A question for my readers on spawning

August 16, 2012

A recent comment from Spiny Norman waxes unimpressed with child-care cost complaints of those in the academic pipeline.

My partner and I knew we were going into demanding, high-risk, poorly-compensated public service careers. We knew that both time and money would be limiting, and saw little point to having kids if they were mostly going to be raised by paid surrogates.

We also looked around, and concluded that the planet was/is *not* suffering from a shortage of fat, happy, high-carbon-footprint first world babies.

This makes me ponder.

When I was growing up, changing the rate of population growth was a mainstream issue in the US. To my recollection, anyway. That all went away from the public sphere and now we never seem to hear any talk at all that perhaps the US should reduce birthrate*.. what happened?I pulled this figure from the National Vital Statistics Reports Vol 60, No 1 published Nov 3, 2011. It comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. I have been fascinated by the data for total births (not rate, total births) in the US since around 2006, 2007 (I can’t quite recall, nor make it out from the graph) when the number of US live births finally surpassed the Baby Boom peak of the early 60s. Fascinated politically, sure.
You may have noticed now and again Dear Reader that I blame the BabyBoomers for a lot of the current ills in the US…these are the folks that matured through the 80s and 90s, accumulating political clout and gradually taking over the reins of power in our country. (Even when pre-Boomer generations were in power, they couldn’t have maintained that position without Boomer consent.)

But I digress.

Of even greater interest is the figure of generational dominance published in the now badly out of date (2002) Bridges to Independence report of the NAS/NRC. It shows the number of applicants to the NIH by age cohort. In the early 80s, nearly half of all applicants were 40 years old or younger. By 2002 it was around 25%. Across the same time, applicants over 50 went from 21% of the pool to about 43%. The front of the Boomer wave was 34 years of age in 1980 and 56 in 2002. But that is just the applicant pool.

These data from page 16 of the report show the number of successful applicants (top) and the percentage of research grant (R01, R37, R23, R29) awards to each age cohort across time (click to enlargen). You can see that the number of awards roughly matches the number of applications, with maybe a slight exaggeration of the aging trend. We have almost a decade more of Boomer aging, GenXers clawing their way into the system and the effects of ESI, K99/R00 and related GenY/Millenial boosting practices to consider. I’m going to be very curious to see an update. As far as I know, most of the RePORTER attention is focused on New vs Experienced investigator. I haven’t seen an update on these age-cohort data.
One of the questions that I have about our business is whether the small overall size of GenX (see first figure) combined with the way in which the ESI attention essentially skipped over GenX to boost up the fate of GenY, combined with the relative insulation of the late Boomers relative to current mid-career GenX PIs in the grant game has produced an experience hole in the extramural research force.

*save the occasional rightwinger** comments directed at “welfare queens” (read poor blacks, not the whites that numerically dominated the welfare rolls at the time) and, more recently, undocumented immigrants

**really, why did the left abandon negative population growth as a theme?

No Responses Yet to “A question for my readers on spawning”

  1. KILL THE OLDS!!!!!!!!!!111!!11!!11!!


  2. kevin. Says:

    It’s too bad because it’s precisely people like Spiny and the SO that make for awesome and fun parents.


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    People who don’t want to be parents do not make awesome parents, no.


  4. DJMH Says:

    We don’t discuss lowering the birthrate any further because, hello, Japan. Turns out it is a bad idea for your country’s health, even if it’s a good idea for your planet’s.


  5. Spiny Norman Says:

    To be a bit clearer, I’m not unimpressed with child care costs for those in the academic pipeline.

    Rather, I’m questioning the extent to which NIH should be held responsible for a systemic, society-wide problem that hits people in essentially every profession.

    And I was being deliberately provocative.


  6. Spiny Norman Says:

    DJMH: Japan doesn’t have a lot of immigration. The United States does. Big difference.


  7. argh Says:

    I don’t think “negative population growth” was ever actually a big theme for the left. And it certainly isn’t these days because that’s like the most depressing thing you could possibly campaign on. “Vote for us, and we’ll stop people from having babies! Abortions for all!!!” You really think that’s going to win an election?




