What Good Are Children?

Yves here. This post does a nice job, if unintentionally, of showing the limits of using economics as the lens for viewing well-established social norms and biological urges. Similarly, Keynes’ “animal spirits” was a polite way of acknowledging that most entrepreneurial activity was not terribly logical if you were rigorous about the risks (even now, over 90% of all new businesses fail within 3 years) but people did it anyhow. Moreover, it’s only recently that economists have decided that they are qualified to comment on family and interpersonal matters. For instance, in his 1988 book, Behind the Veil of Economics, Robert Heilbroner made an in-passing reference to family relationships falling outside the economic sphere.

By Angus Deaton, Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Economics Department, Princeton University, and Arthur Stone, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Applied Behavioral Medicine Research Institute, Stony Brook University. Originally published at VoxEU

Study after study has shown that those who live with children are less satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Is there something wrong with these empirical analyses? Or is it that happiness measures are unreliable? This column argues that the results are correct but that comparisons of the wellbeing of parents and non-parents are of no help at all for people trying to decide whether to have children.

It is a commonplace that new parents are overwhelmed by a “tsunami of love” when they first meet their dependent offspring. Older children, though often a source of irritation and worry, are also a source of joy, and there are few parents who can even bear to think of a world without their children. Yet, study after study has shown that those who live with children are less satisfied with their lives than those who do not; Hansen (2012) and Stanca (2012) are recent surveys. How can this be? Should governments publicise such findings, to help disabuse people of the widespread notion that children are good for them? Perhaps along with Larkin’s lines?

Man hands on misery to man/It deepens like a coastal shelf/Get out as early as you can/And don’t have any kids yourself
— Philip Larkin

Is there something wrong with these empirical analyses? Or is it that, as many economists suspect, happiness measures are unreliable? We argue here that the results are correct, as far as they go. The deeper problem is that comparisons of the wellbeing of parents and non-parents are of no help at all for people trying to decide whether or not to become parents.

One story is that people don’t have much idea of what they are doing. Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard psychologist whose Stumbling on happiness is well-characterised by its title, argues that the belief that children are good for you is transmitted from generation to generation, in spite of its being false. Parents are perpetually surprised by the unhappiness that children bring.

Before we economists reject such an explanation out of hand, we should remember that Adam Smith believed that the “pleasures of wealth and greatness” are a deception, but are necessary to keep “in continual motion the industry of mankind.” Perhaps the attractions of children are also a deception, but are necessary to keep in motion the continuation of mankind.

New Research

Our two new studies, Stone and Deaton (2013, 2014), use a large American data set from the Gallup Organization to try to get to the bottom of all this. The first paper focuses on the elderly, the second on parents and children.

If we look at everyone in the population (aged 18 and above), and consider child-at-home status and life evaluation, we get a version of the standard finding.

• People with at least one child at home evaluate their lives slightly less favourably than those with no child; the difference is equivalent to a 5% decline in income.
• Those who live with children also report more anger, stress, and worry, but also more happiness

(It is important in this work to separate life evaluation or life satisfaction on the one hand – wherein people judge their lives as a whole – from the hedonic or emotional experience of happiness on the other, and we shall use term “happiness” to refer only to the emotion, not, as is often done, to life evaluation.)

Using the whole population of adults to make these comparisons is not very useful, especially in the Gallup data, which do not tell us how (or whether) the child is related to the respondent. Among the youngest respondents, the child might be a sibling, and among old respondents, the child might be a grandchild. If we look only at adults aged from 34 to 46, for whom a child at home has a 90% or better chance of being the child of the respondent, life as a parent looks better. These adults with children have better lives than those without – equivalent to a 75% increase in income – and although they still are more likely to experience more sadness, anger, and worry, their lives also contain more happiness, smiling, and enjoyment.

But this is not the end of the story. These adults with children don’t look like adults without children. They are healthier, richer, better educated, more religious, more likely to be female or Hispanic, and less likely to smoke, all factors that improve life evaluation regardless of whether people have children. More important still, they are vastly more likely to be married, and marriage itself promotes wellbeing. If we control for all of these factors, we get back to the negative finding that, even among these selected adults, those with children have worse lives. As we change the control variables, but sticking with the 34 to 46 year olds, we can move from the uncontrolled, positive finding to the highly controlled, negative one. Such comparisons, with at least some controls, are similar to many in the literature.

Interestingly, no matter what the controls, parents experience more positive and more negative emotions. This is credible enough, that children bring both joys and sorrows. And if we look at the elderly respondents, everything looks negative for old people living with children, both life evaluation and hedonic experience. We attribute this mostly to selection. At least in the US, the elderly do not normally live with young children, and when they do, it is likely to indicate an inability to live alone, a conjecture that is supported by the much poorer health outcomes among the elderly who live with young children. We also find some evidence of a direct negative effect of children on the emotional outcomes of the elderly.

At this point, we need to stop and think harder about what we are trying to do. Should we really be controlling for marriage? Many people get married with an eye to having children, so perhaps the right comparison is between those who are neither married nor parents with those who are both. But then what about those who are happily married but do not have children? Similarly, people may work harder when children bring unanticipated expenses. But children do not cause most of the differences in people’s incomes, and it makes no sense to drop income as a control.

The results so far tell us about comparisons of wellbeing and how those comparisons differ depending on what other factors we hold constant. But it is out contention that they have no policy implications, either for individuals or for nations.

What Should We be Trying to Estimate Here?

One target might be whether a specific person or a specific couple has a better life with or without children. Because of selection into parenthood, comparisons between those with and without children are not obviously helpful unless, as psychologists (or Adam Smith) might argue, people have little idea of what they are doing. But it surely makes more sense to think that people who have children are, by and large, those who wanted to have children, and vice versa.

The standard economist’s response to a selection problem is to look for panel data, an instrument, or, under ideal conditions, to run the randomised controlled trial that such methods are supposed to mimic. Panel data are of little help here, because the change in wellbeing for parents at the time of their children’s birth is only a fraction of what we are looking for, and the data show important changes in advance of the event. As for a randomised controlled trial, whatever we are interested in knowing it is not the response of a childless couple to waking up one morning to find that a stray stork has blessed them with a “bundle of joy.” This early morning metamorphosis into parenthood is about as likely to bring a better life as was Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis into a giant insect. And we need not even trouble ourselves with the companion study in which randomly selected children cease to exist.

Concluding Remarks

If we think that people who have children are people whose lives are better because they have children, while those who are childless have better lives without them, the empirical findings are not at all surprising. Recent work by Benjamin et al (2013, 2014) confirms that people do not exactly maximise their wellbeing when making life decisions, but they often come very close. If so, those whose wellbeing will be improved by having children will have children, and those whose wellbeing would be worsened by having children will not. But the two groups have different tastes –most obviously in their preference for children – so we have no a priori basis for expecting one group to be better off than the other once they have made their choices. Would be parents who cannot have children are certainly likely to be dissatisfied relative to those who do, and people who do not want a child would no doubt be dissatisfied if they accidently acquired one. But non-parents are not failed parents, nor are parents failed non-parents.

And that is about all that we can say.

See original post for references

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Garrett Pace

    Which is the bigger proportion – people who had kids and wish they didn’t, or people who didn’t have kids and wish they did?

    Also interesting that they keep score on just the adults. When someone has a child, there’s another human being thrown in who gets to exist and has happiness and unhappiness to measure.

      1. Yancey Ward

        This was also my first thought, and what are the expectations for happiness with and without a child. I tend to think of the issue in terms of a transfer- the parent sacrifices some of their happiness for that of their children. Of course, parents have higher levels of stress and worry than non-parents- how could it be otherwise since they are responsible for the well-being of their children

        1. Garrett Pace

          The helplessness of children enhances it of course, but doesn’t this stress and anxiety apply to all human relationships, at least ones that aren’t adversarial?

          Once your happiness is dependent on the well being of others, you are opening the door to all sorts of agony. CS Lewis:

          “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

  2. Garrett Pace

    “And we need not even trouble ourselves with the companion study in which randomly selected children cease to exist.”

    That is about the most elliptical reference to child mortality that I’ve ever seen.

    Interesting article.

  3. sadness

    “….people who have children are people whose lives are better because they have children, while those who are childless have better lives without them….”
    ….or…. will i have sex or won’t i – as an economist that is – i have the answer to that: fewer sexy economists please – i had to look to make sure it wasn’t april 1

  4. Working Class Nero

    In general there seems to be four situations:

    People who want children and have them = happy.
    People who want children and don’t have any = unhappy.
    People who don’t want children and have them = unhappy.
    People who don’t want children and don’t have them = happy.

    Of course some people may change their minds after it is too late to do anything about it generally the four catagories hold true.

    So the real question is: what drives (or not) this desire to have children?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The problem is I am not sure how much of it is desire v. conditioning. Many of my female colleagues have reported over the years of having their parents or inlaws hector them as to when they are going to produce grandchildren. Similarly, when I was in college, the mother of a college roommate, a highly-educated, articulate, independent, free-thinking and outspoken woman made some sort of passing reference to getting married and having children. I said I wasn’t going to have children. She went on tilt and finally sputtered, “But it’s your duty” and must have spent 20 minutes trying to persuade me of the error of my ways before giving up on me.

      1. OMF

        Not everyone has children, or ever did. People who simply never want to have children are not an issue.

        The real issue is people who otherwise would choose to have children, but currently don’t as a result over overwork or expense or career issues. Children are a terrible deal for women in particular, and the reason for that is our work/life policies. Companies, and in particular “the markets” all but refuse to recognise the existence of children or the idea that their employees have families and lives outside of work and consumption.

