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Don't Cry For Me, Sweden

Ross Douthat gets in some good licks at disproportionate attention being paid to the problems of upper-middle class women and children to the exclusion of more pressing concerns among the working class. Then he flies off the rails:

After all, the vast majority of American women (and men, for that matter) don't have "careers." They have "jobs," which force them to medicate their kids when upper-middle class parents would send them to a shrink, to dump their kids in daycare long before either parents or kids are ready, and then leave those same kids home alone later on in childhood and adolescence. And figuring out a way to help such hardworking people be better parents -- and not by providing them with state-subsidized daycare and free Ritalin, which is apparently Ms. Warner's preferred model, and which has made Western Europe such a child-friendly, family-centric society -- seems to be a far more important priority than worrying about the fate of those to whom much has been given, and who are wringing their hands because they can't manage to have even more.

PS -- And yeah, I know: The sufferings of working class parents aren't always the GOP's top priority. (Though they should be!) But you go to war with the party you have.

First off, on Western Europe. They've got their problems. The society is perhaps not as child-friendly as it should be. But compared to what (PDF):
The US had the highest child poverty rate (21.9%) and the second-highest elderly poverty rate (24.7%). Finland (5.4%), Norway (6.4%), and Sweden (6.5%) had the lowest overall poverty rates.
Now it's true, of course, that Americans have more kids with 14.13 births per 1,000 people compared to Sweden's 10.46 per 1,000. Looking at the breakdown by race (PDF) you see that white Amerians are down to a Sweden-esque 11.8 per 1,000 and as Phillip Longman points out "Fertility rates among blacks meanwhile are falling faster than among any other racial or ethnic group, with the average African-American woman now bearing only 0.1 children more than the average white woman." African-American birth rates remain significantly higher than white birthrates because as a legacy of a higher fertility rate in the not-so-distant past the African-American population has a younger age structure, but that'll be done soon. America's high birth rate is primarily attributable to our practice of importing large numbers of relatively child-happy immigrants from Latin America.

In child-hating Sweden, meanwhile, only 2.77 children out of 1,000 die as infants. In the United States it's 6.63 children per 1,000. Note that even without racial controls the much higher propensity of American infants to die actually swamps the larger number of births in anti-family Sweden. And of course there's the fact that American kids are roughly three and a half times as likely to live in poverty.

Now I doubt we can attribute all this single-handedly to Sweden's more generous day care policies, but by any reasonable standard the Swedish policy gestalt is more "child-friendly, family-centric" than is America's. You have almost as many kids being born, far fewer dying as infants, and far, far, far fewer impoverished children. Speaking of which, saying that "The sufferings of working class parents aren't always the GOP's top priority" has got to be the understatement of the year. I can't think of a single Republican policy that has anything to do with alleviating the sufferings of working class parents. Would that be cutting working poor families off from their Medicaid benefits? Or perhaps we're thinking of trying to starve working poor families by cutting them off their food stamps? No, must be forcing them into homelessness by cutting their housing vouchers. Now of course is working class parents are desperately concerned about the risk of needing to pay out damages when they get sued, the GOP has plenty to do for them. But back in the real world, that never happens and the GOP wants to ensure that poor people will be unable to hire lawyers if they get injured. Perhaps the Republican insistence on declining real mimimum wages is their plan to rescue the working class. Or would that be gutting Social Security's progressive structure?

Maybe rabid opposition to new union organizing is supposed to help working class parents? Sorry, but I'm not seeing it.

February 21, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

This is a must read, I have emailed it to everybody I know... if it is right it is the story of the war...

Suburban Guerrilla

In Memoriam
Today I'm going to do something a little bit like journalism, except I haven't done any real follow-up. Still, it's an important issue, and I'd like any Google maestros reading to help.

Go to your local newspaper site, or TV station site, and do a search for "local man woman killed wounded Iraq". Weed out the duplicates, total the numbers, and then check them against the casualty lists, because there's something funny going on here.

I started to notice something several months ago. The local papers would interview the mother of someone killed or wounded in Iraq, and more often than not, there'd be a bitter aside: "Of course, for some reason, he's not included in the offical totals."

Somehow, that struck a chord. And the thought crystallized: They're lying about the numbers. Think about it - it's absurd to think they wouldn't, considering everything else they've done.

So I started reading. Here's what I've found.

