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  • The morals of today’s youth

    Posted by ken on April 12th, 2005 (All posts by )

    If you don’t correctly identify the problem, you don’t stand much of a chance of solving it.

    The problem of “sexual immorality” among teenagers is almost universally misdiagnosed, and the vast majority of solutions proposed for problems such as high rates of illegitimacy and STD’s miss the point entirely. While so-called “liberals” (who also tend to misdiagnose the problem and propose band-aids like handing out free condoms) stand accused of plotting to overturn thousands of years of tradition and unleash a Pandora’s box full of unintended consequences, conservatives tend not to recognize that an ideal of universal celibacy throughout the first half-dozen or more of our prime childbearing years is itself a radical innovation.

    To get a better look at the problem, let’s review some numbers (from Table PF 1.5.b)

    Fertility rates ages 15-19, all races, 1960: 89.1
    Fertility rates ages 15-19, all races, 1990: 59.9
    Fertility rates ages 15-19, all races, 1999: 49.6

    Yes, that’s right, over a period of 40 years, we have managed to cut the so-called “teen birth rate” nearly in half.

    Unfortunately, the rate of marriage among these people has fallen even faster, and the out-of-wedlock birth rate has risen substantially. Which suggests that the problem isn’t that our kids are having sex “too early” (at least by any reasonable historical standard), but that they’re getting married too late.

    Which means that the ultimate source of our problem isn’t a corrupt popular culture, oversexualized entertainment, or anything along those lines. Nor is it insufficient sex education or inaccessibility of contraceptives, or anything along those lines. The ultimate source of our problem is that our children are growing up and getting educated too slowly. Three months out of every year of their childhoods is utterly wasted from an academic standpoint (for a grand total of three years – a 15 year old, instead of facing three more years of childhood, could already be in college, if not for that!), and they get a watered-down curriculum when their classes actually do meet – and the high school diploma that takes their entire childhood (and then some, by any reasonable standard) to get qualifies them for nothing that allows them to support middle-class families.

    Now why is it that a nine year curriculum stretched out over 12 years and culminating in a nearly worthless diploma is seen as a fixed law of nature, while the reproductive drive is not? Why is an extra-long childhood non-negotiable, while we must adjust everything else in our society and our kids must put their lives on hold to accomodate it? In short, why should our teenagers be children rather than adults, and why do we think that children can ever safely be left in posession of working reproductive organs?


    18 Responses to “The morals of today’s youth”

    1. ed in texas Says:

      Our current education industry is geared to creating forced repeat customers, and concept that someone might be able to get by without ANY college education is anathema to them. After all, it’s what they want, so it should be what you want.

    2. Dave Schuler Says:

      Now why is it that a nine year curriculum stretched out over 12 years and culminating in a nearly worthless diploma is seen as a fixed law of nature, while the reproductive drive is not?

      Because there’s a huge entrenched bureaucracy supporting it?

    3. Lex Says:

      The idea that people in their late teens should be forced to sit still and do nothing useful all day is a novel idea in the world, and it is a result of the state education monopoly and the desire to keep people out of the workforce and off the street.

    4. Ginny Says:

      Actually, as extreme as Ken’s statistics are, there is something that makes them more extraordinary. That is the age of puberty has been decreasing.

      In North America age at menarche decreased by three to four months each decade after 1850; in 1988 the median age at menarche was 12.5 years among US girls (160, 529). In some developing countries age at menarche appears to be decreasing even faster. For example, in Kenya average age at menarche fell from 14.4 in the late 1970s to 12.9 in the 1980s (185).

      As our society has become more complex and our skills requiring greater training, the distance between puberty and marriage is lengthening.

      I agree that education need not take the time it does, that much time is wasted. Keeping summers free so children can work in the field seems pretty bizarre at this point. But I can tell you that early puberty also interferes with attention spans in classrooms. I suspect a partial answer lies in single sex schools.

    5. Fred Says:

      The “free time” isn’t the problem, it’s good to let kids out of the jail and alow them to do something outside.

      It’s that the school time is such a waste.

    6. Ken Says:

      “The “free time” isn’t the problem, it’s good to let kids out of the jail and alow them to do something outside.”

      It’s even better to let them out of the jail and allow them to start their own lives.

      Which means that the school system ought to be completely shut down so that private vendors in a competitive market can take their place.

      Even then there’s a hell of a lot of parents out there that would extend their kids’ childhoods out to 25 or so of they could, and they’re perfectly capable of stalling the process themselves and of deliberately seeking schools that don’t teach them enough to escape. In fact, that may be why meaningful reform of the curriculum never happened – too many parents didn’t think of longer childhoods as a problem.

      And why is that, and what can be done about it? Is it as insoluble as the problem of how to push the teen birth rate to zero?

    7. Ken Says:

      “As our society has become more complex and our skills requiring greater training, the distance between puberty and marriage is lengthening.”

      Yep. And the bottom line is, this: every minute after puberty that someone is still a child is a window of opportunity for him to get himself into serious trouble. Once he’s on his own, he’s got much more of a vested interest in working hard and staying out of trouble – he reaps the profit and suffers the losses, unlike the overgrown children that, as a consequence of their insulation from the real world, tend to act like, well, overgrown children.

