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Lies, Damn Lies and Fertility Statistics

by talos Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 06:06:00 AM EST

This article on "Social Security's Contribution to the Fertility Crisis" is an exceptional example of - lying with statistics I'd say, but this goes far beyond lying, into such realms of ideological foolishness and self-deceit, that words fail to describe, but it does have a high entertainment value... OK, the fact that it is from the von Mises Institute prepares the casual reader for the usual statistical acrobatics - but this... this ought to win some prize.

It isn't worth the time to debunk point by point (an easy but colossal task), but I'd like to single out a few things:

First of all, the two graphs presented as supporting empirical data: notice that the time-series for European countries stops at 1997 and tells a rather different story for, say, Ireland than the author suggests (and misses the recent demographic uptrend in "socialist" - by the authors standards - France which now has a higher fertility rate than the UK or Ireland - a fact that the author is silent about)...

Another hair-raising piece documenting how the high priests of the Economic Faith look at Europe and the world through coloured glasses. Promoted by DoDo


Furthermore the author notes that:

Looking at some concrete examples reveals the striking ability of social security to explain differences in fertility rates. The most obvious case is the one between developed and less developed countries: all developed countries have total fertility rates far below 3, whereas African and Middle-Eastern countries, where social security systems are practically non-existent, reach rates between 4 and 7

Looking at the most fertile countries demographically however, one cannot help but notice that with practically no exceptions, the fertility champions have no great need for a vast Social Security System since only a small portion of their population reaches retirement age. The fact that the countries in question are, well, agrarian, war-torn and underdeveloped for the most part, apparently isn't considered as relevant as their total expenditure on Pensions as a percentage of GDP...

Finally, the author amusingly states that:

Also within Europe, where social security benefits are dangerously generous, there are differences among countries. Some of the most generous schemes are found in Germany, France, and the Mediterranean countries -- as are the lowest fertility rates in the region

The case of France is, as we know (and the author could have found out by checking the Wikipedia list he references) the case of the highest fertility rates in Europe. As for the Mediterranean countries: In the very low fertility Mediterranean country (Greece) I'm living, the social security scheme is so generous that 1 in 4 pensioners live below the poverty line - and the number of destitute pensioners would be staggeringly high, were it not for exactly the family support networks that the author claims Social Security has made obsolete.

And BTW: Doesn't anyone still teach the "Correlation does not imply Causation" thing in statistics classes anymore?

PS: Apparently there's a paper on the issue of social security "explaining" low fertility rates. I give up.

Display:
whereas African and Middle-Eastern countries, where social security systems are practically non-existent, reach rates between 4 and 7

Fertility rates:

Iran 1.8

Turkey 1.92

Morocco 2.68

Algeria 1.89

Tunisia 1.74

Libya 3.28

Egypt 2.83

Jordan 2.63

Syria 3.4

Saudi Arabia 4.0

Yemen 6.58

Israel 2.41

Four to seven? Forget about correlation and causation, what correlation? And how about learning how to read numbers? I count two countries in the Middle East and North Africa with a fertility rate at four or above with a couple below two and a whole slew between two and three. Let's take France, let's take Turkey, Tunisia, or Iran - do the latter genuinely have more generous social security systems? Sub-Saharan Africa, sure, but if most developing countries are seeing rapidly falling fertility rates, and one region retains high birth rates, maybe it one should look at some factor specific to the region in question?

by MarekNYC on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 12:41:49 AM EST
So frnace actually has a higher fertility rate that the "Islamofascists" that are supposedly taking us over?

Is that because said "Islamofascists" are coming over to France just to have their babies over here? Sneaky, sneaky...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 04:33:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually France has now a higher fertility rate than Turkey, which might be useful to remember when discussing Turkish accession in the future, when arguments about the teeming masses of Turks resurface.

On the other side of the correlation spectrum, you have of course, this...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 06:20:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That article is from a year ago. The 2006 numbers were even higher, with the fertility rate actually climbing above 2...