        We’ve already got one country where this has reached the end-game: Japan. But it must be realised that it is and not the individual choices of couples which have brought about this situation, but the dysfunctional socio-economic policies of the country itself.

        1. rps

          Exactly. Of course, this male-think economist study of children vs no children happiness quotient -obfuscates the fact that USA economic policies are pro-patriarchal and anti-family. The real issue is the callous role of the economic state that determines winners and losers. Of course, the most prevalent point not discussed is the fact women are economically demonized for producing children in the USA. Simply look at the current pro-poverty policies directly aimed at women with children. Our archaic economic polices are premised upon the puritan-Calvinist ideology that children are a burden women must bear.

          It is a well-known that Americans are not the happiest people in the world. However, there’s a flip side to this coin. Simply, look at the Nordic family policies. Denmark usually has the highest rating for Happiness. And the primary difference between the USA and the Nordic countries are economic Family Policies.

          From NNIK (Nordic Information on Gender): The Nordic countries are world-famous for their generous parental leave policies. Parents in other parts of the world cast envious glances at the Nordic model, where recent mothers and fathers receive money for staying at home for a long period with their newborn baby. The record is held by the Danes and the Swedes, who have the right to care for their child at home for over a year, receiving a salary compensation.
          The Nordic countries are also famous for combining caring and gender equality. Women have the opportunity to have a career, even if they are mothers. And fathers, as well as mothers, can move from work to child care with financial compensation from the state….

          1. kareninca

            The fertility rate in Denmark in 2011 was 1.75, not even close to replacement.

            So, like the happiest place in the world, is heading towards extinction. Of course there are miserable countries with low birth rates, but Denmark’s situation makes it look like having few kids, plus tending them well, is both the recipe for supreme human happiness and the disappearance of the human race. That is kind of funny.

            1. hunkerdown

              Because of course what we set up now will go on forever and always, without ever looking at what a particular cohort or society needs. Sarcasm aside, this is exactly what you’re saying.

              Other than economic growth, what exactly is dependent on super-replacement rates *right now*?

              1. kareninca

                So you’re saying that Denmark will “look at what society needs,” and increase its birthrate? Don’t hold your breath. Looks like people there are pretty, um, happy with the present system.

                Of course things are always in flux. Barring a big die-off, and humans have them all the time, no doubt the demographic trends there will change. My point was that people seem to be HAPPIEST with a system that produces few kids. I hope that the approach spreads; human happiness is good, and we don’t need huge numbers of humans added to the planet.

        1. saurabh

          Society? The human race? The same people for whom you have a duty to not pollute rivers, to prevent poverty, or any other abstract social good. These are goods that must be maintained at the individual’s expense, or they will crumble apart. So, yes, Yves has a duty to raise the next generation. This was not the woman’s error; it was that, because this is a duty held in common, not by an individual, we should not hold individuals responsible for its discharge. Some individuals will assume other public duties as their primary burden (like, say, being a watchdog against the corruption of our financial sector); we certainly shouldn’t begrudge people their individual inclinations, especially as this particular duty (having kids) is not in any great danger of lapse.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Did you miss we have too many people on this planet, particularly in high resource consuming advanced economies?

            1. Emma

              Shown all to clearly by the piles of unused junk and toys piled to the rafters in their double-triple-mega-size buy-one-get-one-free garages!

      2. optimader

        A Russian engineer I knew a long time ago offered to me his reflection, with cigarette smoke curling up into his eye: “…just make decision, it will be wrong one anyway…”


      3. susan the other

        My generation was even worse. It was understood you got married and had kids. From the age of 17 I watched all my girlfriends do just that. Becoming instantly transformed into serious, somber young women. I always thought, even from childhood, that having children was sadistic. How could anyone even think of doing it. This world being the dreadful nightmare that it is. But at the rather old-age (for my generation) of 30 I had a baby. And I didn’t feel too sadistic after all. And I didn’t get all serious and somber, I enjoyed her more than I can tell you – it even surprised me. But then, I’ve never had great expectations. And I couldn’t define happiness if my life depended on it.

        1. Emma

          +10 Nice Susan.
          I’m wishing desperately that I could wiggle my nose and immediately conjure up a couple of ankle-biters. I’d love to recall if being surrounded by women with kids provides for interesting conversation as opposed to the women-with-no-kids in my local hood.
          My fitness classes are full of women happy to work out, spa and steam 5 days a week, a young local restaurant waitress I joined for coffee (primarily because she’s Algerian and I presently need info on Algeria), spent the whole hour trying to ‘surreptitiously’ sell the so-called merits of high society callgirl outfits to me, and knew bugger all about the country of her parents. One of my neighbors’ keeps on accosting me to talk about extra-marital sex, and another keeps on wanting to drag me to her local synagogue. The other day was the last straw in neighborly love though – I finally told her in none-to-polite terms to look up irreligion, wasp, and what fun could be had sticking needles in ones’ eyes listening to The Clash, high on the ecstasy of a technical translation, after downing half a dozen espressos or more (or other!)
          Needless to say, I’m seriously considering either a) moving to another part of town asap or b) having the kids or c) getting a gun!

      4. UndisciplinedPhD

        This is such an important point. I grew up the oldest of 8 in a Catholic household and spent much of my childhood helping my mom to care for the children. I wasn’t even allowed to participate in after school activities in HS b/c mom needed me home to help. I planned to have a large family myself and became a mother at 19.

        Then for some reason (partly b/c I realized I wanted to go to college and do something besides raise kids w/my life) I suddenly came to my senses. It sounds melodramatic, but it was really an earth-moving shift in my world view.

        Had anyone asked before my great revelation, I would have insisted that I WANTED to have children, lots of them. I did not recognize how much I was conditioned into it.

        And even one is not enough. I was lectured on how cruel it was to raise my son an only child. Even once by a gay male couple!! They wanted ME to conform; but allowed themselves the freedom to resist the mid-century mores we were brought up with.

        Anyway, he’ll be 37 next week and is a great joy of my life. But I would have been miserable – as my mother was – if I’d had any more.

        Hope you’re feeling better soon, Yves.


    2. kjboro

      People who want children and have them and live in constant stress from neoliberal economic realities (too little income, no jobs or spotty jobs, unaffordable housing, unaffordable transportation, unaffordable insurance, toxic air, toxic food, inadequate schools, etc etc) = unhappy

  5. j gibbs

    First, humanity’s views on children have evolved over millions of years throughout most of which children were an asset rather than a liability. Beginning at a very early age (5 or so) children could work and augment parental income. Everything changed when society began demanding that children be schooled. They soon became strictly a liability, and as things have developed in the past fifty years, they have become a giant liability.

    My seven year college and graduate school education cost my father less than $25,000. A college friend educated his four children at a cost of $100,000 each. My wife borrowed $30,000 for one year of nursing school in 1993, and so far she has paid over $55,000, and still owes $7500, plus interest at 9%.

    I can only imagine what educating today’s children costs. It seems to me that the only sensible place to raise children today is on a farm or a ranch. This suggests that about 95% of Americans shouldn’t have them. Of course this introduces what economists call the Fallacy of Composition: decisions which are good for individuals are often bad for society as a whole.

    One further point: entertainment and advertising have so undermined parental authority and induced so much childhood anxiety and dissatisfaction (and school has contributed so much excruciating boredom) that it appears something of a miracle that anyone feels happy with the children he or she has.

    1. allcoppedout

      We must have been posting at the same time. I obviously agree. There’s endless academic work on childhood as a social construction. There should be much more social provision for children and a more collective way of upbringing. Schools aren’t the answer and have come to define what kids are. Much as I might myself in not wanting them running round a restaurant I’m trying to eat in, or as in making them chronic debt-burdens in our weird financial system.

    2. Jessica

      Many people agree with you. Birth rates plummet when rural people move into cities. This is even true for societies known for high birth rates.

    3. Jim Haygood

      ‘I can only imagine what educating today’s children costs.’

      One reason is that since the cost of public schooling is paid via property taxes for one’s entire life, no one has any idea what it actually costs.

      With most prospective parents regarding K-12 education as virtually free, there’s an implicit subsidy to having children. Economic calculation is impossible without these costs being made explicit, even if society chooses to subsidize them.

    4. Cocomaan

      I treat the idea of children the same way I treat the idea of pets: the only pet I’d ever want is one working for me (chickens for eggs, goats for milk).

      Your kids don’t work for you anymore. You work for them.

    5. hunkerdown

      Some would argue that the fallacy of composition is at play in reverse: that what is bad for individuals (assuming this liability) is good for the whole… and that’s where they got some ‘splaining to do, yet invariably the explanations are irrational (quick wave to Ian Welsh), simple-minded, and generally some variation of those three little words:

      “Misery loves company.”

  6. allcoppedout

    The stunning fact on kids is that the world population has tripled since WW2. We might well have a much safer, sustainable world and a completely different quality of life had we been able to be global-sensible. I’m fairly gnostic on human society, though not so much on the body being the devil and creation a mistake we should end by a return to nothingness. It’s more that we can’t escape the evolutionary-biological plight. The world runs through robotic machines we call genes and mad ideological stuff we call religion, politics and economics. None of this makes any sense to me as a scientist, and even less in my emotive well-being.

    In developed countries we dislike kids so much we put them out to wet-nurses, bottle-feeding and then a twenty-year period of child-minding we call ‘education’. At the end of this most of them know very little, so much so we are scared to directly measure what this expensive provision has achieved. We keep no control group who don’t do extended school to measure against, though there are ways we could look at this indirectly (anthropology is one).

