# A Falsehood: The poor and the dark skinned have more babies than the rich and the light skinned

Good morning and welcome to another installment of “The Falsehoods.” Today’s falsehood is the assertion that the poor have more babies than the rich, or that the poor just have more babies to begin with. In comparison to … whatever.

Now, before you rush off to the Internet and find some table or graph that shows higher fertility in women of lower SES than higher SES, or a high birth rate among Nigerians, I want to acknowledge right away that such evidence is easy to find, and it is easy to take that evidence and construct the obnoxious sentence that titles this post. Yes, that is all easy to do. Living in a world of falsoohosity is always easier. Thinking is hard.

The passing of Ted Kennedy is ironically linked to this post. The first piece I ever wrote on this question was a handout to use in class, and it was inspired by Ted Kennedy and his family on the night Kennedy beat Mit Romney in the race for Senator of Massachusetts. I had assigned a (then) recent publication on reproductive success and wealth in the Unites States, showing that rich Americans had more offspring than the average American.2 That reading had inspired anger among many of my (privileged snot faced Harvard3) students who were sure that Welfare Mothers(tm) were sucking all the wealth out of this nation by converting cuckold dollars into little dark skinned babies.

I sat there that evening, reveling in Kennedy’s success in beating the Mormon businessman Romney. Teddy got up on stage and did a little acceptance speech with a few of his relatives standing around him. Then he called more relatives up on stage. And more. And more. And more. And more. The crowds continued to clap and cheer, and Kennedy continued to victory salute the crowd and he was beaming as only he could beam. And more came relatives up on stage.

And I’m sitting there thinking: Hmmm… the final great disaster to hit the Kennedy family is going to be this stage collapsing under the weight of Joe Kennedy’s Reproductive Success…..

This falsehood … that poor people are out reproducing rich people … is important and interesting in a number of ways. For one thing, it exposes people’s race-based biases and fears. The anger that is expressed at me when I suggest that this is a falsehood is second only to the anger that results from my stance on gun control.1 I find that fascinating. Another, related reason this is interesting is because it exposes people’s ability to maintain their strongly held beliefs and to base those beliefs on the most tenuous or unrelated information. For instance, people are sure that poor people have more babies than rich people because it is well known that the fertility rate in Nigeria is through the roof and over the top, but that White American Middle Classers are reproducing at a rate that is lower than replacement. However, this comparison is wrong for so many reasons that a rational person hearing the argument must surely feel sorry for the person making it.

In fact, let’s take this third world part of the argument as the focus of today’s falsehood post. We can deal with other parts of the “poor people breed like rabbits” falsehood at another time. Let’s start out by looking closely at the White Middle Class American vs. Nigerian (or other third world) comparison. There is a basic reason that the comparison is faulty which most people don’t redly understand but that I will nonetheless try to explain. The comparison itself is not valid, useful, or interesting. It is a straw man argument using cherry picked “data.”

The reason that the argument is faulty is that Nigeria and Suburban America are not comparable for this variable, or for that matter, for many variables. There are two reasons for this, one you know and one you may not have thought of yet. The one you know with just modest reflection is that the assertion being tested here is that wealth is the key variable in determining number of babies, but suburban US and Nigeria are so different that there must be other variables involved. This is the old “correlation is not causation” problem in a big way. The other difference is a little more subtle but much more important: All wealth is local.

What do I mean by this? Especially, how can I say this in a world which is all interconnected, globalized, and stuff? For several reasons. First, the world is not as interconnected and globalized as you may think it is. The economy in a rural developing country is connected with the economy of the American suburbs via one or two commodities, but the day to day traditional economy of a rural African region tends to operate in spite of those connections, not because of them.

These two factors … lack of common context for the variables and contacts that are tenuous at best … make the comparison silly. To illustrate this silliness, let’s consider some examples that are not as visceral as “the poor will eventually take over the world, they’re having so many damn babies” assertion.

What is the best possible inter-city road and bridge system, and what is the cost of building such a system? In Nigeria and the US, I mean. Compare the two. Very quickly you will find that for each important variable of both road engineering and construction, not to mention administrative requirements and maintenance systems, the two places are different enough that a dollar per mile number is of no value and the comparison is almost impossible. And roads are roads, compared to other things. Like food.

How much effort goes into getting a plate of food on the table? Well, in the US you buy the food, bring it home, and cook it. In rural Africa, you plant the crops, tend them, harvest them, do initial processing, store the food, then do final processing and eventually you put it on your table. The comparison is very difficult. It is made even more difficult when you realize that the first several steps in rural Africa are represented by money in the US. How did you get that money? So, in comparing values (like cost per calories) we are now comparing the value of being a lawyer vs. a Detroit assembly line worker in relation to what is available at the grocery store on one hand, vs. the process of swidden horticulture and usufruct land use on the other. Good luck with that.

If you think comparing babies (N) across cultures is somehow simpler, then please rethink. Babies are the end point of a very complex set of processes that subsume the above mentioned ones and much more, and they are the beginning of an even more complex set of processes.

You just can’t make this comparison.

Even within the US it may be difficult to make these sorts of comparisons.

“Oh, man, those people down in Louisiana are so lucky. It costs them a fraction to build a road per mile of what it costs us in Minnesota…”

“Well,” someone answers, “Labor is cheap in Louisiana because of all the Mexicans and poor people”

“What are you talking about? That’s a crazy thing to say. The reason it is cheaper down there is because they don’t have winters, which totally changes the timing, staging costs, and material costs.”

“Oh yeah? Well, what a bout Nigeria! In Nigeria it costs NOTHING to build a road because everybody there is REALLY poor and RALLY … like, immigrant labor and stuff!!!””

I know that conversation sounds absurd to you, but as someone who has actually lived in a ‘third world’ (African) country where the fertility rate of adult reproducing women who live to old age is higher than for the mythical Middle Class American white lady who is not replacing herself and her husband, I can tell you that the statement that “it is true that poor people have more babies than rich people because in Nigeria, they reproduce like rabbits” sounds a lot like this, or even more absurd.

Let’s put a finer point on the inability to compare with an instructive illustration.

In the place I lived in Africa, there were villages. Most villages were very small, ranging from two up to about 30 people. There were clusters of anywhere from three or four to maybe a dozen villages, and each of these clusters (a “localite”) was an open but coherent economic system, with a minor “chief-ship” which was elected and/or inherited (specifically, it used to be inherited, but then became elected, but everyone would elect the heir unless he was a total jerk, then they’d elect someone else and thereafter that person’s heirs until the next jerk).

The official center of each household in this patriarchal and patrilineal society is an adult man and his wife or wives. A given village may consist of one such household, or a few, but typically if there were more than one this consisted of the main household and that family’s adult children or some other relative with their households. The wealth in such a village needed to be measured as the wealth of each adult married man, as this is how ownership of any wealth related materials was reckoned. This would be measurable in terms of size of crop, number and type of expensive and hard to get metal tools, and livestock.

(It was actually the famous Richard Wrangham who figured out that to get a good estimate of wealth for a village all we had to do was count the chickens, because they were correlated in number with the most stable variable, number of hoes and machetes.)

Within this community there were people with more or less wealth, and the differential wealth was sometimes obvious, like it is in the US. Once measured, it was discovered that the villagers with more wealth tended to have more offspring than the villagers with the lowest wealth. There were individuals exceptions but there was a statistically valid relationship. So, wealth is correlated with reproductive success: More wealth, more reproduction.

But what about the people living in suburban America who clearly have more wealth than these Africans, and have fewer children? Isn’t that the crux of the argument?

Well, no. It is not sufficient (not even close) to claim that middle class suburban Americans are more wealthy than these Africans. The suburban Americans have very little land in crops. They have almost no livestock. Yes, they do have a lot of these metal tools out in the garage, but a) the number and type of tools such as machetes and hoes does not correlate in suburban America with any other measure of wealth, and these tools are largely unused. Have you ever seen a machete that started out 70 cm long and has been worn down by daily use to 25 cm long in a garage in suburban America? The comparison, it turns out, is impossible. The wealthiest household in a particular region of Rural Africa is the wealthiest household there no matter what the people in Peoria or Saint Paul are doing with their hoes. It would, indeed, be very unfair to claim that your average doctor or lawyer living in an American suburb is not wealthy because they have no goats and no plantain gardens. It is also not valid to say that these American suburbanites are wealthier than the rural Africans because you think they are. In fact, that’s worse. At least I didn’t pull my assertion out of my ass like you (the hypothetical you) did!

Funny how when you look at it the other way round it does not work quite the same way.

1My stance on gun control is that we should think about it. Thinking is hard.

2Essock-Vitale SM (1984). The reproductive success of wealthy Americans Ethology and Sociobiology, 5 (1), 45-54

From the abstract:

