[Paleopsych] Meme 052: The Inverted Demographic Pyramid
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Sat Dec 3 02:27:51 UTC 2005
Meme 052: The Inverted Demographic Pyramid
by Frank Forman
The inverted demographic pyramid, those richer and more able having
fewer children, has been a problem for evolutionary theory ever since
Francis Galton. My solution is that the decision about whether to have
more or fewer children is determined by a trade-off function set in the
Stone Age. What parents consider to be adequate support for a child is
determined more by what their peers do than the objective facts of the
situation today, which would indicate a much larger advantage for the
better off than in the Stone Age where incomes were far more equal. But
we listen to the "whispering genes within" rather than accept any
factual studies that back up the Ninety-Six Percent Rule, namely that
96% of parents don't matter much one way of the other.
An article in the New York Times, shown below, about a surprising 26%
increase in the number of children age 0-5 in Manhattan between 2000
and 2004 induced these reflections.
This increase is probably just an effect of greater income inequality
in recent years, not a sudden reversal of the inverted demographic
pyramid This paradox, as we all know, has caused some to question the
whole selfish gene-sociobiological paradigm, and with good reason,
though I try to make a good crack at saving the paradigm here.
Animals in any species can chose, within limits, whether to pursue an r
strategy (mnemonic: reproduce, reproduce, reproduce) of many offspring
with little parental investment per child or the K (mnemonic: Kwality)
strategy of few children but high investment per child.
The trade off *function* was mostly set in the Stone Age. Conditions
have changed and rich parents should be able to have far, far more
children than the poor, since income inequality is far greater today
than then by I think every account by anthropologists.
But when you ask rich parents why they don't pack them in like they do
in the barrios, and you get told that that would be indecent and
inadequate with such vehemence that befit moral absolutes.
What's going on is that one's standard of decency or adequacy is not
set by thinking about Stone Age environments, nor by comparison with
those who lead far longer lives in the barrios and ghettos and whatever
Asian immigrants cram themselves into than Stone Age man ever did, but
by comparison with one's peers. Your neighbors surround their children
with a big house, give them an expensive education, and so on. The
Stone Age genes within you whisper to you that if you don't do these
things for your kids, they will not have their own children and you
will have no grandchildren. You will ignore any studies by Judith Rich
Harris that affirm the Ninety-Six percent rule that only the worst and
best two percent of parents make a measurable difference in how your
kids turn out. You will reject showings by economists that educational
credentials count for little beyond helping you children get their
first jobs. You look at only a small slice of the population, namely
your peers, in which effort does seem to matter more than innate
Indeed the big brains of primates are primarily geared more to getting
along with your fellows (thus allowing for greater and more complex
social cooperation) rather than for maneuvering the physical
environment by finding out what is really out there. It's an accidental
byproduct of blue eyes and flaming red (or blond) hair (my "Maureen
Dowd Theory of Western Civilization") that triggered off a larger
regard for objectivity. Mr. Mencken was often given to noting how weak
this regard is, even in America, especially in America, but he did not
know the rest of the world.
There are other factors involved in the inverted demographic pyramid.
Our drives work only remotely, and there is no drive for maximizing
inclusive reproductive fitness directly. (I don't need to beat yet
another drum for group selection here.) Of the Sixteen Basic Drives
Steven Reiss has identified through factor analysis, Romance certainly
seems closely related, this drive (no. 2 on my personal list) including
acts of coitus and also having aesthetic experiences. (I can't logic
out the connection, but these three are correlated so much on
questionnaires that they are cluster into a single drive.
The desire to raise one's own children (NOT clustered with the drive to
raise adopted children) would also seem to weigh heavily in the selfish
gene model. (It's no. 6 on my list, ranked that high, not because I
have spent a great deal of time, Kwality or not, with my children, but
because I chose to give up the teaching job I really would have much
preferred. Spending lots of time with them does not satisfy my no. 1
drive, Curiosity, all that well. I'd rather read books!
Indeed, Curiosity, which is so much more satisfiable today than in the
Stone Age (a supply side change) could well be responsible for a large
part of the inverted demographic pyramid. I suggest that those having
higher incomes (correlated 0.5 with intelligence but making a huge
difference between populations then and now) will purchase relatively
more satisfaction of this drive today, with the result of having
relatively fewer children, than they would have back in the Stone Age.
