A Curious Difference

There is an interesting difference I see among young US scholars and young Spanish scholars. The former want to rattle off woke slogans and that’s it but the latter are interested in talking about joblessness, precarity, forced migration, etc.

I listened today to a great talk that was, in part, about how the concept of family life becomes a luxury in neoliberal societies and what that means. Of course, the speaker was from Spain. An English speaker wouldn’t conceive of noticing anything of the kind.

45 thoughts on “A Curious Difference

  1. In the United States, I find that anyone who notices the ill effects of neoliberalism (and also, lockdowns, for that matter) is a conservative and a Trump voter. The correlation is absolute. No liberal, or even old-fashioned Romney/Bush conservatives notices anything. Knowing what we know about the state of academia today, this is no surprise.

    I of course can’t speak of what happens in other English speaking countries.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They mean well, and they don’t know anybody IRL who is negatively affected by neoliberal policies: therefore it is not possible that they could be causing harm.


    2. True! Once I mentioned the de-industrialization and the destruction of US manufacturing through off-shoring in an academic discussion and was immediately accused of being a Trump supporter. Which I am, so it wasn’t really unfair or anything. 🙂


  2. “the concept of family life becomes a luxury in neoliberal societies ”

    That’s partly what I meant when I said that neoliberalism causes sterility… it turns family formation (the bedrock of a healthy society) into an expensive consumer item. Many are locked out of it and a high percentage of those who try it without the requisite cushion of capital end up in dysfunctional messes…

    That’s one reason neoliberals are so desperate for immigration from societies that haven’t been taken over by neoliberalism… it’s a moving and parasitic long con that can only be propped up by outsiders.


    1. // Many are locked out of it and a high percentage of those who try it without the requisite cushion of capital end up in dysfunctional messes…

      I miss something here. Yes, it’s easier to remain married if one leads less stressful life as a rich person, but weren’t people poorer before, yet still formed families?

      Why would marriage require greater ‘cashion of capital’ than living alone or single motherhood? The latter requires more from a single person than being married and parenting together.

      Is it ‘all in the mind’ ? Meaning people expect more from life and marriage now as a result of individualism (among other things), so don’t remain in miserable marriages unlike their ancestors?

      Just don’t fully see what ‘locked out of’ means unless you’re talking re unemployed people in places like the Rust Belt.


      1. “but weren’t people poorer before, yet still formed families?”

        That was back when the US had things like “functional public education” which it…. doesn’t really anymore. Private schools aren’t cheap (and neither is decent childcare for working mothers). Unless you can afford good childcare (or can afford for one partner to not work and provide that themselves) then you’re out of luck and your children are going to be exposed to lots of dangerous influences…

        Lots of the societal infrastructure that used to make forming functional families possible has been hollowed out and destroyed in much of the US in the name of various philosophies (conservatives and liberals share equal but differing blame for that).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. // That was back when the US had things like “functional public education” which it…. doesn’t really anymore.

          Have schools truly changed for the worse or is it the combination of more less talented students attending high school (instead of working as they would in the past) and of the general rise in the number of students from families hit by joblessness, addiction, etc. ?

          Rod posted re an African-American mother claiming her son was failed by the public school system, and the commenter ‘petefrombaltimore’ explained what is happening to his city (put the comment here since it describes the results of one-party system):

          // I think that Baltimore probably has less “wokeness” than many cities. Our population is about 63 % Black.
          And almost all of our political leadership is Black.But for the most part, these leaders are old fashioned ,1950s style, political machine , politicians . Its usually the “Progressive” white cities where most of the “wokenes” happens

          As i mentioned in a previous comment, Baltimore’s problems have nothing do do with “wokeness”. We got hit very hard by the 1968 Riots.and De-industrialization .And never recovered.

