Bryan Caplan  

Kidphobia: Decadent, or Just Misguided?

Roth Conversion Bleg... If I Were a Global Utilitarian...
The U.S. birthrate is falling, and Ross Douthat largely blames decadence:
[W]hile the burdens on modern parents are real and considerable and in certain ways increasing, people in developed societies enjoy a standard of living unprecedented in human history, and the sacrifices required of would-be parents in America or South Korea or Germany do not undo their immense material advantages over their parents and grandparents and great-great grandparents going back millennia upon millennia. Once you've acknowledged that (fairly obvious) point, then you're acknowledging that people in rich countries who forgo or limit their childrearing aren't all just responding in inevitable ways "to the situation that actually exists"... Some are, yes. But others -- many millions of others, in Europe and North America and Asia -- are actively creating their own situations, and deciding that children (or more than one child, or more than two) don't fit with their ambitions or desires or preferred consumption patterns.
And you shouldn't be decadent:
if children are not the only good in human life, they do seem like a fairly important one, no? Maybe even, dare one say, an essential one, at least in some quantity, if the pursuit of the wider array of human goods is to continue beyond our own life cycle? Or to put it another way, if we have moral obligations to future, as-yet-unborn generations, as almost everyone seems to agree, surely those duties have to include some obligation for somebody to bring those generations into existence in the first place -- to imitate the sacrifices that our parents made, and give another generation the chances that we've had?
Very eloquent, but I've still got to say: With friends like this, natalism doesn't need enemies.  I doubt Douthat is going to guilt anyone into having more kids.  But even if he did, how many fence-sitters is he frightening off with all this talk of sacrifice, frustrated ambitions, and moral obligations to the yet-unborn?

I'm a natalist too, and I practice what I preach.  But as I argue in Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, the main modern enemy of fertility isn't "decadence"; it's overparenting and the misconceptions about nature and nature that underlie it.  Modern parents falsely believe that upbringing has a large effect on adult outcomes.  As a result, they focus on "investing" in their kids' future - and turn parenting into an unpleasant chore.

Instead of handing out another helping of guilt, natalists should try to deflate the guilt that so many people already shoulder.  Natalists should share the good news from twin and adoption research: The long-run effects of vaguely normal parenting styles are roughly equal, so vaguely normal parents should focus on enjoying the journey instead of constantly fretting if they're raising their kids right.  Natalists should celebrate the incredible safety children in modern societies enjoy, endless scary media anecdotes notwithstanding.  Natalists should hail the many undersung positive externalities of population growth to counterbalance misanthropic nay-saying. 

Above all, natalists should try to make kids fun again.  Forget doom and gloom.  Sharing the wonder of life with your many descendents is inherently exciting.  I savor it.  You might even call the experience... decadent.


[Valeria Caplan, my youngest.]

COMMENTS (66 to date)
M writes:

I agree that your positive message is generally far more convincing... But I think we'd do well to remember that not everyone is a Randian, and that some additional people will be swayed by arguments about duty or obligation.

Jack writes:

As usual, Bryan, I agree with your analysis, but in this case, I have to say, having my vasectomy was truly the best decision I have ever made. I mean, being single and child free in a large city flat out ROCKS! I've never had the "joy" of changing diapers, never had to hire a babysitter, never had to pay child support, and never had to awake in the middle of the night to crying. I get to have my money and my free time, and with more and more people like me around, life is only getting better.

Also, getting married and having kids is a truly AWFUL deal for guys these days. In the end, having kids would, for many of us, mean having to pay child support rather than getting to enjoy the upside of parenting. The incentive effects of this are not good -- at least from the point of view of those who want there to be more kids in the world.

AS writes:

Bryan, how do you respond to studies that have indicated that first-born are higher achieving?

Fazal Majid writes:

Do the studies on declining natality correct for the increasingly later age at which people are marrying?

It is driven among other things by rising economic independence for women, fear of divorce delaying commitment, and an unwillingness to settle for Mr/Ms Good-enough.

Older parents are less fertile, and thus lower natality is a side-effect rather than the result of anti-children preferences. The boom in the fertility treatment industry and in adoption services suggest no such prejudice exists, or at least is not rising.

The Anonymouse writes:


I know this kind of argument sucks to be on the receiving end of ("oh, you can't have a valid opinion, because you just don't know"), so take it as less of an argument and more as a data point.

I very much enjoyed being young, single, and "free." I lived it up, enjoyed not splitting my money, and dreaded the idea of having to divide my money and free time with a little creature who demanded constant care.

And then I became a parent, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. You change, you really do. You learn that your fun is not the most important thing in the world. I have experienced both sides of the coin, and being a parent is where it's at.

More broadly:

I keep getting the feeling that young folks seem to relish the perpetual adolescence that our society has given to them. We have raised a generation of thirty year-old teenagers for whom nothing is more important than their own whim, and the prospect of facing real responsibility--not a job they can quit, or a girlfriend they can dump, not a loan they can put in abeyance--scares the hell out of them.

The fact is, we've been doing this whole having-kids thing for as long as we've been on this planet. You don't need a lot of money to raise a kid right. You don't need a better job first, you don't need that graduate degree, you don't need that tenure, or that partnership, or whatever excuse you're using to wait until you have enough money that you're willing to forgo some of your own pleasure. You just need a decent mate and the willingness to become a real grown-up.

The sneaky little secret of parenting is that as long as you're a passably-decent human being, it's almost impossible to screw up. If you can love someone other than yourself, you can be a good parent.

