Back in 2002, some years before scaling the heights to the Prime Ministerial summit, John Key said that Labour’s Domestic Purposes Benefit policy had led to a situation “where people have been, for want of a better term, breeding for a business“.
Mr Key responded by saying it was true that the global recession meant more people were on benefits.
“But it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills.
“And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.”
Perhaps those in the ‘breeding business’ that is, have simply made a ‘lifestyle choice’ or – if the lifestyle is deemed not to be a good one – ‘poor choices’?
Or maybe not.
Either way, there is now ‘help’ for those beneficiaries prone to making ‘poor choices’. The government has recently announced an initiative to provide ‘reversible’ contraception to women receiving benefits, and their daughters. The proposal is to provide “long-acting, reversible contraception, initially for younger women, but later extended to all beneficiaries“.
If John Key – apparently along with many others – believes it’s about ‘poor choices’ perhaps he might consider implementing The Press columnist Martin van Beynen’s ‘Sex licence test‘. Here’s a sampler of the test, question number 6:
6. You come from a multi- generation beneficiary family and decide to become sexually active after being expelled from your third school in a year. You should:
a. Say to hell with contraception which is all about all those “f-s” telling you what to do.
b. Decide to score that awesome dude stacking the trolleys at the supermarket because no doubt he will father a rock or sports star who will make you rich one day.
c. Go to the doctor immediately and get a free implant which will control your fertility as long as you do not have work and a committed relationship.
Very humorous – for those who like to take their thinking about social issues in small doses.
But, back to reality and the question of what would really be a ‘better term’ than “breeding for a business“.
It seems that many people find it absolutely puzzling and mind-boggling how anyone might become pregnant when they can’t afford to, and positively unfair when the person doing it then receives a benefit paid for by those who may be foregoing having children because they judge they cannot, yet, afford to have them.
The editor of the Taranaki Daily News, for example, finds it
difficult to understand why a family which can’t support itself would want to add to its number. It is also difficult to understand why a single unemployed woman would choose to make her circumstances more difficult by having a child. Yet almost one in three women on a benefit have had a child while on the benefit.
A significant amount of taxpayers’ cash is handed out to people who elect not to take responsibility for their own actions and it is too easy to accuse those who address it of beneficiary bashing.
As it stands, taxpayers must pay for a significant number of unplanned pregnancies. They are made accountable for people who are not held accountable.
And yet again,
some parents are now rewarded for their lack of responsibility and poor decision-making.
Social Welfare was not established as an optional alternative to individual social responsibility.
I have no doubt that many New Zealanders would agree with these sentiments. One point, however, should be highlighted. On the one hand, it is baffling that a young woman would take on more children and so “make her circumstances more difficult” through “poor decision-making” (i.e., John Key’s notion of ‘poor choices’).
On the other hand, there’s a strong suggestion that this amounts to a calculated decision to abandon ‘personal responsibility’ in the full knowledge that the taxpayer will pick up the tab.
So which is it? A poor choice or a cunning display of exploiting the long-suffering taxpayer and so be “rewarded” for that lack of responsibility?
Comment is free, as it’s said. But it’s worth also considering some facts.
In the introduction to this article there’s a useful summary of a few general findings about the causes of teenage pregnancy in the United States and the likely life that has led to such ‘poor choices’ being made. According to Domenico and Jones (2007),
Research reveals many adolescent females become pregnant intentionally because they see no other life goals within their reach (Winter, 1997). Plagued by poor school performance and low self-esteem, they have no realistic expectations about education or occupations; thus, pregnancy is viewed as an alternative path to economic in dependence and adult status (Brown & Barbosa, 2001; Farber, 2003; Rothenberg & Weissman, 2002; Turner, 2004).
While it interferes with the young girl’s education,
adolescents who become teen mothers are already experiencing academic difficulties in school, have low educational expectations, and are not confident they will graduate from high school, or are attempting to escape abusive home situations (Coles, 2005; Koshar, 2001).
As for decision making,
adolescent females decide to be come pregnant or they “drift” into pregnancy, as this decision appears to be their best option (Brindis & Philliber, 2003; Rothenberg & Weissman, 2002; Winter, 1997).
The factors influencing adolescent pregnancy include ‘family structure’:
Rosen (1997) found a growing number of American adolescent females lived in relatively unstable family situations and many became sexually inti mate for a short-term sense of comfort.
Often the phenomenon of intentional pregnancy is limited to at- risk, low-income adolescents because they are more likely to perceive their futures as bleak and motherhood as a better option (Davies et al., 2004).
