Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Why people used to have a lot of children and don't anymore

I saw a very good article explaining this Children aren’t worth very much—that’s why we no longer make many.

I had heard this explanation before - children used be an economic benefit, and now they are an economic burden. But this goes a little deeper.

But the fertility decline is not merely the product of a price effect - of people having fewer children because children are more costly. Children are not normal goods...or even inferior goods...they become not goods at all, but rather bundles of claims on their parents. ..Before the fertility decline, resources flowed from children to parents; after the transformation, resources flowed from parents to children.
In each country, before the demographic transition, children were essentially the property of their parents. Their labor could be used for the parents' good, and they were accustomed to strict and austere treatment. Parents had claims not only to their children's labor in childhood, but even to their wealth in adulthood. To put it crudely, marrying a wife meant buying a slave factory, and children were valuable slaves. 
After the transition, mediated by mass education, children were transubstantiated into persons. Their individual status increased, and parents no longer had a culturally recognized claim on their labor. Children's culturally supported entitlements increased, including not only food and clothing, but also study and play time. Their relationship with their parents became more egalitarian and friendly, their treatment less strict.  
But children do not exactly own themselves in the present situation: the government has claims on their future earnings, through taxation and other mandatory payments (and, increasingly, education loans). In essence, mass education is a communist transformation: individually-owned "goods" (children) are brought under national ownership, and returns from children flow to the country as a whole (through tax-based entitlement programs), rather than individually to their previous "owners." When farms are communally owned, production suffers and famine results; when children are communally "owned," fertility decline results.  
There is another, related shift in the direction of resource flow during this time: resources (including labor) stop flowing from wives to husbands, and instead flow from husbands to wives, as a result of Western-style female liberation. This trend is also a result of education, and amplifies the trend toward low fertility.  
So why did people used to have children? It's hard for us even to imagine, but children used to be valuable - they used to be much more like slaves or farm animals, which are both very valuable. They were also treated much more like slaves, with patriarchs (at least) maintaining distance from children...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why is Charedi poverty in Israel getting worse? Part 2 - Updated

Yesterday I wrote about the "third generation effect" as a big reason for Charedi poverty. Today, I would like to discuss another important reason.

In the last 20 years, Western economies (I am including Israel for this discussion), have shifted from manufacturing economies to service/knowledge economies. This has had profound effects on workers with little education. In my parents generation, blue collar workers could make a decent middle class wage and could provide for their family. The 85% of Charedi men who worked in 1979 worked mainly in blue collar jobs and were able to support their families. Those types of jobs are gone today. Manufacturing jobs have moved to low wage countries like China, Vietnam, etc. and automation has eliminated thousands of jobs. On Chanuka, we took the kids on a tour of the Nesher cement factory in Ramle. The factory is huge (it is so big it has it's own power plant) and produces all of Israel's cement. We had to take a bus on the grounds to get around on the tour. And yet, this huge factory only employs some 250 people, many of them highly educated professionals. 50 years ago a plant like that would have provided thousands of jobs to blue collar workers. 

Unfortunately, this trend has negative ramifications for Charedim as well. Charedim in Israel receive little to no secular education and therefore even if/when they want to go out into the working world they aren't qualified to get a job that can support a large family. While learning Gemara may sharpen the mind in some ways, it is no substitute for math and science and computers and English. Without these it is very difficult to find a good job. 

The bottom line is that in today's economy there are very few good jobs remaining that don't require a lot of secular education, something that the Charedi leadership refuses to allow it's children to get. No education = no good jobs = poverty.

Here is a fascinating article about a Charedi girl who would not give up her dream of becoming a doctor and what she had to to do to fulfil it. It shows the sad reality of Charedi society and higher education.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Why is Charedi poverty in Israel getting worse?

Mishpacha magazine in English reviewed a report by the Taub Center in Israel which offered some suggestions.

One big reason is the "third generation effect". In 1979, 85% of Charedi men 33-54 worked. In the years that followed the percentage dropped to well under 50%. That percentage plummeted as Menachem Begin and the Likud removed the limits on army exemptions for Yeshiva students allowing the kollel only generation to really take root. The generations that grew up in the 1980's and later were raised with a torah/kollel only mentality Those who became long term Avreichim in the 1980's and 1990's had working parents to help them out and therefore were able to manage albeit living simply. However, these Avreichim are now marrying off their children and have no money to help their children at all. Therefore, the children are having a hard time making it at all even living simply as they simply don't have the money to pay a mortgage, buy food, clothing, etc. for a large family. The next generation will be even worse off as this generation at least has grandparents who worked who can help out a little, in 10-20 years even the grandparents will have been in kollel and will have no money to help out.

In other words, the Charedi community as a whole is running out of money. Generations of not working takes its toll on the resources and the hard earned money (and German war reparations) from 2-3 generations ago are basically depleted.

The report concludes, "this is something that should be worrisome, first and foremost to the charedi sector itself".