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A Bleg: Quantifying a Marginal Benefit of Prohibiting Same-Sex Marriage

Maggie Gallagher has said that civilizations that lose the marriage idea die out.

I doubt whether that’s ever literally happened. I’d actually kind of giggle at the prospect of it, but that would be unkind.

Still, good or bad things can still happen on the margin when traditional, procreative marriages are encouraged or discouraged: Raise the cost of marriage, and fewer people will get married. Make a less-procreative life more rewarding, and you will get more people living that life.

But if you do that, you’ll also get fewer babies.

This plausibly constitutes a harm, at least in the abstract: If Jonathan V. Last is right – which he could be – Americans’ failure to have enough kids spells demographic disaster in the near future. And every extra baby will mitigate that disaster, at least a little bit.[1]

In this post, I’m going to try to outline how we might estimate one alleged demographic harm of same-sex marriage, namely the excess births that our society will forego if same-sex marriage is universally recognized.[2]

I will not consider any of the downsides of prohibiting same-sex marriage. Those downsides are real; I do not deny them. But this post will be complex, shoddy, and incomplete enough as it is. I don’t have all the answers, and I welcome your help in the comments.

To clarify, I propose the following two interrelated questions:

How many people, P, have gone from having an average of M kids to having an average of N kids as a result of banning same-sex marriage?

How big are M and N?

Once we know P, M, and N, we have a very simple formula for number of surplus births, S, that come from prohibiting same-sex marriage and routing people into heterosexual marriage:

S = P*N – P*M

Let’s say a bit about each of the variables.

We call population P the persuadables. These people would get married heterosexually, and they would (arguably) enjoy heterosexual-married lifetime fertility rates, but only if same-sex marriage were foreclosed to them.

We should note several things about the persuadables:

1. The persuadables must exclude anyone who would never marry heterosexually, not even if same-sex marriage were forbidden. My great-uncle lived in upstate New York in the 1950s. He wasn’t the marrying type, as they used to say. if he ever married anyone, it would have to be the other gentleman he spent so much of his reclusive life with. He’s not a persuadable. Neither am I, for that matter.[3]

2. The persuadables must exclude all those bisexuals who would have married heterosexually anyway, and who would therefore have enjoyed similar lifetime fertility rates: the law isn’t changing their behavior.

3. The persuadables almost certainly must consist entirely of people whose orientation is less than 100% heterosexual. The existence of same-sex marriage isn’t going to entice anyone who is 100% heterosexual, and I think it is absurd that any 100% heterosexuals will change their marriage status, or procreational behavior within marriage, as a result either of same-sex marriage’s existence, or of what the persuadables are doing within same-sex marriages.

Some people may disagree, and I welcome their input in the comments. Note that this means some chunking out of P, M, and N, but that’s not by any means intractable as a problem. (Note that heterosexuals can and do change their marriage or procreational behavior as a result of other trends in society (income effects, no-fault divorce, and the birth control pill all come to mind), but these are all matters that touch their everyday lives in a way that same-sex marriage doesn’t so clearly do.)

4. I think that a small but non-negligible number of 100% homosexuals may marry heterosexually in some regimes where same-sex marriage is forbidden, particularly if the life option of being openly gay and unmarried is met with significant social stigma. Some persuadables, then, may be entirely gay, but they’re still persuadable, in our sense. (Will they enjoy heterosexual-married lifetime fertility rates? A difficult question.)

So….

How many persuadables are there, given the conditions likely to prevail in the United States? How many people will get heterosexually married, but only if the law forbids same-sex marriage? And what are their fertility rates in either case?

I’m curious how we might put numbers to all of these factors, but my gut tells me that P is relatively small, and that, while there is a relatively large difference between M and N, P being small means that there won’t be very many excess births as a benefit of prohibiting same-sex marriage.

I welcome attempts to estimate P, M, and N in the comments, but I have to admit that I have found the problem nearly intractable. Recall that we want lifetime fertility rates for people who marry heterosexually and for people who marry homosexually. (I can only presume that the prospect of marrying has some impact on out of wedlock births. I can’t say exactly what it is, but if I can get these numbers, I don’t have to.)

This is all very difficult, except for N. Alone among the variables, N is (I think) easy: In 2003, the fertility rate among married women was 88.1 births per 1,000 women per year, ages 15-44. Because 2003 saw no same-sex marriages apart from those performed in Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands, any influence they may have had on fertility rates would be virtually nil.

In 2003, essentially all persuadables were behaving as if same-sex marriage were prohibited. After all, it was. Assuming that they enjoyed fertility rates akin to the general run of heterosexuals, we have our N. Or perhaps something a bit higher than N.

The rest? It’s largely a lot of guesswork, as far as I can tell. Can anyone help?

Notes

[1] If I may say so myself, I am raising an awesome four-year-old daughter. She loves Star Wars, Lego, and My Little Pony. She already reads as well as many first graders. She loves spinach and broccoli. Her favorite composer is Prokofiev. But while I’m raising one awesome daughter, why isn’t it two awesome daughters? Or five or six? And why did I adopt, rather than personally creating all these awesome human beings?

I suppose if I felt sufficiently guilty about it I could always try to become a sperm donor. But various unmentioned genetic defects suggest that I shouldn’t go this route. I wouldn’t wish my genetics on anyone. And anyway, what I like about my daughter isn’t necessarily her genes either. She seems healthier in general than I am, but I don’t value health per se, but only as a means to the Prokofiev-and-Lego cultural superstructure.

[2] In short, I’m only considering social harms. I’m not going to get into Bryan Caplan’s utilitarian argument for more kids. Bryan believes that in hedonic terms, it’s vastly better to be alive than never to be born. I think he makes a category error to compare the two, but if he’s right, then gays and lesbians are hardly the only derelicts to duty. Everyone should be having way, way, way more kids. And perhaps we gays and lesbians could then specialize our parenting labor — and adopt the kids who, in the process, would end up in otherwise difficult homes. It may be our greatest marginal benefit, if everyone else is way out at the fertility production frontier.

[3] This suggests the existence of a second population of persuadables, P2. P2 folks would take a gay marriage if they could get one, but they would never take a straight marriage for any reason. P2s in gay marriages may become more likely to procreate than P2s who can’t get married: Lesbians may become marginally more likely to seek artificial insemination; gay men may become marginally more likely to have surrogacies. Likelihood of adopting a kid may be a social benefit, but it’s not the benefit we’re looking for here.

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138 thoughts on “A Bleg: Quantifying a Marginal Benefit of Prohibiting Same-Sex Marriage

  1. Well, so long as you’re only asking really easy questions…

    As to the actual numbers you’re looking for, I don’t even pretend to know enough to hazard a guess as to what they might be. (Although I have a hard time believing they are negligible, at least to the degree they would make the kind of impacts Gallagher is referring to. The thought that the only thing that has propped up Western Civilization so far has been the gays being willing to shtup outside their preference makes me giggle.)

    Past that…

    I like the intellectual exercise you’ve brought here, and I think it will be fun — the comments section here promises to be a great. But I also feel the need to caution you on being optimistic about a response from the other side.

    This is a long-term disagreement between us, but I don’t think Gallagher’s arguments are intellectual ones. (Though I suspect she sees them as such.) I think almost all of the intellectual arguments made over the past ten years on this issue have been very specifically designed by political operatives — most of whom don’t care one way or the other about the issue, except as a a means to an end — to appeal to the reptilian side of the brain.

