It seems Tony Abbott has caused something of a kafuffle by advising his daughters not to engage in premarital sex. All the luvvies are out in force carrying on about how outrageous this is.* Mind you I’m sure many fathers of teenage daughters give exactly that same advice and failing that say ‘please be careful’. Of course, others might argue that Abbott is a hypocrite; afterall he speaks of his own behaviour as a young man in his recent book Battlelines. That’s life; its unfair and there do seem to be different standards for males and females. As in many of these differences the biological division of labour plays a large role.
Engaging in a premarital conjugal relationship in yesteryear was a perilous activity for a young woman. The odds of becoming pregnant were high, given the primitive state of contraception. The economic consequences of an out-of-wedlock birth were dire for a young woman. Being born in or out of wedlock could be the difference between life or death for a child. Just like today young adults would have weighed the cost and benefit of engaging in premarital sex. The cost would have been lower for women stuck at the bottom of the social economic scale, so they would have been more inclined to participate. To tip the scale against premarital sex, parents, churches, etc. socialized children to possess a set of sexual mores aimed at stigmatizing sex. Parents at the lower end of the social economic scale would have less incentive to engage in such practice. With the passage of time contraception become more efficient and the costs of premarital sex consequently declined. This changed the cost and benefit calculation for young adults so that they would be more likely to participate in sexual activity. It also reduced the need for socialization by parents, or the church and state, which would also spur promiscuity. This is an example of culture following technological progress.
I understand the time series argument, but the cross-section income argument is counter-intuitive. If we believe that the costs of raising children out of wedlock are higher for females than for males then those costs must be proportionality higher for females in lower socio-economic groups than for higher socio-economic groups. Sure the costs of socialising children are high but I don’t see why they would vary by parental income. Yet that is implied by the data.
So, for instance, in the bottom decile 70% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have experienced it, versus 47% in the top one. Similarly, 68% of adolescent girls whose family income lies in the upper quartile would feel “very upset” if they got pregnant, versus 46% of those whose family income is in the lower quartile.
I haven’t read through the model carefully so there might be an explanation for this in the paper, but nothing jumped out at me while skimming through it. It does seem, however, that both parents and societal institutions used to socialise children. If parents with a lower socioeconomic status economised on socialisation, then societal institutions such as the church would have substituted for this at some margin. One of the results in the paper suggests that as the costs of illegitimacy have fallen for religious institutions so they have engaged in less socialisation.
* Most notably Julia Gillard who has no children.
Update: The Age does some fact checking on the story and reckons its a beat-up.
In an interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly, one designed to present himself favourably to the voting public ahead of an election year, this is what Abbott had to say on the subject of pre-marital sex. ”It happens.”
”I think I would say to my daughters if they were to ask me this question … it is the greatest gift that you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving and don’t give it to someone lightly, that’s what I would say.”
Leaving aside the Opposition Leader’s hackneyed ”gift” metaphor – an idea possibly lifted from a Mills and Boon romance novel where the hero’s name is Rock or Brutus – what is Abbott saying?
He’s saying don’t bang the first randy, pimple-faced adolescent you smooch at the school disco just because he insists he loves you. He’s saying think about it.
Isn’t this what many parents would advise their growing kids?