the world by becoming lay-about stoners. Au contraire. I’m a pretty aggressive New Yorker myself. But the premise of Slackonomics is that economic circumstances may very well point the way towards finding a little bit of peace and happiness in our everyday lives — in this case, an attempt to reduce gas consumption forces us to be a little less aggressive and a little more magnanimous with our fellow travelers (be they drivers, cyclists or pedestrians).
UPDATE: Tom writes in with this, “I certainly hadn’t thought of it that way, but it makes sense! Slower speeds are good for your health too, of course, not just blood pressure but crash risk.”
So I’m in LA doing book promotional stuff when I have a very LA moment. At the local coffee place in West Hollywood, suddenly there’s a buzz about a celebrity in our midst, which turns out to be Samantha’s humping dog from Sex in the City. So I stop to pet the dog and snap a photo so I can tell people about my little celebrity encounter, but later decide to google the dog. Now I think this is more of an LA moment that I first bargained for; Gidget the Dog is, according to one blog, a New York doggie actress, and of the various photos of Gidget on the internet, they don’t look so much like the dog at Marco’s cafe! Was I suckered about the celebrity status of this dog?! You decide.
UPDATE! I have official confirmation that this is indeed Gidget from her owner/manager, Mary, who was in LA on a biz trip (that’s her feet in the photo, with the identifying dolphin tattoo). She counts this as Gidget’s first paparazzi moment! See the link here for Gidget’s diary, and comments below.
I concluded a recent post with this: “I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that the new economy and the old safety net system are seriously out of whack. Pensions, Medicare and Social Security? Please.”
In the Times Sunday Magazine, Dalton Conley addresses this very issue with an interesting thought: forget a New New Deal, reimagine the “social contract along the lines of a computer network or the bug-and-spoke airline network.” He provides a number of examples of how this might work, such as the how the “feds could mandate that any institutions of higher education that receive government dollars must make their research and course materials available online in an open-source format free of charge.” That’s just one of many intriguing ideas he throws out there for Obama to chew on.
It’s back to the future all over again. In the 1980s, the Backlash media stories focused on how 40 year-old working women were more likely to get “killed by a terrorist” than they were to ever get married (a catchy but untrue statistical comparison perpetuated by Newsweek, which the magazine took 20 years to correct). Now the recurring media myth is that “more and more” professional, educated women opt out of the workforce when they become mothers. Lisa Belkin wrote a big piece about this for the Sunday Times Magazine, which she defended in this op-ed three years later.
Lisa Belkin is no slouch, but in the era of “two’s a coincidence, three’s a story”, anecdotal evidence can justify a story that fits the backlash cultural zeitgeist that never seems to go away. But here are the facts as recently reported by sociologist Christine Percheski, who examined trends among college-educated women born between 1906 and 1975: “the number of women with young children who work full-time year-round has increased steadily, growing from a rate of 5.6 percent of women born 1926 to 1935 (referred to as the “Baby Boom Parents” by Percheski), to 38.1 percent of women from Generation X (born 1966 to 1975). More professional Generation X mothers of young children were working full-time year-round than their counterparts in any previous generation.” She also reports in June issue of the American Sociology Review that not only are more professional Xer women working, they’re working longer hours, especially as their children get older.