Is Life Better Today?

As I was super busy juggling two articles last week, you guys were carrying on an interesting discussion without me. Let me bring it to the front page.

Is life better today than it was for our parents? Do we enjoy more material benefits? Are our jobs more secure? Is the world more inclusive and kinder?

Well, it is better for people like Ian. They didn’t have the words to describe people with high functioning autism ten years ago. Now, there is the assumption that people like my son should have proper education, work, and housing. Does it always happen? No. Actually, people like Ian have a 20 percent shot of getting those things. But there’s at least recognition that these rights should exist. Maybe there will actually be real progress in another ten years.

Tangent — It does bug the crap out of me that my friends who happily plant a rainbow flag on their front lawns see nothing wrong with the fact that our school district educates its special ed kids in a windowless basement.

We have a bigger house than my parents; I grew up in a two bedroom Cape Cod. But my dad spent more time at home than Steve does. Kids weren’t so stressed out about grades and colleges and after school activities, but they are also less bored. I think middle class parenting is a wash – some improvements, some negatives.

I think the biggest difference in the negative camp has to be for working class Americans. The Trump voters really do have a worse life than they did a generation ago. And that isn’t a subjective assessment; It’s showing up in the death rates. The life expectancy for working class, white women has plummeted. The opioid crisis has hit that group hard.

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77 thoughts on “Is Life Better Today?

  1. “Well, it is better for people like Ian. They didn’t have the words to describe people with high functioning autism ten years ago”

    Well, they did, it’s just that the words weren’t very nice.

    “Tangent — It does bug the crap out of me that my friends who happily plant a rainbow flag on their front lawns see nothing wrong with the fact that our school district educates its special ed kids in a windowless basement.”

    Wait–is that even legal from the point of view of fire code?

    “We have a bigger house than my parents; I grew up in a two bedroom Cape Cod. But my dad spent more time at home than Steve does. Kids weren’t so stressed out about grades and colleges and after school activities, but they are also less bored. I think middle class parenting is a wash – some improvements, some negatives.”

    Middle class and above kids have a much better shot at getting help in finding a niche where they can shine.

    My big kids, for example, are totally hopeless at team sports (I mean, comically bad–there were spectators literally laughing at my daughter’s volleyball serve back in 4th or 5th grade), but we’ve been able to find niches for them. One kid is a fantastic rock climber (on one of those much maligned college rock climbing walls) and the other runs a ukulele club at school that is actually very well attended.

    “I think the biggest difference in the negative camp has to be for working class Americans. The Trump voters really do have a worse life than they did a generation ago. And that isn’t a subjective assessment; It’s showing up in the death rates. The life expectancy for working class, white women has plummeted. The opioid crisis has hit that group hard.”

    Right.

    I think even there, there are some lifestyle improvements. One of the people I talk to about special needs stuff is my cleaning lady (nobody slap me with a wet noodle!). She raised a large family, has nearly 3 dozen grandkids, is a big church lady, is raising a tween special needs foster kid, and she’s really on the ball with regard to special needs stuff. Even somebody like that who has very modest means benefits from the growing body of knowledge about how to deal with special needs kids. Furthermore, I was very surprised to learn that she herself has a couple of serious mental health diagnoses but lives what is obviously a very full, productive life.

  2. The Trump voters really do have a worse life than they did a generation ago.

    I don’t think that’s true in the aggregate. I’m not disputing that the working class has it worse then before or that those white people without college educations were more likely to vote from Trump. But Trumps’s support among white people without college educations came just as much from the higher earning portion then those without a good income. Which is what you’d expect if you figure to a certain extent that Trump is the white baby boom shitting on America before it dies. They aren’t experienced the problems of today’s working class. They inflicted them and are still at it.

    See here for supporting detail.

    1. MH,

      This was kind of shady:

      ” If being working class means being in the bottom half of the income distribution, the vast majority of Trump supporters during the primaries were not working class.”

      A couple issues:

      –Why aren’t we talking about the bottom half of whites generally, rather than to bottom half of people of all races nationally?
      –There are (obviously) well-paid blue collar people.

      I didn’t read the whole thing, but I think you’re forgetting the fact that Obamacare was a boot in the face of a lot of people who are not Medicaid-eligible but also don’t have employer-provided health insurance. Once you get out of the Medicaid zone of Obamacare, it’s nothing but misery until you get to the point where income is good enough to absorb the pain.

      And that’s why it’s expected that so many current Obamacare sign-ups will bail on their insurance as soon as they are legally able to–they are being forced to buy insurance that they cannot afford.

      That’s one of many reasons that Trump is president today.

      If you don’t believe me about how bad Obamacare can be for people in the exchanges, here’s a good story to read:

      http://thefederalist.com/2016/10/27/defective-obamacare-health-insurance-product-just-blew/

      “Like many other Americans, I got a letter last week. This letter is becoming an annual tradition, arriving on my doorstep in October to inform me of my Obamacare insurance premium hike.
      Last year, the letter said my Bronze plan, purchased on the marketplace formed by the, ahem, Affordable Care Act, would increase by almost 60 percent. This year, my premium is going up 96 percent. Ninety-six percent. My monthly payment, which was the amount of a decent car payment, is now the size of a moderate mortgage.”