    But having gotten that off my chest, let me think a bit about what numbers I might want to throw in the stew…

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    • I think I agree.

      Also, my number for N is based on married women, who presumably are more fertile than unmarried women. So again, it’s an upper bound, not a best-estimate number.

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      • Also, at the risk of throwing another monkey into the machine…

        If the important target number is the raw number of babies being raised by married couples, don’t you have to account for homosexual marriages that will adopt children from unwed mothers as well as from parents outside of US borders?

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      • Domestic adoption would likely be close to a net-zero. The exception being women who decide not to abort because they assume that there are gay families willing to adopt who feel that absent gay marriage that their child wouldn’t be adopted. I don’t think that stands up to scrutiny, but women may feel that way.

        International adoption, though, would be a plus. I don’t know how enthusiastic international adoption agencies are about adopting to gay couples, though.

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      • Domestic adoption would likely be close to a net-zero.

        I disagree. Not only are marrieds more likely to adopt than singles, but the people who want to prohibit SSM mostly want to prohibit gays from adopting (although the two issues are legally severable, they’re politically entwined). So my take is that SSM increases the number of adopters, on net.

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      • Gotcha. Yeah, it would increase the number of children in married households.

        My point, though, is that in domestic adoption, more couples wanting to adopt does not obviously produce more babies. Unless gay adoptions result in international adoption for other couples.

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      • @jm3z-aitch –keep in mind, those opposed to SSM are more likely to think of examples of pregnant women who would not choose adoption (therefore choosing abortion) if they feared that a same-sex couple might adopt their infant.

        I’m not saying that there would be very many such women in the real world, but we’re speaking of people who are often uninterested in experiences outside their own understanding of the world.

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      • those opposed to SSM are more likely to think of examples of pregnant women who would not choose adoption (therefore choosing abortion) if they feared that a same-sex couple might adopt their infant.

        I’d think they’d be just as concerned their babies would be adopted by highly-educated high-income families who may or may not be atheist and will raise those children with proper indoctrination in Christian mythology.

        That’s snark.

        Because in truth; when you’re pregnant (surprise!) and deciding what to do about it, I don’t think those things actually bear much consideration; and that you’re focused on figuring out what the hell to do with this unplanned event. The scheming about the characteristics of those potential adoptive parents is a different set of considerations then the actual woman who’s pregnant probably has on her radar.

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  2. Societies without marriage have indeed perished. Marriage is a form of birth control — and a form of protecting and caring for children in a reasonably efficient manner.
    Without marriage, societies have tended to overproduce children during good times, and then crash and burn during harder ones.

    This is not at all relevant to the idea that same-sex marriage will lead to fewer children. So I apologize for the tangent.

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    • Can you name any of them?

      If your answer is that they all died out while still so insignificant that they left no historical record, then what makes you think that our society is sufficiently like them?

      If you cite the Shakers, what makes you think we will adopt their strict regime of chastity? I find that a very doubtful next step after same-sex marriage.

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      • I fear you might have misread me: I am saying that societies without marriage had far more children during good times… Which is far from what Gallagher was saying (which was,afaik, without marriage, people won’t have kids).

        I don’t think that our society is sufficiently like them — for one thing, we have birth control!
        It is far more likely that we will wind up like the Russians, with a declining birth rate and far more sexfueled parties than we do now.

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      • Can you name any of them?

        If your answer is that they all died out while still so insignificant that they left no historical record, then what makes you think that our society is sufficiently like them?

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      • Jason,
        responding in the event this wasn’t a double post:
        I don’t think that America is at all like these cultures. not in the slightest. I don’t see the dissolution of marriage leading to a population explosion. We have birthcontrol, and fairly high rates of its use.

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      • v,
        too old to name names, really. you’re talking prehistorical here. (and, mind, we have some pretty hard evidence on cultures like the Amazons, and where they lived, and why they were exterminated).

        But you see the “need for marriage” — and the absolute terror that unmarried, fertile people caused. And it’s everywhere. It’s strongly suggestive of lessons that were hardlearned.

        Boy, am I glad we have birthcontrol!!

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      • Ug. Jason, Why?? Yes, you did have to go there.
        I’ll have to be delicate about this (or at least I’ll try).
        There is a substantial proportion of mentally retarded boys who will try and screw anyone that’s fertile. Lacking the knowledge of marriage (and perhaps being a little warped — they are mentally different), they would create many more babies than one could reasonably care for. [Take an 11% per year conception rate — per fertile female, and then ask yourself how many fertile females the boys can find.]

        Well, there’s your centaurs.

        v,
        Oh, no doubt. As stated above, I think a future where we turn into Russia is far far more likely. (that or we do the Japanese thing where the state subsidized a show that promoted incest….)

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      • The pre-Columbian people we know the least about in the Americas are the aboriginal Amazonians. We have no idea what their marriage culture was like, except to the extent that it remained after the Europeans arrived.

        I am continually amazed at your ability to just say whatever comes to your mind, with absolutely no regard for the truth of it, on any topic whatsoever. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, online or off.

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      • Yeah, I figured that out, which makes it an even clearer example of you just saying whatever comes to your head.

        What of the actual culture of the people on whom some archeologists believe the Amazonian legends to be based is relevant here?

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      • Chris,
        it was a sidenote: demonstrating that we can pull off a surprising amount of knowledge about prehistoric cultures that perished (this works best when there are multiple corroborating accounts from separate cultures, of course).

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      • Hmmm… the descendents of Sarmatians have survived basically into the present day, though the culture has obviously changed over time. And what we know of them we know of their historical culture, not their pre-history.

        Here’s the thing: you are a smart person. I think this is clear. You rarely say smart things. Instead, you fill threads with nonsense and bullshit, in large part because, I suspect, you’re in the habit of just saying things based on something you read or heard once upon a time, or hell, even something you just imagined, and you don’t bother to think about them or look them up to make sure what you remember is accurate. The result is the combination of word salad and made up facts that basically define who you are on this blog. I have little doubt, however, that if you slowed down, thought for a moment, checked your facts before posting instead of, when challenged, providing links that, more often than not, debunk what you’ve said, and only then commented, you’d be a pretty valuable contributor.

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      • There is a substantial proportion of mentally retarded boys who will try and screw anyone that’s fertile. Lacking the knowledge of marriage (and perhaps being a little warped — they are mentally different), they would create many more babies than one could reasonably care for.

        And the women of that society just willingly went along with it? Is that your real story?

        And you still haven’t provided one speck of evidence? How is it that you never learn? Don’t you burn with embarassment sometimes?

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      • Yeah. The notion that whole armies of hyper-fertile “mentally retarded boys” are running around unchecked and breeding is — well — calling it deeply offensive does not begin to describe it. But, whatever. I guess I’ll go with [citation needed] and move along.

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      • Chris,
        From the researcher that I talked to, the Amazonians were exterminated in a genocidal war (not to say that genocide was not normal for that time — but multiple groups banding together to completely exterminate someone was not).

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      • Kim, things I know for sure:

        (1) The Amazons were myth. There were no actual Amazons, and their behavior described in the myths is, while perhaps based in fact, not fact.
        (2) The consensus is that the Amazon myths, to the extent that they are based on fact, are based on the Sarmatians, who were not wiped out, though they were conquered.

