Bryan Caplan  

Modernity as a Children's Paradise

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If you based your worldview on fictional television programs, you would conclude that life was a lot better for kids back in the fifties.  Nothing seriously bad ever happens to kids on Leave It to Beaver.  But on shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, innocent children meet one grotesque fate after another.  If we could only go back to the good old days, it seems, kids would be safe, and parents could sleep well at night.

In chapter 4 of my next book, I compare this "television reality" to actual reality.  Using standard official statistics, I've compiled U.S. youth mortality rates for 1950 versus 2005.  I break the results down by disease, accidents, war, homicide, and suicide.  Here are my initial results:

youthmor4.jpg
Overall, today is much safer than 1950.  That's probably no surprise to anyone who knows basic economic history.  What's particularly interesting is that safety gains are especially large for younger kids.  The mortality rate for kids under 5 was almost five times greater in 1950, 3.7 times greater for kids 5-14, and 2.2 times greater for 15-24 year olds.

I suspect that many people will object, "Yes, but if you break the results down by cause of death, modernity is worse in both homicide and suicide - two out of the five categories."  My reply: All modernity has done is roughly double two vivid near-zero risks.  In exchange, we are vastly safer from the formerly quantitatively fearsome risks of disease, accidents, and war.

Bottom line: Modernity delivers the children's paradise that the fifties only promised.  Maybe the nation's parents should try turning off their televisions for a minute of gratitude that they aren't Ward and June Cleaver?



Comments and Sharing





COMMENTS (60 to date)
Matt writes:

I'm not great at statistics, but wouldn't you expect homicides to go up when there's a greater pool of potential murder victims that would have been killed off by war and disease? Perhaps increasing homicide is not a sign of growing depravity but a high supply of murder victims. Again I'm not good at interpreting statistics so I might be making a big error. After all, these figures are per 100,000.

Less Antman writes:

Regarding homicides in 15-24 range:

War on drugs since Nixon administration? Does data change around the time that travesty started?

Just asking.

Wilson writes:

In fairness to Law and Order and the associated attitude that you are attempting to refute, suicide and murder rates are way up!

Sure, disease deaths are down by more than enough to make up for it, but I've never seen a law and order episode where a 5 year old dies from a bacterial infection. This data seems to largely justify the attitude that healthy children, at least, are in more danger today than they ever were in the 50's.

Dr. T writes:

The largest improvements are in the disease category. Three main reasons for the decreased disease-related deaths are greatly improved neonatal care, vaccines, and better treatments for childhood cancers.

In the under age 5 groups, improved medical care dropped mortality rates 80% (from 3,288 to 672 per 100,000). This is one of the most impressive medical and public health achievements ever (almost as big as antibiotics), but it's rarely touted.

JamesFromPittsburgh writes:

Wilson,

Sure those the homicide and suicide risks are up, but I'd wager that it's only because there are healthy children to be murdered or take their own lives that those numbers have gone up.

Furthermore, I don't think you can say that "the 1950's were safer for healthy children." Take a look at the accident numbers. The total reduction in fatalities from accidents implies that across all age groups implies a 55% improvement in safety from 1950's levels.

Cheers.

SydB writes:

Living in this day and age is awesome.

But I'm pretty sure there are a lot more people these day who whine and blame themselves to death. I'm sure that number is way way up.

Matt writes:

I think people today really underestimate the war statistic. This to me is a vindication of globalization. It seems to me, the more freely you trade with someone the more likely it is that you work out any differences.

I would also like to thank all the evil insurance company executives and greedy drug company CEOs for drastically reducing our infant mortality rate.

Kurbla writes:

It appears that human relations in your society regressed. Sure, medicine etc. progressed, but it is kinda obvious.

JamesFromPittsburgh writes:

Kurbla, you lost me. Please elaborate.

Amaturus writes:

While mortality rates show us the ultimate (in the most literal sense) measure of quality life, a wonder if a comparison of other crimes affecting children/youths is possible. In the same vein as Law and Order scenarios, I think it would be important to compare rates of sexual crimes against children/youths, abductions, etc. I think this would add a more dynamic dimension to the quality of life comparison than just looking to mortality rates, namely in that it would speak more to the human experiences in each time period. I have no idea whether this is a practical suggestion or what the result would be, but it's a comparison I'd be interested in seeing.

