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Life continues. It was very good to whinge about being an… - Sally's Journal
May 31st, 2005
11:17 pm

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Life continues. It was very good to whinge about being an experimentalist with another theoretical physicist turned experamentalist tonight. Felt a little naive though... I was worrying about how to get a bent probe into a hole today, and she attempts to make machines that emit single photons of light. Still, I like my work tangible.



PhD and single motherhood parallels

When I first pointed out that single mums with a child were living on the same sort of money as I was I initially thought I was muddying the water of the debate a little. But the more I think about it the more I draw interesting parallels. I don't feel poor. I run a ford instead of a jaguar, and rent instead of buying a house, but my quality of life and involvement in society is generally good. 500 pounds a month, with no need to pay rent, council tax, child care etc, isn't a bad lifestyle. (I felt a bit mean for thinking that, especially as nlj21 was trying to tell me how little it was, but I don't seem to be alone in these "bad thoughts" ;-) )

In both cases, the government is paying people to do what they want to do. I may not feel that I love my PhD all the time, but... what was it Catriona said? you see it as some kind of treat - as far as I'm concerned it's a difficult, life-swallowing job that I would never want to do You can apply that description to PhDs just as well as motherhood. Although at least they only last 3 years :-)

The parallel I'm drawing here is that in both cases you get to do a very hard thing that you love, and the government pays you for it, not lots, but enough to live on comfortably if you're not stupid. And the satisfaction of doing the thing you love makes up for not being loaded in the city.

The difference, and the thing that frustrates me, is the way the money is awarded. People apply for PhD studentships, and they go to the brightest and best, the people the universitys, who are supposed to be able to judge this sort of thing, think will make the best job of 3 years of doing what they love. If the government would come up with "motherhood studentships" where if you could persuade them you'd be good at it they'd give you a small grant to live off while raising your kids this would make far more sense. However, the money goes to the least deserving rather than the most - the people who don't plan their kids, who don't worry about how to provide for their kids etc etc.

Still, this is biology for you. Even if the government did introduce "motherhood studentships" (which I haven't convinced myself is a bad idea yet, but that's only because I want one ;-) ) you still have to pay for the people who become accidently pregnant and can't support their child. And although I think the UK is far far too stuck on "children should stay with their parents come what may" I'm not sure I can see my way to a working scheme where "undeserving" people don't get to keep their babies. If only because "undeserving" is so subjective. Maybe a condition of taking a motherhood studentship is that you have to mentor and partner a parent the government is slightly worried about... *muses*...

Yeah, I think I'd be happier if there was a good way to do it that didn't seem about 5000 times more difficult than the bad way. It's a paradox, really, in that you can't punish without hurting more. If I was whinging that some people steal CDs, whereas I have to work hard for mine, I'd have the "satisfaction" of knowing that if the state finds them stealing CDs they get sent to gaol etc. But if the state finds people stupidly having babies, it looks after them. Because, well, what else can you do?

It's wrong to upset good people

Being a socialist type who wants to get rid of reason 2 (people on benifits have really miserable lives, therefor I don't want to be on benifits) the strongest surviving reason seems to be "lots of people believe being on benifits is less good / makes me a less worthwhile person than not being on benifits". And I worry about this because (as my comments clearly show) good people who are on benifits for good reasons are obviously already tearing themselves up about it far too much. Trying to demonise people on benifits more will only make the good people feel even worse about it.

Sigh. I'm back to the "I don't want to make you feel bad about this, because it doesn't help, and it's not your fault, and I want you to get on with your life and not sink into the depression that comes from failure BUT at the same time I want you to feel really bad about this, because you have failed, and you're less human and good if you don't notice that and feel guilty" conundrum.

Also, upsetting people with the truth isn't necessarily evil, even if they're good people. Although I don't see how you do it fairly - if someone is really ill and can't work, how do you tell them on one hand that this is fine, and what the welfare state is there for, and it will support them, and they shouldn't feel guilty if it's not their fault and they're doing all they can to get well while at the same time maintaining the stick/carrot for the general public that they're better and more worthwhile people being off benifits than on them???

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From:naath
Date:May 31st, 2005 11:07 pm (UTC)
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There are good reasons for needing assisstance (sickness is one) and there are bad (laziness). With a good test you ought be able to tell the difference so that only the deserving (rather than the lazy and incidentally the fraudulent) get the money.

I don't see why people should get paid to raise babies. But then again I think that there are two few academics and too many people (the government disagrees) and that more people should be academics and fewer people should have babies. Additionally there is no reason that people need raise the children that they gave birth to, and I don't see why irresponsible 12 year olds get to be believed when they say 'but I want a baby and I'll look after it honest' when the government doesn't believe me when I say 'but I hate them, spay me now' and there's no way that spaying me costs more than paying me to bring up some brat...
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From:the_alchemist
Date:May 31st, 2005 11:25 pm (UTC)
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There are good reasons for needing assisstance (sickness is one) and there are bad (laziness). With a good test you ought be able to tell the difference so that only the deserving (rather than the lazy and incidentally the fraudulent) get the money.

