Bryan Caplan has three kids. DH, who despite coming from a family of 8 resists the idea of having another child, thinks that a convincing advocate of natalism needs a larger family. So I had to explain that the first two of Caplan’s sons were twins, and yet he still managed to talk his wife into another pregnancy. Besides, as I recall Mark Steyn, who also has three kids, is on record recommending this family size as a goal. A few decades ago that would had made him an advocate of birth control.
Although I don’t share Caplan’s unbridled enthusiasm for assisted reproductive technology, I agree with the basic premise of Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. Parenting babies and toddlers is hard work, but as children grow parents get a break — until the teenage years. Once they flew the nest, we wish we’d had more children, particularly considering that each additional child is, as he puts it, an “insurance against grandchilrenlessness”.
Caplan points out that it’s the first child that requires the most adjustment on the part of the parents. (Also see here.) I am in full agreement. Unless pregnancy takes a considerable toll on the mother’s health, planning a single child is a bit of a waste. If a family has switched to a toddler-friendly menu, it might as well cook for two or three little ones. And if heading to Disneyland, why not drive a full car?
Caplan tells us that today’s Typical Parent needs to relax a bit. Although he concedes that upbringing has an effect on teenage behavior (a huge concern, no?) separated at birth identical tween studies suggest that genetics (and free will, he adds) trumps upbringing. With this information in mind, a prudent thing to do is to ease up, make parenting more enjoyable and bring more human beings into this world.
If Caplan would have stopped at saying that the “Typical Parent” makes her task unnecessarily hard, I’d wholeheartedly agree. Neither gourmet baby food from scratch, nor reusable diapers, nor 24/7 “baby wearing” or any other fads is necessary to raise decent human beings. Like Caplan, I doubt that most people who themselves don’t read for pleasure will end up with bookworm sons and daughters just because they make that mandatory weekly trip to the library. Instead of aspiring to be perfect parents, we need to aim to be good enough parents, and I’m not sure who I lifted this concept from.
Caplan tells us that if a family qualifies for adoption, the family will have basically good kids who will become what their genes (and free will) made them. One of his examples is dental health, much of which is genetic. Does it mean that we fret too much about our children’s oral hygiene? I expect families that qualify for adoption to nag their kids to brush and floss and limit sweets. It’s a baseline of good enough parenting, and it’s stressful, and Caplan didn’t convince me to stop sweating it. But that’s a detail.
Caplan, an economist, knows that children are necessary for a functioning society, and that fertility in the United States is barely at the replacement level. I suspect his readers already know it, because no environmentalist will pick up a book with the title Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.
The book is aimed at 30-something parents that could have another child, but do not. Some of us are just too sleep-deprived (sometimes by choice) to imagine the awards ahead. Most simply lack imagination. Perhaps we need to hang out more with the old folks, but we won’t.
More importantly, so many of us no longer see raising the next generation as a normal part of the human lifecycle, and even if we do we find large families freakish. Caplan concedes that the change in attitudes is the major cause of the birth dearth. I doubt the three children per family goal helps to advance the cause of natalism.
Three children is an attainable goal, to be sure, for an educated woman who also seeks fulfillment outside the house. She will have to take a decade off work, and perhaps make other sacrifices in the following decade, but combining work and family is still doable. But who should inspire this woman to have a larger family if not her neighbor who has five or six, and gives up her career entirely, despite the fact that she’s smart and cultured? Too bad nobody wants to be her.