          Throw in a One Party Rule political system[Which encourages local leaders to not “Rock the Boat”] and you have a recipie for failure

          We have a “Play it safe’ politcal leadership.Since we havent had a Republican elected at any City wide level since 1968. This means that when a Mayor screws up[ And one of our Mayors is now in jail] , the rest of the leadership stays silent.They simply wait thier turn to go up the ladder

          The only “woke” City Council member in Baltimore is Zeke Cohen. And its not surprising that he represents one of Baltimore’s few white areas. And its a fairly wealthy white area. Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKeeson ran for Mayor a few years back. And got a lot of hype in many liberal media[The Atlantic Monthly did an article about him] .But he only got around 2% of the vote .

          Most voters in Baltimore are black and working class.And Baltimore residents of all races tend to vote for the same people again and again.My own district had a State Senator for 20 years.[Meaning that he served in the Maryland State Senate] Before him, his Dad was our State Senator for 30 years.So father and son held the same seat for 50 years.And at one point, 6 members of the Conway family held elected City offices



          1. Honestly, with a mother like that, it’s a miracle the kid is still pretending to go to school. I don’t think it’s the job of the politicians or the schools to cure this level of dysfunction. Unfortunately, nobody can cure this dysfunction other than the participants themselves.


            1. // I don’t think it’s the job of the politicians or the schools to cure this level of dysfunction.

              Well, it seems to be that this level of dysfunction is correlated not with race but with generational poverty. Another commenter says he knows the school system and the same happens in white schools in poor areas.

              Before jobs moved overseas and the Rust Belt with its 1001 dysfuctions was created, it was the politicians’ job to help most people have a normal job and not descend into such situation. After the descent, it’s much harder to cure the disease than to prevent it, as usual.

              That’s why when cliff mentioned functional public education, I started to wondering whether it was the system that changed or the students entering it in some geographical areas.

              Read somewhere today that what’s happening with Black America now is a harbinger of the future of the majority in the new order. Looks very different from ‘UBI will make all happy and capable of opening a small private business’ narratives.


          2. “Have schools truly changed for the worse or is it the combination of more less talented students attending high school (instead of working as they would in the past) ”

            I don’t know the situation now, but the last I knew the US didn’t do track education (funneling ‘smarter’ students into high school and more average ones into vocational schools). The first 12 years were the same for everyone. After high school was seen as plenty early enough to specialize…
            Even the system after high school was based on second and third (and fourth etc) chances rather than the more common high stakes one-mistake-and-you’re-out systems often found in Europe.
            I think those were both great things but I don’t know if they’ve survived…


      2. IMO the “locked out” bit is a myth. What’s true, though, is that all the virtues and customs that promote solid marriages have been trashed over the last few decades: chastity, frugality, self-sacrifice, humility, multi-generational family cohesion, community cohesion etc. are no longer compatible with PMC values, and PMC values get heavily promoted to the lower classes, with disastrous results. PMCs value, above all other things, freedom, mobility, class- and wealth-signalling (i.e. living in the right neighborhood, owning a shiny car, umbilical smartphone attachment, having a college degree, dressing the part, professional haircuts, paying others to do “menial” tasks etc.).

        We are living happily at half the federal poverty level, so that we can prioritize family life, and hopefully be able to afford slightly better in the future (husband is in school). It’s still possible. But you have to completely ignore what the PMC thinks is important. And since all media and all pop culture is wrapped around selling to the PMC (because they’re the ones with disposable income) and thus never challenging their values, that’s hard for a lot of people to do. You have to turn your back on everything popular culture tells you about what constitutes a good life. In our great-grandparents’ day, culture promoted family-formation as the norm. Now: culture actively discourages it.

        Most people are not up to that level of non-conformity. It terrifies them.


        1. ” chastity, frugality, self-sacrifice, humility, multi-generational family cohesion, community cohesion etc.”

          Those were not found in great abundance in the environment I grew up in… but public institutions helped make up for a lot of it (like a decent public school and libraries).

          Liked by 1 person

          1. “Those were not found in great abundance in the environment I grew up in…”

            I understand there’s huge regional variation, but that it’s been falling apart over time, even in places where it still existed recently.

