Spread My Wealth!

The flight of the wealthy toward the Democratic Party continues apace.

Pew shows a Dem pick-up of 8% from 2004 among voters making over 100K, making it practically a push.

Andrew Gelman adds finer graphical detail.

2. As with previous Republican candidates, McCain did better among the rich than the poor:

outcome1.png

But the pattern has changed among the highest-income categories:

outcome2.png

This last one is the stunner. After about 110K, voters in this election became less likely to vote for the ostensibly anti-“spread the wealth” candidate.

Obama also had a huge pick-up in 18-29 year-old voters. What explains all this? Here’s my conjecture, in one word: secularization.

Rich people who don’t go to church are especially socially liberal. The richer they get, the less they prioritize economic issues over social issues, as Inglehart’s “post-materialism” theory predicts. And, if I recall from recent surveys, there has been a big decline in religiosity among the young, which tends to go along with an increasingly socially liberal cast of mind. The overall effect is that the Republican Party has become too socially conservative for increasingly secular wealthy people and increasingly secular twenty-somethings. The GOP is now pretty clearly the party of the religious, white, middle-aged and elderly middle class–not a group with a shining political future. The increasing popularity of the Democrats among the rich is going to move the economic policy preference of the median Democrat “right” and the economic policy preference of the median Republican “left”. In the short term, this might make for a decrease in polarization on economic policy, which may produce bipartisan support for policies that will horrify libertarians. In the long term, the Democrats will continue to become ever more “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” despite the attempt of the ideological left-leaning media and academic opinion elites (who are full of New New Deal ideas) to prevent this.

Andrew Gelman: I’m stealing at least half of these ideas from your book. Is this wrong?

Shrinking

Most of this week’s NYT Magazine cover piece on Europe’s fertility decline is old news to me,  thanks to my household demographics specialist, but I did find the bits at the end about the efforts to shrink Dessau, Germany pretty fascinating.

The plan, therefore, calls for demolishing underused sections of the city and weaving the nature on the periphery into the center: to create “urban islands set in a landscaped zone,” as Sonja Beeck, a Bauhaus planner, told me. “That will make the remaining urban areas denser and more alive.” The city has lost 25 percent of its population in recent years. “That means it is 25 percent too big,” Gröger said. “So far we have erased 2,500 flats from the map, and we have 8,000 more to go.” Beeck and Gröger walked with me through an area where a whole street had been turned into a grassy sward. Many residents were dubious at first, they told me, but as we walked, a woman recognized the government official and marched up to chat about when promised trees and flowers would be planted in front of her building.

As far as I know, this kind of urban planner’s dream is a property owner’s nightmare. But every time I take the train up the east coast and see the sprawling, delapidated, half-abandoned, outer slums of Baltimore and Philadelphia, I realize that these cities are never going to be as big as they once were, and that good ideas about how to effectively shrink cities are in very short supply. This can be a problem even if the population isn’t shrinking, but is just moving around.

Children Make Us Miserable

The evidence really doesn’t look great for the idea that kids are the key to contentment. I just got Arthur Brooks’ new book Gross National Happiness in the mail. Brooks quite rightly points out that happiness research doesn’t really do much to support conventional liberal policies, and he gives it a right-wing spin, as far as the data allow. But the data don’t allow much celebration of the happiness-value of children:

On the surface, it looks as though kids make people a bit happier: Adults with one or two kids are about 3 percentage points more likely to say they are happy than childless adults. But this gap is an illusion created by the fact that many happiness-causing things are also correlated with whether one has kids — marriage, age, religion, politics, and so forth. When we correct for these things, the relationship between kids and happiness actually reverses itself, and we see that children make people unhappy. If two adults in 2004 were the same in age, sex, income, marital status, education, race, religion, and politics — but one had kids and the other did not — the parent would be about 7 percentage points less likely to report being very happy.

The more children you have, on average, the unhappier you get — up to a point. The average happiness of adults — correcting for all the factors mentioned above — falls as more children are added to the family. …

[…]

None of this is to say that people with kids are unhappy people. There are many things in a parent’s life that bring great joy. For example, spending time away from kids.

Brooks points out that global self-reports can be misleading, because people often misremember how they have felt doing various activities. But experience sampling makes it look even worse:

Using these techniques, researchers have collected data on how people — particularly women — experience life with their children. And what emerges is that the enjoy almost everything more than they enjoy taking care of their kids. …

How about Bryan’s thesis?

Of course, we tell ourselves, having young children is difficult — but we will experience rewards when they are older, right? Probably so — although one British study suggests that senior citizens get more satisfaction from frequent contact with friends thans they do from spending time with their grown children. Al least once children have grown up, they seem, on average, to stop lowering the happiness of their parents.

I’m afraid the case for breeding, whatever it might be, isn’t going to be based in the pleasure of it.

Family Feud

Bryan Caplan kindly addresses my brazenly psychologizing argument against his Jamie-Lynn apology. I’m sure we’re talking past each other a bit, but that’s okay!