    We haven’t even worked out much about the effects of having children. I never fancied much being a teenage single mother and doubt I would have wanted to interrupt my pre-thirty career by having a couple of kids, even as a bloke. And I don’t understand why we stress the nuclear family so much in child-raising, given young blood is a ‘resource’ we all rely on and yet also may represent, in too many numbers, a carbon-footprint burden.

    Humans can complicate almost anything and do. Start thinking about one plus one equalling two and you are on the way to three volumes with a fatal flaw in trying to prove it (Russell and Whitehead). So imagine what an intelligent woman has to think about in a decision to have a couple of kids when it is biologically most appropriate (19 to 28 at a guess), the very age at which career earning is also likely to be formed. This is tough enough before one considers societies in which women are primarily regarded as breeding machines.

    I actually like kids, but one can imagine that the albatross in ‘The Ancient Mariner’ was a child, tied like a millstone round the neck. Could anyone sell us such high-maintenance products? Don’t fret too much, finance is probably worse!

    1. j gibbs

      On the subject of women in the work force, technology has impressively increased the productive power of labor since 1960, yet in the world’s richest country two adults must now work full time to support one middle class household that has consistently lost economic ground unless it participated successfully in real estate or stock bubbles. In 1960 one working adult easily supported one middle class household. The housewife’s biggest problem was boredom. I believe this demonstrates that Marx was entirely right about surplus value, however wrong he may have been about anything else.

      1. allcoppedout

        We have second partners giving up work because childcare is more costly! The productivity scandal is very interesting. We never seem to get round to thinking about a world with much less work and affluence.

      2. Joe Miller

        Not to mention domestic violence and legal rape (one’s husband could force sex without being held legally culpable until the late eighties, if I remember correctly).

      3. rps

        Marx ignored the fact that women are the uncounted and unpaid infrastructure in which all patriarchal civilizations rests upon. French feminist Luce Irigaray explains the woman’s position within patriarchal societies in the book “This Sex Which is Not One.” Part of her argument describes the socio-cultural status of women, “In our social order, women are ‘products’ used and exchanged by men.” She expands in this way: “Commodities, as we all know, do not take themselves to market on their own…..So women have to remain an infrastructure -unrecognized as such by our society and our culture. Clearly, women are in a situation of specific exploitation with respect to male centric exchange operations: sexual, economic, social, and cultural.”

        1. j gibbs

          Maybe so, but my experience of women is that more than a few live by exploiting individual men. The men are lucky to get two good meals a week and clean underwear, and if they rebel the divorce bill can run into hundreds of thousands. Marx, incidentally, wrote a great deal about the industrial exploitation of women and young children. Volume I of Capital goes on and on (and on and on) about it.

          1. hunkerdown

            Are there other countries in which “the” “sexes” have been long at war, or is it just the elites working yetabloodynother divide-et-impera angle?

  7. OMF

    I’m detecting a lot of cosmopolitan child aversion in this thread. I put this down in no small part to the triumph of work in the work/life balance struggle since the 1970s ( and quite possibly the child abuse scares over the last 2 decades).

    Since the 1970s, real income has fallen, and the end result is that not only two income, but overworked two income households have become the norm. In such an environment of overtime, long commutes, and increasingly “always on” (i.e. zero hour) at home workplace behavior, family life suffers and children do become a source of stress.

    But, not to put too fine a point on it, out society needs people to a) have children and b) have the time to raise them well. Our current economic model is not supporting this, unless you are either uber wealthy or unemployed.

    When women entered the workforce en-masse starting — in Ireland anyway — in the 1970s, the essential problem was this: Women en-masse were expected to work to the same degree as men (though weren’t paid accordingly) in the workplace, but that level of work itself relied on the old idea of single family incomes with one person at home — and in some cases those with domestic servants at home.

    Previously you had a degree of specialization: One person worked intensely earning income, the other worked intensely managing the household(for the middle classes at least), and workplaces were tacitly structured around this. Now you have two people working intense jobs, but their jobs give little or no allowance for the fact that the labor involved in managing a household has never gone away. But these two people have to work because our economy has become structured around this two intensely working incomes.

    Something has to give eventually, and it’s both the quality of family life, and also of community life, and eventually the birth rate. You can argue that falling birth rates are not necessarily a bad thing, but if they are as a result of dysfunctional work/life policies, then the end-game here is Japan, a country which is literally dying because of how “unhappy”(expensive, onerous, careering damaging) the idea of having children makes people. This is what happens when your policy is not to have a policy.

    1. j gibbs

      What has to give eventually is the nuclear family. Chances are the children and the adults too would be better off in some kind of communal setting. Let’s see: a doctor, lawyer and banker to earn the money, a chef to prepare the meals, three nurturing types to look after the kids, two guys to cut the lawn, buy the groceries and play with the kids. Now if the nurturing types were also prostitutes…..

      1. hunkerdown

        I wonder if the recent ascendance of the more salonfähig conceptions of non-monogamy (as both society and non-monogamy have somewhat adapted to one another) is related.

    2. just_kate

      Great comment. I would also add that in many cases one or both of those 2 workers now faces perpetual uncertainty in staying employed. For so many people it is literally impossible to plan for the future without any sense of what kind of living you will be making for the rest of your working life. This is why I support the basic guaranteed income idea.

    3. optimader

      “Japan, a country which is literally dying because of how “unhappy”(expensive, onerous, careering damaging) the idea of having children makes people. ”

      Japan is in trouble because it is an incredibly monolithic culture of racists –My analogy is it is kinda like a monoculture crop. Flourish’s under a narrow set of conditions or stresses out and declines in adverse conditions.

      Times are tough right now, but I doubt many people would trade places w/ my dad’s mother or my mom’s father. They were young adults in brutal conditions in an urban environment, and I think their situations were far from unique in those days. None the less they both raised fine families.

      As fckd up as healthcare is now, for example, I SURELY would not trade todays entry level possibilities with what my granddad had available after he punched out of the Catholic Charities orphanage to be a street urchin, or what my grandmother was confronted with as a office cleaning lady/single mother raising three kids in the ’20’s and 30’s. For that matter I wouldn’t trade it for what the Vanderbilt’s had available at that time.

      My point is, as distressing as daily existence was for the average American in previous generations, they none the less procreated and got along with life as best they could. Our current generations CERTAINLY have their unique lot of shit circumstances to deal with. But uniquely worse than the shit circumstances confronting previous generations? I’m guessin no. Do we have the potential at least to alleviate more suffering now? Absolutely, but that’s another thread..

      I’ll probably get flamed for this , but that’s fine.

      1. j gibbs

        Putting this extremely valid point another way, life is always impossible, but some people succeed anyway. Unfortunately, there is a survivorship bias. We seldom hear from the losers.

      2. just_kate

        but those were times where having children was not typically optional and there wasn’t an issue of population re capacity for planet Earth. in my opinion now is the time to be thoughtful and aware and purposeful – children’s welfare can be more readily taken into account.

        1. hunkerdown

          So also can (and should) the welfare of adults, and indeed of every possible system in which we participate, be taken into account, and perhaps less about abstractions of identity or whatever evangelical theists (Quiverfull) or atheists (Dawkins) are selling this week.

  8. Hank

    I think anti-natalism has the potential to be the next gay rights movement assuming global warming doesn’t take us all out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antinatalism

    Since children can’t consent to being born, it’s unethical to impose life (give birth) in a world in which the potential for great suffering exists. The fact that we’re all so blase about, if not outright supportive of, procreation, demonstrates a complete lack of sensitivity to those who get the short end of the stick. And to be clear, this isn’t about me, but about the fact that someone, somewhere has the gotten shortest stick and we should consider their feelings.

    When someone decides to have children, they’re gambling with the welfare of someone else. They’re conducting Frankenstein experiments they can’t control in which someone else pays the price. They’re playing god while lacking god-like capabilities. The reckless arrogance of such an act is rarely, if ever, commented upon.

    When you point out to people that as long as people are giving birth, a certain percentage of those children will end up suicidally miserable, they tend to think that suicidal people are just the price we have to pay in order to get happy people. In other words, they prioritize happiness over suffering. Anti-natalists believe the opposite: suffering takes precedence, and better no one exist than one person suffer. If the possibility of creating even one miserable, suicidal person exists, then it’s unethical to have children

    Many people say, “if life is so bad, you can always commit suicide.” Those who say that don’t realize that it’s like getting someone hooked on heroin and saying “well, you can always quit if you want.” Sure, it’s possible, and some people manage to quit (usually after years of suffering), but it’s incredibly difficult. Having children means getting someone addicted to life. And like other addictions, no matter how much suffering results, the addict has trouble stopping themselves, whether it’s the fear of hurting others or the deeply ingrained biological fear of hurting themselves that prevents them. If would-be parents want to use the “you can always commit suicide” argument to justify imposing life without consent, they should be doing everything they can to make suicide easier and more socially acceptable, otherwise it’s not convincing.

    For too long people have been able procreate without needing to justify themselves. Just wanting to and being able to has been enough. We need to shift the burden though and put would-be breeders on the defensive about their choices. Make them justify it because they’re the ones imposing life without consent in a world where the potential for great suffering exists.

    Bottom line: you like your life? That’s great, enjoy it. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK for you to go around imposing it on others without their consent. Just because that’s how it’s always been, doesn’t make it right.

