This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Maximizing the Potential of Children

It's a cliché that children are the future, yet adults are often so wrapped up in themselves that they don't pay attention to the truth of that simple idea. Two stories this week made me think about this. The first is a report just issued by UNICEF suggesting that in relative terms, children in the US are very nearly the poorest and most deprived among all of the developed countries, with only Romanian children being in less good shape. As the Huffington Post notes, there are a variety of methodological issues in the analysis, but the overall lessons are probably pretty solid.
Sheldon Danziger, the director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, said the report does a good job of summing up what many economists have believed for a long time. "Among rich countries, the U.S. is exceptional," he said. "We are exceptional in our tolerance of poverty."
Danziger said he was especially impressed by a figure showing Canada and the U.S. have the same relative child poverty rate -- 25.1 The chart also showed that after government taxes, benefits and other social programs, Canada's child poverty rate drops to 13.1, while America's barely budges, hovering above 23.1 percent.
"Basically, other countries do more," he said. "They tend to have minimum wages that are higher than ours. The children would be covered universally by health insurance. Other countries provide more child care."
The second story comes from The National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. Researchers there note that according to data from the US National Surveys of Family Growth, men with the lowest levels of education are most likely to have become a father prior to their first marriage. This is an interesting topic in and of itself since premarital childbearing is almost always discussed in terms of mothers, not fathers. But, with rare exceptions, all of those babies have a father and without the support of both parents the odds of the child's success in life diminishes. Discouragingly, even among the most educated, there has been an increase in premarital fatherhood in the US.
Regardless of whether men first married in the 1990s or in the 2000s, the percentage who enter a first marriage with children declines with increased levels of educational attainment. Men with less than a high school education were the most likely to enter a first marriage with at least 1 child (41%) followed by men with a high school degree (34%) and men with some college (28%). Men with at least a Bachelor's degree were the least likely at only 6%. The greatest change occurred among men with at least some college--the percentage of fathers entering marriage with children doubled among those with some college (13% vs. 28%) and those with a Bachelor's degree (3% vs. 6%). 

None of these trends bodes particularly well for children in the US.

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