Bryan Caplan  

Jamie-Lynn Spears' Pregnancy: What's the Problem?

Modernity and the Gender Gap: ... You're Never Too Old to Become...

A lot of folks are outraged that Jamie-Lynn Spears is pregnant. I fail to see the problem. Jamie-Lynn is clearly not going on welfare; her single motherhood will not financially burden any of the people who are complaining. And at risk of outraging fans of high culture, it's quite likely that Jamie's baby will grow up to entertain and delight my grandchildren's generation.

But Jamie-Lynn's a "role model"? Well, let me ask you a question: Would your rather become a grandparent too soon (say, when your daughter is sixteen), or never? If, like me, your answer is the former, then Jamie-Lynn is a better role model for today's youth than the numerous celebrities who embrace voluntary childlessness.

Why not lash out at them, instead? Because it's none of our business? OK, then!

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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Caliban Darklock writes:

The problem goes sort of like this.

Jamie-Lynn Spears is a public figure, who doesn't just star in some random TV program, but a Disney Channel program. That means a massive number of conscientious parents who want their children to only have wholesome role models have pointed at Jamie-Lynn Spears as someone to emulate.

This role model is now pregnant at sixteen, which isn't their idea of a role model.

Fundamentally, people are mad at her because they have made a bad decision themselves. Rather than teach their children actual right from wrong, they pointed at someone else and said "be like that". Even more disturbingly, they pointed at a teenager, who was naturally and normally undergoing a storm of unpredictable changes in attitude and behavior.

Now that their selected role model has done something they don't like, they conveniently forget that Jamie-Lynn didn't come up to them personally and say "I want to be a role model for your children". She went to the Disney Corporation and said "I want to be on television".

When these supposedly-conscientious parents decided that "on television" was the same thing as "a role model", that was a Bad Idea, and this is just one of the many counterexamples that indicate why. If you want your children to have a role model, BE one. Then you have control over what that role model does. If you don't want to exercise that control over yourself, then you have to accept that you don't get to exercise it over anyone else, either.

Floccina writes:

Bryan this is what I love about you:

Would your rather become a grandparent too soon (say, when your daughter is sixteen), or never? If, like me, your answer is the former

You consider semi-taboo side of things. I sometimes ask myself is it good for most young men to wait until 25 to get married. The more I think about it the less clear the answer seems to me.

Dennis Mangan writes:

Would you rather your children make a million bucks by being a porn star, or do you want them to be poor all their lives? Those porn stars are a better role model than all those who say making money is somehow illicit.

Scott Scheule writes:


Surely that's just a bit of a false dichotomy. Porn isn't as easy as all that--believe you me. Even with three years of graduate school, I'm still waiting for my big break.

Bryan's dichotomy is false, too, of course, and therein lies the problem. One can believe--easily, I'd say--that 16 year olds lack the requisite maturity to properly raise their own children. And the alternative to having children at 16 is not childlessness, as Bryan himself proves--I presume.

Blackadder writes:

"Would you rather your children make a million bucks by being a porn star, or do you want them to be poor all their lives?"

I'd rather they were poor all their lives. Not a tough call.

Matt writes:

Not being a financial burden is not the only issue, you know. The child is a real person and ideally should be raised by a mother and father who are mature enough to handle child-rearing.

This post is clearly just one to get people going, so I would be surprised if that's all you think really matters. It's a bit calous to say, it's fine for that sixteen year old to have a child because it won't affect *me*. I worry for that child. What kind of upbringing will he/she get in a family that started out dysfunctional? I oppose abortion as well, but claiming that raising a child dysfunctionally won't have an adverse affect on society since there's no financial burden is just silly.

Rimfax writes:


Perhaps you missed Bryan's old post about hiring a nanny. This dysfunctional 16 year old can hire 7 nannies for her kid and 3 psychiatrists for herself and her her kid, each. What in this formula suggests to you that this child's upbringing is going to have more of an "adverse affect on society" than the average child's upbringing?

What is the problem here? Teen pregnancy or out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Both are on a downward trend. Do you think that this one little girl is going to single-handedly reverse the tide of culture?

Is she standing as a proxy for all of the poor teenagers who are giving birth? Is she more a symbol of other things that bother that you don't ever really get the opportunity to cry out about?

ambro writes:

Public perception has shifted regarding the proper age to become a parent. The "appropriate" age for a woman to become a mother was once considered when she was in twenties. Today, women are encouraged to wait until their thirties and beyond. This is a disturbing trend considering a woman's peak fertility occurs in her early 20s (see U.S. National Library of Medicine). Today, women who choose to have children during peak fertility are ostracized.

When is it acceptable to become a mother? Two standard deviations? That certainly includes Jamie Lynn.

Current thinking suggests a woman should plan to attain an education, have a fulfilling career, get married, and have babies - in that order. But this delay increases the incidence of serious complications requiring bed rest, premature babies, etc.

TGGP writes:

I want Mrs. Spears never to have children. Her family seem like a bunch of idiots who will just pollute the gene pool. It's true that she's not going to go on welfare, but its as if a single-welfare-mom won the lotto and went off: her kid is still going to be a screw-up.

SheetWise writes:

This entire thread of comments reminds me why I have such fear of people who believe there is some underlying logic in interpersonal utility functions.

Odin's Beard writes:

Bryan, I'm a regular lurker here, but rarely comment. But seriously, what's the point of this post?

Clearly you aren't trying to convince people to not be outraged. If you were, you would at least recognize that they're not looking at this from a financial standpoint. It's morality, and you have a different moral view then they do.

Plus, your analogy is so ridiculous that it could have come from a freshman in my undergrad philosophy class. Not only have you created a false dichotomy, but we're talking about morality. And my hypothetical child's moral decisions have little or nothing to do with my own personal desires.

Bryan, I love your economics. And your commentary is thought-provoking if nothing else. But I honestly don't know what you're trying to accomplish here.

Snark writes:


With all due respect, you’re using an improper frame of reference. You need to transpose parent and mother. It would be more accurate to say that “Public perception has shifted regarding the proper age to become a mother.” The question should be “When is it acceptable to become a parent?”

At the risk of sounding overly puritanical, the answer to this question (IMO) is after marriage. The statistics for children of unwed parents aren’t very encouraging.

Gabby writes:

i have a question:

who are the voluntary childless celebrity role models for the youth?

And suppose these people exist, why is voluntary childless-ness a sign that they will be childless forever?

David Spencer writes:

Re: Role models

I subscribe to the Charles Barkley theory of role models. When asked whether he worried about being a bad role model, he replied to the effect,

"I'm an entertainer. I get paid to dunk a basketball. You want a role model? Look at your parents."

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