    Bonus: antinatalist politician in Colombia:

        1. j gibbs

          I am afraid counter-arguments would be wasted. You are suggesting that people have no right to do what they are biologically engineered to do. You have decided this is unfair to those who come into the world. You expect to gather a following to agree, after which what? Have all the males castrated? It is bad enough when they do it to baby bulls.

          1. Hank

            “You are suggesting that people have no right to do what they are biologically engineered to do.”

            Everything we do is in some sense biologically engineered. Rape and violence are biologically engineered, for example. Should we not try to stop those things? Furthermore, plenty of people DON’T have kids and many who DO have kids have them as accidents. It’s a biological urge for sex, not reproduction. And for those who feel a specific urge for children unrelated to sex, I suggest they be rational and realize it’s the wrong thing to do. I would say the same thing to someone who wants to kill someone who cut them off, even though anger is a biological impulse as well. You’re suggesting we should just accept that we’re apes, not even try to do better, and just embrace it? No thanks. That’s nihilism.

            And, yes, I’ve decided it’s unfair. Other people agree with me. Is there something wrong with that? How is it any different from any other moral issue that was once scoffed at, like gay marriage or banning slavery?

            And there’s no need for castration, just birth control. I DO think people who attempt to impose life on others without their consent should be stopped, though. Just like I think using force to stop slave-owners is justified. Not saying I’d be the one to stop them, at least in these circumstances, but I think it would be justified if SOMEONE did.

            How bad does life have to get before you decide it’s wrong to have children? Where is your limit? Do you have any standards or is life just hunky dory under all circumstances?

            1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

              Speaking of consent, few animals or plants consent to be some one’s or some thing’s food.

              1. Hank

                J gibbs, I haven’t insulted you, but you’ve insulted me three times. Please respond to the arguments. I think some of the backlash is just the fact people who support bringing children into this world are never forced to defend themselves. And what does that say about the gravity or lack thereof which the average person possesses when they decide to have a child?

                1. kareninca

                  jgibbs is emoting, rather than reasoning.

                  Well, reasoning is hard, and is not selected for except in small amounts. Emoting leads to reproduction, and is highly selected for. Facing horrible realities (the strong likelihood that anyone you give birth to will suffer a great deal), is also not selected for. It must be very agreeable to have the mental life of jgibbs.

                2. will nadauld

                  Happiest days of my life were the days my children were born. My purpose on this planet was undefined until I became a father. I would not trade one second of my children’s lives for anything this world has to offer including my continued existence. Your argument about humans being biologically driven to sex and not procreation is absolutely ridiculous. If we adopted your plan for civilization, the point of civilization would vanish, and human life itself would cease in about 120 years. Who would care for you and feed you as you aged out? Your thoughts trouble me. I’ve decided that you cant be serious.

                  1. kareninca

                    Some people are drawn to sex, some people are drawn to procreation, some to both.

                    I noticed as I was growing up, and later, that i never, ever heard a female relative say anything positive about the experience of having had children. Never. They were good mothers; diligent and devoted, and loved their children. But they never said it was a plus. On the other hand, they all had really strong sex drives, and all had become pregnant by accident. Actually I also never heard a male relative say anything positive about the experience of having had kids (most of them were good parents, too), but that made less of an impression on me.

                    I’m guessing that these days, women with high sex drives who don’t have high reproductive drives, aren’t having so many kids. A “drive to reproduce” is being selected for, rather than a sex drive. That is a good thing, I’d think.

                    Your experience, is your experience. I’m glad the happiness of your children makes you happy, I fear that means that their pain and misery would make you that much more miserable. You will likely conveniently be out of the picture, before their greatest pain and misery kicks in.

                    Guess what – the human race WILL go extinct. Even if we all take your approach, the species is time limited. Look at the history of species, and the planet.

                    It’s funny that you wonder “who will care for the elderly childless???” I promise you that the intentionally childless have made plans. The really screwed people I see, and I see a lot of them, are the elderly who have children who utterly neglect them.

                    1. Bridget

                      May I assume that the plans of the “elderly childless by choice” do not include social security and Medicare paid for by the labor of the children of those who cdo choose to undergo the vast expense and rigors of bearing and raising them?

                    2. Yves Smith Post author


                      Need I remind you that the the taxes people without children pay over their working lives go for things like schools, Head Start, juvenile detention, social welfare programs aimed at kids, enforcement actions against deadbeat dads? And I pretty much never hear anyone as tacky as you ar to bitch about it.

                    3. Bridget

                      Tacky is as tacky does. Condescending to the people raising the children you plan to rely on to support you in your old age……pretty high up there on the tacky scale.

                3. Moneta

                  Procreation is natural and most human beings are full of hope. I think it is funny how our society deludes itself into thinking it controls everything. There is no free will. We have the illusion of choice.

                  A lot of the joy in my life has revolved around suffocating my suffering. I know I am going to die and probabilities show it won’t be peacefully in my sleep. But I have had enough joy in my life to make up for all the suffering.

              2. kareninca

                Where are your counterarguments, jgibbs?

                I never had kids because I did not want to create another victim for the maw of fate. I could see that just because humans historically have done so, for economic or social reasons, or due to sexual passion, it didn’t follow that it was ethical for me to. If I had excellent reason to think that the individual that I created would find life overall a better deal than not having been born, well, that would be different. But I had no particular reason to think that.

                Really, the thought that there was even the small chance that the person I created, would die in fear and pain, was enough to dissuade me. And when I visit the jam-packed local nursing home (a friend’s mom is there; it is horrifying to see her demented awareness in her immobile body) (my mother in law was in that situation for 14 years years), I would say the odds are not small.

                You have taken it as a given that being born is a good thing for the person who was born. Well, that view has certainly been selected for, socially and biologically. However it doesn’t follow that it is true, or that it is true with a frequency that makes it ethical to reproduce as humans traditionally have.

                For those here who have had kids who are still fine and whose lives are still okay, I am very glad of that and hope it continues. However the fact that things are so far good, means very little in re the future.

          2. hunkerdown

            Have fewer or no children, of course. You’re writing as if you saw any downward pressure on human breeding as an unacceptable tyranny and a clear disaster; if that’s so, then stop hiding behind bourgeois acceptability and just say that you want moar breeding for its own sake so that we can judge you fairly.

    1. Andrew not the Saint

      Yeah right – and hence no humans should exist at all then, and likewise no animals should exist either since they suffer too. Plants may experience suffering also – to be safe it’d be best for them not to exist as well. In fact nothing should exist…

      Seems nihilistic a bit?

      1. Hank

        It’s actually the opposite of nihilism. It’s based on basic principles, like the principle of consent, and a concern for suffering. Our current situation, where people breed left and right without concern for suffering is the true nihilism. It’s just status quo nihilism that we’re so used to that we don’t see it as nihilism.

        And you’re only assuming that nothing should exist if you assume that life only exists on planet earth and nowhere else. You have three options.

        1.) Happy life exists somewhere else, either on a different planet, universe, dimension, etc. If that’s the case, and we already have happiness perpetuating itself elsewhere, what’s the use in perpetuating life on earth with its attendant chance of misery?

        2.) Life exists elsewhere, but it’s not happy. In that case, let them reproduce. You’re not responsible for them anyway and can’t do anything about it even if you were. You can sleep well at night knowing that life exists somewhere in this universe even as Earthlings decide to do the right thing and take the antinatalist approach.

        3.) Life exists only earth. This is extremely unlikely. But if it’s the case, that still doesn’t give us the right to impose life on others without their consent.

        1. Garrett Pace

          You forgot one:

          4. We use a combination of conditioning and selection to turn ourselves into creatures that aren’t sufficiently self-aware to perceive or evaluate concepts like happiness.

          I think over the past century we’ve made great strides in that direction.

    2. Moneta

      For too long people have been able procreate without needing to justify themselves.
      LOL! I guess we can’ t procreate until we are sure 100% of everything… but if we can’t procreate until then, how will we get there? My head hurts!

      1. Hank

        Haha. In truth, though, saying “we’ll never be a 100 percent sure, so we might as well roll the dice (on someone else’s welfare)” is just glib. Extreme suffering is real and should be grappled with, not just glibly hand-waved away, like most people do. Someone, somewhere has suffered the most. Suppose they were your children, could you look into their eyes and say “I’m sorry you’re in hell, but you’re the price we pay in order for some people to be happy”? Or better yet, suppose they were YOU.

        “but if we can’t procreate until then, how will we get there?”
        I don’t think there’s any evidence that if we just keep breeding eventually we’ll create a utopia where everyone is happy.

        Serious question for pro-natalists: how bad do things have to get until you say “that’s enough.” I really don’t want this to sound dramatic, but how many wars, rapes, tortures, diseases, depressions, boredoms, etc. must occur before you reach your limit and say “it’s cruel to bring a child into this world.” Do you have any standards?

      2. Hank

        Saying “we’ll never be a 100 percent sure, so we might as well roll the dice (on someone else’s welfare)” is just glib. Extreme suffering is real and should be grappled with, not just glibly hand-waved away, like most people do. Someone, somewhere has suffered the most. Suppose they were your children, could you look into their eyes and say “I’m sorry you’re in hell, but you’re the price we pay in order for some people to be happy”? Or better yet, suppose they were YOU.

        “but if we can’t procreate until then, how will we get there?”
        I don’t think there’s any evidence that if we just keep breeding eventually we’ll create a utopia where everyone is happy.

        Serious question for pro-natalists: how bad do things have to get until you say “that’s enough.” I really don’t want this to sound dramatic, but how many wars, rapes, tortures, diseases, depressions, boredoms, etc. must occur before you reach your limit and say “it’s too cruel to bring a child into this world.” Do you have any standards?

