Philobiblon: The baby choice, not the baby gap

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The baby choice, not the baby gap

You really do have to worry about the Observer, which is sounding more like the Daily Mail every week. It might want to adopt a new slogan - "Women must be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen".

The splash today is "UK baby shortage will cost £11 billion · Career pressures blamed for shortfall · Early motherhood cuts women's salaries". The story itself is not so bad, in fact has some sensible stuff about the need for childcare, flexible working etc, but most people will, of course, only absorb the headline.

It also persists in the "women just stupidly forgot to have children" trope:

"If women had had, by the age of 36-38, the number of children they wanted when they were aged between 21 and 23, the birth rate would be 13 per cent higher, it calculates. Only five per cent said they did not originally want children, yet four times as many were childless by their late thirties."

Well I wanted many things when I was 21 - although I didn't want children - and I don't now want many of the same things. I didn't want many of the same things when I was 25 or 30. At 21 you are still chiefly the product of your conditioning and upbringing - you are only just starting to grow up and construct yourself as an independent individual.

No doubt many of those women later changed their minds, or decided that while a baby might be nice, it wasn't their top priority. Also, no doubt, when they asked those early twenties women the question, they were thinking of having a baby as something that would happen in the far distant future - it is not a serious practical prospect.

With, as I've reported before, 30 per cent plus of women in Scotland chosing not to have babies, when are the researchers (and the newspaper editors) going to recognise that this is a valid, sensible, entirely normal choice?

Meanwhile, while I think Labour's focus on "choice" in schools and hospitals is ridiculous - you just want a good local one, I have to strongly disagree with the complaint about "too much choice" in general life. It is the same as information; you just need to turn the statement around. In the past we were information/choice poor - now we are rich.

Of course both personal and societal structures need to adapt, and there's likely to be some tension in that adjustment, but we don't want to go back to poverty. Certainly thousands of types of breakfast cereal might be ridiculous, but you can choose to ignore most or all of them, and if enough people do that there will be an immediate corrective effect. We've just got to celebrate good ranges of choices (such as whether or not to have babies), and ignore the silly, corporate ones.

But choice is yet to reach Wi-Fi A Times writer has a great idea for small businesses to get ahead of the big boys ... And I wonder if local government shouldn't play a role here too.


Blogger Penny L. Richards said...

I've never had much trouble finding free wi-fi in Los Angeles--I certainly won't pay for it. There are hotspot listings online, of varying levels of accuracy. When I was visiting in Naples, Florida in December, I just asked around in cafes--found one with free wi-fi pretty quickly. (My sitting there with a laptop advertised the service to other customers, too.) Naples also has a few outdoor hotspots, maintained by the local businesses as a group--so you don't even have to pay table-rent, just sit on a bench in the sunshine.... There are US cities that have or are considering offering free wi-fi citywide, as an amenity (including a nearby city, Hermosa Beach--then the only impediment to being connected while on the beach is getting sand in your laptop's keyboard).

2/19/2006 03:18:00 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

The Observer lost its moral compass when it plunged for the invasion of Iraq. It's been shite ever since.

2/20/2006 11:52:00 am  
Blogger clanger said...

Those of you rich in wi-fi access may want to google 'electrosmog'.

You can have too much choice: try buying a toothbrush in a large superstore.

Choice per se isn't that new. In 1985 there were 7 different brands of baking powder and 8 different brands of bicarbonate of soda on offer to the dedicated consumer.

(Perhaps I should get out more.)

An MBA would chirp up that the best brand would come through to the theme from 'An Officer and a Gentleman', whilst the others fell by the wayside like birds with flu, but the free market is never tidy or pleasant.

Instead all competing vendors reduce their prices and cling on, grimly, cutting their workers' pension plans, outsourcing their operations, and making less profit, whilst reducing their quality to lower costs.

We do not end up with the textbook-friendly 'varied range of choices staggered by price/quality'. Rather, we get a large number of equally crappy, equally cheap things, none of which last very long.

2/20/2006 11:39:00 pm  

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