Usually adolescents who became mothers experienced academic difficulties in school, or they attempted to escape abusive home situations (Koshar, 2001)
… Seeing no future for themselves and coupled with a lack of positive role models to follow, adolescent females chose to become pregnant, as this decision appeared to be their best alternative (Brown & Barbosa, 2001; Rothenberg & Weissman, 2002)
… Teen mothers viewed childbearing as the one thing they could do that was socially responsible, gave meaning to their lives, and offered hope for their futures (Rosen, 1997)
… ‘sexual abuse’,
Although the majority of adolescent females claimed their first sexual experience was voluntary, Farber (2003) found about 40% of girls who first had intercourse at age 13 or 14 indicated involuntary or unwanted intercourse with an older partner. Herman-Giddens et al. (1998) reported that females who were sexually abused as children were three times more likely to become pregnant during their teen years and usually became pregnant at a younger age. Likewise, about two-thirds of adolescent mothers were previously sexually abused or raped by a father, stepfather, or other relative, and often suffered from low self-esteem and depression (Sarri & Phillips, 2004; Villarosa, 1997).
And, of course, ‘poverty’,
As many as 80% of unwed adolescent mothers grew up in extreme poverty and the likelihood their children will grow up in poverty is high. Many poverty-stricken adolescents accepted their pregnancy and viewed it as a means of improving their lives (Rosen, 1997).
As for ‘breeding for a business’, the same study notes that,
Many Americans falsely assumed welfare encouraged people, especially adolescent females, to have babies. Given the United States provided less support for single mothers, and the welfare benefits have steadily decreased since 1973, Luker (1996) stated there was likely no correlation between the level of welfare benefits and the incidence of out- of-wedlock births.
I’ve posted before ‘On choices – good and bad‘ and I’d make the same point here. Whether a ‘choice’ is good or bad depends on your starting assumptions. Normatively, a ‘choice’ might appear ‘poor’, but from the point of view of the ‘chooser’ and within the circumstances in which they find themselves, a supposedly ‘poor’ choice may be the best option available.
The editor of the Taranaki Daily news may like to read this study and hear the words of young women. It should add sufficient depth of understanding to anyone who still finds it “difficult to understand” why young women from disadvantaged backgrounds might end up as teenage mothers.
One review of the literature on the actual experiences of teenage mothers has argued that “Teenage parenting may be more of an opportunity than a catastrophe, and often makes sense in the life worlds inhabited by young mothers” and that the “yawning gulf between the experience of teenage parenting and policy … rests on assumptions of rational choice, in turn creating a `rationality mistake’“.
A later study (that appears to be in part based on that review) points out, according to one of its editors, that,
“Stereotypes of such young women as poor and ignorant, dysfunctional and immoral, engaging in casual sex and churning out babies who they cannot care for adequately and do not care about in order to gain access to welfare benefits and council housing, often underlie concerns about teenage pregnancy and parenting. However, these stereotypes are not borne out by the research evidence – in fact, quite the contrary.”
Yes, the children of teenage mothers may well have poor outcomes – but so did their mothers. In the midst of a poor environment, having a child can provide purpose, emotional meaning and – believe it or not – a sense of personal responsibility.
It [the study] concludes that “teenage childbirth does not often result from ignorance or low expectations, it is rarely a catastrophe for young women, and … teenage parenting does not particularly cause poor outcomes for mothers and their children”.
“Our research makes it clear that young parenthood can make sense and be valued and can even provide an impetus for teenage mothers and fathers to strive to provide a better life for their children,” Alexander said.
… The research also found that many teenage mothers express positive attitudes to motherhood, describing how “motherhood has made them feel stronger, more competent, more connected to family and society and more responsible“.
And, so far as policy responses to the issue are concerned,
the study argues that governments should focus on tackling the original disadvantage often experienced by teenage parents, rather than on attacking their decision to become parents. Its research confirms that children born to teenage mothers are born into disadvantage, but suggests that this disadvantage predates the pregnancy and is not the result of it.
… ”Teenage childbearing in itself can be seen as only a minor social problem. It is not the teenage bit which is particularly important … rather it is social and economic disadvantage which produce poor outcomes,” the study argues.
Making ‘long-acting’ contraception available may well sound good. But without solving the broader issue that makes the choice of early motherhood a ‘good choice’, at best it may be totally ineffective and, at worst, it may reduce the likelihood of young women experiencing one of the few positive aspects of life left to them.
No, it’s not ‘breeding for a business‘.
It’s more like taking the only lifeboat available – ‘breeding for survival‘.