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!


Having kids also signals a completely different social life, one in today's America is less urban, spontaneous and cool. I made the mistake of bringing my toddler into a chic downtown LA restaurant at 8pm on a Friday evening, when I got up to carry him to the restroom it felt like that ending scene in Children of Men. Imagine a room of 20 and 30 something just gaping in amazement.

+1 (Lol)

+2. Had a similar experience. Reference is spot on.

You have kids and I don't, so you probably know more about this, but I recently got a glimpse of the freaky parallel social world of parents. I saw that they do hang out, but at the center of their social orbit are the kids. They other parents are sort of pulled into a social group because it's the kids who socialize, and the parents, being tethered to the kids, sometimes bump into each other as they are dragged in the wake. It's an image I can't get out of my mind on the occasions when I find myself parenthood-curious, and it's like a cold shower. I really treasure all the lessons I learned in my unstructured childhood, and my parenting instincts would probably be much like Brian Caplan's, but I just know that everyone would think I'm a bad parent, so also a bad person. And I just don't have it in me to be a good parent by current American standards; I'd go crazy if I tried. It's easier for my wife and me to just run out the clock, chidlessly.

Have a toddler, and definitely agree with this observation. One major cultural change is that young people are *a lot* more conformist than they were 30 years ago. But among 15-35 year olds, particularly the upper-middle class, you really see an impulse to "follow the rules" and "do things the right way". This can also be seen in declining rates of entrepreneurship, increased focus on working at big "prestige firms" like Google, more extracurricular activities, less unstructured free time, delayed marriage, less casual sex, and declining rates of reckless behavior.

Having kids is a lot more painful for conformists. Everyone has an opinion about how to raise children. Everything from restricting screen time to breastfeeding to school districts to not buying plastic toys. Of course it's easy to have an opinion when you're not the one paying the cost. Even childless people will silently judge the most trivial infractions as "bad parenting". A lot of times I think it's a knee jerk rationalization for their lack of children.

Dozens of times a day, the typical parent is faced with the decision "am I going to be a model parent or am I going to be a lazy parent?" And the reality is if you always choose the former, you're going to lose your sanity. But even if you rationally realize that X isn't a big deal (shared family environment has zero effect on long-run outcomes), everyone says X is super-important, all the smartest and most successful people you know bend over backwards to do X, and you have this tiny person who you love more than anything and want to do everything for. If you're a rebel, if you're a freak, if you get off from fighting against the world, then you have a way out of this dilemma. But the supply of college educated young people with this attitude has fallen precipitously.

Ever thought of the relationship between 'upper-middle class' and “follow the rules” and “do things the right way”? There is no question that those born into the upper middle class are very aware of how that works. It does not take much to ruin your chances to remain in the upper middle class, after all.

I often wonder how it came to be that a system which purportedly rewards risk could in practice come to do the total opposite.

'which purportedly'

Pretty much the hint right there - the nomenklatura is always at the mercy of the top controlling the bottom, and one method of control is punishing anyone that deviates from established norms.

Which just might explain why Americans are still kicking hippies decades after they went extinct in the wild. In another sense, you can see it happening with the great RINO hunt, where a lot of formerly comfortable upper middle class functionaries have had to adapt to the new party line, or fear that they will not be able to retain their comfortable positions.

For most couples this equation really is how can I have all the things I want if I have two or more children. Having children and determining how many to have is and should be entirely up to the couple and no one else. But to imply that having kids is so expensive that no one can do it anymore is pure poppy cock.

Risk taking and reckless behavior now can lead to a lifetime blot on your internet footprint, so that 1970s arrest was a story of indiscretion and growth in the past is now a barrier to a upper middle class career.

"It does not take much to ruin your chances to remain in the upper middle class, after all."

Huh? What does that mean? I'm trying to even imagine something that could kick me out of the upper middle class. Class is about 1) income/wealth and 2) manners, essentially- right? I could go to jail for a felony, get addicted to drugs, any number of things and not fall out of the upper middle class. What kind of scenario are you imagine that ruins someone's chances to remain i n the upper middle class?

Most people in the middle class that go to jail for a felony will fall out of the middle class. If they have an income stream where going to jail doesn't negatively impact it, they are probably wealthy. I guess for two earner couples, one of them going to jail might not result in them falling out of the middle class as long as the one not going to jail has a decent enough job.

Doug, I find myself in very much the same place. 5 kids and counting, and going with lazy/Caplan style parenting all the way.

What does 'lazy' style entail? Do you pay attention to them at all? Eat dinner together? When you do, is it only because you enjoy it, and not because you think it's important? No kids myself, but I do wonder about this philosophy and it's long term costs/benefits. I find it hard to believe my kids would still like me much after growing up if we didn't have shared experiences to draw on.

I would think very few people dislike their parents. I don't have hard data, but anecdotally most adults I know consider their parents to be among the most important people in their lives. Of the few people I can think of, when are estranged or hostile to their parents, none are related to lazy parenting. At least not in the sense that we're talking about. Most are either because the parent is unsupportive of their adult lifestyle, divorce during early childhood, abandonment, abuse or underlying psychological issues by one or more party.

From a cultural standpoint, kids come in with blank expectations. Being a lazy spouse will get you in trouble, because your wife has relationship expectations set by previous relationships, her peers and the ambient culture. But to a kid, their parents are pretty much the whole world. Whatever mom and dad do, basically becomes the metric standard of parenting or even just personhood. If you eat dinner in front of the TV, then a ten year old pretty much is just going to think that's normal and expected. Even when they're grown, they're pretty unlikely to give it a second thought.

But more to the point, I don't think "lazy" style entails total neglect. For most parents, their kids are naturally the most important people in their lives. Even just following base impulse, you're going to naturally want to spend time with your kids. The biggest difference is that a lazy parent is doing it more on their terms, or at least finding activities that are mutually engaging for both parties. With my daughter I don't feel compelled to read her X number of pages a day. If we're hanging out, then I'm just as likely to play Zelda, and give her the unconnected second controller. She likes to pretend that she's helping me fight the bad guys.

She enjoys it just as much as reading a story book. I enjoy it a hell of a lot more. It's like always having a best friend to hang out with. And we just don't tell her mother, because she's not as convinced about HBD as me.

I would think very few people dislike their parents.


I dislike my parents, but it's not something I reveal except to close friends because I l know everyone will be armchair Freuds about it.

Believe me, you are going to have plenty of shared experiences even if you ignore your children as much as possible.

"What does ‘lazy’ style entail? Do you pay attention to them at all? Eat dinner together? When you do, is it only because you enjoy it, and not because you think it’s important?"

We eat dinner together but this is the efficient thing to do anyway. Having a bunch of kids eat dinner whenever they feel like it would make things harder not easier. I actually do not think it is important, just a habit and a convenience.

Hard to avoid paying attention to them but I try to get them to play with each other or other kids outside the house to the maximum extent possible. Nothing better than having your kids play outside with other kids all day while you do your own thing. Or buy them books and let them go read in their room.

Great comment, Doug.

This is all the more reason why parents like us need to have more children - to reduce the amount of conformism in the next generation. You got to throw a few wild cards into the mix. I do think that the "wild cards" are the people who are most likely to be successful in the next generation, since they're going to be less complacent, more creative, and tend to have skill sets that are different than the rest of the population.

Doug, you are the best MR commenter. I am not being sarcastic.

I will admit I was born with a chip on my shoulder and don't give a F. It helps. Also I'm the smartest person in the room so I guess that gives me some leeway, it's obvious I'm not some redneck child abuser or something.

but I just know that everyone would think I’m a bad parent, so also a bad person

An excellent mental health exercise: worry less about what total strangers think about you.

I admit that this is easier said than done.

Who says it's total strangers he's worried about, rather than friends and family?

It's been a while, but it's amazing how much the kids are at the center of the social universe - at really little kids' birthday parties, it always struck me when all the kids sit around a table (when it's cake time) and all the parents stand along the walls behind them (and socialize if they can). It's almost like a Victorian dinner party where the parents are the servants.

When they are really little (and you don't just drop them off), you often don't know the other parents well and you're stuck there on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Every once in a while the host would offer a beer or glass of wine and people would relax a little more - that made it a lot more tolerable, but those were the exception.

Move to New Orleans, where the upper middle class toddler birthday parties regularly include booze at 10 am on a Sunday morning.

Also have a toddler here, and agree it is fascinating how the world of parents with young kids is like this sort of secret society that revolves around their children's lives. FWIW, you could say that it's a very different sort of experience that is often fun - being in the back seat and letting your kid make the decisions about what to do at a given instant, seeing where the kid leads you. It's a different kind of adventure, one where you don't have to make the decisions and the plans, you just go with the flow and enjoy the experiences that get thrown at you by the toddler's whims. In my life I kind of find this a relief since I'm usually the one in charge who has to plan everything. But once we get to the playground or whatever, it's more like ok sweetie now you're in charge, show me your world!

Parenting is also a lot more hands-on and eats up a lot more time these days. When I was a young child and my parents had adult company I was dismissed either outside or to the basement (in bad weather) to play and unless there was some sort of minor emergency I was not to bother the adults while they were doing adult stuff. Some years back I visited friends with two young kids and the children were constantly interrupting us and the parents tolerated this. And even after the children went to their bedroom (not outside although it was a nice day and they had a fenced-in yard) one or the other of the parents would get up every five minutes or so and go check on them.

Stories like this shock me but I shouldn't be surprised by now. This is why I won't have kids. The parenting culture in the USA of helicopter parenting and babying the kids is sick. I grew up rural Midwest (born in the 80s) and had parents like you. Don't interrupt the adults.

Only way I'd have kids is maybe if I moved to a country with a much better environment and culture for parenting. Germany seems saner in a lot of ways for example. If I was very religious, maybe I'd have kids in the USA by staying close to a religious community, like the Amish or Mormons who seem to have a better way .... Which is weird for me to say as an athiest.

Kids often get car rides from their parents when they could walk to school instead now. To me this is borderline child abuse. No wonder childhood diabetes is exploding. I'm grateful that I walked to school without an adult from 1st grade onward, and was allowed to roam my town freely, on bicycle or walking, over a mile from home if I wanted, to see friends etc

When it comes to kids walking to school, you have to be careful that they are old enough to do so. And by old enough to do so I don't mean actually old enough to do so, but old enough so that you won't get investigated by the CPS for endangering your child.

Wow, you won't have kids because other people are bad parents. Interesting

Its Housing prices doing the damage. It requires 2 incomes just for Housing costs (rent or own). The other issues are just knock on effects.

On the plus side those who have lots of kids will win in the end... natural selection.

Have you compared the size of families in higher vs. lower housing cost areas? There is a little influence, but it doesn't seem to correlate that way.

In terms of housing prices in real terms, there are several cities where the pricing is flat over time. At the same time, housing size and quality have increased significantly, to the point where the same house from 40 years ago would actually cost way less today in real terms.