The reproductive success of 400 very wealthy Americans was contrasted with that of the general American population….The September 1982 issue of “Forbes” magazine contained biographies of the 400 “richest people in America.” The mean net worth of the sample was in excess of $230,000,000 (the range was$75,000,000-$2,000,000,000). For most subjects, the article also specified the number of living children, number of marriages, and current marital status. Sex of the children was only noted for some of the sample. Information from “Who’s Who in America” (1982-83) was used to supplement and verify the Forbes’ information. The report excludes adopted children from all calculations. Statistics pertaining to the fertility of the general US population were compiled from 3 reports of the US Bureau of the Census (1980, 1982a, 1982b). Although selection of an adequate comparison population was problematic, these 400 Americans did appear to have had more children that did the general population. The mean number of children ever born the the “Forbes'” sample was 3.1; the mean age of the “Forbes” sample was 61.7. In contrast, the mean number of children for ever married females in the general population of the “Forbes” 400’s mean age was 2.7. If the “Forbes” sample was restricted to ever married persons 45 years old or older the mean number of children ever born was 3.2…. The survivorship rate of nearly 99% for the children of the “Forbes” sample appeared high by comparison to the rates for their white counterparts, 89% in the 1930s, 93% in the 1940s, 96% in the 1950s, and 97% in the 1960s. When information on the number of children ever born was combined with estimates of survivorship, the expected differences in the number of living children for wealthy women versus others became quite marked. … 3Did I say that out loud? ### More Falsehoods !!! This post is one of a series on the topic of falsehoods. The following is a list of falsehoods posts in order: ## Comments 1. #1 aratina cage August 31, 2009 Whew! I’m so glad you are the one writing this. Taken out of context (as all blog post titles are), the headline looked egregious. 2. #2 Eric Suh August 31, 2009 So your point seems to be that GDP or PPP / capita is a very specific, Western, possibly non-all-encompassing definition of “wealth”. And that correlation and causation are not the same thing. For some reason you paint those who disagree with you with the broad brush of “scared-of-dark-skins-OMG”, which I find quite offensive. Nonetheless, as you say, it does seem like there is a large-scale anti-correlation between PPP/capita (or other definitions of wealth) and fertility rate. This isn’t “cherry picking” of data, these are large-scale studies observing correlation. Perhaps it just means that cultures with outward facing trade and some such have fewer children overall. But that’s just a quibble with the word “wealth” (which has about as much inherent specificity as “happiness”, and is just a stand-in for “PPP/capita” in the Western world). You’re nitpicking the languagevery short summaries of research, which by necessity of brevity are always a little wrong. That doesn’t make them “myths”, in the same way that “the speed of light in a vacuum is constant in all reference frames” is not a myth, just a really simplified written summary. It’s nice that you’re pointing out the potential hazards of the simplified language, as well as bringing up data that shows more complexity in the trends, but bashing those who weren’t aware of such details is not only condescending and rude, but poor pedagogy, if you’re trying to enlighten folks about myths and pitfalls. 3. #3 Stephanie Z August 31, 2009 Eric, it’s one thing when people don’t understand something because they’ve never been taught it before. It’s quite another when they get angry when someone tries to teach them. That anger says there’s an emotional cost to changing what they believe on the issue. You’re welcome to come up with a competing hypothesis on where that emotional investment lies, but calling Greg rude for pointing to the simplest explanation (the racism and classism that’s endemic to our society) is simply validating the observation that people are holding to their beliefs for emotional reasons. 4. #4 greg laden August 31, 2009 [2] Eric, it can, indeed, be very offensive. The whole trope of “those people are going to out reproduce us” comes in many forms, and can be seen in many places in the world. Sometimes it is actually true … some group is systemaqticly having as many babies as possible, but usually that is not what it going on. Compare this difference: The US governmet gives a billion dollars to poor people. Imagine a world in which NO ONE complains that these poor welfare mothers are just going to use this to have more babies. Now, imagine a world where the US government instead gives a billion dollars to rich people (as in the tax cuts, or the bailouts). Now, imagine any realistic version of the world in which ANY ONE says “Oh, man, those CEO’s… they’re just going to go and have babies with this money!!!!! Yes, offensive indeed! 5. #5 frog August 31, 2009 Eric: ‘But that’s just a quibble with the word “wealth” (which has about as much inherent specificity as “happiness”…’ That reminds me of my old anthro mentors comments on measuring “happiness” of a society– that it shows an abysmal ignorance of proper categorization (per Russell). Societies can not be happy or unhappy — only individuals. Therefore “happiness” must be contextual — people exist within societies, so their qualities are relative to their set, given that happiness is a culturally loaded term, and not a simple biological measurement. You can compare societies to societies — same category. You can not compare individuals in one society to those in another for anything beyond biological concepts — you’re going up and down categories like a cat hunting a squirrel. That example is actually a perfect example of Laden’s point — that any such comparison, a la Rousseau, inherently reflects more the ideology of the comparison maker than any meaningful external reality. Are apple trees more fecund than ERV virii? 6. #6 D. C. Sessions August 31, 2009 Lots of interesting examples here for teaching critical reading skills. For instance, “reproductive success” vs. “number of babies.” Or the selection bias in the Essock-Vitale SM paper. The US/Nigerian comparison is a lovely example of “too many confounders to deal with at once” too, as you point out. 7. #7 Greg Laden August 31, 2009 “reproductive success” vs. “number of babies.” That is a planned falsehood essay! 8. #8 Eric Suh August 31, 2009 Greg and StephanieZ, the point I was making is not that there aren’t people who are classist or racist; I’m talking about insulting people who would be swayed by the arguments you’re making, about the mistake of overgeneralizing technical definitions for wealth. There are plenty of people who don’t have backgrounds in economics or anthropology, but who are rational, non-racist, and non-classist who would read somewhere about the anticorrelation between GDP/capita and fertility rate and conclude, “oh, there must be a correlation between wealth and having fewer children.” Why lump them together with people who hold beliefs in vast conspiracies or fear of the unwashed masses? You’re making the mistake of overgeneralizing in the same way they are. And people always have an emotional investment in what they hold to be true, if to varying degrees. People are emotional creatures; making them angry just makes them shut you out. Try a different approach, maybe one that doesn’t call them snobby, elitist, racist, etc., even if they are. Otherwise you’d just be preaching to the choir, and that’s kind of boring and self-serving. As for frog, you’re just waving cultural relativism at me, but it doesn’t really apply. Of *course* things like happiness, utility, and wealth are individual traits that depend on societal context for their definitions. But we can’t measure them at an individual level anyway, and certainly not in absolute quantities, so we always try to measure such things with substitute, relative metrics on aggregates of people, based on people’s behavior and relative valuations of situations, normalizing on variables that might confound comparisons of aggregate measurements. We can’t measure wealth directly either. We have to substitute something else, like amount of property or purchasing power, and measure them in aggregates of people, normalizing for certain traits in the aggregate, such as cost-of-living. Thus the inherent similarities between the two concepts of wealth and happiness, and demonstrating my point that technically, the summary “wealthy people tend to have fewer children” wouldn’t be wrong, for certain definitions of wealth. 9. #9 Greg Laden August 31, 2009 Eric, I basically agree with your premise, but then again sometimes the shock works better. 10. #10 Jim Thomerson August 31, 2009 Paul Colinvoux, in “Fates of Nations”, argues that people tend to have the number of children they can afford, and that the poor can afford more children than the well off. I recall reading that a poor woman in India had to have five children to have a 90% chance that one would still be alive to care for here when she reached age 60. What’s the name of the religious sect in Canada which has a growth rate of 8% per year? They are affluent farmers. Women marry at age 19 and have a child a year until menopause. They have excellent prenatal and postnatal care, and community child raising. When a vilage gets crowded, they buy more land and build an identical village. Everyone packs up to leave, and by lot half move to their house in the new village. The other half moves back into thier old house. 11. #11 D. C. Sessions August 31, 2009 That is a planned falsehood essay! Greg, I can see why you don’t play poker with Ed Brayton. 12. #12 MadScientist August 31, 2009 @Eric Suh: But as Greg pointed out, the international economy is really not all that important to most Africans – they still get along fine in their lives even though they’re not watching Fox News every evening on a 50-inch OLED screen. The main point I think is that you do have that correlation – but that’s all it is, a correlation – it would be silly to make any statements based on that single correlation. In this particular instance Greg points out that many Africans have a measure of wealth which simply will not show up in our economic calculations. Insisting they are all ‘poor’ is silly. Think about it – why do you say they’re poor? Is it because they’re not living like roaches packed into little concrete boxes in the middle of some city or other? Is it because they don’t have cars? What means do you apply to distinguish between rich and poor in such disparate locations as US cities and rural Africa? In other studies there is a correlation between level of education and fertility rate. At least in that case you can hypothesize that people find more interesting things to do than make babies and that may even be a testable hypothesis. Greg had just pointed out information which would falsify the hypothesis of “poor people make more babies”. 13. #13 DDeden August 31, 2009 From the biological viewpoint, rather than the sociopolitical viewpoint… I’d say that during Ice Ages, everybody away from the equator (north or south) gets relatively lighter skin and eyes and (mammoth red) hair, during interstadials the opposite occurs, and since the last Ice Age mostly hit the northern hemisphere, lighter people are found there. The wet equator is the richest productive ecosystem so more people would be expected there, and no strong drought or winter means seasonal hoarding is not advantageous (so no accumulated stashes of goods), while the seasonally dry and cold subtropics/temperate and sub-arctic regions benefit hoarding (except at the rich coasts). 14. #14 Noam GR August 31, 2009 Not thinking things through is easy, but so is name calling and playing the race card. First of all, who said anything about dark people or white people? I’ve lived in South America and poverty is poverty regardless of whether you’re of African or European descent. And nobody is negating that many very wealthy families also have a lot of children. They are statistically insignificant in this discussion, which is about the problem of overpopulation in places that have a hard time sustaining the people that already live there as it is. The question is between the middle class (not the “white” middle class, whatever that is) and those living bellow the poverty line. There may be cultural differences between middle classes all over the world–I have no use for a goat–, but I think we can all agree that there is such a thing as a person who lives comfortably and one who cannot afford to clothe his children. Seeing as statistics do show that people living in places bellow this poverty line tend to have more children than those who do not, I don’t see where the argument is. You can argue over the implications, causes, etc. of why this pattern emerges, but I don’t see what would drive you to be so passionate about negating this reality. This isn’t comparing apples and oranges as you imply, this is comparing how many babies people have vs. their ability to properly feed, clothe, and educate them as they grow. 15. #15 amphiox August 31, 2009 “reproductive success” vs. “number of babies.” I always thought that the number of grandkids was a much better estimate of reproductive success than the number of kids. Though that is still just an estimate. (And it still falls into the “babies” part of the fallacy) 16. #16 Stephanie Z August 31, 2009 Noam, there’s a lot to respond to there, so I’ll take it point by point. (1) What counts a “playing the race card”? What observations about attitudes toward race would be acceptable to you? (2) If you have not heard people talking about how “they” are outbreeding “us” (substitute your favorite slur for “they”), bless your sheltered little life. It’s not like that, well, most places, really. (3) While poverty may be poverty, racism doesn’t stop affecting you just because you’re poor. The effects tend to be additive. (4) Very wealthy people are never statistically insignificant, particularly when we’re also discussing economies. Their desire to have their more-than-replacement-number children be just as wealthy as they are is one of the drivers of wealth consolidation. (5) The vast majority of places that “have a hard time sustaining the people that already live there” have that problem because (a) they’re currently busy sustaining us at their own expense or (b) they’ve done so historically and they haven’t recovered from the damage we’ve done to their economies and political systems. Sometimes both. (6) You don’t know what the white middle class is? (7) Goats are for dairy and for meat. If you’re not vegan, that statement is pointless snobbery. (8) Living “comfortably” is hardly a universal. Those of us in the U.S. both don’t live comfortably and are grossly extravagant–just by the average standards of a Western European country. (9) How much cloth in what shape is required to meet your definition of clothed? (10) You haven’t defined a poverty line for us to agree or disagree about. You’ve just assumed one exists and that it translates across cultures. (11) Places don’t live below poverty lines. People do. (12) Greg has already told where the argument is. If you don’t see it, it’s because you’re not willing to look. You certainly haven’t refuted it. (13) You haven’t established that a pattern exists. Greg offered citations. Where are yours? (13) Greg didn’t “negate” any “reality.” He offered studies, which you ignored. (14) I would ask you to define “properly,” but first, I’d like to see your credentials for making such a determination. 17. #17 Jim Thomerson August 31, 2009 Am Indian colleague told me that one of the most successful birth-control methods in India was rural electrification. Having light at night cuts the birth rate. I once read that the resources necessary to raise one middle class child in America were enough to raise 55 poor children in India. Read that you could tell how a group of Kung bushmen were doing by observing whether the dogs were fat or lean. As a young person I raised enough goats to pay my way through the university when the time came. Barbacued goat is as good as it gets! 18. #18 Greg Laden August 31, 2009 14: Not thinking things through is easy, but so is name calling and playing the race card. In what way am I playing the race card? The poor = extra babies trope is very much embedded in the while welfare stigma gambit, and that is closely linked with racism (as well as other issues). The fact that not every version of this is “racial” is a poor excuse to ignore the fact that it usually is in US contexts. And nobody is negating that many very wealthy families also have a lot of children. Yes they are, actually. I’m often told that I’m wrong if I note that wealthy Americans have more offspring than the average American. I’ve been bringing this up in intro college classes for 20 years and I’ve had that response on a regular basis. not the “white” middle class, whatever that is The “white” middle class is the ethnically less diverse than the broader population SES segment of privilege and whinging. but I think we can all agree that there is such a thing as a person who lives comfortably and one who cannot afford to clothe his children. Nope. I’m pretty certain that you are imposing your values on others here. Seeing as statistics do show that people living in places bellow this poverty line tend to have more children than those who do not, I don’t see where the argument is. Be more clear about what you are saying when you refer to “places that are below the poverty line”. Define “places” and also define “poverty line” If you are talking about distinct regions of the world and don’t see where the argument is, then please scroll up and read this post, because that is where the argument is. Then, we can at a later time (I’ve only touched on part of the issue here) we can talk about those numbers that you love to pretend to cite (without actual citations) that clearly show (invisibly) what you expect to see. But thanks for your comments, Noam. 19. #19 Greg Laden August 31, 2009 amphiox: Unless you are a worker honey bee!!!! 20. #20 Stephanie Z August 31, 2009 Jim, I prefer mine curried. 21. #21 llewelly August 31, 2009 ok, what about the claim that the dumb are out-reproducing the smart? 22. #22 Jared September 1, 2009 Or worker ant, or any other eusocial organism… Kin selection at it’s most extreme… 23. #23 Noam GR September 1, 2009 Stephanie Z, thanks for the thorough response. (Greg, I saw your post after I wrote my response to Stephanie, but I think it addresses similar issues). Just to be clear, I actually agree with most of Greg’s post. I just think he’s confusing two completely different issues. I also have an issue with the way he presents his argument. 1) Playing the race card is when you automatically assume another person’s objection to your beliefs is based on racial prejudice. In this case, it is the assumption that my concern for overpopulation in economically unstable regions stems from some irrational fear of the world being overtaken by brown people. As I said, poverty is color blind. It doesn’t matter to me if we’re talking about a black ghetto or a white trailer park. 2) This is precisely the condescension I was referring to. I’ve lived half of my childhood in South America and another half in Israel. I’ve thankfully never seen the very worst of poverty or war, but for some time my family was by all means and standards poor (not able to afford a fridge or furniture or even fresh milk, for example). I know the life of an immigrant, and of constantly moving and not giving up until you find a good home– in my case it was Canada. I’m no war child, I’ve never truly starved or been whiteness to a mass-slaughter, I’ve never missed a day of school or had to work in a factory, but I’m far from sheltered. I’m well aware of racial prejudice and that some people do believe that the “dark people” are out to get us. However there are many of us whose concern over the issue arises from genuinely caring for the well being of these “poor and dark skinned” people. High birth rates amongst the poor show up anywhere from Indian ghettos, to hispanic ghettos, to Irish ghettos, to African ghettos (I am using the word ghetto here to define any community that is mostly populated by people living below the poverty line). Be it due to lack of proper education on birth control or cultural differences, this overpopulation exacerbates many of the problems that prevent these people from living better lives (it leads to violence, war, malnutrition, etc.). And yes, poverty begets poverty; violence begets violence; but I’m not some snob who worries about being “invaded”– the only people who are in trouble are those who already live in these places to begin with. My concerns are from one human being to another. It’s not my problem that in your head you’re throwing everyone who disagrees with you into the same extremist pot. 3) Racism is a separate issue. Poverty exacerbates all social problems, and racism obviously is no exception, but it is not the driving force behind poverty. 4) Fair enough. This doesn’t take away from the fact that urban areas in, say, India are vastly overpopulated, and that these families can barely afford clean water for their children, which drives them into crime and prostitution, which drives them into having more unsustainable children, etc. etc. The Royal Family, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about feeding their kids. So even if people on *both* extremes of the economic spectrum tend to have more of them, only one is a cause for alarm in my eyes. 5) True. 6) I know what it is, and it’s a distinction as pointless as the “Redheaded Middle Class”. 7) You misunderstood my point. 8) In broad terms, living comfortably is knowing that at the end of the day you will be able to warm up a bowl of food for you and your kids, that when winter comes you won’t die of hypothermia, that your kids won’t die from a common cold, and that they will be able to pursue an education if they work hard enough at it. How people spend their money in the US is a totally different issue. If you can’t feed your kids because you’re$100 000 in debt because you bought a bunch of cars you can’t afford, that’s not poverty, that’ being an idiot.

