How sweatshops start

If you beat the dirt long enough, you can find a grey economy contract sewing operation run by immigrants in nearly every US city. Some operations are legal in that they have licensing and follow wage laws and some are a bit fuzzy on the details and may be housed in apartment complexes. Both are similar in that they hide from you but then contractors nearly always do.

Immigrant sewing operations are an easy entry into entrepreneurship for their ownership and preferable for them more so than for you because they do not enjoy the same social benefits of language facility, acquisition to capital and education (while they are often well educated, their credentials are not recognized thus no status is conferred) so they can’t get a job like you can and provide for their families at a level to which they’d like to become (or had been) accustomed. Sewing is a very low entry industry, it’s the first industry any nation develops so it’s ideal for anyone who is disadvantaged.

It starts like so: Fulano decides to take in sewing so they find bits here and there to the point they get a smallish contract from somebody at the craft show level meaning they need to hire someone to help. That is nearly always a family member residing in the same space with whom they share expenses who is similarly unemployed or underemployed. Jointly they agree to split the proceeds most of which goes toward things like rent, groceries, health care, a vehicle and its maintenance and shoes for the kids. They will continue to add head count as the enterprise grows, again all are members of the same family eating from the same table. Business receipts are shared communally and go into the aforementioned household maintenance costs as well as developing the business, buying more machines and equipment etc. As they’re pooling expenses, living quarters and work, no individual family members are drawing pay commensurate to wage laws. You’re entitled to your own opinion but I don’t perceive these family centered, grey economy sewing operations to be morally reprehensible “sweatshops” because each family member is a defacto owner putting in sweat equity the same way you do.

The point at which there arises a conflict is when the family business has grown to the extent that they must face becoming a legal business because they’re too small to hide anymore. They have to plan goals to get a business location and hire more people only now, there’s increasing likelihood they’ll have to hire someone from outside of the family or even, put the younger kids to work.

[An aside on child labor of which context is everything: How many of you have your kids stuff envelopes or make swatch cards after they come home from school? Are you saying this is okay because it takes place in your home but you don’t trust others to be as fair with their kids as you are with yours? I’m not making any pronouncements of good or bad. I’m saying everybody does it and it’s a double standard that we think it’s okay for suburban college educated white women to use their children’s labor (often to keep them busy, out of trouble and out of our hair) but that we think it is not okay for urban immigrant women we hire to use their kids to work for the same reasons, namely to keep them busy, out of trouble and out of their hair. Think about it. I have. No I would not want to hire someone who had their 12 year old sewing on my buttons after school but it’s not a far cry from what many DE moms do themselves.]

The point at which the family centered communally owned business can become a sweatshop is when they take in workers who are not family members. If these workers ask for pay commensurate to the legal minimum wage, the owner can say “you’ll be making more than I do” (true in an absolute but not equitable sense) so they, having the same disadvantages of language and education barriers, may have to accept less pay if they want the work.

I’ve frequently said to avoid the smallest of “corner” sewing shops, that although they are close in proximity and you have the advantage of personal (and personable) contact with the owner, that these are often businesses that farm work out into the community at less than fair wage. Unfortunately, because of the personable nature of relationships in that you align and feel affinity with the owners, it can be a false sense of security for those motivated to domestic fair trade production. Obviously this advisement is not a blanket pronouncement that all small contractors take advantage of their employees but I’ve failed to explain my reasoning in order that you may discern the difference.

When we think of sweatshops, we usually have some fat white rich guy in mind. He’s the one hiring the immigrants and paying them slave wages in less than savory conditions. The reality is, it is more likely that the owner is an immigrant who has hired his or her countrymen, with whom he or she shares language and culture and thus proximity to a underutilized labor pool.

I don’t imagine much of this will help you select a facility, most of you are so grateful to find a contractor that you’re willing to overlook nagging doubts, hoping for the best. You decide however right or wrongly that the operation isn’t a sweatshop based on your friendly and personal relationship with the owner. I can’t tell you what to do (many do not listen anyway) but I’d ask how many workers are family members. If it’s a small shop and most are family members, I’d be less concerned. You have the right to inspect payroll documentation, in many states (and in the court of public opinion) you’re considered at fault if you don’t verify this information. As a practical matter, you could alienate the owner who then wouldn’t take your work. Which is why a larger operation is always a better bet, at least in the US because larger operations are too big to hide from the powers that be. Only problem with larger operations is that they have higher minimums. Such is your so called DE life, always between a rock and a hard place.