Someone from the other side writes:

I agree with Jack, what exactly is the incentive to have kids for high income males? Even hands off parenting still takes time, energy and money and at least to me, there is no obvious payoff involved.
And that is assuming (both big ifs)
a) You find a woman who would make a worthy mother
b) She does slap you with a divorce and related nastiness a couple of years into the child rearing

Frankly, it boggles my mind why people still want to have children.

So on a cost benefit analysis, it clearly falls through. I can't be shamed / guilt-tripped into having children either, so I (29) am in fact seriously considering a vasectomy myself.

John Strong writes:

Bryan, I must respectfully disagree. You and Steven Pinker (Blank Slate) might be right that genes determine future outcome more than nurture, if by "future outcome" you mean "academic performance" or some such measure. But even if there were no nurturing benefit to parents investing time in kids, there's a quality of life benefit. In particular, I think the home education movement represents a giant leap forward in *human* *happiness*

Education is really the only sensible bridge between the generations. It is nature's way of creating friendship among loved ones who are *not* equals and otherwise have little in common. And the bonds of affection it builds have wider social consequences. If education were simply an academic exercise, then it would make sense to let the division of labor do its work and pass the baton to the professionals. But it is a social institution whose primary function is to reinforce the fundamentals of the social economy: the bond between parent and child.

Question: How can a microeconomist (like yourself) approach child rearing like a Keynesian?

RPLong writes:

Prof. Caplan, do you believe impotent men should pursue non-traditional methods for having children?

steve writes:

alot of this sounds/feels like group status competition. Natalist vs. non-natalists. Is there really anyone who is going to make a decision to have kids based on an op-ed in the Times?

Personally, I don't have a dawg in the fight. Aint nothin' gonna grow forever. There is either a technological/population size equilibrium to be had or we (they?) are all screwed one day anyway....unless you are Nth iteration of Robin Hanson who owns all the Railroads, and Boardwalk, or something. :)

Jeff writes:

That was a nice post, Bryan, but I'm afraid I have to agree with the commenter above who noted that shaming is a legitimate tactic and its effectiveness should not be sold short. Your attempts to convince people that parenting can/should be fun strikes me as perhaps being the more limited of the two approaches for the following reason: everybody already knows that playing with kids is fun. They were kids once themselves, after all. What turns a lot of people off to having kids is the responsibility. That's not something that changes with lower investment parenting or whatever you call your approach.

There's no way of getting around the fact that kids are more or less completely helpless for the first several years of their lives and their parents are solely responsible for their wellbeing during that time. That being the case, I think there is something to be said for Douthat's "quit being a slacker" position.

Not signing this particular comment writes:

Bryan I'm generally somewhat sympathetic to your natalist argument, and some of your earlier writings helped convince me to have a child.

But I feel like you tricked me.

Parenting older children might be fun and rewarding, but parenting an infant is basically pure torture. Parenting a toddler (my son is now 15mo) has not been much better.

Our marriage is falling apart. We barely speak and never have sex. My wife's control over her own life is essentially gone, she is a slave to the boy.

And this is not over-parenting, it is simply meeting his basic needs.

I feel that you should temper your advocacy of child-rearing with a caveat on the risks. Perhaps there is a 99% chance that having a child works out great for someone that follows your advice, but a 1% chance of disaster is awfully risky.

AJ Aaron writes:

Bryan I love your work. But I'm going to say, not everybody needs or should have kids. Those people should be applauded for making an adult decision not to have children they either can't take care of or don't really want. No doubt some people want to live the single family-free life forever, but there's really nothing you can do about that.

My wife and I have made the decision not to have children. She's Muslim and her family is from Pakistan, so obviously the decision raises some eyebrows in extended family circles. Also it's shocking to the hipster types who think our little "mixed" babies would be oh so cute. Whatever. It's the right decision for us. Whatever Ross Douthat has to say about it.

Thomas Boyle writes:


I believe what's going on here is that child-raising is falling victim to two things: the Baumol Effect, and socially-imposed higher standards for childcare.

The Baumol Effect is important. Other fun/fulfillment opportunities are becoming cheaper, while childraising is not. At the margin, more people will decide to take advantage of the other opportunities, rather than choosing to raise children. If childraising is to retain market share, so to speak, it needs to become more fulfilling and/or cheaper (relative to the alternatives)!

You are arguing for making it cheaper, in effect. Good idea. And, remember, it doesn't just need to get cheaper now; it needs to keep getting cheaper. The other option, from a societal point of view, is to make the alternatives more expensive, presumably by raising taxes on the childless to lower taxes/provide benefits to those raising children.


"You don't need a lot of money to raise a kid right."

That may be true. But no-one remembered to tell the child support system. I read recently that Halle Berry, who has joint and equal custody of her child, is paying a quarter of a million dollars in annual child support. Remember, she's already, separately, doing her part. Evidently the system believes that a quarter of a million dollars is the cost of raising a child. Per year.

It's an extreme example, but for anyone who is pouring effort into their career in hopes of bettering themselves - especially if they want that high level of effort to end someday - it's cautionary. There are no limits to what child support will extract - and once that level is set, you pay it no matter what (so forget reverting to a normal life). That's a huge liability, and one to think about avoiding altogether.

Seb writes:

Epic typo: "misconceptions about nature and nature". 3rd paragraph up :)

Robert writes:

I have two daughters, 2 & 3months, and the increased cost is minor for every expense but daycare, which costs the same as rent, and that is for only one child. My wife has had to turn down a significant promotion so she can work part-time and have a reasonable commute. I would like to have a third child, but I do not know how I could afford it.