9) You for real?

10) You’re deflecting the argument in ridiculous ways.

Of course the definition of a poverty line changes locally. By Alabama standards, “A family of four is considered to be living in poverty if their annual income is below \$21,027,” (AECF) — which would make you incredibly rich in India!
Therefore there’s no such thing as a poverty line.
QED.

?

Um, no. We’re not talking about *cost of living*, we’re talking about poverty, whatever that means *locally*. Whatever is necessary to not starve and to send your kids to school and to not die of hypothermia in the winter.

Or are you now going to argue that technically in Africa you wouldn’t die of Hypothermia in the winter?

I’m well aware that a true definition of poverty is a complex issue, but it’s obvious that at this point you just want to play semantic games. In that case I demand you define “culture”. define “exist”. define “define”. I too can avoid the issue and have you waste time on things that are more or less tacitly understood by both of us.

11) Poor people often live in communities inhabited largely by other poor people.

12) no, he’s confusing two completely different arguments and putting words in people’s mouths. It’s impossible to satisfactorily refute an argument that is based on faulty assumptions to begin with.

13) His sources are there to support a number of arguments that are irrelevant to the core of this issue. When he talks about rural communities, for example, he seems to be missing the point completely. There are indeed places where there is a positive correlation between standards of living and birth rates, but this is because more children are *necessary* to maintain a rural household; what does this have to do with population growth amongst the poor?

And what about “The Reproductive Success Of Wealthy People”? Show me a source that presents a negative correlation between poverty and birth rates; I don’t care how many kids Angelina Jolie is having– she can actually feed them!

Some sources:

— “Countries with the highest fertility rates per woman tended to have a much lower gross national income per capita than countries with the lowest fertility rates.”
from the CMAJ Oct. 2007

— The 2002 World Population Data Sheet released at he National Press Club by the Population Reference Bureau: Of the 41 countries designated as “heavily indebted poor countries” by the World Bank, 39 fall into the category of high-fertility nations, where women, on average, bear four or more children.

— The 48 countries identified by the UN as “least developed” are expected to triple their populations by 2050.

— From a BBC report http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6219922.stm:

“[the UN] concludes that a high birth rate in poor nations contributes to poor health and education and environmental damage.”

“No country has ever raised itself out of poverty without stabilising population growth,” said the group’s vice-chairman, Richard Ottaway MP, at a seminar on population issues.

14) I need credentials to engage in a friendly debate over the internet? — I’m just a student. Next week I’m starting my second year as a double major in physics and literature. I’m thinking about switching to biophysics and to a different school next year though.

24. #24 travc
September 1, 2009

The fear of being “out bred” is really deep. It has been (and still is actually) a frequent implicit (and sometimes explicit) method of conquest. Just where do you think all those religious strictures against birth control come from?

25. #25 ebohlman
September 1, 2009

It seems that the underlying problem here is people’s failure to understand the difference between ecological correlations and individual correlations. If, say, you look at the relationship between a country’s per-capita GDP and the average number of children per household, you’re studying an ecological correlation; your unit of analysis is the country, and your variables are aggregate measures (sums or averages).

On the other hand, if you take the households in a particular country and measure each one’s income and count their children, you’re studying an individual correlation; your unit of analysis is the household, and your variables are individual measurements, not sums or averages.

Individual correlations and ecological correlations measure different things, and therefore can be quite different. The reasons really boil down to a matter of elementary-school arithmetic: the sum of several fractions is not the same as the sum of their numerators divided by the sum of their denominators.

Greg gives a good example of the difference: at the ecological level of countries, there’s a negative correlation between wealth and family size: richer countries tend to have smaller average family sizes than poorer countries. But on the individual level of households within each country, the correlation is positive: wealthier households have more children.

Aggregate measures simply do not behave the same way individual measures do. For example, it’s entirely possible for the average height of Lower Slobovian adults in 2009 to be greater than the average height of Lower Slobovian adults in 1969, despite the fact that adults don’t gain height as they age. That’s because the majority of the Lower Slobovian adults whose heights were measured in 2009 weren’t even born in 1969, and many of the ones who were measured in 1969 are now dead. Longitudinal individual measurements involve the same people at different times (“well, Jim, if the Chargers want to win this game, they’ve gotta put the ball in the basket more than the Slashers”). Longitudian aggregate measurements involve different people at different times.

I’ve actually seen people in race/IQ debates fail to understand this distinction and argue that 1950s studies of race/IQ relationships are still applicable today because “people’s IQs don’t change significantly over time” (they were actually arguing that the question of whether civil rights developments could have reduced the gap could be answered by looking exclusively at studies conducted before those developments).

26. #26 Michael
September 1, 2009

The original interpretation of this that I had was that the best comparison is not between countries but within the same country over time. For instance, much of the gapminder.org data shows this:

A single country improves certain aspects of living conditions (as can be INDIRECTLY signalled by a rising GDP, more education for women, and a few other factors that are associated with a colloquial and hence imprecise sense of poverty)
The average number of children per woman decreases.

Of course there are once again problems with correlation/causation, but do you think it would then be a falsehood to say that improving living conditions in a particular country often reduces the birth rate? (And if so, why?)

27. #27 Chris Pollock
September 1, 2009

Using the example of Ted Kennedy was just silly. It’s like “proving” that cigarettes aren’t bad for you by telling people about your grandfather who smoked a pack a day and lived to the age of 90.

28. #28 Michael Spencer
September 1, 2009

The issue of family income and the comparison Greg makes between Nigeria and the US are interesting for sure. Whoduthunk you can actually wear down a machete?

I am a [fairly-well-off-until-the-recession) white boy. And the prejudice that I see is pervasive and insidious: many cite rising percentage of Hispanics in America, and despair the incidence of spoken Spanish. There’s observable tolerance, to be sure, of brown people with money,which complicates things a bit. Still, there is teeth-gnashing about disappearing white people.

To me, it’s an opportunity to learn Spanish, es verdad?

One more thing: GL’s hyperbolic characterization of certain human populations is charming, not shocking, largely because he has earned his human rights stripes. To the newbies, I urge you to look at some of Greg’s African posts to get a sense of how the guy comes down on the subject.

29. #29 ildi
September 1, 2009

Ok, color me confused. Is it not the case, then, that there is a positive correlation between women’s educational status and their control over their reproductive rates, and the general well-being of a society? If this is true, doesn’t that mean that women in poor countries have more babies than women in rich countries? Isn’t that why access to family planning and the education of girls is so important? If Africans are just wealthy in a different way, when why the heck do they need so much financial support from other countries?

I’m just your average layperson trying to understand a complex issue. Going for shock value is all well and good, but I agree with Eric; I was waiting for the great denouement based on the title, but it appears your main point was to reduce a complex subject to “you’re racist”.

Oh, and Michael:

One more thing: GL’s hyperbolic characterization of certain human populations is charming, not shocking, largely because he has earned his human rights stripes. To the newbies, I urge you to look at some of Greg’s African posts to get a sense of how the guy comes down on the subject.

You may find it charming, but I disagree. I expect the opposite from an expert. I find it difficult to learn from someone who engages in constant hyperbole, which is my main reason for reading scienceblogs.

September 1, 2009

[24]Ebohlman: there’s a negative correlation between wealth and family size: richer countries tend to have smaller average family sizes than poorer countries. But on the individual level of households within each country, the correlation is positive: wealthier households have more children. That’s a good way of putting it. A slightly different way of saying it is that variation exists in different places and one must use the properly constructed framework to be able to measure certain variation. (The averages eliminate the measurable variation.)

September 1, 2009

[25]Michael: The original interpretation of this that I had was that the best comparison is not between countries but within the same country over time.

Right. The “better” comparison is within the came country, but in a large country like the US that is still not sufficient. Subcultures and subregions certainly confound the problem.

Of course there are once again problems with correlation/causation, but do you think it would then be a falsehood to say that improving living conditions in a particular country often reduces the birth rate? (And if so, why?)

Well, this is known as the Demographic Transition, and many cultures have undergone it, are in it, or will undergo it. If I may race-bait a little more …. the WMC culture (white middle class) thinks they are superior because they have fewer babies than the DSP. Historically, WMC culture had more, and now has less, and the difference is as pointed out by Jim, electric lights (where electric lights = overall shifts in culture, technology, and economy).

I’ve not mentioned this yet, but I picked Nigeria because it is often cited, but the Nigerian birth rate has gone down. In regions of the country where it has gone down it is generally thought that access to good health care was the reason.

September 1, 2009

[26]Chris PollockUsing the example of Ted Kennedy was just silly. It’s like “proving” that cigarettes aren’t bad for you by telling people about your grandfather who smoked a pack a day and lived to the age of 90.

Really? I thought it was brilliant. Mainly because I did not use Kennedy as a data pont. I use Essock Vitale’s paper as data. The Kennedy reference was meant to reveal my thought process, place the discussion in some historical context, and make current culture connections in the post.

September 1, 2009

[28]IldiOk, color me confused. Is it not the case, then, that there is a positive correlation between women’s educational status and their control over their reproductive rates, and the general well-being of a society? If this is true, doesn’t that mean that women in poor countries have more babies than women in rich countries?