I never wrote about any of this before because I never had any empirical evidence to back my long standing observations. This morning though, I found a tangentially related paper written by Roger Waldinger, a distinguished professor at UCLA who has made a career of studying immigrant entrepreneurship. The paper I was reading (before I interrupted myself to write this piece) is called Immigrant Enterprise in the New York Garment Industry (pdf). Contrary to many sociological treatises, it is astute; he understands the nature of the work, the division of labor and the nature of relationships between vested parties in the garment industry. It is also bereft of rhetoric which I personally find repugnant*, a cheap shot. If you make your points clearly and succinctly, you don’t need to decry how horrid or squalid or abusive the situation is. Inflammatory adjectives are a short cut, a lazy way to score points with kindred who share your sensibilities (it alienates everyone else). You make your sympathies and perspectives known by virtue of your topic selection and somewhat distastefully I mention, omission. I’m quite taken with the research. Be sure to read “effects of market structure” on page 63 (pg 4 of the pdf). The paper headings are so academic as to scare off the best of us but the writing makes for effortless reading. Good show.

*…and you did know that the smarter someone becomes, the more they think like economists?

PS. This entry could be better titled as “How contract sewing operations start”.

PPS. I will be keeping a close eye on comments since we’ve gotten unfair and uncharitable comments about immigrants before.

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  1. Brenda says:

    I have a special heart for immigrants, having worked with immigrant communities I know how hard they work to get ahead. I don’t think this is an issue that applies specifically to the immigrant community though. I grew up in PR where I took my first pattern-making and sewing classes in HS and I knew former students that were setting up shop in their garages running illegal electricity lines to be able to run a few machines at the same time. Somehow this was more appealing than spending the money to set up a shop legitimately.

    In this case, what do we do? Do we not support the low-minimum, low price per-piece operation around the corner or based on principles we spend more money on a bigger operation?

  2. Virginia Dan says:

    My parents ran a sewing shop when I was a young child, but it closed after their company was seized by the IRS due to my father’s business partners shaddy financial proactices. Although my mother had a degree in fashion design she turned to work at other sewing shops to support our family. Unlike her shop, her new bosses did not respect their employees or pay them legal wages, instead she would spend sleepless night (48-72 hours) sewing very complicated suit collars for 5 cents a piece. I think the best thing for people to do who are starting their own line and willing to use domestic sewing contractors is to visit the facility & have a contract requiring them to follow labor laws. You cannot make a living wage getting paid per garment… at least not at the rate most clothing labels pay their contractors.

  3. Rocio says:


    What a great find that paper was!… Finished reading it and as you say, this guy KNOWS what he’s talking about

    I’ve experienced setting up businesses in other countries as an immigrant and in the USA as a citizen and child of immigrant parents… That said, my situation has been very different from the “typical” path to setting up a sewing contractor shop

    Having an “outsider” explain it so eloquently has most certainly given me a better understanding about some of the things I’ve noticed over the years in dealing with (mainly) hispanic owned businesses


  4. This points to yesterday’s post about what people are willing to pay for things. We are the ones to blame with regard to sweatshops. We are not willing to pay fair prices for items. In turn people don’t get paid fair wages for work. It’s the inability to see the bigger picture that will continue to bankrupt us.

  5. Janet Baker says:

    I appreciate this post very much. I would like to relate it to something I’ve been thinking. In our own economy we have a current forced choice between big capitalism and a form of socialism which involves public (taxpayer) bankrolling of the interests of very big business under the argument of, they are too big to fail, so we have to save them. And all we get is paid back, if that. We don’t apparently get any profits (as taxpayers or co-riskers, take your pick) or any ownership in the huge conglomerates we saved. Actually this is fascism, but we’ve forgotten the definitions and we don’t care anymore and neither do I. What we need is a third choice, a platform that encourages more capitalism! That is, more capitalists, small capitalists.

