Paying Women to Not Get Pregnant

What’s fascinating to me about this is not that it works so well and or that there might actually be support in the Obama administration for doing it on a national scale, but rather that there has not been a backlash against it yet.  What are the odds that something like this will actually get implemented?  Is it actually a good thing?

hat tip: Annie Duke’s mom

  • Annie’s mom’s husband (Dale) makes the case on twitter against:

    Insidious and scary thing about this is that gov’t intends to SAVE YOU FROM YOURSELF.

    LIFE:as youCHOOSE to live it- LIBERTY:as youCHOOSE to exercise it -HAPPINESS:as youCHOOSE to pursue it -& FREEDOM – ALL GONE

    Then Lana Waggoner rebuts:

    Sorry. Twevesdropping on yr exchange. Scenario: Teen has child. Teen fails. State takes custody of child. State pays all costs. State gets money from us. This does not factor in the high rate of failure likely for that child as adult. Society pays again. Big believer in personal liberty and freedom, but those sorts of choices affect many other people (ie society) quite directly.

    As it turns out from the study referenced above, the money is actually a red herring. The real magic at work is non-monetary:

    An adolescent has difficulty focusing on long-term goals such as education and career and may have difficulty understanding that remaining nonpregnant may result in rewards later in life. To prevent subsequent pregnancies, young mothers must be presented with desirable alternatives. Rewards for the achievement of short-term goals reinforce positive behaviors and provide an incentive for future actions.

    To be selected for the program, mothers 16 years of age or younger had to be willing to attend a weekly meeting, stay in school, and state a desire to remain nonpregnant.

    The money served as an incentive to encourage regular attendance, and it was a constant reminder of the program’s ultimate goal: delaying a subsequent pregnancy until it was desired.

    Members consistently rated the goal-setting activity and interaction with leaders as the two most valuable aspects of the meetings. Interaction with other group members ranked closely behind and was followed by interest in the topics discussed at the meetings and obtaining $7.00 each week.

    As we know from the vast literature on behavioral psychology and cognitive dissonance, monetary incentives can undermine desired results (see Dan Ariely’s TED talk for striking examples). Thus, one would expect that paying much more than a dollar a day would be a bad idea both from a purely utilitarian standpoint and from a civil libertarian perspective.

  • Dale

    Parenthetical to my being Dale in Deedy Drag and raising my voice on Twitter – I hereby apologize – however that being said – lol

    My response to this article was to its entirety, not just the paying kids not to have kids – but to the premise that humans are by nature irrational in their decision making and should be protected from themselves by government intervention.

    This is scary. Extremely insidious. Say goodbye to our Freedoms. Say goodbye to out rights.

    Teach that freedom demands education and personal responsibility. Legislate just laws. Enforce them.

  • Lana Waggoner

    Just looking at this on the surface I was immediately caught by the fact that we do not grant an unlimited blanket of freedom to children for very good reasons, (as stated above). You can expect adults to be able to assume reponsibility for their choices and freedoms (although my experience has been that adults are often woefully inadequate in this area as well) based on an ability to reasonably predict the ramifications of such choices.

    The ability to create life is a lifecourse altering decision for the tenns themselves, the child created and often the members of two extended families that far outstrips the hormonally driven adolescents involved. Libertarianism is preferred, but total freedom assumes that all the actors are rational (see recent free market experiement ;-).

    I just lived two years of the scenario I tweeted and the effects of it had ramifications that spread wider than even I would have predicted. I can only then extrapolate those outcomes throughtout the entire LA County foster care roster. Here’s my $1 a day for the experiement.

    The govt intercedes on societies behalf one way or another. Your choice is at what point you believe such intercession guards the wider interests of society.

    Upshot: Sometimes the government is not saving you from yourself. Sometimes, it is saving US from you :-)


  • While I’m in near perfect agreement with everything Lana has articulated, I do understand the fear that Dale has about this being a slippery slope.

    What I think Dale is missing though is that the way in which this program is actually implemented is exactly the opposite of how he’s characterizing it, and how it’s undoubtedly going to be characterized in the media. The truth, if you read the study, is that rather that being paternalistic and restricting freedoms, the program aims to — and does in fact achieve — empower people to make good decisions for themselves. The money is insignificant and simply a hook to get them in the door and to remind them of their own self-stated goals.

    Dale, aside from the faulty advertising (it’s not exactly “paying women not to get pregnant”) and the PR problem that such a program would have on a larger scale, do you have other objections?