        Moreover, how bad does it have to get before you not only refuse to have kids of your own, but actively try stop other from having kids of their own?

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Hank, you have the same moral dilemma, probably worse, when you realize, to live, you must kill something…vegetables or non-vegetables.

          While we ponder whether to procreate or not, we should stop eating and stop murdering bacteria and viruses.

          Even water has feelings too, believe it or not.

          1. Hank

            I’m not against death, I’m against suffering. And yes, just by existing we cause unintended harm (and good) to other people/animals. Eating animals is problematic insofar as many modern farming methods amount to torture. There’s no need to stop eating, though. Just stop procreating and there will be no one around to eat. Of course after the last human is gone, if nothing is done beforehand animals will be around to suffer as well. I say start with human anti-natalism first and deal with animals after we’ve already made some headway.

            And I don’t understand your arguments about water having feelings. Are you an animist?

            1. Garrett Pace

              “There’s no need to stop eating, though. Just stop procreating and there will be no one around to eat.”

              Oh good heavens. I grant you, it’s a very convenient ethical system when you only apply it to the unborn and never yourself.

              At this point I think you’re a troll. Thanks for giving the people here an ethical workout though.

              1. Hank

                The unborn don’t have any feelings and therefore can’t regret being born.

                I’m suggesting people don’t have children and I’m backing that up by personally not reproducing. Where’s the double standard?

                You mean because I’m not telling people to kill themselves? I personally think that makes a lot of sense in some circumstances, but for practical reasons just not reproducing is a simpler solution. And staying around and promoting antinatalism can do more good than a solitary suicide. Again, it’s not about me. If I die tomorrow, there will still be someone born in some landfill in a third world country who wants to kill themselves. My suicide does nothing for them.

                It’s the pro-natalist camp who have the convenient ethical system: reproduce like rabbits, dismiss all concerns about suffering, blame the fallout on biology instead of taking responsibility, etc.

                It’s very convenient to gamble with other people’s lives when you’re not the one who will have to endure their suffering. As La Rochefoucauld put it: ‘We all have strength enough to endure the suffering of others’.

                And no, I’m not a troll.

                1. Garrett Pace

                  I spent two years in “third world landfills” and generally the people there were a lot more cheerful than you, me and the rest of the comfortable, anxious, navel-gazey west. (For the unhappy residue there was the voluntary oblivion of alcohol.)

                  Do you have any idea what you are talking about or are these “landfill people” just a dismal abstraction?

                  I’ll be honest with you. I’m not in a position to give your ideas a reasonable hearing. I’m too happy right now.

                  And I’ll turn your earlier question back on you: how good does life on earth have to get for you to give up this ruinous program?

                  1. Hank

                    Not a dismal abstraction at all. Some are cheerful and some most definitely aren’t. If you don’t like that example, feel free to pick another. How about the many thousands of people who commit suicide every year?

                    But sticking with the landfill people for a second, look at what you do: you casually glide over the few or many who suffer. You do what most people do when forced to confront suffering: you deny (everyone’s cheerful!), minimize (they can just be alcoholics!), and rationalize (westerners are just too navel-gazey!). Look at how glib you are about the hellish nightmare of alcoholism.

                    As far as you being too happy to think about this stuff, well, that’s great (your happiness I mean) but a fairly typical, shallow response. The fact that people live their whole lives insulated from these kinds of questions and find themselves so distanced from other people’s suffering is something to think about. But as long as you’re not having kids, enjoy your bubble, I guess.

                    As far as how good things would have to be for me to think otherwise? Take the US, a country where almost 40,000 people commit suicide annually. If suddenly no one had suicidal urges, and that was generalized across the globe, I would begin to reconsider my beliefs.

                    1. Garrett Pace

                      “Look at how glib you are about the hellish nightmare of alcoholism.”

                      Friend, that’s what I was doing there – trying to help unhappy people be happier. Didn’t work in all cases (myself in particular, interestingly enough), but maybe I helped prevent a few suicides – though I’m not actually sure if that’s a good thing in your book or not.

                      Do you think that happy people must be in a thoughtless bubble or they’d be as grave as you are? That stern and inflexible depression is the only suitable response to the world? That happy people are either oblivious or crazy?

                      If that’s the case then it appears you’re in a double bind. To you fewer suicides and greater perception of happiness just means more crazy people, not that the world is getting better and you should rethink your beliefs.

                    2. Garrett Pace

                      “As far as you being too happy to think about this stuff, well, that’s great (your happiness I mean) but a fairly typical, shallow response. ”

                      If you can’t accept that I think about “this stuff” a lot, and still manage to be happy, then there really isn’t anything for us to talk about.

                      In a larger sense, though, I actually agree with you – I would have to have a very particular type of misery to want what you want for humanity.

                    3. Hank

                      Who says I’m particularly grave? It seems like you’re accusing anyone who’s not as flippant as you are of being overly serious. It’s cheap and not true. And it’s a time-honored way of dismissing people who ask people to acknowledge inconvenient facts. Not that it’s never true, but even in the situations where it is, it doesn’t invalidate the argument. If anything, the fact that grave, overly serious people exist should give people pause when they consider their children might grow up to be one of these one people.

                      I’m not opposed whatsoever to happiness. But I think it’s possible to be happy while still taking the issue seriously. You yourself said you were too happy to consider the arguments and that third-worlders are more cheerful in order to minimize their suffering. Those statements seemed shallow, not your happiness.

                      “That stern and inflexible depression is the only suitable response to the world? That happy people are either oblivious or crazy?”

                      Not at all. Happiness is great.

                      “If you can’t accept that I think about “this stuff” a lot, and still manage to be happy, then there really isn’t anything for us to talk about.”

                      You yourself said you were too happy to seriously consider the arguments. I never claimed and don’t believe that all happy people are incapable.

                  2. kareninca

                    Oh, come on. The “happy third world poor.” Once you start drilling down in situations like that, you find an infinite quantity of depression, anxiety, ongoing agonizing physical pain, botched abortions, AIDS, untreated cervical and breast cancer, rotting painful teeth, fistulas, nutritionally induced retardation, PTSD from rape (both straight and gay), relatives in prison, relatives in mass graves, actual hunger, drug addiction, and not-so-voluntary alcoholism.

                    Yes, those jolly third-worlders. Funny how eager they are to cross the border, and join the despondant first world. Don’t they know how good they have it?

                    You were just insensitive to the suffering there. Well, humans are not very attuned to the suffering of other humans or animals; that sensitivity is very uncomfortable. I’m sure you were and are enjoying your cheerful obliviousness.

                    1. Garrett Pace

                      If you think you are psychic I have bad news for you. At the time I was pretty depressed and the people around me were generally happier, many of them much more so.

                      I didn’t say there was no discomfort. There was tons of discomfort and pain, including some on your laundry list of horrors. But they were happy people.

                      Is the third world a dismal abstraction for you, too? These are actual people, not pictures on malthusian postcards. They are brave, clever, and resourceful, and even in limited circumstances they have choices of how to respond to external conditions.
                      Most of them don’t spend their time sitting around imagining ways of killing themselves. I don’t think they would care to have you or Hank representing their interests.

                    2. Garrett Pace

                      ““Noble savage” what?”

                      Am I patronizing in trying to describe some of the virtues of the good people I came to know and love? I suppose it’s possible. But I dare say many of them were a lot more civilized than I was.

                      Anyway, curt dismissals are my sign that the conversation has gone overlong.

                      You have a very nice evening.

                2. will nadauld

                  Whatever gave you the idea that life should be free from suffering? How would a person ever know happiness without experiencing its opposite? On the chance that a person might experience hunger or pain, we should abort their ability to feel love or happiness or satisfaction? I challenge you to name or create any environment or circumstance that guarantees you a suffering free existence. It might be possible, but in my mind, the boredom of such a sterile environment would make me suffer. How do you know that life for the unborn is any more tolerable than here?
                  I could make your argument for most anything man has invented. But to say that man should discontinue entirely the production of man, to ensure that man doesn’t suffer is nonsensical.

                  1. kareninca

                    Oh, lord, the “we have to have pain in order to have happiness” position. Look, that is trivially true, of small and moderate forms of pain.

                    So what about the Japanese military doctors, dissecting pregnant Chinese women alive during WWII? Or North Korea’s present-day torture camps? Or 14 million Ukrainians starved to death under Stalin? Hutus and Tutsis? Really, my own personal happiness does not require that others suffer such agonies.

                    So life for the unconceived unborn, may be so awful that we all should reproduce as much as possible? What a bizarre claim. What other actions should we perform, with no evidence at all?

                  2. Hank

                    “Whatever gave you the idea that life should be free from suffering?”

                    Whatever gave you the idea that suffering is OK? How does one read news stories about women who have been locked in their basement for decades and raped repeatedly by their father and come away thinking “gee golly, if she never suffered, she never would have known happiness!” Where does that sort insensitivity originate?

                    “How would a person ever know happiness without experiencing its opposite?”

                    There are plenty of happy people who have never suffered, and plenty of miserable people whose misery never acted as a springboard to greater happiness. Misery is often just misery, but because that idea makes people uncomfortable they have to turn it into something else. It may look like misery, smell like misery, and taste like misery, but surely somehow it’s not misery. Somehow it’s about great happiness. Sorry, I don’t buy it.

                    “On the chance that a person might experience hunger or pain, we should abort their ability to feel love or happiness or satisfaction?”

