Somebody else's babies

Kevin Lewis

March 23, 2017

Religiosity, political conservatism, and support for legalized abortion: A bivariate ordered probit model with endogenous regressors

Steven Yen & Ernest Zampelli

Social Science Journal, March 2017, Pages 39–50

Using pooled data from the General Social Surveys, we estimated a bivariate ordered probit model of support for legalized elective- and traumatic-based abortions. Unlike past literature, we treat religiosity (practice and salience), religious orthodoxy, political ideology, and party identification as endogenous regressors. Religious orthodoxy is found to reduce the probability of supporting legalized abortions while religiosity increases it. Increases in political conservatism reduce the probability of supporting legalized abortions by substantial amounts. Surprisingly, movement along the party identification spectrum from strong Democrat to strong Republican increases the likelihood of supporting legalized abortion, likely reflecting the greater importance attached to limited government and the preservation of individual freedoms, after controlling for religious orthodoxy and self-placement along the liberal conservative dimension. Quantitatively, however, the negative impacts of increased political conservatism are dominant.


The Effect of Minimum Wages on Adolescent Fertility: A Nationwide Analysis

Lindsey Rose Bullinger

American Journal of Public Health, March 2017, Pages 447-452

Methods: I used a difference-in-differences approach and vital statistics data measured quarterly at the state level from 2003 to 2014. All models included state covariates, state and quarter-year fixed effects, and state-specific quarter-year nonlinear time trends, which provided plausibly causal estimates of the effect of minimum wage on adolescent birth rates.

Results: A $1 increase in minimum wage reduces adolescent birth rates by about 2%. The effects are driven by non-Hispanic White and Hispanic adolescents.

Conclusions: Nationwide, increasing minimum wages by $1 would likely result in roughly 5000 fewer adolescent births annually.


Abortion, Contraception, and Non-Marital Births: Re-Interpreting the Akerlof-Yellen-Katz Model of Pre-Marital Sex and Shotgun Marriage

Saul Hoffman

Eastern Economic Journal, March 2017, Pages 352–361

In a well-known paper, Akerlof, Yellen, and Katz proposed a counter-intuitive explanation for the rise of non-marital births in the United States that emphasized how birth control and abortion weakened the responsibility of men to their unmarried partner’s pregnancy. The paper is regularly cited by social conservatives to support measures to restrict sex education and access to contraception and abortion. I argue that this use of the paper’s findings stems from specific modeling assumptions about “types” of women. I present a reformulation of the model using more reasonable “types” that generates precisely the same results, but with radically different policy implications.


Over-the-Counter Access to Oral Contraceptives for Adolescents

Krishna Upadhya et al.

Journal of Adolescent Health, forthcoming

Oral contraceptives (OCs) are used by millions of women in the U.S. The requirement to obtain OCs by prescription from a clinician may serve as a barrier to contraceptive initiation and continuation for women, in particular adolescents. Over-the-counter (OTC) availability would reduce this barrier and could further reduce unintended pregnancy rates. This review explores the scientific issues and regulatory processes involved in switching OCs to OTC status for minor adolescents. We review: (1) the regulatory criteria for switching a drug to OTC status; (2) risk of pregnancy and safety during use of OCs including combined oral contraceptives and progestin-only pills for adolescents; (3) the ability of adolescents to use OCs consistently and correctly; (4) OTC access to OCs and potential effect on sexual risk behaviors; and (5) the potential for reduced opportunities for clinicians to counsel and provide recommended reproductive health care to adolescents. We find strong scientific rationale for including adolescents in any regulatory change to switch OCs to OTC status. OCs are safe and highly effective among adolescents; contraindications are rarer among adolescents compared to adult women. Ready access to OCs, condoms, and emergency contraception increases their use without increasing sexual risk behaviors.


Fetal health stagnation: Have health conditions in utero improved in the US and Western and Northern Europe over the past 150 years?

Eric Schneider

Social Science & Medicine, April 2017, Pages 18–26

Many empirical studies have shown that health conditions in utero can have long lasting consequences for health across the life course. However, despite this evidence, there is no clear consensus about how fetal health has changed in the very long run. This paper analyses historical birth weights and perinatal mortality rates to construct a coherent picture of how health conditions in utero have changed over the past 150 years. In short, the evidence suggests that fetal health has been relatively stagnant. Limited evidence on birth weights shows that they had already reached their current levels in North America and Northern and Western Europe by the late nineteenth century, and they have changed very little in between. Perinatal mortality rates have fallen dramatically since the late 1930s, but this decline was mainly caused by improvements in intrapartum treatments after the introduction of Sulfa drugs and antibiotics. Thus, the health benefits associated with the perinatal mortality decline were concentrated among those at risk and did not influence the population at large. Finding stagnant fetal health during a period when many other indicators of health improved dramatically is provocative and suggests two conclusions: either fetal health did not improve or the indicators used to measure fetal health, indicators still widely used today, may not accurately capture all aspects of health in utero. If fetal health has been stagnant, then better conditions in utero cannot explain cohort improvements in life expectancy over the twentieth century. If the indicators of fetal health are problematic, then researchers must move beyond birth weight and perinatal mortality to understand how developmental plasticity based on the prenatal environment influences later life health.