    There are various versions of this on the internet; one googles ‘distributism.’ This is the form of ownership more prevalent in the middle ages, and yes, products did cost more, but there was virtually no unemployment. It is truly free market and the state/Church alliance prevalent then made sure that the ownership stayed broad and not concentrated, with tax schemes and other policies that favored smaller business more than larger ones (they forbad advertising, for example, to make sure business kept spread out; we could certainly do a little to contain it, as in Do-Not-Call but applied more broadly; they also forbad lending money at interest, which our trashed economy has just about restored in spite of itself–zero percent interest is the norm in Japan now that their economy’s crashed, and it’s becoming so in ours, but without other branches, it’s withering anyway).

    We can’t take the already crumbling socialist path (ref Europe)–especially with any government without fixed standards. We have lost, in our own society, the absolute protection for human life that used to apply, a position usually identified with religion; what we have now is a relativistic position regarding human life, which is allowed to flourish under our very modern ‘freedom of religion’ clause, or ‘separation of Church and state,’ it’s the same thing. Using this argument as a basis, our secular government has more and more excluded religion from our culture, with its old prohibition against seeing people as meat or as capital or as expendable if the price is right, so no secular government is safe to trust now. It could be different with a government that made such a commitment to human life untouchable by any election. (It’s funny, we want to make everything else a ‘right’ but that.)

    I am arguing here that neither party is even beginning to deal with the issues raised in this post, which as so very important to our futures, to our children, to the world. Our present politica/economicl structure is just unsustainable. We need to go forward by going back and reclaiming what is thought of as ‘old fashioned.’ It’s old fashioned to big business, for sure. Not to those of us who care.

    By the way, I do sew and bookmarked this blog due to my interest in that! But my blog hasn’t any sewing posts except Fashion and Faith.

  6. Peter says:

    For some reason, the term “sweat shops” always puts me on the defensive. I am not, and have never been a factory owner, nor have I ever patronized what I would consider a sweat shop. I have worked with factories, however, that others might categorize as such.

    For many years I worked for a large company with strict social compliance rules for its partner factories. While the intent of these rules may have been good, many of the regulations were hypocritical at best, harmful at the worst.

    Obviously forced labor and child labor are problems that cannot be tolerated (though Kathleen’s example of kids helping out at home is common, and is usually harmless). That said, many of the compliance regulations (meant to prevent these factories from functioning as a sweat shop) did nothing more than limit the industriousness – and income – of the very people they intended to protect.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Brenda wrote:

    In this case, what do we do? Do we not support the low-minimum, low price per-piece operation around the corner or based on principles we spend more money on a bigger operation?

    I can tell you one thing (btw, this is something that annoys me about people who rely on “fair trade” marketing to the exclusion of all else). Nearly anyone who is working in a sewing business is disadvantaged. You don’t need to go to India to find deserving disadvantaged sewers and post that on your website to illustrate how good you are. Sure, photos of poor children in exotic foreign lands looks more colorful and picturesque on one’s web site but in the US, if you’re working in a factory, you’ve likely not had a fair shake at life for one reason or another so you could hire just about anyone and be just as fair trade but more effective.

    I’m not suggesting you should not be socially progressive, far from it, just that you don’t have to go far to do that. Iow, you can do that domestically and the benefits trickle down bettering your community too and the larger picture strengthens trade inequities. I mean, why go to India to hire Indians when you can hire them here? Okay, that’s a stupid play on words but some reservations have 80% unemployment. Lord knows we did them dirty so why not fix that first?

    In mentioning this, I guess I mean people who ship production off shore (they do mean well) but it is so costly for them that btwn COGS and overhead, their enterprises fail. You can’t do good in the long term if you’re out of business. By all means send work where it’s most appropriate based on available skill sets (iow, it’d be hard to get batiking done here but you can in Asia).

    Virginia wrote:

    You cannot make a living wage getting paid per garment… at least not at the rate most clothing labels pay their contractors.

    This is a matter of debate and context:
    Debate: They must pay at least minimum wage. If minimum wage isn’t high enough, that is something to be taken up with Congress.

    Context: “Making a living” depends on who is saying it. A family member of mine who lives in Ohio was complaining that the only jobs available were paying $17 an hour and she said “who is going to work for THAT?” I told her that in around here, they’d have people lined up for a mile (literally) for $17 an hour jobs. Then you have others who think that 100K is barely scraping by.