Sure, but once you divide areas into high and low housing costs, you're now starting to proxy wage effects. Most areas with cheap housing have bad job markets. Obviously all things being equal poor job prospects is going to translate into lower fertility. You'd have to adjust housing prices by median wages in each metro. My intuitive sense is that once you do this the variance between family size starts to get pretty large. Off the top of my head, good-job cheap-housing places like Utah, Texas and Alaska have high fertility. Weak job market/expensive housing places like Vermont, South Florida, and New Jersey have low fertility.

Also, when it comes to real estate often what you are really paying for isn't the house or land, but the school district and neighbors.

Seems to correlate pretty strongly, see this map of White fertility rates by state:

The housing-costs-explain-everything mantra seems quite coast-centric. (I'm *not* talking about Kevin Erdmann here.) I don't think folks in Texas, Michigan, Ohio, etc. make every decision around housing.

Yes, I wouldn't discount housing cost in all this. It's seriously prohibitive and a real problem if your kids are a different sex. Housing costs are of course tightly tied to the urbanization of the population and requirement for more/better schooling than ever before.

It's no wonder less people are having kids...

Number of children is a cultural factor only influenced by genetics at the rough physiological level where some people have fertility problems. So yes, those who have lots of kids may indeed have lots of descendants running around in 150 years (barring catastrophe that is) but there's no reason to believe that their descendants will also be having lots of kids. After all, every small family or childless person today has ancestors who had many children. That sort of thing does not pass down with the genes.

Everything passes down with the genese

Which explains why I speak German since half my ancestors did one upon a time.
Well, no-- I learned German, albeit imperfectly, as a teen. My birth tongue is English.

Culture trumps genes on all particulars.

Raises many good points, yet misses the most important one: the richer you get, child-rearing becomes a much more intensive effort (compare your great grand parents vs grand parents vs parents vs yourself). Mandatory Megan McArdle column on the topic:

Costs of bringing up children rise, benefits from children diminish (they settle elsewhere); society starts expecting more from parents, children get more entitled and need to be protected from more stuff including from each other...

Not really, you just hand them off to a nanny or au pair.

What people are missing, housing and education aside, is the increase in cost per child isn't a slope of one. Children babysit each other, reuse clothes/toys/furniture, play with each other, etc. TBH a second kid is probably about 33% the cost of the first. A third is a big cost (though still less) as you need a third bedroom, fourth marginal again, fifth probably the biggest jump as 4th bedroom (a rarity in urban living) is costly plus you will need to upsize to a minivan, six marginal again.

Children pack at more than two per bedroom, especially when young. An additional child may need a larger home later, it is never the binding constraint on larger home now.

You are missing one of the biggest costs, which is childcare. Once you have a stay at home parent, the second or third child may not be that expensive. But for a two earner couple, each child has a large and immediate annual cost associated with it. Even if education will ultimately be a bigger cost. The $6k to $12k per kid per year of daycare is immediate, and looms large compared to college costs, and even compared to private school that is 6 or 12 years down the road depending on how the public education options are.

On the flip side, housing is often not an extra expense at all. Outside of expensive jurisdictions, plenty of people by 3 or even 4 bedroom houses as a single person or childless couple. Granted a lot of these people are buying with the expectation that they are going to have children later, so maybe that's still a cost of children, but it's often not a marginal cost because they've already "sunk" it.

"benefits from children" have probably diminished for the families themselves. No doubt

But the NPV of children from the universe's perspective is higher than ever before. When a new child is born, his NPV discounted to the present calculated from the universe's perspective (as opposed to the family's standpoint) is at all time highs across countries and across cultures.

What's good for the universe isn't optimal for the families anymore. And we need public policy to change this state of affairs. Dismantling social security and health insurance subsidies can be a good initial step to strengthen family bonds


Individuals surely would respond to lack of safety net by reproducing rather than by hunkering down and expending even fewer resources on anyone but themselves. Yep!


And that's a moral thing in my view.

I have an obligation to take care of my parents. Not yours.

Today the law requires me to pay equal attention to every elderly person in US. As opposed to focusing on my parents alone. How's that fair?

But yes, I understand that this diseased socialistic mindset also stems from Christianity, which has taken it upon itself to weaken the family as an institution. In the Christian world view, all souls are after all the same, and ancestor worship is evil. So there is no obligation for you to treat your own parents any different from a stranger's parents.

That certainly explains the rise in fertility associated with the decline in Christian religiosity. It also explains why ancestor-worshipping East Asian societies like South Korea have higher fertility rates than e.g. the Puritan-descended Americans.

Oh wait, none of those things are true.

I wasn't discussing fertility rates at all.

I was discussing the modern welfare state and the intrusion of government in areas that were formerly the domain of families.

" I understand that this diseased socialistic mindset also stems from Christianity, which has taken it upon itself to weaken the family as an institution."
Christianity is outward looking, but it is also inward looking. After all, Christianity has Middle Eastern roots and the religion emphasizes the primacy of the family like all Eastern cultures; but Christianity also shows care for the stranger. Example: 1 Tim. 3:4-5 argues that a good man must take care of his family, but there is also the story of the Good Samaritan. Then again to address your material claim: can you prove that the originators of social security were referencing Christianity when they instituted the program? AND you are referring to Social Security, are you not? Regardless, when I visit family in South Asia, I see the shocking lack of social care for the destitute, the elderly, the orphans, and the dalits, especially the elderly who are no longer wanted by their sons or daughters;and there are many destitute elderly as the Indian economy moves north on the chart; how it would benefit these forgotten to have a safety net so that they too can taste something of the good life! Also, not all sons and daughters are worthy of honor and praise.

Unfortunately there is truth in Shrikanthk's comment.

Peter Singer will tell you how that's fair.

I dunno, American welfare state is pretty minimal.

You aren't taking care of anyone's else elderly unless you are doing so voluntarily (or perhaps in your line of work).

"I dunno, American welfare state is pretty minimal."

It may be ineffective and inefficient, but it's not minimal.

"Individuals surely would respond to lack of safety net by reproducing rather than by hunkering down and expending even fewer resources on anyone but themselves. Yep!"

What you're laughing at is called reality.

I'm not sure the point of your comment, but I think it;s pretty obvious that without the safety net prudent people would saving every last dime they could and having few or no children at all. People in the past did not have kids because they wanted caretakers in their old age-- for most people there was no old age, and certainly nothing like modern retirement. With some few exceptions people worked until they fell sick and died-- they didn't need anyone to care for them over many years or idleness because they did not have those years of idleness. Even a man as wealthy as George Washington was out riding his acres after leaving the presidency, until the day he caught the respiratory infection that killed him.

With regards to
"Even a man as wealthy as George Washington was out riding his acres after leaving the presidency, until the day he caught the respiratory infection that killed him."
Does history recall who gave him the infection? Probably not, or he would have been as infamous as John Wilkes Booth.

"the NPV of children from the universe’s perspective is higher than ever before." No, why? In 1600 the marginal child posed little threat to any natural environment anywhere, save certain forests. Nominal dollar value is a human perspective, valid but not divorceable from families!

Sentient life is the Universe's consciousness which is the only source of value, gaia worshipper.

The most important cost is the cost of replacement reproduction and that has left even the rising cost of housing in the dust. The reason is the bidding war for young women -- a bidding war between the economy and the family -- that the economy wins, hands down. Yes, this is, in part, due to the rising cost of housing and the concomitant need to enter the "two income trap", but there is also a trophic cascade involving women becoming addicted to the things money can buy, the destabilization of families, the declining status of males rendering them less reliable, etc. It's targeting the very things demanded by the economy and removing them from the gene pool, which of course means that it won't be available to the economy in subsequent generations.

The demographic transition is basically about a bidding war for young women -- a bidding war between the economy and the family. In this bidding war the family loses and with the family's loss, the economy loses, in the next generation, the very characteristics it demanded. In short, social scientists failed to reify "the cost of replacement reproduction" as the primary metric of political economy. Aldous Huxley foresaw this in his dystopian novel "Brave New World" in which corporations faced this dilemma squarely and solved it by becoming hives -- breeding and rearing clones to supply the labor force. What Huxley didn't foresee was that before the transition to this hive society -- before the corporations had faced the reality of what they were doing -- the people might object to demographic destruction.

This analysis suggests that it's women foregoing family formation. I don't have hard numbers on this, but observationally this doesn't seem true at all. Among the cohort of my college educated friends around age 30, the women are almost universally pushing for family formation. Get married, have a baby, have a second baby. It's overwhelmingly the men who are resisting. Either by not getting involved in serious relationships, continually delaying family formation, or breaking up with long-term partners over the refusal to continue family formation.

And it's not for lack of opportunities. I know women who went to Ivy League law schools, work for tier one NY firms and make a quarter million dollars a year. All most of them want to to is settle down, have babies and become stay-at-home moms. The problem is they can't find eligible, employed who are willing to commit.

The major problem isn't women enticed into the workforce by luxury goods. It's men enticed out of the workforce by Xbox, pornhub and opiates.

It was always the case. The boys want to pay outside. The girls want to state a family. However, by the me fact of postponing the age of the first child they reduce the family size and the fertility rate. A teenage mom can have a baby at 16. Then another at 28. And yet another at 30 something. ...Not necessarily from the same farther. That hypothetical mom has 3 kids, somewhat for generic variety and her kids have a role model for early child rearing.. the birthrate is above the replacement. We have an evolutionary advantage, if not outright win...

On the other hand, a bright enough woman to be accepted at the ivy league college will avoid starting a family before graduation. After having graduating she will probably work for at least a few years. And the more successful she is with her carrier the higher is the opportunity cost of having a baby. And with her virtue signaling she has effectively priced her self out of the Joe-Shmoo's marriage material pool. There simply less eligible/potential high quality fathers. Now add the effects of increased housing costs, daycare education and all the extracurricular activities that a high -virtue , good family feels obliged to provide.

Wow society wasted a ton of resources educating your female friends.

Nonetheless if sufficient males could become stay-at-home dads to these women perhaps society could make the best of it?

Probably but that's quite a transition. Besides a lot of guys would be terrible as a primary parent. I am a bad one. Tried and failed miserably..

Can I just affirm this? I make more money than my husband and if he were a better parent, I would not have a problem with him just taking on the responsibilities of child and home care. I'd love to be able to focus on work all day and just come home to well behaved children and a hot meal. But he won't. He doesn't have that nurturing instinct. I have to do all discipline and cooking because he just doesn't. Thank goodness he has a job so we can outsource homemaking.

I'm wondering how well my experience generalizes? Are most men capable parents? Are most men capable of taking on the traditional duties of a wife?

If I pushed any harder for him to do a "good job" around the house, I don't even think we'd be happy together.

How is it that your husband can hold down a job but can't do a decent job as a parent?