        Things I am virtually certain about:

        (1) You did not talk to a researcher about this, and if you did, said researcher never told you what you’re saying he or she told you.

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      • v,
        … I didn’t say hyper-fertile (I would put it at hyper-motivated, which is a different matter, and far easier to measure in contemporary society). I was citing average fertility rates for women over the course of a year. In our society, we have both constraints and birth control — in a society without such, the results would not be good. [I should note that I’m not saying “people would be dumber” but just “lots more babies” — without the societal expectation of birth control and marriage, many more men would be actively seeking out the fertile women (and, to some extent, vice versa).].

        James,
        I’m talking about currently available people that you can observe, if you’d like. Lot easier to talk about contemporary folks than weird “way back when” stuff.

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      • calling it deeply offensive does not begin to describe it

        It struck me as mysoginistic, in fact.


        You’ve forgotten the first rule of holes again, haven’t you. Please stop. It’s more embarassing and painful than amusing. And enlightening it is not…at all.

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      • — I was more responding to the obvious surface-level abelism. But yeah, it’s messed up on all kinds of levels. (Fortunately, the odds that it describes an actual thing in the world is rather low.)

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      • v,
        how is it ableism to discuss the varying sexualities of those who are not neurotypical? [I’ll note that a good fraction of them are more or less asexual as well.] People are weird on all sorts of different fronts, I just picked this one in particular (there are a few others I might have chosen) because it’s a bit easier to verify.

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      • Glyph and Veronica, hate to tell you this but the documentary evidence is forged. Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, and all the other superoheroes were created by the Elders of Zion in order to further the goal of World Jewish Domination.

        Note: This is a joke.

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      • J,
        Oh, dear. I hope not. People with an authoritarian mindset aren’t neurotypical either (though, being about 25% of the population, someone might not see it that way…).
        And people who… aren’t strongly gendered… aren’t neurotypical either. And I bet that’s a sizable fraction of the folks around here.

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  3. I object to the idea that a lower fertility rate is a social harm rather than a social good, at least as this point and for the near-to-medium future. The world’s got no shortage of population, and the global population is still growing at a substantial rate. The world outside America also has no shortage of people who want to live in the United States. And it’s less expensive to raise and educate an immigrant who arrives as a child, teenager, or adult than it is to raise and educate someone from infancy to adulthood.

    Fear of people from other nations and cultures is the only major reason to see higher natality as preferable to higher immigration as a means of population growth. And yet people are fussing over how to get people to have more children, while simultaneously calling for more money to be spent on preventing working-age people who want to work here from entering the country.

    Regarding your question, I think you’ve got too many unknown and un-determinable variables to make any meaningful calculations.

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    • This is a very plausible view as well.

      I don’t personally have strong feelings one way or the other about whether we “need” more babies or fewer. It is commonly asserted that our social insurance system requires a growing population, and that it will fail if the population doesn’t grow fast enough. The most certainly effective remedy here seems to be to rewrite the laws, rather than trying to shame people into having more babies, so that we may keep our existing laws.

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      • It seems odd and sad that even immigrant societies like the US and Singapore try so hard to close the door behind them. In Singapore too we have problems where the fertility rate is at 1.2 and people are clamouring to keep the immigrants out.

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    • I’m with Katherine and the Prof here. The foundational premise, that the US needs to produce more babies or else disaster, is as utterly insane as the proposition that the US needs to produce more sugar, or more domestic low marginal value added manufactured goods or any other such things. The solution to any population growth issue is blatantly obvious and eminently simple: we do what we do with any of those goods when we don’t produce as many of them domestically as we’d like; we’ll import them. There is zero scarcity of people who desire to live in this country or in any country in the civilized developed west. If a demographic crunch occurs here all that will happen is a large migration of ecstatic people from the developing world will flow in to fill the gap. That the developing world is also facing declining population growth bothers me not even in the slightest. A planet where every country in the world had to compete with each other for people to live in them would be a highly desirable state of affairs. Let the baby dearth bloom. There is no angle with any moral merit; ecologically, socially, economically or other where I see a down side.

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    • I’m not sure if the question on whether or not a high or low fertiltiy rate is social good or harm is that obvious. More people obviously means more consumption of resources. Unless you want some sort of dystopia, your going to find ways to feed, house, cloth, educate, entertain, and put all these people to work. At the same time, it isn’t necessarily true that less people puts less strain on the planet from an environmental and resource perspective. If the population decreases than the remaining people have more resources available to them and might make decisions to increase their personal consumption rather than preserve. At least thats what seems to happen in the developed world’s low population density countries like Australia, the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. More people might force the world into a more sustainable lifestyle than fewer people out of necessity.

      I think whether fertility is low or high isn’t as important as whether people make relatively environmentally sound decisions. A decreased fertility rate doesn’t necessarily translate into less environmentally harm if people to handle resoruce allocation badly.

      You also have the fact that you a certain amount of young people around to have a functioning society.

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      • I just cannot imagine a liberal developed planet suffering that level of population depletion Lee. I can see potential for a significant decline in global population as people sorted themselves out but ultimately I cannot imagine populations falling even close to a level that’d endanger society.

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      • My point might have gotten a bit muddled. What I meant was that a lower fertility rate and fewer people might not necessarily translate into being better for the environment. While less people might mean less consumption of resources, it could also mean that that the fewer people might consume more resources leading to just as many environmental problems. Fewer people does not mean less consumption.

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      • Actually, , I can kinda imagine that if and when all parts of the world have developed, industrialised, educated their women etc we will have a shrinking population globally. Then will come a time as countries scramble to fix their laws so as to attract more migrants while those that cannot or refuse to change will end up like Detroit. At that point, I imagine that the dying states will realise fewer gains from trade and go rogue and start attacking everyone else. The best case scenario is that they will already be so poor that they do minimal damage before they starve themselves into oblivion. But competing over a finite population is in a sense a zero sum game. You cannot force people to have kids without doing some horrific things, so one by one, cities will dry up until at last, a 1000 years from now, there are less than half a billion of us left on this earth 2000 years from now, there may not even be a million.

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      • Of course, sometime along that long population decline civilisation would have collapsed and we would be back to treating women like chattel and keeping them barefoot and pregnant. So population would start booming again until we rediscover liberalism…..

        I get the feeling that people who are not worried about long term population decline are not looking too far ahead in the future. There is going to be a time when all the world has industrialised and gender equality is very nearly universal. And in such societies (with maybe just one exception) people reproduce at way below the replacement level. We may be able to get by now by opening up our borders. But, there is a limit to this. Global population will stop growing in a hundred years time and start shrinking within 300 years. Short of artificial wombs, I know of no solution to this.

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      • Murali,
        50% job loss in 20 years. worldwide. No, not worried about shrinking population.
        We’ll shrink the needed number of people far quicker than we can reduce population, short of genocide.

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      • There is nothing about the state of the economy that makes me think that job loss would outstrip population loss so quickly. In fact, shrinking populations may very well cause job losses by eliminating the demand for various goods. Given that increasing population size via immigration does not increase unemployment rate, there is little reason to think that employment rate will drop so suddenly. What makes you think that it will?

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      • The global population was once down to about 10,000, IIRC, and we managed to keep on truckin’.

        Not that I’d recommend dropping that low again, but you could reduce the existing human population by 99% and still have 70 million people on the planet.