It is also frustrating that we live right next door to a daycare we cannot use because we make too much money. If the US were to import low-skilled labor to replace the dwindling population, it will exacerbate this situation, since immigrants with a high school education or less pay less in taxes than they receive in government support, especially if they are paid under the table. Also, the US is subsidizing the elderly increasing my expenses to be able to afford daycare. I know a couple who have to alternate working from home because they cannot afford to pay someone to watch their baby. $20,000 per child after tax or $25,000 for a nanny is the cost for two new parents who want to work. One parent may decide not work, but there is an opportunity cost for future earnings.

JayMan writes:

The belief that parenting is a lot of work (or, more accurately, that it's more work than it actually is, thanks to the erroneous belief in its long-term effects), while pervasive, isn't, ultimately, at the root of the decline in fertility.

The actual problems have been a central focus my research and is discussed extensively on my blog.

A big part of the problem is that children do come with certain material costs. These costs are not necessarily mitigated by a rising standard of living; indeed, they may be compounded by them. People don’t just seek a certain level of material comfort, they also seek status, which is relative. Hence, the more everyone has, the more people feel they need to have. A big part of raising children involves striving to maximize their adult status, since this not only gives them a material benefit, but increases their prospects in finding a desirable mate. You of all people know how important signaling is to this, and how education is a big part of that (indeed, bachelor’s degrees are increasingly becoming a pre-requisite for entry into the middle class).

Many people spend much of their young adult lives (20s) striving to maximize their status. This increasingly requires lengthy educations, and after this, climbing the career ladder. Children are not at all helpful to this process, so many people, especially women, forgo having them.

This is not because, as I have discovered, that women don't want children. Far from it—indeed, the average woman in America today wants about 3 children over her lifetime (varying by political orientation, with liberals wanting fewer and conservatives wanting more). However, many, especially the most educated, end up falling quite short of this desire. This seems to be generally because women, in the course of pursuing education and career, delay childbirth so long that their fertility suffers for it (and research has shown that, generally, 90% of a woman's egg cells are already gone by age 30).

There is evidence that when children and career can coexist, women will choose both. However, if it's an either/or, (smart) women will opt for career. Policies that reduce the tension between the two may help boost fertility, especially at the high end.

In general, fertility rates respond to cost of living. When the wages:expenses ratio is low, as it is today, people put off children. When it is high, especially when one's standard of living is markedly better than one's parents, fertility goes up. We see that with the rise and fall of fertility throughout the 20th century in response to economic conditions. Since people prefer to raise their children in suburban-to-rural areas (i.e., low-density areas), fertility is also heavily impacted by population density.

In short, the best ways to improve fertility is to improve people's ease of living. And the best way to do that is to improve the wealth of the average man. And the best way to do that….

Methinks writes:

I agree with Jack, what exactly is the incentive to have kids for high income males?

What exactly is the incentive to have kids for high income females? At least men don't have to suffer the physical, emotional and career disadvantages of actually bearing children. A woman's mind, body and career is in tatters after having children and she becomes dependent. I've seen it happen to each of my girlfriends who all had huge careers before the rugrats came along. No thanks. Forget over-parenting (I never understood that load of poo), although I've been married for nearly twenty years and the opportunity cost of being a mother put me off the idea.

I guess Douthat is getting a lesson in revealed preferences with regard to how much of an obligation we feel toward the unborn generation.

Mike W writes:

@Not signing this particular comment

If you are disappointed by the experience with your infant and toddler you're really gonna hate the teens and twenties.

Jack writes:

The Anonymous - You're not the first parent to say this; however, I do feel that this is somewhat of a risk. To add to your data point, I'm an adult and I have a pretty good relationship with my own parents. I live about a thousand miles away from them and only talk to my Dad about once every three weeks, and it's usually just an awkward and strained phone conversation. If I were to have the same relationship with my non-existent kids that my parents have to me, I can tell you that it most definitely would NOT be worth it. Also, when I look at many of my friends who have kids, they're quite often not married to the father or mother of their child and thus end up paying or receiving child support. And let's not forget the last comment from "Not signing." He pretty much makes my entire case for me.

Not signing this particular comment - Whoever you are, thank you for sharing your story. I think you have basically illustrated exactly what I am trying to say. I agree with many of Bryan's posts and even much of his analysis in this case. However, I think he goes way too far in recommending people have kids.

Someone from the other side - You should definitely go through with the vasectomy. It's covered by most major insurance plans. However, when you do it, do not tell the women you date that you have had the procedure. When they ask if you want kids, just say, "I love kids!" and leave it at that. Otherwise, they'll leave you. Also, if a woman ever does come to you and tell you she's pregnant, you can say, "Congrats to you and the father!"

[some comments referred to have been removed for policy violations--Econlib Ed.]

Someone from the other side writes:

@Methinks: I agree - it's just that most women around me seem to be blind to that completely or ignore it in favor of what I can only consider biological programming.

I have few male friends who understand the total lack of desire (much the opposite really) to ever have children but not met a single woman who seems to seriously consider that. Maybe be it is coincidence but frankly in the current legal climate, women DO get the much better deal out of the whole affair, ESPECIALLY if a high income male is involved.

I keep getting the feeling that young folks seem to relish the perpetual adolescence that our society has given to them. We have raised a generation of thirty year-old teenagers for whom nothing is more important than their own whim, and the prospect of facing real responsibility--not a job they can quit, or a girlfriend they can dump, not a loan they can put in abeyance--scares the hell out of them.

