Civil and Human Rights · History · Science

Significant changes in NZ birth statistics

New Zealand’s birth rate has fallen well below replacement level. The average number of births per woman has fallen to 1.6 in 2021, the lowest ever, compared with its 1961 peak of 4.31 (which was in the final quartile of the post-war Baby Boom and was the year the Pill became available in NZ).

A total of 57,105 live births were registered in the year to 31 March 2021, representing a statistically significant fall from the 21st-Century peak of 64,341 births in 2008 and the all-time peak of 65,391 in 1962 (when the population was much lower; 2.42 million compared with 5.12 million now).

Despite continued growth in average life expectancy (around 82 years now, compared with around 63 years a century ago), the “natural increase” in population is now consistently below the death rate; meaning the population can only increase with continued immigration.

Another major change is a sharp fall in the number of teenagers giving birth and an equivalent rise in women over 40 giving birth. In 1980, the teenage birth rate was 38.2 per 1000 teen females. It is now 9.8 per 100. By comparison, the birth rate for women between 40 and 44 is now 13.42

The number of new mothers in their 40s now exceeds those in their teens for the first time. Many teen pregnancies now appear to be planned; as are pregnancies in women over 40. The growth in the latter appears driven by women choosing to start families later in life, and coincides with women having become a majority of those with tertiary education and many women enjoying careers.

The median age of women giving birth has risen from 25.7 years in 1980 to 30.8 in 2020. For Māori women it is 27.3 years, for Pasifika women 27.7 years, for Pākehā 31 years and “Asian” women 32.1 years.

These NZ trends are reflected around much of the world and may be linked to steady growth in the past 50 years in the proportion of women in higher education and the growth of the middle classes. Countries including Japan and many in Europe have sharply falling birth rates. So do formerly high-birth rate counties such as India and especially China, which abandoned its one-child-policy in 2015 from concern at having insufficient young people to support a growing elderly population, with no upward effect on birth rates.

World population is expected to peak at 9.7 billion in 2064 and decline to 8.8 billion by the end of the century.

All this is good news – for the status and position of women in societies; and for the reduction in the pressures on resources that were caused by the population growth of the past two centuries. The growth was caused by the very welcome advance of modern science with its resulting massive increases in health and life expectancy. Demand for resources will fall from mid-century, for the rest of this century and well beyond. Thus will modern science and education also solve the climate question so many people are alarmed by and which the media unthinkingly portray as the next Armageddon.

Statistics NZ data retrieved 9 August 2021
Stuff article 9 August 2021: Changing age of motherhood
The Lancet, 17 October 2020: Population scenarios for 195 countries

Civil and Human Rights · News media · Public affairs

New ABC survey an insight into Twitter’s Thought Police and cancel activists

In the Roman Colosseum of old, when a gladiator fell, the watching mob often decided whether he died or lived. If the mob raised its thumbs up, he lived. Thumbs down meant he died. Twitter is the new Colosseum and its inhabitants are the new mob, deciding what opinions, facts and beliefs can be expressed, and what cannot.

As the range of opinions people are “allowed” to express in public (and increasingly in private) has narrowed rapidly in the past few years, Twitter has become the de facto arbiter of “acceptable” opinions. Those whose thumbs work the phones connected to it daily and world-wide unleash barrages of tweets demanding “wrong” views be taken down and that those who transgress issue grovelling apologies,  be sacked from their (often unconnected) jobs, or both.

This mob of the  righteous great and good on Twitter is demonstrably a small minority. Some 350 million people have Twitter accounts. If that sounds a lot, consider that 2.85 billion people have Facebook accounts. Even though Facebookers far outnumber the denizens of Twitter, consider also that the global population is 7.7 billion, so most people in the world are not on either of these platforms that dominate so much of public discourse (at least in the countries where they are not banned, principally China).

So who are these 350 million people who think they alone can decide whose views will be heard and whose will be cancelled in the “public square” which today is dominated by “social media” at the expense of the fast-shrinking old media of newspapers, radio and television, much less the “town hall” and “speaker’s corner” public meetings of not that long ago?

Clearly many tweeters are journalists. One hardly encounters a journalist now without a Twitter account. Check a few out. They are all there, tweeting at each other in an echo chamber that rebounds with what they put into the public square in their day jobs. Many tweeters are clearly celebrities. Many are academics. Many politicians are there; according to Wikipedia (which appears to be dominated by the same people who dominate Twitter), Barack Obama has the most Twitter followers of all (more than a third of everyone on Twitter!), despite relinquishing office in January 2017. But you have to be a politician with the “right” credentials. You won’t find Donald Trump on Twitter. He is banned. He’s also banned from Facebook, at the baying of the Twitter mob, which is slightly odd, because Twitter mobs hold their noses at Facebook, whose huddled masses they openly despise. You’d think they’d allow Trump there.

