Bryan Caplan  

Who Wants More Kids?, Part II

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The GSS asks: "What do you think is the ideal number of children for a family to have?" So who wants more - men or women? Survey says: Women want .05 children more.

That's a lot smaller difference than my anecdotal evidence suggests. But it's still the opposite of what Bergstrom's model requires to get off the ground. The puzzle of declining family size in the face of rising wealth remains.

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Jason Malloy writes:

Why would you accept survey opinion over a revealed preference?

Being economically dependent on men is simply not a very good choice for women, so the desire for baby is rationally subordinated to the desire for independence/dignity.

Birth rates would go up if economically independent women were somehow fully accommodated to have the amount of children they want.

I don't really see how this is fully possible though. Perhaps women in developed countries can get pregnant several times in college and they can fully outsource the childcare to 3rd world countries!

Seriously though, since people actually want to raise their children, the very real trade-off for women will probably remain - as will the modern relationship between fertility and wealth.

meep writes:

Well, if you want certain things happen before you have children, it's going to cut down the number of children you eventually have. These things can be: 1) get a college degree, 2) get married, 3) get a steady job, 4) get a house, 5) etc. etc.

There's a definite "sell-by" date for female fertility, and generally women hit it in their 30s. And that's when many of them are thinking of starting their families. So they may not have much choice.

My ma got married when she was 20, had kids from 22 - 28, and stopped. My grandmothers got married around 18, had their first kids within a year or so, and stopped somewhere before they were 30. Now, the richer women get married at later and later ages (law school/biz school/med school takes up one's prime fertility years).

I know lots of women in their 30s who go through a great deal just to get one kid, and even though they do want more, what it took just to get the one (in terms of miscarriages, fertility treatments, etc.) generally means you're not willing to try again.

Jason Malloy writes:
TIm of Angle writes:

I fail to see why this should be a puzzle.

In pre-industrial and poorly-industrialized areas, where the predominant form of portable power is muscle-power, children are an economic advantage; they are (eventually) a productive asset. Since (in the same sort of milieu) you lose a lot of them in process, it is advantageous to generate as many as possible.

In modern industrialized societies, the prospect of any individual child surviving to adulthood is near unity, so that incentive to have a lot goes away. And they're no longer a productive asset -- indeed, they're a money pit -- so that incentive goes away, too.

There is, in the modern world, no more practical reason to have kids than there is to have cats. Many impractical reasons remain, of course (as with cats), so people continue to have them. But the first one brings home to people what a pain in the ass raising a kid can be, so a lot of people stop after one, or maybe two -- enough to satisfy the Pet Urge, but not enough to bankrupt you sending them to college.

This is really all pretty straightforward.

John Thacker writes:

In addition to Tim's point, note that public government pensions like Social Security mean that children are no longer the best insurance for support in one's dotage. Rather, your children end up supporting everyone collectively in old age, and you don't need yours specifically. That's one of the biggest things that turns children into a money sink.

(There are understandable reasons for wanting people not dependent on their family, granted.)

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