  • Dale

    “Just understanding that human beings don’t make perfect decisions does not make the case for government by any stretch of the imagination,” Glaeser says. “After all, governments are made up of people, too. They are subject to the same foibles and weakness as the rest of us.”

    “Unfortunately, government decisions are based on politics.”

    From MOM:
    I have no quarrel with the pregnancy program or other programs that protect young people, protecting and education them should be an obligation; My problem with this article is the underlying philosophy. I do not want anyone forcing me to make a decision that they think are best for me.

    (Just consider the possibly that John Kyl may be making those decisions for you.)

    From Dale: I am distressed that anyone should think they need to be saved from me.

  • DALE

    “I do not want anyone forcing me to make a decision that they think are best for me.”


    I do not want anyone forcing me to make decisions that they think are best for me.

  • I think Dale/Mom you are arguing against straw men. Who’s forcing decisions on anyone? We’re talking about programs with de minimus economic incentive, not obligatory or even slightly coercive stuff. Such structures maximize choice, while legislation approaches minimize.

  • Dale

    This is not about “baby” programs; it’s about behavioral economics and the logical legislative conclusions that come from that.

    Have you read the entire article? I’m much more interested in the underlying suppositions about human nature, the responsibility of government, allowing people to learn from their own mistakes and pproviding them with a safe environment in which to do so, etc.

    For what it’s worth,

  • Lana Waggoner

    Cool. The discussion ranged over a few different points while I was out on Mom patrol. I’ll try and throw my $1 back into the ring ;-)

    Right off the bat Dale, my quote about saving us from you was quite generic. I would certainly not make a personal judgment based on so little information. Please do not assume so and accept my apology where required :-)

    As to the topic at hand, I wonder how much of this is a ‘presentation’ problem, with this being the offending quote:
    “All are devotees of behavioral economics — a school of economic thought greatly influenced by psychological research — which argues that the human animal is hard-wired to make errors when it comes to decision-making, and therefore people need a little “nudge” to make decisions that are in their own best interests.”

    I am very respectful of Dale & Deedy’s clear abhorrence of paternalism, and the above quote seems to reek of it. But it also seems to imply that this is somehow ‘new’ behavior. I would argue that while the program and the name for it might be new, the behavior is not. Billions of dollars are spent in every industry and in every conceivable way to study populations and demographics to manipulate us into behaving in certain ways, buying certain things. I don’t know that I object to the government being more open about what is already a part of the equation. One of my earliest lessons to my children was to create an awareness that they are seen as a demographic. A product may be worthwhile on its own merits, but it serves them to know that much study and man hours went into portraying it at its most appealing. Why is it priced at $9.99 instead of $10.00? Know to ask these questions and then make your choice.

    Additional to this, Dale expressed concern regarding the underlying premise that “humans are by nature irrational in their decision making and should be protected from themselves by government intervention.”

    I’m afraid that I believe human beings are almost entirely irrational and I’m not sure how the rational mean ever became the default model for anything. Nothing in our history would support it. And as to the ability of people learning from their mistakes I don’t know that I see that tendency in humans or institutions much either. For a common touch point for us all we have poker. It’s the perfect microcosm, the math and behaviorals have all been laid out and yet how many players repeat the same self destructive behaviors again and again despite immediately painful consequences? Only the smallest percentage will evolve. The rest provide the pool of donation.

    People make horrific choices every day believing that they will come to happiness. Libertarianism argues that this is their right. I agree. Government has no overriding interest in protecting us from ourselves. But this program seems clearly to fall into the region of government providing a safe environment for its citizens in a situation that cannot really be legislated. It seems unlikely that this will be the only example of that either. I’m not sure how you could pass laws against teen pregnancy. Obviously by the time you have an offender it’s too late and the cost is enormous and generational from my experience.

    Beyond being worded poorly I think such programs are a step towards education and self-regulation. I see no real coercion, force or paternalism at work beyond what already makes up the general operations of society. I am not any more frightened by the concept of behavioral economics than I am by what I see already. Rather, I am somewhat heartened by it finally being called by name and discussed out in the open.

    Way over the 140 character tweet, I know. I’ve been saving up. My apologies if I lost my audience:-) Really, by far my biggest surprise from the article came in reading that behavioral economics has only been circulating since the 80’s and seems to have been rejected at first even then. Did I read it incorrectly?