But put aside hearsay and observed opinion. This week the ABC in Australia gave us a valuable statistical view of the kind of people who dominate Twitter. The ABC runs an annual online survey of public opinion it calls Australia Talks. Starting in 2019, the 60,000 people claimed to be in its panel have been asked questions about the issues that motivate the ABC, such as climate change, gender, discrimination, inequality, national identity, politics and social media. The answers they give also tend to reflect the ABC’s world-view  (which in turn reflects the views of its journalists on Twitter),  but that’s just my opinion. You can judge for yourself.

In a survey of social media published this week as part of the 2021 Australia Talks results, the ABC revealed that Twitter is, as one would expect,  used by a small minority of Australians (14 pc; incidentally more than I’d have guessed, given Twitter’s  international total,  but then the Australia Talks panel will be skewed towards ABC followers, many of whom would be tweeters).

Many of them are high-income folk, earning more than $A2500 weekly or $A130,000 a year. Of the Twitter users surveyed, more of them are Green voters than supporters of any other party (47pc of Greens use Twitter, compared with 38pc of Labor voters and 26pc of Scott Morrison’s supporters).

The survey also says 64pc of Australian tweeters have reported “offensive comment” and 74pc have boycotted a corporation because of “misbehaviour or offensive messaging.”  That certainly gives weight to the view that Twitter sits like a Colosseum mob, thundering who will be heard, who will be cancelled, and who will lose their job. It seems simply extraordinary that such a high proportion of the small number of people who are affluent inner-urban dwellers not only spend massive amounts of their time on Twitter, but are also finding so much that offends them and then reporting and boycotting the transgressors.

While Australia Talks only covers Australia, I suspect from my Kiwi observations that a similar survey in Aotearoa New Zealand would produce similar results, as would surveys in the UK and probably many other countries where the public square is dominated by the Twitter mob.

Those who dwell on Twitter truly are the Thought Police. Offend them at your peril.

Civil and Human Rights · History · Obituaries · Public affairs

Long live the memory of Linda Brown, almost-forgotten kick-starter of the American civil rights movement

Linda Brown at Sumner Elementary

Schoolgirl Linda Brown walks on by Sumner Elementary in Topeka Kansas

Linda Brown died on Sunday in Topeka, Kansas, aged 76, all but forgotten in her own land, let alone in far-away places like New Zealand. But before Rosa Parks, before Martin Luther King, before even Nelson Mandela became household names, Linda Brown was at the very start of the fight to bring down the apartheid-like system of “Segregation” enacted in America’s South to stop the black population enjoying their freedom from slavery.

In 1951, Brown, then aged nine, was a third grade school pupil in Topeka, her home town. Like all her black schoolfriends, she was required by law to attend Monroe Elementary, a “segregated” black school three kilometres from her home, rather than the nearby Sumner Elementary, which was only for white children.

Her father, Oliver Brown, a welder and pastor, tried to enrol her in Sumner Elementary and when she was refused, he challenged the refusal in court. Her case got all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled, in 1954, that the refusal was unconstitutional. The case, which opened my eyes when I learnt about it at university in the 1980s, was called, in legalese, Oliver L Brown et al v Board of Education of Topeka, Shawnee County, Kansas, et al, or, for short, Brown v Board of Education.

It led to the desegregation of America’s school system, allowing non-white children to attend their local formerly whites-only schools, which always offered better facilities and better schooling than the poorly resourced black schools. It was the first big victory against the Jim Crow laws that had kept black Americans marginalised since the Civil War ended slavery in 1865. Further court cases followed; followed, eventually, by Congress passing the Civil Rights Act in 1964 to legislate equal rights for all, then the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to ensure black citizens could vote in those states that even then still tried to stop them from voting (as an aside, it wasn’t until another Supreme Court case in 1967 that black Americans were allowed to marry white Americans).

Oliver Brown’s court case on behalf of his daughter was taken up by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a famous civil rights group founded in 1909 to advance the rights of America’s oppressed blacks, whose status—especially in the southern former slave states—had barely improved since Abolition.

“My father was like a lot of other black parents here in Topeka at that time,” Linda Brown said in a 1985 interview. “They were concerned not about the quality of education that their children were receiving, they were concerned about the… distance that the child had to go to receive an education.”

Brown and her sisters had to walk across railway tracks and a busy road to catch the bus to Monroe Elementary, and so it was this distance, more than a disparity in quality between Monroe and Sumner, that initially motivated her father.

“He felt that it was wrong for black people to have to accept second-class citizenship, and that meant being segregated in their schools, when in fact, there were schools right in their neighbourhoods that they could attend, and they had to go clear across town to attend an all-black school. And this is one of the reasons that he became involved in this suit, because he felt that it was wrong for his child to have to go so far a distance.”

