New Era in Childbirth? Childcare Still Part of the Story.

Here’s an overview piece on current fertility research around later motherhood.

ap_120330030723-2Among the methods discussed, lab-grown eggs from stem cells (“Growing eggs in the lab like this would yield a great many eggs unaffected by age for older women trying to conceive through IVF. It also would mean women could skip the hormone stimulation harvesting eggs normally requires, though a minor, outpatient surgery to take tissue from the ovary would be needed.”); egg freezing; ovarian tissue freezing; mitochondrial transplants; genetic screening.

As the reporter notes, these technologies are very expensive, and so only available to the well to do except in states with mandated coverage.  They are also experimental, with varying levels of risk and unknown down-the-line effects on kids and parents.

The stem cell route in particular might take us to a future where age is not a factor in whether or not a woman gets pregnant.  But even more effective for shaping happy families for the group as a whole would be giving people a supportive social environment for combining families and work, where good childcare wasn’t so expensive that you had to wait to be able to afford it, and where employers didn’t see kids as a drag on their employees commitment to their work.  Having the school-day mimic the work-day would be a major means for realizing such a world, while also expanding kids’ learning, if done well and responsibly.  Progress is happening on these fronts as well (largely in municipalities, like NYC, DC, Miami, San Antonio, San Francisco) — & effort to improve things in Houston is underway too.  Keep it going!


Population Plunge?

  Decline in Births Among Twentysomething Women, by Race

This week the Urban Institute tackles the fertility question:  Will the birth rate drop among young women since the 2007 recession be made up by births to those same women when they’re in their 30’s & 40’s?  (20-somethings now have the lowest birth rate of any previous generation, they note — which pairs up with the wider point they don’t make, that the overall US birthrate is at an all-time low.)

Or will the US birthrate fall, parallel to falls in Western Europe & in Japan? Will the economy suffer? Will immigration rise and make up the difference?  How will people (male & female) feel about life without kids longterm?  & What about Naomi?

They don’t ask my favorite questions:

Would affordable childcare and/or a full-time school option make a difference?

& How many and what jobs will the fast-changing future of work call for, and how will  our ideas of work alter to fill and support future people’s lives in a widely mechanized world?    What are we learning about What Women Want, in an environment where they actually have a choice?  How will a population plunge affect the old folks’  funding sources and caregiver pool?  What’s holding us back from doing the obvious and investing in the education of our youngest citizens and in the infrastructure that will allow our current workers to succeed?

 Follow up article from WashPo on the potential consequences of low birth rates, maybe good & maybe bad,  down the line.


2013 Birth Rate Update

News from the CDC this January morning:

The final CDC 2013 birth rate report confirms that US birth rate continued its fall in 2013 – down 1% overall from 2012.

  • Teen births fell 10% (since last year!) to another record low
  • Birth rates also declined for women in their 20s to record lows in 2013
  • Rates rose for women in their 30s and late 40s in 2013 from 2012
  • The rate for women in their early 40s was unchanged.


US Birth Rates by Age of Mother, 2007-13


Rape in the Spotlight

Beverly McPhail and I were invited to comment on the Rolling Stone/U-Va “Jackie” story in the Houston Chronicle.

The online commenters debate the second line, that “Research reveals that one woman in five experiences a sexual assault in college, and the majority go unreported” without seeming to have read the rest of the argument.  Clearly it’s hard to be precise about unreported events.  Our point is that neither an unverified “story” by bad  journalists nor the debatability of a specific percentage number makes it less important to change the long-standing culture of silence around rape on many campuses (and by the way in the world at large). The good news is, positive change is underway.

Bad reporting of sexual assault doesn’t reduce its prevalence

by Beverly McPhail & Elizabeth Gregory

Campus rape now has a national spotlight after decades in the dark. Research reveals that one woman in five experiences a sexual assault in college, and the majority go unreported. After years of ignoring it, universities nationwide, under pressure from the Justice Department, are now actively working to radically lower assaults.

Discussing rape openly, making its unacceptability clear, holding friends accountable for reporting known or suspected assaults, and expelling those found guilty through due process can transform the campus climate.

Many perpetrators are serial offenders who have been enabled to roam freely by a culture that blames the victims and supports the view that violent or coerced sex is normal. (This is not just a campus problem. When the rape and murder of women play as popular TV “entertainment” nightly, should we be surprised that they also occur often in the real world?)

