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!


The School/Work Connection


Today I spoke with Craig Cohen on Houston Matters about synchronizing the school schedule to the work day, as part of a panel on year-round school. In May, Lisa Gray interviewed me for the Chronicle on related material.

Both of those discussions grew out of a  piece I posted last October on the Daily Beast  on the school/work connection — about rationalizing the school schedule to allow women to participate more fully in the workforce.  I’ve continued to work on this issue, where thoughtful change offers the possibility of lots of positive outcomes.  There wasn’t time to talk much on the radio today about how to pay for the schedule expansions I was outlining — but increased taxes from women’s expanded work, some new taxes, more allocation of current tax dollars to education, and investments on the part of business (social impact bonds are one potential road for that) are among the possible sources.

What do you think of the 52-week/year, 8am to 6pm schedule — with the chance to opt out of school after 4pm on school days, before 4 years old, and for any part of two flexible months in the summer?


Pay Equity Rules! Equal pay helps both workers, employers

Here’s my Point/Counterpoint piece on the Texas Equal Pay Act in this Saturday’s Houston Chronicle.
Unequal Pay imageEqual pay helps both workers, employers

This year’s elections are all about pay equity. At both federal and state levels, the debates may have different names (Affordable Care Act, pay discrimination, education, birth control access, jobs creation, voter ID laws, human trafficking) but they all affect how much money ends up in whose wallet and how that “who” differs by gender, race, class, age and state.

The current debate over the Texas Equal Pay Act, legislation that Gov. Rick Perry vetoed last year, is just one tip of the iceberg – but important, both for the specifics it addresses and for the attitude it signals.

While this bill’s provisions can’t guarantee that all people are paid equally for the same work, it would fix some discrimination and would supply incentive for employers to aim for equity. With that on the books, more bills would follow to level the playing field for all Texas workers, to the benefit of business and the state as a whole. Striking it from the books marks the state as a civic throwback with no sense of the workforce needs of the very employers it seeks to attract. To recruit and retain good female workers in all job categories, Texas needs to be up-front on equity. Equity is a basic need on the home-front as well, as wage discrimination costs not just women but the whole family.

Backstory: The 2009 federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act fixed a problem introduced by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found the law only allowed suits within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck, even if the victim didn’t know of the discrimination until later. Given that some laws also make it illegal for many employees to ask about their co-workers’ pay, this is a very cynical interpretation, ensuring continued discrimination. Before the Ledbetter decision, it was assumed that every discriminatory paycheck was a new offense and that a person had 180 days from every such check to file suit. The Ledbetter Act didn’t break any new ground – it just returned us to the status quo ante, by specifying that every new discriminatory paycheck is indeed a new crime, one that can be sorted out in federal court.

Texas law parallels the Supreme Court ruling. In other words, lawsuits are allowed only within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck, an injustice that state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, sought to remedy in the 2013 legislative session. Thompson’s bill, HB 950, passed with bipartisan support and would have allowed women to sue their employers in state court within 180 days of the most recent discriminatory check. State courts are considered better for plaintiffs because federal court dates are harder to come by. But Perry vetoed the bill, an action advocated by retailers such as Macy’s and Kroger.

While equal pay sounds like a basic right no American would question, we all know our economy was built on unequal pay. Like race, gender has historically also been a work-stratification system – both in terms of the kinds of jobs people are trained for and assigned and of the level of pay. Women’s employment long was defined by what they were already doing at home for free – bearing and rearing the workers. As women moved into paid work, they found that the only jobs available mirrored their home work, and their pay echoed the cheap home rate, too, because their labor was seen to be just “worth less.” Paying them less also had the ancillary effect of keeping them “too busy” to do much else than work extra hours to make up for the lost wages.

Gradually, as women have trickled up into policy-making roles, things have changed, and nowadays not all women get pushed into low-wage occupations, though many still do. As more women move into the statehouse and the so-called C-suite of top executives, equity increasingly is discussed, where before it was ignored. It matters who’s in the room when policy is made.

