Bryan Caplan  

Foresee the Empty Nest

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I've been arguing for quite a while that most people - including us dads - would be selfishly better off if they had more kids. Parents focus too much on how exhausted they are now, and forget how lonely they're going to be later.

A recent piece in the Washington Post by a new empty-nester confirms all my worst fears:

Standing outside my son's dorm as he shifted from one foot to the other, impatient to begin his new life, I tried to think of more to say, more wisdom or advice to dispense, anything to delay the inevitable. One last hug and it was time to go. If I had been on a tether in space and the line had been cut, I could not have felt more alone. After 21 years of attending to my children's needs and care, I was out of a job. The phone stopped ringing. The e-mails for volunteer duties and school issues ended abruptly. On a trip to the grocery store, I would reach for a favorite drink or snack and it would dawn on me: There was no need.

The tone of piece is "The empty nest is something all parents dread, but we have to face it maturely." But most of the pain of the empty nest results from bad planning. If the author had had a couple more kids, she not only could she have delayed her empty-nest problem for ten years; by that time, her older children could easily have some children of their own.


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COMMENTS (16 to date)
Mike writes:

Are you sure that the empty nest is an unhappy nest? Sure the adjustment is significant, but what about after a few months. My impression is that many parents in empty nests are not too happy if/when there children fill those nests again for more than temporary visits.

Paul N writes:

The empty nesters I know don't seem that lonely. I guess it just depends whether or not you derive your sense of self-worth from being a caretaker for your kids.

Tom writes:

My wife and I have had our happiest years since the nest emptied. Raising children properly is an exhausting endeavor. When it's done, it's time to enjoy the good life. And so we have.

Joe writes:

Wait 'til your kid gets to be a teenager/young adult.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Why oh why are you so obsessed with populating the world with even more people? This post and the referenced article are pathetic. Stories about empty lives. People so into themselves that, once the product of their loins are off to college, they're empty. Which is true. Because they are empty. They just needed the kids out of the house to realize it. But they were always empty, all the same.

Bud1 writes:

Wow TR you're a cold bastard. Trashing people just because they show a little sadness when a loved one leaves the house. Mabye your determination to be an intellectual analyst has left you a little ignorant to the core values of the greater portion of humanity.

Robert Schwartz writes:

The 23 year old has called twice today the 21 year old once.

Dezakin writes:

Again, what do these pseudo-emotional posts have to do with economics?

JABBER writes:

Wow. T. R. Elliott and Dezakin are two good examples of how Economics has come off its hinges. When we value "cold, hard analysis" over human relationships, we're lost.

Arnold, thank you for sharing. It is very "human," and, yes, that's a good thing.

JABBER writes:

Ooops! Sorry, Bryan! It was your post... My comments still apply, of course!

Dezakin writes:

No, its just that the title of the blog is econlog and one would expect posts to be about economics rather than bizzare forays into speculation of the emotional well being of old people who dont have children. Now an economic analysis of the demographic shifts would be spot on, but not how happy it makes people except how it affects their productivity and spending.

Might as well write on the opportunity cost and utility of getting a puppy, and substitutional effects of puppies for children.

rafinlay writes:

Economics is about human behavior. The analysis presented was an illustration of how human situations can be expressed in economic terms. Macrotic Economists like to fall into the habit of thinking economics is a precise numeric science separate from its subjects, rather than applied psychology, no doubt to hide the empty hollow core of their existance....

Dezakin writes:

No its not. Economics is about scarcity; Human behavior plays a role, often a dominating one. But economics is not the study of human behavior. Clouding definitions in oblique ad-hominems doesnt change that.

mark writes:

The pain is lessened by having my co-workers ask for money.

JABBER writes:

Dezakin, EVERYTHING is about human behavior, especially economics. Were it not for human consciousness, we wouldn't even debate "scarcity." What is the point of ANY endeavor if not to improve one's condition? Your failure to grasp this is really quite remarkable.

jaimito writes:

The empty nest is caused not by children growing up but by the scarcity of grandchildren.

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