                    I could turn this around you. So because some people might feel love or happiness, it’s OK to create people who will be suicidally miserable? As I stated in my initial comment, I prioritize suffering, whereas you prioritize happiness at the expense of those who will inevitably suffer. However, I don’t think the two are equal. This is sometimes referred to as David Benatar’s assymetry. Would-be happy people don’t suffer by not existing, but suffering people DO suffer by existing. Not being born isn’t a harm, but being born and suffering as a result of it IS a harm.

                    “I challenge you to name or create any environment or circumstance that guarantees you a suffering free existence.”

                    This is precisely my point. Suffering is all over the place. You think that speaks favorably of life?

                    “It might be possible, but in my mind, the boredom of such a sterile environment would make me suffer.”

                    So life is so inherently boring that we need suffering in order to spice things up. And you think that’s a good thing?

                    “How do you know that life for the unborn is any more tolerable than here?”

                    Because there’s no evidence for that?

                    “But to say that man should discontinue entirely the production of man, to ensure that man doesn’t suffer is nonsensical.”

                    I disagree.

    3. bob

      Still one of my favorites-


      “There are no nihilists any more. That fact is the most damning evidence of a great betrayal which has happened in the last half century. In 1945, when the Bomb gave us the option of quitting this dirty, rigged game of Darwinian strip poker, we learned that not one of the anti-life artists meant what they said. In a few years, all the anti-life art of the early twentieth century vanished. The artists who had made their careers documenting the horrors of life on earth and denouncing the cycle of animal existence yelped away like scared puppies the moment a real chance to end the suffering appeared.

      They saw that magnificent mushroom cloud and instead of falling down to worship it, they ran to the nearest church or Christian Science Reading Room or Socialist meeting hall. After convincing thousands of adolescents to kill themselves in the name of holy despair, these sleazy careerists ran to hug the knees of GAIA, the bloody mother. They Chose Life — the swine!”

    4. optimader

      didn’t get too much further than the fallacious set up:
      “it’s unethical to impose life (give birth) in a world in which the potential for great suffering exists.”

      When has the potential for great suffering not exist?
      D you think your ancestral genetic pool were playing Bridge w/ the Saber Tooth Tigers, or were a menu option???

      1. Hank

        When did I say great suffering didn’t exist in the past? If it were possible to be retroactively anti-natalist, I would be. Does the fact that people suffered in the past make it ok to impose new suffering in the present and future?

        1. j gibbs

          I still recommend the lobotomy. You could try psychotherapy first, if you’re squeamish.

          1. kareninca

            Reasoned argument isn’t your strong suit, is it, jgibbs. You’ve done nothing but resort to insults in this debate. The very idea of people deciding not to reproduce, in order not to cause pain, seems to be extremely threatening to you.

      2. hunkerdown

        In the present day, it *is* a menu option. We have the power to eradicate much unnecessary labor and suffering. However, the present social order depends on that unnecessary labor and suffering to feed its institutional self.

        A large, diverse society and consent culture are basically incompatible, yet cosmopolitan types continue to try to jam two square pegs into one triangular hole…

  9. Katniss Everdeen

    ” But it surely makes more sense to think that people who have children are, by and large, those who wanted to have children, and vice versa.”

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Abortion is not freely and readily available in America, and becoming a parent is often forced on women by the state or religion. Absent the ability to make a definitive CHOICE to have children, any analysis is just more of the same worthless, academic economic blather.

    It’s the assumptions, Stupid.

    The only reasonable statement in this sorry mess is Yves’ first sentence: “This post does a nice job, if unintentionally, of showing the limits of using economics as the lens for viewing well-established social norms and biological urges.”

    1. Cocomaan

      Indeed, I’ve seen some pretty high figures for the number of children that were ‘accidents’. Hard to find numbers, though.

  10. Moneta

    In theory, having children is not really a choice nor is it a happiness thing, but is essential for the survival of the human race. We in the Western world, are completely detached from nature and an article like this one is here to prove it… why do we need expensive children when we could just import cheap labor from everywhere else?

    Personally, I don’t judge people for their choices because our system is so screwed up in the first place. But if we want to link it to economics, having children is like buying actively managed funds… Most would do better buying index funds piggybacking on the work of the active managers but somebody has to do the thankless work.

    1. allcoppedout

      As with many things, balance is key. We need some kids, but too many burns the planet. I really would go for a collective rearing so free-riders like me had to contribute – but sadly we’d have to do something to protect kids from perverse strangers. Even this might be easier than protecting from the weird in the nuclear family who commit most of the abuse going on.

      I’m pretty sure a lot of kids, probably the majority around the world, are not produced in genuine free choice. Where women have the genuine choice (assuming education and economic freedom from men provides this choice), the choice is to have fewer kids. Population growth is where this is not the case.

    2. kgasmart

      Having kids in the U.S. at least is also essential for the survival of Social Security and Medicare and tax revenues in general.

      Disclaimer: I have 3 kids and am probably not as “happy” as I’d be if I got to sleep in until noon on weekends, my wife was able to work full-time so we’d have more money and spend it on luxury vacations and dining out. But it’s not about being “happy” in that sense, it’s about being and having a family. Those who don’t have children may be “happier” but they’re also missing one of the experiences that defines being human.

      1. j gibbs

        Trust me, luxury vacations and dining out are overrated. My first wife opted for those and was very unhappy. She remarried and had two wonderful children, including one who was adopted. Of course, she found a better husband the second time. There are times when I wish we had stayed married and had the children. After a few drinks I forget all about it.

      2. just_kate

        The last part of your comment plus Tom B and McMike below reminded me of a high school friend’s husband who was telling me how he couldn’t imagine not having experienced having and raising a kid with her, how much that meant for him as a husband and man.

        But this was his second marriage and his two existing children (the youngest not even born when he and my friend hooked up resulting in the separation/divorce) were pretty much thrown overboard until his first wife became unable to care for them and they were given custody by necessity – my friend was not happy about that at all, was never part of her “plan” for “her family”. The youngest children in my opinion really suffered from this screwed up situation that was all caused by selfishness of the adults involved.

      3. kareninca

        Having kids “defines being human?”????!!!!! LOL. What does that even mean???? People say that sort of thing, and when pressed, it ends up having no content, or at any rate no comment that matters.

        So, kgasmart, Jesus Christ never got to have a truly human existence (hmmm, there seem to be some doctrinal issues here). Neither did Isaac Newton, Jane Austen, William Blake, Socrates, Virgil, Florence Nightingale, Mother Theresa, Erasmus, Leonardo da Vinci, Henry James and on and on and on. All those “incomplete humans!” The life of a childless person who invents a cure for cancer, is not as “fully human,” as the life of someone who has eight random untended kids. Riiiiiiggghhhht.

        Funny how only people who have lived as you have, have had truly “human” lives.

        This reminds me of a woman in her 60s, who asked me with great seriousness about 15 years ago (I was 35), if I wasn’t worried that by not having children I would never really “be a woman.” I just couldn’t stop laughing. As far as I can see, there are a variety of ways to be a woman, just as there are a variety of ways to be a full-fledged human.

      1. hunkerdown

        Oops, didn’t finish that thought: the availability of concentrated energy is necessary for most of us to run households with less than full-time labor. It’s worth keeping this equivalence near the front of our minds when we discuss whether there should be more or fewer people in a few decades, because the answer changes according to the conditions of the time, and appeals to tradition do tend to discount the future.

  11. McMike

    As other posters have covered: our neoliberal system has made it very difficult to raise children. Whereas society used to be oriented in a large part around children, we have “evolved” to nearly the opposite, where children are a tax and an emotional burden. The breakdown of extended tribal families of cousins in near proximity, the shipping off of kids into concentration camps, er schools, the cost of education, the breakdown in perceived safety of the outdoors and strangers, the uncertainty of future employment, the cost of braces and blue jeans and books, the need for dual incomes, etc. Meanwhile, kid’s usefulness – as farm hands and as a place to be cared for and grow old – has largely gone away.

    Meanwhile, and based on a small personal sample size, my childless-by-choice friends do a lot of travel and entertaining, are socking away money with the expectation of early retirement, work two careers without guilt or distraction, etc.and are entering their prime earning years with nothing to do but spend and save. They are even already considering downsizing their home at the same time I am smothering in my seemingly shrinking house.

    Once they got over the pressures they felt to have kids (at the time all their friends seemed to be doing it), they have settled into a routine that surely measures as pretty happy by economic and social measures. And they seem happy to me, they do not carry the scowl of worry or sleeplessness or scolding that the rest of our crew often carries.

    But, are there surveys that ask how it feels to see the light of discovery in your child’s eye? To see a newborn baby coo and fuss and feel a rush of deja vu? To see your child finally master a task after 100 failures? These moments are relatively few and far between, separated by many sleepless nights pouring over budgets or arguing with your spouse about what to do about the surly and recalcitrant pre-teenage alien in your midst. The neoliberal paradigm has driven a wedge of a lot of pain and sacrifice in between those moments of joy.

    Meanwhile, I believe that we evolved over millions of years with two jobs to do hardwired into us, and we carry around pretty specialized equipment for the tasks. One can always choose to decline to do follow this path, and thus has available to them the satisfaction of making that personal choice. But the fact that those people who do procreate seem less happy than those who do not is an alarming red flag that something about our society is out of whack. If we take as a premise that this is the “default” evolutionary prerogative (which is open to discussion of course). Or indeed, perhaps we are asking the wrong questions.

    1. hunkerdown

      These moments are relatively few and far between, separated by many sleepless nights pouring over budgets or arguing with your spouse about what to do about the surly and recalcitrant pre-teenage alien in your midst.