But I loved that quote:


Throughout its modern history France has been obsessed about population levels. Experts have established that around the time of the revolution, French mothers stopped breeding - no one knows why - and a population that had been the largest in Europe fell during the 19th century behind Britain and the emerging Germany.

The Révolution is the cause of France's decline...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 08:00:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course. Too busy knitting in front of the guillotine.

Try all you like, my fine French friend, but you can't fight facts.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 08:08:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know if this was a French obsession, or an Anglo-Saxon/German/military historian obsession projected at France, but I have met with this issue in another context. It was in analyses of why France lost the Franco-Prussian war and suffered such lasting effect of the two world wars, and the argument was that low birthrates meant less available conscripts for the mass armies.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 09:19:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course it is. And revanchists continue the theme under a new banner.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 10:11:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Throughout its modern history France has been obsessed about population levels

It was a pretty serious concern during the Third Republic, particularly on the right.

The Révolution is the cause of France's decline...

The explanation I've seen most often is that the land inheritance laws of the Napoleonic Code were a factor, combined with the fact that so much of France's population was made up of small landowners.

by MarekNYC on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 10:33:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I read a comment somewhere sometime on the usenets that the reason France fell behind Germany in the 19th century was a change in its succession laws (shift from primogeniture (first son) to partible (shared) inheritance). This is a case where the 'why' would be more egalitarianism.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 05:56:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fatherside, I have a track of landowner / peasant ancestors, I would say mostly of the well off category for the time. By the mid 19th, they had more than one child, they resolved the dilemna by letting the (male) children all but one study, and then work for the state or in the ndustry. The youngest kept the farm.
But the story of the inheritance law is also one mainstream explanation I have always heard as why France made his demographic transition 40 years earlier (more or less 10 years, I don´t recall).

What I don´t understand is how it can be the cause of it, because in theory the diminution of infantile  mortality is the main factor and has to come first.

Anyway, France had his demographic boost - lot of active people in the population, less dependant one with less children and not many elders yet - at the end of 18th /beginning of the 19th and squandered it through the revolutionnary and napoleonic wars, and was a bit too early - already stabilized - for riding the industrial revolution.

The third republic obsession with natality was real, and can be easily understood: if for 30 years you were an outlier with less natality, were crushed by expanding neighbours and could not conceive that they will slow their natality one day too, you could have felt uneasy...

La répartie est dans l'escalier. Elle revient de suite.

by lacordaire on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 07:15:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Stop giving the islamofascists ideas, jerome.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 01:10:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We may seriously ask ourselves how such energomenous were given any kind of university title.. now seriously.

It is really disgusting.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 10:02:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would advise only to read that article on an empty stomach.

Just look at this excerpt:

Given the efficiency benefits of scrapping social security taxation, there would also be many more voluntary charities and mutual help societies to assist those who, through bad luck or some fault of their own, have no one else to look after them.

So this guy is advocating for replacing the social safety net with soup kitchens. Freedom, he says? Freedom to starve!

Judging by the author's name, he's a fellow Finn too. Bleach. I'm pretending I'm Swedish for the rest of the day.

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 03:57:56 AM EST
Feudalism is definitely better than chaos.

So if you want feudalism, promote policies that generate chaos.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 04:35:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow. I have seen the neoliberals and other ultracapitalists celebrate the high US birthrate (while lambasting the racial distribution of the same in a US-domestic context) and blame taxes and abandonment of the single-earner model in Europe, but this insanity goes way beyond that. It is apparently as 'well developed' as other marketista myths, say the one about the glorious economic boom under Pinochet.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 04:24:29 AM EST
A nice example on how dangerous it is to write academic papers on important topics - an idiot would be happy to use the juiciest bits to support own pet prejudices.

