Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids is a book by economics professor Bryan Caplan and has quickly become my favourite book on parenting. In it he argues that regardless of the number of kids you were going to have, a few more might be better. So if you were planning on zero, maybe you should have one. Or if you are planning on having four, maybe you should have six.

His thesis is that having children is actually less work than most parents put themselves through. People spend hours and hours ferrying their children round activities and after-school clubs, playing them Mozart and generally doing things they hate doing, and often the child hates doing, because they want the child to be more successful.

However, all the research shows that this has basically no effect. Whether it is IQ, happiness, success, character or honesty, most of it is set by genes and the rest is set by the environment, only of which a small fraction is parenting. Therefore parents are simply making themselves totally unhappy for basically no gain.

Let’s say you have a child, and the chance of them growing up to be a lovely person is 80%. You could work really hard and sacrifice your life to budge that to 82%. That gives you an 82% chance of having a lovely child when they’re grown up. Or, you could do nothing, have two kids, and give yourself a 96% of having at least one lovely grown-up child.

Even religion is not determined that much by parenting. What parenting does affect is the labels that people use. But actually turning up to the place of worship as an adult is a whole different ball game.

They are drawbacks to having more children. However, Caplin tackles these too. For example, people without children are slightly happier than people with children. Repeated studies find this. However, when you take out all the stuff the parents hate doing, this gap is incredibly small. Also almost no parent says they regret having kids, whereas the majority of childless people do say they regret it. Finally, most of the happiness hit is with the first child, so once you have had one, you might as well keep going.

There is also the time, money and sleep loss. Caplin tackles this too. This is a short term perspective. Sure, four kids is a huge amount of kids if they are all three years old. But, by the time they are teenagers you will probably have to ask them to spend time with you. And by the time they are adults it is a pleasure to have four adult kids that you can go see. Not to mention that the only reliable way of improving your odds of grandchildren is to have more children yourself.

Is it a message of doom and gloom that parenting doesn’t matter? Not at all. You can change your child in the short term. Discipline, for example, is necessary to have any kind of sane household. Just don’t expect those lessons to last forever. More importantly, the one thing you do have a long-lasting impact on is how your child remembers and perceives you. So shower them with love and kindness. Don’t bother doing stuff you both hate, or culture-cramming. Instead, use your time together to just have fun. It does no harm and makes both of your lives more enjoyable.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, September 3rd, 2016 at 11:07 am and is filed under Books, Family & Parenting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.