    Sewing is not the best paying job by any means but it pays better than people think. For example, even in El Paso TX (2nd poorest zip code in the country), ten YEARS ago, the average wage paid to stitchers was $10.17 an hour. I think among designers I know, the average wage paid is about $15 an hour, iow, twice minimum wage.

    I’m not saying you are guilty of the following when everyone says it but you can’t lay all the blame here. Consumers want cheaper goods and manufacturers follow suit.

    Peter wrote:

    For some reason, the term “sweat shops” always puts me on the defensive. I am not, and have never been a factory owner, nor have I ever patronized what I would consider a sweat shop. I have worked with factories, however, that others might categorize as such.

    The term “sweat shop” definitely puts me on the defensive. It’s usually a cheap shot. In fact, most people wouldn’t know the difference between a nice factory and a sweat shop if they saw one.

    I’ve come to realize that many “industry” people who use this term are wannabes not newbies. Problem is, they poison the well for everyone.

  8. karen judge says:

    Agreed, we could use some of that trendy “fair trade” awareness here in our own backyards. I love bringing consultants, employees, and even curious friends to the sewing factory we contract with (and it is NOT a sweatshop). It is a jaw-dropping experience for many to see (here in SF) row upon row of middle-age Chinese women sewing the same item for days at a time. Just like most Americans don’t know where the food they eat comes from, neither do they have any idea where their clothing comes from. “Wow, a person actually sews my clothes,” is something I’ve heard many times.

  9. Piece rate covers so many situations. In the thread I linked to earlier, an argument was made that really good factories use piece rate because that’s what really good operators prefer.

    Piece rate is also how home sewers are paid. Home sewers are isolated from one another and can’t compare notes or organize. If they complain to the guy who brings them their work and pays them that they are getting less than minimum wage (or that the pieces were defective, or that they weren’t given enough thread) they get told, “well, nobody else has that problem.” And they have to pay for the defective articles and buy their own thread and feel bad because they aren’t working as fast as the mysterious everyone else who somehow, miraculously, make over minimum wage.

    If the workers are in a factory, there’s a good chance they’re getting at least the legal mimimum conditions, piece work or not. They can talk to one another, sewing times can be objectively verified, all thread is paid for by the shop, and the factory is at least theoretically visible to the law.

    If the workers are at home — you know, “cottage industry,” which sounds so sweet — then there’s a very good chance they are being horribly exploited.

  10. Xochil says:

    I think that one of the biggest misconceptions about immigrants who start contract sewing businesses is that they are uneducated. One of the contractors I work with is Polish and has had a successful sewing business for more than 15 years. Her English is not perfect but she is incredibly smart. In talking with her I found that she holds 2 college degrees from Poland, one of which is in Economics. She speaks four languages. Pretty incredible. Like your story of hiring family members or fellow immigrants from their country, she employs 5 women who are also of Polish or Eastern European decent, who are in their 20s-30s. The shop is in her home, but definitely not a “sweatshop”. The machines are well maintained, the shop is well-lit, well-ventilated, has a separate kitchen and eating area. The floor is always spotless. I really admire people like her who come into a new country and make a lasting career for themselves. Not to say that the sewing industry can solve unemployment, but it is really inspiring to see people who come here with absolutely nothing and build something great for themselves. Some Americans should take note of their experiences.

  11. Re the term “living wage”: Wages are the price of labor, and the price of ANYTHING is nothing more or less than that which the market will bear. Attempts to set a minimum wage or define what constitutes a “living wage” are utterly useless. There are only 2 possibilities. Either the minimum wage is set lower than the prevailing wage, in which case why bother having it? Or set at or above the prevailing wage, which means (since the prevailing wage is an average wage) that some perfectly legitimate prices at which people are selling their labor are now forbidden, which cannot help but result in a distortion of the labor market.

    Let me give you an example. I pay people to crochet baby booties. A lot of them do it while watching TV. From one point of view (and depending on how fast they crochet) I’m paying them less than minimum wage [insert all the crying about “living wages” and “slave wages” here]. But from another point of view, they’re getting paid to do what they would have done anyway, crochet in front of the TV. Only instead of making yet another afghan to give to their afghan-overloaded relatives for Christmas, they’re making money they can exchange for a different gift. Or money for food or expenses. I think it’s fair, but more importantly, THEY ALSO think it’s fair. If they don’t want the work at that price, they can say no or ask for a higher price. They know the terms when they sign the contract because I explain it to them. In exchange for not having to work specific hours away from their normal activities, they take a haircut on the wage. It’s a deal I take all the time when I do online tutoring, which pays less than professoring but has much more flexible hours and a looser dress code. It’s like getting half a job instead of a whole job, so it makes perfect sense that it would pay less than a whole job. I, as both a contractor and a hirer of contractors, am harnessing marginal bits of productivity that would otherwise have gone to waste for lack of them constituting one entire job.