Population Density, Fertility, and Demographic Convergence in Developing Countries

David de la Croix & Paula Gobbi

Journal of Development Economics, forthcoming

Whether the population tends towards a long-run stationary value depends on forces of demographic convergence. One such force is the result of fertility rates being negatively affected by population density. We test the existence of such an effect in 44 developing countries, matching georeferenced data from the Demographic and Health Surveys for half a million women with population density grids. We find a causal relationship from population density to fertility such that a rise in density from 10 to 1,000 inhabitants per square kilometer corresponds to a decrease in fertility of about 0.7 children. The corresponding half-life for population dynamics is of the order of four–five generations.


Global Trends in Adolescent Fertility, 1990–2012, in Relation to National Wealth, Income Inequalities, and Educational Expenditures

John Santelli et al.

Journal of Adolescent Health, February 2017, Pages 161–168

Purpose: National wealth, income inequalities, and expenditures on education can profoundly influence the health of a nation's women, children, and adolescents. We explored the association of trends in national socioeconomic status (SES) indicators with trends in adolescent birth rates (ABRs), by nation and region.

Methods: An ecologic research design was employed using national-level data from the World Bank on birth rates per 1,000 women aged 15–19 years, national wealth (per capita gross domestic product or GDP), income inequality (Gini index), and expenditures on education as a percentage of GDP (EduExp). Data were available for 142 countries and seven regions for 1990–2012. Multiple linear regression for repeated measures with generalized estimating equations was used to examine independent associations.

Results: ABRs in 2012 varied >200-fold — with the highest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa and lowest rates in the Western Europe/Central Asia region. The median national ABR fell 40% from 72.4/1,000 in 1990 to 43.6/1,000 in 2012. The largest regional declines in ABR occurred in South Asia (70%), Europe/Central Asia (63%), and the Middle East/North Africa (53%) — regions with lower income inequality. In multivariable analyses considering change over time, ABRs were negatively associated with GDP and EduExp and positively associated with greater income inequality.

Conclusions: ABRs have declined globally since 1990. Declines closely followed rising socioeconomic status and were greater where income inequalities were lower in 1990. Reducing poverty and income inequalities and increasing investments in education should be essential components of national policies to prevent adolescent childbearing.


“The Mommy Deployment”: Military Spouses and Surrogacy in the United States

Elizabeth Ziff

Sociological Forum, forthcoming

This article examines narratives of women who are surrogates and are married to members of the military in the United States. I show how this group of women invoke and transpose their structured military experiences and institutional understandings of sacrifice, duty, and responsibility when constructing their surrogate experience. Using semistructured interviews with 33 military spouses who have been surrogates, I trace the parallels they narrate between their role as military spouse and their role as surrogate — with metaphors of deployment, relocation, and the “hurry up and wait” game, in addition to strict daily regimentation. Through this work, I highlight the often-surprising transposition between militarized and surrogacy narratives invoked by surrogates and show how the practice of surrogacy allows them to tap into the narratives they have crafted through their experiences as a spouse to make a difference in the lives of others, contribute financially to their own families, and to gain a sense of importance outside of their everyday roles. The narratives provide for a better understanding of the commercially arranged surrogate experience in the United States and the state-structured military spouse experience by exposing the skills, language, and habits utilized by this group of women.


Selection against variants in the genome associated with educational attainment

Augustine Kong et al.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 31 January 2017, Pages E727–E732

Epidemiological and genetic association studies show that genetics play an important role in the attainment of education. Here, we investigate the effect of this genetic component on the reproductive history of 109,120 Icelanders and the consequent impact on the gene pool over time. We show that an educational attainment polygenic score, POLYEDU, constructed from results of a recent study is associated with delayed reproduction (P < 10−100) and fewer children overall. The effect is stronger for women and remains highly significant after adjusting for educational attainment. Based on 129,808 Icelanders born between 1910 and 1990, we find that the average POLYEDU has been declining at a rate of ∼0.010 standard units per decade, which is substantial on an evolutionary timescale. Most importantly, because POLYEDU only captures a fraction of the overall underlying genetic component the latter could be declining at a rate that is two to three times faster.


Role of Humor in the Persuasiveness of Entertainment Narratives on Unprotected Sexual Behavior

Michelle Futerfas & Xiaoli Nan

Journal of Health Communication, forthcoming

Past research involving the persuasive impact of entertainment narratives on health attitudes and behavior has largely been limited to dramatic narratives. The current research focuses on humorous narratives related to unprotected sex. We conducted an experiment (N = 161) in which female viewers were exposed to a humorous story line about unprotected sex, an identical story line with humor edited out, or a story line unrelated to unprotected sex. Our findings suggested that humor increased perceived severity of unintended pregnancy, while having no effect on counterarguing. Also, the presence of humor reduced behavioral intentions to engage in unprotected sex. Implications of the findings for safe sex communication are discussed.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.