The second part of your statement is problematic, because although these trends may exist, you’ve gone from a pretty valid causal argument to a comparison where the currencies of comparison are invalid. It is not just education but also access to reprodutive health care, infant health care and general health care. A rural Nigerian woman may shift from high to low fertility when she jist all of these things, just like an urban American woman, but the former does so with less than a HS education, a mud-walled clinic and free condoms dropped from a UN helicopter, while the latter does so with a full blown health care benefit from her job and a Master’s degree.

I’m just your average layperson trying to understand a complex issue. Going for shock value is all well and good, but I agree with Eric; I was waiting for the great denouement based on the title, but it appears your main point was to reduce a complex subject to “you’re racist”.

No, no, no. It’s “You’re an ignorant racist…” : ) Like, for example …

If Africans are just wealthy in a different way, when why the heck do they need so much financial support from other countries?

Thank goodness policy is not decided on what random thoughts drop out of one’s arse the first time they think of an issue. Europeans (WMC) have fucked with Africa 450 years. Learn all those details first, please.

Ildi, I promise I’ll stop engaging in constant hyperbole. I will never, ever, ever, ever do it again

One of the things I left off this post because it is so long is the relatively boring two to four paragraph long description of what a falsehood is and why we use them pedagogically. This leaves a little bit of responsibility on the reader, ildi. Generally, when you read a single blog post you need to understand the broader context. But that’s OK, I can go over again briefly:

A falsehood is not a statement to be evaluated at face value from a logical or rational perspective. It is to be evaluated from the perspective of the meanings and reaction the statement invokes … in relation to what common thinking it jibes with. I once had, in one day, almost the same exact conversation with an Israeli Jew and and Israeli Palestinian (Muslim). Each told me about how the other ethnicity is busy having more and more babies to defeat the opposition in the battle for territory. The statements were hyperbolic, as I recall, but also correct. People of color have been sterilized in the US to keep them from breeding. Statements about that were hyperbolic. But correct.

I assure you that my language is mild here.

34. #34 prochoice
September 1, 2009

I filed this under “sexist overpopulation propaganda”.
After skimming the rest of the page I found out that your commenters are not that bad, one mentioning the connection of WOMEN´s educational level to HER control over reproduction,
another religions´ forbidding of birth control.

Number games with CATHOLIC old families like the Kennedys are a well-known Jesuit propaganda trick against reproductive rights.

September 1, 2009

I just want to point out that Noam’s post (23) was in the holding tank (because of a link?) and has appeared above, please don’t miss it.

36. #36 Kenneth Mark Hoover
September 1, 2009

Good article, thanks for posting.

37. #37 ildi
September 1, 2009

Your blog, dude, you run it however you want.

One of the things I left off this post because it is so long is the relatively boring two to four paragraph long description of what a falsehood is and why we use them pedagogically. This leaves a little bit of responsibility on the reader, ildi. Generally, when you read a single blog post you need to understand the broader context.

Because it’s so much less boring to go the “ignorant racist” route! I get it! I’m just saying that pedagogical approach doesn’t work for me. I read the post that was the genesis of this series, which is why I came back, but I’m too thin-skinned, if you will, to wade through the implied insults to get to your educating moment. It’s already hard enough to be willing to give up preconceived notions.

Good luck with that approach, though!

38. #38 Jay Cee
September 1, 2009

A large part of the post seems frankly irrelevant to the assertion of whether or not these two groups ARE having more/less/the same babies, particularly ones who survive to adulthood. That at the end some factual analysis appears, which then points out the shaky rock it sits on with the problematic nature of obtaining an adequate comparison population, as a citation after a great deal of anecdotes, assertions and hand-waving is something of a relief. Frankly, the rhetoric along these lines that I hear revolves more along the light/dark axis (and the predictions of a Caucasian minority in the US) than the rich/poor one and exploration of that aspect might be profitable as well.

September 1, 2009

Because it’s so much less boring to go the “ignorant racist” route! I get it!

Not less boring, but more funny.

But seriously, I write about race and racism quite a bit. I find the reaction “you are playing the race card” interesting because I have no idea what it means. Everybody has problems with race and racism, and there are a lot of ways to deal with that. One way that is not so good is to become sensitive to the issue in a way that makes it hard to talk about.

I really am interested to know what you mean when you say I’m playing the race card. Does this mean you think there are not issue of race here at all and I’m just adding that in?

40. #40 Jim Thomerson
September 1, 2009

When I first visited Venezuela in 1969, a friend told me, “There is no racial predjudice in Venezuela. It just happens that all the poor people have dark skins.” And the latter sentence looked to be true. Going back in the late ’80’s to early ’90’s, I observed that this was no longer true. There were lots of light-skinned poor people. Affirmative action, do you think?

September 1, 2009

Noam, thanks for your comments. I agree that the argument could be presented more than one way. I’ll address a few of your points here, using your numbering system:

1) There is a race element to the over the top reactionary fear of “other” people breeding like rabbits (which is a racist way to characterize fertility differences) although race is not the only issue. I chose to incorporate race in the discussion. To say that this is playing the race card or to ask me to ignore race because race is no 100% of the issue is highly suspicious. The effects of poverty may be colorblind, but the cause of poverty is nothing like color blind. That assertion concerns me.

2) Regarding condescension etc. THis post is not (necessarily) about you. It is for and about the people in college classrooms, for instance. This pedagogy is designed to make WMC 21 year olds wake up (with a bit of a slap in the face) and others (such as the 21 year old non-WMC students hanging around with the former) attain a sense that some of the things they ‘ve been feeling for some time may be valid.

3) African American (relative) poverty in the US is almost entirely, 100% a function of racism. Plain and simple.

6) 40 years ago, “redheaded” middle class would have been a sick racist joke of some sort, possibly found in a Boston area political cartoon, because redheaded people, often Irish, were not considered “white.”

There is a white middle class. Your belief in the disconnect between poverty and racism, and your belief that there is not a white middle class, is astonishing.

8) You are very much sticking with the egoculturalnormative view here. Winter? Common cold? (how middle class!) . Your reference to the 100,000 debt and the car is right out of the welfare stigma play book.

10) My question to you was regarding the international comparison, which is the point of the OP.

12) no, he’s confusing two completely different arguments and putting words in people’s mouths. It’s impossible to satisfactorily refute an argument that is based on faulty assumptions to begin with. I’m not sure what the two arguments you claim are, and I’ve not put any words in anyone’s mouth as far as I know, but if I did, I apologize and I take them back. But wipe off the spit first, please.

13) There are indeed places where there is a positive correlation between standards of living and birth rates, but this is because more children are *necessary* to maintain a rural household; what does this have to do with population growth amongst the poor?

I have no idea where you aregoing or coming from with this, but in the Ituri Forest example I cite every single household is carrying out the same economic activities. There is not a differential demand for more or fewer children.

And what about “The Reproductive Success Of Wealthy People”? Show me a source that presents a negative correlation between poverty and birth rates; I don’t care how many kids Angelina Jolie is having– she can actually feed them!

I think you stated this funny. If you are looking for economic success positively correlated with fertility, I gave a source (above) and there are many studies that look at this culture by culture and show the same thing. Your sources are interesting, known about, and just fine, but they do not speak to the point of the OP which is that the comparison across nations (and other large scale contexts for that matter) in this question is flawed, AND (referring back to the point of the fallacies) associated with incorrect negative stereotypes.

42. #42 Sigmund
September 1, 2009

Greg said:
“40 years ago, “redheaded” middle class would have been a sick racist joke of some sort, possibly found in a Boston area political cartoon, because redheaded people, often Irish, were not considered “white.””
Pardon?
Are you seriously suggesting that in the year 1969 people in the US with read hair were not considered white?

September 1, 2009

Sigmund. No, I am not. I meant 100 years ago. But I started out meaning to refer to the first Irish President and then did not make the numerical adjustment.

In 1960 Irish Catholics were not part of the WMC mainstream in most communities. In 1860 they were not white.

44. #44 ildi
September 1, 2009

I really am interested to know what you mean when you say I’m playing the race card. Does this mean you think there are not issue of race here at all and I’m just adding that in?

I didn’t think I was implying you’re “playing the race card”. I’m saying that you seem to accuse anyone who has bought into the trope that poorer people have more babies of doing so for racist reasons. This makes your passion comes across as disdain. It would be nice to give your readership the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming bigotry across the board.

I find this attitude derailing enough that I have to go back and read posts (and comments) with this style a couple of times to get the actual point. That takes up too much time and negative energy. The only reason I delurked and am belaboring the point now is that I’ve learned a lot from your blog in the past, but your style seems to have changed lately. You used to give thoughtful, cogent reviews of topics that I found a pleasure to read.

That is all.

September 1, 2009

I’m saying that you seem to accuse anyone who has bought into the trope that poorer people have more babies of doing so for racist reasons.

It is not always racist, but there is a strong tendency for there to be a racist component. Within the US this is documented as a part of “welfare stigma” dynamics, which has a strong racist part to it, and at the international level something similar often plays out.

Having said that, the presumption which is often a deeply held belief is not necessarily generated in a person because that person had strong racist thoughts and reconstructed the whole thing on their own. But one should be aware that the falsehood, widely held and often used for political purposes, is both a falsehood (for many reasons, only one of which is explored so far here in any detail) and a racist trope.

When you tell a story about something you saw happen, and it was all white people, do you say “these white people were doing this thing” but when is was all Hmong people, do you say “I saw these Hmong people and they were doing this thing”? Most white people in the US racialize their conversations in this manner. Some people explicitly avoid doing this but it takes work. Very few don’t do it because it does not occur to them. But over time, the shift from the first to the third mode happens because we point these things out. Noting ethnicity/race is not necessarily a racist act, but it can be and the fact that one is simply stating “the truth” is a cover and an illogical analysis.

That scenario is parallel to what I’m talking about here.

Do you know what the birthrate in Nigeria was in 1960? Do you know what it was in 61 through 70? 1980? 1990? Now? If you did you would see supporting evidence of what I’m saying here. But most people (I’m not saying you necessarily) are perfectly fine simply assuming that it has always been a) accurately mesured, b) not offset by high death rates and other factors and c) always astronomically high. Not knowing the facts even though they are available but getting mad at the Nigerians for overpopulation is an example of racism. Blaming the Africans for not having their acts together even though one feels they should is racist,if you think about it. Blaming the victim is often part of the overall racist trope. We’re seeing that here as well. Again, this may not be an overt racist act of the person who makes that statement, but it is part of the overall racism that hinders progress, and people should be aware of that. And so on.

46. #46 amphiox
September 1, 2009

re #19:

I kind of like to think of worker insects as reproductive tools/aids that the queen makes. Kind of like humans making cars, pottery, stone tools, robots, etc.

(And, I suppose in some contexts, eunuchs.)

47. #47 hibob
September 1, 2009

google scholar hasn’t been turning up many nifty graphs of, say, births per United States woman vs [your measure of socioeconomic status here], binned by SES quintile, decile, etc. What I’m wondering is if there is a positive correlation for men between SES status and birth rate and a negative correlation for women between SES status and birth rate. Let’s leave the richest .0005% and other outliers out of this.

48. #48 Jason Thibeault
September 1, 2009

This is my favoritest post ever, Greg. Not just favorite in the Falsehoods series, but favorite even over some of my favorite Congo Memoirs. I think it’s because I’ve heard this trope directly from a fellow student in anthropology (after class, no help from the prof!), and knew it rang false, but didn’t have a good argument against it. If I could e-mail this to ten-years-ago-me, I would.

49. #49 Stella
September 1, 2009

Phooey! Some of us were using that misconception to our advantage.

Actually, it doesn’t affect me at all. I can still tell my son that he’s a member of the most populous ethnic group on earth (~17%), and if people worry that nonwhites outnumber white folk, he can reply with a rousing, “Hell yeah we do!” if he wants.