    The situation gets more ethically complicated when illegal immigrants are involved, though. They may be coerced by unscrupulous people into accepting a contract that puts them at a disadvantage they wouldn’t otherwise accept, for fear they might be exposed to La Migra. That is unethical (which is a whole other story and needs to be resolved through the lawmaking process). But to conflate that kind of situation with the situation of my contractors, simply because of the amount of money that’s changing hands, is an insult to me. The problem here is the coercion, not the wage level.

  12. Sabine says:

    Sweatshops are tempting, especially when your sole employee demands another pay increase 2 weeks after she got the last one, demands more hours and she is already making more per hour then you do.
    But, she is not working for me anymore, had no production to do and while she was a great production seamstress, she was unable to do alterations without having 1″ difference between left and right leg when hemming a pair of jeans.

    All funny (but true) stuff aside though…it IS hard hiring your first employee. I don’t count my daughter, because she only comes in to clean every other Saturday and gets paid $10 to vacuum and mop and $10 for every hour of other chores I get out of her.
    During the summer i had a girl through the youth employment program. The government paid her wages. After 4 weeks I gave up training her, i could not afford to. Sounds weird, seeing as it looks like she did not cost me anything.
    she cost me a lot though.
    She made mistakes on the till and I was money short.
    Every hour that she actually worked took half an hour out of my time to show her what to do, and I mean such simple things as showing her how to clean a window. It generally took me longer to explain and to show her then to do the whole job myself.
    I had her do prep work, simple stuff, I ended having to fix holes she made.
    She took to sewing like a rock floats.
    Bottom line was, I “produced” as many $/hour with her or often less then I managed to do by myself.

    So, after that, it makes me wonder how anyone can afford to hire someone.
    I probably just need a second me…. :)

  13. Carol Thurston says:

    It was not so very long ago (the 1960s) that in our state a teenager of 14 could quit school if he or she had a full-time job.

    I wonder if the do-gooders who wring their hands over “sweatshops” ought to be careful what they wish for. I suspect children who sew on buttons and stitch sneakers are better off in the garment factory than some other industries.

  14. Janet Baker says:

    Keeping young people out of the job market and in school instead of in work situations solves more than one problem for the present government, both Republican and Democrat. It keeps them off the job market. And it delays their marriage. Everyone now genuflects to the belief that the number one goal of the world is to reduce our population. When people marry later, they tend to have few or no children. As a growth-killing strategy, delaying marriage and substituting ever more education levels to work at the hosiery counter at Macy’s works. Lots more social problems come from marrying later, though. For one thing, every kid does not want a higher education. Believe it or not, colleges now suffer from discipline problems as people demonstrate their dislike of what they are doing. Quality inevitably falls, too, because classes are held back. And the sexual problems of marrying later even though the hormones are the highest, youngest–STD’s, actual violence, and the unquantifiable hurt of the broken hearts from multiple sex partners. Eventually the inability to love.

    So if you hanker after seeing more kids in situations where they can really learn something, at a sewing machine or at a metal grinding machine or other gainful skill instead of another year of racking up trivia answers (at best), protest down at your local so-friendly Planned Parenthood. That’s the source of the drive to contract humanity at all cost, across borders and social classes and faiths.

  15. Janet,

    You discuss choice – you say that not all young people are interested in higher education – but then you want us to protest at Planned Parenthood, which is an essential organization enabling us all to have choice. Not everyone wishes to marry at fourteen and start churning out babies. In fact, hardly anyone wants this.

    You say that delayed marriage results in smaller families and even choosing not to have children at all, but you fail to demonstrate that this is a bad thing. And your list of stuff you attribute to education – inability to love, fer crissakes – is just bizarre.