            It was still intact where I lived, when I was a kid: My mother had thirty first-cousins. When I was growing up, most of them still lived within about fifty miles of us. For us, the normal way to get something, if you couldn’t afford it, was to use the family telephone tree. Say the washing machine broke, and finances were tight: you’d never dream of buying a new one on credit! You’d put the word out with the family, and then instead of just you, looking for a washer, you’d have at least fifty people keeping an ear to the ground for you, and usually within a week or two, you’d get a call from cousin X or Aunt Y saying “My neighbor/friend/coworker just replaced their washer, and you can come pick up the old one for free– it still works.” And then you’d call Uncle Z and borrow his truck to go get it. In return, you’d fill Uncle Z’s gas tank, and make a huge potato salad or a cheesecake for Aunt Y’s next party.


          2. @ cliff arroyo
            Those values may have been scarce at the individual level, but they were abundant – and considered the norm – at the societal level. THAT is what made the difference.


            1. “they were abundant – and considered the norm – at the societal level”

              Not so much… the Florida town I grew up in was founded only about 30 years before I was born (it had been a bunch of scrub and palmettos and some mangrove swamps before that) and the closest places with longer histories were well over 20 miles away (at a time when that was a greater distance than now).
              The families with the longest history in the area tended to be poor and only semi-domesticated crackers… (you need to know Florida to really understand that…).

              In the broader society, yeah the values were more conducive to social stability which includes having strong social institutions. Both conservatives and liberals began retreating from public in the 1970s for different reasons (not very good on either side) and abandoned and weakened the social fabric that makes things like good public schools possible.


        2. methylethyl, have you been reading Clarissa’s blog when she was discussing Bauman’s books?

          ‘Liquid Modernity’ is his most important work, but I needed to read several other books of his in order to return to LM and understand it much better than at the first attempt.

          Bauman’s ‘Society is under siege’ includes most ideas of his work and is much easier to read than LM. Loved it very much and think you could be interested in it too.

          He also wrote a short book – ‘Community’ re imagined / real communities today vs. the past.


          1. I have seen some of her discussion of them, I think? But I have not read any of Bauman’s work, and am not immediately familiar with it. What I know intimately is our own family’s experience: that we have a good life on a poverty income, because we live in a radically counter-cultural way– a way that is far more consistent with the lifestyles of my great-grandparents than with the lifestyles of our contemporaries.

            If you’re poor in America, you can still have a decent life. What you can’t afford is the Tinder-and-Netflix, screw-your-oppressive-parents, get-divorced-if-you’re-unhappy, go-out-drinking-on-weekends, rack-up-college-debt-while-partying, move-to-another-city-for-a-better-job-every-three-years, HGTV-house-hunters sort of lifestyle that Americans somehow think they’re entitled to. What you CAN afford is to help out your relatives and neighbors for free even if they annoy you and you don’t like their politics (and in turn, they’ll help you!), be an active part of a serious religious community, keep your pants on until you’re married and then be sexually exclusive with your spouse for life (this saves you a fortune!), live near your family, learn to cook, forget ever buying anything new, and be proud of the traps you’ve smartly avoided, rather than the things you own: being debt-free is so much nicer than having leather seats in your car.


            1. This is tangential, but if I’d wanted to live near family who’d reserve the right to butt in my life forever because they babysat my kids or found me a used washing machine, and where I’d have to constantly struggle despite being highly educated, I wouldn’t have emigrated. I came to the US specifically so I’d be able to afford peace and quiet, enough space to not be constantly encroached upon, and the ability to outsource menial tasks. I moved because I wanted a good, comfortable life. I left a cramped, crowded, frugal existence on purpose because I could, and because there’s no medal awarded for being miserable.

              And why is keeping pants on till marriage important for anything? This level of chastity is unheard of in Europe. The relaxed attitude toward sex is the one thing I miss about Europe. I will never get over how weirdly precious Americans are about sex.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. I am not suggesting that you need to do it, and I am not judging you for your life choices. I’m saying those are the things WE ACTUALLY DO, and have done, in order to have a decent existence, marriage, and family on a poverty level income in America. These are the things that have made it possible.