Radford Neal writes:

The suicide rates may be misleading. Reference to this table (for Canada) shows that youth suicide rates rise rapidly with age, but don't exceed adult suicide rates. Huge increases in suicide rates for the 5-15 age group or 15-24 age group can therefore be explained just by children growing up faster.

Of course, it's a shame that adults commit suicide more often than 5-year-olds. But preventing children from growing up is not a reasonable solution. And if children grow up faster, and encounter adult stresses earlier, it is not at all clear that that is bad. They presumably experience adult pleasures, and activities with adult meaning, as well.

Richard A. writes:

It would be interesting to compare the mortality rate between Japanese and US kids. I suspect that Japanese kids do better.

Kurbla writes:

JamesFromPittsburgh,

more suicides means children have less friends, or they are bullied in school, or parents are not that close, or they do not spend that much time with children to recognize depression ... similar for homicides. Even more because modern society is wealthier and technologically more advanced and there are more opportunities for prevention.


REL writes:

Bryan,

While I agree with your larger point, I can't help but notice you look only at youth death in the United States. Given that one of the categories of death is "war", I imagine the numbers might look worse if you focused on the countries where the US government chooses to wage war.

JPIrving writes:

@Matt

Matt, because Professor Caplan's table shows the ratio of death to population, he should be controlling for the change in absolute population size (more kids to die). Unless we think that would be murder victims are more likely die in war and from disease than the general population, there is no need to fear a statistical bias. My gut tells me there is no bias for disease, and only a little bias in war (wealthy kids went to college and avoided the draft, also probably less likely to be murdered).

Zack in Poughkeepsie writes:

Sorry I don't agree. Disease and accidents were higher its true due to lower auto safety standards and childhood illnesses such as polio and accidental poisonings. But overall I think the 1950's were a far more civilized God fearing time. I would much prefer my children grow up then than now.

Damien writes:

@Wilson

Law and Order:SVU, Season 10 Episode 19, "Selfish".

"The detectives however find out Sierra actually died of measles because another mother refused to vaccinate her child."

Bob Knaus writes:

Brian's point should be obvious... overall, child mortality is way down. Our cultural consensus should be obvious... child mortality from non-war violence is way up. The numbers differ greatly in magnitude, but it still seems OK to me if we focus more on the number that represents a more difficult.

Here is a report from the CDC which addresses the point in greater detail: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00046149.htm

Their essential finding is that, compared to other developed nations, the ratio of violent deaths for US youth 0-14 is 12:1.

That seems a pretty significant problem to me, and one that is worth a lot of effort to fix.

Matt writes:

In the movie Stand by me which takes a nostalgic look at childhood in 1959. The kids are going to find the body of a kid killed by a train and the main character is tormented by the accidental death of his brother.
Maybe the exception that proves the rule?

Also, does anything really bad happen in Hannah Montana or other shows that are truly the modern day equivalent to Leave it to Beaver?

bjk writes:

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Matt (The other one) writes:

JPIrving,

Thanks. The only other thing I can think of is that serial killers are less likely to target sick kids, which I have no proof for whatsoever.

JPIrving writes:

@Zack in Poughkeepsie

Nostalgic for the rampant domestic violence, racism, and constant threat of nuclear war? Nostalgic for the days when God Fearing pedophile priests were completely ignored? When it cost half a year's wages to fly to Europe? When toothpaste came in a lead tube? When popular entertainment consisted almost entirely of Westerns?

I can understand your position, I'm a big fan of hard work and the nuclear family myself. I think that despite being coerced by the religious left in many parts of our lives, and seeing much of American society become ever more shallow and impulsive, that on the whole things are much better.

Isegoria writes:

I don't see how it would come as any surprise to anyone -- aware of economic history or not -- that deaths from disease and accidents are down, while deaths from homicide and suicide are up. That's the common wisdom, after all. Technology keeps improving, as the social fabric slowly unravels.

The only surprise might be the magnitudes of the changes.

Also, it's a bit disingenuous to use 1950 for war deaths, when a year earlier or a few years later would show roughly zero deaths from war.

Damien writes:

@Isegoria

True. But keep on mind that many of the dead had been drafted into the army. Until 1973, every parent had to fear that, one day, their children shipped off to whichever country politicians had decided to pick a fight with.

