It seems to be my week for being in the firing line. Below the fold is an article from the Launceston Sunday Examiner by Fran Voss. Yet again, my coauthor (in this case, Joshua Gans) seemed to dodge the bullet.
Fran Voss, “Oh baby, you must be joking!”,Â Sunday Examiner, 30/03/08
Being past your due date to give birth is not be happiest time a woman s life.
You feel as heavy, as a Mack truck and about as attractive. Your legs ache, you have varicose veins where the sun don’t shine, your back aches, the baby practices daily punt kicks on bladder, you have to get up several times a night to go to the loo, you have indigestion and its been a year since you had any alcohol.
Damn right, you are in a bad mood!
Anyone who suggested you might want to hang on for a bit longer just to claim a paltry $813 extra bonus is likely to have serious injury inflicted on him by a breast pump.
I say ”him” because no woman would claim anything so ludicrous, not to mention anatomically impossible.
Obviously Australian National University economist Andrew Leigh is not easily terrified.
I would be if I was him.
This week he suggested that the mid-year increase in the baby bonus due in July will cause
women to delay their births so they’re eligible for the extra bonus.
The $4187 baby bonus introduced by the Howard Government in 2004 is due to rise to
$1000 on July 1.
Our learned friend reckons this is an unhealthy incentive for women to “over-cook” their babies.
You think we want to go on feeling like this for another week?
No offence, but if I want my car fixed l go to a mechanic, if I want my tax done I go to an accountant, if I want to know about giving birth I am not going to go to an economist.
Mr Leigh says an increase in the baby bonus last year resulted in 700 delayed births in Australia.
How does he know this?
Did he go in to visit the newly-delivered mum and ask her how she managed to perform this incredible feat?
Did she just sit there with her legs firmly crossed prolonging her labour for an extra couple of days?
Did she stand on her head against the wall?
Perhaps she wrapped Her tummy in red flannel and whistled Yankee Doodle?
What planet did this man come from? There are many things in life over which we have control: like eating (though perhaps not spaghetti), washing the kitchen floor, choosing the colour of our curtains.
Giving birth is certainly not one of them.
When a baby is ready to come into the world neither heaven nor hell nor the Prime Minister with a bigger baby bonus can change its mind.
The reverse is also true.
There more old wives methods of bringing labour than a Telstra on executive’s pay rises and none of them work. (Neither do the executives for that matter.)
l know because two of my three children were overdue by more than a week and I tried most of them.
The car ride over a bumpy road. The very hot bath. Green tea. Cod liver oil. Sex.
Even slipping on icy streets in a Canadian carpark refused to budge my first daughter, although that wasn’t intended.
I have to admit I did try to delay the birth of my third baby, if for only a few hours.
But that was because she was trying to make an entrance on Christmas Day and I thought of
the poor little thing always having only one set of presents.
It was a very hot Canberra Christmas Day and we were sharing lunch with my in-laws.
The contractions started with the entree course and the Christmas all went on through turkey, the plum pudding, the ice cream and the raspberries, although not in any major way, obviously.
I certainly did a lot of sitting down with my legs crossed saying: “Wait! Wait! Just a couple more hours till we’re past midnight.”
As it turned out, she did. She was born just before midday on Boxing Day but l don’t think it was anything l did.
She’s always wished l could have held on longer.
Having your birthday the day after Christmas is like trying to put the bubbles back into the champagne and the champagne back in the bottle.
A bit like Mr Leigh’s suggestion, really.
Our economist makes me regret that men can’t have babies.
Here’s the letter I wrote in response.
In the Sunday Examiner of 30 March, Fran Voss wrote a column critiquing my research on the Baby Bonus with Joshua Gans. Professor Gans and I found that the sudden Baby Bonus introduction on 1 July 2004 and increase on 1 July 2006 caused hundreds of births to be “moved” from June to July. Ms Voss’s response – “you must be joking” – made me wish two things.
First, it made me wish I could write with her deft flair. If only my dusty economics articles had the wit and humour of Ms Voss’s columns, perhaps they too would be read by thousands, rather than by tens (I may be being generous to myself on this point).
Second, it made me wish that Ms Voss was right. When the federal government implemented these sudden increases in the Baby Bonus, it created an incentive to move births for non-medical reasons. It would be nice to think this had no effect on births. But the facts speak otherwise. With nearly half of all babies now born by c-section or inducement, it turns out to be relatively easy for doctors and parents to move births. In late-June 2004 (and 2006), inducements and c-sections plummeted, before spiking upwards in early-July. Meanwhile, vaginal births were basically unaffected.
One piece of evidence tells the story. Professor Gans and I have daily birth data for the past thirty years (over ten thousand days in all). Across this period, the day with the largest number of births was 1 July 2004, the day on which the Baby Bonus was introduced. Just a coincidence, Ms Voss?