      “For this astronomical payment, I get a plan with an astronomical deductible that my healthy family of three will likely never hit except in the most catastrophic of circumstances.”

      “My health care company abandoned the lowest-tier Bronze option entirely in its attempt to stay solvent, funneling me into a Silver plan with higher levels of care I don’t need at a higher price I don’t want.”

      Obamacare was always supposed to be a sort of first draft, with the details to be filled in later.

      1. I didn’t read the whole thing, but I think you’re forgetting the fact that Obamacare was a boot in the face of a lot of people who are not Medicaid-eligible but also don’t have employer-provided health insurance.

        A Supreme Court decision and various state government reactions did that.

      2. “I didn’t read the whole thing, but I think you’re forgetting the fact that Obamacare was a boot in the face of a lot of people who are not Medicaid-eligible but also don’t have employer-provided health insurance. ”

        Those people couldn’t buy health insurance at all, or at least health insurance that covered any needs before Obamacare. We buy health insurance on the exchanges (though we probably don’t have to). The exchanges are a safety net for even us, and, I imagine even more so for those with more significant health needs.

        And, as MH points out, there has been an active attempt by Republicans to make the worst of the Obamacare law (including the opting out from Medicare expansion — I’m honestly not sure how hospitals in those states are surviving. Maybe folks in the donut are giving up jobs so that they can fall into Medicare? Especially if they are sick?)

      3. MH said:

        “A Supreme Court decision and various state government reactions did that.”

        That was all completely predictable.

      4. No, it wasn’t predictable. It was a preordained tactic by Republicans whose goal was to produce failure for anything that Obama did, who used every possible tactic to do so.

        The Republican party solidified into the party of obstruction under the Obama administration, aided by the Tea Party challenges to functional government. I’m not going to be surprised if they can’t pass even tax cuts with full control of the government.

      5. Yes. It really is something new, the “If we can’t win, we’ll blow it up regardless of the result” mentality. Trump is a symptom, an acute one, but not the root problem.

    2. In fairness, it’s younger baby boomers, older gen Xers, and the silent generation doing most of the shitting. IIRC older boomers were less likely to vote for Trump than the slightly younger or older cohorts, and the Greatest Gen is mostly dead, but they also are noticeably less reactionary.

  3. As I stated in the other thread, I believe that both parenting and life more generally are much better today.

    There are some strawman comments in the other thread to the effect that sexual abuse still happens and kids are more anxious, as if anything less than perfection is evidence that parenting isn’t any better now, just different. I never said parents now are perfect, I simply think they are better than previous generations, in some areas by a lot. I fully expect my own children to be better parents than I am, in large part due to access to information they’ll have that I don’t have about which parenting practices support healthy child and adolescent development. My guess is that our children’s generations will be able to figure out a way to take the attentiveness of today’s parents without the negative effects of helicoptering.

    For most of human history, parents just…parented…no one ever really thought about it all too much. In some situations that was fine, but for a lot of children it was horrible. It’s really just been over the past few decades that researchers have started to study parenting to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Younger millenials and gen z kids are really the first generations of children to have parents who have applied this knowledge in how they interacted with their children. This is a huge change. It really feels like we are at the very beginning of a revolution (a positive one) in how we understand interpersonal interactions, of which parenting is just one type, and their effect on children’s mental health, stability, resiliency, and emotional regulation.

    1. I honestly think this is completely unmeasurable and the idea that whole generations are better or worse parents isn’t a very helpful way of thinking about it. Better according to whom? By what metrics? Social mores change, society changes, and parenting changes within that milieu. But I really really object to the idea that there is there is a telos to parenting.

      Resiliency, emotional regulation, mental health, and stability (and for that matter trauma) are cultural, social, and historical categories, and our feelings on these issues depend largely on our expectations and how such things are defined by the world around. I would say we’re far more fragile than we used to be, because we have whole new realms of traumas. I’m not saying this is all a bad thing, but it means that we cannot possibly assume that people in other times and places would have the same emotional and psychological reactions that we would have.

      1. I honestly think this is completely unmeasurable…

        You don’t believe in the social sciences, generally? Or just the fields of research specific to parenting and child development? My first response in this kind of conversation would be to refer to research on parenting and child development, but that seems futile if you don’t believe those things can be studied or measured.

      2. I think you have no idea what you’re talking about. You have zero idea what people engaged in childcare in ancient Babylon, or medieval France, or 19th century Amazonia thought about childcare. You have no idea what sorts of conversations they had with each other, or what sorts of advice mothers told their daughters as they held their new infants in their arms. That stuff is by and large lost to the historical or archeological record, and is fundamentally unknowable. You’re completely making stuff up based on an idea of your own superiority.

