Sunday, June 12, 2022

Difference in Rewards

I mentioned recently that the rising generation may not be that different from those which have gone before, under "Stray Thoughts." I focused there on rebellion and authority, but the idea may generalise. I have long thought that the differences between one generation - of Boomers, or Millennials, or whatever - and the ones before and after are largely journalism and pop-social science games. Even though the generation born in the mid-90s and after looks very different and shows some measurable distinctives, I think even they are much like previous groups.

What is different is that as society changes, different behaviors get rewarded, so who gets famous, who gets rich, who gets noticed, who wields social power - all these change slightly or greatly in response.  If you change the pay scale or the strike zone or the rules on traveling, different athletes will succeed.  Yet the number of athletic people who have the drive to excel will likely be about the same, decade after decade. We likely have the same number of busybodies, but our cultural and especially legal punishments of those they want to interfere with have made them more powerful. HR doesn't want the company to come under increase regulatory scrutiny or worse, get sanctioned, and focuses on that rather than on getting quality hires and keeping quality personnel. This reinforces itself.

Whether we have more criminals is affected by drug use, and the rewards for crime versus the risks for engaging in it. Head injury and other trauma likely has some effect.  But the percentage of people at risk to be dangerous likely doesn't change much.  What their rewards and incentives are is what changes.

There may be secular changes over time related to culture and teaching, but I don't think these change quickly. Stuff makes the news and lots of people try to make a living commenting on how the world is changing, so we are likely given a false picture of what is changing and what is not. I will stick with my view that we underestimate genetic influences, and underestimate rewards and punishments for behavior, and overestimate the effect of fashions in education and both the popular and classical arts. 

Young people marry less often and have fewer children now. (James just had a post that touches on family formation.) There are a hundred theories as to what cultural changes are driving this, and if you talk to the individuals involved they can describe at length what they think their reasons are. And young people in other regions, classes, or countries will give different reasons. But marriage is no longer an economic necessity, and children are more and more expensive, especially when taking the measurement of insuring that they have a life that looks about as prosperous as yours, or better. That is true in an increasing number of countries. Looking for cultural explanations may be a form of evasion, of not admitting that what we have done in terms of zoning and housing and educational costs is most of the explanation.


sykes.1 said...

A major reason for the decline in marriage and child raising, maybe the only reason, is that we put women in school during much of their prime fertility years, 15 to 25. Women exhibit a very strong negative correlation between years in school and number of children. PhD's usually have no children.

Note that this is cross-cultural and cross-racial. It doesn't matter whether you are Chinese or Muslim or Roman Catholic or atheist.

The ideal family now is two children. That guarantees declining population numbers. But it also reflects the reduction in the opportunities for women to have children.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Many would say "Maybe One," citing the usual spurious environmental reasons.

I don't fault any individual couple's decision not to have children, because I don't know their stories, and it is too easy to leap to conclusions. Yet it is clear that as a culture we have not really decided philosophically that smaller families are better and then done it - that is reversing the cart and horse. Many individuals have smaller families for reasons they may not even see and have justified that post hoc, as we all do about everything. We make decisions only slightly more thoughtfully than an amoeba feeling its way about in search of food, but display enormous rationality (I use the term loosely) explaining why we we absorbed that bit of nutrient or decided on meiosis at that particular time.

Cranberry said...

By this data, from 2019, shows that women with associates' degrees have the fewest children. Of women who have completed college or graduate degrees, women with doctorates and professional degrees have the most. Even the category with the highest TFR, women who do not complete high school, only have 2,791 per 1,000 women.

Pew has noted that women with Ph.Ds are having more children:

Cranberry said...

AVI, I think the decisions may vary by income. Childhood has become a rather joyless pursuit of The Perfect College Application for the educated middle class. Such a pursuit is expensive and demands extreme parental dedication.

The Chinese government claimed private education companies were increasing the cost of having children. I believe them--they have their eyes on China's population. We should look to ours. If you think your child will never have a fair shot, unless you can pay for extra instruction, would you decide to have a child?

And I'm not certain they aren't right. Colleges look at applications "in context." So if you come from an under-resourced school district, you might be able to have a healthy childhood. If you come from an expensive district, you might be expected to be a perfect over-achiever since middle school. So the high school graduates in the so-so school district might be facing a different hill to climb than the Middlebury graduates (with student debt load of their own) the next town over.

Grim said...

"Of women who have completed college or graduate degrees, women with doctorates and professional degrees have the most."

Anecdotally, I know quite a few female Ph.D.s. Some of them are childless, but several of them have multiple children and one of them has more children than anyone else I know except for my radically Baptist cousin -- and they're tied. (My cousin is also reasonably well educated, in medicine rather than the humanities, being a physicians' assistant.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I recall hearing about that demographic change in women with advanced degrees starting more than ten years ago. It did not used to be the case, but it is an encouraging sign, certainly. Anytime people are bucking cultural expectations in order to do what they personally find fulfilling I tend to approve.

Cranberry said...

Well, but then again...

If you look at the distribution of doctoral degrees by gender since 1950, many more women are completing such degrees today. That means, perforce, that you can't say that they're comperable to the few women who completed such degrees in 1950.

As for the decision to have children, once it became possible to decide whether to have children, many women decided not to have children. As earlier generations did not have that choice, it isn't possible to conclude that today's young people are less willing to get married or have children than earlier generations.

This is a worldwide phenomenon.

The Yale essay credits increasing female autonomy for the decline of marriage.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, the stereotype used to be that women couldn't get men to "commit."

The reverse has been more true (neither version is entirely true) for a long time. I think i first heard it offered as a theory in the 90s - and it caught me by surprise then but seemed quite possible after consideration.