The Hidden Variable, Demographics.

A lifetime of watching societal change from a social science perspective has made me marvel, sometimes, at overlooked variables.

A couple of decades ago crime and “gangs” seemed to be the big villains plaguing this country.  There were congressional hearings nationally and “gang task forces” locally.

Social scientists said the increase in crime was due merely to a blip in the number of young men passing through the demographic window.  When that group passed their teens, they predicted, crime would drop.  It did.

I’ve wondered if today’s decline in church membership and participation is related to a demographic variable, the decline in family size.  While everyone can see a smaller pipeline of children in Sunday School would feed fewer people into church life, I’m wondering about something else.

In the economics of family there is something called the difference between quantity and “quality” of children.  Quantity, of course, means numbers of them. “Quality” refers to the amount of time and money spent on a child.

Generally, families have some finite amount of money and time to spend on raising children.  Therefore, when quantity goes up, “quality” goes down.

With fewer children, parents have more money to spend introducing a child to more experiences–camps, sports, clubs, art, intellectual pursuits, computers and so on.  Perhaps this is where the church, which for a large families is a cheap place to spend time, gets crowded out.

If this is part of the problem churches are having, it will be hard to solve.

Avatar of Jon Lindgren

About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years. There is more about me at Wikipedia.com.
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15 Responses to The Hidden Variable, Demographics.

  1. Wanna B Sure says:

    “Perhaps this is where the church, which for a large families is a[ cheap place to spend time..."] Really a “cheap” stretch Jon. I believe in actuality, larger families tend to be more spiritually/socially aware, and the individuals in these families have shown to be much less self centered, and more aware and concerned for those around them. More available $$ does not make better families on the whole, nor better children. Over indulged children does seem to generate self serving, self absorbed brats though. As I write this, I think of families both past and present I have known, and am more than confident is this assessment. Tis enough to poke holes in your condominium

    • Stan says:

      So creating spoiled brats is quality parenting huh? He has never heard or spoiled brats. I encountered them while a Zamboni operator. 5th Grade PeeWee hockey players are NOT allowed to trash the locker-room after a loss. All I was allowed to do was complain to the coach, I was not able to force the little brats and their parents to clean it up, nor was I allowed to ban them from future tournaments because my manager was a wimp. Hockey is probably THE MOST EXPENSIVE sport for kids, rink time is in the $150 to 200 per hour range so almost every kid is in a 1-2 child family and in three years I have only met one person raising their kid as a single.

      Your theory sucks. Quality is created by the parent parenting not how much money they send on a kid.

      • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

        Stan (Wanna) 4:26 “Your theory sucks.” I need to apologize for using a term we use routinely in economics which sounds identical to a term used in everyday conversation but means something almost entirely different.

        Please note everytime I used the word “quality”, I put is in quotes ” “. That was meant to imply it did not mean quality as in good kids or good people, but in the way I defined it, as in how much time and money was spent on children. The term is used so often in economics, policy and business publications I though everyone would understand what was meant.

        I whole-heartedly agree that spending more money on children does not necessarily make them better children or adults. But, I would argue having fewer children, quantity, results in more money and time spent on each, “quality”, and has implications beyond the children and families themselves.

        Probably, I should have used the term “expensive” children–although that does not precisely capture the concept like “quality”.

        • Wanna B Sure says:

          Jon; I knew/know what you meant in your original post. Your intention was clear. I still disagree with the direction you went with it.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Wanna 3:42 “I still diagree with the direction you went with it.”

            I can’t say I know what effect the small family trend has had on childrens’ interest in the faith, I only know what I see in the own children’s families and in their friends’ families.

            One of our families are activie Christians. All the children in the Christian family will complete Confirmation. But, it is a struggle to fit it in because they are involved with so many other activities. The one that has finished confirmation never talks about church or church friends–maybe she is more plugged in than I know–we only see them once a month or so.