                It is certainly possible to have a decent life following your preferences in America. But what is NOT possible is having a decent life in the US while prioritizing the things you prioritize, AND being poor. Those values, priorities, and habits only work out well for people who already have money. Money’s a great cushion for risk.

                If you cannot see why sexual liberation, getting away from your family network, etc. constitute risks, perhaps you need to spend more time getting to know people outside your tax bracket. It really is a different world.


              2. LOL I love how you couldn’t help but sneak in a righteous jab at the end!

                The traditional family you describe relies on the misery and unpaid labor of women. Birth control and sexual liberation are the necessary steps to women not being everyone’s maids and punching bags. If you cannot see why “keeping your pants on till marriage” is patriarchal bullshit disguised as a call to family preservation, you need to spend more time getting to know people outside your narrow circle. It really is a different world.

                Liked by 1 person

              3. I think it’s a cultural difference we are experiencing here. Like xykademiqz, I grew up in the tight-knit family culture described here. I had to get married against my will while I was in my teens. I would have gone to the ends of the world to escape the culture I grew up in. But as I said, there might be a cultural difference at play that makes this culture horrid when we do it in Ukraine but a lot better when people do it in the US. In the US, there’s respect for private space, for instance, and, I assume, people you have never met don’t arrive with 3 kids and a dog to spend a month at your small cramped apartment. (True story).

                What’s interesting, though, is that this culture-approved version of success in America is a lot more accessible to immigrants than native-born Americans. Obviously, the majority of immigrants is not successful. But an enormous percentage of people who thrive in this model are immigrants.

                Liked by 1 person

              4. Wow.

                It’s like you completely missed that this is a discussion about what options are viable for poor vs. rich people, in favor of getting your hackles up about a perceived criticism of your lifestyle and values.

                Having children out of wedlock, when you’re poor, is a financial apocalypse from which most people will never recover.

                If you’re blind to that reality… there’s probably nothing I can say that would help you understand. We effectively live in parallel realities.


  3. “An English speaker wouldn’t conceive of noticing anything of the kind.”

    English speaking nations tend to have social safety nets/welfare systems that allow even the very poor to afford a family without being forced to emigrate etc.

    It seems unfair to point out that English speakers aren’t noticing something that really doesn’t happen around them very much at all, let alone enough for them to notice a trend that happens someplace else.

    And besides, judging from what we are seeing in the communist system of China etc it isn’t neoliberalism that makes family life a luxury, but rather that the society is governed by a system that concentrates power and wealth to such a degree that practically only the ruling class live in sufficient luxury to afford anything, which really means that the problem stems from centralised concentrative power systems of which neoliberalism is but one kind.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The US students want to virtue-signal, the others want to discuss matters of substance, or substance that matters.


  5. “I come from a long, proud line of Florida crackers!”

    I partly identify that way myself (born there with one foot in the country) and there were some great people there… but when it comes to rural Florida… we both know some real bad eggs went into that cake….


    1. “one foot in the country”

      And I hasten to add the worst of all, the ones everybody (town and country and rich and poor and black and white) hated most were recent northern transplants (aka Yankees) especially those that went around telling everybody things were done ‘up north’… Tourists were okay for the economy and the snowbirds (who lived there just a few months out of the year) at least weren’t around all the time but the Yankees… yech….


    2. Oh, sure. I’m not about to pretend they’re all saints or anything, it just seems like the ratio of bad eggs to allright people is about the same everywhere– rural, urban, suburban, native, transplant, whatever.


      1. “it just seems like the ratio of bad eggs to allright people is about the same everywhere”

        A conversation with my brother ten or so years after we’d graduated high school…

        Me: Whatever happened to (your old friend from high school)?
        Brother: He’s in prison.
        (rinse and repeat that for just about all his old friends… who were, I hasten to add, far from the worst in town, the biggest success story was the one working at a gas station).


        1. // Me: Whatever happened to (your old friend from high school)?
          Brother: He’s in prison.

          Were all those friends white?

          Much is said re imprisoned blacks, yet your story made me wonder about the possible ‘school to prison pipeline’ in poor white areas. Would be fascinating to look at statistics comparing poor blacks vs whites of the same socio-economic status.