  9. Drugmonkey Says:

    Spiny, we need to talk. Baiting people is less effective when you continually remind them overtly that you are doing so. In other words, you are fucking up the first rule of FWDAOTI.


  10. Spiny Norman Says:

    @CPP — Why can’t we multitask?


  11. GMP Says:

    DJMH: Japan doesn’t have a lot of immigration. The United States does. Big difference.

    Phew! (wipes sweat off forehead)

    So since I am an immigrant, I am allowed to have babies? Awesome!!! Thank you!!!
    I now feel much better about having had kids.


  12. Spiny Norman Says:

    Yeah, you should have 8-12 of them, as should every fertile woman, and they should all drive SUVs and buy McMansions and fly as many miles as possible. And you should encourage them to be as fecund as you were. We’ve got a continent to populate!


  13. Crystaldoc Says:

    Seriously though, I believe negative population growth was a theme because of models at the time predicting ballooning of world population to outpace world agricultural resources, but that didn’t happen.

    Instead, Western countries observed the economic stresses of an aging population to support with fewer working age adults, and the current projections predict the worsening of that economic problem with aging boomers.

    Those on the left want a compassionate society that takes care of its poor and elderly, but how is this to be financed with fewer working adults, and higher taxation politically unpopular? I’d imagine this is why the emphasis on reducing


  14. Crystaldoc Says:

    population has changed.


  15. rs Says:

    In western Europe, the negative democraphic growth is a worry, and they are actively trying to encourage people to have kids with all the possible incentives. The only population who take advantage of such policies are immigrants (such as Turkish population in Germany). I would not be surpriced if the population growth here is driven by Hispanic, African-American and Asian communities.


  16. kevin. Says:

    The only reason negative population growth is considered a worry by policy makers is that there won’t be enough workers (*cough*suckers*cough*) to fund pensions, entitlements, and long-term care for the elderly. That’s not a sound reason to encourage childbirth or immigration. I would be fine if we went back to letting all-comers in.

    I sympathize with Spiny Norman and his frustrations with people bitching about their own choices. There was a grad student in the lab across the hall who was married (stay-at-home wife, which is fine) and continued to have kids (up to 3 by the end of his PhD), getting government assistance on top of the NIH-funded stipend, and railing against lay-abouts on the teat of welfare.


  17. Dr Becca Says:

    So since I am an immigrant, I am allowed to have babies? Awesome!!! Thank you!!!
    I now feel much better about having had kids.

    I believe SN’s point was that immigration in the US would mitigate any decrease in population that would result from limits on baby-having a la Japan, not that immigrants should or shouldn’t have babies.


  18. anon Says:

    One grad student from my lab had 5 kids. Producing as many babies as he could with his wife was part of his religion. I wish I could have babies. I can’t. It’s of little comfort that it’s been estimated that as many as 1 in 8 couples are infertile.


  19. drugmonkey Says:

    GMP, Dr becca,

    The workers to retirees ratio is indeed a frightening stat and I agree that Japan was the boogeyman economy. If you look at the first figure I posted, think about what age group is making more money and thereby paying more taxes, it is further enragening that the Boomers have refused to pay their own way.

    GenX should support more regressive schemes to devolve the tax burden downward onto GenY. But we won’t. We’re the responsible generation.


  20. […] that generated considerable blogorhhia. One of the comments from Spiny Normal started off another round. SN talked about why he & his partner did chose to have children. The argument has gone on to […]


  21. Virgil Says:

    There could be numerous reasons why the left abandoned negative population growth as a cause…

    (1) Discovery that Jevon’s paradox would essentially neutralize any environmental benefits from lower population. Sure, ther might be fewer of us, and we might all be driving Priuses (Priii?), but we’re driving them a lot more, so total gas consumption for the nation keeps climbing. One of your kids today burns through the resources of 2 kids from a couple decades ago (cellphones, air conditioning, blah blah). Why bother if you’re running just to stand still?