I will say that depending on the children, the expectation of coming home to a hot meal may be unreasonable (unless it was prepared in advance when the kids were asleep, or unless you are comfortable with him plopping the kids in front of the tv while he prepares dinner). The same goes for cleaning the house (vacuuming especially, as they often terrify kids due to the noise). Does your husband suffer from mental illness (serious question)? I would like to think that adults with kids recognize that parenting is a 24 hour job, and that you don't get time off, such that working say a 10 hour day isn't any reason for you not to cook or clean or watch the kids so your spouse can do those chores. The breadwinner/housewife model of the 50's in which the breadwinner wasn't expected to do practically any of the work of child rearing or house cleaning was always a bad idea given the amount of work that young children require.

Depends how you view higher education. Elite university degrees are pretty much just a positional good. A Harvard degree is only worth more than a Penn State degree, because Harvard students are reliably viewed as more intelligent and harder-working. In reality you pretty much learn the same thing in classes at Harvard as you do at Penn State. It's just the students in the former classes have higher SAT scores.

From an individual standpoint sending one student to Harvard who then drops out of the labor force is a waste. That person took up a slot, that I could have potentially used. But from a society standpoint, it doesn't really matter. If half the people who attend Harvard, drop out of the labor force, then it just increases the relative rarity of Harvard degrees. Hence more Penn Staters will move into positions previously reserved for Harvard graduates.

Yes, we don't want Harvard graduates dropping out of the labor force, because they're intelligent and high productivity. But they're not that way because they went to Harvard, they're just that way because they got into Harvard. In 1960, all those women scoring 1500+ on their SATs would have just gotten married and had kids. That's a foregone opportunity for a high-productivity worker. But if in 2018, a 1500+ SAT score women goes to Harvard, works at an investment bank, gets married after five years, then drops out of the labor force, it's no different.

As people become more urban-dwelling, they are able to interact with for more people who have gone childless and are quite happy (including a large percentage of the gay community). You then realize it's an option...not an expectation, and that you will always have a community if you decide to go childless. That (in addition to rising costs of raising children the "right way") is the main reason i see for delaying children.

"A Harvard degree is only worth more than a Penn State degree, because..."

It isn't actually. On average, Harvard and Penn State confer degrees on different kinds of students. So Harvard grads earn much more. But as Dale & Krueger found, if a Harvard qualified student decides to attend Penn State instead they do just as well as they would have if they'd chosen Harvard. So, you're right that the Ivies don't teach any more. But it's worse than that -- the Ivy brands don't seem to add value either. What matters is the quality of the incoming students. The reputations of the Ivies depend entirely on the selectivity of their admissions offices.

Curious as to what/who qualifies as “eligible” for the $250K top-tier NYC lawyer who wants to become a SAHM. Anything “less” than another Ivy NYC lawyer making $500K? How about that nice Civil Engineer from Tulsa making $100K?

I guess an aspiring artist can do. A quiet who never published but had a PhD has enough of virtue signaling Evo though is making less than a Walmart employee..

> How about that nice Civil Engineer from Tulsa making $100K?

Plenty of women in this category would be happy with that. My specific example was dating a man making $90k working middle management in building construction. She wanted nothing more than to get engaged. The guy in question broke it off. An employed, college-educated, reasonably attractive man in NYC has a dizzying array of dating options at the touch of a Tinder button.

Again this isn't an issue, with women holding out for some master of the universe. We're just talking about employed, college-educated men willing to commit in major metro areas.

Only the alpha males have "a dizzying array of dating options at the touch of a Tinder button." See men's self-reported number of sexual partners, the real number is even lower. From what ive seen there are plenty of thirsty beta males willing to marry these women, It's the women who are unwilling to settle.

Risk aversion is real in both sexes.

My experience is the exact opposite (at least until the woman is 38 and desperate).

Honest question- why doesn't the woman who earns 250K a year just save up for a few years to the point where she can retire and live a middle class lifestyle off of the earnings of her investments? Then she wouldn't need a man to be a breadwinner, only perhaps a father, or if she was willing to be a single parent, a sperm donor. If she can keep her expenses down, she could easily be saving 50% or more of her income. Granted, she may not have a lot of time left on her biological clock. But if she were saving 60% of income, she would have a nest egg of $2.5 million within roughly 10 years. Going by the 4% safe withdrawal rate, the would give her $100,000 in income, which is plenty of money to raise a child on, and even more if she were to move to a more affordable metro (like say Philly) or an even more affordable metro like Chicago or Minneapolis or Miami, etc.

Did you account for taxes? But yes, early retirement is very viable if you are frugal

If you make a quarter of a million dollars a year, the opportunity cost of quitting to have children is astronomical. Also your friends probably consider "eligible" to mean something along the lines of "makes enough money that I can quit my job with no decline in living standards", while paying at least as much attention to their wives as to their jobs, and not being a total dork and/or ugly.

Regarding money, the couple at some point will experience at period of living together on two incomes unless they're shotgun-married (l o l). So "quit my job with no decline in living standards" means that the future father either makes/has so much money that the loss of 250k/yr in cash flow is trivial or he has the capability to suddenly go from e.g. $250k/yr to $500k/yr at the drop of a hat. Again, without any loss of attention paid to wifey. Good luck with that.

tl;dr your friends are being paid tons of money not to reproduce and the odds of them finding a better deal without drastically altering their values is nil.

If you're making $250k you should be saving quite a bit of what is left over after taxes. So there shouldn't be much change in living standards even if you go to a lower income.

Hey Doug, so let me get this straight. Are you saying that you know high economic status women that didn't settle down with men when they were at their peaks attractiveness-wise, and instead chose to "pursue their careers" or pursue flings with high status men during those years? And now they seem perplexed that there aren't a bevy of "eligible men" who wish to enter marriage with them now?

Playing x-box and taking opiates or moving to the Philippines (hi ray Lopez) seems like a rational response for middle and low status men who can't find women willing to trade their peak years for family formation.

This would make sense if 35 year old men could easily date 22 year old women. Virtually zero percent of educated American women are willing to date a man ten years older than her. Maybe the exception exists if you're ultra high status, like a rock star, a movie producer, or a billionaire real estate developer. But in general women will absolutely not date a significantly older man. Five years is a pretty hard cap, then the numbers fall off a cliff. Don't believe me, just look at the statistics linked below.

If you're a single man in his thirties, your options are pretty firmly limited to a women in her late 20s or older. There's no shortage of single men in their 30s in major American metros. We also know that virtually none of them are being competed out of the dating pool by "peak-age" women, because 22 year old women view 35 year old men with disgust. 35 year old men by and large are dating 32-37 year old women (or they're totally out of the labor force and involuntarily celibate.) It's just that a historically large number of them are not proposing, because of the supply/demand imbalance caused by the aforementioned permanently unemployed men.

In NYC, a 10-year age gap is quite common. My peer group is mostly finance, lawyer types (not rockstars).

Depends on the age. 45 -> 35, not uncommon. But OP explicitly used the phrase "prime age" in reference to under 30, and with what I assume to be peak biological fertility. That's about 22. A 22 year old dating a 32 year old is unheard besides pseudo-prosutititon arrangements. Even a 26 year old with a 36 year old is pretty rare, the only cases being if the 26 year old had kids or a previous marriage. Or the 36 year old was tall, handsome and earned $500k+ a year (which would put him well into the top 0.25% of Americans in his cohort).

Again, this isn't just me, you can look at the actual data from OkCupid, Tinder, etc. The median 25 year old won't even elect to *receive messages* from 35 year olds, let alone date them.

That link only goes up to age 30 and says that age 30 men are acceptable for women basically between 22 and 34 years old

Maybe I'm not making point explicit enough. I don't think your data really contradict my point.

The sexual revolution along with looser social mores and general acceptance of extended adolescence has created a "winner take all" environment for men. Attractive women in their prime are extremely selective. For men with high status, they have a buffet of options when they are aged 16-30 or so. It is not difficult to understand how those men might choose not to settle down.

On the other hand low to mid status men in that age bracket might well struggle to find someone they consider attractive enough to want to start a family. Men after all tend to be less interested having a family than women are. Some of these men may choose to "check out" of the American relationship market and try to meet their needs in other ways (opiates, xbox, pornhub, prostitution, mail-order brides, moving somewhere sex with attractive women is easier). These men probably don't choose to remain in cities working in careers that women might find appealing when eventually women age out of their prime.

That is interesting info. Apparently women hit the wall in terms of desirability at age 26, and men at age 30.

BTW, what would inflation-adjusted family income look like over the last 50 years if inflation had been indexed to the cost of replacement reproduction to take into account the bidding war for young women that erupted between the economy (with its "careers" requiring birth control) and the family (requiring mothers)? What kind of tax on the economy would be necessary and appropriate in order to subsidize the family in this bidding war to prevent the population from collapsing -- and therefore requiring wholesale replacement of the population via immigration from patriarchal societies?

More to the point, why is it up to random commenters on the internet like myself instead of like, you know, actual economists, to point stuff like this out?

We have to be very careful about the incentives and unintended consequences. Whom do you want to encourage and promote. The ones that proved that they can get a valuable degree and a nice job the same ones who can afford, at least from financial point of view, to have kids or less privileged economically and otherwise

Professor Cowen, there are still a few holes in your explanation about the affordability of having children.

Nail guns, power drills, and advances in the lumber industry have ensured that the raw materials and total hours of labor for building a home are lower than ever. Yet housing is more expensive than ever, and fewer Americans own homes. Why is that?

A few decades ago, a single breadwinner could feed his or her housesitting spouse and 5 children on the median income. Nowadays, though, double the median income is barely enough to feed two working adults and a single child. Why is that?

Nowadays we have dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, and microwavable dinners, and yet parents have less time than ever to spend with their kids. Why is that?

It's almost as if economic and technological growth is making ours lives more difficult than ever before.

I propose this answer: *immigration and trade*.

Labor productivity is higher than ever before, as measured by widgets produced per excreted bead of sweat. And yet, in stark contrast to the wisdom of Jevons' paradox, the demand for American labor is lower than ever before. The only way this can make any sense whatsoever is if there is *competiton* that is driving down the price of American labor.

Notice how wage stagnation began almost the very minute that Nixon ended the Bretton Woods system:

This is why, no matter how many scores of studies Bryan Caplan links on Econlog, I remain skeptical of the claim that immigration and trade make us richer.

And no matter how many people point out that our smartphones and improved cars demonstrate economic progress, I will simply point to the lack of affordability of housing and the declining birthrate (even among people who *want* to have children but can't afford to) as evidence to the contrary.

I'm curious how economists respond to these objections.

There was a guy who actually wrote a book about this. It's because the rent of all that economic and technological progress is captured by fewer people.

Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth: The Remedy is an 1879 book by social theorist and economist Henry George. It is a treatise on the questions of why poverty accompanies economic and technological progress and why economies exhibit a tendency toward cyclical boom and bust. George uses history and deductive logic to argue for a radical solution focusing on the capture of economic rent from natural resource and land titles.

>It’s because the rent of all that economic and technological progress is captured by fewer people.

Okay, so why hasn't competition reduced their rents? Why haven't the wages of the top 1% been reduced by comsumer choice?