        I don’t what I said that that triggered this series of agitated comments from you. I’d still like to discuss the question “is life better now?” but if your contention is that it is impossible for us to know that (because it is immeasurable, because of a lack of an adequate historical record) then it sounds your and I are at a dead end with this discussion.

      3. It’s obviously not the case that it’s unmeasurable whether whole generations are better off. Humans are unequivocally better off on so many measures.

        And, Laura mentions those with disabilities, but there are enormously more classes of people with access to better resources, more access, and more opportunity than they have ever had before in the history of mankind. My kiddo brought up a conversation recently on one of those “personal essay” style questions where you are asked which decade you would want to live in. He said he’s always found that question preposterous because he is a brown boy and as such, there’s no other decade he can imagine preferring. I have always agreed. The question writers need to change that question if what they really want is a different answer.

        Realistically — was your child delivered by a caesarean? have you needed antibiotics? blood pressure medications? cancer treatment? Did you open your own credit card? Did you go to a school that didn’t admit women? Did you have a better chance at education than your mother?

    2. It’s also completely false that no one thought about parenting. Parenting manuals date back thousands of years. Making up random statements that are completely unmoored in any actual data isn’t a very convincing argument. The idea that parents today got it right and are super enlightened compared to previous generations *also* dates back thousands of years.

      1. It really seems like you’re cherry-picking specific phrases to refute than to try and engage in a broader discussion. Yes, you are correct, I was being hyperbolic when I said “no one”. Would it make you happier if I said fewer parents thought about it? Now what do think?

      2. The idea that the current generation of parents is doing a crap job has had legs, too. My best exhibit here is Spiro T. Agnew, “This whole Spock-marked generation”.

      3. You’re being entirely ahistorical, and you’re making broad and inaccurate historical claims. I don’t know what “social scientists” your’e talking about, but experimental psychology is a synchronic field, and there are lots of problems with working cross culturally, not to mention cross historically. Good psychologists acknowledge this.

        I have never met a sociologist or a psychologist or anthropologist who would argue that “parenting is getting better with each generation” is not a really specious claim.

      4. I think you have no idea what you’re talking about. You have zero idea what people engaged in childcare in ancient Babylon, or medieval France, or 19th century Amazonia thought about childcare. You have no idea what sorts of conversations they had with each other, or what sorts of advice mothers told their daughters as they held their new infants in their arms. That stuff is by and large lost to the historical or archeological record, and is fundamentally unknowable. You’re completely making stuff up based on an idea of your own superiority.

      5. You’re being entirely ahistorical, and you’re making broad and inaccurate historical claims. I don’t know what “social scientists” your’e talking about, but experimental psychology is a synchronic field, and there are lots of problems with working cross culturally, not to mention cross historically. Good psychologists acknowledge this.

        Of course, I agree with this. But “culture impacts our understanding of what constitutes good parenting” is quite a bit different from “this is completely immeasurable”.

        I don’t believe that every generation of parents is better than the last. I think that this generation of (American) parents is better than the ones that immediately preceded it (boomers, greatest gen) because of better understanding about what works (within our culture). I fully expect my (American) children and their peers will have access to even better knowledge about what works (within our culture) that will make it easier for them to parent their children in ways that support healthy development.

      6. But how is parenting success measured, really? External success? That’s dependent on larger structural economic forces, and by any measures Baby Boomers were better off as young people than young people are today (income, debt, home ownership, etc.). Internal well-being? Anti-depressant use is at an all time high, and children are measurably more anxious than they were in the past. (Though, it’s again not really fair to blame that on parents). Warm fuzzy feelings towards one’s parents? Millennials, who were raised by baby boomers, are pretty close to them.

        I’m not sure where these trends are coming from, and I’m not sure how different Gen Xers are from Baby Boomers in their parenting style, except perhaps with degrees. Overscheduling and helicopter parenting started with boomers.

        Parenting isn’t a thing where there’s an obvious right way to do it, and both parenting and parenting advice are notoriously sensitive to fads. What looks enlightened now is going to look woefully out of date 15 years from now, and then 15 years after that it will be trendy again.

      7. But how is parenting success measured, really?

        Let’s forget about generational change and instead just focus on people who are parents of young children right now. lead to better outcomes for children than others. I would look at things like: consistency, stability, discipline appropriateness, attentiveness. I would expect that parents who employ more of these practices would have children who do better in school, have higher social competence, less aggression, less internalizing. If, through this process, we identified that a specific commonly-used parenting practice, punishment for example, was linked to poor outcomes for children, many parents would minimize its usage. As punishment became a widely known as ineffective, more parents would avoid it until, eventually, it would become an uncommon practice in future generations who would be better off in its absence.