There's also the drive for Status (no. 14 out of 16 on my list, which
explains why we chose to live in an inexpensive apartment in a
high-toned neighborhood and let the neighbors snub as they may, as some
did), which means that parents will spend on their children to impress
their peers as well as to actually help their kids. This may also be
more readily satisfiable today than then. I don't know.
And so on, through the rest of the Reiss list. I resend my meme on them
at the end by the simple expedient of typing crtl-R|<meme/reiss>|enter.
Neat, isn't it, which is what a UNIX shell account gives you. I'm just
giving a framework for speculation. The hard work of empirically
weighing the changes in supply and demand for the drives, which as I
said are only loosely connected to reproductive success, begins. It
will be a nearly impossible task to do with full scientific vigor,
since we don't know all that much about the EEA. But, once again, don't
compare your findings against a perfectionist model but merely with
*competing* explanations, any more than you should compare the actual
workings of the market with an ideal government that would correct
market defects. P.S. I'm not a Reissian fundamentalist: it's just that
he has provided me with one of my many filters with which to view the
Some of the respondents to Dan Vining's 1986 Brain and Behavioral
Sciences target article, "Social versus Reproductive Success: The
Central Theoretical Problem with Human Sociobiology" (9:167-216), did
hint at the trade-offs among desires, but only indirectly, as none were
economists. My own allegedly expertise in the subject at least urges me
to look at a trade-off function that may have changed not
inconsiderably on the demand side: that for curiosity and objectivity
caused by the Maureen Dowd factor may be hugely important for the West
versus the Rest. But the biggest changes are in the supply of ways to
satisfy the Reiss desires. It is the changes on the supply side that
apparently outweigh the changes in demand, since the inverted
demographic pyramid is common to rich countries and not just to the
In any case, I hope I've managed to introduce some economic reasoning
to more fully explain the inverted demographic pyramid. Enthusiastic
eugenicists will have a terrific task ahead to change the demand and
supply curves. One of Reiss' drives is Idealism (no. 7 on my list), but
the sorts of questions he asked were heavy into redistribution. We
know, or should know, that the enthusiasm for redistribution is hyped
up with the the huge influence of 20th century leftists in the
education business. Issues were--and still are, there being a lot of
momentum (a/k/a culture lag)--largely framed in these terms, much like
debates in the Middle Ages were framed in Christian terms. Hauling in
manufactured emotions will be easier than changing underlying
biologies, at least until Designer Children come along.
Manhattan's Little Ones Come in Bigger Numbers
By EDUARDO PORTER
The sidewalks crowded with strollers, the panoply of new clubs catering
to the toddler set and the trail of cupcake crumbs that seem to
crisscross Manhattan are proof: The children are back.
After a decade of steady decline, the number of children under 5 in
Manhattan increased more than 26 percent from 2000 to 2004, census
estimates show, surpassing the 8 percent increase in small children
citywide during the same period and vastly outstripping the slight
overall growth in population in the borough and city.
Even as soaring house prices have continued to lift the cost of
raising a family beyond the means of many Americans, the borough's
preschool population reached almost 97,000 last year, the most since
This increase has perplexed social scientists, who have grown used to
seeing Manhattan families disappear into Brooklyn and New Jersey, and
it has pushed the borough into 11th place among New York State
counties ranked by percentage of population under 5. In 2000, fewer
than one in 20 Manhattan residents were under 5, putting the borough
in 58th place.
"Potentially this is very good news for New York," said Kathleen
Gerson, a professor of sociology at New York University. "It depends
on whether this is a short-term blip or a long-term trend. We must
understand what explains the rise."
Indeed, nobody can say for sure what caused the baby boom, but several
factors clearly played a part.
The city's growing cohorts of immigrants may have contributed, as the
number of children in Manhattan born to foreign-born parents has risen
slightly since the 1990's. But other social scientists say that the
number of births is growing at the other end of the income scale.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it had to do with more rich families
having babies and staying in Manhattan," said Andrew A. Beveridge, a
professor of sociology at Queens College.