Does the book address that?

Your questions are good and interesting, but your explanation seems too quick. I think the reality is that up until 1972 or so, we were the only country that was really good at broad portfolio of industries. But around then, other big countries finally started getting good at those same things. First it was the Japanese with their cars and electronics, then Taiwan and Korea, and then China, Mexico, etc. I'm convinced that even without stepping foot on our territory, these competitors would have ended our unprecedented wealth extraction party. It simply couldn't last. On second read I see you blame trade along with immigration, but the thing is, trade (back when we were net exporters, i.e., up until 1975) is what made us rich in the first place. The trajectory of the US economy is sufficiently explained by a more competitive world, and if anything, immigrants in our workforce probably increased our global competitiveness. Yes, lots of other stuff happened in the first half of the 70's, when all real growth died for wages of white American men. But formerly "backward" countries who got their act together is sufficient to explain this. I think of it like England's football team: Back when it was their sport, they could beat anyone in the world and still drink a few pints per night. And they kept getting better since then, no doubt. But there were others who got better faster. Now they shake in their boots when they have to play Belgium.

So the question remains: why hasn't progress abroad led to progress at home? Why hasn't Sweden's booming lumber industry led to more American homes being built? Why isn't Russia's booming oil industry resulting in more asphalt to repair our roads?

The issue here isn't *relative* wealth.

>A few decades ago, a single breadwinner could feed his or her housesitting spouse and 5 children on the median income. Nowadays, though, double the median income is barely enough to feed two working adults and a single child.

That is the opposite of true.

"Screwed-up zoning cities" are the only places worth living. No one cares if housing prices are stable 200 miles from the nearest city.

There are cities in the US outside of the Acela corridor and the west coast. You may not consider them "places worth living" but they do exist, and most of those cities have had stable real housing prices.

My answer as to why housing has become to unaffordable would be the the incredibly inefficient administrative system that has evolved to earn its professionals fees and governments the taxes thereon.

A high end car costs about the same as a low end house, but it is possible to buy the car by exchanging the money and documents, and driving off. Yet it seems to be acceptable as a law of physics that it takes two or three months of highly paid skilled work to transfer ownership of a house. Until a political party can be elected to throw this out, it will go on, and go on getting worse.

The two to three months to transfer ownership are related to appraisal and mortgage.

Between a willing seller and willing (cash) buyer and a title company, the time to legally register new ownership probably does not differ significantly from the time to title a new car.

I do agree about the predatory realtor fees, but they are not strictly necessary, part of the reason we pay them is that we want to avoid negotiation face to face with someone whose interests are not totally aligned with ours.

Another interesting wild idea: allow mortgages to follow the borrower, as long as it can be proven the lender's risk does not increase. That of course, would negate the assumption that mortgages have a 5-7 year median lifetime.

A few decades ago, a single breadwinner could feed his or her housesitting spouse and 5 children on the median income.

Deal with historical realities, not with caricatures. In 1957, 1/3 of the workforce was female. Those were largely married women. (The notion that standards of living have declined for any appreciable segment of the population is demonstrable nonsense).

Agree if "standard of living" is meant solely in material terms. Even the poor have big-screen TVs and Playstation X's (where X = whatever the current generation is), as I found out when I visited my friend's old neighborhood in [rusted out ex-industrial town].

I admit that the material definition of "standard of living" is the easiest to measure rigorously and therefore the hardest to fudge; there are very good reasons to pay close attention even if you don't come from a primarily materialist point of view.

Still. Read anything about social conditions - Theodore Dalrymple is an excellent source, e.g. Life at the Bottom - and it becomes evident that there is serious decay in what most people would call the "quality of life" for the unfortunate people he describes, despite the fact that their TVs have a higher resolution than ever before. It is hard to measure - it's a mental and moral decay - but it's there. And sure, he's writing from the UK, but many communities here face the same process.

In certain respects that's true, in other respects, no. Crime rates are certainly no worse than they were 50 years ago.

Crime rates are now worse than they were 50 years ago because the big crime spike was already well underway by 1968.

Crime rates today are more than 50% higher than they were 1960. The only exception to that is murder, which is about the same.

But the thing is, crime rates should be way, way lower because we have so much more technology to help us catch criminals. If infant mortality were the same today was it was 50 years ago people would rightly think that was terrible.

Crime rates are now worse than they were 50 years ago because the big crime spike was already well underway by 1968.

I said 50 years ago.

The robbery rate is precisely what it was in 1967. That's the most salient datum. The comparative frequency of homicide, burglary, and auto theft are lower and, in fact, no higher than they were in 1960-63. Rape and aggravated assault remain more common but off historical peaks.

But the thing is, crime rates should be way, way lower because we have so much more technology to help us catch criminals.

You mean you're complaining that you're not experiencing an improvement that's all in your head?

Here's the key metric: how much do you have to earn to have your children's peers--at school and in your neighborhood--be 80% or more living with 2 parents, and the same 2 parents it was 5 years ago (or when they were 6 months old, whichever is less.)

In 1960, you could be below median household income and achieve that in many neighborhoods; now, it's a top-decile achievement.

This is interesting. I live in a high-status neighborhood (in a cheap state, that's why I can afford it). So many good marriages and committed dads. It is absolutely the most unique thing about this neighborhood. On the surface, you'd see nice houses and high test scores at the public high school. But in my opinion the statistic that would stick out the most would be the percent of "good" men in these single family homes. If I just went around knocking on doors, I would not think there was a drug crisis or even that marriage rates are down from the 1960s.

The collapse of working class families, especially working class families in non-Asian minority neighborhoods, is a huge social problem. The *majority* of working class children are now born out of wedlock.

Among African Americans, 3 out of 4 children are born out of wedlock. The rate of white illegitimacy is higher today than black illegitimacy was back when Moynihan wrote his famous report.

"Nowadays we have dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, and microwavable dinners, and yet parents have less time than ever to spend with their kids. Why is that?"

Show that both mothers and fathers are spending more time with their kids now than ever before. See this Economist article:

NB: Google is a wonderful thing. I searched the question "why do parents have less time to spend with their kids" and the first 3 sites on the results page were about how parents spend more time with their kids. The following link shows a step-by-step process of how to do this:

Your statement: "no matter how many scores of studies Bryan Caplan links on Econlog, I remain skeptical of the claim that immigration and trade make us richer" suggests that this statement: "I’m curious how economists respond to these objections" is disingenuous.

My impression is that throughout history more trade with more partners from farther away has always produced a wealthier society. I could see arguments about protecting a particular industry or specialty, but for the most part more trade meant more wealth. If more trade means less wealth then the richest societies would be the smallest and most insular, since they would have the least internal and external trade. That's not the case, though.So it's very strange to me to see how much people complain about trade and want less of it. I understand why they're upset (usually), but if the problem is uneven distribution of wealth it seems foolish to focus on killing trade rather than adjusting the wealth distribution.

>If more trade means less wealth then the richest societies would be the smallest and most insular, since they would have the least internal and external trade.

Lichtenstein, Singapore, Switzerland... There are quite a few small nations that dominate the Highest PPP Countries.

Your premises are all wrong

No mention to Caplan's argument?

The reason to have many children historically used to be: 1- high likelihood of them dying before the age of 5 , 2- cheap labor on the farm, 3-insurance against old age, 4- no birth control.

They worked from an early age and did not cost so much to raise and the older ones helped raise the younger ones.

None of this is true anymore. Yes, it’s quality, not quantity.

How is it going on the quality front, then?

All that plus narcissism, selfishness, and developing the typical millennial is substandard: a walking, talking denial of Darwinian Evolution.

Dial it back, please. The lowest tfr recorded in the last century was in 1976. There were no millennials then. The millennials aren't distinguished by exceptionally low fertility, but by a resistance to marriage.

Is there any truth more eternal than "kids these days..."

Ah, finally a bit of development economics. However #4 is weak, places such as Japan had (comparatively) low fertility before the advent of modern birth control. Late marriage age, abstinence, even evidence of infanticide (albeit varying from village to village).

As to old age insurance, Ronald Lee and Andrew Mason have amassed data on that, while I've not (re)read recently, they find less than I imagined – parents continue to transfer resources to children. And then (historically) they died: retirement is a modern phenomenon. In addition, the rise of the ability to save via financial markets certainly has had an impact. But in contrast the the social / culture approach in many of the comments, urbanization strikes me as a driver, changes in "culture" an effect.

retirement is a modern phenomenon.

No it is not. The prevalence and duration of retirement and the health of those within it is local to the post-war period, not retirement itself.. See Jerome Blum on inter-generational agreements in the more prosperous parts of central Europe, where hereditary right of occupancy was the order of the day in land tenure.

Even today it's very normal for an elderly parent to have an adult child in the home who will inherit the place when s/he dies. Or in some cases to go and live with an adult child with an understanding that that child will inherit the bulk of whatever there is to leave. However retirement in the modern sense did not exist: older people continued to work-- which usually meant work either in farm fields close at hand (see my post about George Washington above) or perhaps in some manner of home business since urban people often had a shop of some kind from which their income derived in part of their house.

Again, see Blum. The inter-generational arrangements concerned the retirement of the older generation of peasants.

Of my great-grandparents, three sets did retire. Two sets because they were fairly prosperous and the third because their sons took them in.

@ Art Deco
Did your great grandparents live before the era of social security and government sponsored old-age pension schemes?

The real issue, for middle class people at least, was what became of widows, as even in the past women were likely to outlive their husbands if they made it through the childbearing years. Men had jobs-- but women who were at least middle class did not usually work outside the home. In earlier centuries urban (including small town) families often had a home business which a widow might inherit and operate, but in the 19th century when work moved out of the home it was very common for women to be left with nothing if her husband died and had not been prudent about setting up something to maintain her. The first pensions were meant for widows, and for disabled workers and soldiers, not to provide for a general retirement for everyone. And yes, elderly people often did have an adult child and his (her) family living with them, under the understanding that this child would inherit the bulk of the estate when they died-- and that is common enough even today, hence when my step-mother died her youngest daughter who had lived with her and paid her rent for years, got the house and the car while the bank accounts were divided up with her two siblings. As a general rule elderly people-- other than widows with imprudent husbands-- were not financially dependent on their children although they needed their help in other practical ways just as nowadays.

1- high likelihood of them dying before the age of 5 , 2- cheap labor on the farm, 3-insurance against old age, 4- no birth control.

You had ample fertility in the immediate post-war period, when > 95% of all children born lived to military age. (2) Throughout the post-bellum period, most people have had non-agrarian occupations; the share of those employed on farms was 15% in 1940 and 4% in 1970; we still had ample fertility. (3) You still need your children in old age; it's just that there are various contrivances which give the old a more regular income than used to be the case; you're still old and infirm. (4) The fertility transition in my family was effected by my great-grandparents. Anovulant birth control pills didn't exist in 1895.