… if I’m reading Will correctly, he’s saying that there is a gender conflict on the issue of family size: Men want more kids than woman because women get pregnant and do most of the child-care. The problem with this story is that, empirically, desired family size for men and women is practically identical. In the GSS, the average response to the “ideal family size” question is 2.57 kids for men versus 2.56 for women. Indeed, if there is a gender conflict on this issue that the data doesn’t capture, it’s between women who want kids, and men who don’t. (See I Want a Baby; He Doesn’t).

Hmm… I’m not saying there is a gender conflict about family size.

Since we were talking about sixteen year-old girls, I was specifically pushing Bryan to grasp that the cost of having children for non-wealthy girls of that age is high; it may ruin their chances of realizing anything approaching their full potential or of achieving much that is accorded a high level of social esteem. And it turns out that most girls are not wealthy, or of wealth. I wasn’t making any point at all about desired fertility or family size. I was saying that having a child at sixteen has a VERY HIGH probability of severely limiting most girls’ prospects. It seemed to me that Bryan was overlooking this pretty obvious fact, which suggested to me a lack of sympathy for the cost of motherhood to teen girls, which further suggested a lack of sympathy for the cost of motherhood to women generally. Jamie-Lynn is a poor example for girls because she is doing something that would do a lot of damage to most girls’ lives, which is why most parents are not unreasonably terrified of this kind of thing regardless of their interest in grandkids.

But let’s talk about “ideal family size” anyway! I find survey evidence about desired family size or desired fertility pretty irrelevant in a way economists ought to be especially sensitive to. If you ask me how many cars, houses, or television sets I would ideally own without specifying the price I may well give you a pie-in-the-sky answer. I would like TEN cars! But given a world in which I face my actual budget constraint it turns out that I want one cheap car: a 1996 Honda Civic.

In the case of desired fertility, I think lagging social expectations and norms likely play a huge role. I suspect we take the size of our own families growing up as a kind of baseline for our family formation preferences. But as women’s equality has proceeded, and continues to proceed, the opportunity cost of pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare has risen, and is rising, for many women. So it would not be surprising if a young woman were to imagine that she would like three kids, given her mom’s 1985 opportunity cost. But given 2008 opportunity costs, she really only wants one, which is what she has. I don’t know if there is a male-female mismatch in preferences here, and I guess I don’t care much. It’s not what I was talking about, in any case.

Moving on…

Now admittedly, Will could rephrase his question in a gender-neutral way: “So what’s the problem with a person who decides to devote his/her life to meaningful life-constituting projects that do not involve [insert gender-neutral unaesthetic stuff about kids here]?” If so, my short answer would be:

1. It’s not hard for a person to do both, especially if he/she is reasonably affluent.

I don’t want the question to be gender-neutral. The point is that having children isn’t gender neutral. Women carry most of the burden.

Isn’t pregnancy hard? Childbirth? Don’t women worry a great deal about what all this does to their bodies and their sense of physical self-esteem? Doesn’t childcare have real costs in terms of competitive careers (i.e., almost all of them)?

I’d be more comfortable with “it’s not so hard” if social norms weren’t so brutal to middle-class, middle-American women who chose to outsource almost all their childcare in the same way men continue to outsource almost all their childcare to their wives. But, as it stands, I think even the average “reasonably affluent” woman bears a pretty big disproportionate burden and this is in fact reflected in diminished labor market prospects. Indeed, mothers face disadvantages in hiring, the wage gap between mothers and non-mothers is bigger than the wage gap between women and men, and according to some studies it is increasing. Nope, not hard at all!

2. A person who does both will almost certainly be glad that he/she did (whereas many successful childless people (especially women!) regret their choice.

Yes, I think it is part of our Darwinian design to mostly keep us from regretting our children, even if the choice was regrettable or in moments of reflection actual regretted. Also, it is taboo to admit regretting your children, even if in a mixed and complex way. But if Bryan thinks many, many, many mothers have not and do not in fact regret foregone experience, challenge, success, and status then I fear he’s not paying attention. Motherhood for many women just is a bittersweet experience of frustrated ambition and readjustment to downgraded expectations. Several times my own mother, who I’m sure loved me and my sisters without reserve, expressed to me deep regret for not having gone on to become a doctor instead of ending her education with nursing school in order to raise a family. That can’t be hard.

Anyway, if a career woman past reproductive age finds herself regretting not having children, she can always adopt. But try getting rid of your four year-old, and see what people think of you.

3. The person you create will almost certainly be really glad to exist.

If I gave somebody a million dollars, they would almost be certainly glad to get it. That’s some reason for me to give someone a million dollars, I suppose, but not really much of one.

4. If you think you own any debt of gratitude to your parents, giving them grandchildren is the best way to repay it.

Just being there, loving them, and loving your own life is the best way to repay, I figure.

Maybe Bryan is right that the rewards of family make it all worthwhile in the end. Lots of people certainly say so. But I continue to worry he is being a bit too facile about the high costs of childbearing and childrearing for women generally, not to say for teenage girls.