The paper actually compares two particular models of fertility and says that one of them fits the data better. There's a very important variable that's omitted in both models - time and monetary costs of raising children, which are very hard to measure consistently across time and across countries. Without such consistent measures, no academic would write a paper, even though anecdotal evidence indicates that making raising kids easier - in monetary, time, and society acceptance's terms - might be very important. (That's what the BBC story linked in comments seems to imply).

If we were able to quantify those effects, it could happen that they would explain a bulk of the observed variability. Who knows - multiple regressions are tricky. A gang of aspiring Ph.D.s would tear apart the regressions in hope of proving the masters wrong, and at some point, we would have a pretty good idea of what matters and what doesn't. This is how science work - among other ways, by extending a hypothesis which is proved wrong at a later time. Or supported.

By the way, Boldrin, one of the authors of the paper, is well aware of the fertility dynamics in France and its possible explanations. I'm looking forward to an update of his paper.

by Sargon on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 06:53:49 AM EST

And that's a big omission.



The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 10:07:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Above was a really mangled response. I meant to reply to the following:

There's a very important variable that's omitted in both models - time and monetary costs of raising children, which are very hard to measure consistently across time and across countries.

Which is indeed a big omission, and probably a key determinant driving superior French fertility rates.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 10:09:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Higher, not superior.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 10:14:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Six of one, half dozen of the other.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Thu Feb 15th, 2007 at 11:28:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't mean to be rude - really, I don't - but I wouldn't expect anything better than this from a think tank based in Alabama.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 07:33:36 AM EST
By the way. Am I the only one who thinks human population density is already too high globally and in Europe, and doesn't think population reduction is a problem per se?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 07:46:18 AM EST
I've thought that for a long time. I am of the opinion that our elites just want the cannon fodder and cheap labour, though Redstar had some good arguments about pensions and intergenerational solidarity in one of the diaries on the French fertility rate.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 07:51:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
<humble acknowledgment of compliment>

There is also the counter argument, one advanced by the PCF in the 1960's (it may surprise many that Maurice Thorez, at his wife's behest, was against abortion), that population control was a tool wielded against the working classes to limit their power.

</humble acknowledgment of compliment.>

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 10:17:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do the elites know what they want?

Apart from a vague sense of More is Good and Less is Bad, I'm not sure there's much of an evidence of a masterplan.

If anything, looking at the Right in the US it's clear that these people are deeply, almost pathologically confused, and detached from mainstream consensus reality.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 09:23:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I dunno. Seems to me they're confused to be sure, but more in the "onward christian soldiers" way, ie vague notions of the power of demography and its usages over history in the extension of dominion (or empire, if you rather).

For instance, some of these fools actually thought it possible to not only be welcomed as liberators in Irak, but that with enough proselytizing zeal, the conversions would be right on the heals of liberation; thus is this dominionism of roughly a quarter of Americans - those quarter who supply so many of the troops for America's overseas adventures -  so well aligned with the empire-building aims of America's elite.

It might be added that this state of affairs is not unlike what most of the rest of the West looked like before the enlightenment, and gives a certain appreciation, for example, of St Bart's day.

Of course, the fight doesn't always have to be against external foes, ie Thorez' point.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Feb 15th, 2007 at 10:21:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, you're far from the only one. While what makes for a materially content life varies a lot according to your outlook, it's generally so that it takes a lot to make us happy. When then we have gone from being relatively rare, like other large, demanding, long-lived, top-of-the-food-chain creatures to having a population on the order of that of the brown rat... I worry about its wisdom or sustainability.

We're going to need to reformulate economic and social policies in such a way as to support a declining population because this always more people model I cannot see lasting.

-----

'It depends on which research report you read,'says Hattie, 'and sorry about this, but I do tend to believe the ones that suit me.'

by JQL (deinikoi at gmail dot com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 08:11:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
New User, New User, everyone! (okay, second comment, not first)

Welcome to the Eurotrib, JQL. Hope to see you posting more in the future.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 08:54:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This "study" along with many others of a similar nature points to a need to examine the psychology of the authors.