According to census data, 16.4 percent of Manhattan families earned
more than $200,000 last year, up from 13.7 percent in 2000.
Kathryne Lyons, 40, a mother of two who left her job as a vice
president of a commercial real estate firm when her second daughter
was born three years ago, acknowledges that having children in the
city is a tougher proposition if one cannot afford nannies, music
lessons and other amenities, which, as the wife of an investment
banker, she can. "It's much more difficult to be here and not be well
Over the past few years, New York has become more family-friendly,
clearly benefiting from the perception that the city's quality of life
is improving. Test scores in public schools have improved, and
according to F.B.I. statistics, New York is the nation's safest large
Sociologists and city officials believe that these improvements in the
quality of life in Manhattan may have stanched the suburban flight
that occurred in the 1990's. And while Manhattan lacks big backyards
for children to play in, it offers a packed selection of services,
which can be especially useful for working mothers.
In fact, the baby boomlet also may pose challenges to a borough that
in many ways struggles to serve its young. According to Childcare
Inc., day care centers in the city have enough slots for only one in
five babies under age 3 who need it.
And while census figures show that children over 5 have continued to
decline as a percentage of the Manhattan population, if the children
under 5 stay, they could well put extra stress on the city's public
and private school systems, already strained beyond capacity in some
neighborhoods. Private preschools and kindergartens "are already more
difficult to get into than college," said Amanda Uhry, who owns
Manhattan Private School Advisors.
So who are these children? Robert Smith, a sociologist at Baruch
College who is an expert on the growing Mexican immigration to the
city, argued that the children of Mexican immigrants - many of whom
live in the El Barrio neighborhood in East Harlem - are a big part of
But this is unlikely to account for all of the increase. For example,
in 2003, fewer than 1,000 babies were born to Mexican mothers living
in Manhattan. And births to Dominicans, the largest immigrant group in
the city, have fallen sharply.
Some scholars suspect that a substantial part of Manhattan's surge is
being driven by homegrown forces: namely, the decision by
professionals to raise their families here.
Consider the case of Tim and Lucinda Karter. Despite the cost of
having a family in the city, Ms. Karter, a 38-year old literary agent,
and her husband, an editor at a publishing house, stayed in Manhattan
to have their two daughters, Eleanor and Sarah.
They had Eleanor seven and a half years ago while living in a
one-bedroom apartment near Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side. Then
they bought the apartment next door and completed an expansion of
their home into a four-bedroom apartment two years ago. A little less
than a year ago, they had Sarah.
"Manhattan is a fabulous, stimulating place to raise a child," Ms.
Karter said. "We didn't plan it but we just delayed the situation. We
were just carving away and then there was room."
The city's businesses and institutions are responding to the rising
toddler population. Three years ago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art
began a family initiative including programs geared to children 3 and
The Museum of Modern Art has programs for those as young as 4. In
January, Andy Stenzler and a group of partners opened Kidville, a
16,000-square-foot smorgasbord of activities for children under 5 -
and their parents - on the Upper East Side.
"We were looking for a concentration of young people," Mr. Stenzler
said. "There are 16,000 kids under 5 between 60th and 96th Streets."
Many of the new offerings reflect the wealth of the parents who have
decided to call Manhattan home. Citibabes, which opened in TriBeCa
last month, provides everything from a gym and workplaces with
Internet connections for parents, to science lessons, language classes
and baby yoga for their children. It charges families $6,250 for
unlimited membership for three months.
Manhattan preschools can charge $23,000 a year. Ms. Uhry, with Private
School Advisors, charges parents $6,000 a year just to coach them
through the application process to get their children in.
Yet in spite of the high costs, small spaces and infuriating extras
that seem unique to Manhattan - like the preschools that require an
I.Q. test - many parents would never live anywhere else.
"Manhattan has always been a great place for raising your children,"
said Lori Robinson, the president of the New Mommies Network, a
networking project for mothers on the Upper West Side. "It's easier to
be in the city with a baby. It's less isolation. You feel you are part
Meme 023: Steven Reiss' 16 Basic Desires
Here's the results of research into the basic human desires. I've
ordered them by what I think is my own hierarchy and invite you to do
the same for yourself and for historical personages, like Ayn Rand.