Seriously, though, great post, Greg. I’m enjoying the Falsehoods series immensely. And remember: even with the One-Child Policy in place, both light-skinned and dark-skinned folk have a looong way to go before you beat the Han Chinese.

September 1, 2009

I have often said: “The average human eats rice daily, speaks Chinese, and lives here…” (pointing to map of China).

51. #51 Djinna
September 1, 2009

To chime in on what llewelly said, I’ve only really ever experienced this sentiment as “the poor and stupid are having too many babies” – along the lines of Idiocracy. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s much more acceptable in my social groups to complain about people with less obvious mental capabilities than it is about people with more obvious skin pigmentation. Whether it’s just because the people that I socialize with are liberal enough to at least pay lip service to the idea that women in other countries have less access to birth control and/or realistic assessment of child mortality rates, or just a paternalistic view that “they don’t know better in other countries, but you’d have to be a real dumb-ass not to know what causes THAT in this country, and not take steps to prevent it,” I don’t know. (Obviously, we all went through school long before all the abstinence-only push, as there are plenty of people in the US nowadays who really DON’T know how to prevent it.)

There’s still a lot of snobbery, to be sure, but I hear these feelings more often as complaints about someone’s cousin or in-law or someone else tangentially related to the speaker than poor people on different continents. I’m sure the people I know still believe that the poor have more babies, but the emotional response that people have to being “outbred” is reserved for those who are more similar to the speaker. There may be plenty of belief that the poor from other countries have more babies than the American WMC do, but if I asked most people in my circle if it were true or not, I’m sure many, if not most, would respond, “well, of course, they have to, so many die in childhood, and they don’t have free condoms being offered to them all the time, and everyone is going to have sex, so, well, duh, of course.”

But, definitely, they would also think that Idiocracy is as much a prophetic view of “what’s going wrong with our country” as they do The Handmaid’s Tale.

52. #52 dzdt
September 1, 2009

In the U.S., “the poor have more babies than the rich” is true in the sense that if you sort females by earned income, the lowest 10% (or 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%) average more births in their lifetime than the highest 10% (or 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%). There is some sign of a reversal at the very top of the income brackets, but the general trend is certainly in this direction. See for instance the graph on page 36 of this paper and related discussion page 21: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=304220

I agree about Greg’s point of suburban U.S. and Nigeria (for instance) being not easily comparable, but I think the same point holds for comparing the super-rich Forbes 500 families to general American population. And when you dig down into percentages of the U.S. population Greg’s “falsehood” is really a “truehood”.

53. #53 Barn Owl
September 1, 2009

the number and type of tools such as machetes and hoes does not correlate in suburban America with any other measure of wealth, and these tools are largely unused

This made me stop and think (not for the first time) how wacky most of us are in suburban America. We have garages and houses full of stuff that we never, or rarely use, and some of the stuff has no use, apart from being collected as stuff. We are defined by our material possessions. We buy big houses and rent storage units to have plenty of space for our possessions, and in anticipation of buying more stuff. If I look around my own immediate space, I see lots of books, and pieces of furniture that function to hold the books.

Naturally, our definition of “wealth” is a bit warped. Maybe more than a bit ….

Most white people in the US racialize their conversations in this manner. Some people explicitly avoid doing this but it takes work. Very few don’t do it because it does not occur to them

One way to become aware of the inappropriateness of this habit, and to (hopefully) break it, is to have a friend repeat the racialized phrase back at you, every time the name of the person(s) comes up in conversation:

“At dinner the other night, my Latino friend John said ….”

“Oh? Where did you go to dinner with your Latino friend John?”

OR

“My Nigerian-American friend Susan just got her R01 funded ….”

“That’s great! Which institute funded your Nigerian-American friend Susan’s grant?”

Sounds ridiculous, nicht wahr? 😉

54. #54 closetpuritan
September 1, 2009

I’m wondering… does anyone have birth data for all income groups within the U.S., instead of just a comparison of 400 wealthy Americans with the average? (Such data would be even more valuable if they separated the data by race. That would remove some of the cultural differences.)

When I started reading this post, I thought the false assumption you were going to talk about was going to be assuming that correlations were linear. I would kind of expect there to be high fertility at the very highest levels of income–especially if you did not look at income/fertility per woman, but at income/fertility per man. (If you ignore gender, you may be basically be looking at income per man, since men tend to have more wealth than women unless a woman’s wealth and a man’s wealth are not counted separately because they’re married.)

But is there separate data for people who are less wealthy than the average American? Data breaking down birth rate vs. income instead of just a comparison of wealthy Americans to average Americans? We could be looking at a U-shaped curve–maybe even an asymmetrical U, where the half of the population below the median has high fertility, and the highest 1% has high fertility, and everyone else’s fertility is lower. Or maybe an S-shaped curve, where the very poorest have low fertility, the working poor have high fertility, the upper-middle class have low fertility, and the very richest have high fertility? That’s what I would expect purely based on my own anecdotal evidence (which pretty much just includes white people but does include some different income levels, because of the demographics of my area), but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any actual data about this one way or the other. At this point, for all we know based on your citation, your students could be right about the shape of the birth rate vs. income graph except for the wealthiest extremes. (I did try searching for this data; I didn’t spend tons of time looking for it, I’ll admit, but I didn’t find it.)

I have to agree with Noam that just because a poverty line is tricky to define does not mean it does not exist. Perhaps a more objective-seeming metric would be the likelihood that one of the children in a family will suffer from/die from malnutrition? Perhaps that would avoid problems relating to an “egoculturalnormative view”, so that we could move on from talking about how biased people are? Or do you think that it’s only my cultural biases that would make me think one would want to avoid the prospect of death of one’s children due to malnutrition?

55. #55 Raka
September 1, 2009

Is it ignorant or churlish (or both) of me to think that Essock Vitale is not much in the way of proof? Comparing a sample of 400 super-rich Americans to the population as a whole doesn’t seem like a very strong statistical indicator about US birth rate and SES. In fact, it seems like it’s dang near novelty-sized as population studies go. The US/Nigeria comparison was thoroughly debunked, but I’m not seeing much evidence one way or another here about equivalent intra-US rates.

Am I missing something essential?

September 2, 2009

Raka: It is not a bad study, you should read it. But yes, it does have its limitations.

By the way at least one person who was on that list when she did the study was later discovered to have two families with about equal numbers of kids in each one. I wonder how many others have extra kids that are not listed in the official record, how many of those kids there are, and how well off they are doing and how many kids those kids will eventually have?

September 2, 2009

closetpuritan: Yes, of course those data are available, but it was not the subject of the post.

There are some problems with those data and interpretation is required. Briefly, lower SES groups have slightly higher reported fertility among women who have babies. However, that excludes all people who have zero fertility, and in lower fertility populations, one expects a larger percentage of zeros. In other words, if zero fertility individuals were included, it would make the numbers more even. Also, with hypergenous EPC’s, a small number of lower SES offspring are high SES offspring but the reverse is rarely true. And so on.

In other words, if the null model is no real effective fertility difference once zero fertility, hypergyny, and various death rates are factored in, then we would nonetheless expect a mild gradient that would look like highe birth rates in lower SES, and that is pretty much what we find. With or without such an adjustment, the numbers are remarkably close. In other words, if you asked people “how many more babies do poor people have than middle calss people” they would probably say something like “one or two” or even “three or four” but it is in fact a fraction of one.

But again, that was not dealt with in this post beause I wanted to focus on the faux international comparison and certain other issues. I’ll address the intra-cultural issue as well, eventually.

58. #58 csrster
September 2, 2009

“That reading had inspired anger among many of my (privileged snot faced Harvard3) students who were sure that Welfare Mothers(tm) were sucking all the wealth out of this nation by converting cuckold dollars into little dark skinned babies.”

Hi Greg, just out of interest, how would you respond if someone were to express the following opinion:
“Providing impoverished third-world women with the means to control their own reproductivity is the surest route to bringing them out of poverty.”

59. #59 toto
September 2, 2009

I have often said: “The average human eats rice daily, speaks Chinese, and lives here…” (pointing to map of China).

Stats nazi says: “No, that’s the modal human! The average human speaks a rough mixture of indo-european and sino-tibetan languages (with traces of other influences), eats a lot of rice and some wheat, and lives about 4000 kms under the Earth’s crust somewhere under Bengal. Now get off my uniformly distributed lawn!”

60. #60 znz
September 2, 2009

it is easy to take that evidence and construct the obnoxious sentence that titles this post

That’s weird. It seems like a pretty value-neutral statement to me. But then, I don’t regard high or low fertility as better, and I don’t particularly care if the fraction of the world’s population that has skin similar in color to mine increases or decreases.

But surely you mean — or, at least, sensibly, you ought to mean — that the statement itself is not obnoxious but the subtext attached to the statement, such as the implication that there is something undesirable in such a state of affairs.

This is the old “correlation is not causation” problem in a big way.

Wait, what? How is the example you give a claim about causation? It seems like one instance of a correlation, and the titular claim is also purely one of correlation alone. Or is your argument that people take the one instance of correlation, deduce a causative mechanism, and then use that hypothesis of a causative mechanism to extrapolate beyond the data and imagine that there’s more data to support the claim then there actually is? But then, really, the issue isn’t “correlation does not imply causation” but rather one of an invalid generalization.

61. #61 znz
September 2, 2009

Eric, it’s one thing when people don’t understand something because they’ve never been taught it before. It’s quite another when they get angry when someone tries to teach them. That anger says there’s an emotional cost to changing what they believe on the issue.

You’re welcome to come up with a competing hypothesis on where that emotional investment lies, but calling Greg rude for pointing to the simplest explanation (the racism and classism that’s endemic to our society) is simply validating the observation that people are holding to their beliefs for emotional reasons.

I can come up with a simpler explanation as to why people might get irritated with Greg. It is possible that they perceive on his part what seems to them to be a willful obtuseness and exasperating denseness that comes across as a passive-aggressive game he’s playing or an unprecedented degree of cluelessness.

September 2, 2009

[58]csrster: “Providing impoverished third-world women with the means to control their own reproductivity is the surest route to bringing them out of poverty.”

Excellent question. My first response would be “At least this person doesn’t just want to cut off all foreign aid funding, so that’s good…” My second response is this:

The statement is probably meant to refer to all women in all non-developed countries, yet uses a blanket statement “impoverished” and assumes that women in this artificial and too broad category would all benefit from access to birth control (I think that is the implicationof the statement).

IN the andes, there was a population of people who had access to bith control but the men did not let the women use it. The women wanted to have fewer children, the men more, and it was a highly patriarchal society. External provision of birth control had been done, had no effect. Then, people sat down and talked and over a couple of years men started changing their approach and birth rates went down as women gained more personal control.(not technological control, they alrealy had that).

In the Ituri Forest it is technically patriarchal, but the women have a LOT of power. However, during the study period and now probably more so there is no way to reliably get outside technology of any kind into the area. Yet, people do manage birth control (whcih was NOT invented by westerners, by the way) and there is a generally low fertility rate there anyway. The best way to address this issue there is to decrease malaria deaths of infants.

IN other words, the root issue, to the extent that it is fertility, is complex and can’t be dealt with with a broad third world brush.

Then, the part of the statement that this is the surest way to bring people out of poverty is unclear to me. In communities I’ve worked with in South Africa it has been felt that a good way out of poverty is a combination of heath care focusing on post-apartheid area “totting” and other factors that increase alcoholism and economic involvement in local ecotourism. IN the Ituri, there is very little alchoholism, and zero tourism, but there is low level family farm production of coffee and peanuts, so a simply transport mechanism getting these goods out of the area would be good.

SO, to summarize, I question the premise, I find the thrust of the statement oversimplified, and the assumptions that are made are also oversimplified.

But quite possibly well intentioned.

Is this a quote of someone in particular? Me perhaps???? … : )

September 2, 2009

toto: THANK YOU! I had written modal first, then I accidentally closed that firefox window and had to retype the comment and ‘average’ came out.