          1. “Were all those friends white?”

            Segregation was still a modern memory so… yeah.
            Where I went to high school, blacks and whites could be what you might call ‘school friends’ but they didn’t hang out together much after school though there was some mixing around the edges of the black neighborhood (very close to the high school).
            I’m not even sure what most of them went to prison for…. I think there were some drug charges (drug smuggling was one of the economic pillars of the area) but also some burglary and… stuff.


        2. Yikes! On the other hand, I’d point out that we’ve known a number of people who belonged to that milieu (though it’s not the crowd I grew up with) and… (shrugs) eh. They’re in and out of prison for drugs and DUI, and you know which ones to stay away from. And sometimes you try to help them out and they end up doing half the job, taking the money, and punking out and pawning the tools. But the biggest psychopaths I’ve ever met have all been middle-class with clean criminal records. I think there’s a distinct class difference in how antisocial behavior manifests: if you’re poor, it’s go-to-jail stuff. If you’ve got money, you don’t rob houses and you can hire a lawyer to fight your DUI charges so you’re far less likely to go to prison.


  6. Actually, people talk about this problem using English all the time. As for poverty not being a problem, my building’s janitor got evicted because of paying his wife’s medical bills, he couldn’t also afford rent. Now the rules about housing that affect his whole family dictate, effectively, that his wife has to sleep at their daughter’s house and he has to sleep in the homeless shelter. And the daughter isn’t happy about having the wife there, and there’s a concern that she’s just being tolerated for purposes of picking up whatever disability payments may come in. The current configuration of the US is not “family friendly” no matter how much it preaches “family values” and no, just economizing isn’t enough if you’re on minimum wage.


    1. “the US is not “family friendly” no matter how much it preaches “family values””

      IME the more people warble on about “family values” the less they are to be trusted… (and the worse they probably treat their own families).
      And the rules in the US about household makeup and who can sleep where and when and how and why are often unbelievably misguided when not downright inhumane and inhuman…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. // Having children out of wedlock, when you’re poor, is a financial apocalypse from which most people will never recover.

    I do not see the connection between nonmarital sex and children.

    Seems to me that unmarried women who have children chose to do that. Depending on the situation, I would (dis)agree with this choice, but it is a choice.

    Actually, in Israel people who are poor are religious populations who ‘keep their pants on’ and then proceed to have 5-10 children within a marriage.

    More secular population has plenty nonmarital sex and around 3 children. And they are richer.

    So, the connection between poverty and chastity in Israel goes in the opposite direction in most cases from what you describe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I do not see the connection between nonmarital sex and children.”

      Explaining the connection between sex and children to fullgrown adults on the internet is above my pay-grade. Try asking your parents?

      I am NOT arguing that chastity makes you wealthy. I’m not holding my breath for the chastity fairy to drop off my check.

      I am arguing that if you are poor anyway, chastity is one of several things that moves the dial between living in a perpetual trainwreck until you die, and having an actually decent life.

      Middle- and upper-class liberal Western values are luxury goods that the poor cannot afford. That’s not a judgement on the rightness or wrongness of your values. It’s a simple statement that your values are not universally applicable.

      Middle-class people in America can afford airline travel now and then. This is a luxury good. I’ve never even been middle-class, but I’ve flown the equivalent of three or four times round the earth in my adventurous youth. If every human being on earth flew as much as I have, the whole planet would be rapidly stripped of mineral resources, and the oceans would boil with the waste heat. That lifestyle is not, and cannot be, accessible to all. That’s not a value judgement. It’s reality. Reality is not whatever you want it to be. So when people say “air travel is unsustainable and unscalable” I don’t get offended and loudly insist that MY level of air travel is right for everyone, and people who don’t fly around the world at least once are oppressed by the patriarchy. I know it’s unsustainable. I also don’t regret my travels: they shaped me in ways I’m eternally grateful for. They were an amazing opportunity and I’m still gobsmacked that I had that privilege. I don’t make a religion of it and insist that everyone must do likewise. I don’t assume such opportunities land in everyone’s lap as a matter of course, or that we’re all entitled to them.