        I think a declining birth rate for an extended period of time would probably not be a bad thing, assuming that the birth rate didn’t decline so drastically that we’d wind up with a very bad worker:citizen ratio.

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      • Murali,
        Have you seen the work on the service industries in America (that was somewhere on 538, I think)?
        Also, I know people doing research (beta-testing, by now) on self-driving cars/trucks, which will eliminate another sizable fraction.
        Simply put, we’re improving technology at a faster pace, and that reduces the need for lowskilled labor.

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      • Murali – Fertility rates among high-income and upper-middle-income countries are both around 1.8. That’s not “way” below the replacement rate; it’s slightly below it. And a global fertility rate around that level would be quite manageable for several centuries; certainly for long enough for governments in a poverty-free world (a positive that would outweigh any plausible negative) to implement some incentives for people to have more children if they decided that was necessary.

        At this point and likely for generations to come, though, it’s far from necessary. The recent rise in global population is utterly unprecedented, not the norm: in 1960 there were about 3 billion people in the world. Now there’s over 7 million. Where’s the basis for thinking society would collapse if we returned to 1960 population levels?

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      • Yeah I’m with Katherine Murali, the scenario you lay out strikes me as lunacy. In a declining population world the totalitarian loser states in the population game would be simply prostrate in comparison to the winning liberal states. Armies need soldiers, industries need workers, I can’t imagine that much destruction.

        Also the idea that population would decline to a point where civilization itself began regressing strikes me as equally preposterous. As Katherine observes the developed upper middle liberal educated class reproduces at just barely below replacement rates. In a declining population world there’d be a significant upward pressure on wages, there’d be downward pressure on housing, there’s be enormous policy incentive to encourage childbirth. I have absolutely no doubt that such considerations, (more money, cheaper houses, better prospects for their children) would tip the fertility rate to slightly above replacement level. I could imagine a generational fluctuation around replacement level, sometimes above, sometimes below. That strikes me as enormously more likely than some kind of population crunch collapsing us back into the stone age.

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      • Fertility seems notoriously inelastic with respect to financial incentives. Our upper middle classes are not, generally speaking, the ones having 3 kids on average. Japan is an example. Singapore has close to full employment and still has a fertility rate less than half the replacement. Japan’s situation is also pretty bad, and made worse by the fact that it has little net migration. We can observe Japan as a natural experiment. The first problem is the issue of a greying population. A greying population is more resistant to change (more old people so they will tend to vote more conservatively) The second is the more lopsided drain on resources. To put it crudely, the ratio of productive assets to liabilities has decreased. There is going to be an increased strain on resources. All else equal fewer tax dollars will be collected and more tax dollars will be spent. This will largely be spent on healthcare and hospices etc. Thirdly, it seems that if migration can create jobs and rejuvenate the economy, population depletion which is just the reverse can be expected to injure, if not cripple it.

        The US is anomalous compared to other OECD countries in terms of where its fertility rate equilibrates. and 1.83 is not slightly below replacement, it is 15% below.

        Global population decline will not happen in our lifetimes, but nothing about how fertility rates actually respond to financial incentives gives me reason to believe that anything short of civilizational collapse or artificial wombs will reverse the trend. I’m not even sure that the latter will help that much either. I doubt it is pregnancy that serves as the disincentive, but everything after pregnancy. Artificial wombs cannot help with raising kids.

        Maybe an asteroid will crash into the earth and wipe us all out before global population decline actually starts to be a problem, but barring that scenario or mutual nuclear annihilation, I don’t see any other way its going to work out.

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      • Its not just the total size, but the ratio of productive workers to recipients of social security. Costs of healthcare have outpaced productivity increases. With a much smaller proportion of productive workers and a much larger proportion of elderly who require social security and the larger amount of money they will need, I do not know if life will be as good as it was in the 1960s if we have a 1960s level population. Hell, the 1960s were already bad enough.

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      • Productivity counts for a lot; if productivity growth plus worker growth (positive or negative) is greater than retiree growth, things work out. Rates won’t stay constant, of course, so making predictions is hard. OTOH, the only thing the Greenspan Commission got wrong in its forecasts made in the early 80s was that productivity gains would be equal across the range of incomes; the gains have instead been skewed heavily towards those making more than the cap on the tax base. If the assumption had been accurate, we’d be discussing a modest decrease in the SS tax rate, not a modest increase.

        If it remains the case that productivity gains accrue to a small portion of the population, not to workers broadly, then indeed things are apt to get ugly.

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      • Murali – Regarding Japan, my understanding is that the country is more than a little xenophobic and not very open to immigration. Combined with a low birthrate, that’s going to cause problems. Countries that are more open to immigration won’t have issues with decreasing natality.

        I don’t think Japan or Singapore is an indicator of long-run (i.e: centuries in the future) dangers of global population decline, because both countries have extremely high population density that isn’t characteristic of the world as a whole. If people have fairly small living spaces, they’re less likely to want kids; if they feel they’ve got little space left for new citizens, they’re less likely to be open to immigration. Those kinds of densities wouldn’t be characteristic of a future world where the population had levelled off around, say, 8 billion and where all countries were affluent.

        Japan’s not the only affluent country to look at. Scandanavian countries have some of the world’s highest living standards and their population is growth is still near replacement rate: Denmark’s fertility rate is 1.87, as is Finland’s; Sweden’s is 1.98; Norway’s is 1.95.

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      • Katherine beat me to pretty much all my points Murali so I’ll mainly just say “what Katherine said”. Japan, especially, is a highly atypical nation since they’re extremely densly populated and also enormously nativist. What it boils down to, ultimately, is that the phenomena of the modern liberal capitalist society is simply not old enough for us to have any precedents for how they age. That said I strongly suspect that the Scandanavian nations offer a more likely prediction of liberal states demographic futures than Japan does.

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  4. I’m unpersuaded by the premise that society needs more people to avoid collapse (although aging/shrinking populations do face strains). But assuming the premise is correct, it’s insufficient to look simply at total births–we need to consider the future productivity of those kids as well.

    What if we birthed far more children than at present, but raised all the extras in Soviet-style orphanariums? Sounds like a net loss to me.

    So let’s compare the putative marginal decrease in kids resulting from allowing SSM to the increase in kids raised by loving adoptive patents rather than in orphanages or bounced around the foster care system. My hypothesis is a net increase.

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    • “So let’s compare the putative marginal decrease in kids resulting from allowing SSM to the increase in kids raised by loving adoptive patents…”

      But it’s gay love, the worst kind! It’ll ruin the poor kids!

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  5. Like the first two commenters, I’m too chicken to hazard a guess as to P.

    I will say that P is probably greater than zero. Additionally, I think most of us might be likely to underestimate P since most of us do not belong to P and anyone belonging to P won’t really be talking to people about it.

    Note that I am not saying that I am not making a claim about P. Instead, I am making a claim about people’s estimates of P.

    Bryan believes that in hedonic terms, it’s vastly better to be alive than never to be born. I think he makes a category error to compare the two…

    Can you elaborate on this error?

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      • You could ascribe utility from a third party perspective though, right? Like Pat Buchanan’s utility goes up every time an American baby is born. If the baby is not born, then it doesn’t itself experience utility or disutility, but it has an effect on Pat Buchanan and the set of people we are talking about who want real Americans to have more real American babies.