Paradoxically, an early sign of success at culture change is that reports of rape rise – signaling that more women feel comfortable coming forward for assistance. And reporting has been increasing on campuses in response to the altered policies and attitudes.

It’s against this backdrop of positive change that the controversy around the recent article in Rolling Stone magazine on a purported sexual assault at the University of Virginia has played out. A student called “Jackie” gave the reporter a horrific account of being gang-raped at a fraternity party. The reporter didn’t verify the story with those Jackie accused (to the extent that they could be identified) or with the friends Jackie said she told about the rape right after it occurred. As has been widely reported, the story hasn’t held up: There was no official party at the frat the night Jackie cited, the person she named to friends as her date turns out to have been an acquaintance from high school and not a student at UVa, and the friends report that rather than dissuading Jackie from going to the hospital as she claimed, they tried to take her there. Clearly something bad happened at some point to Jackie, either in the frat house (the friends report they’ve never seen anyone as disturbed as she was that night) or at some earlier point in her life, or maybe both. But we still don’t know what that was.

Ironically, a story that apparently aimed to give readers greater understanding of rape victims’ experience may instead re­inforce victim-blaming and heighten the level of doubt that victims encounter when they come forward.

In no other crime is a victim treated with such disbelief and scrutiny as sexual assault, and Rolling Stone’s journalistic fail could increase that skepticism. That would be a tragic outcome; it could push some victims back into the shadows who were just beginning to feel that they might safely come forward. Though it’s a common myth that women routinely lie about rape for their own purposes, one study has found that the rate of false allegations is low – between 2 percent and 10 percent.

This is further complicated by the fact that neuro­biological changes due to trauma can make memory consolidation and recall difficult, often resulting in fragmented memories that may lead to discrepancies in women’s stories. We don’t yet know whether this was a factor in Jackie’s case.

The moral of the Rolling Stone story is that bad reporting is a disservice to everyone – the public, the magazine and the story. But it does nothing to change the fact that university culture, including fraternity culture, has historically allowed too many sexual assaults to occur. We can put that history behind us now.

Jackie’s story can serve as a teachable moment of an expanded kind from what Rolling Stone intended. Through expanded training and education on sexual assault for all parties – including students, faculty, administrators, law enforcement and journalists – we can win justice for survivors while holding perpetrators accountable, we can learn to better understand the effects of trauma, and we can move toward changing the culture of violence toward women overall.

In 2012, under the leadership of Title IX Coordinator Dr. Richard Baker, the University of Houston adopted a new sexual misconduct policy using the affirmative consent standard (“yes means yes”) that was made mandatory in California universities earlier this year. The standard shifts from requiring that victims explain how they resisted to placing responsibility on the sexual initiator to gain permission for sexual acts. These and related efforts are already showing some success, and the UVa story can’t be allowed to derail such progress.

One of the first mainstream books on rape, “Against our Will: Men, Women, and Rape,” written by journalist Susan Brownmiller, ended with these words: “My purpose in this book has been to give rape its history. Now we must deny it a future.” That remains our goal today, on college campuses and beyond.


Abortion Policies Will Keep Texas Poor

The blog has been down for a few months, but the glitches are fixed!  Here’s a quick catch-up op-ed from a month back that looks at the economic and workforce fallout of restrictive access to fertility control, via abortion or contraception. Lots of factors in play, all of them affecting and affected by the way women can contribute to workforce.  Over the next few months, we’ll get to see how the hand we’ve dealt plays out for women, families and employers.


Abortion Policies Will Keep Texas Poor
We often view economic issues and reproductive rights issues as separate, but they’re intimately linked. Electing officials who actively support denying Texas women rights to control their own reproductive lives is bad for business in Texas.

Fertility policy (regulating sex education and access to contraception and abortion) affects every aspect of life and business. It determines who’s here and in what circumstances. It affects the age at which a woman has children, which in turn affects her and her partner’s education levels and how they can contribute to the state’s workforce.

Until Tuesday’s 13th-hour Supreme Court intervention to temporarily halt enforcement of the bill, HB2, the 2013 Texas law limiting access to abortion had closed 80 percent of the 41 clinics where poor women in Texas went for abortions when needed, and for birth control, well-woman exams and cancer screenings. Thirteen of those closed may now reopen until the appeal is heard, but more than 20 will remain closed. Funding for women’s health services was also slashed in 2011, and partially reinstated in 2013. Republicans’ refusal of Medicaid expansion denies more than 500,000 women access to contraception and basic medical care.

