It’s Graduation Day for many of our babies (however old they may actually be) in grammar school, so I’m going to submit for you approval a couple of stories from last week involving babies. Who could argue about babies, right? Bwaaaaahahahahahaha.
First, let me introduce you to the Finnish Baby Box.
For 75 years, Finland’s expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It’s like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates.
It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it’s designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they’re from, an equal start in life.
OK, I can hear some of you screaming already. Cut it out. Remember, this is Finland, anti-Soviet bulwark, more internet savvy than all Americans combined. Show them some respect.
For some families, the contents of the box would be unaffordable if they were not free of charge, though for [one mother interviewed], it was more a question of saving time than money. She was working long hours when pregnant with her first child, and was glad to be spared the effort of comparing prices and going out shopping.
“There was a recent report saying that Finnish mums are the happiest in the world, and the box was one thing that came to my mind. We are very well taken care of, even now when some public services have been cut down a little,” she says.
I’m sure that no one could disagree that for the U.S. to emulate Finland in giving out “baby boxes,” reducing infant mortality and improving infant welfare (and child educability), to all mothers living here would be a fine idea. Bwaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahaha! But seriously — if it ends up saving money and such, why not?
Next up: how you react to the above story may influence how you name your baby, or something like that. (The causality is a little murky to me.) Well, judge for yourself: increasingly, Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree on baby names.
Why study baby names at all? In order to understand all those other differences. The authors of this paper — Eric Oliver, Thomas Wood and Alexandra Bass — note that it’s often unclear whether partisan consumer habits are really due to partisanship. It could be that companies successfully market products to specific demographics that happen to have a partisan leaning. Baby names are different. As Oliver and colleagues write, baby names “are highly related to taste and fashion but largely free from market effects.”
To understand whether Democrats and Republicans choose different kinds of baby names, the researchers compiled an unusual set of data. They took all of the births in the state of California from 2004 — about 500,000 in all. For each baby born, the data contained the child’s first name, the mother’s first name, the father’s first name (where available) and the mother’s education, race and address. Using these addresses, they then matched each mother to her Census tract and thereby determined whether she lived in an area that was predominantly Democratic, Republican or somewhere in between. The question is whether mothers who lived in red, blue and purple neighborhoods were systematically different. They were, in two respects.
What are those two respects? You’ll have to click the link to read about the middle of the paper, but I will give you the end of it.
Many names [such as “Joshua”] cross political boundaries. And partisanship or ideology is just one ingredient in naming decisions, alongside ethnic, religious and familial traditions and general fads. At the same time, given that these other ingredients are likely more salient to families than partisanship, Oliver and colleagues were surprised to find any differences based on partisanship or ideology.
Oliver and colleagues also emphasize that these partisan or ideological differences were largely confined to better-educated whites. As other political science research shows, partisanship and ideology often operate most strongly within this group. Thus, it is a mistake simply to divide America into red and blue. This leads to the paper’s provocative conclusion:
As we see in patterns of baby names, liberal elites use esoteric cultural references to demonstrate their elevated social position just as conservatives invoke traditional signals of wealth and affluence. Instead of divides between “Red and Blue states,” it is more accurate to say that America is divided not just by “Red and Blue elites,” but also in the ways these elites seek to differentiate themselves from the largely “purple” masses.
Hmmph. Maybe I don’t like this paper quite as much as I thought I did. What do you think of it?
This is, of course, your Weekend Open Thread. Talk about these stories or whatever else you’d like, within broad bounds of decency and decorum.
(Dearthwatch may be a little late today, because our baby’s graduating in about an hour. UPDATE: OK, here’s this week’s Orange County Register Dearthwatch!)