    I’m 46 and live in Quebec. Typically, the parents of people my age had no better than a seventh-grade education. The school system was a religious enterprise. Birth control was illegal until 1969. And guess what: people felt angry and oppressed. We got a violent separatist movement. (See also, Northern Ireland.)

    Many of my contemporaries raised in large, poor families hate the church passionately. Not because they were told to by Planned Parenthood, but because of the suffering they observed at home every day when their mothers bore children they did not want and were denied the education they did want.

    When I went to missionary school in West Africa I was told by my classmates that if I did not accept the Lord Jesus Christ into my heart as my personal saviour that I was doomed to alcoholism. My reaction was to think that these folks obviously didn’t get out much. My reaction to your comment is much the same. If you think that education ruins people’s lives, you obviously don’t get out much.

    For further reading:
    A website where women tell of their escape from the Quiverfull movement. Quiverfull denies the importance of education and requires women to bear as many children as physically possible. Because families are so large and schooling takes place at home, the children are managed through abusive regimentation.
    “THE ONLY MORAL ABORTION IS MY ABORTION” (when the anti-choice choose)
    An article discussing the attitudes of women who are anti-choice who have abortions. They are grateful to have the services for themselves because they understand their own situations. However, many of them believe that they are special and that all other women who require abortions are immoral sluts – and that therefore abortion should be illegal.

  16. Bess says:

    In an attempt to get this thread back on subject (well, sort of): @Sabine: After 4 weeks I gave up training her, i could not afford to.

    That’s something I think is too often ignored or unrealized when hiring a new person: the cost of training. I, too, have had employees who have been paid by outside agencies and therefore were “free” for me. Some of them worked out, some of them didn’t. But none of them were free, because each one had to be trained, and training takes time and productivity away from yourself or your other employees. No new employee is ever going to be free, no matter what the status of their salary, and if they don’t turn out to be an asset, they can end up costing you quite a bit. It’s something to keep in mind when hiring, or when you’re presented with the opportunity to take on a “free” employee.

  17. Carol and Janet,

    Were you yourselves taken out of school at fourteen to be put to work? Is that how you know how good that is and why you think that all children should be able to benefit from this opportunity — not just permitted, but encouraged? Because the people I know who were taken out of school to be put to work as children are not happy about it.

    Are we to assume that you used all legal measures to prevent your own children from accessing the educations that would only ruin their lives, or do you think that education is good for yourselves and for your own children but not necessary for other people’s children?

    Are we also to assume that you feel terribly sorry for Kathleen that education ruined her life? She and Eric are both university educated and they married late. Despite that, they seem to love one another and to work together as a pretty good team. Do you have information that says they don’t? Kathleen did have a child while she was young and very poor, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t think that the poverty of youth made motherhood a better experience for her. Is she wrong?

    Also, it would seem somewhat hypocritical to come to Kathleen’s site and benefit from her education if you think that the very idea of education is misguided.

  18. Kathleen says:

    I read a lot of those entries over at “not quivering” and boy, could I relate! I wasn’t raised in such a household -at least I thought that- but now wonder if I wasn’t living with the vestiges of it. My father, until the age of 12 was raised in a faith very similar to the Amish. My family had been of this faith for as long as we could track it back, at least since the early 1700’s. My dad and mom had a baby every year. I can relate to what it’s like to be a mom before you even start elementary school. Having been the mom of my siblings affects our relationship to this day. Not something I’d wish on anyone. Likewise, I wasn’t encouraged to go to higher education. Quite the opposite. I was belittled for desiring it. None of my siblings did so much as graduate from high school. To this day, my youngest brother calls me an “underwater basket weaver”. My sister never misses an opportunity to proudly assert she never finished high school and that college graduates are parasites and know-nothings. No mystery why we don’t have much in common.

  19. Karen Judge says:

    Some of the most interesting false assumptions I’ve ever heard — that marrying later leads to STDs, violence, multiple sex partners, and an inability to love. WOW! Not to mention the suggestion that college is marginally useful for those who choose to go because the quality is diluted from all the students who don’t want to be there. College is EXPENSIVE and HARD — people who are not committed don’t last long. The immigrant ladies working for my sewing contractor work their butts off to get their own, first generation, kids to college, medical school, law school, etc. Seems to me these folks clearly don’t want their kids uneducated, marrying young, having large amounts of children, or (my guess) scoffing at family planning options whatever they may be.