Technically, a mode is an average because “average” is any measure of central tendency, but most people do think of an average as a mean.

If the earth was flat this would be so much easier.

September 2, 2009

znz[60]It seems like a pretty value-neutral statement to me. But then, I don’t regard high or low fertility as better, and I don’t particularly care if the fraction of the world’s population that has skin similar in color to mine increases or decreases.

But surely you mean — or, at least, sensibly, you ought to mean — that the statement itself is not obnoxious but the subtext attached to the statement, such as the implication that there is something undesirable in such a state of affairs.

This is why I state: “falsehoods: They are statements that are typically associated with meanings or implications that are misleading or incorrect, and in some cases downright damaging. “Humans evolved from apes” is an excellent example of a falsehood because it is technically correct, yet the implied meanings that arise from it are potentially wrong. Even more importantly, you can’t really analyze the statement “Humans evolved from apes” without getting into an extended analysis and discussion of what an ape is and what a human is.”

This is the old “correlation is not causation” problem in a big way.

Wait, what? How is the example you give a claim about causation?

Well spotted! I did not make the causal argument. I just skipped over that. The post was getting long and I was getting tired.

The very simple version is this: Resources translate ultimately into babies, or at least, limiting resources limits fertility. (That’s oversimplified). Here resources are people, land, and tools. The land is limited by labor, not access, in this sparsly populated region, and the labor comes from everyone in the household and the pygmies who provide important work. Three things limit pygmy labor: Good relations with them, ability to ‘trade’ food for labor, and number of tools available to put them to work. Number of tools also limits local household labor.

Chickens and goats are obtained by having good, often partly economic, relationships with other people. They stand in, in Western terms, for an investment portfolio.

I don’t think I need to describe any of the ways in which tools, people, food, labor, etc. relate to increase productivity or limit productivity in a given village. Suffice it to say that if 20 people are available for harvest and there are only 5 apapau knives (a harvesting knife) then you are not going to usefully employ 20 people. But if you do have 10 or so apapau kinives, a couple of machete’s, a few winnowing baskets, then these 20 people can harvest-harvest-harvest all day for a few days as the locust are showing up and eating the rice. There will be huge difference in productivity.

65. #65 closetpuritan
September 2, 2009

“This is the old “correlation is not causation” problem in a big way.

“Wait, what? How is the example you give a claim about causation?

“Well spotted! I did not make the causal argument. I just skipped over that. The post was getting long and I was getting tired.

“The very simple version is this: Resources translate ultimately into babies, or at least, limiting resources limits fertility.”

Yeah, I noticed this too, although I wasn’t sure it was worth getting into.

I guess you’re arguing that people think that giving women more welfare money will cause them to have more babies? Yet, if people really believed that giving people money was directly causing them to have more babies, then wouldn’t they believe that poor people had less babies and rich people had more–when in fact your students believed the opposite?

66. #66 Mike H
September 2, 2009

The census bureau doesn’t back up this bullshit argument. This seems to explain why you used a rhetorical argument instead of one based around facts and figures.

http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p20-558.pdf

Fertility rates are higher for non-whites. Fertility rates are higher for lower income groups and lower for higher income groups. Fertility rates are also significantly higher for non native born Americans than for native born Americans.

That the extremely wealthy (the top 99.99 percentile) may (and you haven’t even shown this to be the case) have larger than average families but this (even if true)has a statically insignificant impact on the overall global and American demographic makeup.

You, based on your Ted Kennedy example, are willing to take anecdotal evidence and make a political/philosophical argument out of it and ignore any empirical data because that data could be used to construct an unacceptable political/philosophical argument. How very science like of you.

Welcome to the reality based community.

67. #67 Stephanie Z
September 2, 2009

closetpuritan, if there’s one thing we should all have learned from the current health care reform debate, it’s that people are perfectly capable of refusing to reconcile their views; i.e., “I don’t want government involved in my health care, but leave my Medicare alone!”

znz, I don’t know what people perceive, but it largely seems to be whatever it takes for them not to listen to Greg on this subject. Perception is funny that way. In fact, there’s a much more polite version of this post on Greg’s old blog, and the commenters there are even more screamingly hostile.

Even here, people keep trying to insist no one should look at the rich, even though their use (and manipulation) of resources is so disproportional to their numbers that poverty can’t be explained or combatted without reference to them. Yet commenters are mad at Greg for mentioning them instead of concentrating on the middle class (which is a product of industrialization, by the way, making comparisons to agricultural societies almost impossible).

68. #68 Stephanie Z
September 2, 2009

Mike, see comments 26 and 32. Still not entertaining.

69. #69 Mike H
September 2, 2009

Stephanie Z: thats cute and all, but still far less relevant than census data.

70. #70 closetpuritan
September 2, 2009

“There are some problems with those data and interpretation is required. Briefly, lower SES groups have slightly higher reported fertility among women who have babies. However, that excludes all people who have zero fertility, and in lower fertility populations, one expects a larger percentage of zeros. In other words, if zero fertility individuals were included, it would make the numbers more even. Also, with hypergenous [hypergynous?] EPC’s, a small number of lower SES offspring are high SES offspring [short people are tall people? Sorry, you must mean that the offspring of low SES people are themselves high SES.] but the reverse is rarely true. And so on.”

“In other words, if the null model is no real effective fertility difference once zero fertility, hypergyny, and various death rates are factored in, then we would nonetheless expect a mild gradient that would look like highe birth rates in lower SES, and that is pretty much what we find. With or without such an adjustment, the numbers are remarkably close. In other words, if you asked people “how many more babies do poor people have than middle calss people” they would probably say something like “one or two” or even “three or four” but it is in fact a fraction of one.”

(No idea what EPC stands for; I hate acronyms; why am I working in gov’t again? Oh right, I still have a job during the recession.)
Anyway, it seemed kind of odd/roundabout that you would say, “Interpretation is required; women who do have babies have more, but fewer have babies” instead of “rates are roughly the same, but there’s more within-group variation in how many babies a poor woman has.” That, plus saying that zero fertility and hypergyny had to be “factored in”, made it sound like the data were unavailable for mean number of babies per woman. It sounded like you had only the data for how many babies a woman who has babies has, and you had to extrapolate from there using other data on the percentage of women who had zero fertility. Or is “Interpretation is required” referring to where you later seem to be saying that poorer women DO have slightly more babies, but not as many more as people think, and that because women born into a low SES often have babies with a high SES, poorer people having more babies does not result in more poor adults. (But if people are in fact coming at this problem with eugenic or racist concerns, the fact that some poor babies marry middle-class/rich adults will not be entirely comforting, and they can still say that the poor are out-reproducing them and be factually correct.)

71. #71 Stephanie Z
September 2, 2009

I’m sorry, Mike. I forgot you don’t extrapolate. Yes, the question of census data has also already been covered in the comments. Read them.

September 2, 2009

[65] Closet Puritan: I guess you’re arguing that people think that giving women more welfare money will cause them to have more babies? Yet, if people really believed that giving people money was directly causing them to have more babies, then wouldn’t they believe that poor people had less babies and rich people had more–when in fact your students believed the opposite?

I think the poor people are seen as both poor and rabbit-like breeders not because of poverty but because they are bad pepole. like this.

September 2, 2009

That is a very nice PDF file and it well demonstrates the complexity of the issue. The following are apparent:

The face value difference by race or poverty (dark = more kids, poor = more kids) is there, but it is very small compared to what most people wish to claim or think happens.

The biggest causes of childlessness or having fewer children among adult women are not poverty or skin color, but education level.

The data still do not address survival and other aspects of success.

The data do not address the “demographic transition” effect which cause changes that are so large as to swamp out all other causes. The data also to not seem to cover religion, which is interesting. Catholocism is a much larger predictor of fertility than anything else, but most hispanics are catholics, and thus have thus whopping big number of ever-born per 10,000.

Mike H.: I predict you will believe what you want to believe. And, one more time, I’ll point out that telling me that I did not address the census data within the US in a post that was explicitly (do read the post please) covering a DIFFERENT topic is asinine, and once again I’ll say that the Kennedy story was a story, not data. Telling me that I should not have used it as data is asinine. So that’s asinine squared for you, buddy!

74. #74 hibob
September 2, 2009

“I had assigned a (then) recent publication on reproductive success and wealth in the Unites States, showing that rich Americans had more offspring than the average American.2 … ”

I also read the abstract for Vitale’s paper you appended at the end. Mike H’s post of US census data is perfectly germane, giving that YOU brought up the topic of comparing birth rates vs SES within the US within your post, and then used only data on outliers to back it up.

September 2, 2009

hibob: I did read the post

Not carefully. Let me show you the part that matters to this little side trip:

“In fact, let’s take this third world part of the argument as the focus of today’s falsehood post. We can deal with other parts of the “poor people breed like rabbits” falsehood at another time.”

76. #76 Mike H
September 2, 2009

I think the poor people are seen as both poor and rabbit-like breeders not because of poverty but because they are bad pepole. like this.

I think poor people are seen as prolific breeders because the census data supports that factual statement. Whatever value judgment you are associating with it tells me more about your motivations to dismiss or twist the available data.

I predict you will believe what you want to believe.

This isn’t a matter of faith …. the #’s are quite clear on this. The poorer you are, the more children you have (on average). The browner you are, the more children (on average) you have.

We can discuss the reasons why this is so, that’s certainly a matter of interpretation but the facts are not.

You know what they say, you are entitled to your opinion’s Mr Laden, but not your own facts.

And, one more time, I’ll point out that telling me that I did not address the census data within the US in a post that was explicitly (do read the post please) covering a DIFFERENT topic is asinine,

As hibob stated, YOU brought it up in your original post. Don’t run away from it now nancy just because it makes you look foolish.

and once again I’ll say that the Kennedy story was a story, not data. Telling me that I should not have used it as data is asinine.

As far as I can tell Mr Laden, its one of the few concrete data points you used.

77. #77 closetpuritan
September 2, 2009

“I think the poor people are seen as both poor and rabbit-like breeders not because of poverty but because they are bad pepole. like this.”

Basically agree with that. “Bad people” is one of the reasons, along with related ones such as “don’t know any better”, “brainwashed by religion”, etc. But I thought that by bringing up the “correlation = causation” fallacy, you were trying to argue that people did in fact believe poor people were rabbit-like breeders because they were poor. So what were you trying to argue?

September 2, 2009

I think poor people are seen as prolific breeders because the census data supports that factual statement.

I wonder what your cutoff point for prolific breeder is. Also, please tell me what data I’ve dismissed or twisted.

The poorer you are, the more children you have (on average).

Within the US, that is true, actually, comparing middle class to poor. The census data as it is usually presented does not show what happens at the upper end of the spectrum because it is not as refined there. I showed that to you but you twisted and dismissed it.

Discussing the reasons turns out to be important, because a large part of the falsehood has to do with the presumption that poverty is the reason, or that brownness of skin is the reason. The truth is that the phenomenon is far, far less prounced than most people assume or guess (thus the falsehood) caused by different things than most people think (thus the falsehood) backed up by strange conceptions of comparison between Nigerians and Peorians (thus the falsehood) ignores major factors such as religion (falsehood) or even time, whereby people of the same income brackets over a few years overlap totlly in their fertility (thus a falsehood).

As I have said, now forced to say so many times that you really are getting annoying, I’ll deal with these issues in a later post, at my leisure. That’s all for you on this issue form me, Mike.

September 2, 2009

closetpuritan: I don’t think it is appropriate to split hairs on “poor = bad” vs “poor and/or bad = rabbit-like”

The problem here, and the point of this whole exercise, is that this falsehood is a falsehood because of the meanings it invokes, the lack of substance to the argument, and the lack of logic (see comments by Mike H above, who simply wants to see “them” with the meaning of “them” being whatever works for him at the moment). There is no need to parse the logic of the fallacy. It is just a fallacy. They tend to not be logical.

