In a column for Salon, Rebecca Steinitz refuses to apologize for Ohio. Nearly half the state, like herself, voted for Kerry.

Why do so many children today have so many more problems than earlier generations? Mary Eberstadt, the author of Home-Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes, points her finger at childcare and divorce.
“Over the past few decades, more and more children have spent considerably less time in the company of their parents or other relatives, and numerous fundamental measures of their well-being have simultaneously gone into what once would have been judged scandalous decline,” Mrs. Eberstadt writes. “It is the argument of this book that the connection between those facts cannot possibly be dismissed as coincidence.”

Matthew Ygelsias. Proud to call himself an elitist.

Walker Evans is one of my favorite photographers. NPR has some nice examples of his photographs taken in the ’30s of straphangers lost in thought.



22 thoughts on “Links

  1. I went through a lot of daycare back in the sixties and it didn’t hurt me — I’ve read some extended reviews of her work including the NYTimes one you’ve linked. I’ll probably haunt the library to see if they get a copy. It certainly doesn’t seem worthwhile to lay my money down to pick up her prescriptive screed which boils down, in the end, to the presumption that families should be in a position where the woman can make the “right choice” to stay home with the kids in order to ameliorate the perceived decline in parental contact with kids.
    That’s where she loses me, I’m afraid. I think that issues of poverty and a lack of services have a lot more to do with the problems of kids these days.

  2. “But this is a book for people who have choices,”
    Ugh–as if we make choices in a vacuum. I just posted–again–about my own working mom guilt. It’s getting worse, I think, as I feel the conservative pressure. If, as Ancarett says, “families should be in a position where the woman (or the man, I would argue) can make the ‘right choice'” then someone needs to work on making that happen, because it doesn’t just happen by fiat. My friends who have chosen to stay at home have made big financial sacrifices–not to mention personal ones–to do so. The answer isn’t entirely financial necessarily, but that could be part of it.

  3. Yeah, ‘cuz being a latchkey kid and eldest in charge of two younger siblings and 85% of the housework in a third-shift-working single-parent household ruined my life. (Ok, maybe it did at the time) Of three of us kids, my youngest sister and I are both college-educated (although, under today’s financial aid rules, I might never have finished college, because I wouldn’t be eligible for the same pretty generous funding available to students in the 80s); my middle sister, the one with the very short career as a backup singer, teen mother, and now divorcee single mom has held a County Social Services job for the last 16 years and makes more than any of the rest of us (the virtual us, too!), with retirement and benefits. I know a lot of people who were raised by single mothers who worked and are still successful, although we’re all pretty crap at relationships.
    The difference I see is that my mother (and my friends’ mothers) never tried to make things up to us by letting us get away with stuff, or not help out, or by buying stuff. In two-income families, there’s usually money to do that, but I don’t see a huge difference between the kids who are overscheduled and shuttled around by soccer moms and have all kinds of supervision and the kids who don’t. Argh. gotta run to class. I have no idea where this was going.

  4. I have seen the legitimate point made that Eberstadt’s conclusions from her anecdotal evidence can only be substantiated by studies showing that the kids with stay at home parents have fewer problems than kids where both parents work outside the home — taking into account socio-economic status, etc.

  5. I think that the evidence does show what Allison says would need to be shown — I can’t cite it in detail, but Gary Sandefur and Sarah McLnahan have doen some pretty good studies. But I disagree that that is what would need to be shown.
    Look, suppose that in a society in which almost all adults work full time children with one non-full time parent do just as badly as other children. This would prove that in that society children are just as well off if their parents both work as if one doesn’t. But it would not prove that chldren would not be better off if most children had one stay-at -home parent. It might be that so many parents working ends up depriving all kids of the basic social networks and surrounding friendliness that makes them all better off. So maybe we shouldn’t blame individual parents for working; but we should blame social institutions for encouraging high-work low-family values.

