Laws, economics and sexual behaviour

Applying the approach of Freakonomics, new research in America shows that parental notification and/or consent laws for abortions succeed in reducing unprotected sex among teenagers. Such laws add to the “cost” of unprotected sex leading to a rational teenage sex drive. The conclusion is supported by new trends in teenage sexual behaviour in America. It appears sex education has meant growing awareness of the degree of risk/costs attached to different forms of sexual activity with lower risk forms becoming more common as well as a growth in virginity. In the UK no parental consent is required and Northern Ireland has teenage pregnancy rates amongst the highest in Europe.

  • Ghost of PDN Past

    “Rational teenage sex drive”??? Now, there’s an oxymoron.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Ghost: “”Rational teenage sex drive”??? Now, there’s an oxymoron. ”

    Not at all… all a body needs to do is sit and have a rational and open discussion with their youngling as to the potential life-altering damage that could result from teenage sex. If the subject goes unbroached or apathetically ignored, then the child is more likely to indulge in risky behavior. One has to take the time to impress upon the child what, to an adult, is patently obvious.

    … or, as one parent of my acquaintance so subtly put it, “you get a girl knocked up and ruin your life, I’ll break both your f***ing legs.” This was stated not as a hysteric wail, but in a plain conversational tones, as if quoting a dry medical text or the price of tea.

  • LP

    I don’t buy that for a second

    The US has by far the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world

    http://tinyurl.com/ez3ow

    dramatically higher than countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark where the “liberal” position on abortion, parental consent, sex education, etc. still prevails.

    And for every child that responds to thuggish parental threats is another who will rebel against it and do the opposite.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    LP: “The US has by far the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world.”

    Neither here nor there, really. Similarly, I would point out that your chart is simple arithmatic ratios that do not delve into the whys of these rates.

    Let us examine the shortfalls in your logic…

    1) The chart you link reports rate of *births* per 1000 females aged 15 to 19. You logic is flawed in the following ways:

    The chart reports the rate of births, not the rate of pregnancy. A synthesis of the rate of births and the rates of abortions and miscarriages would be needed to obtain a true pregnancy rate. As such, one would suggest that there is a possibility that when these rates are combined that the United States is not the nation with the greatest rate of pregnancy, merely the greatest rate of birth in these segments.

    Additionally, one would also point out that the United States, for good or for ill, does hot have a homogenious attitude for children having children, with some segments celebrating the “blessed event,” some treating it as an inevitability, whilst others actively putting up a resistance to either of the first two attitudes.

    As for your last, I would submit that few American children would go out and get pregnant out of spite. Your hyperbole is just that — unsupported and without any logical or even anecdotal basis.

  • hovetwo

    The level of diversity in sexual activity and reproduction in different societies is amazing, given the degree of homogeneity in most human cultures.

    In Ireland sexual activity after the famine was sharply regulated by marrying late, particularly for small farmers. In England in the 17th century, illegitimacy was fraught with social and economic taboos, wrapped up in the parish poor law system. France in the late 18th and early 19th century saw a massive reduction in the birth rate, for which historians have yet to find a definitive explanation. Each of these societies made a major dent in their birth rates through different social and cultural norms.

    Nowadays we seem to feel that trying to have any influence over teenage sexual behaviour will be like Canute trying to hold back the tide. In both the UK and Ireland a basically prudish society has embraced a laissez faire attitude to sex education which has put the bike shed in pole position as a seat of learning.

    However, we cannot assume that adopting a more liberal or conservative approach from another country will yield dividends, certainly not without paying close attention to the cultural context in which laws operate. The Netherlands is a surprisingly conservative society, but with liberal laws and a relative openness to talking about sexual activity.

    There still seems little harm in trying to provide a counter-weight to peer pressure and giving kids a realstic understanding of the risks they are taking in terms of STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Saying no should at least be seen as a sensible option.

  • aquifer

    For some teenagers though, in bad schools or in bad families, the consequence of teenage pregancy is not daunting at all. Especially when it is viewed as acceptable by the community they live in.

    Joseph Rowntree Foundation

  • IJP

    Good blog, Fair Deal.