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      • The mistake lies in ascribing utility or disutility to a nonentity. A nonentity is not capable of experiencing these states.

        And there are a lot of reductio ad absurdum that show up if we *do* attempt to weigh the utilities of non-existent entities.

        For example, it would be logical to confiscate the fortunes of anyone past breeding age, and use their resources to pay people to have children. You might do a slight amount of harm, but that created child could have *millions* of eventual descendants, which greatly outweighs one old person living in poverty.

        If not existing is ‘harm’, than we are forced to deal with *infinite* harm in the system no matter what we do, because there are an infinite, or at least near enough to be infinite to us, people who don’t exist. Which, uh, rather breaks math.

        And you can work it backwards, too. In the life of anyone that exists, pain will exist, and hence the logical conclusion is that we should stop anyone from ever being born again. And thus it is ethical to destroy the world…sure, it will kill billions of people, but it would keep eventual trillions from suffering.

        ‘ascribing utility or disutility to a nonentity’ is like one of those mathematical proofs that sneakily does a divide by zero in it to prove that 4=5. If you allow it in morality calculations, you can come to literally any conclusion.

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      • Vikram’s point about Pat Buchanan’s preferences is just the point that anyone thinking about the social utility impacts of variations in fertility rates (whether from social insurance or any other institutional perspective) makes. It’s not at all related (if I understand Caplan’s view) to the point Caplan makes. (Incidentally, I agree with both Jason and , each making the point slightly differently, that we need to tightly constrain any policy means we might deploy to try to nudge rates in this direction or that, because of how profound and basic the liberty and self-definition interests are wrt to human reproduction).

        To Caplan’s point, I couldn’t agree more stenuously with Jason and . To even allow that a nonentity isn’t “capable” of experiencing utility almost concedes to much, as it’s even a category error to think of what a nonentity is or isn;t capable of. It’s doesn’t exist; it’s not capable of capability.

        I think what I would ask Caplan to explain if I were sitting with him is what is the degree or kind of notional existence that a nonentity (non-existing person) must achieve in order for its vast utility interests in existence to become something we need to be cognitive of in considering and weighing the interests of those affected by our decisions and policies? A nonentity that a married couple has not yet conceived but which they intend to conceive and have perhaps selected names for may have a degree/kind of existence that a nonentity who will be the child of someone’s great-grandchild who’s alive today if she ever exists (perhaps – this is a construction meant to explore Caplan’s views, it’s not one I ascribe to). Do we consider their interests in existing on an equal basis? Why? On a different basis? Why? At what point of speculativeness of existence do we stop factoring nonentities’ interests in existence in our considerations of the effect on people’s interests of our actions? (Or am I mistaken in thinking he thinks we should factor them in? Maybe he just thinks this utility difference exists (between existence and non-existence), but that this doesn’t mean we necessarily have the obligation to consider any interest in securing the greater utility of existence over the lesser utility of failing to achieve existence for any nonentity whose notional existence we consider.)

        What he would probably ask me back is, if I doubt the reason to consider the interests of non-(current-)entities, on what basis would I or anyone like-minded make an appeal to consider the state of the world which we leave to later generations? It would be a fair question. I think the way I would answer is that the concern there is not for the interest in existence of nonentities who may or may not exist (unless we’re considering world-catastrophic eventualities, I suppose), but rather for the interest that whoever does end up existing has in the utility of existing in a world that we hasn’t spoiled past some unreasonable or irretrievable point compared to having to exist in one that has been. That’s just my view, though, and I’m genuinely unsure that it is a completely satisfactory response.

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      • To even allow that a nonentity isn’t “capable” of experiencing utility almost concedes to much, as it’s even a category error to think of what a nonentity is or isn;t capable of. It’s doesn’t exist; it’s not capable of capability.

        LOL. I agree completely, but you just caused a paradox. You just said nonentities are neither capable or not capable of things, and then said they are not capable of being capable. *head explode*

        A better way to explain this category error might be to define ‘entities’ vs. ‘ideas’. There are entities, things that ‘really’ exist as best we can make out. And there are ideas, which are concepts we use to talk. Some ideas *correspond* to entities, like the idea of ‘Michael Drew’ corresponds to an entity. Other ideas may seem plausible as an entity but not correspond to one, like an person who did not exist. (And there are also ideas that are implausible as an entity, like unicorns, or are very abstract ideas we don’t pretend exist physically, but neither of those are relevant here.)

        But we have to be careful. Regardless of how closely an idea might resemble an entity, only *entities* matter. We obviously *talk* in ideas, so it’s very easy to bring in ideas that do not correspond to anything and include them in our moral calculus, but that is entirely invalid math.

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      • I acknowledge the problems both of you cite, but I’m not sure the conclusion is to just give up. To take a somewhat extreme example, it seems likely that the aggregated utility of the universe in which Albert Einstein was born is greater than the aggregated utility of the universe in which he wasn’t born whether or not you take include Einstein’s own utility into the mix.

        The alternative seems to me to have no opinion as to whether the universe is better off with humans in it or not.

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      • It always sort of surprises me to realize that the pro-life people I’ve talked with in depth place great value on the potential of un-realized people, but they don’t place nearly so much value on the potential of realized people; as if all potential becomes realized when you’re born, and then living in God’s hands or something.

        (I realize I’m verging on hyperbole and stereotype, forgive that.)

        But that difference of values — the potential people (non-entity) vs. the potential of people (entity) seems one of the defining differences between the social conservative and the social liberal.

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      • I thought of that as I wrote it, but just didn’t care enough to come up with the phrasing that really expresses the concept. Also, I wanted to turn the phrase that was being used around on itself. But you’re right. There might not really be a better way to put it than as Jason did: category error.

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      • Are you thinking I/we’re saying that considering collective utility (among existing people) of a certain number of humans existing is a category error? We’re not. i don’t even object to doing that calculation with an eye toward policy. I just want to be restrained in the means we use to promote more human existence. I do give more policy deference to the human (meaning largely female) prerogative to make a nearly-purely personal (i.e. mostly not nudged) choice about if/when to reproduce than to most other choices (mostly because the extent of that burden/risk and intensity of experience is something I don’t think I can estimate very well). But that’s just my policy view.

        What we’re saying is a category error is to compare the first-person state of Existence to the state of Nonexistence (which has no first-person-ness: that’s the category error). Is not like anything to not (ever) exist. It can’t be compared to existing. That’s really all we’re saying (here).

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      • I acknowledge the problems both of you cite, but I’m not sure the conclusion is to just give up. To take a somewhat extreme example, it seems likely that the aggregated utility of the universe in which Albert Einstein was born is greater than the aggregated utility of the universe in which he wasn’t born whether or not you take include Einstein’s own utility into the mix.

        If we ever end up in the situation where the option is *Albert Einstein* existing, or him not exist, we should obviously choose for him to exist. Even at the cost of something else. I think we’d all agree that he would be worth each of us paying $5 or whatever if we had to buy an Albert Einstein.

        However, barring some sort of time machine, whether or not Albert Einstein existed is never going to be the choice we are faced with. The question is, at what utility should we grant some new person? Or, rather, what utility should we grant the *slightly increased chance* of some new person?