Absolutely. I got scared when I turned twenty that I would need to grow up now. Little did I know that I could get away with refusing to do so. Now that I am about to turn thirty, I made up my mind to continue to refuse growing up. In fact, I just signed up for an 80% deal to get an additional 10 weeks of vacation a year because I frankly have no idea what to do with the money I make (I've been making just about 6 figures straight out of university and climbed a decent bit since) and want to avoid burning out before I turn thirty. Sure, every now and then I get hit with the "can't you finally" grow up stick but frankly by now I believe it is pure jealousy.

I am to the extreme right of the bellcurve in many dimensions (and the far left in a few) and so do not consider myself to be representative in any way, but who knows, maybe the rest of my generation (or the one behind me) will eventually figure it out themselves. The manosphere has been predicting it for at least half a decade now and while I am still skeptical, there seems to be growing momentum in abstaining from the traditional life plan of a wife, house and n kids for n>0.

JayMan writes:

Hi, just wanted to note that I'm waiting for a rather lengthy comment of mine to appear...

[I think you had to wait all of about 35 minutes for your comment to appear. Maybe consider a little patience, please, in the future?--Econlib Ed.]

johnleemk writes:


First of all the fiscal impacts of immigrants on the public purse in the US are not very burdensome by most estimates (they're estimated to be positive for the federal government because immigrants are younger and support Social Security/Medicare -- *especially* if they pay payroll taxes without obtaining an SSN, which a lot of them do; they can be more costly for state governments, but estimates of their impact on state economies suggest that most of these losses are fairly easy to recoup via state taxes on the higher resulting income).

Second of all, more low-skilled immigrants mean that it'll be cheaper to hire people for service jobs like daycare. In Asia, many middle-class homes hire a live-in immigrant maid to look after the children while the parents work, and daycare centres similarly staff with immigrant maids. It's amusing to me that wealthy Western countries find it so difficult to afford daycare when poorer Asian countries long ago solved the cost problem.

In short, more immigration is the answer to your childcare problem; less immigration certainly is not the answer. If you want to solve the shortage of people willing to staff daycare centres or care for children at current going wages, the simple answer is to find more people who are willing to accept such wages -- and if you're a wealthy country with highly-productive workers, you're only going to be able to do this by finding people from less-productive and/or poorer countries.

JayMan writes:
johnleemk writes:


First of all the fiscal impacts of immigrants on the public purse in the US are not very burdensome by most estimates

No, not very burdensome at all.

Low wages for the middle class is by far the biggest negative factor impacting the economy, and immigrants are directly related to that.

JayMan writes:

[I think you had to wait all of about 35 minutes for your comment to appear. Maybe consider a little patience, please, in the future?--Econlib Ed.]

Just to be clear, the length of time it took for my comment to appear was not the problem, but whether or not it would at all. I know I have missed legitimate comments in my spam filter for weeks. I just wanted to give a heads up, that's all. Thanks.

[We're cool. In the future please consult our FAQ page for a description of our comment policies and what to do if you have a delayed comment: --Econlib Ed.]

Another person who wants anonymity writes:

I certainly believe NSTPC, and I know people like him.

But I completely fail to understand the phenomena. I have colleagues who powered through top grad schools, who deal with problem employees, and who bail out major ibanks from their various crises, who are utterly flummoxed when a baby gets a cold. What is with these people? I did six things before lunch today that are harder than anything I'll do with my kids this week.

What really gets me is that the complaints are not about real problems, like "my kid has leukemia." They're about things like reading stories or changing diapers. Things that are trivially easy.

Tom West writes:

If you are disappointed by the experience with your infant and toddler you're really gonna hate the teens and twenties.

Just to provide a counter-example, my first child was a nightmare baby. He was about 3 full-time-equivalents worth of work until he was about three. However, as a child, rather than a baby, he was about 1/10th the amount of work.

My second taught me it was nature over nuture. He was about 1/4 the work as an infant (he slept more than 45 minutes a time!). With his birth, I finally understood how it was possible for someone to have babies two years apart.

So, my experience is that there's a fearsomely large standard deviation in the amount of care a baby takes. My first child scared a couple off having children for 2 years. My second suckered a couple into believing they could manage a child with no major lifestyle changes. (They survived.)

However, when you do it, do not tell the women you date that you have had the procedure.

I'm having a hard time believing this is not a troll. At least if it isn't, the damage they'll do is confined to this generation.

Methinks writes:

when you do it, do not tell the women you date that you have had the procedure. When they ask if you want kids, just say, "I love kids!" and leave it at that. Otherwise, they'll leave you.

And what will happen when they find out you're a liar and fraud of the worst kind?

I did six things before lunch today that are harder than anything I'll do with my kids this week.

Sounds like you're the sort who should have lots and lots of kids. More power to you and to anyone who does. I worry about every single thing in the universe. Temperaments vary and it's a little ironic to get flummoxed over what other people get flummoxed over.

BTW, that Valerie Caplan is just adorable. I forgot to mention that. I love all my friends' and siblings' kids. My husband and I have lots of energy to be way cooler than any of the other adults who have children and they really love that.

Jack writes:


Two questions. First, how would a woman find out if you've had a vasectomy? Second, if she finds out at some point after the fact, then who cares? The important think is that she not know before...

wndrwmn writes:

on another subject - the new book out (I heard a Cato podcast with the author) called Human Capitalism suggests that parenting DOES matter as more highly skilled knowledge worker jobs in today's society need kids who are well educated/trained beyond normal schooling. Well educated families are doing this and blue collar are not, contributing to the divide.