    In the same way that smoking and drink-driving have becomes socially unacceptable over the past 30-40 years, the next two will be sex early in life and overconsumption of alcohol. A good thing too, as both are blights to our society.

  • Greenflag

    Lesson one for teenagers .

    If you want to set fire to 200,000 Euros /Pounds/Dollars over a shortened life span ( by 10 years ) then by all means SMOKE .
    The real benefit of smoking is that you make those who are already wealthy (tobacco growers and manufacturers etc ) wealthier while at the same time you make yourself poorer. Secondly you are paying your hard earned money to the former to kill you . But the greatest benefit from smoking is that the former don’t kill you quickly and mercifully but instead drag the agony out over the last 5 or 6 years of your shortened life . A great consolation as you cough your guts out in a hospitable bed strapped to an oxygen tank for the last month or two of your life 🙁

    Lesson two for teenage girls .

    If you want to live a life in relative poverty then by all means become pregnant as early as possible .You have a 90% chance of remaining poor if you are an unmarried ‘mother’. Unless of course you are fortunate enough to be the next Rowling etc etc (Harry Potter authoress)

    Comparing Irish or British societal norms to what happens in the Netherlands or Iceland or Sweden in order to ‘find’ a solution is not going to work . The Irish are not Dutch (not yet anyway) and the Brits are not Icelanders .

    You can’t stack poor people who drink to excess and smoke in 14 story tower blocks . Ballymun failed not because the flats were not of good quality but because the ‘social engineers’ assumed that if it worked in Sweden it would work in Ireland . It did’nt.

  • Is the fact that the parental notification and/or consent laws are thus responsible for the increase in the practice of fellatio and handjobs amongst teenagers to be regarded as a good thing or a bad thing? Perhaps there ought to be sex education classes to teach them how to do it properly.

  • Liam Gordon

    Tim Harford, the other pop-economist, has an interesting take on the “increased virginity” among US teens…..they are opting for oral sex.

    “When the price of Coca-Cola rises, rational cola-lovers drink more Pepsi. When the price of penetrative sex rises, rational teenagers seek substitutes.”
    http://www.slate.com/id/2148583/

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Greenflag: “The real benefit of smoking is that you make those who are already wealthy (tobacco growers and manufacturers etc ) wealthier while at the same time you make yourself poorer. Secondly you are paying your hard earned money to the former to kill you . But the greatest benefit from smoking is that the former don’t kill you quickly and mercifully but instead drag the agony out over the last 5 or 6 years of your shortened life . A great consolation as you cough your guts out in a hospitable bed strapped to an oxygen tank for the last month or two of your life 🙁 ”

    You are forgetting two distinct benefits to the state — the taxes associated with tobacco and the benefit(!) to those programs providing medical treatment. For the former, in some places in the world, the state makes nearly as much, if not more, than the cigarette maker out of the various taxes placed upon the cigarettes. As for the latter, ironically, a healthy person dying a “natural death,” on average, costs the state more than a person dying of lung cancer in their mid-fifties or sixties.

    In the states, inevitably a new cigarette tax is heralded by the social programs and benefits that tax will be used to produce. Equally inevitable is the notion that the tax will help smokers quit. Strangely, how they intend on paying for these new entitlements (which like as not have nothing to do with cigarettes) when the goal of reduced smoking is achieved, they never quite explain…

  • Greenflag

    ‘As for the latter, ironically, a healthy person dying a “natural death,” on average, costs the state more than a person dying of lung cancer in their mid-fifties or sixties. ‘

    When you add in state funded /social security based pensions paid out to those surviving into their 80’s and nineties in the USA you are probably correct . However I can recall reading that the last few weeks of ‘life’ in an American ‘cancer ‘ hospital can cost tens of thousands and that it is this kind of treatment (financially beneficial to the medical fraternity) which accounts for much of the high cost of American Health insurance ?

    Not an expert but my plan is to die without getting sick and thus deny the medical profession and attendant sychophants including clergy , solicitors etc of making a ‘penny’ on my demise 🙂

    Cremation and a cardboard box is the cheapest exit strategy I’ve come across so far 🙂

    Self chosen euthanasia seems to be the most cost effective solution from a personal and State/Health Insurance cost point of view ?