Sure, there's still the Selective Service System, but it's been so long since there's been a draft that it would political suicide to reinstate one. The median voter is against the draft.

Paul writes:

What is the reason for the age breakdown that you gave? Is this a standard breakdown, or was there a specific reason? I only ask because it seems weird to group 5-14 and then 15-24. I would probably have broken it down as 0-1 and then 5 year intervals after that (1-6, 6-11, 12-17, 18-23). Those seem like more natural categories for me in terms of social and physical development. I might even have broken it down 0-1, 1-3, 3-6 and then in 5 year intervals.

Not that this is a criticism, it doesn't look like there's anything nefarious going on in your binning scheme, I'm just curious about why you would use these broader less intuitive (to me) age groupings.

Steve Sailer writes:

The late 1940s were a nightmare for children due to the threat of getting polio in summer when out in crowds, so no trips to the ballpark for children, no fun in summer in crowds in general. The introduction of the polio vaccine in the early 1950s made possible the TV image of the 1950s and early 1960s as a children's paradise. For example, Disneyland, which opened in 1955 wouldn't have been possible with out Drs. Salk and Saban.

Steve Sailer writes:

Also, the big increase in safety for children has been purchased at a huge cost in freedom, both for children and parents. When I was a kid in the San Fernando Valley, I rode my bike everywhere. Today, due to safety concerns (which aren't silly: I did get hit by a car when I was riding home from school when I was 13), only DUIs ride bikes in the SFV, and kids today are dependent on their parents to chauffeur them to (parent-approved) activities.

Similarly, when my wife was a first-grader on the densely populated West Side of Chicago, she walked to school with her third grader sister, and played on the sidewalks of her street all afternoon. Nowadays, those streets look like a bombed-out war zone and the children and grandchildren of everybody who lived on those streets in 1966 now live in suburbs where it's too far to walk anywhere.

Ray Gardner writes:

We may live in a statistically safer world, but as the suicide homicide rates show, it's not necessarily a better world.

Leaving aside the debate about cultural degeneration in and of itself, something is wrong when those two categories double regardless of how likely my children are to be a part of them.

Which brings a secondary point; just as the children of the well educated, close family units are far less likely to be part of the suicide/homicide categories, the accidents that affected so many children in 1950 were - and I'm speculating here but confidently so - a vast majority of the accidental deaths in 1950 were most likely from the poorer, uneducated demographics.

So just as Bryan isn't too worried about those near-zero columns of suicide/homicide, we can be similarly dismissive of the accidental death column on 1950.

This leaves disease.

Okay, so we live in a much healthier world today, but "safer" is open for debate.

Russell Nelson writes:

I agree with the homicide statistic: it's the war on drugs. Following the end of Prohibition, over the course of ten years, the homicide rate HALVED. Want to get the homicide rate back down to the 50's?

Stop the War on Drugs!

Will writes:

When considering relative figures for homicide in 1950 and 2005, note that medical advances mean that persons who are the subject of a serious assault are more likely to survive in 2005 than in 1950. This suggests significantly more serious assaults now than then.

There may be a similar causal argument between attempted and actual suicides.

Anon writes:

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John Mininger writes:

Hear; hear, to Russell Nelson's comment.

And I think that the at-risk age group for homicide (15-24) is employed to a much greater degree in the current illegal drug trade, than they were in the illegal alcohol trade during the previous prohibition.

As in the previous prohibition, the players are battling for market share; literally, and on the streets.

Sulla writes:

@Steve Sailer
So do you think the cost in freedom was really worth this ? I'm not really sure myself... I think too much safety in that sense isn't good for a happy childhood. It's like living in fear.

Ken Mueller writes:

Bryan, I think your "standard official statistics" are the usual death certificates collected by the states and added up to give the totals. These are not-so-surprisingly inaccurate and even worse for your arguments, the criteria for placing deaths in various manners of death have changed. In the 1950s almost all deaths from firearms in young children were classified as accidental, even if they had a great deal of homicidal or suicidal characteristics.

By the way, your column "Cause of death" should be "Manner of death."

Howard Bernbaum writes:

I believe the writer and the commenters are misreading the statistics.