            It just seems logical that when time and money are finite, something has to be crowded out. Does church crowd out other things or visa versa? That’s what I’m interested in.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            Jon; I don’t observe that it is an either/or. Yes, there are diversions, and for the young, the “now”can be more alluring, but youth doesn’t last forever. I don’t look at the loyalty to one or another in a percentage manner, or an either/or. A little of the faith can exist along side a current fad, and a little is more than enough. Not everyone wears their faith on their sleeve, nor need/should they. That is what you complain about if they do.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Wanna 7:33 Certainly you are correct that faith is not an either/or proposition. What is either/or are things in our lives that are finite. Money is one, time is another.

            Economists are always drawing the ire of people when they talk about finite things. People want to believe this is not true. “There is more of everything, we just have to have a positive attitude. If we think bigger and things will be bigger.”

            Economics is called the dismal science because it have a dismal message.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            Jon; Virtually everything IS finite in it’s current form. While true, one must consider the change of what is finite into something else that is finite. Consider the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics. I don’t know why anyone would argue about that.
            I would guess that if,(and it is) , economics is considered to be a dismal science due to it’s finite nature, and it’s resulting dogma, this would explain why the infinite is beyond comprehension.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Wanna 8:26 “…the infinite is beyond comprehension.”

            The infinite is so common, there is a mathematical symbol for it. In the human realm, perhaps love for someone is a concept that is infinite, we can’t measure it in any case. A lot of economics is about nailing down which things are finite and which are not. The field of politics is about trying to avoid recognizing the finite.

            Part of theology, too, like the aversion to birth control and abortion, avoids admitting the self evident fact that resources to support humans are finite. When I would bring this up to visitors in the Mayor’s office fundamentalists would tell me, “You forget, Mayor, the Lord will provide.” I would have to remind them the Lord was not providing for people elsewhere in the world where there was starvation.

            The economic development group where you live, along with local politicians, probably gather from time to time for a ribbon cutting of a new business. They will proclaim how much “additional business and jobs” will result from opening the new enterprise. The reality is, new businesses mostly take money and employees away from other businesses because the amount of commerce in the area is at least somewhat finite. Chambers of Commerce, including the one here in Fargo, dislike it when this is pointed out, although they cannot deny it is true.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            What is your point? Can/do you know beyond the vanishing point? That is after all a matter of perspective. Beyond that is speculation. For you it may be common, but it is what it is, and that is speculation. However you look at infinity, there is still a time value. Eternity however is a different matter, which is beyond speculation.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Wanna 11:13 “Eternity..is beyond speculation.”

            So, we know more about eternity than we do about infinity?

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            Did I say that? No. As you said, infinity is so common it has a math symbol for it. As I said, infinity contains perspective. Ther is no symbol or formula for eternity; past, present, future. Pre-time and post-time, and through, all in one. Even warped space-time is of no value. In your context there is no mathmatical formula for this.

  2. Wanna B Sure says:

    Jon: There is a lot more involved with “quality” than what you imply. Time spent (no cost) with each child, such as actually reading to them. Possibly Little Golden Books, or some such things. Planting seeds, etc. Giving them and taking the time to teach them responsibility, self restraint, thoughtfullness and awareness of others, just to mention a few. Unfortunately for many in cities, there are no chores for them to do as we did in the past, but there are alternatives. School activities are fine, but it appears that for many, it is a form of baby sitting, so parents can go on about their self absorbed way. Just as bad are the parents that live vicariously through their children, and teach intolerance when a game doesn’t go their way. How many times have we seen fights on the field with parents and coaches, etc. Fine examples indeed for children to pick up on, and carry on through the rest of their lives. Or just give them an X-box, and they will be quiet. Extra money spent, or little money spent has no bearing on the “quality” of children when it comes to parenting. I see more money more of a hindrence than a shortage in raising responsible children. The bad results can also create a generational continuation of the same problem. When you think of it the “cheap” church (insulting) is not such a bad idea after all, both for the parents and the children.

    • Stan says:

      Yupp, I read it $ per child mean quality too. We had enough, but they worked for the luxuries. My kids chose to attend church functions after confirmation. One even taught Sunday school through college, even took the bus on a 45 minute ride to get to a particular church. That church was NOT located in the home town. He grew up in rural Minnesota and went to school at the U of M.

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