  20. Theresa in Tucson says:

    I’m second oldest of eight. My parents had a child every year for five years before biology started slowing things down. In her later years my mother told me she wished they had not been so “Catholic”. It was hard on her and hard on us. We all grew up functional but not one of us has had more than three children and all of us delayed marriage. The one important thing my parents gave us was an education. Books and the ability to be lifelong learners were a given in our house and it was “What are you going to do with your life?” not “Who are you going to marry?”. Specialization is for insects, not humans. We don’t adpat to our environment, we adapt our environment to us and you can’t do that well without education, no matter where you get it, on the job or at a university.

  21. Janet Baker says:

    To Karen:

    The conclusion that multiple sex partners leads to an inability to love is my own. I base it on countless conversations with women friends over many years. The assertion that late marriage leads to STD’s is shared by any number of researchers, like John Hopkins School of Public Health. Direct quote: “Young people today marry later, and more start sex before marriage. Thus they face more risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).” You can find it here:

    The idea that there are people enrolled in college who don’t want to be there, don’t achieve, and keep others from achieving could be found by a little research. Talking to present or retired community college teachers like myself would be one. Another would be articles like this one, which details the extent to which welfare recipients can increase the size of their grants by college enrollment could be found here

    or here is an article that begs for reform of the welfare-to-work system due to the fact that there is very little accountability from the student, classes failed multiple times, high enrollment length to get a degree, low graduation rate and many other abuses of the system:

    Please don’t think that I am saying that welfare people don’t belong in college, etc. etc. I had many wonderful students in that financial ‘category’ who were there because they wanted to be there, because they had the kind of processor that handled the often abstract material, because their particular life goals included a job requiring sustained study.
    This does not describe a significant segment of the college population. The original point was not that college isn’t hard, rewarding, or anything else, but that people are pushed into higher education by a system which wishes to hide its unemployment rate, and that these people by a whole gamut of behaviors hold back greater achievement of those who want to be there for their own thirst for that particular type of education.

    I think the point was well made in other posts that education can happen on a job, too, and for very many people, that is the kind of education they want. It is in bad repute–technical programs have closed all over the place. Educators fear recommending certain programs in the ‘blue collar’ area (even very challenging cad training programs in the machinist industry) because our present culture simply reflexively genuflects at the idea of all people receiving some kind of ‘higher’ education for as long as they can. The support for this kind of thinking does not come from a people-friendly philosophy but rather from a socially destructive one.

  22. sabine says:

    @ Bess: Yes, i will simply have to to draw a distinctive line and stick to it and not let my feelings keep someone longer just because I like them and they are not all bad..

    @ Janet: Oh my goodness, really? late marriage leads to STD’s? Are you for real?
    let me tell you a story.
    There was a guy who wanted to experience on how a dog’s behavior would change if the dog got injured. So, he amputated one of the dogs legs.
    When he called the dog, the dog would hobble over on 3 legs.
    He made notation of that in his notebook and amputated another leg. When he called the dog, the dog would laboriously move over to the person who called him.
    He made notation of that in his notebook and amputated a third leg. When he called the dog who had only one leg left, the dog would slowly push itself forward with his pone remaining leg.
    The entry in the notebook went something like this “subject seems to have trouble following commands in a speedy manner”. After that, he amputated the dogs last leg and called the dog again. This time, the dog did not come when called.
    The guy concluded ” a dog without legs is deaf”
    Sounds very much like your conclusion…
    Late marriage does not lead to STD’s, unprotected sex does.

  23. Janet, I am 46 years old and have had somewhere between 15 and 25 sexual partners, both men and women. I have never had an STD, have never been pregnant, and have certainly never lost my ability to love. On the contrary, having experience meant that I knew right away when I had met The One – which happened when I was 37.

    I suspect you of being human. As a human being you are naturally built to forget errors, seek confirming information, ignore and discount disconfirming information and so on. The assertion that multiple sexual partners destroy the ability to love needs the support of actual objective data which you most certainly do not have. (As the say in the science biz: the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data.’) You have an unsupported opinion, that’s all. Presenting unsupported opinion as fact is going to get you challenged.

