Search for children assists paleontologists

This is something that blew my mind last week. Some paleontologists are convinced that there were fewer dinosaurs than we thought – that some different types of dinosaurs were just the adult form of another one, despite the fact that they look completely different. It’s explained in this 20 minute TEDx talk:

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To completely spoil the video, Jack Horner (the paleontologist inspiration behind Jurassic Park) believes that:

  • the Dracorex, Stygimoloch and Pachycephalosaurus were the same dinosaur
  • the Triceratops, Nedoceratops and Torosaurus were the same dinosaur
  • the Edmontosaurus and Anatotitan were the same dinosaur
  • the Nanotyrannus and Tyranosaurus were the same dinosaur

and he deduces this through cutting open dinosaur skulls and bones at the Museum of the Rockies where he is the curator. Those skulls/bones of the suspected “younger” dinosaurs are spongy while the “older” ones are more solid. If other museums were happy for scientists to cut open their dinosaurs perhaps this would’ve been discovered sooner.

But perhaps there’s another angle. If women were more involved in the science of paleontology earlier on, perhaps this would’ve been discovered sooner.

Part of the basis for the theory is that no child dinosaurs (ie. small / less-developed specimens) of the now-suspected “older” dinosaurs have been found to date. To my admittedly non-expert mind, this is pretty damning evidence right there. According to Wikipedia, the Torosaur (for example), was first discovered in 1891. Somehow, it has taken over a hundred years for a dinosaur expert to come up with evidence to support the simple theory that the reason there are no child versions found in all this time is that there are no child versions, ie. that it is an adult version.

Horner himself puts forward the explanation that scientists just like to name things – the more dinosaurs, the more chance for names. However, attempting to put on a feminist-shaped hat, I would also think that an alternative explanation is that the predominantly male dinosaur collectors  of the early years of paleontology were not interested in looking for child dinosaurs – the only interesting dinosaurs were the big ones, that probably also turned out to be the male ones. I wouldn’t blame the individual collectors for this – I would think it likely that this was the culture of the industry at the time. Hence, it’s only as the industry changed, and more women came into it for example, that such thinking changed – thinking that enabled a real interest in finding child dinosaurs and explaining what happened to them. (And I realise that I’m falling for a stereotype here that women would be more interested in dinosaur children than men would be, but I suspect it’s true all the same.)

This is merely a hypothesis, and informed merely by personal speculation and a few web searches today. For example, an article from 2010 in Wired trying to identify significant female paleontologists in the face of a complete lack of their public presence. Also, a blog post from a female paleontologist describing how it has traditionally been a male-dominated profession (the photos of Paleontologist Barbie are worth a look, too). In any case, I wonder if there will be further breakthroughs due to the changing gender mix in science.

What is the equivalent salary of a stay-at-home parent?

We’re about to have both our kids in child-care, for at least some of the week. This means they’re joining around a million other kids across Australia using the child-care system, according to the government. For various reasons, all of the families represented by that statistic are using professional child-care instead of completely looking after their kids themselves.

Professional child-care isn’t free, of course, so it is open to only those families who can afford it. Specifically, they need to be able to afford the child-care even after accounting for the additional income that might be brought in through allowing a care-giver such as a parent to enter the paid workforce. I wondered exactly how much income would need to be brought in to offset the paid care, so I’ve thrown together a quick spreadsheet on the economics of child-care.

To put two children into care, five days a week, for all but four weeks of the year, at a child-care centre that charges $87/day, the now-employed parent would need to earn at least $30,970.06 full-time to offset the costs. At a centre charging a higher rate of $120/day (but less than a reported maximum of $135/day), the salary would be $52,773.72. If there were three kids, then the salary would need to be $84,308.94.

Instead of looking at this as the amount that would need to be earned to go into the workforce, it can also be viewed as the amount that is being effectively earned by not going into the workforce. A stay-at-home parent is “worth” at least a salary of $30,970.06 from that perspective. I recognise that other costs avoided or reduced could also be included, reflecting domestic chores also performed by the stay-at-home parent, from cleaning to cooking, however these might also be shared with others depending on the household situation, so I will leave them out of my simple analysis.

To put this in context, $30,970.06 per year is $595.58 per week, and the Australian minimum wage is $589.30 per week. Taking a minimum wage job to put two kids into child-care doesn’t make much sense if you just look at the numbers. On the other hand, according to the ABS, the average full-time adult earns $1,322.60 per week (or $68,775.20 per year), and if we look at women only, it’s $1,165.00 per week ($60,580 per year). So, assuming the stay-at-home parent can leave home for an average wage, it is probably economically positive.

Knowing this is one thing, but it doesn’t do anything for the twin challenges of finding child-care places and finding a decent paying job.