  6. Do more children today have problems? that’s my problem with what I’m seeing about Eberstadt so far. At least some of what she cites, such as obesity, seems misattributed if it’s represented as a problem of childhood stemming from particular conditions of child-raising. Obesity is rising across the generational spectrum–you can’t attribute it to strategies of child-raising prevalent in the last two decades if people over 50 are getting fatter at comparable rates.
    Eberstadt also seems to me to exhibit the typical problem of so much of this kind of work, which is to ignore those measures of well-being which do *not* fit her argument. For example, the decline in the rate of violent crime over the past two decades, or rising rates of workplace productivity, and so on. You can’t just cherry-pick the things you see as problematic about young adults and attribute those to particular cultures of child-raising while ignoring all the changes (and non-changes) that seem to be generally positive, as if those have nothing to do with child-rearing during the same time interval. I’ll have to read the book to see how she accounts for these questions–she doesn’t seem to be quite as simplistic as some of the pundits and writers who venture into these waters, so maybe I’m being overly negative.

  7. Look, none of us have read the book, so we can’t really get into it today. But if you’re all interested, I’ll read it and have post on it next week.
    A couple of quick observations though… The last time we talked about childcare, I thought it was interesting that the people who used childcare thought it was great, the people who stayed at home thought it was terrible, and the people (like myself) who used it a little bit thought it was okay for short periods of time. Highly suspicious. We all have so much at stake here that it might be impossible to objective.
    My initial thoughts about the book which are pretty much meaningless since I haven’t read the book … Assuming that she does have it right, that well being of children has declined (maybe things like abuse are just better reported today), I have no idea how she isolates it to just divorce and childcare. I have no doubt that divorce isn’t good for kids. And that being cared for by a middle class, well supported parent is better than most childcare settings. But there are lots of qualifications, nuances, and intervening variables. I have no idea how she deals with it, so I’m going to shut up now.
    Are you interested in a longer, more knowledgable post on this topic?

  8. Naw, we just wanna shoot our mouths off based on preexisting biases. It’s a blog, blog world and it’s getting bloggier all the time.
    Longer, more knowledgable…sounds novel and freaky. Ok, I’m a blue stater, I’m up for weird shit.

  9. More knowledge is always a good thing. I’m going to see if our library will get a copy so I can read it, too. I just spent $200 on books and am feeling like a tightwad when it comes to buying something I can’t justify for my research.

  10. Timothy’s point is right, and interesting. There’s a reason people cherry-pick — well, there are two kinds of reason. One is the bad one; people like evidence to support their preferences. The other, though, is that an all-things-considered evaluation of the quality of childhood would require a full philosophical theory of the good childhood, and one that has wide consent. Philosophers (I know about this) haven’t offered such a theory, and if they did they’d be constantly disputing, and it wouldn’t command wide acceptance outside philosophy for that reason.
    SO people are forced back on looking at relatively uncontroversial bads. When we show that, say, there is a rate of X% of depression among children, or a rate of Y% of teen suicide, we can compare that rate with past rates and say that in that respect things are worse, or better, now. We can also evaluate reform proposals for their likely effect on that particular factor. even if things are now better than they were, we might be able to identify reforms that would make them better still.
    So, Juliet Schor says in her new book, which I have lent to a friend, so don’t have with me and therefore can’t quote the source, that the average rate of anxiety among 8-11 year olds in the US is much, much higher than it was 30 years ago (if I had the book in my hands I could tell you how much). She also reports the results of a large study she did in the Boston area which shows that engagement with commercial culture (TV-watching etc) increases the risk of a wide range of harms, including depression. (ie there’s actually a cuasal connection, not mere correlation) She says that she did not expect to find this, and only ran the model on which she found it after other models pointed to the evidence. The reason I lent the book out (apart from generosity) was that my friend is much better qualified than I to evaluate her study — he is convinced for what its worth. This is not, of course, evidence that things are worse than they used to be, but it does suggest we might want to look at reforms that would either alter the content of commercial culture or diminish children’s engagement with it, without, of course, doing correlative damage to other goods of childhood.

  11. Actually, I don’t think many people have actually asked the question “what’s best for the children” in recent years. It’s been a political no-no, because it has been seen as an attack on women who work. Instead, there’s been this myth promulgated that it’s good for kids to be ignored and a romaticization of the so called working class model of raising kids. All that bashing of middle class woman who overschedule has just been pushed by those who are insecure because they aren’t spending time with their kids. Within political science, there is no study of policies aimed at children and family. There was not one paper presented at our last convention that dealt with that issue.
    Harry, I thought you were going to have a post on the Schor book at Crooked Timber. I haven’t read it yet, but I might head over to Barnes and Noble this afternoon to pick it up. My instincts are probably closer to Tim’s than yours and Russell’s on this one. I’m a material girl and don’t really worry about that my two year old can identify the logos for Disney and Home Depot and Burger King. Studies have shown that our generation which has been more exposed to this stuff than previous generations is more immune to commercials than older folks. Excessive viewing of violent TV is of course not a good thing, but moderate amount of TVs and ads are harmless. But I’ll check out the book.

