« Bechamel | Gene Expression Front Page | Now Yezidi, now you don't?* »
September 24, 2004

Modern life

Man. Our diet is so crappy.

I will be the first to admit that, serendipitously lazy yet nutritious dishes* aside, mine is too.

There was a debate a few months back that, in a nutshell, pitted absolute standards of living against relative standards of living.

The libertarian gourmand Waddling Thunder contributed, "It's indisputably cheaper to go the grocery store and buy entirely healthy grains and greens than it is to eat some half-garbage from a fast food restaurant. It's at least as fast as well, and I refuse to believe most people haven't got a few hours they now spend in front of a TV to cook food and freeze it for their families. The fact is that they don't want to, and prefer to spend that time doing other things. That's fine, but they don't get to them complain that the supposed rich are eating healthily while they're not."

I agree with him up to a point but share the same reservation as the commenter who replied, "You are right...that it can all be done healthily on a budget, but it's not as easy everywhere as you make it out to be. I'm not saying it's not possible. I'm just saying..."

The fundamental issue here is one of opportunity cost: how we choose to spend the limited resource of our own labor. I enjoy taking a Saturday out to do a week's shopping and cooking when I have the time to spare. But during term with a part-time job on top of studies, I derive more utility from the completion of my coursework than from a home-cooked meal. For many, if not most, of us, time and money are at a premium, meaning that when a trade-off is forced between time, money and nutrition, nutrition is usually the first to give way.

Opportunity cost is also the force that drives one of the few faultlines between free-market libertarians and "family values" conservatives.

Joanna Moorhead, "'For decades we've been told Sweden is a great place to be a working parent. But we've been duped'", The Guardian, 2004 September 22.
(hat tip: Stambord)

The unpalatable fact, she says, is that there are only so many hours in the day and only so many days in the week and whatever else we expect of the UK and EU the one thing their legislation cannot give us is the one thing that working mothers so desperately crave: more time.
"The fact is that children are a 20-year project and a career is a 20- to 40-year project and there is an incompatibility there." Over the past eight years, Hakim has written six books and she says, "There's no way I could have done that if I had had children."
emphases mine

The more skilled a woman is, the greater the opportunity cost she and her household pay when she spends time to raise children rather than work. When both parents work, the diversification of revenue sources means that the household is somewhat less vulnerable to economic shocks. Of course, the flip side of that is that the more financial independence wives have, the less willing they are to stay in troubled marriages, increasing the rate of divorce.

Skilled unmarried women will both delay bearing children and reduce the number of children they do bear to minimize income lost. This is a pattern we see not only in in the "North" but even in societies as recently industrialized as Singapore.

Ellen Nakashima, "With Birthrate Falling, Singapore Targets 'Lifestyle Impotency'", The Washington Post, 2004 September 11.

"One of the most radical things you can do in Singapore is be contented with your life," [said National University of Singapore professor Chua Beng Huat]. "That means you won't compete like hell for the next dollar. The ability of the government to maintain its competitive edge economically will collapse." So, he said, people have been conditioned to excel.
[Married couple Sarah Wee and James Ng] eat out every weeknight because they can afford to and because Wee is often at her desk until 9 or 10 p.m., make dining at home difficult.
"We are so used to a double income," Ng said. "When she becomes a full-time mother, we will become a single-income family. I don't know whether we're prepared for that."

According to [Victor Goh, an obstetrician who in 2002 conducted a study on sexual habits], if the government wants to boost birthrates, it must get people to have children earlier. A woman's fertility peaks in her late teens and early twenties, he said. "It's already a bit late," conceded Wee, who turns 29 in October. But rather than rush into having a child, she said, "we want everything to be perfect."

Ng and Wee, a teasingly playful couple who met through their church, voiced another concern that makes them think twice about having children: the stress placed on children in Singapore's exam-focused schools, what Ng called a "rat race." He bemoaned the way parents compete to see whose child has more spelling worksheets in nursery school and how parents take part in lotteries to get their children into the best grade schools.

Gene Expression readers ought to note that, under this state of affairs, it is the educated classes who are responding most strongly to the procreative disincentive of high income careers. The birthrates of those without the education or aptitude to pursue such careers have not fallen as precipitously. (At this point, I ought to acknowledge the racial dimension to the Singaporean government's concern.)

Those who believe in both laissez-faire and the heritability of intelligence - and I know that among Gene Expression readers you are legion - ought to at least acknowledge the conflict between the two.

* For another serendipitously lazy yet nutritious dish, click here (hat tip: Belle Waring). In addition to being tasty and nutritious, this recipe is also filling, a virtue not to be underrated.

Posted by jeet at 11:37 PM