Very interesting explanation of the parenting shift that's taken place. When I was a kid parents let you roam free all day after school and guidance was primarily 'do as I do' whereas now you start your kids in soccer at 5, a musical instrument at 10, and a dozen extracurricular activities until you find one they like. Hoping that they will be able to develop interests and skills young and get started on that 10,000 hrs

And I'll stay out of the debate going on about whether being a parent is the dumbest or smartest thing you can do. (I do feel sorry for Jack though as I don't think he's ever found a woman he really loved! He's single and already planning his divorce :))

Aaron Phipps writes:

I think many of the comments have missed the simple case Bryan is making. There are clearly some men here who do not, under any circumstance, want children. All power to them. There are, however, men (and women) on the margin. These may be swayed by a sense of duty, but I lean more towards Bryan in that many of them simply need reassurance that it is a leap of faith worth taking.

I will add that, anecdotal evidence would suggest most people are better off after having children. A Google search turns up this, but certainly there is more to be found.

As always, be careful what you get from data alone.

Thomas Boyle writes:


A woman would find out because, when she tells you she wants to have children, you tell her that you don't. Naturally.

This will not create problems for you. Yes, you may be crazy about a particular woman and learn she wants to have children, and she will leave you because you don't. But, if you won't have children, she's going to leave you anyway (or you're going to deprive someone you claim to love of a major life goal if you let her stay), so you might as well deal with that up front. Better that, than have your lives torn apart later, and be bitterly hated by someone you love.

Meanwhile, you'll find there are women of all ages who will be happy to have a fling with you, knowing they can't get knocked up.

And, you will be a godsend to a women who doesn't want to have children at all (there aren't many, but they exist).

Finally, if you are so crazy about someone that you find you'd actually be willing to have children to keep her, there are technologies that make it possible even with a vasectomy. So, you can always bring that up during "the conversation", as in, "I never thought I would want to have children, so I had a vasectomy. But, when I did that, they did tell me that if I ever changed my mind, there are ways to have children - just not by accident".

Jack writes:


As mentioned earlier, when a woman asks me about children, I just say, "I love kids!," and that ends the conversation. Basically, just as a politician would seek to maximize votes (according to public choice theory), a guy should seek to maximize his number of flings. Furthermore, I really think, given the incentives, it's completely foolish to actually fall in love with a woman. It completely destroys one's ability to make rational decisions and thus causes people to do counterproductive things like getting married or having kids.

Also, having a vasectomy reversed is a prohibitively expensive procedure. Given my strong preference for saving money combined with my complete and total aversion towards children, it is extremely unlikely that I would ever reverse the operation.

guthrie writes:

Sorry to boggle your mind, 'Someone from the other side', but I want kids. I recognize the disruption, and am willing to accept it into my life for the benefits described here by Anonymouse and in Bryan's book. Now all I need is a willing and compatible partner! :)

Peter writes:

Having a kid myself I will attest they really are a bundle of joy and not that expensive but I do agree with nearly every comment above which boiled down to "If I had a son I would tell him to avoid having children at ALL cost. If you DO want to have a child then do it outside the US where the exist costs won't kill you". Children are a joy and I would never wish not having one but it's one of those 50.1 > 49.9 things on joy of kids v. fourteen years of child support (with joint custody because I make more so I have to compensate for the mothers uselessness) plus also limiting my life options as you don't want to just get up and move anywhere in the world chasing good jobs as you might lose custody, etc. Having a kid does change you and I would say for the better BUT the downsides are huge also, especially when you attempt to exit the kids mother given US family law.

BTW if my daughter turns out to be trash and pregnant at sixteen I'm going to recommend to her to simply "Having a half dozen or so kids and never multiples with the same guy. Make sure the fathers are middle class and will hold a job. Let some illegal raise them and then enjoy your life."

Thomas Boyle writes:


Unless you are a psychopath (nothing to be ashamed of, some people are), you will find it difficult to avoid falling in love. It is not a conscious or rational decision. If you fall in love with someone you've been lying to, it gets painful.

Your desire for flings is also not rational: it exposes you to risk of disease and emotional complications, and even a small risk of becoming a victim of violence (spurned lover, angry other boyfriend/husband she did/didn't mention) - and all to perform an act whose biological goal you don't want to achieve anyway. You do it because it feels good.

So does being in love (for most people), and almost as many people enjoy raising children. It feels good; that's why it's rational.

Finally, my vasectomy doc said he never reverses vasectomies: there are easier, and more reliable ways to get the job done. I have no intention of using any of them, but the option does exist.

Jack writes:


You actually do raise some very, very good points. You are correct that avoiding love is a difficult endeavor. I recall my relationship with my last girlfriend. I really did love her, but I overrode the feelings of love and we ended up breaking apart, because I would not allow her to move in with me and I would not get married to her. So, it may be difficult to avoid love, but one should never act on it.

As for the risk of flings, here you raise a good point, as well. And I do find myself turning down an occasional fling just because I find the whole situation too risky. So I would probably modify my advice here, as well, to say that one should try to maximize his number of flings while minimizing risk.

Thank you for a very insightful post, sir.

Jack writes:


Don't forget to tell her to maintain her looks and practice dancing on a pole. That could come in handy in the situation you described. Say what you will, but it's a marketable skill, and that's the important thing. I actually recommended this to my own sister, but she never took my advice. Somewhat unfortunate for her, really.

RA writes:

Ever thought of testing your hypothesis by investigating whether people who believe in nature over nurture have more children?