  12. “My instincts are probably closer to Tim’s than yours and Russell’s on this one.”
    I haven’t read Schor’s work, but Tim and I were actually just talking about her via e-mail. He argues (forgive me for quoting you without permission, Tim, but it was a great line) that Schor’s communitarianism (if you want to call it that) is more about “conforming people to an interior purity of motive and selfhood” than actually working towards retrieving and/or preserving a particular lived form of life. And he’s right: I’m all with Harry insofar as keeping logos out of our kids’ wardrobes (and brains too, if possible) goes, and that means (among other things) restrictions on television watching, an emphasis on parental control over consumption, etc. (Melissa and I have both felt this way ever since reading Jean Kilbourne’s Deadly Persuasions.) But I also can’t deny that this impulse can easily escape the vissicitudes of my girls’ actual lived material reality; it can become an intervention grounded on nothing more than a static vision of what I think constitutes “girlhood,” or whatever. Which is dangerous. (Not dangerous enough to abandon the project entirely, but dangerous nonetheless.)

  13. I’ll post on it when I get it back from my friend!
    I agree and disagree about Schor. She is certainly not a communitarian in the sense of wanting to preserve any particular lived experience. But I wouldn’t have characterised her as a communitarian at all (I’ve only read all her books, nothing else, but I think that gives me a good sense); more a liberal concerned with personal autonomy, in a fairly rich sense, and with particular barriers to authentic choice/judgement-making rooted in the social matrix. So for example she identifies in the first books pretty serious collective action problems that cannot be addressed without changing the structure of the economy in various ways. I think that Born to Buy is more of the same, in fact, although it has the added twist that the people we are dealing with are children.
    bq. it can become an intervention grounded on nothing more than a static vision of what I think constitutes “girlhood,” or whatever. Which is dangerous.
    Sure, one of the moral challenges of parenting is dealing with this, and making sure that we expose our children to a range of influences beyond ourselves. When one particular source of influence becomes pervasive, though, and one has evidence that it is harmful, one is justified in shielding one’s child from it, no? Especially if it driving out other influences. Commercial influences are not diverse, and they are not even promoted by eople who think they are valuable. Anyway, I wil post on it when time and access to the book allows!

  14. I guess we’ll all talk about this more after you post on it, Harry. But just one quick thought… You all have girls and I have the boys. Do you think that parents of girls are much more sensitive to the dangers of commercial images than parents of boys? Fear of the girlies becoming Britney Spears?

  15. Actually, I don’t have the slightesst fear of my girls being Britney-ised. And I don’t have fears about bulemia etc. Maybe I would if they had a more exposure to TV etc, but I doubt it.
    Maybe my experience is very eccentric, but in my circles the boy-parents worry more than the girl-parents about these things. We don’t have to deal, for example, with the massive peer-pressures about watching R-rated movies and having violent Game Boy games; or with our girls withdrawing into the Game Boy world. Several parents of my acquaintance have expressed the aspiration that their girls become lesbians so that they’ll have a better pool of potenital partners. I think they are 3/4rs kidding…..

  16. I just think that, for any number of different reasons, a great deal of attention has been paid to how commerical and peer pressures can affect girls, so parents of girls may be particularly aware of the problem. A lot of this has been, in my opinion, a waste of time and a distraction from the real problem (all the feminine self-esteem stuff out there, for example, I think does next to nothing to address how the choices and options of children can be materially shaped), but at least it raises the issue.