Posted by: Al Hill | Feb 21, 2005 1:44:18 PM

Fair enough, but if you're going to separate out "child happy" immigrants for America, you need to do it for Sweden too. Almost 15% of the country is foreign born, lots of them "child happy" Muslims:

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/271dgkju.asp

Posted by: rd | Feb 21, 2005 1:44:28 PM

I don't understand what you mean here

In child-hating Sweden, meanwhile, only 2.77 children out of 1,000 die as infants. In the United States it's 6.63 children per 1,000. Note that even without racial controls the much higher propensity of American infants to die actually swamps the larger number of births in anti-family Sweden.

Sweden has 10.46 births per 1000, of which 0.0277% die as infants, for 10.43 surviving infants per 1000. The good ol USA has 14.13 live births per 1000, of which a relatively staggering 0.0663% die in infancy, for a total of 14.04 surviving infants per 1000. Where's the swamping here?

The US number for childhood deaths is just awful. One in every 150. Ugh. I know socialist medicine is evil and all, but given these numbers I think it's an evil I could learn to live with.

Posted by: Brian Weatherson | Feb 21, 2005 1:59:36 PM

Well, I don't know from where EPI got the number regarding child poverty in Sweden. But Save the Children Sweden released their yearly report a month ago or so and they claimed that 13,0% of the children in Sweden lives in poverty. In the largest cities the number is above 20% (32% at the highest) and in parts of those cities much higher than that.

http://www.rb.se/sv/Press/Pressmeddelanden/Klyftornaokarmellanfattigaochrikabarn.htm
(Swedish only, as far as I know)

Posted by: Dennis | Feb 21, 2005 2:04:47 PM

Anybody who takes these statistical measures at face value, from people who nearly inevitably have an axe to grind, is entirely too naive.

Posted by: Will Allen | Feb 21, 2005 2:10:24 PM

Any comparison to Scandinavian welfare states runs into trouble when we keep in mind that such European welfare states are dependent on exports to the American worker-consumer, who does not enjoy welfare state largesse. Should America spend as much money as Europe does on a welfare state, then the European welfare states would collapse, as the lack of discretionary consumer spending (due to higher taxes) would mean less exports from Europe's welfare states.

Thus the European welfare state model is a failure. We might learn how life can be easier under such welfare states, yet it does not validate them as a workable, international model all of the world could equally enjoy. That is a consequence of the freeloaderism Europeans are known for.

Posted by: Finnpundit | Feb 21, 2005 2:11:30 PM

Maybe he should have taken tougher classes at Harvard?

Posted by: praktike | Feb 21, 2005 2:16:02 PM

who wants to bet Matty has NEVER BEEN TO SWEDEN and doesn't know what he's talking about?

Posted by: goat | Feb 21, 2005 2:23:10 PM

"In child-hating Sweden, meanwhile, only 2.77 children out of 1,000 die as infants. In the United States it's 6.63 children per 1,000. Note that even without racial controls the much higher propensity of American infants to die actually swamps the larger number of births in anti-family Sweden."

I don't mean to be rude, but you might want to do a little research in the difference between infant mortality statistics as collected in Europe and the US. When you count many of the preemies who die in America after agressive post-birth work (but then die anyway)as 'miscarriages' in Europe, your infant mortality statistics look a lot better.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Feb 21, 2005 2:31:59 PM

Holsclaw:

I don't mean to be rude, but you might want to do a little research in the difference between infant mortality statistics as collected in Europe and the US. When you count many of the preemies who die in America after agressive post-birth work (but then die anyway)as 'miscarriages' in Europe, your infant mortality statistics look a lot better.

No they don't. The relative improvement in the U.S. infant mortality rate after adjusting for reporting differences is modest at best. We've been over this before.

Posted by: Don P | Feb 21, 2005 2:42:39 PM

this post on Cuba vs. the US indicates that the US rate is approx 1/3rd higher than it would be if we used the same metrics as other countries. Also a stark reminder of how difficult it is to measure "quality of life" issues. If correct, that would suggest that the US number is closer to 4.5, which, while still higher than Sweden, isn't twice as high.

Posted by: john brothers | Feb 21, 2005 2:51:32 PM

These stats are obscene and immoral, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a monster.

In Sweden, only 2.77 children out of 1,000 die as infants. In the United States it's 6.63 children per 1,000.

The US had the highest child poverty rate (21.9%) and the second-highest elderly poverty rate (24.7%). Finland (5.4%), Norway (6.4%), and Sweden (6.5%) had the lowest overall poverty rates.

Posted by: AlGore | Feb 21, 2005 3:14:51 PM

Douthat's gibe about Europeans doping up kids on Ritalin, as far as I know, is far from the truth. AFAIK, subject to correction, the US is the place where Ritalin is overused.

And yeah, sure, all US problems are statistical artifacts. And the parasitical Scandinavians, even though they are leaching American body fluids via their exports, are nonetheless worse off on the average than the poorest sharecropper in the Mississippi Delta.