    8. incognito Says:

      all the more reasons for vouchers, or a rebate. simple logic, if you’re paying for nothing, you should stop paying.

    9. Richard Heddleson Says:

      Eliminating mandatory attendance at government schools after, say 14 not only would reduce the illegitimacy rate, it would reduce delinquincy, increase life time earnings, increase GDP, and reduce the need to extend the age of retirement. The American fetish of carefree youth has proven detrimental to social health.

    10. The Theocrats Says:

      Marrying Too Late

      I strongly agree with the Christian principle of controlling bodily urges, but at some point it becomes lunacy to pretend that one can ignore them entirely for prolonged periods of time….

    11. enkidu Says:

      Humans have supposedly the longest childhood of all animals. With the age of pubery decreasing, it could be that we are gradually turning back into animals.

    12. Paul Says:

      You are dead on about the problem being that we marry too late. In days gone by one had, at most, a couple of years between sexual maturity (and raging sex drive) and marriage. With puberty occurring earlier, and marriage occurring later, the delay between wanting sex and getting married is now from one to two DECADES!!

      The church folk who expect kids to cross their legs and ignore it are a huge part of the problem. If you want your kids to marry as virgins, you need to accept that they will have to marry early. If you want your kids to finish college before they marry, then you better accept that they won’t be virgins. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are few and far between.


    13. Bill Wyatt Says:

      A restructure of western “childhood” is at least three generations overdue. The economic, social and cultural costs of warehousing adolescents in teen ghettos, formerly manageable, has become increasingly less so.

      Economically, there are both the increasing out-of-pocket costs of a highly inefficient state education sector (in which the creation of human capital accounts for a declining proportion of its activities) and the opportunity costs of wasting 5-10 years of one’s economically productive life. Socially, it seems likely that at least some of the problems of maturing would be mitigated if teens were integrated earlier into the larger community. High schools, like prisons and other socially isolated institutions, develop cultures of their own, often at odds with the larger community. And if teens had more responsibility (and therefore less leisure and disposable income relative to the rest of the community), there is at least some likelihood that the culture would not be so responsive to the tastes and fantasies of adolescents (which would be a positive development on a variety of levels).

      As with so many areas of life, this one would benefit from deregulation.

    14. John Thacker Says:

      The church folk who expect kids to cross their legs and ignore it are a huge part of the problem. If you want your kids to marry as virgins, you need to accept that they will have to marry early.

      Yeah, but church folk do marry early. Interestingly, one of the best predictors for a states vote share for Bush was “proportion of years between 15-34 married” for white females.

    15. Richard Heddleson Says:

      There’s been some beating on “church folk” here that deserves addressing.

      I would like to see the evidence that “church folk” marry earlier. I would also be interested to see whether there is any difference in marital fidelity or divorce rates for them.

      “Chrich folk” don’t have any monopoly on virginity at marriage or faithful monogamy, but it can’t hurt to be reminded of their importance, especially when the rest of society spends so much time throwing the alternative in our faces.

    16. LotharBot Says:

      Paul’s bash on “church folk” shouldn’t be taken as an anti-religious screed. He and his wife run a fairly large marriage ministry sanctioned by a mainstream denomination.

      He identified a big part of the problem, though — a lot of people (but mostly “church folk”) put unrealistic expectations on their kids. Stay virgins, but don’t get married until you’re 26. There were people who seriously looked down on me and my wife when we married because we were “too young” (I was almost 22 and just graduated college, and she had just turned 20 and finished a year of grad school.) Society considers us “children” until we’re in our mid-20’s, because they artificially create an unnecessarily long childhood for us.

      An 18-year-old is not a child. He’s old enough to be in the military and old enough to vote, after all. He should also be old enough to marry, but in a lot of people’s eyes that’s far too young.

      People start having sex at the same age as they always have — their weddings are just a decade later now. Therein lies the problem.

    17. D.B. Light Says:

      To a great extent our educational system is warehousing surplus labor. Advanced capitalist economies are so efficient that they require fewer workers than are available. This problem has been exacerbated in recent years by social trends such as feminism that have expanded the potential workforce much more rapidly than could be accommodated by economic expansion.

      Europe solves that problem by tolerating high unemployment backed by welfare subsidies. The US prolongs adolescence and encourages early retirement. Both solutions are enormously expensive. Both, to the extent that they involve welfare subsidies attract immigrants whose presence exacerbates the problem of surplus labor and increases the costs of the subsidies.

      Twice in the past century the US has faced huge surplus labor problems. During the Progressive Era the response was public schooling and immigration restriction; after WWII the response was expansion of public schooling and a continuation of immigration restriction. Today the response is pressure to expand public education and restrict immigration. Hmmmm. Do I see a pattern here?

    18. Richard Heddleson Says:

      Today’s marriage ages are not a decade lateer than they used to be for the English as Macfarlane documented in the Origins of English Individualism.