But age and infirmity (other than senile dementia in otherwise healthy people) did not last long in the pre-antibiotic past. Yes, some people lived to very ripe old ages-- but far fewer of them then than now.

Increasing urbanization must be part of this. Richer people are more urbanized. A small village has effectively socialized child care, the kids take care of each other and no-one really worries too much what they are up to (based on my own rural childhood). An urban environment has much higher risk factors, such as traffic, predators and so on and so people are more reluctant to let children roam off on their own. Related to this is that in the village environment grandparents and other close relatives are nearby, in an urban environment such support is often much further away.

Well, It would help to look to other places to compare.
I will look at Israel, that despite being a modern western economy, have a high birth rate.

So what's up?
There are a lot of factors of course, but the main thing is that Children increase their parents status, and more the better. Childless people are seen as unlucky and miserable.
Motherhood is celebrated, and the burdens are understood and leeway is given, even in the workplace. Familial networks are strong and grand-parents help a lot.

I think all your points confirm Tyler's hypotheses, e.g. he mentions the lack of grandparent babysitting in the US as a reason (which the reverse means if family networks are strong then you'd have a higher birth rate). It is also a very religious place, and the Haredi community (fertility rate of 6.2 children per woman) seems to be a large part of the population growth. From 2009 to 2017, Israel's population increased by about 1 million (from 7.5 to 8.5 million) and the Haredi population increased by about 250,000 (750k to just over 1 million). Some of that is from immigration, but most is from natural increase. So 25 percent of Israel's population growth from 2009-2017 came from a group that made up only 10 percent of the population in 2009.

Non-Haredi TFR is 2.6 which is still good

I wonder if there is more trust inside Israel than in the US due to the fact that 75% of Israeli's are Jews (and hence part of the same ethnic group and religion, broadly conceived)?

Not the same ethnic group. You have Sephardic and Ashkenazi

You also have Yemeni Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Persian Jews, etc. But all of those groups of people claim descent from common ancestors, which is why I said that are part of the same broadly conceived ethnic group. Or is it not the case that Jews view themselves as one people (for the most part, obviously a group containing millions of people isn't going to have 100% uniform opinions)?

Yes, I think status is a key a factor that is ignored. For whatever reasons, having children is no longer seen as desirable or praiseworthy in most of the developed world (this phenomenon is happening just as much in wealthy Asian countries as European ones). People are impressed when someone drives a Mercedes, but not when they have a much more expensive third or fourth child. On my street that are so many people who have fancy cars, large houses, and only one kid (I live in a suburb with top schools so there would be no reason to live here and have zero kids).

I'm even more interested in having more kids than I might have been 20-30 years ago, because there seems a good chance that they'll be smothered and become neurotic messes that are not only incapable of providing some sort of old age care, but are likely to be burdens far past the age of 18-22. Better to have more - more chances for a good one and, it seems, more likely that they'll end up normal human beings instead of the repositories of everything my wife and I want to be but for various (probably reasonable) reasons are not.

Kids aren't that expensive if you don't obsess over them. It's just hard not to obsess over them if everyone else is, because you look neglectful.

I disagree with the hard not to obsess over them. I would not face judgement from society if my toddler watched more TV. What I mean is that I could ignore him more than I do and get away with it. But I just love being with him and watching his little face. Kids are a vortex and they demand attention. You have to actively disengage from them (which I believe you should do to an extent for your own good and theirs). Part of the reason my kid is so rewarding is that I have spent a lot of time talking to him and reading to him. He knows that one way to get me is to ask me to read a book hah.

But let's relate this back to quantity. Having an additional child means being able to devote less time to child A, which is actually an unpleasant thought for those obsessed with their own spawn.

9. Further note, there's some empirical evidence that daughters live further away from their parents nowadays (think the rise in women's post-secondary education, partnerships/employment formed away from home town), so facebook viewing grandparents is due to both grandparents' changing opportunity costs but also greater proximity from grandchildren.

There has been a cultural change in recent decades, at least in the West, in which we glorify children and the condition of parenthood. It has become a badge of honour and a virtue among the middle classes. I don't know how many corporate bio's I've seen which prominently describe parenthood as the main - and sole - non-work interest of an individual's life. A side effect is that parents are expected to spend more time with their children than previously. Hence young people associate having children with an appalling change in lifestyle, and a burdensome responsibility and increase in expenses required to properly care for the young one.

I'm 42, my parents mainly left me to entertain myself. I'm struck when reading biographies of early 20thC figures how children were left to themselves and parents maintained relative independence.

Of course this could also be an effect not a cause of the fall in birth rates.

British MP Rory Stewart has written on it: "People who might once have been public figures, deeply invested in their work, are instead busy serving their children. Ours is a culture not of ancestor worship but of descendant worship"

'at the expense of the life satisfaction of the main child rearer'

What a bizarre perspective. And if someone thinks bringing up a child is somehow detrimental to someone's life satisfaction, well, what a depressing insight in that person's life.

It's not so much bizarre as showing a narrow perspective and its one I've seen from others in positions like Tyler's. Most people's jobs don't produce more satisfaction that raising children and often less. So child-rearing becomes the preferred alternative.

I'm going to start encouraging every prospective parent I know to read We Need to Talk About Kevin, or look up a thread on Reddit called "I am NOT proud of my son".

Children are a blessing, except when they aren't.

You should also start to encourage people you know planning to take a cruise to watch "Titanic," because boat trips are great until they're not.

My impression is that cruises don't usually increase strife between couples. And no cruise line of which I'm aware sells a cruise that's known for being an exhausting, stressful, decades-long sortie that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, has a severe and irreversible impact on at least one person's career, permanently shifts the passengers' value systems and social circles, and forever ties the cruise ship and whatever it does to the passengers' identities and abilities to be happy.
If something does go wrong on a cruise ship, there are first aid kits, life preservers, and rescue craft. Depending on what went wrong, you may be entitled to at least a partial refund. And if you get on the ship and decide at the last minute "Nah, this isn't for me", the state won't come after you and your friends won't shun you.

Children are not magical "make parent happy" devices, except in fairy tales. They are humans that needs a lot of routine care. If you are someone who spends with them few hours a week, yes it is magical and all that. If you are main child rearer who has to do all that work mostly alone, while essentially having to stop doing everything that you liked to do previous and you took confidence from previously, then it cease to be magical and becomes quite boring routine work.

Realistically, if children were such make parent happy magical devices, people would have more of them.

Prior's just virtue signaling.

Again, most people who are doing something they like to do and that they take confidence from opt to do that rather than stay at home. But most people's jobs are boring routine. For many stay-at-home moms, providing childcare beats working the cash register.

I agree that the sort of people who are most likely to stay home and raise kids are not the sort of people who would've had intellectually stimulating jobs to begin with, if that's what you're getting at. But how does that square with the fact that fertility rates have been on the decline for pretty much everybody? Are you saying that jobs--or at least the type of jobs women hold--have become more boring, less satisfying, or less confidence-building over the last 40 years? That doesn't seem to make sense, given the growing numbers of women in high-pay, high-status professions.

And as I wrote earlier, staying at home with the kids may be satisfying...until one day your kid is in jail, or in rehab, or is a 30-year-old stoner with no significant accomplishments, or isn't talking to you and not allowing you to see your grandkids. When that day comes, the cash register might not seem like it would have been such a bad choice after all.

Or if you die in a car accident on the way to work, the job suddenly seems like a bad idea. People who work and have those problems face double guilt.

Here's an explanation for fertility decline that we seem to never consider: disincentive effects of socialized retirement. In the past, seniors relied on adult children to take care of them in old age. Now that we've socialized retirement, seniors can rely on other seniors' adult children and, in turn, one's own adult children are forced to take care of other seniors instead of oneself. The decline in fertility has happened mostly in developed nations, which have substantial old-age welfare programs. Developing nations, where population growth remains robust, tend to have less developed old-age welfare programs. Although old-age welfare programs have existed for many decades, generational shifts in fertility also can take decades to manifest. If it's true that cutting old-age entitlements would severly hurt many middle-class retirees, then doesn't it also follow that, in the absence of such entitlements, those same retirees would have had substantial incentive to have had more children who could have taken care of them in retirement?

When working-age welfare programs correlate with low employment participation, all but the most committed welfare state enthusiast will at least consider that the welfare programs may have disincentive effects. Why would we not similarly contemplate the incentive effects of old-age welfare?

We just never hear nowadays any parent, regardless of socioeconomic class, say (seriously) that one reason they have kids is to take care of them in old age. It would be shocking to hear someone say that, except in jest. That shows just how much the retirement incentive to have kids has been eliminated by old-age entitlements.

No, in the absence of socialized retirement, people would just spend more on financial products. Someone who takes the $500,000 or so it takes to raise a kid to adulthood and invests it in a portfolio of stocks and bonds is almost certainly going to come out ahead in material terms in retirement compared to someone with a kid.

Kids are no longer economic necessary; they should be seen as a consumption good and the trade-off adults face is between kids or other consumption goods. As other consumption possibilities get better, kids become relatively less appealing.

Fertility is falling everywhere, developing and developed alike.

$500,000 lol, give me a break

'Someone who takes the $500,000 or so it takes to raise a kid to adulthood and invests it in a portfolio of stocks and bonds is almost certainly going to come out ahead in material terms in retirement compared to someone with a kid."
My uncle did that. He really regretted it and was most thankful before he died for his great nieces and nephew.

You can't buy an alternative to children just as you can't buy an alternative to a spouse.

There are some things that simply cannot be replaced with money. I shouldn't have to explain why...

Where's the data? I almost completely agree with Tyler's list, but I'm actually skeptical that it's more "expensive" to raise kids now than 1 or 2 generations ago. You are just whining that you can't have it all. Parents want the best for their kids, everywhere and always.

Anyone fertile and who starts early enough could have 8 kids if they wanted to, you just have to make compromises: don't live in a fancy city, shop at Goodwill, shop at Aldi, buy used cars and fix them yourself when they break, take public assistance if you're eligible, don't pay for college (if you're poor, the kids get scholarships anyway), get books and movies at the library instead of Amazon, etc.

I have 3 kids - I wanted more, but when the first one got a chronic illness at age 4, I lost my stomach for the risk, I worried any future kids might be sick too.

"don't live in a fancy city"

This is harder than it sounds for many people. First, good jobs are disproportionately located in "fancy cities."

But it's more than that. The total population of the metropolitan areas of NYC, Bay Area, LA, DC, Boston and Seattle is about 55-60 million. So that's somewhere between one-fifth and one-sixth of the US population. Contrary to popular belief, most of the people who live in these areas were born and raised there (NYC, LA and Boston at least are net exporters of people; I'm not sure about the rest, in any event the number of transplants to these places is small enough to have marginal impact on net population growth).

The traditionalist view on children - which I agree with in this case - is that it is best to raise children in the presence of extended family. This is good for the parents and the child.

So is anyone who is from NYC or SF that wants to have children supposed to just...leave? And hope their entire family comes with with them? What are they supposed to do? And that's not even considering the job issue.