        If we start trying to give utility to hypothetical people, it is perhaps worth mentioning that, due to chaos theory, any *slight* alteration in who marries whom will erase millions of people in the future. Causing a 1% increase in childbirth by having different people marry each other doesn’t mean 1% extra people are born in addition to the same people, it means that 5% didn’t get born that would have, and 6% other people get born. And the difference only increases in time, so in 200 years everyone in the US who would have been alive is not, and vis versa. The population might be higher, but it’s also *entirely different*.

        So it’s almost just as likely that causing *more* children to be born will result in the next physics genius to *not* be born. We can’t just hypothesize about *adding people*.

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      • So it’s almost just as likely that causing *more* children to be born will result in the next physics genius to *not* be born.

        You make great points about the fuzziness of the math, but isn’t “just as likely” a strong claim? Surely not all population policies have equal probabilities of producing physics geniuses.

        Disclaimer: Practically speaking, I agree that even if we had strong knowledge that a certain policy would create a bunch of physics geniuses, we might still not want to implement the policy if it infringes on personal freedom.

        That said, I do kind of wish Einstein had had more kids.

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      • (& @vikram-bath),

        It seems to me that, unless you’re working from some insight I’m not aware of, replacing 5 million people who will exist over the course of X years with 6 million over the same period should, all things being equal, slightly increase the occurrence of physics (and other) geniuses. I can’t really argue with that absent further insight about what produces them (though I think other variables are likely much more powerful than small population differences).

        But the question is: so what? What’s the prudential consequence of that for what we should do today? And where does that logic stop? (All of which we’ve all pretty much stated our rough agreement about at this point, so with that I’ll wish you guys a pleasant evening.)

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  6. Based on a fairly limited (limited in the grand scheme, though probably more robust than your average American) set of anecdotal knowledge, I would peg the number of surplus children who would be born in this day and age because of a ban on same-sex marriage to be relatively small.

    I think a bigger issue than same-sex marriage are varying degrees of homophobia and acceptance of LGBTQ folks. I don’t know any of my openly gay friends who would say, “I’m so desperate to get married that I’ll marry someone from the opposite gender.” Though there certainly exist closeted gay people who remain that way because of broader societal pressures, of which the prevailing approach to SSM is one but just one of many.

    So, I think a better question is how does a more broad-based suppression of homosexuality impact fertility rates.

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  7. n this post, I’m going to try to outline how we might estimate one alleged demographic harm of same-sex marriage, namely the excess births that our society will forego if same-sex marriage is universally recognized.

    That’s the crux — putting a number to P?

    I’d agree, this is a very small number. Certainly not the need to increase the numbers of young required to take care of us old folk, which is the unspoken goal. Socialism for the old folks; they’re gonna take from the young, so they need to make sure there’s enough young to take from or risk a revolt.

    So then the question is if there’s a big-enough benefit from denying some people their civil rights to make this socialism worth the effort, I’d have to say, “No.”

    But the whole frame of the question seems short-sighted to me; only looking forward to the problems of the baby boomers; that last generation before contraception was available. First up is that beyond forcing on-the-fence gays to marry to seem ‘normal,’ is the direct burden we’re placing on young women to produce offspring to support old men and women well beyond their reproductive years. Going all Handmaid’s Tale is every bit as bad as violating the civil rights of same-sex couples.

    Second, it ignores other sources of people, primarily immigrants.

    Third, the problem is more long-term; it’s on carrying capacity of planet Earth, and I hold a religious belief that only considering humans in those calculations is evil. We share this planet with others; and our health and well being depends on their health and well being.

    I do think we’re in for a rough time when it comes to the tail end of the baby boomers aging. (That’s me, born in 1960.) Too many mouths to feed, too few acres in production. But I don’t think that’s any reason to keep doing more wrong; just making the problems exponentially larger before we decide to tackle it.

    In my garden, when things get too out of balance, there’s some collapse. That is the other potential. Disease and famine and war, oh my.

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  8. Maggie Gallagher has said that civilizations that lose the marriage idea die out.

    The proof of that is trivial. Begin with the premise “All civilizations eventually die out.”

    Though it’s interesting to consider that the oldest still-existing institution in the world is the Roman Catholic Church, in which the entire hierarchy is forbidden from marrying.

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    • Ah, but the church counts on recruiting to replace their numbers.

      I’ve always thought that the religious right’s obsession about gays and lesbians “recruiting” children is really just a monstrous example of projection. After all, it’s the only way religions survive and grow. Even those born to believers need to be indoctrinated. No one is “born” believing a particular religion. And if they have to do it, surely we do too.

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  9. I think this is an interesting question. It’s especially interesting when we compare how one’s perspective will frame any guestimates.

    Like you, I would think that those Ps are pretty much going to be people who are less than 100% heterosexual who might opt for heterosexual marriage in the absence of an alternative.

    But many of those opposed to gay marriage don’t see sexual orientation in the same way I do. For many opponents, the mere existence of non-heterosexual marriage will directly result in more gay people. As barriers to homosexual sin fall (anti-bullying campaigns, employment and housing protections, “hate crime” penalties, gay marriage), people who would otherwise choose heterosexuality will decide to be gay or lesbian. Few of those motivated enough to campaign to prevent gay marriage are likely to believe that there is a large number of people who can’t opt to be straight.

    Opponents of gay marriage and supporters of gay marriage won’t be close to each other on the numbers of P at all.

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  10. I actually don’t think that estimating P would be all that difficult. You could look at time series data on marriage rates and find some proxy for the acceptance of out homosexual behaviors and try to correct for a bunch of other relevant factors.

    The real problem is that your equation implies a linear relationship between the number of persuadables and the number of kids that a persuadable might have. In reality, these factors are likely endogenous, meaning that the same factors that impact fertility also impact the acceptance of gays and the incidence of gays entering gay relationships as opposed to remaining closeted and pursuing hetero relationships.

    Long story short: you’re going to need a bigger boat (and by boat, I mean model).

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    • Possibly I need a bigger model. But I don’t see how P, M, and N are endogenous, at least not in a way that I don’t treat in footnote 3: I think it likely that increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians leads more of them to have bio-kids, but that’s the only effect I can imagine complicating the picture right now.

      Granted, this is all very provisional. It appropriates the language of social science, but it doesn’t have any rigor to it. At all.

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      • Think of it this way. The acceptance of gays in a society is probably highly correlated to total wealth in that society. Fertility rates are definitely highly correlated to total wealth in a society. You could come up with a model that attempts to get at P, holding things like total wealth, individual income, religiosity, governance factors, etc, but what comes next is tricky.

        Your equation is really attempting to compare two different things. The period when gays were not accepted would likely have higher fertility, because of non-same sex marriage factors (wealth, income, religiosity, etc.) than the period in which gays are accepted. In other words, you’d have to derive two different Ps. Persuadables at the intolerant time and persuadables at the tolerant time.

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      • I see what you mean about wealth, at least in the abstract. But social conservatives’ claim is that the existence of same-sex marriage will all by itself contribute to further demographic harm. And given that the United States remains a relatively wealthy society and probably will in the future, I think it’s unlikely that wealth will matter too much here.

        I’m partly treating the claim very seriously, with my equations and whatnot. But in a way, I’m giving it short shrift, as some have pointed out on Twitter: I’m not taking seriously the claim that the existence of same-sex marriage will lead to fewer births among straight people.

        If the latter claim is true, then its effect will likely dwarf any effects that are created by my “persuadables.”

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      • Why would more same-sex marriages lead to fewer births among straight people?

