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Abandoning children

September 21st, 2012 Posted in The Art of Parenting

The intellectual consensus seems to be that having children is miserable business. This consensus is built on shoddy thinking and shoddier statistics. The latest example is brought to us by Why Have Kids? author Jessica Valenti, who notes that in the wake of Nebraska’s “safe haven” law allowing parents and caregivers to abandon children without prosecution, 36 children of various ages were abandoned over a four month period. Valenti writes:

“What happened in Nebraska raises the question: If there were no consequences, how many of us would give up our kids?”

What happened in Nebraska doesn’t raise the question, it answers it. Using U.S. Census Bureau data, we can determine that when Nebraska parents have the opportunity to give up their children with no consequences, less than 0.02 percent of them choose to do so.

That’s a drastic overestimate, because several of those abandoning children, as it turns out, were not parents, but caregivers overwhelmed by the children they were responsible for. The estimate also doesn’t account for the fact that some parents abandoned more than one child (one father reportedly left nine children), or the fact that some came from out of state. Factoring those elements in, it’s probably closer to the truth to say that less than 0.01 percent of parents abandoned their children during this experiment. That’s terribly high, but it hardly supports Valenti’s implied claim, which is that great swaths of parents don’t want their children.

Not that the data matter, because the way the game works, when one writes about families and children in popular literature, is to nestle bold assertions amongst seemingly substantiating numbers. The real shame is that editors who should know better run this kind of stuff seemingly without question, even as it becomes increasingly unoriginal by dint of sheer repetition.