Someone ought to write up a complete Swedo-American comparison page so we wouldn't have to go through this shit every six months.

Posted by: John Emerson | Feb 21, 2005 3:16:20 PM

Geez this is a good post.

Posted by: Charlie Murtaugh | Feb 21, 2005 3:28:55 PM

Matt is right about the larger issue here, but, as Brian pointed out, he is wrong about the "swamping." Birth rate and infant mortality are both reported as "per 1000", but you can't just subtract them because one is per 1000 people and the other is per 1000 infants.

I doublechecked Brian's calculations and got the same answers as him. In America there are 14.13 births per 1000 people, and 993.37 out of every 1000 babies survive, so there are 14.13 x .99337 = 14.04 surviving infants per 1000 people. Similarly, in Sweden, there are 10.46 x .99723 = 10.43 surviving infants per 1000 people.

Posted by: Blar | Feb 21, 2005 3:30:10 PM

Sometimes, I wonder why my Great-Grandfather Ole (that really was his name) left Sweden to come here.

But back at the turn of the century, things weren't so rosy for the Swedes. And it was a better life in America.

Since then, however, the Swedes have embraced neutrality, compassion, forward thinking, and safe cars. 100 or so years of this, and the place looks like paradise. And maybe it is.

I know I have been tempted to do a little reverse-immigration.

Posted by: eric | Feb 21, 2005 3:35:54 PM

A useful reference here is Lee Rainwater & Tim Smeeding, "Poor kids in a rich country: America's children in cross-national perspective." Their data show that the US has the highest child poverty rates among OECD countries, and is over four times that rate in the continental northern European countries. Interestingly, rich American children are also richer than their foreign peers.

Posted by: Bill Gardner | Feb 21, 2005 4:01:28 PM

On the one hand, it's ridiculous how much time we spend worrying about the opportunities available for the top tier of women relative to the opportunities available to the top tier of men.

However, it should come as no surprise that women want to protect their interests as much as men do. Women see a society that's becoming ever more stratified into the "haves" and "have nots," and we've got a vested interest in ensuring that if the key to upward mobility isn't simply the ability to maximize productivity in one's youth. Because women are at a disadvantage there, given the way things are currently structured.

The current leadership is clearly engaged in putting forward massive institutional changes that make it easier for the successful to become even more wealthy, and make it more difficult for the non-successful to become successful. It should come as no surprise that high-status women are agititing quite a lot now--this is a smart, plugged-in bunch of people with a common interest in making sure the doors to opportunity remain open to them, even as they close for the rest of society.

We're going to see a lot more articles like this. If we're building a new aristocracy (which the current administration's policies seems to indicate we are), women who currently have power will want to make sure they (and their daughters) can maintain it, and that tha application process for membership in the ruling classes of the new world order is a process they can compete in.

Posted by: theorajones | Feb 21, 2005 4:05:27 PM

I for one hope Mr. Douthat and the rest of his conservatarian friends don't drop this subject. I'm certain and I and most of the rest of us would be more than a little amused to hear the details of plans to improve the lot of working families that don't involve universal health care, universal child care, more family leave and vacation time, a living wage, etc. For years the right could busy itself demagoging the allegedly liberal media, Democratic control of congress or the White House (and occasionally both), and all of the supposed ways "big government" was harming business/schools/parents/families/children/pets, but now that they control *everything* and actually need to assume some responsibility for the state of the country, we are beginning to find (surprise!) that lo and behold they don't particularly care about the plight of ordinary Americans (even those who vote for them) and don't have any serious ideas about how to help them.

Whenever either liberals or conservatives begin talking vaguely about needing to find some solution to some problem that doesn't involve solutions that offend their ideological sensibilities, you know they're in trouble. Liberals did the same thing in the 1970s and 1980s about inflation, national security, etc. The right isn't going to find family friendly policies that don't involve increasing taxes and government spending, anymore than Democrats were going to find a way to end inflation without deregulating, raising interest rates, increasing efficiencies and probably lowering taxes too, or a way of increasing national security that didn't involve increased defense spending, or that involved unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Posted by: Robin the Hood | Feb 21, 2005 9:09:29 PM

If you want statistics for births/deaths for a similar scandinavian country, Norway, you can find it at Statistics Norway (Statistisk sentralbyrå) http://www.ssb.no/english/subjects/02/02/10/

Posted by: Aslak Raanes | Feb 22, 2005 5:50:39 AM

Ziz - Not all American problems are statistical artifacts, but the infant mortality numbers are, as Sebastian noted, significantly distorted by America's hugely more "heroic" (and expensive) standard of care for marginal preemies. We count a lot more problem deliveries as live births than do the saintly Scandahoovians who just let them die and don't count them as either births or deaths in their statistics. I don't have current numbers, but page 6 of this shows what the situation was 15 years ago. The distortion is on the order of 50% of deaths at age 24 hrs. or less.