We could make it easier for people to work and have children, wherever they live. We, as a society, have decided that we do not want to do that.

Societies don't make decisions. People make decisions.

You might say: "most people have decided they do not want that." Or: "most voters have decided they do not want that." Or: "most people want that, but the political system prevents them from achieving it."

Define "good jobs."

Downthread someone says: "Median household income for the New York metro area is about $72,000 per year."

Assuming that number is anywhere close to accurate, those people are making a serious, catastrophic mistake by living near NYC. It's one thing if you're making $400k/year, then it might make sense - those jobs aren't everywhere. But if you're making $80k as an office manager, you really, really ought to move to Columbus or Dallas or Charlotte. And then try to convince your extended family to do the same.

Are people in coastal cities especially unlikely to move? I have ancestors who lived in the colonies, and from what I know about my family tree, they were always moving. Right now a large share of my extended family is in the process of moving from the Midwest/Ohio River Valley to the southeast.

3 kids is great.

I'm always trying to get people to go to Aldi. Most people don't seem to be aware of the their tremendous value.

BC got to one of the points I was going to make: Social Security reduces the need for extended families AND it probably reduces their utility: Living to 90 means your children are about 70 and aren't going to be too keen on nursing you in your dotage, and grandchildren will mostly live too far away to be of any help. 2. Peak earning years are far too late for most people to consider starting a family (in USA's 'typical' society) 3. As opposed to when I started full-time work, the workday has become more than 9 hrs 5 days a week - if you want to compete with your peers for that promotion (and without unions, what choice do you have?) 4. Birth Control and the education of the 16-25 year old child-bearers. 5. I'm betting divorce - its ubiquity, its ease, and lack of stigma - has had a significant impact on the birth rate especially when you add in the reduced prospects for children raised in a single-parent home.6. Not just opportunity cost, but these young women have an enormous range of opportunities that their mothers didn't have. That is, they have more choices.
7. Childbirth hurts AND accelerates a bunch of physical changes now days mostly associated with aging. 8. How many TV shows have as a main character an unemployed mother? 9. Cats and dogs are cheaper.

Forgot one: Parents have, I think, reduced their expectations that their kids will be parents - I'm OK, you're OK.

Re: Living to 90 means your children are about 70

Increasingly they will be a bit younger than that: many people don't have kids until they reach their late 20s or early 30s.

My grandmother, at age 90, had four children ages 49 to 60. Her sister, 88 at the time, had four children, ages 55 to 65. My uncle, age 90, has two children, one age 64 (and in great shape) and age 66. None of these people had debilitating health problems when they had a nonagenarian parent.

Some people have always had children late. I'm the late-born product of two also late born parents. I'm about to turn 51. All four of my grandparents (none of whom I knew as they all predeceased me) were born in the late 1800s. I had great- grandparents alive (as children) during the Civil War.

I'm convinced there's a dramatic and under-appreciated answer: Pensions.

The poorer societies are also those that lack pension provision. As a result your well-being in old age is determined by the number of children who are able to look after you. In societies where pension provision is available (and your children will expect you to have a pension), children go from being a good investment to a bad one.

children go from being a good investment to a bad one.

Nothing substitutes for your children in old age and nothing substitutes for salutary relationships with your children in old age. One loving and conscientious daughter will do, but the deeper your bench, the better. And when you get to a certain age, there isn't much fun but a good meal and grandchildren.

That is one reason to prefer daughters. They’re more likely to stick around and take care of you in your old age. Sons tend to move away.

I don't disagree. But once upon a time, people actually thought things like: "I don't want to be alone and poor when I'm old, I should get married and have kids." Fewer people think this today.

In the pre-20th century past most people worked until they died. There was no need for children to take care of them except for a rather brief few days or so of their final illness. Before antibiotics if your health started to fail some opportunistic infection would carry you off fairly soon.

Median age of first marriage is now over 27 for women. Women now settle before marriage. Average age of first divorce, for those that do, is 30. I imagine just those numbers are doing a lot of the work.

Just out of curiosity, are any of these comments from women?

This forum has three women who are regulars, none of whom are commenting today and two of whom pretend to be men.

haha, sorry they’re busy raising the children instead of BSing here.

No, they[re BS-ing over the phone to their gal pals, BS-ing at work with their office mates, BS-ing while recreational shopping....

As a woman, I feel like there is one thing being neglected on this thread. For some reason I feel inspired to leave lots of comments here instead of doing my job this morning. (If I were a stay at home mom with my toddler, I almost certainly would not be on this board.)

Not every childless woman has chosen wine tasting over diapers. I'm not even old but I have peers struggling with infertility. Had these women started at 20 instead of 30, maybe they would have had better chances, but that's no longer a relevant choice for this cohort.

I just talked to a woman pregnant with what will be her second living child. "We have had 6 pregnancies," she told me. That's the kind of information that a lot of men are shielded from. Trying again after multiple miscarriages takes a special kind of courage. IVF is hella expensive. For many people, that is the choice at hand. Not sure if it's a large enough percent of women under 40 to make a real statistical different in fertility rates.

"that’s no longer a relevant choice for this cohort."

Isn't it? People have their priorities

I mean for a woman who is already 30 and is just now discovering that she can't get pregnant, there is no option to go back and become a teen mom.
Many of us are educated about preventing pregnancy. I barely knew that infertility existed when I was 20. Only now am I hearing even the stories in my own family about who had a hard time, etc.
I wonder if men would benefit from getting this information because this choice about the timing of family formation affects them as well. They can always try to marry a woman 10 years younger than yourself, but if that isn't going to happen, they might want to ponder the ticking clock and the window of fertility closing.

J brings up an important and underrated point.

Fertility starts to decline after about age 30. The average age at first birth for a college educated American woman is 30. The average age at first birth continues to rise, biology doesn't change much.

The typical college educated woman is attempting to conceive at a stage in her life when fertility has already started to decline. That has to have SOME impact on birth rates.

I think it’s really hard to know what’s important to and good for you when you’re young. At 22, I thought I didn’t ever want kids. At 23, my first son was one of the two things I lived for.

I’ve heard a lot about how unplanned/unwanted pregnancies are bad, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that unplanned pregnancies within stable, committed marriages are, on the whole if not in every case, a net good. Certainly for the child. Almost certainly for the family and for society as a whole.

And if that’s true, I wish I could get the word out that it’s okay to marry young if the two of you are committed to making it work, and it’s good to have kids within that kind of relationship.

And here I realize once again that my honest, hard-earned beliefs are basically what the Church my parents reared me in has been saying for a long time. It occurs to me again that it’s probably a good idea to pay attention to the wisdom accumulated over thousands of years, unless there’s something really specific and really important that has changed. So not blindly, but with respect.

I know it sounds horrible to modern ears, but I think things would be better if men and women were more committed to “forever” marriage, valued children more highly, and sacrificed more to have them.

I am a woman reading this discussion, wishing I felt that I could afford a second child. It has been difficult. Daycare costs are about the same as rent: just imagine that your rent suddenly doubles. But you know what they say: "if you can't afford kids, you shouldn't have them in the first place."

In my experience it was men who wished to delay family formation. Some told me they wouldn't even consider a serious relationship until they were at least 35. I was happy to start having children in my early twenties. Now I'm not sure I'll be able (financially or even physically) to have more than one.

Date 35 year olds!

My wife and I are past the day care stage, but when we had two in day care at the same time it cost more than my wife earned (and more than I had earned until a year prior).

We took the “there’s no good time to have a kid” advice seriously, though, and somehow things worked out.

We were also lucky, in a way, to have started out living just above the poverty line. We got used to living cheap. Eventually we went from renting at $500/month to a mortgage that was about the same. That’s almost paid off.

So we have cheap housing, we still shop at Aldi and eat a lot of beans, rice, potatoes, and ground turkey, we don’t go out much, and most car/house work is DIY - because that’s what we’re used to and with 4 kids (at our age, we’re done barring a minor miracle), it’s all still kind of necessary.

It would have been a lot harder to have kids if doing so meant switching to these things instead of just keepin’ on.

I think there’s a part of it that’s cultural, too. As Catholics whose involvement with other Catholic families increased over the years, we can say for sure that seeing other families “make do” with the beat-up car and live with the “you have how many kids in how many square feet?” house, who are saving as best they can but know they won’t be replacing 70% of their earnings in retirement, and who also eat cheap and DIY to save money... it helps make it seem more sane. Especially when the ones you’re looking at are so clearly good people.

Good question, and I'm glad to see some women responded.

I'm curious: do women ever talk amongst themselves about the dissolution of the "sex cartel"? Back in the day, a man's best option for intimate companionship was to get married. A man today has more options. Do women ever discuss this amongst themselves? (I'm not making a pro- or anti-feminism statement... just asking whether women discuss this when men aren't around, or whether the subject is taboo, or whether there is a sort of prisoner's dilemma going on here.)

Tyler -

Do you not personally bemoan any of these trends you mention?

What do you think cultural conservatives should do to potentially stall or reverse any of these trends?

What do you think cultural conservatives should do to potentially stall or reverse any of these trends?

Well, if you don't mind me butting in...

Amend the tax laws, amend the modes of educational finance, amend family law, amend labor law, and amend local land-use ordinances That might get you something, or it might not. How people order their domestic life tends to be insensitive to incentives, just not completely insensitive. Britain, France, and Israel have managed a fertility recovery in recent decades, and Russia's doing much better. There might be something in policy you could look at.

"What do you think cultural conservatives should do to potentially stall or reverse any of these trends?"

Have more unprotected sex.

Having only unprotected sex would keep the procreative aspect front and center, and would improve a lot of marriages where frequency is a point of contention.

Cowen is correct in making the connection between social welfare programs (from public schools to anti-discrimination laws to old-age benefits) and fewer children. Of course, one way to increase children would be to eliminate social welfare programs so that families would rely not on government but on themselves, more children being the means to the end (of reliance on family and self). That, essentially, is Ross Douthat's approach, although he wraps it up in less reactionary language. Douthat longs for a bygone era, when families were large and self-reliance even larger, the era of my grandmother. What? My grandmother was one of seven children (an eighth died an infant), her father a respected Protestant minister but far from being a wealthy man. Yet, he and his wife produced three graduates of Harvard (one from the law school and two from the college), two physicians (one being my grandmother), and a caretaker (for him after his wife died, when the two of them resided in my grandmother's house along with my mother). How did they do that? Self-reliance, I suppose. My grandmother attended an all-women's college, where she began as an art major but shifted to pre-med after taking a course in anatomy (required for art majors). Women weren't admitted to the all-male top med schools (Harvard medical school's first woman was admitted in 1936 and by mistake - Harvard thought she was a he until she arrived at the school), so my grandmother did what she had to do, which was to attend an all-women's med school, after which she went to Europe for training in her specialty because women weren't admitted to the top medical centers in America. She went on to practice until she was in her 80s. She was a remarkable woman. I describe her as a product of the 60s: the 1860s - she was born in 1868. Douthat prefers that era over today's era of small families and even smaller self-reliance.