      Why is it so hard to apply the same concept to your social values? I don’t expect you to adopt my lifestyle. If you’ve got the money, do what you want– it is none of my business, I am not advocating rules for you to live by, or persecuting you for your life choices. I’m trying to point out that your values wouldn’t work for me. I can’t afford them. For people of my class and income, those values are a disaster. And they’re a disaster in almost the same way that the plastic packaging that we don’t even think about is a disaster in every place on earth that doesn’t have modern landfills and regular trash pickup, and American-style democracy is a disaster when we try to impose it on tribal cultures, and subsidized American corn is a disaster when it’s shipped in to poor African countries as “aid”.

      The time and place and class and culture you were born into are a gigantic historical anomaly: thank your lucky stars for it! Things work for you, that don’t work for everyone. Your insistence that your values should in fact be the norm for everyone is like finding a gold nugget the size of your head while out fishing, becoming rich from it, and then denigrating everyone who’s not rich, because why don’t they just go fishing and get rich like you? …and then getting offended when other people suggest that, perhaps, that’s not a realistic thing for most people to bank on, even though it worked great for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “this culture-approved version of success in America is a lot more accessible to immigrants than native-born Americans”

    Well, people who go half-way around the world to get away from their families are, by definition, motivated and unlikely to let soft feelings get in their way…. families that immigrate are another question and can sink or swim together (and their kids will likely bolt the first opportunity they get).

    “I do not see the connection between nonmarital sex and children”

    Really? Don’t they teach biology in Israel?

    More seriously there are a lot of cultural factors that mean that behavior that can work in one culture won’t in another. Pre-marital sex has been the norm in Poland for…. many, many generations now. If anything a woman in her early 20s who’s a virgin is liable to be thought of as dangerously naive…
    But on the other hand marriage was more or less a given (young adults having sex assume that marriage will follow a pregnancy…. which brings about its own set of problems but that’s off topic.

    The US is a very bad country to become a single parent by accident in. There often won’t be much family support and social support tends toward the humiliating and insufficient….

    What works for the highly education with lots of social and educational capital will be catastrophic for those already on the edge of poverty.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is a crucial point. It’s definitely unfair and simply wrong to promote a lifestyle that only a small minority can afford, financially, psychologically, emotionally, etc.

      It’s so similar to what we are seeing during COVID. Everything is done to make things convenient to a small class of people who already have everything.


    2. Having a lot of kids is highly correlated with poverty all across the world, marriage or no marriage. Standard of living goes up when women, regardless of marital status, are able to get education, jobs, reliable contraception that doesn’t hinge on men’s compliance (so not condoms, but IUDs and similar) as well as have access to abortion, and can therefore control the number of kids they have.

      In the US, we have this weird combo of nonexistent social programs that would help struggling young parents coupled with religion-based puritanism that makes both abortion and many (most?) methods of contraception an anathema, even if one can afford them.


      1. When you’re poor, with no hope of ever not being poor, children are wealth. Consistently, all over the world, almost entirely independent from availability of contraceptives, birthrates go down after prosperity, not before.

        You’re confusing cause and effect.


        1. I have a friend who grew up in Africa in a tribal village. They cooked on an open fire outside and brought water from the well. She is one of 11 children. Everybody around her had a family like that.

          Now she lives in the US, and she and her husband are somewhere in the top 10% of income. He’s also from Africa, has 6 siblings.