All players in Texas’ mid-term election have endorsed the principle of pay equity. If they mean it, there’s no good reason not to give that principle teeth and enact the Equal Pay Act. Discrimination is illegal. And while equal pay might cost some employers more in the short term, in the long term, all employers benefit from the rising tide of purchases made by employees with more money in their pockets and from the rising tax base that supports Texas business infrastructure. As gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Greg Abbott recently has learned, discriminatory pay is widespread, and only by giving laws teeth do we motivate employers to rectify their inequities and avoid lawsuits. We do have an amazing community of skilled and innovative women leaders in Texas. But we also have lots of work and thinking still to do around how to allow more women and men to choose their professions based not on stereotypes but on actual skills and propensities, and to reconsider why certain “female” jobs are paid so little to begin with.

It’s time to remove the external obstacles to women’s success in the workplace and move Texas toward a new era of prosperity through equity.

Counterpoint: http://www.chron.com/default/article/Mackowiak-Gender-based-wage-law-already-on-books-5377705.php


The New Mixed Parentage: Evolution Now


Here’s a recent story from the New York Times about the ethics of mixing the genes of multiple (more than 2) parents to form one child, through cytoplasmic transfer. In this case the point is to replace genes that would lead to illness with healthy genes from a donor, but otherwise to pass on the healthy genes of the intentional parents. This story is just a tip of the iceberg of debates over the ethics of fertility intervention to come in the next decade and onward.

Like all roads to parenthood that involve third (or more) parties, gene mixing pushes the barriers of familiar structures and raises existential questions about who we are.  By expanding the set of parents as we’ve done of late to include sperm and egg donors, surrogates, adoptive, foster, step and birth parents, and now individual gene donors, we widen our vision of family.

While the immediate effect is to include the a few more people in our individual relationship sets, the ripple effect can intensify our sense of our links to all our fellow humans – and even beyond.  By reminding us that we are made of sharable materials that have been recycled and repurposed around the globe and across eons, this kind of innovation can raise consciousness of our connections to ancestors as well as to our “unrelated” contemporaries.  At the same time such innovation can shift our thinking from the anthrocentric to the anthrodecentric, reminding us of our status as precipitates of the core entity Earth, to the ecology of which we contribute in ways we understand in only small degree.

This melting of familial barriers through mixed parentage at molecular and affective levels works in ways similar to the ongoing processes of social acceptance of “race” mixing (a process that’s occurred both willingly and by force whenever members of different “races” have shared spaces, but which has not always been acknowledged or respected). These discussions are always shadowed by the distorted use of the term race to distinguish by color among members of the single human race. There are many ways to go with these parallels.

Technological advances like cytoplasmic transfer are a form of evolution — externalized. Externalized evolution operates in the same experimental way as the internalized kind but it can have wide effect over a much shorter time span if doctors implement change in many patients. This kind of evolution is not unnatural, since it is also the product of the human organism, but rather than being accidental, it’s the intentional product of human decision makers enabled by advances in technology. Technology (or tool) use being, after all, an emblematic human quality.

Of course, where problematic genetic mutations that occur by accident are generally quickly excluded from the set of those passed on in the internal evolution model, there’s a much higher risk of errors being passed on to many via external means. Since it may take a while for innovations to express their problematic aspects, the difference in speed of application offers the possibility of both enormous benefit and enormous loss. While human evolution played out over millions of years, humans in possession of not just language but writing (a game-changer among tools) have only been around for about 4,000 years, enabling an enormous speed up in our technological advances through shared focus of many people on solving problems (like a huge group of linked computers). This speed up qualitatively changes the experimental nature of evolution–hence the ethical questions. Can we presume to know enough about the effects of an intervention to apply it widely, without having actually seen the longterm sequelae in even a few cases?

Lots more discussion of all these interconnected issues to come, quickly. And, as ever, fertility dynamics are core issues.

This post was substantially revised and expanded on Dec. 18, 2013.