        I chose punishment intentionally because this is basically what has happened with it over the past few decades. It was common for boomers to use punishment as a form of discipline. As research looked at the effects of punishment, we’ve more recently (past few decades) learned that it is a less effective form of changing behavior compared to positive reinforcement. Today’s parents are the first generation to really intentionally minimize the amount and harshness of punishment as a result of what we now know from that research. When my children’s generation becomes parents, I expect that trend to continue such that punishment will probably be used even less frequently. That will be a good thing! It will be a positive, generational change across large parts of the population.

        Is the current crop of parents perfect? No. Will the next crop be perfect? No again. They will be better for examining trying to do more of what worked in past generations and less of what didn’t work.

      8. I’m with B.I. I don’t see any evidence that children are doing better than they did 50 years ago, as measured by objective indicia like crime rates, suicide rates, etc. Even if we confine ourselves to UMC children (those are the ones whose parents use positive reinforcement instead of punishment etc.), are they better? Crime rates are generally low in that group, but someone is committing however many rapes there are on campuses these days (for that matter, someone is making however many false rape accusations there are), and it isn’t the children of the poor.

      9. Agreed. And there are a whole lot of kids in my UMC suburbs who self harm from the stress and getting hooked on serious drugs. I think the levels of stress on kids about college and grades has gotten a lot worse. Who the fuck cares whether a kid has a 3.4 GPA or a 3.5 GPA? Dumbest thing ever.

      10. I don’t see any evidence that children are doing better than they did 50 years ago, as measured by objective indicia like crime rates, suicide rates, etc.

        Crime rates are down. Child maltreatment is down. Early sexual activity is down. Teen drug use is down. Motor vehicle deaths are down. Other child deaths due to accident are down. The high school graduation rate is up. College enrollment is up. Many of the problems people in the 80’s and 90’s worried about are less of problems today. We have some new problems (opioid use, possible increase in anxiety/depression). We should begin addressing those problems. We can do that and also acknowledge that we’ve been somewhat successful at addressing the old problems.

      11. Crime rates are down from when? If you buy the Kevin Drum theory (which I do), that the spike in crime rates from the 1960s through the 1990s was due to lead exposure, then using that period as the base is inappropriate. Things like crime rates, or rates or early sexual activity, or rates of substance abuse, or rates of out-of-wedlock childbirth, or whatever you want to measure, are not generally lower than they were in 1950.

      12. Things like crime rates, or rates or early sexual activity, or rates of substance abuse, or rates of out-of-wedlock childbirth, or whatever you want to measure, are not generally lower than they were in 1950.

        This is simply untrue.

        Teen births have fallen dramatically, from a rate of 96 (per 1000 births) in mid-50’s to 24 now.

        Juvenile arrest rates have fallen from 295 in 1980 to 182 in 2014.

        Teen drug use other than marijuana (which has mostly held steady) is at it lowest level since tracking began.

        These aren’t secrets. You can easily find these data. Most of the commonly-used indicators of child well-being have improved over the last few decades. Life is better in many ways. There are many reasons for that, parenting is just one.

      13. Teen birth are not at all the same as out of wedlock births. Comparing teen births from 60 years ago, when many 18 and 19 year olds got married, to today, as a way from distracting attention from the actual topic (out of wedlock births) isn’t going to fool anyone who can read. And I just explained why the blip in crime statistics from the 1960s to the 1990s is an anomaly which has nothing to do with the enlightened parenting of today and everything to do with leaded gasoline and house paint.

      14. y81 – don’t you live in New York? The drop in crime is part of the justification to continue doing stop and frisk and it is also something the police use to try to claim credit for the drop.

  4. I think most of the phenomena people are describing are cyclical, with each era congratulating itself on its superiority to the prior one. Special needs children were not institutionalized in colonial America: depending on the nature of their disability, a few of them may have been treated as criminals, but most of them were cared for by their families. They didn’t receive much education, but neither did most people, so it wasn’t a stigma, much less a handicap in being a plowman. Institutionalization was a “scientific” advance, thought at the time to be more humane than letting those with disabilities languish on the margins of society.

    1. Well the ones with Downs Syndrome mostly died. So you’re right they weren’t institutionalized. The treatment of people with disabilities is not cyclical. I keep bringing science/medicine/technology into this discussion. But, science counts.

      1. Sure, but I’m not sure it makes you a better parent that you have access to technology that wasn’t around 50 or 100 years ago. Or perhaps it makes you better if you’re sole metric is child survival, but at that point it’s sort of a trivial measure.

        If we’re talking about parenting as a set of practices or a set of choices, choosing the era you live in isn’t one that you get to make. I also wouldn’t assume that a parent who can’t afford an experimental treatment for their child that isn’t covered by insurance that might be life saving is a bad or even a worse parent than one who can. Unluckier, yes. Worse? I don’t think so.

      2. “According to our new arrival.
        Life is more than mere survival.
        We just might live the good life yet.”

  5. “Tangent — It does bug the crap out of me that my friends who happily plant a rainbow flag on their front lawns see nothing wrong with the fact that our school district educates its special ed kids in a windowless basement.”