          But they have one child here in the US. It’s obviously not a financial issue. I asked and she says bringing up children in the US is a completely different thing. It’s exhausting. Your whole life goes into it. She says she wouldn’t even describe it with the same word.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. This is true. But in the US at least, until fairly recently, it is also true that children contributed a lot to the family. My grandmother was one of 11 children. Her parents homesteaded 200 acres of dreadful pine scrub. They lived in a tarpaper shack with no running water or electricity, during the Great Depression. Her Dad worked as a part-time sheriff’s deputy, and picked up other odd jobs when he could. The family raised or shot a lot of their own food– so from a very early age, the girls milked the cow, fed the pigs and chickens, and worked in the garden, and boys hunted small animals (squirrels, possum, turtles). They all fished and gigged frogs and looked after the younger kids. When the oldest boy was 9, he started working for his uncle’s dry-goods store after school, and at 11 or 12 quit school entirely to work there (most of the money he made was actually from pool sharking, but mother didn’t know that). All of the girls in turn started doing paid secretarial work at their school at 14 or 15, and then went to work as telephone operators (except my favorite aunt who worked as a wartime weld-checker at the shipyard), still contributing to the family, until they got married. Their father died before sixty, and in most places in the US today, this would leave the mother destitute, trying to scrape by on her husband’s barely-existent social security. But she did well, never having worked a wage-paying job in her life. The eldest son never married, and after a stint in the military moved back home, bought several rental properties, sold the 200 acre homestead, and managed the proceeds so that he and his mother lived comfortably. By the time she needed help managing the domestic side, the eldest daughter was widowed with no children, and she also moved back home. The two eldest siblings took care of her until she died. The other 9 kids all married and had 1-4 kids each. Every one of them was comfortably middle-class in adulthood. By the time they were having families, none of them were involved in agriculture, they were prosperous enough that they didn’t need the children’s labor to survive, child labor laws went into effect for real around 1938, and… it just wasn’t a thing anymore. So they had smaller families. You see the same pattern in a lot of 1900-1940 memoirs like Ralph Moody’s books. Kids are a big part of a family’s finances, at least among the working class.

            As for birth control– I suspect (but can’t prove) it was only a small part of the equation. This could easily be different in other countries and cultures of course. But the common pattern in the 50s in the US, when my grandmother’s generation was having families was: breastfeeding was unfashionable, so women were not benefiting from lactational infertility. The kids they had were very close in age as a result. Once they’d had 2, 3, or (heaven forbid) 4 kids in quick succession (they had all been 2.5-3 years apart, like clockwork. Their own kids were more like 1-1.5 years apart), they were suffering serious physical problems as a result: anemia, nutritional deficiencies, hernia, prolapse, incontinence, and really difficult births. It was not unusual at that point for doctors to recommend a “therapeutic” hysterectomy. They all had this surgery. It seemed to be an indirect result of prosperity: poor people couldn’t afford baby formula. But also, they liked the part where each of their kids could have their own bed and didn’t have to work to keep the family afloat. The market for kids’ toys exploded in the 50s– all these parents who’d grown up in the Depression era were really keen on the idea of childhood. So when the doc said “You really shouldn’t have any more, let’s schedule the surgery” they all went for it.


        2. First, I said correlation, not cause and effect. Second, in many places in Africa and South Asia, it has been shown that you first introduce birth control and education for girls, and then fewer kids and prosperity follow. Third, I grew up in a country where how people live would be considered abysmal by US standards, and still no one in urban areas had more than 1-2 kids because contraception and abortion were not anathema, and because people understood you had fewer children in order to invest more in those you did have. Even people working the land in rural areas would have 3, maybe 4 kids, not 10. My father (now in mid-70s) grew up in a one-room house made from dirt in a poor mountain region; he told me that his parents decided that four kids was enough and had no more. Those four went to school and improved their lives. I don’t care that you will disagree, but poverty doesn’t imply people will invariably crank out children because poverty doesn’t imply ignorance of how the world works, nor does it imply a lack of hope for a better life.

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          1. In the USSR, we didn’t have prosperity. But nobody in my parents’ circle had more than two kids. My mother’s friends had 15+ abortions. A couple of friends had 25+ abortions.

            The answer isn’t prosperity. It’s female employment. When and where women have a choice, the majority doesn’t choose to have many children. Some do but the majority doesn’t. This is why demographers say there are methods to lower birthrates. But there are no methods to raise them. Once they go down in a society, they aren’t going back. The USSR is gone but the birthrates in Ukraine are still at the same level, even lower. In Russia they are artificially kept a bit higher thanks for mass migration from Central Asia where women don’t get a choice.

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