I presume we're pretty typical upper middle class parents, with the typical trajectory. You spend many years on multiple degrees and to establish your careers, then you blow holes in them due to the shifting priorities of children. And we had fewer than we wanted, because I refuse to let my wife kill herself doing so.

I'm going to make it very clear to my daughters that they have other options. We've got a nice home near a good school; with lots of room for an extended family. Taking an extra couple of years to do their education while raising children is a lot less costly to their career (and to society!) than doing it 10 years later.

Sure it'd be a burden on us; but the alternative is being too old to really enjoy grandchildren.

The main problem with that strategy is picking a father. 20 year old me and the vast majority of my peers were completely unsuitable, and I don't think the current generation is any better. I'd far rather it be the 3 of us raising the kid than having my daughter tie herself to somebody at a really young age. But my daughters and society are unlikely to see it that way...

Excellent comment.

Society just isn't very flexible in this realm.

About 85% of the population is not of the professional-managerial bourgeoisie and among some who are, the wife is often pleased to downshift.

Just have her marry a 30 year old instead of a 20 year old. Problem solved.

In my experience 30+ year old men who date & marry teenagers are either not very mature themselves or are not interested in marrying peers so are probably even less suitable for marrying my daughters than younger men might be.

Check the link Doug provided. It seems that 30 year old men are perfectly happy to date 20-year-olds, for the most part.

In my experience 30+ year old men who date & marry teenagers

How many have you known?

What about 24 or 25 year olds? They would seem not too much older than a 20 year old, but still old enough that they have some level of maturity that comes with working a full time professional job for a few years.

As a follow up, 22 year old men dating 18 year old girls isn't an uncommon thing (i.e. a senior in college dating a freshman).

Six is an interesting point. You could argue that people are doing as much parenting today as 60 years ago, they are just focusing it on fewer kids.

You could argue that they are doing more parenting independent of the number of kids:

I believe this data tries to separate "child care" and "housework" for mothers. My stay-at-home mother was always doing things around the house. Nowadays she'd have a job and a maid and this would show up as more "parenting" but she'd be with me far less time overall. Seems like questionable methodology.

If the claim is about how much time parents spend with their children, then you actually want to separate out the time people spend with their children. There has been a small change in the female labor participation rate (43% in 1970 vs. 57% in 2016), so your concern only applies to a small portion of the population and the change in time spent with children is just enormous.

The future belongs to the fecund. Which means the religious and the conservative: we don't have any problem supporting 3 or 4 kids in Houston: houses are big and cheap relative to wages and we don't have the pretension of 'elite' universities. We have very high quality state ones.

The Jews that are going to dominate the next generation are the Orthodox. The Christians are going to be the evangelicals and fundamentalist sects along with the Mormons and Muslims.

"Liberal America" doesn't believe in itself enough to reproduce. Not nearly. 50 years ago liberals and conservatives had the same number of kids, Today it's not even close. Liberals just don't believe in the future. Or believe in their own comfort more than that future.

Speaking impressionistically, it seems the only cultural minorities good at holding on to the younger generation are Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Mennonite-Amish, and some of the more rigorist non-evangelical protestant bodies (e.g. the Missouri Synod Lutherans). I used to belong to a Byzantine-rite parish that was the saddest place. The finest pastor you could ask for and a conscientiously executed liturgy, which you seldom see anymore. He had about two dozen parishioners left. He'd made good investments in the 1950s when he'd founded the parish and it was running on endowment income. I asked one of the old timers what happened and she says, well, the parish never had a school and the younger generation just dripped away to more conventional (Novus Ordo Hallmark-cheesy) options.

Re: The future belongs to the fecund.

Only in the sense that they are more likely to have genetic descendants alive in the distant future. Those descendants however will be their own people, and certainly not ideological clones (including in the matter of how many kids they have) of their ancestors. How many of us after all believe and practice all the same things our ancestors 200 years did? So yes, there will be "liberals" and "conservatives" alive in the future too, defined of course according to criteria we cannot grasp now. Such things are made, not born.

Even the LDS lose about half their kids, generally via a "Jack Mormon" phase where they still identify as Mormon, but no longer practice with full rigor.

Wait until the fecund discover teenage rebellion, and that's before we even consider rising probability of LGB inclination with number of siblings already born...

I'm not sure when you acquired this impulse to be witlessly condescending.

Yes, indeed. Bill, you should read this (or perhaps you already have):

A lot of people here are talking about the rising cost of housing being a major impediment.

I just don't see it that way. Housing costs are not that insane barring some parts of the country - NYC Manhattan, Bay area.

Even in a place as upscale as Jersey City (where I live), you can get a spacious 1 bedroom house to rent for $2500. That's not bad at all. You can afford that rent on a household income as low as $120K even.

The problem is that people place a higher value on frills and luxuries than child rearing. Vacations for instance matter a great deal to a lot of people. Expensive ones. And these discretionary spend items reduce the appetite to spend a larger proportion of your salary on housing and child care.

And I am often told that vacations are necessary for a good education.

That's BS.

Give your kid a bunch of books to read. That's much better bang for the buck than spending several tens of thousands of dollars on vacation every year.

Vaccinations make it more difficult for people to pass diseases between each other. Therefore the probability any given student of being impregnated with one is reduced. This increases the time available for study. It is beneficial both to the students and for society as a whole.

Median household income for the New York metro area is about $72,000 per year.

"Median household income for the New York metro area is about $72,000 per year." EXACTLY!! Try paying $2500 a month in rent on that, it ain't easy. Give me a break, this board is obviously from the higher end of the income bracket.

"Even in a place as upscale as Jersey City (where I live), you can get a spacious 1 bedroom house to rent for $2500. That’s not bad at all. You can afford that rent on a household income as low as $120K even."

This is something from the Goldman-Sachs Elevator twitter account, right?

A household income of $150k is not as high as it sounds. If both spouses are working. And if they can coax their working parents to live with them as well by finding a job nearby.

Because the desire of any male adult is to have his mother living with him :)

This is one of the best posts in the thread. How much of the lack of help for grandparents due to the fact that the parents don't really want to spend that much time with the grandparents? I know that my in-laws decided not to live anywhere within a four hundred mile radius of their parents (for understandable reasons, as one set of parents were probably narcissists/sociopaths, and the other set evangelical Christians who never accepted the fact that my in-laws aren't Christians, i.e. would try to convince my in-laws that they should convert because if they didn't they were going to hell not infrequently).

Median income in New Jersey is $71,000. A household who makes $150k is rich, in any part of the country. Not extremely rich, but definitely rich.

2016 median income for households with children in New Jersey was 95k. Certainly 2 earner households will earn more (on average), but I'm not sure they will on average earn 150k. And good luck raising kids in a one bedroom "house" and maintaining your sanity. You could definitely do it with 2-bedrooms though. But I do think I was a little quick to criticize. Mea culpa.

$2500/month "isn't bad at all"? Really?

1) While $2500/month may be theoretically affordable on $120k/year this is not advisable, especially with children. A six-figure household likely has two earners (even in NYC) so a substantial portion of your income is going to go towards daycare. You can completely forego vacations but you can't forego feeding and clothing your child and you shouldn't forego saving for emergencies and the future (both yours' and your child's).

2) As other commenters have pointed out, there is nothing "low" about a household income of $120k.

3) While you may be able to get by in a spacious-enough one-bedroom with a small child, at some point you are going to need to upgrade if you value your sanity. It's not a long-term proposition.

So OK you could probably get by doing this but your life would really suck. People generally do not want their lives to suck. Call me a liberal softie if you want, but I don't think this makes them weak, it makes them human (and what the hell is the point of all this economic advancement and progress we've had if life is just gonna suck?).

That $2500 is again something that can be brought down substantially but for liberal policies and cultural preferences.

Now we have that HUGE HUGE park called Central Park right in the middle of NYC. But for that damned park, my rent in Jersey City wouldn't be $2500, but closer to $2000, I bet.

Luxury goods like Parks, and gardens keep rents high by choking supply.

1 bedroom house. a) why you call that a house? , b) where do you put the kids?

'We", the economy, and society changed what is expected from women rather dramatically. A corresponding change of some significant sort needs to occur with regard to men and family generally.


Have a solid education up to high school. Manage the budget and vote fewer government fees on labor.

The last one is a killer. The more government insurance we use the higher the labor fees. High fixed labor fees make weak labor mobility, cause bottlenecks and risk..

Saving for retirement, whether by paying taxes or voluntarily saving, takes money away from the family.

the very best neighborhoods have become very costly positional goods

This argues against the first child, but if you have paid for the neighborhood then the marginal cost of sending the second or third child to public school is very small. (The case is obviously quite different with private schools.) So I don't see how this cuts against large families, per se, instead of instead against children at all.

Only if you throw all your kids in the same room.

Which was common practice in the US until maybe the 1980's. I certainly know that both of my parents shared rooms with their siblings, even when there were extra rooms available that could have served as an additional bedroom.

Re: cost, comparing one income to two, a woman with a high earning job can afford to outsource day time child care, home cleaning, and cooking. That doesn't cover all the tasks associated with kids, but it does help. She might also have the ability to work part time. A woman without that sort of earning potential can opt not to work and perform those tasks her self. Both of those also apply to husbands. As someone who has kids, the main costs are:

1. Quality primary and secondary school. As you point out, one needs to either live in a specific geographic area ("good schools") or pay for private education. Depending on where (city, not neighborhood) one lives, IMO, it's almost always better ROI to do the former. Especially if there are "magnet" campuses where one lives, e.g. essentially "free" private schools (if you can get in).

2. Paying for college. If someone is expecting to have to save up $200k per child for college, that's a big deal. I'm hoping my kids can score well enough on standardized tests to get a free ride (or near enough) to a quality state school. (Which is essentially what I did, and my wife). To the extent test scores are heritable, I'd say our odds are decent.

3. Time. Kids eat up all your time, unless you have a live-in nanny. You've got to get them dressed in the morning. Feed them. Take them to school/daycare. Take them to school events. Take them to after school activities. Shop for them. Entertain them on the weekends. Get them to actually go to bed at night. Etc. It would not shock me to learn that parents now spend more time on their kids than was previously the case. That doesn't make them harder to afford monetarily, but it does make the whole experience more exhausting and furthers the view that children are burdensome. Which, not surprisingly, leads to people having fewer kids.

Other considerations: Parents are now expected to pay health insurance for children to age 26 and have to pay for the more expensive family policy rather than a cheaper self+1 plan.

The erasure of gender roles means among other things that every family decision is a negotiation with increased transaction costs.

Men are being trained into greater submissiveness - see The Guardian article on Alaskan shipyard workers today. Overall its my impression that the research is showing people are just not having as much sex.

And don’t count out biological factors. Sperm count is down and people are more likely to live in increasingly denser concentrations in which we are evolutionarily programmed to reproduce less.

