Friday, April 11, 2008

Your Liberal Myths Tonight

The Myth of the Myth of the Golden Age, in full effect at Hopi Sen.

Management summary - there were cases of bastardy and bad parenting in the 1990s, 1970s, Mayhew's London (note the strange omission of the 130 years between that and the 1970s) and Hogarth's Gin Lane. Therefore the Matthews family (of Shannon infamy) don't tell us anything about family breakdown or lack of moral restraint and Alison Pearson (writing in the Mail) is talking through her peach-like bottom.

Now that's not an indefensible position. To really know what's going on we'd need some stats, wouldn't we ? Individual cases may illuminate and exemplify a trend, but first we have to establish that one exists. Let's ask the experts who wrote "An Economic History of Bastardy in England and Wales".

"A remarkable feature of English demographic history is the explosion in childbearing outside marriage during the last quarter of the twentieth century, after 400 years of relative stability. Over the period 1845-1960, the percentage of births outside marriage moved within a small range, averaging about 5% ... After 1960, when the contraceptive pill was introduced, childbearing outside marriage began to climb slowly, and it exploded after 1980, reaching 42% in 2004."

From 5% in 1960 to 42% in 2004. I guess there's no way Alison Pearson could have noticed that change herself, is there ?

Or we could ask Gordon Brown's fave rave Gertrude Himmelfarb :

In Victorian England, the illegitimacy ratio--the proportion of illegitimate births to total births--fell from 7 percent in 1845 to less than 4 percent by the end of the century. In East London, the poorest section of the city, it was less than that: 4.5 percent in midcentury and 3 percent by the end of the century. Apart from a temporary increase during both world wars, the ratio continued to hover around 5 percent until well into the middle of the twentieth century. In 1960 it began to rise, to 12 percent by 1980, and to 32 percent by the end of 1992--a two-and-a-half times increase in the last decade alone and a sixfold rise in three decades.

Mr Sen also quotes - without references - a figure of about 1.8 million 'paupers' - without definition - in the mid-19th century. One in ten of the population on the parish ? In the workhouse ? Alas, he don't say. These figures seem vary high.

I can't work Mr Sen out. Is he just filling in a wet Friday with a poke at the Daily Mail, and who cares about the evidence ? Is he deliberately putting forward this hopeless argument-by-anecdote because he knows what the stats on bastardy and the effects of the fatherless family are, and prefers to fight on safer ground ? Or does he genuinely not have a clue ? Is his bookshelf burdened by books like these ?


Hopi Sen said...

Laban- the stats on paupery, are linked and are from mayhew. so I’d like it if you’d correct that for a start.

Second, as mayhew says, the stats themselves are misleading,. You have to have an overwhelming faith in the brilliance of the victorian state at recording the activities of thier underclass to accept them.

Finally, you rather shoot yourselves in the foot when you point out that eras of relavtives prosperity for the working classes (1870s vs 1840s) results in less bastardy. Wonder why that could be, eh?

TDK said...

It's as well to recognise the difference between relative and absolute poverty.

Between 1945 and today absolute poverty has declined but relative poverty has increased.

Between 1840 and 1870 absolute poverty was reduced. No statistics were maintained on relative poverty at that time but we know it was an era when the capitalist "robber barons" rose on the back of shipping, railways, mining, steel and so forth. A factor that would tend to indicate increased relative poverty rather than reduced.

Thus if we compare like with like, we find both eras saw a fall in absolute poverty. The change in relative poverty is yet to be demonstrated.

in any case, to claim that relative poverty alone causes increases childbirth out of wedlock is bizarre. It's claiming that if I get a pay rise at work that causes an illegitimate birth in some sink estate miles away. Why? Are they doing it for spite?

Laban said...

tdk - I think you'll find that relative poverty was FALLING (i.e. differentials twixt rich and poor were lessening) between 1945 and about 1975. A combination of high taxation, death duties and buoyant working-class incomes were the cause.

When I was a teenager the figure of the saloon-bar Tory, complaining about the council house with the Jag parked outside, was a cliche. But the point was our working class guy had earned that Jag on a factory floor. Now a flash car outside a council flat means a successful dealer or other criminal.