Friday, August 10, 2007

Children are the new insanity defense

About five years ago getting married became all the rage. Celebrity weddings got even more important, and the masses were entertained (sort of) by movies such as Just Married or American Wedding.

Weddings remain trendy to this day. But now so is the next step: The baby making. And not just in its always popular euphemistic form. These days the tabloids track the famous as their bellies swell with new life, and then celebrate famedom's latest additions, whether it comes through natural birth, adoption, or suspicious circumstances involving the church of Scientology.

The wedding craze has led some to wonder if brides and grooms are getting hitched more for the glory of embroidered invites, pasta stations, and gift registries than the more (neo) traditional reasons of love and companionship. Likewise, now that the movie Knocked Up is a hit, and hip new parenting websites have stormed the Internet, we are hearing more and more about a practice called competitive birthing.

The theory goes that in affluent neighborhoods -- where birthrates are higher than in middle class communities -- would-be career-women-cum-homemakers are trying to out do the Joneses not only with that new luxury hybrid SUV in driveway, but with that gaggle of children in the backyard.

Interesting as it might sound, this seems a bit off. The more logical explanation is simply the extra bedrooms and more money for college the rich can afford is what accounts for the difference in birthrates between the wealthy and the middle class. Just like prudence and the ability to plan ahead explains much of why the middle class have fewer children than the poor.

If the number of children in the richest couple percent of households is increasing in relation to itself -- and some surveys suggest it is -- this probably has more to do with the country club set now including a greater percentage of Catholics, Mormons, and religious Jews than it does an emergence of a children-as-status-symbol ethos.

Nevertheless, there may be something fishy going on with birthing, and, as it always does in this space, it starts with our celebrities.

Nicole Richie just escaped serious punishment for auto-crimes far worse than Paris Hilton's by getting herself knocked up and appearing pregnant in front of the judge.

Now the latest rumor in the where's-Lindsay-Lohan mill is that, wherever she is, the troubled actress is with child.

Maybe not such a bad move, as Lindsay will also soon be seeing a judge with her freedom very much in jeopardy.

So while I doubt there is much of a societal move to equate children with a house in Nantucket, I do think we could be on the verge of viewing the miracle of life as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

If this trend catches on, God help us with the demographic nightmare to come.

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