Rousseau vs. the Puritans

My beautiful children are making a lot of noise, so this will have to be blunt and unlinked.

American motherhood has been defined since the dawn of America as a nation by what we would now call a PUA (pick-up artist).  That’s right, if you’re an American woman promoting mother-only care as historical, the most natural and the best possible care for children, you’re promoting the views of a man who abandoned his own illegitimate children to be reared in orphanages without the least thought.

Rousseau’s view on motherhood was that women needed to be constrained in the domestic sphere by sole (not primary, but SOLO) care of their children so that they wouldn’t go out into the marketplace and rule over men.  Yes, that was what the man feared.  He claimed women were sooooo powerful that if they weren’t trapped at home constantly pregnant raising kids by themselves (only to be handed off to men at apprentice-age of 12-13 if boys and married off at 15-16 if girls) that they would TAKE OVER THE WORLD.  And yes, he comes close in his writings about motherhood to using phrases like trapped or constrained.

The entire point of Rousseau-style motherhood is to limit female power and influence and constrain women’s roles, even in the domestic sphere.  One must remember that in the 18th century, household production by wives and mothers was still economically important and a Rousseau-style program of childrearing would make it much harder to maintain that economic role.  This was intentional.

Rousseau’s framework of solitary childrearing by mothers has, astonishingly, continued down nearly unaltered in 200+ years in American society.  American society really is just that weird and started out with wacky theories about mothering propagated by a man who didn’t do any proper family formation of his own.

In contrast, the colonial Puritans had a view of motherhood as a primary role for women and marriage as the highest state for men and women (presaging the Mormons, who replicated some aspects of their views on family and community), but they didn’t believe women were supposed to rear children alone.  Women were expected to be part of a large, bustling household composed of husband, wife, servants and relatives, with the husband sometimes gone for months earning the giant wheelbarrows full of money needed to keep what was essentially the original home-based business going.  So Puritan women were expected to stand in their husband’s stead and have authority in both the home and the marketplace.  In this respect they diverged wildly from Rousseau while still holding to the idea that women were best suited to marriage and motherhood.

And while there were many young-married Puritans, there were plenty of older-married ones who started families later in life when they could get the cash together to set up the proper household structure.  So all the current fretting about people delaying marriage “too long” is just a lot of Rousseau-inflected hokum.

Rousseau is the source of the obsessive pressure for teen marriage no matter what in various eras in America, especially of barely-pubescent girls.  Rousseau is the real source of what many think is just from attachment parenting, the idea that mom is the only possible proper caregiver for children (and yeah, it’s always plural).  Because of Rousseau’s influence, women braved the frontier life and tried to rear children that way and enough continued encouraging it that, well, here we are today.

So if you are a mother struggling with small children in isolation, and you see people saying that this is what women really want and really feel fulfilled by, they are telling you a PUA fish story.

I remain a neo-Puritan on this subject and ever will.

The military tail wagging the American conservative family formation dog.

Another intersection of many things discussed here, but military families are more likely to have more kids (about 1 full child more than other married families) and thus more likely to have YUUUUUGGGGGEEEE families as well, because of clustering effects.  Turns out a map of fourth births or higher has a bunch of the births happening near clusters of military presence even when there is no major metro nearby.  They don’t have all the fourth, fifth and tenth babies, but they have a huge chunk of them compared to the general population.

This also explains the relentless homeschool promotion since in that circumstance it often does make sense.

It explains the small biz/entrepreneurial mindset because you have this pool of people with PRIVATE INCOME AT AGE 40 giving advice about being “your own boss” to civilians.

Since the massive base closures of the 1990s, military bases are far more isolated from town than they used to be.  So there’s a closed loop effect.

Also, on base housing, you can have kids run around a heck of a lot more and of course walk to the commissary, which, you know, sells most of what you need to live.  So there’s a very distorted idea of what letting the kids run around really means, and that this kind of housing is not an option off-base.

And then there’s the fact that all this played out in the 1970s on, because the volunteer army started then, so there’s heavy selection bias.

While the military as a whole is slightly less religious than the general population, that’s driven by the high single-guy numbers.

And the military provides a lot of benefits that aren’t cash in hand (but sometimes are totally cash in hand, like hazard pay and bonuses) but which make living on the not-great pay a lot easier than the equivalent money in civilian world.  It also makes a lot of advice given by people who spent most of their child-having years in that environment of limited utility if they don’t actually say “but you’d need like twice the pay to do the same as a civilian of course”.