      Aunts and uncles jumpstarted the children-as-a-service industry millennia ago, but honorary auntships and uncleships have been and even today are generally positive for both the honoree and the child (and the parent, if they don’t think of the child as their property, but if they do, that’s a bigger, more convoluted, nastier problem).

  12. huxley

    To quote from Francis Bacon: “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune, for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.”

    Perhaps children are an “investment in the future” or “insurance for old age”. Indeed, but what’s the ROI? For primary producers like farmers/ranchers it’s probably positive. For most people it’s almost certainly negative, unless they rent out their kids for piecework .

    It should be obvious that having children requires a certain lack of rationality. Childbearing itself has been described as having your guts ripped out, which alone tends to explain why the abortionist is so popular. Most people might rationalize procreation to be a bad deal, so to ensure breeding Nature provides a sexual compulsion sufficiently powerful to trump rationality. Parental love and affection are likewise irrational inducements provided by Nature to induce the maintainance of children as costly unproductive assets. Babies universally seem to be deemed “cute”, no doubt as a survival characteristic, just in case it occurs to their parents how much trouble they’re going to be.

    As a further inducement, children are subsidized in the tax code at state expense. This suggests that children are of more value to the masters of mankind, who ultimately profit most from their labor, than to their actual parents who foot most of the bill. Not only do the PTB profit from children at their parent’s expense, but they’re also needed in the pursuit of empire:

    “Let copulation thrive . . . for I lack soldiers.”

    Specifically, children are the hostages of their parents’ employers: “Do what we tell you, take what we give you, or your kids get it.” Children are a means of locking you into the system. The PTB like that.

    1. Android 16

      “Children are a means of locking you into the system.”
      That is how I think about it. Children are also future suplus labor, tax payers and financial liability holders.

    2. AgainstTheGrain

      “TPTB like it that way” Exactly! People who are consumed with trying to survive and keep their children fed/clothed/sheltered are generally not going to take the time (or risk) to raise hell about changing the system. That is what I have always felt is the REAL reason behind the anti-abortion movement, at least its masters and funders (some of its foot soldiers may be sincere but unless they have the same objection to blowing up children in other countries I have zero respect for them). This is also why you see pro-natalist propaganda from bootlicking toadies of the 1% such as George Will and David Brooks.

      As a female who at no point in her life seriously considered having children it almost seems to want to have them at this particular period in history unless you are relatively self-sustaining. Otherwise it is essentially consent to let TPTB have even more control over you than they already have.

      1. will nadauld

        People who are fighting to keep their children fed and sheltered and clothed have found a higher purpose to their toil than the ability to purchase more useless crap. Working to purchase more useless crap for my own consumption wasn’t pleasing to me at all. Working to provide for a family fills me with purpose and gives my otherwise meaningless labor real dignity. Not taking a shot at those who choose not to have kids, just telling you my experience. The notion that my children have somehow made me more susceptible to accepting the current system is laughable. My children have opened my eyes to the need for revolution.

        1. kareninca

          Oh, so a person with kids who works hard, is nobly supporting them. While a person without kids who works hard, is doing it in order to buy more useless crap. Um, no. The people I know who have kids are FAR more into buying useless crap than the childless people I know. It seems to be a cheerful mindset: MORE MORE MORE of everything; kids, and stuff. Very life affirming in the short term; perhaps not so good for the planet in the long run.

  13. McMike

    As to your last point, it is absolutely correct that having children tends to make you more compliant to your employers and your government. The fear of unemployment and incarceration loom large.

    As to your first: “I could have conquered Europe – all of it – but I had women in my life” Henry II, the Lion in Winter.

  14. evodevo

    Duh! Children introduce a LOT of stress into your life, at all developmental stages. Most prospective parents, even those who think they have a handle on child-rearing, are overwhelmed by how much time, physical energy and mental energy even ONE requires, not to mention two or three. Just ask them a year or two after the first one if they plan on having more – most say NO, and then the second one turns up, usually by accident before the advent of contraception. There is no way to convey the kind of tired a parent is, especially one who also works and has financial difficulties. After the little dears have left the nest (getting later and later over the past decade), you can look back and say it was worth all the hassle. Meantime, all you can think of is an uninterrupted nap.

    1. McMike

      As the saying goes, when you have the third child, you are forced to switch from man-on-man defense to zone.

  15. Malmo

    I’m an experiment of one. Averages are meaningless to me when it comes to child bearing and happiness, along with other lifestyle decisions. In my proximate experience as a parent I am at times happy, at times sad, at times indifferent. Had I not produced children would I have experienced at net happier life? I have no idea, especially since measures of happiness and contentedness are pretty nuanced and subjective to begin with.

    People aren’t aggregates, they are individuals. Complexities, such as what constitutes happiness and what the right road to take to get there, can only be determined a priori by the individual, who again is an experiment of one. In other words we each set out on life’s journey with a plan that we hope will make us happiest. We can’t know before hand the unique road our individual selves must travel that will maximize our experience. We can approximate, but for most it’s not going to be a sterile scientific endeavor to try and get it right. Many, like me, enjoy the anticipation of the unknown, the gamble if you will.

    There’s also a deterministic bent underlying our actions that isn’t perceived rationally in any way that moves us to action. Thus we are in part conditioned subconsciously to act. Our rational selves have no say in the matter in that regard. Some people might get hung up on this uncertainty and are petrified to commence with the pitfalls that life brings us, and basically become over analyzers of all actions they endeavor, thus becoming paralyzed or overly cautious in moving forward. Freud might call it anal retentive. I call it boring.

    1. just_kate

      when the game/system is fixed it’s no longer gambling – at least not for the people who have to work for a living.

    2. hunkerdown

      Which is fine and good, until you start externalizing the (quite significant) costs of your thrill-seeking onto me without giving me any recourse.

  16. Linden

    There’s a lot of assumptions wrapped up into the question of whether people with children are happier or not. Who said the idea of life was to maximize happiness? Who said the purpose of other human beings is to make one maximally happy, otherwise they shouldn’t exist at all?

    My children make me as happy and unhappy as people in general tend to make me. Overall, I quite enjoy their company and prefer it to that of most others. I’d call that success, if I am required to measure it.

    1. McMike

      Indeed, back to the an underlying market economy premise that everything we do is between a set of utility-maximizing choices made by rational actors, therefore with measurable results which can be reconciled back to the choice.

      In the realm of children, love, and what shirt we wear each morning, it is a question economics seems unable to answer – because it is asking the wrong question.

      Now, in that light, economics CAN help answer the question of what ramifications does our current system have on that choice?

      1. Linden

        “Your children are not your children.
        They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
        They come through you but not from you,
        And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” — Kahlil Gibran

  17. rps

    Another Economist paper ignoring the disconnect between their dependence upon the continuity of humanity and cohesive civilizations versus their happiness god-worship of illusory wealth measurements.
    Civilizations would disappear in less than 100 years if women world-wide stop pro-creating. Yet, most societies demonize women’s pivotal role, and humanity’s dependency upon the fact that we need women’s pro-creation along with an economic state that’s beneficial to family structures. The USA economic policies are divorced from reality. The primary reason Immigration has become the norm in many developed nations are the institutional anti-family economic policies.

    1. hunkerdown

      I don’t know that I agree. Based on who tends to push such initiatives and when, the primary reason immigration has become the norm in many developed nations is the need to disrupt the solidarity of the non-elites and, if you will, “let the kids burn off their excess energy” so they won’t have any fight left for class war when dinnertime comes.

  18. susan the other

    This post makes me remember an Alice Munro story about going to visit her father when he was dying and her memories of him going back to when he was in his prime. The one she shares is this: He is sitting around the factory talking with his coworkers one evening and she is a little girl and has come to meet up with him and she overhears someone ask him what was his greatest pleasure in his children. To which he replies that he enjoyed his children until they reached an age where they began to accumulate their own quirks and complexes and then they made him look critically at them. So the idea she imparts is that he didn’t enjoy his children for very long. The nice thing about her writing is that she just looks at it all, taking us with her, and says, Yea? So what else is new? In the story, her father dies and she is sitting outside the hospital waiting for a ride and not particularly grieved about it. It’s like in the end there really isn’t that much to say about all this stuff.

  19. rps

    The irony is that Angus Deaton and all of us commentators were once children; perhaps cherished and loved or raised as a burden. Yet, Here we are debating the pros and cons of individual happiness measurements premised upon the “to have or not to have children” while ignoring our existence as if we were born in a cabbage patch. Economic policies have destroyed communities and family structures while promoting the idea of rugged individualism. No-one needs nobody; it’s all about me, you’re either a winner or a loser, blah blah blah.

    Happiness is arbitrary and never will be a valid measurement. Its a fleeting emotion. I’ll take contentment and peace over happiness every day of the week.

  20. CM

    Biology 101. Obviously the study should be followed-up by one where we see how happy grandparents are vs. non-grandparents. Ecologically, that is where the win comes in.

  21. ScottB

    Life is a miracle. To ask the question are we better off or not having children strikes me as being incredibly narcissistic (and perhaps this was part of Yves’ point in posting this article): do I look better in this selfie with or without kids?
    I’m there with McMike: “But, are there surveys that ask how it feels to see the light of discovery in your child’s eye? To see a newborn baby coo and fuss and feel a rush of deja vu? To see your child finally master a task after 100 failures?” except in my memory, those moments are not few and far between, crowded out by stresses and arguments long forgotten.
    No criticism intended or implied for people who do not have children.