Disease and accidents are down due to improved technology. Vaccination has been the biggest boon to society than any other thing you can name.

But a hard look at war, homicide and suicide tell a different story. They may represent a lesser portion of the deaths, but the chart isn't finished. These numbers, in the future, may well become a larger portion.

The important point here and not really mentioned in the debate is the quality of life. War is the result of incompetent callous leaders sending the cream of the youth into harms way. Rather than actually seeking peace on earth, the concept of intervention is spreading the beast. Totally insane religious leaders are aiding and abetting the carnage.

Murder is the result of aberrant behavior and the social misfits are growing in number as a result of sorry leadership from the president to the parent. Our government is directly responsible for the collapse of the family unit and its responsibility in this country.

Suicide is the result of the decision that death is preferable to life. One cannot imagine the pain of the individual prior to his decision to end the suffering. Again, our faltering society has much to do with that.

In the midst of depression,in the 30's, the world was a kinder and gentler place. Economists, among others, ought to look beyond the numbers and gain an understanding of what life should be. They should lead the way to a better world by teaching those traits that make for happiness and durability while including advancing technology for the purpose of enabling this goal.

Economiser writes:

Howard Bernbaum: Can't disagree with you more. The world was a "kinder and gentler place" in the 1930's?

US life expectancy at birth in 1935 was about 60 years, compared to 77 years today. See http://aging.senate.gov/crs/aging1.pdf

The US unemployment rate hit 25%. Suicides due to the economic downturn were commonplace. Japan, Germany, and the USSR were all preparing for wars of conquest.

Quality of life, from an economic standpoint, is exponentially higher today than in the 1930's. We use technologies in our everyday lives that would've been considered magic back then.

In short, it's not the job of economists to figure out what makes people happy in an abstract sense.

Bruce Beaudin writes:

When statisticians have an agenda they can easily manipulate the statistics to make their case. That seems to be what Mr Caplan has done. He talks about the "Leave it to Beaver" era (1957-1963) and instead of using 1960 for his baseline, chose 1950. What did that do to the numbers? Korean War in 1950-in 1960 there would have been zero war deaths, thus moving a third category negative for 2005. Polio vaccine developed in 1952, had almost totally eliminated polio deaths by 1960. I am sure there were many other medical advances in those 10 years.

Then there is the real outlier in the statistics--the huge number shown for disease under 1 year. I assume this is almost totally deaths during child birth and other infant mortality (and in many cases a retarded child allowed to die by medical staff). What happens today to many of those deaths? They are identified pre birth and result in late-term- abortion and partial birth abortion. Each of us can address the morality of those options, but the statistician shouldn't ignore them.

And finally--it seems the children today spend most of their time sitting in front of a TV or computer screen (and growing more obese by the day). That is surely more safe (at least short-term) than riding your bike to the baseball field--but this boomer preferred taking a few risks even if it slightly increased the risk of death.

Suggestion to Mr. Caplan--redue your study using 1960 as a baseline and adjust for abortion issue, and let's see what the real numbers show.

RL writes:

Bruce B is wrong on at least one and possibly two counts:

1. I suspect the war statistics Bryan is using summarize decades. Thus "1960" is likely short for "1950-60". So "1950" gets WWII, "1960" gets the Korean War, and "1970" gets Vietnam. (I believe this is likely both because Bryan is a sharp guy and because collecting war death statistics by single years would lead to marked and unnecessary variations.)

2. BB is clearly wrong on infant deaths in 1950 vs now. It is not because we detect problems pre-natally and abort them. The deaths were due to infections, which we now cure, and to congenital defects, many of which we now cure/ameliorate (example: congenital heart disease that previously condemned one to death can now be operated on and fixed.)

Bruce Beaudin writes:

RL: You might be right about the statistics being an average of the 50's--since he does title the study "a comparison of the fifties...", but then not sure why he would use 2005 as a comparison, instead of an average of the current 10 year period. Maybe the author will weigh in.

Your second point about abortions seems to miss my point--I wasn't saying that there havn't been medical advancements in the last 50 years. And obviously some (or most) of the reduction in child mortality is a result of these advancements. But surely many abortions are performed when a severe medical problem is identified by ultrasound or the latest technology. Do these medical issues result in 10% of late term abortions or 75%--I sure don't know but it has to be part of them. Maybe one of the readers of this message performs abortions and can give us an estimate?