    Also tangent: I am frustrated that it’s hard to organize SPED parents because of privacy laws. I don’t know who the SPED parents are in my district. 😦

  6. I’m actually kind of tired of this discussion because I don’t think we get anywhere, and as you all know, I have little patience for recycling well-worn arguments. Basically, right now, everything sucks for everyone in the US. Even Trump is pretty fucking miserable. The real question is why, and I think the answer is that we have been at war for the last few years without even realizing it.

    1. We’ve been at war for 16 years, and counting.

      Some people have realized it. It’s particularly noticeable when the coffins come home.

      1. Let’s try to remember that we haven’t got out of the last middle east war before Trump starts the next one with Iran.

  7. On parenting, it is not proven that this generation is all that good at parenting.

    This is highly dependent upon income, class, and marital status. Many parents don’t have the leisure time to invest in parenting. The number of children growing up in single-parent households continues to increase. A single parent trying to put food on the table does not have the time to supervise child activities. To quote the title of this graph, “For U.S. kids, strong link between parents’ marital status and likelihood of living in poverty”. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/12/17/parenting-in-america/st_2015-12-17_parenting-03/

    I am not thrilled by the rise of child-raising as a competitive sport.

    What is the goal of parenting? I would say that one should aim to raise children who are prepared to function as independent adults at the time of college graduation. I found this survey result interesting (at the same Pew report on parenting):

    On average, parents say children should be at least 10 years old before they should be allowed to play in front of their house unsupervised while an adult is inside. Parents say children should be even older before they are allowed to stay home alone for about an hour (12 years old) or to spend time at a public park unsupervised (14 years old).

    14 years old is a high school freshman.

    1. I was making inquiries at our children’s museum because it crossed my mind that it would be nice to be able to park a big kid at the children’s museum with our youngest (age 5). The staffer I talked to said that they are fine with that when the supervising child is 16 or up, seeing as how kids that age could (theoretically) drive themselves there.

      This is a very exciting option!

      I’m still adjusting to seeing our 10th grader’s classmates drive themselves and siblings. Seeing one of them driving her older sister and 7th grade brother recently was as surprising as seeing a car full of dogs driving a car. (There’s yet another kid in the family, so I expect the family has a logistics crunch.)

      1. When I was 16, I was working the window at McDonald’s and the much younger sister (probably 12) of a classmate drove through. Her dad was a passenger, but it was still disconcerting. He wasn’t even drunk (which I saw with older kids driving their parents to get a burger).

      2. MH said:

        “When I was 16, I was working the window at McDonald’s and the much younger sister (probably 12) of a classmate drove through.”

        I may not have this story exactly right, but when my dad was visiting my mom’s family in Eastern Washington back in the late 60s, he got to ride along with his 10-year-old future brother-in-law who was driving a loaded cattle truck on the Cloverland Grade. Whee!

      3. Dogs driving! Now that’s a questionable designated driver. :-).

        We are now in the era of teens driving themselves. It’s life altering as a parent. I am confident of her driving ability, though we are still in a highly regulatory state about when and where she can drive. The latest drive did involve a drive home at midnight, which was just short of the 1AM-5AM prohibition for teenagers in our state. She apparently knew that. I had to look it up, because when I saw the restriction a few months ago when she got her license, I did not think it in the realm of possibility that she would be driving then. Apparently I was wrong. I like having the state law to enforce a 1 AM limit, though.

    2. This is crazy.

      I was babysitting (alone) at 12 and dating at 14. At 10, I was wandering off into the woods alone or with friends. At 13, friends and I went camping by ourselves!. A friend’s parent dropped us off at a campsite. There was no office or phone and it was early in the year, so we were the only campsite, and we were on our own for the weekend. (We wrote a report for 7th grade science class.)

      I used to be so frustrated with my kids’ tae kwon do place. They insisted that parents had to watch the class (when they were 12 and 13). I wanted to drop them off and go grocery shopping or something, but no.

    3. My grandfather started driving at age 7. He was too short to reach the pedals, so his 9 year-old brother would crouch on the floor and operate the pedals while my grandfather steered (not sure why my grandfather got the more exciting job, given he was the younger brother). They’d drive into the closest city to get supplies, which was about 50 miles away from the farm. Sometimes they’d drive their mother into town if she needed something, for some reason she refused to drive herself. My grandfather started ploughing fields at age 10.

      My neighbors were from Laos and Afghanistan. The wives were married at age 13 and mothers by 15. Long before that they’d helped their own mothers do chores and raise younger siblings. By the time I was seven, I was trusted to do basic infant care (soothing a baby, putting it down for a nap, giving a bottle). At that age Western parents wouldn’t even let me hold a baby by myself. Since I was a girl who loved caring for my dolls, I loved nothing more than to help out with babies, and I took the responsibilities really seriously.