Methinks writes:


Two questions. First, how would a woman find out if you've had a vasectomy? Second, if she finds out at some point after the fact, then who cares? The important think is that she not know before...

Sorry, Jack, you lost me. Before what? Before she marries you or spends a significant amount of her life with you thinking that she'll be a mother because that's the lie you tell her? Or before you have a one night stand? I assumed the former because potential one-night stands don't really "leave you".

Methinks writes:

with joint custody because I make more so I have to compensate for the mothers uselessness

Nice. Makes women want to just run out and subjugate their most productive years to carrying and raising your offspring.

I never give reproductive advice (because I'm never asked), but I would never advise a woman to have a child unless she's independently wealthy.

"Let some illegal raise them and then enjoy your life."

What a joy that you reproduced.

Tom West writes:

Ever thought of testing your hypothesis by investigating whether people who believe in nature over nurture have more children?

One counter-point. While I certainly believe a lot more in nature over nurture than before I had children, the reality is that my children's failures will cause me almost exactly as much heartache as before.

It's just that now I realize that my ability to help them avoid many of those failures is far more limited than I had originally thought. A high cost of failure with little control over the results is not likely to make parenting *more* appealing.


There is a lot of truth to the idea that its a lot easier to be more fun and cooler if you don't have children.

One of the minor tragedies of parenting is that it can be so exhausting that you don't get the opportunity to relish all the wonderful bits. Now that my children are teenagers, I've had a lot of fun with our friend's small children. The parents get a break, and I can enjoy playing with them for an hour or two, which is well before the fun becomes work. And it's kind of fun seeing someone once or twice a week who thinks your the greatest thing since sliced bread :-).

Or as someone once said. "One should never be parents, only grand-parents."

Jack writes:


Before a one night stand. If she doesn't know before that, then who cares? It's really none of her business, anyway. I do not recommend getting into long-term relationships and marriage is a horrible idea for men these days.

RPLong writes:

I have to say that many of the above comments are pretty shocking to me. I guess I really don't understand some of the arguments people are making here.

Giving up a good promotion at work to spend more time with your kids isn't a "sacrifice" to those who value time spent with their children. My dad gave up many promotions so that he could spend more time coaching me in sports, helping me with my homework, reading me stories, etc. My mom dropped out of college to have kids - she still wishes she would have gotten an education, but she spends far more time reminiscing about all the fun we had than she does pining for that business degree she could have had.

Changing a diaper or cleaning up your child's vomit isn't a wonderful blessing, but it is a lot more satisfying than raising a child to be covered in his/her own filth.

Raising a child to be clean, happy, and morally sound is the kind of "hard work" whose intrinsic value is self-evident to those who want kids. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to talk about parental sacrifice in this context.

If it helps the skeptics understand, I once built a guitar from a kit. I love that guitar. I could have bought a ready-made guitar easily, and putting together the kit was a lot more work than I realized when I bought it. But when I went into the shop to sand it down or stain the wood or solder the electronics, I never told anyone, "I have WORK TO DO!" Now that the guitar is fully assembled, it plays great; I don't go around talking about the "sacrifices I made" to have a great guitar.

Why? Because putting together a DIY project guitar is intrinsically satisfying. You can't call something like that "work" or "sacrifice."

I'm kind of surprised that this idea seems to be lost on some.

Methinks writes:


Okay, she's not going to "leave you", you're just not getting in her pants that night. You're right, though, marriage was a much better deal for men when they could get what they want and then leave the ex-wife holding the bag. Work used to be a pretty good deal in America too, but now it's a much better deal to sit on welfare and let someone sucker toil to pay for the lifestyle to which you aspire. It's always easiest to live at the expense of someone else.

Tom West,

The parents love us almost as much as we love the kids. Their teenagers won't listen to a word they say, but they lap up everything we tell them. It's awesome.

MingoV writes:

I believe that many of today's young adults are uninterested in parenthood because as children their "parenting" mostly came from cable TV and video games. They have no experience of good parenting. Their desire to remain childless should be honored because they are unlikely to become good parents.

Jack writes:


I'm glad we both agree that, generally speaking, no one should live at anyone else's expense. Unfortunately, most women these days do not share your views, hence the position in which we now find ourselves. You can thank the feministas for creating guys like me.


I think you're sort of echoing a comment I made earlier. I did not have bad parents. However, like I said, if I were to have the same relationship with my kids that my parents had with me, then no thanks, it's not worth it.

Peter writes:


I may have put that in a crass way but it's an extremely common practice in the US and most parts of the world. We simply call it daycare, nannies, au pair, grandparents, public/mass education, etc. Very few parents (outside the lower middle class) raise their kids, they are simply hobbies/toys to spend an hour or two with a day like a intelligent dog. The poor often can't afford to raise their own kids (both have to work / single parent) and/or don't care (drinking/boozing/etc) and the upper middle class / wealthy outsource it. The only folk I'm seeing raising their own kids are the lower middle class who can't afford the princess treatment (au pairs or nannies) but can afford for one spouse to take off work for ten years and not feel it's crimping her entitled single housewife no choirs or responsibility lifestyle modern media sells her.

So yes, if you're trash you might as well have six kids with six different middle class men, get your $1500+ a month per kid for eighteen to twenty-four years, and enjoy your life letting an illegal raise your kid because you will probably outsource your child rearing anyways.

Thomas writes:


I don't think anyone is saying anything that should shock you, except that you may be surprised to hear that many of us don't anticipate getting all that much enjoyment out of raising children. Just as you chose to make a DIY guitar, and not a painting or computer code: we look at what we might do with our time and other things look more attractive.

