Persecution in America

How many children should you have to be happy?

May 13, 2019

As parents of three children (currently 6, 4 and 13 months), how many children my husband and I should have – and what would be best for our children themselves – is a question we have thought about.

We have contemplated whether or how a range of factors should affect our decision about each pregnancy. These include the temperaments and health of our current children, how far away our extended family lives, how our children might benefit from another sibling, how much money we have, how much stress or anxiety we currently feel, how much community support we have, work, the cost of school or necessary expenses (and what are necessary expenses?), how strong our marriage feels, how sick I get in pregnancy, and how many adult children we would like to have in the future.

And then there is the absolute amazingness of having the power to create a whole new human being and another beautiful little newborn baby to cuddle, and the expansion of love, sacrifice, growth and community that comes with each new family member.

Joe Pinsker of The Atlantic interviewed economist Bryan Caplan to see what he considers the optimum number of children. Over and above being an economist, he is described as “a dad who has thought a lot about the joys and stresses of being a parent", and is author of the 2011 book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. He said,

“If you have a typical level of American enjoyment of children and you’re willing to actually adjust your parenting to the evidence on what matters, then I’ll say the right answer is four.

Though Caplan himself does currently have four children, apparently he even suspects that more than four would be optimal for him.

He suggests that parents should revisit their child-rearing approach and then, if they can afford to, consider having more kids, because kids can be fun and fulfilling. He also considers that many of the time- and money-intensive things that parents do in the hope of helping their children succeed, such as multiple extracurricular activities and sending them to private schools, don’t actually contribute much to their future earnings or happiness.

Since having a child at school, it is interesting to me how much the emphasis on extracurricular activities really does affect parents. One parent told me that having a third baby was “an excellent advertisement for a fourth,” were it not for the fact that she then hit extracurricular activities, ‘taxi driving’, and a very busy household. (By the way, in my experience parents seem to really enjoy third babies, and I am one of those parents! At this point, we are often not worrying as much about the intensity of the baby years as we might have been the first and second time around.)

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