    (2) Hispanics and other immigrant groups are somewhat drawn toward left wing pro-immigration politics. Such groups (big swathing paint brush strokes here) have certain views, sometimes religiously informed, about contraception and other birth control measures. The pope don’t like condoms, and unfortunately a lot of people still think his opinion counts.

    (3) Realization of globalization. Why bother cutting back if there will be 20 kids in Asia or sub-Saharan Africa to burn through the resources you saved by having less kids?

    (4) Slow realization that it didn’t work in China. Hell, if a communist dictatorship can’t control their population growth, what chance does a Western democracy have.

    So, alot of it comes down to the slow relization that trying to curb population growth is a fucken difficult, long, uphil struggle. Throw in a 4 year election cycle and it’s easy to see why nobody wants to touch the issue.


  22. GMP Says:

    Yeah, you should have 8-12 of them, as should every fertile woman, and they should all drive SUVs and buy McMansions and fly as many miles as possible. And you should encourage them to be as fecund as you were. We’ve got a continent to populate!

    Yeah, as a female scientist I am totally part of the demographics that typically bears 8-12 McChildren. But maybe I will have a few more just to spite SN.

    This annoying holier-than-thou attitude, supposedly caring about carbon footprint more than other people by not reproducing and instead recommending reliance on immigration, also happens to be imperialistic bullshit, with a hefty helping of laziness and chauvinism:
    “Let’s just let those poor fuckers from the third world continue to over-reproduce in ignorance and/or poverty, then their best, brightest, and most resilient will come here anyway at their prime and help benefit this great country, and we didn’t even have to invest in raising or educating them!!! How clever is that?! Who cares if our schools aren’t any good? Others’ are better anyway, so let’s just import educated people from abroad! ”

    If anyone wants to reduce the world’s population, studies have shown a strong correlation between the increasing educational level of women and the standard of living on one hand and the decreasing natality on the other. So people who are serious about wanting to curb population growth should go work on educating those poor women around the world who have dozens of children, instead of hypocritically expecting to benefit from those children when they eventually come, fully grown and ready to contribute.


  23. Spiny Norman Says:

    Nice ragegasm, GMP. Over-reliant on imagining that I said things I didn’t say, though.


  24. Spiny Norman Says:

    …not to mention reliant on an apparently total inability to detect sarcasm.


  25. GMP Says:

    “Nice ragegasm, GMP. Over-reliant on imagining that I said things I didn’t say, though.”

    I’m just helping you express your innermost thoughts that you are too politically correct to write yourself. You are welcome.

    “…not to mention reliant on an apparently total inability to detect sarcasm”

    Yeah, my sarcasm detection is totally the issue here.


  26. Spiny Norman Says:

    You missed your calling, GMP. If you have that much insight into someone else’s inner life based on that little data, you should be a psychic or a con artist.


  27. Spiny Norman Says:

  28. Spiny Norman Says:

    ^– sarcasm, again. #incaseyoumissedit


  29. Jim Thomerson Says:

    Back when overpopulation was a matter of concern, there was some figuring done. Turns out that the best way to slow population growth is for women to have their first child at an older age. A second consideration is health care availibility to cut down on deaths of children, so one does not have to have so many to have a desired number live to adulthood. If you look at population growth statistics over the years, you see a correlation between high growth rates and early births, with marriages of women in their early teens.

    I read an article about Italy, which I found confusing. It said that there was a shortage of workers, and thus much need for immigration. On the other hand, it said that Italian sons ordinarily lived with their parents until age 30 because there were no jobs available.


  30. gingerest Says:

    God DAMN this being across the dateline thing. I engage on one thread, and even get all up in my classical education to poke Spiny, and then I realize there’ve been three more posts and it’s all done and dusted.

    Spiny and his partner share a hobby even more pointlessly consuming of global resources than children: Felis catus. Before we kill the oldies or the babies, we have to get rid of the housepets. Fluffy and Rover have to go.


  31. Eli Rabett Says:

    Index Mundi has some great maps and charts of demographic data. Among the interesting facts is that the total fertility rate in Mexico is 2.29, while that in the US is 2.06 and that the Mexican rate is falling.

    As to Japan, they appear to have a fine standard of living even with falling population.

    Facts suck


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