All of those affected are poor and most are Hispanic or black. Middle-class types have private doctors for routine care and can leave the state if they need an abortion. Looking not at rhetoric but at results, it’s clear this legislation is all about keeping people poor by getting them pregnant.

One estimate predicts that if the law is allowed to stand, 24,000 additional babies will be born in 2014 and 2015 due to the cuts, at a cost of $100 million to the state (which won’t fund prevention but instead pays half the cost of each delivery via Medicaid). We’re paying to force people to have kids they don’t want.

Teen parenthood is a particular problem in Texas. It doesn’t just produce poor babies, it produces cheap laborers in the new parents who drop out to support their kids, locking whole families into lifetimes of poverty. They don’t graduate or go on to college, and the business community loses the educated workforce needed to do 21st-century business.

The Texas teen birthrate (44.4 per 1,000 women in 2012) is 50 percent above the overall U.S. rate (29.4 per 1,000 women) – and more than triple New Hampshire’s rate of 13.8 per 1,000 women. Texas’ teen pregnancy rate ranks fifth nationally – right below Arkansas, Mississippi, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Like Texas, three of those states limit abortion and (effectively) birth control access, while providing either no or misleading sex education. Like Texas, these states also have high percentages of impoverished residents.

Texas also has residents who are better off financially. Sometimes it’s suggested that wealthier folks’ success depends on keeping some people poor, as when cheap labor and low regulation are referenced as making the state attractive to employers. But the view of impoverished workers as a state resource is short-sighted. An unskilled wage pool attracts only low-level jobs. Tomorrow’s jobs, and those that will sustain Texas’ robust economy, will require educated workers.

Diminished access to birth control has been described as “collateral damage” of the anti-abortion push. But when “anti-abortionists” don’t care that this actually raises both the number of abortions and births, you question that analysis. Are the unplanned births the real point? Cynically, anti-abortion policies do three jobs for conservative legislators: Advocating the legislation brings out conservative voters. Added births expand population, increasing block grants and the number of the state’s congressional seats. As we saw in the last redistricting process, gerrymandering means elected officials needn’t represent the new citizens’ interests. Lastly, the births make new parents available for multiple low-wage jobs but too busy (or disaffected) to vote. This “conservative” vision maintains the worst aspects of the past. But it does nothing to grow the economy of tomorrow.

Current state laws that threaten abortion clinics dangerously and erroneously claim that patients are made safer by requiring the facilities to meet expensive criteria for “ambulatory surgical centers” or requiring that doctors get admitting privileges from local hospitals. Abortions in regulated clinics are very safe, and without clinics nearby, women resort to actually dangerous self-induced miscarriages. Where there are no safety problems, there is no need for a safety “solution.” This emperor is not only naked, but ugly and radically mean.

When laws enshrine an assumption of women’s incompetence to make their own constitutionally protected reproductive decisions, and require that they undergo medically unnecessary, intrusive procedures before they can have an abortion, the status of all Texas women, rich and poor, is undermined.

Poverty in the richest nation in the world is a social illness caused by policy choices. Who makes those choices? The people we elect to public office – something to consider as early voting starts tomorrow.

Where do the candidates you plan to vote for stand? Will they trust women’s self-determination and grow our human capital through education and health investments that produce good jobs?

Or do they advocate punitive policies that will keep Texans poor and ensure a bleak future for the state?

If business people have hopes for long-term prosperity, we have to stop sacrificing Texas women. Support the candidates who will protect the rights of all Texans, male and female, and make Texas an economic powerhouse for decades to come.

Gregory, of Houston, is author of “Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood.”


Update on US Birth Rate Data by Age of Mother, 2007-2013

US Birth Rates by Age of Mother, 2007-2013

US Birth Rates by Age of Mother, 2007-2013

Here’s the updated chart for US birth rates by age of mother, adding in the recent CDC data for 2013.  Click on it for a bigger view.

As you can see, rates to women 15-29 continued to decline (though for 25-29 the decline was small), while rates for women 30+ rose, continuing the ripple effects of delay.

See post on 2012 data for analysis of these trends to that point (Older Women Having More Kids, Younger Ones Still Having Fewer).

More discussion to come after the first week of classes!