  17. Part of the disagreement I (and James Twitchell and others) have with Schor and I guess Harry is that I think commercial influences *are* diverse–both in and of themselves and because I think we, including kids, make our own diversities and complexities. Garbage in, fertilizer out. Schor and others assume that there has to be a kind of one-to-one correspondence with the content we encounter in cultural and social life and the products of that encounter.
    I *would* characterize Schor as a classic liberal communitarian of a sort–but very different from Putnam et al, who go looking for community in actually existing concentrations of people in a concrete place. The entirety of Schor’s invocation of voluntary simplicity is premised on creating geographically dispersed people who share a system of cultural values, a form of rejectionism, and in sharing it, become linked and identified. Schor also happens to believe, as I understand her, in the importance of state intervention in order to advance the cultural and communitarian agenda she believes in. In any event, the striking thing about her is what I described to Russell: the aim of most of her writing is to produce the committed willingness in her audience to adopt the proper interior state of identity and social being. Voluntary simplicity isn’t just about exterior practice, but about the transformation of the desiring self.

  18. ‘Schor and others assume that there has to be a kind of one-to-one correspondence with the content we encounter in cultural and social life and the products of that encounter.’
    I’d like to see actual evidence of this assumption in her writing. I don’t find it there at all. I think she is much more careful than you are giving her credit for. In fact your whole reading of her is very far from mine indeed; I’m quite surprised by these characterisations. She thinks the state should intervene to diminish certain bads and solve certain collective action problems, not to faciliate any particular narrow conception. Still, its good to see this way of charcterising her — now I feel compelled to re-read both Born to Buy and the Overspent American before writing about BtB. Bugger.

  19. It feels a little like I’m coming in on the middle of a conversation that’s been going on for a while, but I’ll jump in anyway.
    Harry, you mentioned Gary Sandefur and Sarah McLanahan. Ther most well-known work isn’t about the effects of child care on kids at all, but rather about the effects of growing up with a single parent v. in a two-parent household. If I remember the story correctly, McLanahan is the child of divorced parents herself, and set out to prove that the conventional wisdom about single parenthood being bad for kids was wrong, but was convinced by her own research that it was right.
    Laura, I’m similarly surprised by your comment that there hasn’t been a lot of recent research about “what’s best for the children.” There’s a whole body of recent public policy research about child care, welfare reform, and marriage that is very much focused on child outcomes. My sense is that it’s mostly being done by economists, psychologists and sociologists rather than political scientists.

  20. Harry – We haven’t entered the game boy years yet. Things to look forward to. Actually, my five year has never begged for any toy that he’s seen on TV or at a friend’s house. Maybe that starts happening at six.
    We keep the boy’s possessions pretty minimal for lots of reasons: efficiency, space, cost, snobbery about plastic, and kids just play better if they aren’t overwhelmed. I’ve not been so concerned about a corporate big brother, but I’m looking forward to learning more about Schor.
    Elizabeth – Yes, there’s been a lot done in other fields on child outcomes, but amazingly enough it hasn’t been taken up by political scientists. I’m not sure if it’s because of politics or because of a silly reason like there’s never been a section for such ideas.

  21. Elizabeth,
    you’re right, as I realised about a second after I pressed post — I was answering the wrong question with the right research. Slower on the Post button in future. My comment on the methodological difficulties, though, stands. Judith Harris disputes the Sadnefur/McLanahan thesis, and I’m not well equipped to assess her critique, though I have read fairly convincing dissents from it.
    Laura — wait for school to kick in. It does depend, though, enormously, on the peers.

  22. Harry: James Twitchell and I pretty much read Schor in The Overspent American the same way–that may be because he and I share a lot of basic orientations towards the issue of consumerism and mass culture. But I don’t think my reading is in any event arbitrary or wholly misplaced.
    I’m also using a conversation with Schor when she visited here to fill in a bit of the gap. I asked her what the social good of a program of voluntary simplicity combined with an easing of overproductivity might be (a program which she primarily turns to the state to push through policy interventions, as you observe, but she also asks individuals to commit to both projects in their daily habits and practices). There’s the ancedotes she cites of people who report psychological well-being and so on, but what I wanted to know is, “What will we do with all that time that we regain from work and shopping in your vision?”
    I found her answer telling. The first part of it was, “We’ll engage in truly fulfilling, authentically personal kinds of leisure and self-improvement.” Examples, I asked? “Gardening”, was her answer, but she didn’t mean that prescriptively for others–it was just what she liked to do. The second part of her answer was, “Get to genuinely know one another and make more meaningful communities”. I had thought I was picking that up anyway in her writing, but this was sort of the confirmation for me. It’s why I connect her very strongly with Postman in some ways even though they ostensibly don’t overlap that strongly.

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