I don't see why children should have to suffer because their parents are lazy or fraudulent though.

I agree that there are too many people, but I think that the population needs to be decreased gradually, not all at once, and since I know very few people who intend to breed, I'm worried it will happen too suddenly.

Of course sterilisation should be available, probably on demand, to anyone over the age of 18 (if some people change their mind later, that's their own problem, as far as I'm concerned), but I don't see what that has to do with 12 year-olds being allowed to keep their babies. Incidentally, Germaine Greer had a theory that on average young girls actually made better parents than older women.

Are you advocating forcibly taking babies away from their parents? Of course there are a few situations where this is necessary, but I'm not sure it would work in cases where the parents aren't criminally abusive. I'm not sure there's anyone I'd trust to make that decision.
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From:rmc28
Date:June 1st, 2005 08:23 am (UTC)
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Germaine Greer had a theory that on average young girls actually made better parents than older women.

When I was 12, I had a baby brother, and I acted as a second mother to him. I couldn't feed him, but I loved to look after him and play with him and take him places (I still do, although he is now a hulking teenager!) I also babysat lots of children in my village, and became confident that I could handle most things that children do.

I worry that very few people I know, even the ones that *want* children, have this kind of experience - does no-one employ babysitters any more? Or is it an urban vs rural thing?
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From:naath
Date:June 1st, 2005 09:38 am (UTC)
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I think that raising a child is not a basic right and that I don't see why I should pay for other people to do so. So yes, take away the children.

About sterilisation - there is this choice 'have baby, not have baby' and whilst 'I am temporerally not having a baby' is something you can change to 'I would like a baby now' neither 'I am sterilised' nor 'I have a baby' is reversible. I am told that I will 'change my mind' about not wanting a baby, but clearly if I do have a baby I will not 'change my mind' and decide that it is the most horrid thing ever. The world believes that a 12 year old has the nouse to decide to have a baby (and not use condoms, get an abortion, put it up for adoption) and will not decide to hate it... which is clearly ludicrous.
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From:pjc50
Date:May 31st, 2005 11:29 pm (UTC)
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You really hate other people's reproductive rights, don't you?
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From:feanelwa
Date:May 31st, 2005 11:10 pm (UTC)
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Um. You can sleep for more than an hour at a time, you don't have to handle other people's excrement several times a day, and you have intellectual stimulation at a higher level than repeatedly playing peek-a-boo. I still refuse to believe a PhD and motherhood are at all comparable. Also: I don't think that starting off as a parent without savings, a car and a house is the same as not worrying about how to provide for your kids. It is more important to be loved than it is to have piano lessons. Love is not a function of class, money or education.
From:kaet
Date:June 1st, 2005 12:19 am (UTC)
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I agree.

One sad thing is that being poor now has a massive influence on whether your children will be poor or not. Both directly, and through whether they'll be educated to a high level, and whether their family is in the owner-occupier caste, and lots of similar things. One thing that annoys me about discussions about class is the way that it's come to mean dinner manners, and accents, and the like, and they've taken the words away for us to talk about these things.

Nothing ignominious about being poor, of course. But it is unfair. Particularly given a situation like this existing.
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From:the_alchemist
Date:June 1st, 2005 10:19 am (UTC)
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I think that raising a child could be intellectually stimulating. I think it would be fascinating to observe something grow from a group of cells, to a screaming, smelly baby to a human being. I'm really interested in the way things like language and intellect develop, and I can understand why people might get a lot of satisfaction from watching it (and helping to facilitate it) up close. And of course there are non-intellectual kinds of stimulation too.

And in most subjects, at least, much of the actual work towards a Ph.D. is extremely tedious and repetitive - at least with a baby you're doing lots of different things. I can quite see why some people would find dealing with other peoples' excrement several times a day would be preferable to spending eight hours a day for six months reading lists of names or whatever.

I guess that for me the difference is that a Ph.D. only lasts for three years, and you can give it up at any time, whereas with parenthood you're committed for 18 years or longer and there's no practical way out. I suspect I'm also affected by the fact that doctoral students are respected so much more than full-time mothers, though I'm not particularly proud of that.

I definitely agree with your 'also' though. It pisses me off immensely that people use 'I did it for the children' as an excuse for all kinds of things, when what they actually mean is 'I did it so that little Johnnie could go to a private school, and continue his clarinet lessons, and so that his so-called friends wouldn't laugh at him for wearing last season's trainers or travelling by bus instead of car.' It's so much better to teach your child to be able to educate himself, deal with being laughed at and find real friends who aren't mean to him.
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From:vyvyan
Date:June 1st, 2005 01:25 am (UTC)
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The parallel I'm drawing here is that in both cases you get to do a very hard thing that you love, and the government pays you for it, not lots, but enough to live on comfortably if you're not stupid. And the satisfaction of doing the thing you love makes up for not being loaded in the city.