This list is not only important in its own right but has great
implications for one's political concerns. Curiosity being my highest
desire, I am an advocate of what I call the "information state,"
whereby the major function of the central government is the production
of information and reserach. (Currently, it occpies at most two percent
of U.S. federal spending.) And since independence is no. 3 for me, I am
close to being a libertarian, in the sense that I'd vote with Ron Paul
on most issues. But someone for whom independence is his most basic
desire, he'd be advocating a full liberatarian order and impose it on
states and counties. On the other hand, an idealist could advocate
massive redistribution programs from rich to poor and military
intervention in foreign countries that do not live up to his standards.
I simply care much less than he does about such matters.
The task of designing a state, or a world federal order, that reflects
the diversity of desires and not just "this is what I want the world to
STEVEN REISS' 16 BASIC DESIRES
Curiosity. The desire to explore and learn. End:
Romance. The desire for love and sex. Includes a desire
for aesthetic experiences. End: beauty, sex.
Independence. The desire for self-reliance. End:
freedom, ego integrity.
Saving. Includes the desire to collect things as well
as to accumulate wealth. End: collection, property.
Order. The desire for organization and for a
predictable environment. End: cleanliness, stability,
Family. The desire to raise one's own children. Does
not include the desire to raise other people's
children. End: children.
Idealism. The desire to improve society. Includes a
desire for social justice. End: fairness, justice.
Exercise. The desire to move one's muscles. End:
Acceptance. The desire for inclusion. Includes reaction
to criticism and rejection. End: positive self-image,
Social Contact. The desire for companionship. Includes
the desire for fun and pleasure. End: friendship,
Honor. The desire to be loyal to one's parents and
heritage. End: morality, character, loyalty.
Power. The desire for influence including mastery,
leadership, and dominance. End: achievement,
Vengeance. The desire to get even. Includes the joy of
competition. End: winning, aggression.
Status. The desire for social standing. Includes a
desire for attention. End: wealth, titles, attention,
Tranquility. The desire for emotional calm, to be free
of anxiety, fear, and pain. End: relaxation, safety.
Eating. The desire to consume food. End: food, dining,
Source: Steven Reiss, _Who am I?: the 16 basic desires
that motivate our actions and define our personalities.
NY: Penguin Putnam: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putman, 2000. I
have changed his exact wordings in a few places, based
upon the fuller descriptions in his book and upon his
other writings. The ends given in the table are taken
directly from page 31.
The desires are directed to the psychological (not
immediately biological) ends of actions, not to actions
as means toward other actions. He has determined the
basic ends by the use of factor analysis, a technique
pioneered by Raymond B. Cattell. Spirituality, for
example, he finds is distributed over the other desires
and is not an end, statistically independent of other
ends. And he finds that the desire for aesthetic
experiences is so closely correlated with romance that
he subsumes it thereunder.
Reiss' list is in no particular order, and so, after
much reflection, not only upon my thinking but upon my
actual behavior, I have ranked the desires by what I
think is my own hierarchy.
A few remarks, directed to those who know me, are in
Saving: Not much good at keeping within my budget, I
have a relatively big pension coming and have a large
collection of recordings of classical music and books.
Order: While my office and home is in a mess, I have
written a number of extremely well-organized
Family: Not always an attentive father, I have kept at
a job I've not always liked, instead of starting over
again as an assistant professor.
Idealism: I took the description from an earlier
article by Reiss, so as not to restrict it to state
redistribution of income.
Exercise: I am well-known for my running and having
entered (legally) the Boston Marathon, but I usually
just set myself to a daily routine and don't go
canoeing, for example, when on vacations. In high
school, I was notorious for avoiding exercise.
Acceptance: I can be rather sensitive to being ignored,
though I don't do much about it in fact.
Social Contact: Fun, for me, is intellectual
discussion, often with playful allusions on words and
Honor: I'm very low on patriotism, but I do like to
think of myself as having good character.
Vengeance: I've been told I love to win arguments for
their own sake, but I have only a small desire ever to
get even and never act upon it.
[I am sending forth these memes, not because I agree wholeheartedly
with all of them, but to impregnate females of both sexes. Ponder them
and spread them.]
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