80. #80 closetpuritan
September 2, 2009

“closetpuritan: I don’t think it is appropriate to split hairs on “poor = bad” vs “poor and/or bad = rabbit-like”

“The problem here, and the point of this whole exercise, is that this falsehood is a falsehood because of the meanings it invokes, the lack of substance to the argument, and the lack of logic (see comments by Mike H above, who simply wants to see “them” with the meaning of “them” being whatever works for him at the moment). There is no need to parse the logic of the fallacy. It is just a fallacy. They tend to not be logical.”

So, I’m guessing based on your response that you DID intend to say that people believe being poor causes rabbit-like breeding, despite later claiming that you don’t think that people believe that? Who’s not logical?

It also sounds like you want to say that the both the conclusions and the reasoning of your angry students are wrong when they are in fact substantially correct in their conclusions, just not their reasoning. (Assuming that “Nigerian people have more babies!” is representative of their reasoning and not just the most flagrantly flawed example of their reasoning.)

September 2, 2009

No, I never intended to say, nor did I say, that people specifically have the belief that being poor causes rabbit like breeding. Again, I don’t think people have such specific causal beliefs much of the time. I do think that quite often people are placed by others into categories that have lots of attributes thrown in together in a not especially logical way, and poor, brown, low IQ, high birth rate, sexual promiscuity, criminal behavior, and so on, all go together in one very common widely held racist trope which is a factor here.

Your statement that I did intend to say one thing then said another thing is entirely out of the blue, incorrect, irrelevant, and annoying.

Overall I think you are not quite getting that falsehoods are muddled un-thought out gobble-d-gook. Trying to hang the falsehoods on some sort of logical framework from which you can attempt to take shots at my logic is not going anywhere. To quote a small time wanna be philosopher: “I’m … sick of people’s obsession with philosophical certainty.”

I can not help but wonder what the actual motivation for your line of thinking here is. Because you are not making it clear.

82. #82 closetpuritan
September 2, 2009

Well, my immediate motivation in this case is to figure out what the heck you’re trying to say when you accuse people of making a correlation vs. causation fallacy. HOW are they commiting a correlation vs. causation fallacy? You continue to refuse to answer my question, which *I* find “annoying”. My statement was not “out of the blue”; it seemed a reasonable conclusion given that you refused to answer my question and decided to attack a basically-parenthetical statement instead because it bothered you that I was “splitting hairs”. Nor was my statement “irrelevant” given my motivation above. You’ve just said that you did not intend to say that people believe that the poor are rabbit-like breeders because they are poor, but you have not yet explained what you DID intend to say.

September 2, 2009

my immediate motivation in this case is to figure out what the heck you’re trying to say when you accuse people of making a correlation vs. causation fallacy. HOW are they commiting a correlation vs. causation fallacy? You continue to refuse to answer my question,

Well, thank you for finally stating the question you are asking.

I will slightly rephrase what I stated in my post. The assertion is americans = rich with fertility of ca 2.0, Nigerians = poor with fertility of ca 7.0 (the classic, only breifly correct number, often cited) and that these are linked. Poverty and fertility across this comparison.

wealth is the key variable in determining number of babies, but suburban US and Nigeria are so different that there must be other variables involved. This is the old “correlation is not causation” problem in a big way.

You’ve just said that you did not intend to say that people believe that the poor are rabbit-like breeders because they are poor,

Actually, I did not say that. I did say “I don’t think people have such specific causal beliefs much of the time.” and “I do think that quite often people are placed by others into categories that have lots of attributes thrown in together in a not especially logical way, and poor, brown, low IQ, high birth rate, sexual promiscuity, criminal behavior, and so on, all go together in one very common widely held racist trope which is a factor here.”

Now, tell me what your larger scale motivation is, because this is sure getting boring.

84. #84 closetpuritan
September 2, 2009

“But I thought that by bringing up the “correlation = causation” fallacy, you were trying to argue that people did in fact believe poor people were rabbit-like breeders because they were poor. So what were you trying to argue?”

Seriously? That wasn’t clear?

So I guess in your recent response you are saying that people do not (specifically/consciously) causally link income/poverty and birth rate within the U.S., but they do assume a causal link between the average income of a country and its average birth rate. I’m still skeptical that most people really do that, but any further argument would just be hand-waving about what each of us believes “most people” think.

“‘You’ve just said that you did not intend to say that people believe that the poor are rabbit-like breeders because they are poor,’
“Actually, I did not say that. I did say “I don’t think people have such specific causal beliefs much of the time.”

Notice the word ‘intend’. I didn’t say that you thought the opposite was true, just that that wasn’t your intended meaning.

“Now, tell me what your larger scale motivation is,”

I don’t like how this is phrased as a demand, but…
In a nutshell: I like to correct people. Especially ones who come across as smug. It seemed to me that there were several places where you overstated your case, oversimplified, or made odd/unsupported assumptions. Any time someone makes a statement that strikes me as wrong, I have a strong urge to correct them that I must oftentimes resist in the “real world”.

“because this is sure getting boring.”
I agree with you there. Or maybe tedious would be more accurate. Bye.

P.S. I think znz hit the nail on the head:
“I can come up with a simpler explanation as to why people might get irritated with Greg. It is possible that they perceive on his part what seems to them to be a willful obtuseness and exasperating denseness that comes across as a passive-aggressive game he’s playing or an unprecedented degree of cluelessness.”

September 2, 2009

closetpuritan:

Whenever you find that you’ve just typed “I can only assume that you said” or “So I guess in your recent response you are saying” or anything like that, stop for a second and consider that you have a problem with your Socratic method. Like, it sucks.

I don’t think people have such specific causal beliefs much of the time. I do think that quite often people are placed by others into categories that have lots of attributes thrown in together in a not especially logical way, and poor, brown, low IQ, high birth rate, sexual promiscuity, criminal behavior, and so on, all go together in one very common widely held racist trope which is a factor here.

That was the third time around on that one. We are now finished with this particular conversation. Let’s pick it up on the next falsehood post that you are interested in. Thank you very much.

I do appreciate your comments because they help me see where I’m being less bang-em-over-the-head explicit than I should be in my writing.

“because this is sure getting boring.”
I agree with you there. Or maybe tedious would be more accurate. Bye.

Important distinction, tedious vs. boring. What I want to know, though, is why did you say “bye” then not stop talking?

86. #86 Mike H
September 2, 2009

this falsehood is a falsehood because of the meanings it invokes, the lack of substance to the argument, and the lack of logic

Actually a falsehood would indicate a lack of accuracy or truth. Your attempt, feeble and self defeating as it was, to convince us all that poor and dark skinned people don’t have more offspring than the affluent fell flat on its face because there is simply too much data to contradict it.

You want this to be true, desperately so, because of the conclusions “some people” draw fro these facts and instead of going after the conclusions you are trying to undermine the factual basis of these conclusions.

Face it, you made a shitty argument based on the thinnest of evidence.

As I have said, now forced to say so many times that you really are getting annoying, I’ll deal with these issues in a later post, at my leisure.

Probability of “dealing” with this again = zero.

You got pwn’d once and I dont think you want to see a repeat.

87. #87 Stephanie Z
September 2, 2009

Mike, this is the eighth in a series of posts all using the same definition of “falsehood.” Why decide that this is the objectionable one?

September 2, 2009

Why decide that this is the objectionable one?< \em>

Because of his fear and anger. Mostly fear, though.

89. #89 Mike H
September 2, 2009

Because of his fear and anger. Mostly fear, though.

I dont take any issue with the other ones because I have not read them. This one struck for three reasons.

1. Its provocative title
2. Its ludicrous argument
3. Mr Laden’s increasingly schizophrenic and hectic defense of a quickly crumbling narrative

90. #90 Stephanie Z
September 2, 2009

Increasingly schizophrenic and hectic? You mean the part where he consistently defines falsehood the same way and consistently says that if you’re going to compare data affected by known variables, you should control for those variables?

91. #91 Donna B.
September 3, 2009

What I’m seeing in reading these comments is a basic laziness in substituting skin color for culture. Somewhere in those comments above, someone noted that both Israelis and Palestinians sometimes accuse each other of trying to “outbreed” the other? There’s little difference in skin color there, is there? It’s cultural and political.

Another thing I notice (not in this thread, but elsewhere) is a disrespect of “breeders” and people with children. I don’t notice any racism there, just class and culture.

Attributing to racism something that is better explained by classism and cultural difference muddies the picture and makes solutions harder to find.

The future will be browner and that’s a good thing, IMHO. Anecdotally, I had a great time talking to a black woman my age while waiting for the valet to deliver our cars. A hyperactive child was being drug by his parents to the hotel elevator. This naturally led us to sharing anecdotes about our grandchildren.

And then the photos came out. Her grandchild is a blonde, blue-eye boy and mine (uh, I’m white I should note) is a black-haired, black-eyed brown girl.

When we stop talking about race and start talking about culture, then we’ll make some progress. There are cultural identities that hold back both poor whites and poor blacks. But they won’t be addressed as long as we’re fixated on race and this post of yours, Greg Laden, actually complicates that rather than addresses it.

92. #92 Alex
September 3, 2009

Mike, stop digging.

Actually a falsehood would indicate a lack of accuracy or truth. Your attempt, feeble and self defeating as it was, to convince us all that poor and dark skinned people don’t have more offspring than the affluent fell flat on its face because there is simply too much data to contradict it.

At the start of this series of “Falsehood” posts, Greg defined the terms using. If you haven’t read the other posts and so aren’t equated with the definitions Greg is using, then that’s your fault, not Greg’s.

This is how language works, you see. Generally speaking, people use terms and definitions that others will understand, but are free to use alternative definitions so long as they define them at the start (which Greg has done).

So for instance, despite the decision a few years ago that made Pluto a planet no longer, you are free to call Pluto a planet if they wish, but try to do that in a scientific paper, and expect your intended audience to find it harder to follow your work, unless you start out by stating you are using a different definition of planet to most other scientists.

93. #93 Alex
September 3, 2009

Oh, and Greg did not try “to convince us all that poor and dark skinned people don’t have more offspring than the affluent”. How many times does the following quote need to be stated before you finally comprehend it:

In fact, let’s take this third world part of the argument as the focus of today’s falsehood post. We can deal with other parts of the “poor people breed like rabbits” falsehood at another time. Let’s start out by looking closely at the White Middle Class American vs. Nigerian (or other third world) comparison.

?

Also, you say that:

As far as I can tell Mr Laden, its one of the few concrete data points you used.

You originally criticized Greg for using his Ted Kennedy anecdote as data, since:

data point =! data

I agree that that above statement is true, but now (in the above blockquoted bit) you seem to be claiming that:

quoting data point = using data point as data

I see no reason for that equality. Just because Greg gave an anecdote of his, does not mean he is actually using that anecdote to back up his claims.

94. #94 Roy Latham
September 3, 2009

Your argument is that the overall correlation between wealth and population growth is erroneous because there is no common valid measure of wealth. It the proper measure were used, you claim, then in Africa and elsewhere the correlation would go the other way, with more wealth producing more children.

The implication is that when the proper measure of wealth is used Africa is discovered to not be a poor place. That would imply that in general Africa does not need aid or economic development, because they are as well off relative to their society as anyone. I’m not buying it. While GDP is not accurate for largely self-sufficient peoples, it’s nonetheless clear that in Africa, many people are in poverty.

I’d analyze it in terms of a universal desire for security. In extreme poverty or very difficult financial times in developed countries, we’d expect reproductive rates to be low because each baby is another mouth to feed, and the ready resources are lacking. In slightly better-off societies, children can mean old-age security by providing support for their families. More economically developed countries depend upon wealth accumulation and government programs for old age support, so more security is obtained by with parents earning dollar wealth rather than spending on children. The very wealthy can do as they wish, and most people naturally want children if practical considerations do not come into play.