        What I am saying is that you have two different worlds: the traditional world and the contemporary world. And you’re trying to suss out the effect of same-sex marriage on fertility in the contemporary world. To do that you have to construct a counterfactual contemporary world in which everything is the same except social acceptance of gays. That’s not impossible to do, but it’s problematic because both of the variables in your equation (the number of persuadables and the number of kids they would have) change when you go from the traditional world to the contemporary.

        So yes, single people have fewer kids in the tolerant world, but not because of the tolerance per se, because of the factors that lead to more tolerance.

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  11. I think that this is putting the cart before the horse.

    The first thing that happened was heterosexuals making themselves regularly and reliably infertile. Women were able to take a daily pill in the 50’s and then, in 1965, we had Griswold v. Connecticut (and then Eisenstadt v. Baird 7 years after that). There was also a Roe something something case in there.

    So imagine a culture in which it is pretty much established that “sex” can be divorced from “procreation”. Sure, if you want a child, you can have one… but if you don’t want one, not having one is preventable beforehand and, if there’s an oopsie, you’ve still got a handful of options for not having one.

    Now let that culture just sit for a couple of generations.

    It seems to me that that culture is likely to see sex as something that is not only good for pair-bonding but also recreational (oh, and if you want to have kids, a pretty good option). From there, it seems to me that you’re going to have, like clockwork, people (well, non-theocons anyway) scratching their heads when asked why two dudes shouldn’t be able to get married.

    Marriage, having been divorced from procreation, has become an institution for any two people who wish to do that whole pairbonding thing.

    Hell, we, as a society, have reached the point where I have several dear loved ones in Same Sex Marriages who have more kids than I do in my Life Partnership. From my perspective, we’ve already begun the whole “bouncing back” thing.

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    • Oh, something I meant to put in there:

      It was less than a generation between The Pill and homosexuality being removed from the DSM.

      I think that these two things are related.

      Edit: that is to say the following:

      Same Sex Marriage will not lead to lower fertility. Lower fertility will lead to Same Sex Marriage.

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    • This seem pretty accurate. The growing societal acceptance of LBGT people would be impossible without the sexual revolution in heterosexual couples. People have been having recreational sex of all sorts since forever but the means of effectively and reliably preventing pregnancy for heterosexual sex didn’t exist before the mid-20th century. That allowed an even more complete separation between sex and procreation than ever existed in human history and allowed for more safe bleeping outside of marriage.

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  12. The answer to your question is 943.

    The premises of the debate in which your question occurs all seem frather obviously false:

    1. Gallagher is worth debating
    2. Higher Domestic birth rates are a good thing (World population and AGW? Immigration?)
    3. Social science can make a precise, quantitative, valid estimate of “what would happen if” a huge variety of variables about marriage were changed. What would have happened to the birth rate if we had legalized and made socially acceptable gay marriage 50 years ago? Probably nothing. Bit it all depends on the causes of the change in what is legal and socially acceptable. If the cause was a libertarian move to “get government out of marriage” and stop pro-marriage incentives, that might make a small impact. If the cause was liberal and feminist changes to attitudes to marriage that would make a different, maybe even smaller, impact.

    I’m not saying that you can’t measure the effects of social change in other places to predict what would happen here if we made a similar change, but social science is not good at these measurements without a ton of data from different places across different times, and that data isn’t present here. And you are trying to measure a very small change of what would happen without that data.

    It would be like tying to measure the effect of having seen Kim Kardashian on TV on marriage rates. Could it have an effect. Sure. Can that be measured? Maybe with a boatload of data about different people in different places having seen Kim Kardashian and isolating away other confounding variables. But it is just too hard for social science to do that reliably.

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    • I heartily agree that it takes a lot of premise-granting to get to a doubtful demographic effect, which itself might not even be a harm (and if it is, the harm is more effectively remedied by other means).

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      • I’m closer to ‘s number than ‘s but what does it matter? The system can tolerate it. Gays getting married is plainly not going to affect the population rate at a level that rises above the trivial. Breeders gonna breed, yo.

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    • This is anecdotal, but:

      I have several friends, lesbians, mostly in their ’70’s, who were all married back in the day, all had children, and now have grand children and great grand children as a result of their marriages.

      And many friend who are lesbians who are younger who don’t have children. (I can only think of a couple of women in SS relationships who do have children.)

      So there’s a good possibility that these women, were they younger and SS relationships were acceptable, would not have had children that they had. So yes, there would be a drop in the birthrate; but I’m guessing it’s more likely that it would be from gay women not marrying men then gay men marrying women.

      But: Every single one of these women (loving women who invest a tremendous amount of energy in their children and grand children, and are well-loved by their families in return) expresses a great deal of regret for misleading their former spouses. I think they each feel that they deprived their husbands of the kind of committed relationships that might otherwise had, if they’d married heterosexual women.

      I know a few men who feel this way, but it’s not nearly as common.

      But my favorite parents are two SS couples, one male and one female, who opted to have children together and share custody. That’s a very happy extended family.

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  13. Just to scratch my inner feminist:

    If there’s a perceived problem of lack of babies; who does it fall to to correct that problem?

    The people with lady parts, pref. between the ages of about 20 to 35.

    So I just want to remind everyone of a few things. Here in the good ‘ol USofA:

    1) Women have a legal right to use contraception. If it stands, their health insurers will have to provide contraception to them;
    2) Women have a legal right to consensual sex; non-consensual sex is a crime (and the same goes for marriage, too);
    3) Pregnancy is a significant commitment of your time, has profound impact on your body, and is expensive (that’s before we get to having a child as a result of that pregnancy). And while there have been significant gains in maternal health care, it is still potentially life threatening;
    4) Women like to get educations, have careers, and other good stuff that men have access to;
    5) Women like to make sure they can take care of the children they already have, typically giving them priority over potential children they might have;
    6) Women still do the lion’s share of child care and home making, though thankfully, there’s a growing balance.

    So any conversation that steps so far back that it ignores these things runs the risk of veering into misogyny; at being pulled at by the weight of all those centuries when women were not considered full-fledged humans with their own agency and rights.

    Seriously, if more babies is a desired goal, getting there through incentives instead of prohibitions seems worth some small consideration.

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    • I think 4 and 5 need the qualifier of many. Not every woman puts as much thought into these things as other women do. If anything equal rights also must mean the right to be a buffoon and make bad choices to.

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      • Yeah, well my dad didn’t pay to support his children with his wife, and likely had children with other women.

        Men have long had the right to buffoon; and left women to deal with the offspring. So with the notion of ‘fully-fledged human’ comes the rights of buffoonery. That said, a large part if this may potentially stem from the confines of history — the discussion takes place under tabu, prohibition, slut shaming, etc., and never really gets to the positive incentives.

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  14. “The persuadables must exclude all those bisexuals who would have married heterosexually anyway”

    Really? I don’t think this group really exists, or at least, exists unalterably regardless of the changes in marriage options available to it. It seems odd to exclude a group who would have ended up in the same place anyway, when their decisions that led them to that place might be significantly altered by the changes you propose. Unless you’re talking about the group of bisexuals who would never even have considered entering a same-sex relationship – but even then, might the possibility of marriage not be a factor in self-selection to that group?