Scott writes:

Shaken baby syndrome is considered homicide these days. I wonder how many "accidents" in 1950 would be considered a homicide in 2005.

John F writes:

And thus the evident need for "health care reform"?

A table starting in 1930 would have been even more stimulating.

Monte writes:

Modern technology has certainly allowed our children to grow accustomed to a more sedentary lifestyle. This, coupled with the revolution in fast food, has contributed significantly to an epidemic of childhood obesity. And as others have pointed out, the 2005 homicide/suicide statistic is pretty alarming, which brings into question the emotional stability of today’s youth.

Modernity, for all its benefits, might ultimately become a catalyst that brings about a children’s paradise lost.

Radford Neal writes:

the 2005 homicide/suicide statistic is pretty alarming, which brings into question the emotional stability of today’s youth..

As I pointed out above, the youth suicide rates do not exceed the adult rates, so you should be "question[ing] the emotional stability of today's youth" only if you are equally questioning the emotional stability of people who grew up many years ago.

jorod writes:

Obviously, he didn't live in the fifties...

Monte writes:

Radford Neal,

Do you really believe that children today are as emotionally balanced as those who grew up fifty years ago when 15% take some sort of medication for behavior problems; where play is isolated, indoors, sedentary, manufactured, and virtual; and where TV, videogames, and internet addictions are becoming the norm? Technology has been beneficial to our kids in many respects, but it has also created a virtual reality that has greatly diminished emotional connection and human interaction in our homes and schools, and one, it can be argued, that has resulted in child mental health and behavior disorders that are increasingly being diagnosed and medicated.

I'm not convinced the study you cite settles the question, but as you point out, children today are being subjected to the stresses of adult life much earlier. Technology enables this, and so must be a contributing factor to some degree.

Justin Bowen writes:

Speaking of statistics, I have a couple of burning questions that perhaps someone here might be able to answer for me. Forgive me if this is too far off topic.

I've seen any number of people in any number of publications, blogs, "news" shows, and "documentaries" declare that the health care system in the US is not as great as the health care system in Europe (and Cuba) because Americans only live x number of years whereas Europeans (and Cubans) live longer. The statistics that these people are using are almost always the WHO or CIA Fact Book statistics which, unless I'm mistaken, weren't designed as a tool for measuring the quality of health care systems.

When people make these comments in the few online forums that I follow, I am quick to tell them that the statistics are being used incorrectly because A) it is impossible to know what portion of the increase in life expectancy over the years was due to the increase in the quality of health care and what portion was due to other completely or mostly non-related factors (like the introduction, and eventually ubiquitousness, of refrigeration, better-quality building materials being used in houses, better-quality vehicles, the dramatic reduction in war-related deaths, (though it can certainly be argued that a good degree of that is due to the increase in the quality of health care over the years), and so on) and because B) even if it was agreed that life expectancy statistics were a good way to measure the quality of a health care system, the life expectancy statistics being used don't control for factors that are unrelated to the quality of health care (or even access to it), and so can't be used for that purpose. I argue that any life expectancy statistics that are to be used for the judging of the quality of health care have to at least control for such things that are easily identifiable as factors that affect one's life expectancy and that are completely or mostly unrelated to the quality of health care (like murders, suicides, auto fatalities, workplace-related deaths, war-related deaths, other accidents, and so on).

When I do this, I am met with disagreement. The usual argument is that the statistics are generally accepted by the masses and so can be used for that purpose (obviously wrong). I am also told that even if such things were controlled for, the statistics wouldn't change all that much (as one person put it, controlling for those factors would only change the life expectancy statistics by a few months). I disagree with both arguments. The reason why the first argument is wrong is obvious and needs little explanation. The reason why the second is, in my opinion, wrong is because people in the US die from many of the problems that I listed above at far higher rates than people in Europe and elsewhere, to the point that I believe that those factors are almost sure to have a significant effect on the life expectancy statistics.

Question 1) Am I wrong to argue that using those life expectancy statistics in the way that people are using them is wrong for the reasons I described?

Question 2) Does anybody know if anybody has attempted to recalculate life expectancy statistics in recent years controlling for any of those factors?