Bryan's concern is that, given the amount of work involved, and the perceived rewards of parenting versus other activities, too many people are not choosing parenting. He believes they underestimate the rewards, and overestimate the work.

Some of us (the "child support warning") crowd, are pointing out that he may be underestimating the non-work costs. While it's easy to dismiss us, as Methinks does, as wanting to make babies and leave the mother holding the bag, that's unfair. First, the actual cost of raising children is a real cost, and the mother is burdened also, and it's only responsible to consider both in advance. And, second, child support is formulaic, not based on actual child-raising costs, so while for low-income people it's surely not enough, for higher-income people (middle class and above) it's often very high, even if you also do half of all the work yourself - and, again, it's only responsible to consider that in advance.

Methinks writes:

Dismiss you guys, Thomas? No, not at all. It's pretty hard to dismiss men who call women "useless" and pretend that it's so much more difficult to pay child support that to destroy your career, body and brain to carry a child, give birth to it, breastfeed and care for it (see the commenter who says his wife's life is no longer her own) and then get into a war with the father should the marriage break up because he doesn't feel compelled to help pay for the kid. Pardon me if I don't stumble all over myself expressing sympathy for fathers actually having to support their children.

As for're going to get something formulaic. And it's absolutely true that sometimes dad get shafted - as do mothers. I've seen both. The court isn't able to customize everything to every single situation. There's a knowledge problem. Family law is crazy hard. And kids from high income families generally require more resources. Daddy wants them to go to private school, doesn't he?

Bottom line: if you're going to have kids, you're taking a big risk and you're risking not only your life but the kid's as well. And that goes for both sexes.

Steve Sailer writes:

Since the popping of the subprime bubble, fertility among unwed illegal aliens has collapsed. Fertility among married American-born women has dropped a little.

Is that really so bad?

Floccina writes:

My kids have always been a great excuse for me having fun.

Before I had them many people scared me. They made me think that it would be tougher than it was. The first 2 or 3 years are hard but for me it was not near as hard as people made it sound.

David Friedman writes:

A few comments:

1. (to Peter) My wife and I are not "lower middle class." We raised our own kids. My parents were not, and they raised theirs. So did a fair number of other couples we know.

2. (for several people) If all goes well, as on the whole it did for us, having children has enormous benefits. Part of it is simply sharing your life with people you really like who really like you. Part is the feeling of accomplishment--you get to feel proud of what they do, at zero continuing cost to yourself.

And part is knowing that there are people in the world who are quite a lot younger than you, thus likely to be functional longer than you, who care about you. That's an insurance policy that has significant advantages over the more conventional sort.

3. (on the other hand) The thing I find most frightening about the idea of having children is the risk that they might not like you, or you like them. That did not happen in my case--three children, all close--or in the family I grew up in or in the family my wife grew up in. But clearly it does happen, and I do not know if the reason is bad luck in the genetic lottery, bad parenting, or something else.

Timothy James writes:

I, for the first time, read your post The Science of Success that you linked. The comments were closed but I have a question that, I'm sure, you've heard before.

Would you let one of your kids attend an inner-city public school? If you truly accept your hypothesis then, it seems, you'd be forced to the affirmative. How dedicated are you to your own opinions?

I attended one. I won't let my son.

Jeff writes:


I don't disagree, but when you consider that fewer and fewer American born women are getting married, the overall fertility picture looks rather bleak right now, doesn't it?

Tom West writes:

Timothy James,
I attended one. I won't let my son.

But you came out fine, so you're supporting Bryan's argument :-).

I don't think Bryan's argument was that how you were raised made little difference to your happiness during childhood. In fact, I think he was arguing for greater happiness now over long-term suffering "for your child's good" because it wouldn't likely make much difference.

Timothy James writes:

Tom West,

But you came out fine, so you're supporting Bryan's argument.

But my claim isn't that upbringing is less crucial. Bryan's is. I, though not having read the research from either side, am inclined to think there's too much noise to discern a trend in either direction and too many variables to notice a significant relationship. I wouldn't let my son go to an inner-city school not because his short-run happiness would be adversely effected; I actually doubt it would be. I'd keep him from those schools because the probability of him picking up drugs, getting a girl pregnant, learning little, not attending a worthwhile college, etc. is too high and the risk too substantial—from my experience, of course (I've been in both and had a kid at too young an age). It would be interesting, however, to test the following hypothesis: whether reading economics (or whatever) blogs has an effect on one's probability of a successful future.

I don't think Bryan's argument was that how you were raised made little difference to your happiness during childhood.

Neither was mine. I think where one goes to highschool (obviously a huge part of the kid's upbringing) has a significant impact on their long-term prospects. Parents—rich ones, at least—get to decide which highschool their kid will attend. If nurture is less crucial than nature, the propents of such an argument should be willing to undergo this modest experiment. It's not severe child neglect nor abject poverty.

Mark V Anderson writes:

I think Bryan is wrong when he says that children aren't a lot of work. I agree with those who say that it really isn't that hard to raise kids, but it certainly is time consuming. Little kids need an adult with them at all times, and that very much takes away from free time. And a lot more expensive than not having them.

But I cannot imagine life without kids. What is life about other than raising a new generation? The only comparable achievements are changing the human race by say inventing something or at least writing a book. But not having kids so you can travel and have fun? I don't understand that. I won't interfere with anyone's decision with their life, but I don't get it.