A large group of people promote ideas which are at variance with the facts. Understanding why they do this may help in formulating better rebuttals and/or prevent others from being duped.

We can understand those who are paid to lie. They have a (short-term) economic interest in keeping their jobs and thus getting them to change their positions is impossible as long as they want to earn a living.

I'm more interested in the "flat earth" types. These days we see several popular areas. These include all the flavors of Friedman/Rand/Libertarian social and economic policy. Then there are the anti-Darwinists and the climate change deniers.

The last big group seems to be the "clash of civilization" types, but they seem to be motivated by irrational fear.

What all these groups have in common is that one can not "win" an argument with them by providing facts since it is the facts which they are choosing to ignore.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 08:46:16 AM EST
Since the work has been judged on its merits perhaps a little ad hominem is not out of line.

If you google "Oskari Juurikkala" you quickly get to an Opus Dei "interview with Oskari Juurikkala, from Finland, who is studying Law at the London School of Economics."

From the interview with recently converted 25 year old Oskari Juurikkala:

"What can Opus Dei contribute to European society in the 21st Century?"

Big question... Let's think what Europe needs. It certainly needs hope. Europe has been disillusioned by decades if not centuries of ideologies founded on hope in man alone without reference to God. Not surprisingly, such hopes have never quite lived up to their promises. In a sense we're still in a period of false hopes: hope in the almost salvific nature of material progress, economic growth etc. I don't think anyone deep down believes these things will make them happy, but they are clinging on to them because they have nothing else, and no one can live without hope.

by bellumregio on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 10:17:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL, a free-marketista Catholic fundie!

Thanks for spotting that, and welcome on ET, by the way!

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 10:21:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Plenty of those around here. Crazy people, i tell you...
(here being Portugal).
by Torres on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 01:38:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL, a free-marketista Catholic fundie!

Why do you laugh? Those are plentiful in the European People's Party.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 02:51:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL, a free-marketista Catholic fundie!

Depends on how you view conservatism, and whether or not one sees the religious aspect as instrumental (not necessarily consciously so). Traditional nineteenth century conservatism was anti free market liberalism, but a lot of that had to do with defending existing elites whose wealth, power, and status was based on land ownership and blood. Those elites are long gone, long live the new elites - whose wealth, power, and status depends on a different set of social values and rules. Of course plenty of Catholic fundies retain the old view, at least in part, but I don't see the new one as necessarily that outlandish.

by MarekNYC on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 04:04:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Opus Dei as purveyor of hope?

Hahahahahahahaha!

Do you want a chastity belt with that?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 12:05:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What I want to know is how the right is going to reconcile this to its claim that the state purse is being drained by women producing a baby a year for £20 or so additional benefit per week...
by Sassafras on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 11:10:43 AM EST
Here is a RAND study which has less hysterical conclusions:

This study showed that, under certain conditions, European governments can successfully confront the looming economic threats of declining fertility rates and ageing populations. Policies that remove workplace and career impediments to childrearing are a critical part of any solution. However, reversing long-term ageing and low fertility remains problematic, given that policies for doing so may not pay dividends until the next generation reaches working age. Prior to that time, millions of baby boomers will have retired. Hence, a solution will require long-term vision and political courage.

I do wish to point out that when us baby-boomers die the low number of workers per boomer means those workers will inherit a greater amount of wealth.  I don't know if a study has been done comparing the projected stream of payments for support versus monetary value of the projected inheritences.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 11:51:08 AM EST
funny, i just heard on italian radio today that italy could rest assured its pensions were safe till 2050 at least...

one niggling detail: women had to be convinced to retire a little later...

the other news on this subject on tv today was how russia is giving families $9000 to have another baby.

good luck!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Feb 14th, 2007 at 10:34:24 PM EST


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