    As others have stated, I think a much bigger force here is the general acceptability of same-sex relationships and behavior. But still, if you are a bisexual person whose life goals include getting married, or raising children within a marriage, would it not matter that it is currently impossible in many places to achieve this goal with someone of the same sex? If you date people of both sexes, you may or may not end up settling down with someone of the same sex, but if you ONLY date people of the opposite sex it’s vanishingly unlikely that you’ll do so.

    I mean, like I said, there may well be a group of bisexuals here that would never, no matter what, seek out a same-sex relationship or even entertain the option. But I’m note sure it’s as big as the phrasing of the exclusion implies. My (concededly unsupported) hunch is that the number of such people is vastly outweighed by the number of bisexual people who would, in fact, be more likely to marry a person of the same sex if the option were fully available to them (in a cultural as well as a legal sense).

    Of course, as far as the actual having children thing goes, that would remain much cheaper easier in a het relationship, so maybe the incentives wouldn’t change that much anyway.

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    • “It seems odd to exclude a group who would have ended up in the same place anyway, when their decisions that led them to that place might be significantly altered by the changes you propose.”

      I’m looking for change at the margin, not for total number. If someone was destined to marry heterosexually anyway, then the option for same-sex marriage isn’t going to change that person’s behavior. Adding them in to the persuadables would mean that I was attributing their behavior (marrying heterosexually) to a cause that wasn’t actually responsible.

      Think of it this way: If you’re sick, you can take a drug to try to get better. But some people will get better without taking the drug. If we want to measure the effect of the drug, we need to know how many people get better without it. If we don’t know that number, we can’t know the additional effect the drug is having.

      (n.b.: I realize I just compared same-sex marriage to a disease. I’m sorry. It was either that or compare heterosexual marriage to a disease. I don’t mean to imply anything — at all — other than the shared validity of the statistical approach in question.)

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  15. Having an extra pail is irrelevant to whether the Titanic is going to sink or not.

    This proposal coming from the same site that made the claim of Independents/Unaffiliated voters being irrelevant to the outcome of U.S. elections does raise an eyebrow though.

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      • I think that came up in one of Elias’s or Ethan’s posts.

        I don’t think it was a consensus feeling, but I recall some members of the commentariat agreeing with the premise. I don’t remember if any of the writers did.

        For the record, IMO the question of “independents being relevant or not” erroneously frames the question. Likelihood of voting is not a variable that is dependent on party affiliation or lack thereof, it’s a variable that is dependent upon other factors entirely.

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      • Will,
        for the democrats, it seems to be more a call to “shock journalism” — finding the crazy on the right, so that people are more committed to spending time/money to vote and get others to vote.

        The actual disposition of the Democratic Pol means less than you think.

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    • I think the point about independents is that in reality they are usually actually aligned with one party they just don’t identify as such. Most I’s will reliably vote R or D so there isn’t actually a lot of ways to shift their vote.

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      • This is how I understand it, too.

        So both things are true, depending on the sets you create.

        If D = people who identify as Democrats, and R = people who identify as Republicans, then the unaffiliated (I) voters have a big impact on the election.

        But if D = people who tend to always vote democratic and R = people who tend to always vote Republican, then I only has a marginal effect.

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      • It’s true that the number of actual independents is lower than a lot of the polls indicate. In any given election “Leans Republican” is not any different from “Republican” (though “LR” is more likely to drift over a significant period of time). There is a reason that we consider 55% a landslide in a national election.

        However! The group of truly unaligned voters is small, but they tend to exist right on the fault line. So they’re extremely far from irrelevant. Ticket-splitters (the most verifiable demonstration we have that these people are not a fiction) throw elections.

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      • I think the point about independents is that in reality they are usually actually aligned with one party they just don’t identify as such. Most I’s will reliably vote R or D so there isn’t actually a lot of ways to shift their vote.

        I may even have written this myself. There is solid evidence for that claim, but it’s a different claim entirely from “independents are irrelevant.”

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      • But since there are very few true independents that don’t matter that much especially when compared to something like turning out your base voters. They aren’t irrelevant they just don’t matter as much as often is claimed. Independent is a nice label that people find attractive mostly.

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      • I think the point about independents is that in reality they are usually actually aligned with one party they just don’t identify as such.

        I think it’s probable that this is partially true.

        I think it’s also probable that getting the independent vote is mostly a case of having those independents who are naturally inclined to vote your way get off their butts and having those independents who are naturally inclined to vote the other party’s way stay home.

        In effect, this looks like “getting the independent vote”, but functionally, the encouragement vectors are different. Appealing to the center under this framework is different from appealing to actual centrists.

        I think there are legitimate independents, too, but they’re less centrist than they are non-plottable on the old X-Y scale.

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      • I agree that swing voters and Centrists aren’t the same thing. But there it’s still the matter of convincing unaligned voters who are actually going to the polls. Swing voters are not a fiction and do throw elections.

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  16. We can at least put an upper-bound on S by simply comparing the difference in birth rate between the SSM and non-SSM states over time, with a widening gap being some indication of the overall effect of living in an SSM-tolerant state. This gives the most leniency to the conservative argument that a pro-SSM culture encourages lower birth-rates

    I took the birth-rate data from the CDC from 1990 – 2009 and computed this difference for all states (as well as focusing on just states that had SSM prior to 2012). You can see the results plotted here (https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/39888659/ssm_fertility.pdf). The difference was significantly different from zero in both cases, with an effect of -1.1 to -1.6 births/1000 per year depending on the year cut-off (as always, this is a simple correlation mostly driven by the years *before* SSM was passed, so any number of latent variables could be driving this, including increasing wealth in the pro-SSM areas as hypothesized in comments above). I fit two potential trends to the difference in birth-rate: the worst-case scenario of a constant growing decrease in birth-rate (by OLS), as well as a “realistic” scenario of a polynomial (by AIC) which essentially bottomed-out at the current difference. To get an idea of actual impact, I forecasted US population size (using constant actuarial death-rates and life expectancy) under the current non-SSM rate, the current SSM rate (corresponding to the polynomial projection), and the worst-case linear decrease scenario. After 100 years, the SSM rate would decrease the US population size from 5.5m to 4.9m, and the worst-case scenario would yield 3.0m (results were similar for the pre-2012 scenarios).

    As usual, the political implication is nuanced but doesn’t look good for the anti-SSM side. If we take the most statistically explanatory model – where pro-SSM states initially drop in birth-rate but converge to a constant difference – then the impact on US population size is fairly minimal in the foreseeable future. Even if we consider the worst-case scenario – where pro-SSM states have a constant decrease in relative birth-rate equal to the initial drop (and ignore all of the possible latent variables) – the demographic scenario is very different, but still results in a country of approximately equal size in 100 years, hardly the dwindling of a civilization that has been predicted.

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  17. Pingback: Linky Friday No. 62 | Ordinary Times

  18. Jason: “In short, I’m only considering social harms. I’m not going to get into Bryan Caplan’s utilitarian argument for more kids. Bryan believes that in hedonic terms, it’s vastly better to be alive than never to be born. I think he makes a category error to compare the two, but if he’s right, then gays and lesbians are hardly the only derelicts to duty. Everyone should be having way, way, way more kids. And perhaps we gays and lesbians could then specialize our parenting labor — and adopt the kids who, in the process, would end up in otherwise difficult homes. It may be our greatest marginal benefit, if everyone else is way out at the fertility production frontier.”

    This argument against gay marriage also serves as an equally valid argument against having artificial birth control being legal.

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