July 7, 2005

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Dr. Levitt, than are dreamt of in your Freakonomics."

A reader who used to be an inner city social worker sends another enlightening message about how legal abortion actually works among the underclass:

Interesting to read about the Brookings policy brief (which I haven’t seen elsewhere). The bits you've quoted line up with my personal experience as a social worker, except for one thing . . . .

The authors of the report follow the now-PC practice of talking about every female over the age of 11 as a "woman." This is understandable, since feminists have banished the word "girl" for all but the youngest kids. It's unfortunate, though, because it obscures the fact that, in a large percentage of cases, we really are talking about teenage girls.

Consider the following line from the Brookings authors: "[W]omen feared, correctly, that if they refused sexual relations, they would risk losing their partners."

Now translate that into, "Fatherless teenage girls feared, correctly, that if they refused sexual relations, they would risk losing their boyfriends, who may well represent the only steady source of male affection they have ever had in their young lives."

Is the picture starting to become clearer? We really aren’t talking about rational post-Enlightenment adults making considered choices. We're talking about hurricane-strength social forces battering the most vulnerable members of the population.

Another fact that I don’t think I've ever seen discussed seriously: A lot of the teenage abortions that Levitt attributes to "unwantedness" may not be initiated by the pregnant girls themselves, but by their mothers or close relatives. Other people (notably boyfriends) may try to pressure girls into abortions too, of course. But quite often, the most effective pressure comes from the girl's own family.

Underclass mothers can put tremendous pressure on their young daughters to abort. Mothers threaten to throw their daughters out, to disown the baby. They aren’t shy about saying (or screaming) it in front of their social workers either.

Why would mothers bully their daughters to abort their own grandchildren? A lot of reasons, I guess, but one leaps to mind immediately if you're familiar with underclass family life: Mothers don't want to lose the free babysitting services their daughters provide.

In underclass families, it's not unusual to see a 13 year old tending several younger siblings. With no father in the home, mothers rely heavily on older children to watch younger ones -- even more so now that society (for good reason) requires welfare mothers to go to work.

The last thing a mother in this situation needs is for her daughter to get distracted by kids of her own -- especially when the mother may still be able to have more kids herself. A daughter's desire to reproduce can directly conflict with her mother's desire to continue reproducing.

This probably sounds utterly bizarre to middle class readers. But middle class people often don’t become parents until their late 20s or 30s, and then have only one or two kids. By contrast, my welfare clients started young. I had many clients under age 25 who already had multiple children. A 30 year old underclass mother could easily have a 14 year old daughter who she relies on to babysit three or four younger kids.

In my experience, girls who have abortions under parental pressure almost invariably get pregnant again a year or two later. And their mothers may again try to pressure them into abortion. But eventually, the daughters wise up and fight back.

This has always raised a question in my mind: Are all these teenage abortions actually reducing the number of kids being born, or just shifting the births down the road a couple of years? Do the girls who have the abortions actually wind up with fewer children overall? It doesn't seem that way, if my experience is any indicator.

I don't know how much impact this phenomenon has on overall abortion rates. But I know that it is not uncommon. And it always comes to mind when I read that, despite the enormous number of abortions after legalization, births decreased by only six percent.

Here are two more messages from this reader: "How underclass women view pregnancy" and "Elvis Levitt".

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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