So you have a population that is a very tiny, very self-selecting slice of America punching way above their demographic weight in baby-having, which means there’s a disproportionate share of children of theirs running around and how those kids are reared exercises a disproportionate impact on the rest of the population, especially the conservative Christian one because their moms are very isolated except for internet and religious activities.


Self-publishing SAHMs are pretty practical and sensible.

I have been stumbling across a lot of SAHMs who have seized upon self-publishing as a way to make money while having the flexibility to be at home with their children for homeschooling, special needs or infant/toddlerness.  One of the astonishing things about them is how they blow a lot of work-at-home mothers out of the water on the support network front.

Self-publishing SAHMs have childcare so they can write.  Either they pay for it, get a relative to watch the kids a few times a week or they talk to their husbands about taking the kids so they can write 2 or 3 hours a night.  This is a baffling thing full-time work-at-home people rarely do.  They seem to think if you’re at home working the kid(s) will just realize this and let you work, even if they’re infants or toddlers.

This means they reliably write 10-20 hours per week, a true part-time job that can be integrated into their general household management and not cause friction.  And they also pace themselves, they never plan more work than they can reasonably produce on a set, consistent, frequent schedule.  They just work to market whatever length of writing that schedule produces.  And it works.  Because this self-selecting, wonderfully sensible pool of women does not bite off more than they can chew, they sell thousands of copies a month of short stories, novellas and novels apiece and make anywhere from a couple thousand dollars a month for their time to ten thousand or more per month.

At first I thought it was just one or two women, but as I’ve looked at the people who admit to self-publishing and discuss their background, I’ve found it’s a common theme with the SAHMs who are making a go of it.

What a wonderful discovery.

About 55% of American women 40 and over have 1 or 2 children.

Given biology, this percentage is much the same for American women 35-39 as well.  About 20% have exactly three and a bit under 8% have exactly 4.  Hispanic women have three at noticeably higher rates than other ethnic groups, which has kept the percentage of women having 3 pretty stable over the last couple of decades.

The numbers were a little lower 15 and 20 years ago, but not by much.

Adding all that up, over 80% of women have 1-4 children in their lifetimes.  Nearly all the rest do not have kids at all. About 3% have five or six.  More than six is, statistically speaking, a rounding error.

Sometimes you hear that “80 or 85% of all women reproduce”.  Well, yeah, but in practice, this is what that means as far as actual children born.

On a related note, Scandinavian birthrates are mostly below replacement and they are only as close to it as they are because of social and government pressure to get women over 35 to have a marginal extra child.  The Scandinavian model of family formation is to have one child in your early 30s, and occasionally a second in your mid or late 30s.  It’s really a disastrous approach long-term for reasons I’ll leave as an exercise.

The American model is much more diverse, but tends towards closely spacing births and having as many as you can handle mostly alone, which appears to max out around 3 or 4.  But because child spacing varies so much among Americans having kids, it’s difficult for people who had three kids five years apart over two marriages to understand the travails of someone having three kids in three years in one marriage.  Or having one kid out of wedlock in one’s early 20s and then two more in marriage ten years later.

It’s interesting that for several decades now women have been starting their families in their 30s in America more and more often and trying to have as many as they can then, but they can’t outrun biology, so the overall TFR doesn’t shift much.


Nearly 10% decrease in number of third and higher births from 1992 to 2014

For white non-Hispanics, a little over 600k births in 1992 were the third live baby or higher.  This represented just under 1/4 of all births.  Over 75% of all births for 1992 were first or second births.

The approximate distribution of the 600k higher birth orders (less than 100% due to rounding) was:

3rd order: 66%

4th order: 22%

5th order: 7%

6th order: 2.6%

7th order: 1%

8th order or higher: 1.1%

In 2014, there were over 50k fewer such births, a bit over 550k and that represented just OVER 25% of all births for that year.

The distribution of these 550k higher-order births over 20 years later was:

3rd: 61%

4th: 23%

5th: 8.4%

6th: 3.4%

7th: 1.6%

8th or higher: 2%

The total births for 1992 were around 2.5 million, while for 2014 they were around 2.1 million.  So people were having fewer children overall, but the ones having many are chugging along pretty impressively.  The problem is that there’s no filtering for how much of that chugging along is in little horse-powered buggies, so there’s that to keep in mind.