Radford Neal writes:

Do you really believe that children today are as emotionally balanced as those who grew up fifty years ago when 15% take some sort of medication for behavior problems; where play is isolated, indoors, sedentary, manufactured, and virtual; and where TV, videogames, and internet addictions are becoming the norm?

I don't know. I was born in the 50s. Maybe when my 2-year-old daughter is a bit older, I'll have an informed opinion. Do you have any basis for one?

I do think the suicide statistics say nothing about this question, since they are explainable simply by variation in how soon kids "grow up". This is no doubt influenced by society, but it is entirely unclear whether we want them to grow up earlier or later than they do now...

...as you point out, children today are being subjected to the stresses of adult life much earlier. Technology enables this, and so must be a contributing factor to some degree.

Contributing to what? The stress, or the growing up? If it contributes to stress, that's bad (but it's not clear the net effect is bad). If it contributes to growing up earlier, it's not necessarily bad. There were many bad things about my upbringing in the 50s and 60s that were the result of adults keeping kids from growing up, so they'd be more easily manipulated. Of course, this may continue today...

RL writes:

BB responds to me (Thanks) and says: "Surely many abortions are performed when a severe medical problem is identified by ultrasound or the latest technology. Do these medical issues result in 10% of late term abortions or 75%--I sure don't know but it has to be part of them. Maybe one of the readers of this message performs abortions and can give us an estimate?"

Well, I don't perform abortions, but I am a radiologist and do read OB US studies. I don't have good published numbers to share with you, but my sense is that the number of late term abortions for bona fide medical reasons is small. More importantly the number of late term abortions is VERY small when compared with total abortions, and compared with the infant death rate of the 1950s. As a physicians (sorry for the argument from authority), I feel quite confident that aborting fetuses that would have died in infancy plays an incredibly small role in accounting for the improvement in infant mortality figures.

Monte writes:

I don't know. I was born in the 50s. Maybe when my 2-year-old daughter is a bit older, I'll have an informed opinion. Do you have any basis for one?

As a matter of fact, I do. I, too, was born in the 50s. I have a daughter from a previous marriage who is 20. I also have a 15 year-old son and 13 year-old daughter, and my informed opinion is that technology has unquestionably had a detrimental impact on the lives of all three (my wife would be more than willing to corroborate). I seem to recall my friends, my siblings, and myself being very emotionally stable growing up compared to kids today. If you want to argue that that's because we were more naive and less sophisticated, O.K. But it's a trade-off I'd certainly be willing to re-negotiate for my kids if I could.

I do think the suicide statistics say nothing about this question, since they are explainable simply by variation in how soon kids "grow up". This is no doubt influenced by society, but it is entirely unclear whether we want them to grow up earlier or later than they do now...

I'm pretty sure I can build a strong case to refute the suicide statistic in question, but it's late and I'm tired, so I'm not inclined to go to the trouble of researching it tonight. I will say that, as a parent, I'm surprised you would have no reservations about children growing up sooner than later by experiencing "adult pleasures and activities with adult meaning" (and I doubt I'm offering a minority opinion on that score).

Contributing to what?

To the stress of growing up in a high-tech world that requires children to filter and react to the same information as adults when they lack the emotional maturity to do so. I'm not aware of any gadget that can speed up that process, are you?

Radford Neal writes:

I will say that, as a parent, I'm surprised you would have no reservations about children growing up sooner than later by experiencing "adult pleasures and activities with adult meaning" (and I doubt I'm offering a minority opinion on that score).

I think that phrase of mine must have been what delayed my first comment, as the spam filter sent my comment off for manual examination!

It wasn't meant entirely as you and the spam filter seem to take it. Among "activities with adult meaning" are such things as meaningful work and independent political activity, but I admit that those may not be the main respects in which kids grow up faster today. However, artificially keeping them from growing up in other respects strikes me as futile, as well as not clearly desirable. (Do you think they should grow up less quickly than in the 50s? Or did the 50s just happen to hit the optimum right on? It's not like there's no variation over time and culture in this respect...)

Better to help them grow up well.

Monte writes:

Do you think [children] should grow up less quickly than in the 50s? Or did the 50s just happen to hit the optimum right on? It's not like there's no variation over time and culture in this respect...

