How can families afford children?

Collin asks:

Answer me the riddle: The richer the society becomes the less families can afford children? (Note look at India being at replacement level fertility and it is the rich areas bringing the average down.)

I have three boys and wonder how they are ever going to be able to afford a family of more than 1 children in 2030.

“Afford” is a tricky word here.  If the goal is simply to avoid bankruptcy, at the expense of the life satisfaction of the main child rearer (usually the wife), that isn’t so difficult for most Americans and Europeans.  But of course people wish to maximize utility.  And so here are some trends operating against having large numbers of children:

1. Jobs for women are higher-paying and more satisfying than ever before, and that raises the opportunity cost of having large families.

2. Divorce is these days socially imaginable, and for many people desirable if feasible.  The larger the number of children, the harder it is to take advantage of the divorce option, and so that too encourages smaller families.

3. Living space has become especially costly in so many of the major Western cities and suburbs.

4. Given the connection between where you live and your public school system, the very best neighborhoods have become very costly positional goods, in part because of their school systems and the embedded social peers for your kids (even if they bus away to private schools.)

5. Child care is subject to some version of the cost disease, as is higher education.  Those services have risen in relative prices and some would say they also have decreased in reliability.

6. These days, there is much more you can do for your single kid (or two), including fancy SAT tutors and unending extracurricular activities.  You thus are less likely to arrive at the “I can’t do any more for this kid, let’s summon up another to keep me busy” point than formerly was the case.  In Beckerian language, you always have the option of a greater investment in quality, in lieu of boosting quantity.

7. Daughters are no longer less popular than sons and arguably they have become somewhat more popular (NYT).  So the notion that you must keep on having kids until a son arrives is weaker than it used to be.  The first child is already a “quality child,” no matter what the gender.

8. Most Westerners are on the whole less religious, and this too diminishes the motives for having a larger number of children, for whatever reasons.

9. The decline of the extended family, with babysitting grandparents, is hardly new news.  Still, I suspect both work and leisure opportunities for the elderly have improved, which lowers their desire to babysit.  Some prefer watching those same babies on Facebook.

That’s a lot of weight operating against multiple children — praise to those who manage nonetheless!


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