To put this distribution of higher-order births in context, here’s the “white” distribution for 1970, ten years after the Pill and IUDs were introduced.

Total white births: approx 3.1 million

Total third or higher order white births: approx 1 million

Percentage distribution of third and higher order births:

3rd: 48%

4th: 25%

5th: 12.5%

6th: 6.4%

7th: 3.4%

8th: 4.5%

Admittedly this includes some Hispanics, but only about 4-5%, not enough to shift the overall pattern.  This pattern from 1970 could be returning at the higher orders, but it’s too soon to tell.

Marriage and children in wedlock do cost 100k per year to have

Married-Couple Families in America By The Numbers.

This table leaves out the married couples with no kids under 18 in the house.  This is just a brief glance at where families in America are today.  This is all married couples of every race and ethnic group, of both native-born and foreign extraction, this is all of America that marries and has kids.  And it’s not cheap.

Related Children

In Family under 18

Median Family Income (dollars) Total Families % at $100,000+ annual family income

(number of families in parentheses)

1 90,630 9,843,227 44 (4,344,364)
2 92,322 10,077,382 46 (4,626,248)
3 78,000 3,985,394 37 (1,474,397)
4 66,040 1,172,703 29 (337,068)
5 57,302 307,165 28 (86,303)
6 50,000 99,034 22 (22,059)
7 70,000 37,525 27 (10,261)
8 or more 60,500 16,593 39 (6,419)
Total of all married-couple

Families w/kids under 18


Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2014 data

Also very informative are the family size cliffs, particularly after three children and five children.  And if I pull data from about ten years earlier, the numbers are pretty much the same, even down to the percentages.  The medians are a little lower, but not by much.

In a smaller table, I’ll just list what the total percentage of families is if you go ahead and toss in the 75-100k folks to account for lower cost of living areas where money might go a bit further.

Here’s the percentages even if you call 75k the new 100k to raise a family as married folks.

Number of Children % of families earning

75K/yr or more 

(raw number in parentheses)

1 62 (6,120,213)
2 62 (6,190,910)
3 52 (2,075,235)
4 42 (493,219)
5 40 (123,006)
6 38 (37,954)
7 45 (17,114)
8+ 46 (7,604)


And there you have it.  A majority of households having kids in wedlock are not doing it on the cheap and significant pluralities are not doing so at larger family sizes.  Definitely something for conservatives to think about when discussing family and marriage issues.  Even at high incomes, it’s possible to feel broke raising kids these days because the prices are being set by very high income households.  This is a marriage canyon.

Children are not fungible

One of the major blind spots conservatives have regarding family size is the oddly egalitarian idea that all children are basically the same and will turn out well (read: better than the children of their ideological opponents) no matter how much or how little you do for them beyond the basics. That, therefore, one should pop ’em out like pez because really, they just need extremely cheap food, some thrift-store clothes and can be put to sleep anywhere with a roof over it and anything more is just “nice to have”. But children are not all the same.  To use an obvious example, a Down’s syndrome child will need very different resources and time than a neurologically and physically “normal” child.  To use a less obvious example, there are babies that don’t mind if Mom pops into another room for an hour and will be very relaxed and let her take care of other little tasks that whole time, while other babies freak out if Mom just goes around the nearest corner for ten seconds.  Those two babies grow up into children with very different social and interaction needs.

More to the point, the subtext of the endless refrains about how little children need elides the reality that if you have something like a Temple Grandin on your hands, that kid will need much and the price is very likely to include not many more or even any more children.  She is an extreme and remarkable example, but there’s many other situations where it doesn’t serve the children or child you have already to keep adding more to the mix.  Children can and do “get lost” in larger families and sometimes it will still all work out, but in a society where there are not tons and tons of other women around to help out, each individual mother has less reserve for additional children even if she is of the “rack and stack in one corner of our shack, feed ’em beans and rice til 18 and dress them only in castoffs” school of thought.  This isn’t about coddling or helicoptering children, it’s about being able to meet the non-physical needs that children have effectively.  And that’s hard to do when legal regulations mean having to purchase from among a short list of expensive vehicles in order to have more than three kids since most of America isn’t “walkable”.  Or when the costs of “walkable” neighborhoods are so high that the household income has to be top 20% to even rent in one.  Or when it’s a full time job just coordinating educational needs for each successive child.

The numbers don’t lie.  There’s a reason very few people have that fifth or sixth child.  I wish more women could, but we’d have to live in a pretty different world for that to happen.