Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Parent Trap: Part IV To Breed, or not to breed. That is the Question

Man, is this issue getting a lot of play. But I can see why. To breed, or not to breed, that is the question.

Glenn Reynolds piece is getting picked up everywhere--the Wall Street Journal, Ann Althouse with a myriad of comments, and the most interesting and accurate counter-opinion, in my opinion, The Washington Post's Mark Samuelson. He says:

Children are now usually a conscious choice -- whereas they were once considered economic necessities or religious obligations. Somehow American society better mixes child rearing and jobs than do other societies that provide greater child subsidies (government day care, family allowances). Indeed, generous welfare states may discourage having children. A study by economists at the University of Minnesota found that high Social Security payments and payroll taxes are associated with low fertility rates. People may feel they don't need children to care for them in old age. Or high taxes and poor economies may deter young people from starting families.

No one knows. Among experts, there is much skepticism that Putin-like economic incentives alone will revive fertility rates. By not having children, people are voting against the future -- their countries' and perhaps their own. It is easy to imagine the sacrifices and disappointments of raising children. It is hard, try as people might, to imagine the intense joys and selfish pleasures. People ignore Adam Smith's keen insight: "The chief part of human happiness arises from the consciousness of being beloved."

Amen to that.

I have posted about this before here, here, and here.

To reiterate my most salient point, if there was one, I decided that the pill and the resulting choice that children became changed everything:

Birth control:
  1. Takes the consequences out of unprotected sex
  2. Removes men from the child equation
  3. Allows mom to delay--she gets her education, waits for the perfect mate
  4. A delay can mean less/no kids
  5. Reduces fertility in some forms
  6. Increases STDs reducing fertility
  7. Increases risky behavior--resulting in unplanned pregnancies (false sense of security)
  8. Unplanned pregnancies result in abortions
  9. Unplanned pregnancies result in single motherhood
  10. Supercedes church doctrine (families started to rationalize away church teachings--a father used to have to be willing to forgo sex a lot of the time to not create a child, so either big families or male misery or mistress--birth control solved his problem)
When these things happened and people had fewer kids by "choice" instead of by "nature" (remember the song "Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage?"), lots of societal changes followed.
Birth Control explains birth rate declines more than any other single change. Why would Mexico, with a vast, relatively uneducated population have such a steep decline in birthrates, too? Increased female education doesn't explain it. Access to birth control does, though.

As an aside, I added up food/clothing/lessons misc. and came up with roughly 15,000 extra/year kids costs without private/home schooling. I think that some costs diminish. For example, my second son has incured almost zip except for some child care costs, but that has been made up because I am working (which I didn't with the other two). It's a net gain. He wears almost exclusively hand-me-downs. We bought nice baby stuff for the first kid and have not bought other stuff since--maybe an exersaucer because Little Toot is active. Toys? Check. Books? Check. Blankets? Check. Every baby thing ever needed? Check. Same with clothes all the way up to school age. I've bought an outfit here or there for him but mainly for fun. I think after one boy and one girl, the costs diminish because the initial investments have been made to a certain extent. For example, we bought an SUV with kid #2, we didn't need to buy another one for kid #3.

Another thing: some of the niceties we have bought we would have bought anyway. No kids: after making more money we would have bought a bigger house anyway, because we're greedy, materialistic Americans like everyone else. In fact, all that extra money would be going to investments or consumer goods. So it's not just a matter of "expensive kids", it's a matter of "expensive habits". The amount of money spent would be the same, it would just go different places--self-centered ones, rather than other-centered ones.

We must be more judicious in our activities--we don't go to ten baseball games a year. We go to one or two. We don't Jet Set all over all the time (although we do a fair bit of traveling), we pick our vacations and plan and anticipate. We rarely leave the kids. We don't have extended families supporting us. We're on our own. Childcare is expensive. Oh well! We better raise our kids right otherwise we will be living a claustrophobic, miserable experience of our own making.

Oh, and another thing! My personal experience is that I didn't get over my tight-assed perfectionism until Kid #3. The learning curve licked, my enjoyment and personal satisfaction has increased significantly. I've read all the research about depression rising for women with more than two children. True for some, no doubt. But I've experienced the opposite. My anxiety has decreased as my experience has increased.

Yes children can burn through money like souped up Hummers guzzle gas. But that reality just puts off the pessimists among us. The optimists have kids. What I see around me is that big-by-choice families are optimistic, abundant, joy-filled, imperfect social groups of their own making. They believe in life, themselves, God, and the future.

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