The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution—enacted in 1868 to grant the freed slaves the same rights as white Americans—declared that “no State shall… deny to any person… the equal protection of the laws.” But the Jim Crow segregation laws passed in many southern states after Abolition had been upheld as legal until Brown v Board of Education, particularly by an 1896 Supreme Court decision, Plessy v Ferguson, which ruled that separate facilities for different races were allowed under the Constitution as long as those separate facilities were equal. Which of course they were not.

The NAACP lawyers combined 13 cases of refusals to enrol black children in white Topeka schools into a single court case for legal emphasis and convenience. They put Oliver Brown’s name at its head so as to have a man as the main applicant, something seen as being important to the white male judges of the day. The twelve other applicants were mothers of refused children.

The case was initially heard by the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. The three judges rejected it, upheld Plessy v Ferguson and declared that, though segregation in public education had a detrimental effect on “negro children”, “negro and white schools” in Topeka had “substantially equal” buildings, transportation, curriculums and teacher qualifications.

This ruling was not a defeat but the outcome the NAACP hoped for, as the organisation wanted to get the case before the US Supreme Court, which has the final say about  whether a law is legal under the Constitution.  By 1954, when Brown v Board of Education was decided after three years in the judicial system, the nine-member Supreme Court had a liberal majority under Chief Justice Earl Warren, who had been appointed the previous year. Brown was to be the first of many civil rights cases heard by the Warren Court to produce landmark judgements that changed American society forever.

The NAACP’s chief counsel was Thurgood Marshall, who in 1967 was to be appointed to the Supreme Court as its first black justice. Marshall combined Brown with similar school cases from other states, making it the lead one because of the earlier Kansas ruling that the separate black and white schools in Topeka were “substantially equal,”  something he wanted to decisively challenge. That the winds of change were beginning to blow was exemplified by supporting briefs from US Federal Attorney General James P McGranary and Secretary of State Dean Acheson that America’s racial discrimination (hitherto upheld by the courts on behalf of the states) was hurting America’s image and interests abroad as the Cold War with Soviet Russia intensified.

The Supreme Court heard the case in 1953. Documents revealed since show that then-Chief Justice Fred M Vinson was opposed to overturning Plessy v Ferguson, but some senior justices stalled for time. They could not reach a decision and the court did not issue a judgement. Then Vinson died, Earl Warren was appointed, and the case was heard again with additional arguments. Much internal debate took place between the justices. Warren wanted to issue a nine-nil unanimous declaration that segregation was unconstitutional and thus illegal, but some of the justices held out. Eventually all agreed with Warren, who read his earthquake of a judgement on 17 May 1954. Its conclusion stated:

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The effect is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.

“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

This historic judgement was, of course, only the beginning of the end of segregation. Many states, including the supposedly “liberal” New York, had de facto school segregation. Some school boards with statutory segregation prevaricated, leading to the so-called Brown II of 1955, in which the Supreme Court ordered desegregation to proceed “with all deliberate speed.” The bright yellow school buses of today’s America came about as a result of court-ordered “busing” of children between neighbourhoods to attend the same schools as children from richer or poorer neighbourhoods.

And beyond Brown, many hard battles lay ahead for black Americans. Far more than schools were segregated; so were trains and buses, parks and libraries, even restaurants, cafes and public toilets. They still faced the  fight for the right to vote, let alone being treated as equal citizens by the majority; a battle still to be fully won, something demonstrated by the Black Lives Matter movement.

By 1954, Linda Brown had passed the age of being able to attend Monroe Elementary. Ironically, Topeka’s junior high schools had been desegregated without any court action since 1941 and Topeka High had not been segregated since its opening in 1871. The Kansas Jim Crow laws only permitted segregation “below the high school level”.

Linda Brown and friends a decade on

Linda Brown is on the left in this photo of her and three other plaintiffs in her case, taken in 1964 on the 10th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education.

Other black Americans from the Civil Rights era became far better known than Linda Brown. The year after Brown v Board of Education, Rosa Parks refused to stand up for a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery Alabama and was arrested. Martin Luther King took up her cause and the Civil Rights Movement was on the road, shattering white America’s post-war calm and featuring such monumental events as the 1963 March on Washington and King’s “I have a dream” speech, one of the most powerful orations in the English language.

But I hope it is never forgotten that Linda Brown, a little girl from Topeka Kansas, began it all. I find it sad that, unlike civil rights peers such as Rosa Parks, she does not even have her own page in Wikipedia and is mentioned only four times, almost in passing, in the exhaustive Wikipedia article on Brown v Board of Education. Her adult life was rarely in the public eye. She featured in news items on the 10th anniversary of her case, and in a 1985 television documentary. She was a talented pianist, I learned from the little published information about her life. She taught children to play piano at the Topeka church she attended. There has been no movie about her, no best-selling book, no television series. Perhaps with her death, her importance to the shaping of modern America — and because of that, the world — will be given the recognition it deserves.