    On the other hand given a rapidly aging population and a smaller (relative to age) population to support the increased number of geriatrics perhaps ‘smoking ‘ can be encouraged among those over 50 who are also obese ?

    That and an increasing number of young and helathy immigrants ahould keep the ball rolling -until we run out of oil anyway ?

  • chauncy

    “If you want to live a life in relative poverty then by all means become pregnant as early as possible .You have a 90% chance of remaining poor if you are an unmarried ‘mother’. Unless of course you are fortunate enough to be the next Rowling etc etc (Harry Potter authoress)”

    Any chance Greenflag that you could back that statistic up, and ascribe it to a jurisdiction, as I’ll be passing it on to my hard-working, single-mum, making-a-go-of it friends, who might need to give up hope now…? Some of them live in the UK and some in the Republic..

    “You can’t stack poor people who drink to excess and smoke in 14 story tower blocks . Ballymun failed not because the flats were not of good quality but because the ‘social engineers’ assumed that if it worked in Sweden it would work in Ireland . It did’nt.”

    Thanks for your incisive description of the inhabitants of Ballymun, I’ll pass that one on too – to those of them, who might not realise that this is their allocated category. Mind, you I don’t know whether you can stack anybody into tower blocks – even if they’re teetotalling, non-smokers – without providing the necessary infratstructure and educational and job opportunities, and expect it to work.

    It didn’t work in East Germany, it’s not working in the Parisian banlieus – and it has little to do with alchohol or tobacco, but everything to do with hope.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Greenflag: “When you add in state funded /social security based pensions paid out to those surviving into their 80’s and nineties in the USA you are probably correct . ”

    The specific topic in the argument at the time was Medicaid, which, I confess, would skew the sample — folks on Medicaid, typically, aren’t taking the best care of themselves to begin with, so, within the confines of the Medicaid program, non-smokers cost more money than smokers in the long run. The accuracy of this assertion was not challenged at trial, but was shouted down as being A) A cold, cynical argument to make and B) one that interfered with the possibility of the gov’ts (states and Federal) getting billions out of the tobacco companies under the flawed thesis that they were costing the states money.

    Greenflag: “However I can recall reading that the last few weeks of ‘life’ in an American ‘cancer ‘ hospital can cost tens of thousands and that it is this kind of treatment (financially beneficial to the medical fraternity) which accounts for much of the high cost of American Health insurance ? ”

    the high cost comes from a couple sources, honestly. One is fear of death — most folks will fight to the last breath without a thought for the price-tag. Another is that the United States, typically, pays the freight for drug development and, for good or for ill, medicine has become a drug-oriented “business.” Health insurance itself contributes to the high cost — no one checks their bills and some of the billing conventions in the healthcare “trade” are… questionable, but stand b/c people think “someone else” is paying their bill.

    Greenflag: “Not an expert but my plan is to die without getting sick and thus deny the medical profession and attendant sychophants including clergy , solicitors etc of making a ‘penny’ on my demise 🙂 ”

    Don’t live too long then, you optimist you…

    Greenflag: “On the other hand given a rapidly aging population and a smaller (relative to age) population to support the increased number of geriatrics perhaps ‘smoking ‘ can be encouraged among those over 50 who are also obese ? ”

    Wishful thinking… esp. with the US Social Security implosion coming on…

    Greenflag: “That and an increasing number of young and helathy immigrants ahould keep the ball rolling -until we run out of oil anyway ? ”

    Must have missed this morning’s news — big US oil find in the Gulf of Mexico… 🙂

    As for immigrants, that will take getting into all sorts of ugly details.

  • Rory

    I grew up, like most of my generation, deprived of free open discussion on sexual mores and techniques other than “if you get her pregnant you get her off to the church and pronto“.

    I thought oral sex meant “talking about it” and that a bisexual was someone who had “done it twice”.

    But boy! the fun I had when I discovered the truth.

    p.s. How do you manage a “growth in virginity”? Have they developed conversion kits?

    A girl I knew was intent on taking a rather slow acquintance of ours home from the pub for “a good time”. I gave her a disapproving look and she said “What? I’m not exactly a virgin you know”.

    “Don’t worry”, I replied,” by the time you’ve finished with him you will be”.