I have to say that I agree with people that PhDs and childrearing don't seem quite the same sort of thing. I really enjoyed doing a PhD; I think I'd rather die than have to bear and rear a child (seriously). There are many other very hard things, that people may love doing, that they don't get paid to do by the government e.g. round-Britain cycling trips, comprehensive Portuguese trainspotting, winning Angband...(to list a few things I or my friends and relatives have aspired to do). I suppose the government supports things it regards as worthwhile for society in some sense. If something needs to be done (research; caring for small children etc.) then it makes sense to pay people to do it, if they aren't in a position to pay for it themselves. With research, people can be stopped from doing it if no funding is available: it doesn't just unravel spontaneously over 9 months and then persist for the next 70-odd years, requiring maintenance; with babies, that unfortunately seems to be the case.
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From:atreic
Date:June 1st, 2005 08:02 am (UTC)
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if they aren't in a position to pay for it themselves

If I'd spent my savings, and lived as frugally as possible for a year, and scrounged off my parents, then... well, I doubt I could have self funded actually, but I can see a hypothetical position where I could have done. Being in a position to pay for it myself doesn't mean the government *shouldn't* pay people to do the things that need doing. I mean, a bit of that is the "respect" issue, getting paid for a job gives you a sense that it's important, and a bit of it is that it's important for the government to encourage people to have savings, and not make the only way to do what they want to do to spend them, and a bit of it is that if I'd been told "we think you're great, we want you to do this PhD, but there's no money for you at all because you already have money" I would in all likelyhood have gone off and done something that would have kept me a little further from the povity line.

I think if they aren't in a position to pay for it themselves just has too many strange consequences... should you only pay any useful government worker (doctors, nurses, teachers etc) if they don't have enough money to get through the month otherwise?

If something needs to be done (that will benifit more than the individual*) then it makes sense to pay people to do it.

*Obviously I need to eat every day. Being paid for successfully going out to dinner seems a little mad. Maybe not only does it have to benifit more than the individual, it has to occupy a significant amount of your time and effort?
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From:lavendersparkle
Date:June 1st, 2005 04:45 am (UTC)
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I feel like I must be one of the few women at Cambridge who wants children.

There seems to be a continual phenomenon that the amount of money which people living in poverty actually have coming into their household can be shown to provide a reasonable life style if you just spent the money properly. In the early 20th century the level of poor relief was set at a level which would allow people to provide a balanced diet if they planned it properly. Unfortunately, most people on the benefit did not have this well balanced diet. I've got a book written in the early 90s on how to feed a family of six for £5 a day. It was written by a woman whose business went bust and ended up on benefits but managed to provide incredibly cheap nutritious food for her family by not buying any processed food and planning it right. Similarly, you can live on a PhD stipend but someone else on the same money might end up going without food every so often.

Now this is going to sound hideously snobbish, but I think it might be to do with conspicuous consumption. Students know that their poverty is only a temporary position and so don't mind wandering about in charity shop clothes and living off lentils. Similarly, if you are poor because you're a struggling academic, you know that it's your choice and you gain self-esteem from your vocation, so don't mind wearing cheap clothes etc. But if you're poor and it's not your own choice, you might feel the need the spend more money on conspicuous consumption, such as jewelery or designer clothes, because you don't have anything else to give you status. The problem is that that means you don't necessarily have so much money left for essentials like food.
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From:atreic
Date:June 1st, 2005 08:06 am (UTC)
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Oh no, there's quite a lot of us, it's just the naaths of the world are louder. Or less ashamed of their position, or something.

Yes, I think there's probably too much truth in your comment... and it's not even that you have nothing else to give you status, but that the things that don't need money by are might be within your reach (like spending time teaching your children and encouraging them to do Good Things like reading) actually lower your status in those sort (and you thought you sounded snobbish! ;-) ) of societies
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From:pavanne
Date:June 1st, 2005 07:28 pm (UTC)
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Being a student also saves money because the people around you are often poor too, so there's no stigma attached to charity shop clothes/ cheap pubs/ lentils. I think there would be more stigma attached to flashing cash around, actually, when your friends are living on lentils. (Not that there's anything wrong with lentils).

And I want to have children. I just want to do it with a husband to support me, a house in the country and lots of savings. If that was beyond my reach though, I don't know how I'd feel about living on benefits.

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From:despotliz
Date:June 1st, 2005 10:21 am (UTC)
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Single mums and PhD students may be on about the same money, but the single mums are supporting their child off that money, and I think the majority of PhD students are not supporting multiple people from their stipend.
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From:arnhem
Date:June 1st, 2005 12:16 pm (UTC)
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The majority may not be, but a non-trivial number of the ones working around me have families to support.
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