Saturday, January 19, 2008

Paris Hilton, the New Princess Margaret

Two decades ago Maryln Schwartz published A Southern Belle Primer: Or Why Princess Margaret Will Never Be a Kappa Kappa Gamma. Like The Official Preppy Handbook, though not quite as informative, the Primer was a decent piece of pop sociology.

Princess Margaret is five years dead, and I imagine most Southern belles have never heard of her. So a slightly updated version of the original has been released: A Southern Belle Primer: Or Why Paris Hilton Will Never Be a Kappa Kappa Gamma.

The reason Princess Margaret could not have been a KKG in the early 1960s was that she could be seen (often) walking and smoking at the same time. Belles of that era did smoke, but not while moving. That particular rule has been relaxed quite a bit, and belles are much less likely to smoke now in any case.

Of all of Paris Hilton's many transgressions against bellehood I am not sure which one was thought to keep her out of Kappa Kappa Gamma. The fact that she never finished high school, much less attended college, would surely have made it difficult.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hindus Beat Buddhists in the Personal Networks of My College Students

In the world there are almost three times as many Hindus as Buddhists. But when I asked my class how many knew Hindus personally and how many knew Buddhists personally, Hindus beat Buddhists about 9 to 1. I think this means professionals who immigrated from India are much more likely to have kids in mid-USA college-track high schools than are Buddhist immigrants.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Does French Fertility Rest on an Overseas Foundation?

European fertility has declined to scary levels -- well below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. The average fertility in the European Union is 1.52. The one exception has been France, where the fertility level rose to 1.98 last year, surpassing Ireland as the most fertile country in Europe.

However, France, unlike other European countries, includes significant overseas territories in its official population. Among these are French Guiana, an official department (state) of France located on the north coast of South America. I have not been able to find separate fertility figures for French Guiana. I did find, though, that from 1990 to 2000, of all nations with above-replacement fertility rates, only Israel and Suriname had a fertility increase. Suriname is a neighbor and cultural cousin of French Guiana.

My guess is that the fertility rate in continental France is not actually rising. They face the same scenario of population decline that all the other EU nations do.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We're Having a Baby (Boomlet)

The United States had enough of a surge in baby-having last year to reach the magic number of 2.1 babies per woman, the average needed to keep the population steady. No other industrialized nation is near that number and some, especially Japan and Italy with fertility rates of 1.3, are scarily low. Mike Stobbe's Associated Press story reaches first for the "babies are bad" story line -- poor, uneducated people had babies because they couldn't get abortions or didn't have sense enough for birth control, or immigrants come to have babies so their kids can be citizens. If only were were Europeans, the story runs, then we could have better family support -- and fewer kids.

Buried in the story, though, is a happier suggestion: we are having more babies because we want to. We like babies. We are more optimistic and more religious. Mexican women in Mexico have 2.4 children, but when they come here they see a brighter future, and have 3.2. The most religious regions of the country, the South and Midwest, have the highest fertility rates. And "white American women have more children than white European -- even though many nations in Europe have more family-friendly government policies on parental leave and child care."

We are now having the same number of babies per year that we did in the Baby Boom years (about four million annually), despite having more than a million abortions a year.

We have had boomlets before -- we had a couple of years in the early '90s that matched this number of births. If we have the predicted recession, the birth rate will probably go down a bit. Still, NATO demography is a doom and gloom story. Except for us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It Could Have Said, "Smart Parents Have Kids Young"

Another upside down story from yuppieland. The Washington Post has "Bringing up babies, and defying the norm: some young college grads embrace parenthood as their peers postpone it." The mere striplings interviewed for the story were a dewy 27 and 28 when they had kids, and their husbands were older. The interesting statistics with the story is that about a third of college-graduate moms are under 30, vs. about two-thirds of less-educated moms.

By any world-historical norm, having your first child in your late twenties is about a decade later than average for women, so the lamentations over the youth of these aberrant moms should be muted. Still, they are doing something unusual in their social class, which makes them feel odd. In the world of 40-somethings with toddlers, they felt like kids themselves.

I thought the better response came from Amir and Luma Eftekhari, who had their first child at 29. When they take their kids to tot soccer, the older mothers "sometimes seem envious about the Fairfax County couple's head start on child-rearing."

The Gruntled kids were born when we were 28, 29, and 34. Starting earlier meant we could have more kids than most of my colleagues, who wait longer. We had more energy when they were little. We will be in the prime of our careers when the last tuition is paid and the nest is empty. We should be able to get to know our grandchildren for a long time.

I don't feel the least foolish for being among the first in our group to have kids. I feel as if I bought McDonalds or Microsoft at $10 a share, and now am enjoying the fruits of being ready to take the plunge.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Electoral Difference Between the Religious Right and the Secular Left

The difference is that the the religious right might not vote, whereas the secular left almost always does. The religious right has another hope for the world besides politics. Before Jimmy Carter in 1976 fundamentalists and evangelicals commonly did not vote, especially at the national level. Jimmy Carter created a wedge between evangelicals, who tended to vote for him, and fundamentalists, who still did not vote. In response, Republican activists created the Moral Majority, and found a fundamentalist minister to be their public face, to create a fundamentalist voting bloc.

But the Christian right, and the broader religious right, is still prone to take elections one at a time. They not only decide who to vote for for religious reasons, they decide whether or not to vote at all based on who is running. In 2004 there were 7 million evangelicals who did not vote, according to evangelical pollster George Barna. I thought at the beginning of this endless election that there would be even more this time. With Giuliani, Romney, and McCain the leaders on the Republican side, and no evangelicals of note of the Democratic side, I could see how the most religious voters might just sit out the 2008 election. When Pat Robertson endorsed Giuliani, it was clear that the old Christian right leadership had been absorbed into normal party politics.

And then came Huckabee. Mike Huckabee won Iowa by mobilizing evangelical voters to actually go to the caucuses. If he can do it twice -- say, in South Carolina, or make a big showing in Michigan, where Robertson Christianized the local GOP in the '80s, those 7 million missing voters might come back and vote after all.