Then, there's the fact that the U.S. infant mortality rate is bimodal, with the non-black rate being roughly half the black rate. Sweden lacks any substantial inner-city "basket case" population of the U.S. variety.

The child poverty and "productivity" numbers in the EPI citation are clearly of extraterrestrial origin. I won't even hazard a guess as to what unnatural acts would have to be performed on BLS numbers to get them - don't ask, don't tell.

You are right about having a comparison page in at least the sense that having actual comparable numbers would allow us all to treat motherless numbers like those from EPI with the lack of respect they deserve.

Posted by: Dick Eagleson | Feb 22, 2005 5:58:25 AM

Say what you want about the latter half of Douthat's post--the first half raises an issue that's been driving me nuts with the recent spate of attention the problems of middle and upper middle class women balancing careers and family.

Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life by Annette Lareau is an amazing book about this issue and should be must-reading for anyone who wants to talk about how the US does and does not support family life.

Also, in re the recent string of comments on here about David Brooks' proposal to solve the problem by women marrying and having children young and starting their careers afterward--I live in a neighborhood where there are plenty of very young mothers. Most of them are African American and I very much doubt Brooks approves of their life choices. Funny how that works.

Must say, in re this comment, though: "Maybe rabid opposition to new union organizing is supposed to help working class parents? Sorry, but I'm not seeing it."

Obviously, stronger new modern unions would help a lot of working parents, but at the moment, unions are still more focused on wages and benefits than making jobs ore family friendly. In fact, a lot of unions actually oppose flex time policies or those that allow workers to take time off for over time rather than additional pay. Now, just by making sure people were paid a decent wage, unions would address a lot of the problems of working families, but it would be nice if they also modernized to reflect these issues, too.


Posted by: flip | Feb 22, 2005 11:05:01 AM

Dick,

You fail to explain why Sweden has no basket case inner city population. It can't be for lack of immigration because Sweden has a very large immigrant population. Could it be because they have universal healthcare and a reasonable standard of welfare?

Finnpundit,

It's not obviously true that the Scandinavian welfare states are built on the wealth of the US and couldn't exist without it. The Swedish and Finnish economies are not heavily dependent on the US either (except to the extent that the world is dependent on the US). As you must know, Finland's wealth comes from wood products and high tech products, especially mobile communications, a relatively small amount of which are exported to the US.

What are often coupled together unfairly are high taxes and productivity. It is assumed that if you have high taxes your per hour productivity will suffer which is not born out by the facts to a significant extent. The European countries with the highest taxes are also the most business friendly, competitive and have the highest growth rates (excluding the newbies). Furthermore, several EU countries have better per hour productivity than the US.

I accept that higher taxes have an effect on entrepreneurship but not necessarily on innovation (where Finland is on a par with the US as it is with competitiveness). Of course overall wealth generation is lower because the Nordics have less tolerance for risk, debt and they work many fewer hours. Frankly though, who cares? What Sweden, Finland and Norway all have in common is that what they do they do very well and that will make them competitive regardless of welfare and regardless or the fate of the US in the medium term.

Posted by: jdsm | Feb 22, 2005 11:14:34 AM

Then, there's the fact that the U.S. infant mortality rate is bimodal, with the non-black rate being roughly half the black rate. Sweden lacks any substantial inner-city "basket case" population of the U.S. variety.

I can only infer that American black poverty has some different cause than Swedish poverty and that it has some root cause that can't be dealt with the same way that Swedish poverty is?

What would that be, Dick?


Posted by: Ed Marshall | Feb 22, 2005 11:18:59 AM

Actually Ed, it is instructive to examine the different rates for black populations in different states. States like NY, PA, IL, and even MN have higher mortality rates for their black populations than states with nortoriously low government expenditures for the poor, like AL, MS, or SC. This suggests that there are factors at play that may not be easily addressed through higher expenditures on health care for the poor, especially when one trying to narrow a gap from 6.63 deaths per thousand infants to 2.77 deaths per thousand infants. That extra 3.86 deaths per thousand infants may be due to environmental factors that are terribly persistent, especially once reporting factors are backed out.

This is a complex issue, and to simply say that adoption of universal health care, or spending more on health care for the poor, would bridge that gap, is entirely too simplistic.

Posted by: Will Allen | Feb 22, 2005 2:22:21 PM

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