How these factors come into play depends upon the particulars of society. However, the world is in general getting richer, and the world population is predicted to stabilize in 50 years or so.

I agree with other comments that casting the whole analysis in terms of race is “playing the race card.” The intent is imply that anyone who disagrees with your analysis is a racist. Nonsense.

95. #95 Edward Coughlin
September 3, 2009

The better way to put this argument is not “dark skinned people have more babies then light skinned well off people” which does sound rather ignorant. We really have no business caring about how many babies people of any skin color have, as long as they can support those babies (and society can support those babies as adults in the work force).

The key, of course, is in ability to provide that support. When we say “too many babies” it is important to define what that number is. Quite simply too many babies is, in any society, when n (number of babies) exceeds m (material support available for said babies). This material support will vary depending on society of course. In the US 15,000 dollars a year is probably too little to support onesself and a baby much less multiple babies without heavy support from outside the family unit. I would thus contend that for someone in the US making 15,000 dollars they should not have a baby until they make more or form a stable family unit with someone that can help raise household income to where it can support a child (perhaps around 35 or 40,000 a year).

Perhaps 15,000 dollars is a small fortune in country X and can support multiple babies because rent is much lower on a hut and livestock and feed are the only real expenses. In this case it is perfectly rational for an African to have multiple children since they can support them. In this case perhaps only those making a dollar a day or less are too poor for children. The existence of billions of children in need of foreign intervention (proof that in many cases, even with lower living standards, n is much higher then m allows for) suggests that many who cannot afford babies are having them anyway.

To this argument skin color is irrelevant. I would be just as against an albino family that is making less money then is required to support themselves having children as I would be against the darkest skinned family on earth having children if they could not afford them. When paying for children is only possible with the help of food stamps, medicaid, welfare, the red cross, CARE or any other such agency, it is a clear sign that families who should not have children had children anyway and having those children impedes undertakings such as working long hours or attending school which could put parents in a position to take much better care of economically justifiable children in the future.

96. #96 fabricator
September 15, 2009

That is several mouthfulls. When all that matters is decendants of smart, stupid, black, white, etc will some day all be standing in the same line, waiting for their ration of bread and water.

97. #97 Marijuana Videos
December 19, 2009

Obviously this guy has never watched an episode of Judge Judy or Maury 😉

I understand that there are a lot of factors. But I think the comparison of a white middle class woman to a nigerian is ridiciulous. No one in their right mind thinks like that. When people say “poor people have more kids” they are generally referring to what they see locally in their community. In America it also has racial overtones, so everyone’s scared to talk about it. With that being said the data is irrefutable in the US. People with lower education, and less money have more children. Is this because they can’t afford condoms? Don’t understand basic sex ed? Want someone to love them and know the state will take care of them? Cultural differences going back thousands of years? Who knows? But all you have to do is google out “reproductive rates by race United States” to get the picture. Of course not all Mexicans, and African Americans are poor. But the birth rates in the ghetto are far higher than in the suburbs. So when people are making this statement they aren’t referring to a global picture, they’re looking at the own city.

98. #98 Joe Blow
April 4, 2010

I would have to disagree. It seems you are attempting to disprove the fact that the poor produce more offspring than the wealthy by refuting a false comparison. Obviously comparing Africa and America would be different, but even within the same country, say America, people with lower income and education have more kids than people with more income and education. This can even be observed.

That’s like a study of happiness in the U.S. versus happiness in Africa showing no relation to income, while disregarding relative poverty.

Also, how would this stem from “race-based bias and fears?” Poverty is not dependent on race in any way. If anything, it is for the well being of the poor, because when they have more kids they cannot support, they suffer more. Obviously it is in their best interests to limit the number of kids they have.

I’d like a response to my argument. Thanks.

April 4, 2010

Joe, the average person in the to ten percent of wealth in the US has more offspring than the average of the other 90% of Americans. That means that the phrase “rich people have more babies than anyone else” (in the US) is correct. Yet we don’t hear that phrase very often, do we?

Why not?

100. #100 Brendo
September 22, 2010

Did the US census really not include zeros when coming up with the average number of babies per reproductive female (or however they measure these thing)? I’m excited for you to address this issue and if you could direct me to some references about the faulty or biased analysis that would be great. While I’m sympathetic to the cause of exposing this falsehood and the oversimplification/racist implications in the commonly held belief, it’s just tough to reconcile the numbers. While the “wealthy” people within a developing country and in the context of that developing country tend to have more babies than the less wealthy in the context of that country it does not negate the fact that overall that country is still making more babies over time than the wealthy in terms of GDP and whathaveyou western country. And I can understand that being a concern for people who genuinely have good intentions and see a country without many resources to help sustain the population also having the population expand which may put a further strain on the country.. Unless that is just being naive because the rates of baby making need to be balanced against the rates of child mortality and whathaveyou.. I hope that most people look at this out of concern for the people and not out of fear of the impoverished masses overtaking us..

September 22, 2010

Brendo, I don’t think the US census excludes females with zero fertility when calculating fertility for a given age group.

The original reference to zero fertility was a warning to account for high mortality in lower age groups. If we see all women who are 30 completing their family size at, say, 6 births, but half of women die before they are 15, there will be an over estimate of fertility.

102. #102 James
March 20, 2011

Wow, so in an article trying to disprove misconceptions about statistics you use statistical and logical fallacies. Your argument against people who say “the poor have more children than the rich” is basically to say “oh by that you surely must mean Nigeria vs the US, and here’s why that’s a bad comparison” which is basically a strawman argument.

I’m also astonished how your article has absolutely no charts or graphs. Had the article included a graph of income vs. fertility in the US it would contradict your claim. The article may not have graphs, but it sure has enough words. It’s way longer than it needs to be compared to what you’re saying. It’s almost as if you wanted to tire people out so they stop reading and just take you at your word, a kind of verbal attrition.

103. #103 Chris
March 23, 2011

I agree with James.

When you look at charts of industrialized countries vs. developing countries, the industrialized countries have slow/stagnant growth (and even declining birth rates in some countries like Japan, where UNDER population is a problem), while virtually every developing country has an explosive rate of population growth (via higher birth rates).

You make a valid point when you say that correlation does not mean causation. Understandable, although you could have said it in fewer words.

My hypothesis was that the birth rates were so different due to a lack of access to education and contraceptives, which you need money for under most circumstances. Wouldn’t that play a significant role? Why might that hypothesis be flawed?

March 23, 2011

I will say again what is in the post, which appears to have been too long to read: A key point is that comparing fertility across different economies is similar to comparing, say, animal adaptive features quantitatively across different populations of similar species on different continents … invalid.

The only real relationships that persist, and that are not cherry picking or pot hoc racist riddled interpretations are the following: Higher fertility is found in the wealthier strata across societies and across time, and in industrialized nations, immigrant groups arrive with their native fertility, so immigrant groups from developing nations where fertility is usually high arrive as such. Later, those groups typically drop in fertility to the average. This has happened again and again.

105. #105 https://me.yahoo.com/a/9b.4Xjx1zZuchkPdynqv5rSXZnqZ#2cc9a
May 9, 2011

I don’t see how accusing people of racism for pointing out that poor countries (or “different economies” as you call them) generally tend to have higher population growth helps make your point. I know that people who disagree with you are just stupid, uneducated rubes, but really, can you blame them for thinking what they do? I mean, can’t you see how the fact that blacks and Hispanics have much higher birth rates globally and in the United States might give them that idea? I mean, the statistics at first glance seem to back that idea up. Aren’t you being a little too judgmental there?

May 9, 2011

Don’t be a stupid, uneducated rubes.

107. #107 https://me.yahoo.com/a/9b.4Xjx1zZuchkPdynqv5rSXZnqZ#2cc9a
May 9, 2011

Also, you mention that the top 10 percent have a higher fertility rate then the remaining 90 percent. Talk about cherry picking. You’re looking only at the very wealthiest members of our society, and then lumping everyone else together; poor, middle class, upper middle class. That statistic really doesn’t support your argument. The middle class is a much larger percentage of our population then the very wealthy, and they also tend to have the lowest fertility rates. You’re clearly trying to skew the numbers in favor of your argument. As another poster pointed out, you accuse people of bias, but wrote a post that’s full of logical fallacies.

May 9, 2011

I’m not sure how, in comparing the wealthiest americans with everyone else (a useful comparison), that … ah …. comparing the wealthiest americans with everyone else is cherry picking.

Maybe you missed the point. Or maybe you’re just annoyed that Osama bin Laden was one of something like 60 children because his dad was so wealthy. (which is tangential but not entirely unrelated)

I think you should examine the reasons that this irritates you so much. Which, of course, is the point of having this discussion at all.

109. #109 https://me.yahoo.com/a/9b.4Xjx1zZuchkPdynqv5rSXZnqZ#2cc9a
May 9, 2011

Greg, maybe I did miss the point. You claim that the belief that the poor tend to have more children then average is false, no? Was that not what the article was about? People get this idea by comparing different societies, but within a given society, this belief does not hold up?

I got the strong impression it was. Maybe it was the title of the article and the words in the article that mislead me. Anyway, comparing the top 10 percent with the rest of our society might be useful in some ways, but it doesn’t prove what you’re claiming. Actually comparing poor people vs everyone else would be more relevant to the claim you make in your article, or heck, even the poor vs the very wealthy.

May 9, 2011

http: As people move into the US from wherever they arrive from, they tend to carry with them, for a generation, whatever fertility rate they had in the old country. Then, over time, in one generation typically, their birth rate settles into whatever the national pattern is for their SES plus/minus a usually small ethnic or cultural factor (i.e, catholics have more babies than protestants, etc.). That is what happens, and it is not the same thing as “poor people are breeding like rabbits” which is the less kind but more accurate way of describing the usual form of this falsehood.

Part of the story is that all else being equal rich people tend to have higher fertility. This applies across our species, across cultures, across continents, and across time.

But of course, I seem to be repeating the post. You could just read the original.

111. #111 Anonymous
April 16, 2012

This argument is far too long winded. It simply comes down to education and access to it.

112. #112 David B Crawford, MD
United States
May 14, 2013

I think that the IRS could use filters like :”snot faced”, “Harvard”, or “Yale” in their review for applications from PACs for tax free status. Just sayin.

113. #113 David B Crawford, MD
May 14, 2013

There is grant gold in this question 😉 Is the culture-tied wealth perception directly proportional to the culture-tied male status perception, thus fertility? I think that sperm count in male primates and/or mammals has been related to number of offspring. Either that or male status is directly proportional to female sexual receptivity to the perceived social status of said males (Kennedy, Clinton, Nial of the Nine Hostages et. al.). Note to self: review literature for meta-analysis.

May 14, 2013

There’s actually quite a large literature on this, so the grand money may not be such easy pickings. Here’s a few foundational references (including collections of research) for you to start with. After reviewing these you can survey the more recent literature (though there is a decline in production in this particular area after a while) then start working on your grant proposal:

115. #115 David B Crawford, MD
May 14, 2013

Assign sperm count collection to post-grads (male or female?) as long as their name is not First for peer reviewed publication 😉

Assign female receptivity as ratio to perceived social status of male object choice to post-grads (male or female?), so long as long as their name is not First for peer reviewed publication.
😉

Hey, get you name on a paper!

116. #116 David B Crawford, MD
May 14, 2013

Greg, you got game.

It was a lesson in culture-centric humility for me to do a double take on “hoes in the garage”.

117. #117 Jackie Fox
United States
November 14, 2014

I don’t know what skin color has to do with this. Yes, I know that dark skinned people are mostly poor, but their skin color isn’t the reason why they are poor, or in other words they were not born or destined to be poor. Whether you realized it or not I do not appreciate you enforcing the stereotype that people with light skin are superior to people with dark skin by using the title of your article. It may not be your intention, but what are people supposed to think when they see and hear about poor people, dark skin people are always the ones to pop up.