    I read the Johns Hopkins Population Report you cited. I like this quote: “Young adults form one of the largest groups with unmet needs for reproductive health services. They need to be able to protect themselves from unwanted sex, STDs, unplanned pregnancy, too-early childbearing, and unsafe abortion. Unfortunately, young people often face these risks on their own. In many parts of the world, traditional family and community support is no longer available or has been unable to cope with rapidly changing realities. Organized community health and social measures have not yet filled the gap, although they are beginning in some places, despite controversy. While the revolution in family planning has helped meet the reproductive health needs of many older, married women and couples, young people have been largely left out. Too often, when adults discuss young people, the most common word used is “problem”—the pregnancy problem, problems with STDs, behavior problems, the problem of educating young people, the problem of irrespons- ibility. Nonetheless, young people are society’s potential for growth and development. They are the parents, workers, and leaders of tomorrow. Meeting the reproductive health needs of today’s young adults requires more than solving problems; it also requires investing in the potential of young people and helping young people to prevent and solve problems for themselves.”

    The population report discusses unintended or mistimed pregnancy among young unmarried women.

    “Studies in the US and other countries have found that women delay about one year on average between starting sexual activity and first using modern contraceptives.” This is the case whether the woman is married or not.

    “A young woman’s pregnancy is more likely to be unintended if she is unmarried. For example, in Kenya the percentage of current pregnancies among women ages 15 to 19 reported to the DHS as mistimed or unwanted was 7% among married women and 74% among unmarried women.”

    You think the problem is that women don’t get married young enough. If all women married at 15, then their pregnancies wouldn’t be unintended or mistimed any more. Presto changeo, easy peasy!

    As the paper you cite explains, it’s more complicated than that. Often women become pregnant, get married, have their baby and then start using contraceptives to delay the next pregnancy. If the pregnant fifteen year olds who are thrilled about having a baby get married, that would account for the low rate of reported unwanted pregnancy among married teenagers: the pregnancy is desired by both parents. The teens who don’t get married after they find out they’re pregnant are the ones who aren’t happy.

    Thus delaying marriage does not cause unwanted pregnancy. It’s exactly the opposite. Young women with wanted pregnancies are advancing marriage. It’s not normal to marry at fifteen, or even nineteen.

    In support of the idea that marrying at fifteen is not normal:
    Out of 72 countries worldwide for which we have data, there are only 6 where the average age for a woman at first marriage is under twenty. They are Niger, Chad, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines. In 27 countries the age is between twenty and twenty-five. In 35 countries, the age is between twenty-five and thirty. In 4 countries it’s over thirty.

    We do not want to model ourselves after Niger, Chad, Mozambique, Bangladesh or Nepal.

  24. Rocio says:

    How did this great topic degenerate into a discussion about sexual partners, and catholics vs protestants?

    Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t appreciate people who feel entitled to turn a perfectly relevant business topic into an opportunity to SHOVE their religious or political views down my throat.

    I’m all for freedom of expression, but there is a time and a place for everything.. and this blog is not where I come to assert my position or seek debates regarding sex or religion

    I’ve been a forum member for 3 years and I hope that at least another 3 years go by before another great topic is turned into a circus :-(

  25. My issue isn’t protestants vs catholics and I have no intention of responding to that. My issue is children working.

    The original post discussed grey areas of child labour. A couple of commenters took the opportunity to point out that most children don’t need to be educated, they need to learn concrete skills and get married to keep them out of trouble.

    I think that’s an important distinction when we’re talking about child labour. Are the children working and going to school? Or are they being taken out of school and put to work?

  26. Venera S. says:

    I worked for four years as a contracted sewer. The first of my “clients” called the shots, and determined my wages. I found that working in that situation became increasingly frustrating. The business owner lost interest in her own business, was busy doing other things besides running her business and became very disorganized. And she was usually late in paying her invoices. I no longer work for her and that is a relief. I have learned a lot from the experience, and know what I would not repeat.

    My other contracted experience was different. The client always called in advance to do drop offs and pickups, supplies were either provided or I ordered them and billed her for them. At this point, I don’t work for either anymore. Orders have declined and my services and equipment are no longer required.

    I look forward to receiving the book on the guide to sewn products manufacturing, as I recently started a partnership with another person, a non-sewer, to market our own line of sewn goods.

    No sweatshops here. I determined my hours, set my own schedule and lived my own life. That sense of independence is priceless.

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