      These people would view the idea that a 14 year old needs supervision to be stunting a child’s natural development to the point of child abuse. They would view modern American children to be grossly incompetent to the point of disability. I personally don’t think we should parent like rural Afghans or Norwegians of 90 years ago, but I do think we need to recognize that our parenting is perverse to people whose parenting we might find perverse.

      1. I think you are generalizing here — my mother, who certainly cared for infants when she was 10, would not have had the same expectation of me. There may be some cultural expectations, but most folks adjust to the cultures around them. At 10, she had much more experience with certain things (caring for infants, milking cows, . . . .) than I did. I, on the other hand, had much more experience with other things (the trappings of modern society, math, school, interior decoration, crafts, . . . .). She adjusted her expectations and certainly didn’t consider me “stunted” because at 14 I didn’t know how to change a diaper, but did know the physiology of the kidney and how to write programs in BASIC.

        It’s not a good thing that your neighbors from Laos were married at 13 and mothers by 15 or that my mother had to quit school because there was no high school in her village.

      2. I was raised by my grandfather, and he didn’t expect me to plow fields or drive at age 7 either. Likewise, my Afghan neighbor’s daughter was in college at 21, not a mom of three. My point is that we think of those sorts of practices as abuse, but they’re not, depending on the milieu. Things that seem strange and wrong to us aren’t necessarily objectively so, and things we take for granted aren’t necessarily normal or “right.”

      3. Or I guess my point is that asking children to take on adult responsibilities is not abuse in the way UMC American parents conceive it as. I agree that kids shouldn’t be farming or or getting married, but those aren’t always or necessarily pathological in the way we imagine them to be, and have much more been the norm for most of humanity. The idea of childhood and adolescence are cultural constructs.

      4. B.I. said,

        “The idea of childhood and adolescence are cultural constructs.”

        Eh, not so much. There are developmental issues. One can stunt children by limiting their options, but there is a developmental process.

        About very early marriage–aren’t those usually cultures where the new bride is under her mother-in-law’s or the senior wife’s thumb, rather than having a household of her own and relative autonomy?

        Related:

      5. Oh sure, that humans develop over a long period of time is biological fact. No society advocates dropping 7 year olds in the woods to fend for themselves (well, except maybe wolf boy? I guess he was abandoned as a baby and found as a 10 year old). Most societies don’t expect 18 or 22 year olds to set up independent households, either. There’s a gradual increase in responsibility as people are able to handle it, but what that is or how responsible kids are expected to be can vary, and we’re pretty far on one extreme of human variation, in terms of lack of life skills we expect from kids. I’m not advocating for a return to child labor or early marriage (at all!) I’m just saying that children are not constitutionally incapable of having more or different responsibility than we give them, and it’s not abuse per se that people have different expectations of children and adolescents than we do.

      6. The idea of adolescence as a time of moodiness rebellion is a cultural construct, and relatively recent. Puberty is a biological fact, of course, and most cultures have some notion of ritual transition into adulthood around that time. But things like mood swings or disrespect for authority don’t necessarily manifest among teenagers in other parts of the world like they do in the US.

      7. B.I. said,

        “Most societies don’t expect 18 or 22 year olds to set up independent households, either.”

        That’s an interesting contrast–that our society has probably compressed the hand-off period too much.

        I’ve often told you guys how BAD local undergraduates are at crossing the street.

        I give a lot of color commentary while I’m driving that I hope is soaking into my kids on the subject of how when we cross the street, we LOOK where we’re going rather than keeping our eyes glued to our phone screens.

        http://www.npr.org/2017/03/30/522085503/2016-saw-a-record-increase-in-pedestrian-deaths

      8. B.I. said:

        “The idea of adolescence as a time of moodiness rebellion is a cultural construct, and relatively recent. Puberty is a biological fact, of course, and most cultures have some notion of ritual transition into adulthood around that time. But things like mood swings or disrespect for authority don’t necessarily manifest among teenagers in other parts of the world like they do in the US.”

        A couple years ago (when our oldest was 13), I started thinking to myself, “NOW I understand why Afghans marry off their girls at 13.” (A little dark, but that’s how I felt at the time.)

        She’s 90% out of that stage, but I have to tell you that the moodiness and disrespect in early puberty are real. They get REALLY sensitive about their feelings, while being totally insensitive to other people’s feelings or needs.

        The good news is that kids that age are often willing to accept guidance from non-parent adults and are often respectful to non-parent adults, so that if one games things out right, they’ll be getting smart ideas in stereo both from home and school (or music teacher or youth group leader or coach or whatever).

        (One of the ethnic grandpas in the family used to say, “For which of my sins am I being punished?” when a child misbehaved and in the case of our oldest, I know exactly what the answer is, because I was exactly the same to my mom when I was that age. And my parents were not at all ones to brook insubordination–so it wasn’t a self-fulfilling cultural construct.)