    1. huxley

      No, life is not a “miracle”. It’s science, and the planet is covered with it. One species in particular is overgrowing the petri dish. No, the “miracle” will be surviving the resource depletion and environmental destruction resulting from far too many of such “miracles”.

      1. Whistling in the Dark

        “It’s science,…” is a tautology. On the other hand, “It’s a miracle,” squanders the occasion for inquiry presented by the phenomenon.

        1. huxley

          Please. Mathematics is tautological. Science is empirical. Life is a mechanism for evading the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.

      2. allcoppedout

        When bacteria start outgrowing their petridish we find some of them poisoning themselves well before they have used up the substrate they are growing in.

  22. Perpetuate my mitochondria

    The state gets its hooks in you in two main ways: when you buy real property and when you have a kid. For the purposes of repression and control, both function effectively as ball and chain and justify lots of extra rules. They control you by proxy through your kid – not least through the pervasive financial insecurity attendant on competition for status. So if you value your autonomy, childlessness is imperative.

    From the standpoint of altruism, there is one (1) effective thing a person can do to preserve life on earth: don’t produce more CO2 emitters. You’re welcome.

    It would do the world a world of good if the US were to undergo a Russian-scale demographic collapse. An aging population is no problem if you correct your Gini coefficient with rational redistribution. Life in the US would be fun again. There’s no accident that Lithuanians have the most positive attitude toward recreational sex: austerity makes childbearing not just a pain in the ass but self-destructive. When you decouple the procreation crap from sex you wind up with an affordable and endlessly diverting leisure activity.

  23. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    And then came robot children, designed with everything good that you want and everything bad that you don’t want from non-robot children.

  24. Tom Bradford

    My personal input here, being in my 60’s and voluntarily childless, is that the reasons people usually give for having children are entirely selfish – we’ve even seen it in many of the responses above = the pleasures/rewards/fulfillment/satisfaction MY children gave ME.

    As someone who has suffered the hell of clinical depression for most of my life I often with I had never been born. I was, moreover, an accidental result of sex which locked my parents in an unhappy marriage for a decade before it fell apart. They did their best for me in an age when childrearing was thought to be in the genes rather than a matter for education. We might even have experienced a few moments of pleasure during those ten years, but overall I have to say that one session of iliicit teenage sex ruined three lives.

    The Chinese had the right idea – for at least three generations we need to limit procreation to 0.5 per person. Then perhaps in world with far less pressure on resources while the contribution every person is able to offer has more value, we can try to create a world worth bringing children into. Which is perhaps when economics might be entitled to have a say in the matter.

    1. allcoppedout

      I can go with a lot of that, though it’s not my biography. At the sane time, one of the sights you don’t want to see is Chinese cops dragging a woman off for a forced abortion. I’d throw a couple of chestnuts into the fire:
      1. If we do invent means to rejuvenate a few times (current successful work in mice) and go back from 60 to 20, what status kids then? Tom and I might choose not to as depressives, but one suspects most would (I’d give it a go to be honest). We’d need far fewer children.
      2. Once we have intelligent robots we could live inside them as cyborgs and not need biological reproduction in its current messy, relationship and career disaster-prone form. Pleasure might be something else entirely then too, available at the flip of a switch. What then children, other than as the progeny of ‘weird’ sects?

    2. rps

      Reduction of the population is in effect. However, its life-expectancy that has increased. China’s one-child policy was originally implemented with the goal of reducing their population to 700 million by 2050. China’s 2009 population was about 1.3 billion. How’s that possible? Simply longevity. According to exponential modeling, the human population will not reach its carrying capacity because the human species is decreasing its growth.

      The human species is a blink of the eye on this earth that will become extinct as has other species. Of course, there is the large probability of our rapid annihilation by our own hands. Tribalism, violence and warfare have been the paradigm since recorded history. Then again, Mother Earth and the universe has many ways of violently killing off species; a massive cooling of the planet -ice age, one large meteor, bacteria or viruses.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Wow, I am so sorry to read about your history. You must be very tenacious.

  25. McMike

    To be fair, this article was about a study of whether or not it made people happy to have children. Hard not to talk about self-oriented motivations in that context.

    But if I might ask, what non-self-oriented motivations would there be for having children? Sure, I like to think that my kids – who are generally happy and kind and all that good stuff – will make the world a better place, but even that is about me. How can a person contemplating children not use themselves as the basis for decision making? Who else would you use?

    Meanwhile, many people who choose not to have kids, cite reasons about how they are doing the potential children a favor. Ok. But isn’t that really about the non-parent too? You have, as it were, taken the choice away from the child, no?

    I might add that, deep down, what makes most parents happy above all is that their children are happy.

    I am sorry that you feel unhappy about the choices your parents made. This does bring to mind though the possibility that the main decision a parent makes when they try and think about the kids instead rather than themselves – the decision to stay together in a bad marriage “for the children’s sake” – is often viewed in the long run as the wrong choice. Perhaps the parents should be more selfish then too?

    This whole thing also raises the question of pets. I remember reading some author who asked the question of what right do we have to effectively take animals as captive slaves, merely for our own pleasure. The same sort of dialog ensues.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      I will give it a (boring and dry) try.

      If each of us sees him/herself not as a self enclosed entity inside one’s skin-bag, but as a giant, interconnected living organism where various DNAs are stored in different sacred places, in order to diversify the risk of a total species wipeout, and to a greater extend a complete wipeout of life here if we include all living beings, then there is a reason to pass on that DNA.

      No love and romance here.

      1. McMike

        Haha! You used the word “sacred”.

        See, you couldn’t manage to be all clinical without letting slip in just a hint of the divine and mysterious.

      2. huxley

        A zygote is a gamete’s way of producing more gametes. It’s no more complicated than that. No mystical components needed.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Perhaps not mystical, who knows. I like it that we (or some of us) don’t know.

          But the question was whether it was completely self-motivated or if there was something bigger involved. I just gave it a try with the interconnectedness of life here.

    2. hunkerdown

      You have, as it were, taken the choice away from the child, no?

      To assume the child is to “assume the can opener”, all of which leads dangerously close to the “hypothetical future profits” stuff in the TPP. (And yes, I’m sure that some chucklehead someday would go after state-provided contraception on that very same basis, if such a thing were to pass.)

  26. Jeremy Grimm

    This post begs several questions. It assumes that maximizing ‘happiness’ drives human decisions. It assumes market economics can optimize this ‘happiness’, alternatively ‘utility’, and tacitly assumes that application of market principles can optimize happiness/utility for the many. It does question how well surveys can measure happiness, but reaches that conclusion while treating human choices as tending to maximize “wellbeing” (however sub-optimally) again assuming that human behavior can be modelled using some variant of the economic man. I believe that the market has no place as an arbiter for the human decision whether to have children. Giving that role to the market, even to the extent of attempting to explain or model some human decisions as rational choices to maximize happiness, or utility, or wellbeing is anathema to my sense of what it means to be human. We are not optimization automatons. Life is not a game of economics.

    Whether to have children or not isn’t a choice in any in usual sense for people outside the world of relative affluence and great cities. How many of the teeming billions of people on this earth even ask the question, let alone have freedom to make a choice. A husband may be constrained by the wishes of his wife; a wife by the demands of her husband; and both by the demands of relatives, custom, religion, and state.

    For the lucky few of this world who can freely contemplate and decide whether to have children, I believe that choice is an emotional choice. I chose to have children. The happiest, most memorable moment in my life was hearing my daughter voice her first cry. I remember a lot of unhappiness connected with posing for a family picture to send to our relatives, but I also remember the fullness of being I experienced with my arms around my two children and being near my now ex-wife. I’m lying though. I didn’t choose to have children. One day, I already knew that children were something I wanted very much. I made great sacrifices to have my children, to raise them, and continue to make sacrifices to help them find a place in the world. I believe that others responding to this post who like me were in a position to make a choice already knew their choice. The question of how many children to have (when that’s a choice) is more often decided on a rational basis.

    What is the importance of happiness to the good life? This is an old question in philosophy. Market economics assumes the answer; attempts to find quantitative measures for happiness; and means for optimizing it. This broad application of Market economics to all areas of human life is one element of the dark destructive nature of neoliberal economic theory which turns education and health care into markets; students and patients into customers. We must cast out this gross trivialization of life and reopen the old questions closed off by the facile assumptions of neoliberal economics.

  27. skippy

    What good are children [?]… um the future methinks….

    skippy… just make sure they are indoctrinated to understand – value – is denoted by numerical superiority… after that your laughing~

  28. huxley

    You have to love children. The pride of a young boy who has learned to walk, the grace of a young girl dancing. Innocent and trusting, with all new parts, untouched by the good and the bad of life to come. If you’re lucky enough to afford that to them.

    Our kind wickedly flatters itself on how it supposedly “loves” its children when it so blithely dismisses so many to die in misery and squalor. And that’s just in the US. Looking about the planet it gets even worse. The world isn’t run on familial or romantic love. It’s run on avarice, ambition, and violence, and as much as it harms us it damages children even more, and these days the realist has to deeply fear for their futures. Present trends promise a dark one, and however you feel about children yourself, they do not deserve the unhappy fates we are giving them.

  29. Tim Leonard

    To determine if having children makes people happier, you can’t just look at parents with children at home: children continue to affect their parents’ happiness even after moving out, so prospective parents consider whether they want children for their whole remaining lives, not merely while the children will be at home. Raising children is indisputably hard. Having adult children, and then grandchildren, is vastly easier but is still fulfilling.

Comments are closed.