Monthly Archives: April 2008

Dads needed at birth?

This week saw much discussion of a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. The Fatherhood Institute believes that dads should be able to stay in hospital after a baby’s birth, to support mother and child, and that they should be encouraged to do so. It seems sensible, especially when the mum would need food and drink fetching, or help getting comfortable, or someone to hold the baby while she sleeps (etc. etc.) which the staff can’t do because they are too busy.

However, here I’m interested in the (also bleedin’ obvious) claim that ‘fathers who are highly involved with their babies from the start are more likely to remain so for life’ (BBC). A finding like this is as obvious as ‘people who stand outside offices on their breaks more likely to buy cigarettes’. It’s a correlation that may well have its original cause in whether someone wants to be a father or interested in being a good parent. It’s a self-selecting group, so causal relationships are hard to find.

What tends to happen when studying this kind of relationship is that the researchers control for indicators of good/bad parenting (e.g. class, age, poverty, marital status) to put it crudely. But what you can’t do is control for ‘wanting to be highly involved in child rearing’, unless you go for a randomised controlled trial, ordering some to stay in hospital and stopping others from getting in (not really ethical).

This, of course, is a problem of much quantitative social science. We can’t do ‘experiments’ keeping everything equal except a causal variable. Life’s too complicated… this doesn’t mean it’s not valid, but we should use other techniques (life course analysis, biography and other qualitative methods) to test and refine these theories.


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Filed under News, Statistics and simplicity

Sarkozettes II: more sloppy journalism

‘They don’t come from the usual elitist white male cookie-cutter mould of French politicians. They have grassroots political experience rather than coming from the old boys’ club of grandes ├ęcoles [the elite universities that educate the bulk of France’s high-flyers]’

Vivienne Walt, the Paris correspondent for Time magazine quoted in the Guardian

After my last post I re-read the Observer article and found this quote I’d missed. Well I knew that Rama Yade was at Sciences-Po, so I thought I’d check how realistic this assessment was. Of the six female ministers mentioned in the article, five had been to the grandes ecoles, and the other is a doctor of pharmacy and an ex-MEP. One of them, Michele Alliot-Marie, was a lecturer in politics and law at the Sorbonne, and it doesn’t get much more grandes ecoles than that.

Interestingly, two of Sarkozy’s seven female cabinet ministers didn’t go to one of the grandes ecoles (Rama Yade isn’t a cabinet minister), and these were the ones not mentioned in the Observer piece. Christine Boutin probably doesn’t fit their story because she’s of the religious right and involved in the pro-life movement, and the other Christine Albanel, was a senior civil servant and worked for Chirac when he was PM and President, hardly grass-roots.

The analysis presented in the quote above is quite simply nonsense. Hold the front page, ‘government still populated by the posh and privileged’; even if one or two had humble beginnings.

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Filed under Gender, News, Politicians