      9. “The idea of adolescence as a time of moodiness rebellion is a cultural construct, and relatively recent. Puberty is a biological fact, of course, and most cultures have some notion of ritual transition into adulthood around that time. But things like mood swings or disrespect for authority don’t necessarily manifest among teenagers in other parts of the world like they do in the US.”

        And even within the US/Canada, it’s not pervasive. Mainstream TV shows and movies tend to show kids/teens as snarky wise-asses. Real life? Not so much. Many are hard-working, kind, respectful, etc.

      10. I’m willing to stake out a claim that marriage at 13 was is abusive in all modern societies (and, by modern I mean oh, post-18th century). Especially if you weren’t marrying another 13 year old.

  8. It was a really great day when we realized that Jonah was our designated driver for family night at the restaurant. I might have taken a photograph of the moment and put it on Facebook. But after three glasses of wine, who can remember? jk

    1. LOL, we had the same realization during my 50th birthday party. We were all super drunk on margaritas and then realized S could drive my sisters and their families back to the hotel. She made about 3 round trips.

  9. BTW, on the “rainbow flag v special needs kids in the basement”. Have those flying the rainbow flags actually told you that they don’t care about the kids in the special needs basement? Or are you really citing their relative lack of concern for one issue over the other?

    I admit there are some in the first category — childless self actualizing Thiel types who have made a cult out of darwinism. But, for those in the second, I think we have to accept that people will fight for what is most important to them. Wiesel follows his line that “wherever [people] are persecuted . . that place must . . . become the center of the universe” with “since I am a Jew . . . my first response is to Jewish fears.” We will all prioritize our battles and we need to resist attempts to pit priorities against each other, but also recognize that we can’t demand that our rank order of priorities become everyone else’s.

  10. I do have an existential fear, along the lines of “will a robot/AI be doing your job”, that the requirements for human work will become cognitively/socially/intellectually more and more demanding to the point where only a small (and, anything less than half is small) humans will possess enough comparative value to be better than AI. I don’t think our society is set up to deal with that economic demand yet, and that some of our closely held values of the modern age (free markets, capitalism, . . . .) are not necessarily well suited to a world in which many humans have little economic value.

    But I don’t think we are there yet.

  11. I think the biggest difference in the negative camp has to be for working class Americans.

    I think the biggest difference in the negative camp has to be for *white* working class Americans.

    There. FTFY.

    1. When “cultural issues” means marching men with clubs and guns beating unarmed black men on the streets Charlottesville and the Republican president saying “meh”, you can see why.

    2. The article you cite is about the past decade, not past decades (2000 v 2010). During that period, a Republican was setting economic policy for most of the decade, culminating in the Great Recession. So African-Americans could reasonably vote for both their pocket book and their non-economic interest against racism and bigotry.

      1. bj said:

        “Compared to 1950, African American men have gone from earning about 50% of the income of white men to earning 75% of the income.”

        We’ve had a lot of black immigration since 1950, so those are somewhat different pools.

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/black-immigration-is-remaking-us-black-population-report-says/2015/04/09/ded49c58-de29-11e4-a1b8-2ed88bc190d2_story.html?utm_term=.527cdc853bff

        “That was also reflected in the Pew report, which said black immigrants tend to be older, more likely to have a higher education and a higher income, and less likely to live in poverty.”

        “The impact of black immigration has been particularly strong in cities that already had some of the nation’s largest black populations. For instance, in the District, 15 percent of the black population was born outside the United States. In Miami, 34 percent of the black community was born elsewhere. In New York’s metro area, that figure is 28 percent. Nearly half of the influx has occurred since 2000, the report says.”

        “The most recent wave of black immigration began in the 1960s after U.S. immigration laws were changed. In recent years, the pace has increased. The most recent Census Bureau estimates show that immigration accounted for 25 percent of the growth in the U.S. black population between 2010 and July 2013, Frey said.”

  12. I’m going to say something truly unpopular and challenging on the internet. I completely agree that we can decide certain systems are wrong and immoral, and should be gotten rid of. I am not a fan of patriarchy. I don’t believe in child marriage, or domestic violence, or lack of sexual agency for women. But, I am very wary of assigning trauma or psychological states to people based on analogous thinking of how we (i.e. MC North Americans in early 21st cen. America) would feel. Some element of trauma results from the knowledge that the behavior is wrong, socially unacceptable, and utterly different from our expectations. If expectations are wildly different, trauma will be different. Women who we would consider to be raped by their husbands every night aren’t particularly upset about that, because they don’t have an idea of sex as something they need to consent to. They wouldn’t consider themselves violated. The same woman might feel utterly violated, though, if forced to be alone in a room with a male stranger. They might evidence signs of psychological trauma akin to what an American woman might have if she’d been groped or sexually assaulted.