And even apart from that, I have been surprised how fulfilling it is on a daily basis to have these kids to be with. Now I don't just look forward to my own future; what my kids do with their lives is just as important. Of course it also brings up the level of possible disappointment, but that's the way it is with anything useful in life.

But I also don't understand why Bryan feels the need to encourage more kids in the world. We've got 7 billion, we aren't running out.

Thomas writes:


You said,

"Bottom line: if you're going to have kids, you're taking a big risk and you're risking not only your life but the kid's as well. And that goes for both sexes."

We agree. Now it's just a question of whose risk we're more focused on. As a man, I find the prospect of getting shafted by family law, and turned into nothing more than human chattel to be divided between the ex, the lawyers, and the bureaucrats very disturbing and dehumanizing, and I think many men are unaware of how brutally they can be treated.

If you think that women may be unaware of how badly having children can mess up their lives, I certainly wouldn't discourage you from highlighting that for them.


Thomas writes:


You write,

"Daddy wants them to go to private school, doesn't he?"

Maybe he does. If he does, he can pay for it. No-one is stopping him.

But maybe he doesn't.

You are turning an act of love, going above and beyond, into an entitlement. That's a big part of the problem with family law. It takes common acts of often great sacrifice and turns them into a minimum requirement, demeaning those who make great sacrifices and treating those who would not have as bad people, instead of as being entirely within their rights.

That, in turn, raises the prospective cost of having children.

Bryan is arguing for the opposite: lowering the socially acceptable minimum requirement, so that there can be more children. He's arguing that raising middle class children need not cost more, that expensive private schools are not necessary. But family law is winning, raising the bar because "it's for the children" - and there are fewer children.

And while I realize that child support has to be formulaic, when that formula spits out a result that says it costs half a million dollars a year to raise a child, the formula is ludicrous and abusive.

Finch writes:

A lot of the kid-having experience seems idiosyncratic. If you like playing football, barbeques, reading, or video games, kids are awesome. If you like clubbing, art galleries, or weekends in Europe, kids are a pain.

I understand the kids-match-my-preferences or kids-don't-match-my-preferences thing. But separately it seems that people are greatly exaggerating the difficulty of raising kids. Perhaps this is a temperament issue, but I wonder if it isn't just that people are expected to complain about this stuff, so they try to make their war story sound more impressive than the next guy.

Tom West writes:

Timothy James,
I think where one goes to highschool (obviously a huge part of the kid's upbringing) has a significant impact on their long-term prospects

I think you missed my first line. You are a data point in *Bryan's* favor. You attended an inner city school, and you turned out fine.

Bryan's contention (highly exaggerated for effect) is that you'd have turned out fine almost anywhere, and if you're child has the right genetic stuff, he/she will too.

Simplified, the claim would be that inner city schools produce bad outcomes because the children attending are the children of those who were socially unsuccessful, and thus genetically unlikely to be successful themselves.

Note, Bryan adds enough caveats and has enough data that his hypothesis is fairly plausible.

(Note, despite the plausibility, I would have avoided an inner-city school for my children if possible, as I was trying to maximize the number of peers with similar interests and personalities.)

Personally, I've seen part of Bryan's hypothesis born out by my observation. Children who are pushed from middle into higher achieving circles (often simply by fortuitous choice of peers) seem to gravitate back to their original level once the constant peer or parental pressure is removed.

DougT writes:

A Swedish proverb: “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.”

I have six kids, ages 24-11. Each year gets better. My 24-y.o. comes over and plays with his 11-15 year-old brothers regularly; I get to hike and camp and fish with buddies who I love and who love me; and what's not to like about reading Tolkien aloud?

Sure, emergencies and operations are a drag, and buying a succession of $2000 cars for new drivers to skid into the ditch was a hassle, but on the whole, I wouldn't trade parenting for a lifetime of flings.

It's short-term vs. long-term thinking. The cathedrals of Europe took generations to plan and build. But they abide as a testament of transcendent beauty.

Timothy James writes:

Tom West,
Simplified, the claim would be that inner city schools produce bad outcomes because the children attending are the children of those who were socially unsuccessful, and thus genetically unlikely to be successful themselves....Children who are pushed from middle into higher achieving circles (often simply by fortuitous choice of peers) seem to gravitate back to their original level once the constant peer or parental pressure is removed.

Thanks. This actually clarifies things tremendously--very good explanation too; especially post-ellipsis. I was misinterpreting his stance just a bit. But I'm still not convinced that either nurture or nature is predominant. Maybe one is in some cases and not in others. I just see it as too complex an issue to take a side, so I'd be suspicious of any argument, for or against. Admittedly, though, I could afford to review the research (and caveats) before making an assertion lest I come off as a follower of the logic of a Beck or Limbaugh etc. I'll start asap.

Also, that I'm a data point in Bryan's favor gives, I think, an even bigger reason to push for the experiment I suggested.

Like I said, I'll review the research and catch you on his next nurture-vs-nature-related blog!

Methinks writes:


Now YOU'VE become formulaic!


In Russia we too have a saying: "Children are the flowers....on the graves of their parents."

Tracy W writes:
There is a lot of truth to the idea that its a lot easier to be more fun and cooler if you don't have children.

This seems off to me. Firstly, my baby thinks I'm amazing fun, unless he's tired or hungry he's extremely easy to make laugh (and tired or hungry isn't that hard to fix).
Secondly, he makes it a lot easier to have fun as I don't care about being cool.

Julien Couvreur writes:

Clearly, having kids is a public good. The added brain power and productivity are beneficial, but it is better if they are other people's kids. Therefore government should step in ;-)

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