I’m not suggesting that the 1950s was a children’s paradise. Every generation has its social dilemmas. But teenage murder/suicide rates have increased dramatically in recent years and child development specialists have identified overexposure to electronic media is one of many contributing factors.

Can we agree that the pace of emotional development among adolescents seriously lags that of technology, creating a more stressful environment in which they must participate?

Radford Neal writes:

But teenage murder/suicide rates have increased dramatically in recent years and child development specialists have identified overexposure to electronic media is one of many contributing factors.

Can we agree that the pace of emotional development among adolescents seriously lags that of technology, creating a more stressful environment in which they must participate?

No, I can't agree with any of that, because I simply do not see any evidence to support it.

Another link to suicide rates (US, from 1980) is here. No striking trends are apparent, and teen suicide rates are less than adult rates. Teen suicide rates seem a bit more variable than adult rates, but that's explainable by variation in how fast they grow up, which I've argued is not a matter about which we should have fixed preferences.

Henry Blankett writes:

Specific sources of data, so that we (the reader) may fact-check?

Monte writes:

OK. Let’s look at the broader landscape, since we’re discussing the 1950s vs. today. World Health Organization (WHO) statistics reveal what I would consider a rather alarming trend in suicide. In particular:

In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. Suicide is now among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15-44 years (both sexes); these figures do not include suicide attempts up to 20 times more frequent than completed suicide.

A more recent CDC study (2003-2004) discovered that:

Following a decline of more than 28 percent, the suicide rate for 10- to-24-year-olds increased by 8 percent, the largest single-year rise in 15 years, according to a report just released in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

We all know depression often leads to suicide or attempted suicide. Numerous researchers have found that prolonged electronic exposure increases the risk of depression. Scientific Blogging looks at a recently published article by Children, Youth, and Environments (CYE) Journal, which explores the effects on kids of too much technology. And here’s a list of media campaign fact sheets that reviews the risks associated with teens and their access to technology.

If you want to pretend there’s absolutely no correlation between technology and any detrimental affects it may have on the emotional health and development of our children, feel free. But there’s plenty of evidence to support it if you’re willing to look.

Ray Gardner writes:

Economiser:
Suicides due to the economic downturn were commonplace. (He was writing in context to the 1930s.)

This has been soundly proven to be wrong. Suicide after the 29 stock market crash and during the Great Depression did not in fact rise beyond the norm.

Monte writes:

Radford,

My response is under review and will hopefully be posted shortly.

Renard writes:

I was born in the 50's and my son is now 26. He just began paying a monthly cell phone bill, doesn't own a car, lives without TV and is far from tethered to tech, but also owns a laptop on which he mixes music.

I think it's a dangerous over-simplification to say that kids grow up dependent on technology, are overly stressed by it or that tech is a tradeoff for better health. (I imagine worrying about polio, typhoid and diphtheria was fairly stressful for both parents and children.)

If we teach children how to make good choices (choices that work for them and do not harm others), tech isn't the issue at all.

George writes:

Justin Bowen wrote:

I've seen any number of people in any number of publications, blogs, "news" shows, and "documentaries" declare that the health care system in the US is not as great as the health care system in Europe (and Cuba) because Americans only live x number of years whereas Europeans (and Cubans) live longer.

Presumably the CIA doesn't have spies in every hospital in Cuba, which means they got their statistics from the Cuban government.

Is there any example ever of a statistic provided by a Communist government that's accurate? Let alone a statistic that, like life expectancy, is useful for propaganda?

Monte writes:

Renard,

Congrats to you and your son. You've obviously done a good job raising him and he has done a good job adjusting to the high tech world in which he lives. But there are clearly many children who have (and are) growing up dependent on tech and exhibiting signs of increased aggression and depression because of it, as the studies I've referenced show. I agree that parental oversight could greatly reduce that dependency, but the reality is many parents tend to use tech as a proxy for parenting.

The dangerous oversimplification, it seems to me, rests with those who see no issues with tech at all. Personally, I think it needs to be kept on a leash (especially around children).

Mike writes:

The comments are wrong that imply the reason for the increase in child murders is due to the fact there are more living children with the decline of mortality due to war and disease. The statistics control for population size (per 100,000). The stats reflect broader US trends improved health care since 1950 and more violent crime.

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