    It is also true that once behavior becomes stigmatized or pathological, the ways it manifests in a society are different and more extreme than they would have otherwise. For example, when corporal punishment was acceptable, most parents hit their kids at least a little. Maybe 10-15% did so in a pathological fashion, and maybe 10-15% didn’t at all. The remaining middle 60% did so because it was expected, but not in a way that has left long-term damage for those involved. Now that corporal punishment is taboo, the only people still physically disciplining their kids are those 10-15%. I personally don’t plan on physically punishing my children, but I don’t think you can extrapolate from contemporary child abuse to the idea that most children were abused because most parents used corporal punishment. It’s an issue of selection bias, along with changing expectations for behavior. (If you smacked your kids around now, they very well might feel abused, because they’re taught it’s wrong and pathological and expectations have changed greatly.)

    This is not a defense of any of these behaviors at all. It’s simply an explanation for why people don’t react or think what we would think in their places, and it’s partly a reason why most NGO work utterly fails to do what it sets out to do.

    1. There are limits to this kind of cultural relativism. What’s different about today from every other point in history is that we have greatly improved methods for understanding what those limits are. Adolescence as a cultural construct is a good example of this. We now know that adolescents aren’t just young adults, there really is something distinct about that age in terms of brain development. Should this new knowledge impact how we interact and parent adolescents? I would say yes, it should. Since we’re at the very early stages of understanding how adolescents are different, we don’t yet know the best ways to incorporate that knowledge into parenting. However, just being able to access that knowledge and assign it importance is itself a huge step forward.

  13. Laura posed these questions: “Is life better today than it was for our parents? Do we enjoy more material benefits? Are our jobs more secure? Is the world more inclusive and kinder?”

    As she did, I’ll try to answer them in a provincial pattern.

    Is life better today for me that it was for my parents? Undoubtedly. My parents experienced food insecurity; they lived without life saving technologies and medical care; their siblings died of preventable causes; they had to take extraordinary measures to achieve the levels of education their children took for granted, and, for my mother, the choices weren’t at all available.

    Do I enjoy more material benefits? Yes, in every way. I have more money in the bank, a bigger house, more security in providing for my children’s education.

    Is my job more secure? probably not, since my father was a tenured professor when he retired. But, our saved funds would guarantee us his salary for the rest of our lives (and more, at least as well as tenure), so I have to give this one a neutral reading at best.

    Is the world more inclusive? for me and my family, undoubtedly. We are non-white, biracial, culturally non-chirstian athiests. Our children take for granted a degree of inclusiveness that we didn’t even dream possible. And, for that reason alone, is the world kinder? to me? undoubtedly.

    And, would my parents agree with all of this? Yes, I think they would, though I can ask explicitly when we next chat.

    1. O, if you want a personal answer, I would say that my life is much the same as my parents’ was: better in some ways, worse in others (which may color my judgment of social change generally). Both my parents and my in-laws were (or are, in the case of my father) UMC New Yorkers. Relative price have changed, such that we have more domestic help and nicer vacations than my parents, but would have struggled mightily to pay for the education of three children the way they did (which we didn’t have to, because we only had one). Also, although it doesn’t affect us personally, New York apartment prices have risen so much in the past 15 years that it would be hard now for a law firm partner in a second-tier firm to buy either my parents’ apartment or ours. Law firm partners probably had a little more job security in my father’s day than now, but not a lot more. My wife has had more opportunity than her mother, but I’m not sure it has made her happier.

  14. I haven’t stayed caught up with the thread, but I have a relevant story.

    I was just out and about and bumped into a friend, who noticed my “Helicopter-ish” t-shirt.

    Friend said something like, you’re not a helicopter mom–you just stay on top of things.

    Totally different!

  15. I was wondering how much we’re confusing rising standards of material living with upward social mobility. Thinking about it, my family has been pretty stable for the past 1000 years or so in terms of social rank. Much of that is unusual–they were land-owning farmers in a small, rural, classless society. The lives of my ancestors were physically harder and more precarious in many ways (e.g. I’m unlikely to die in childbirth), but social class-wise they skewed middle/upper middle in a society with no formal strata, not unlike the US.

    In comparison to my parents, I’m worse off in most ways. They were the golden age of baby boomers. Really inexpensive college, really cheap houses, plentiful secure jobs. By my age, my parents owned a nice house in a gentrifying neighborhood that they’d extensively remodeled. My mother was a SAHM who had gotten a law degree “for fun” when my brother was a baby, and my dad easily supported us on a government job.

  16. Oh, I am definitely more upward socially mobile, too. My parents were middling farmers in their villages. Not low status but not the squires of the town, either. I’m not sure how to classify my class (always fondly attached to Fussel’s Class X, and, honestly, I do think we belong there). But I think it would be hard for me to argue any social class, but “upper” (we aren’t in the top-out-of sight class), though that designates a bit of how much that class has changed over the years.

    I do think that a lot of people do answer “better” that way, with not, am I better off, but am I better off compared to others than my parents were compared to others in their world. I do think that the modern ability to compare oneself not just to the village of a 1000 (what my parents could do) v the entire world (via internet, social media, movies, television, connections) makes a big difference in evaluating one’s comparative rank.

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