I have 2 kids in northern VA. Plenty of decently paying jobs, you can get childcare for about $1k per month per child if you don't have family around (which you should probably just live near family). Just don't buy a house in McLean or Great Falls and you can easily afford 3 kids.

Only $1k a month?! That's considered cheap? If you're making 70k a year, the take home pay after taxes and everything is going to be about 3500/ month. You've just spent over a quarter of your income on child care. How do you save anything at that price?

You only pay child care until they start elementary school. If you're making good decisions, you've saved some before you have kids, but if you haven't, you can always save later.

Here's some context. For 2016, US median household income was 59k, for households with children it was 68k. Given that the median household for northern VA counties is more than 85k (for a broad definition of northern VA) and that households with kids have higher incomes, I imagine that median household income for households with children is higher than 85k.

Here is the average childcare cost by state (2014):

Here is the median income for households with children (includes 2014):,573,869,36,868/any/365

The median household income data lumps 2 earners with single earners. I would guess single earners make less (on average), but then you don't have to pay for daycare. And while 2-earner households have to pay for daycare, they probably also make more (on average) than the median.

Having kids (while costly) is not unaffordable. Are there some families who will struggle if they have kids? Sure. But those families can take advantage of the safety net.

$1K per month is still crazy. Think of all the stuff you can buy with an extra $1K per month.

A vacation ... or two.
Endless amounts of new audio/visual entertainment or computer equipment.
Nice furniture.
Savings for a down payment on a house.
A remodel of a bathroom, installation of a deck, various other home improvements.
College savings funds for same children.
A new car every couple of years.

$1K a month is a LOT.

What I really want actually is to find a daycare or preschool that takes kids only 1-2 days per week, so my husband can have a day off. But that's nearly impossible to find. I've commented about this before. The market seems to offer premium services, but not mid-range or low-end offerings. There just isn't anything out there for part-time workers or people who don't want to spend money on The Best early-childhood education.

Bear in mind northern VA is a high childcare cost area. There are plenty of part-time daycare programs too.

Also, while 1k per month per child is a lot, it's for 5 years and then it's about 1/3 of that on average.

"A vacation … or two. Endless amounts of new audio/visual entertainment or computer equipment. Nice furniture. Savings for a down payment on a house. A remodel of a bathroom, installation of a deck, various other home improvements. College savings funds for same children. A new car every couple of years."

You won't want to do that many vacations with the kids that young anyway, save before you have kids, live with something that is not the newest thing. To me AV equipment, new bathroom, deck, etc., are luxuries that can wait or maybe not even bother with (I don't think 90 percent of the people who rave about the latest and greatest speakers can really tell the difference between that and 2nd tier AV equipment). College savings can come after daycare, and your kid can pay for part of college themselves... let them have some skin in the game.

Think about what is important in life, and pursue those goals. If having kids and a house is important, then live frugally to save the money for those things (you could even take a couple of European vacations while accomplishing that). It is really not that hard. If you get a job making 35k or 40k out of undergrad (those were easy to get in low cost of living places when I graduated), you should certainly be able to save up enough (especially if your significant other is also saving and has an equally mediocre paying job) for a down payment plus some. Just go easy on the avocado toast and you'll be fine.

Sure it does. It's called in-home child care.

@Hazel Meade
Don't you have drop in childcare where you live? Maybe they won't take your kids for a full day, but I know that when my daughter's preschool has a teacher workday, we take her to the closest drop in childcare center and they are fine with watching her for 6 hours, and the hourly rate that we pay is 6$ an hour (we did have to buy a package to get that rate).

You guys all have it wrong. It is about personal belief in the future. Is life worth living? Does God want you to be 'fruitful and replenish the Earth'? Do you have a moral responsibility to create and nurture life? What you believe about these questions make concerns of housing, education, taxes, and childcare seem positively trite. I've witnessed numerous individuals who all had some strong belief in a divine plan walk away from enormous salaries and careers, all to be single income households raising children.

Hear, hear! Finally someone said the obvious.

Getting to this thread late, but I don't think it's really about the cost or difficulty of raising a kid in today's world. Am I really supposed to feel sorry for six figure income young professionals when, in the past, both my ancestors and their ancestors reproduced at above replacement rates while dealing with famine, war, pestilence, and poverty? Real estate prices in major cities are bad, but not that bad.

What we've got here is hedonism, pure and simple. People no longer feel a duty of any kind to reproduce, and since reproduction is in many ways inconvenient they simply avoid doing it. The cost of daycare or the quality of urban public schools provides a good excuse to give to coworkers or would-be grandparents, but at the end of the day it's about an unwillingness to sacrifice for the greater good.

We don't need abstract ideals of ancestors, just look at present day Zimbabwe. They are above replacement rates while dealing with famine, war, pestilence and poverty.

Your ancestors saw children as a net asset - and they were correct about that. Today's young professionals see children as a net burden - and they're correct about that, too.

Sacrificing for the greater good has nothing to do with it, and never did.

Most people still have kids-- just fewer of them. And since, thankfully, childhood death is rare, the need to have many children to ensure some survival is no longer a factor.

I'm also late to this discussion, but I'll insert the perspective of an academic in a very affordable area that's routinely described as a great place to have kids, that I'm amazed by the significant fraction of my colleagues who do not have children. (I'm very happy that I do.) I don't really know why, but I would speculate that this is due largely to: (i) an impression that one must display an intense focus on one's career, and that children are a distraction from this. (I see no correlation, though, between childlessness and professional activity, and perhaps an anti-correlation.) (ii) getting to a stable point in one's career taking an increasingly long time, both within and without academia, which for women especially raises obvious challenges. (iii) a large emphasis on "hip" leisure pursuits that aren't really compatible with spending a Saturday afternoon at the park with a four-year old (though the latter is often more fun). Of these, I think (ii) is the most important, followed by (iii). Affordability has nothing to do with it, and at least for the people I know, it is not an issue.

Treasure those afternoons in the park with your 4 year old. They are truly the gold of life. When one looks back on your life, few people will regret not having spent more time at the office.

She didn't get tenure until she was 39, ergo one last-ticket-out-of-the-train-station kid.

One childless spinster faculty member of my acquaintance received tenure at age 33. She lived in a college town where you had a choice of other faculty (many already married), administrators (many already married), the local business and professional men (all already married), a commuter relationship with someone you met at a conference (done more often than you think in that town), &c. The local wage earners weren't much of an option (she had the wrong manners and interests). She was basically an introvert whose social skills were well developed....for professional settings only.

Tangential comment: I once heard someone say that a childless person saying they don't want children is a bit like a virgin claiming to be uninterested in sex. Don't knock it if you haven't tried it!

I wonder what percentage of parents have more than one kid nowadays? Maybe that would be the best measure of if kids really are something that people want.

Cars. it’s expensive to buy a car that can take more than 2-3 kids with legal car seats.

Used corolla does just fine with two kids. When the third comes along the oldest can fit in a booster in the middle (unless you're popping out 1 per year... in that case your inability to use birth control is the issue)... problem solved. You can also get a 2010 honda odyssey with 79k miles from carmax right now for $12k. It's seriously not that expensive to get a car that fits 3 kids, let alone 2.

Get a used minivan. We rented one once for a family trip, and whoa. They may not be perfect, but they’re close.

All my cars since have been minivans. I recommend the ones with seats that fold into the floor. When the seats are up, there’s extra room for luggage. When they’re down, you can fit 4x8 sheets of whatever, or 2x10s, or you can load in 20 80 pound bags of cement.

They’re the perfect compromise for the big family. I had this conversation with a friend who is also a recent convert to minivanism a couple weeks ago.

Swallow your pride. Get a Grand Caravan.

"More than 2-3"?

But yes, used cars exist

Misread that. So maybe the used Odyssey is the way to go with 4-5 kids, but maybe you should get a vasectomy after that.

From George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, 115 years ago:

ANA. At all events, let me take an old woman’s privilege again, and tell you flatly that marriage peoples the world and debauchery does not.

DON JUAN. How if a time comes when this shall cease to be true? Do you not know that where there is a will there is a way–that whatever Man really wishes to do he will finally discover a means of doing? Well, you have done your best, you virtuous ladies, and others of your way of thinking, to bend Man’s mind wholly towards honorable love as the highest good, and to understand by honorable love romance and beauty and happiness in the possession of beautiful, refined, delicate, affectionate women. You have taught women to value their own youth, health, shapeliness, and refinement above all things. Well, what place have squalling babies and household cares in this exquisite paradise of the senses and emotions? Is it not the inevitable end of it all that the human will shall say to the human brain: Invent me a means by which I can have love, beauty, romance, emotion, passion without their wretched penalties, their expenses, their worries, their trials, their illnesses and agonies and risks of death, their retinue of servants and nurses and doctors and schoolmasters.

THE DEVIL. All this, Senor Don Juan, is realized here in my realm.

DON JUAN. Yes, at the cost of death. Man will not take it at that price: he demands the romantic delights of your hell whilst he is still on earth. Well, the means will be found: the brain will not fail when the will is in earnest. The day is coming when great nations will find their numbers dwindling from census to census; when the six roomed villa will rise in price above the family mansion; when the viciously reckless poor and the stupidly pious rich will delay the extinction of the race only by degrading it; whilst the boldly prudent, the thriftily selfish and ambitious, the imaginative and poetic, the lovers of money and solid comfort, the worshippers of success, art, and of love, will all oppose to the Force of Life the device of sterility.

Affording kids is all about choices. My wife and I have 4 kids under 7, and she does not work. We lived in Seattle last year and moved to Dublin Ireland in August. We have zero debt, own a house in the states and rent in Ireland. We don't own cars in Ireland as they don't honor the US license and I don't want to do drivers ed again. Since moving here in August we went from zero in checking to an average daily balance of 10k last month; based only on my income here in Ireland of about 90k a year taxed at 42%. In that time we've paid for flights and trips for 6 to London ( we all got sick and had to ball none refundable lame), Barcelona ( 4 nights), Berlin ( 4 nights), London again ( booked 4 nights in May money already out of the account) and the big one back to the states this month @ 3k in tickets.

We don't eat out much, we don't owe anyone / pay interest, we don't spend money on things we don't need that don't a provide a good ROI. We'd rather walk around and explore a city then take a tour and pay to stand in line some where, we cut our own hair, shop at thrift stores or sales, Read we are frugal. Even in the states wife did not work. In the states our cars were paid for in cash, we had no credit card debit, and we built our own house with our own bare hands out of cash; it took 3+ years and we lived in a fifth wheel with 2-3 kids for part of it, but it was all paid for. We made the choices to have kids, and we worked out how to afford our choice and how to be happy.

Why four kids -- We watched the intro to idiocracy a few too man times and decided we needed to have more vs fewer kids to combat Clevon. We'd have more kids but we hit 40 this year and that was our stop having kids cut off.

Spend 700$ a month on car payment, 500$ on month on eating out, 500$ a month on amazon, 2000$ on a house payment, buy alcohol and other vices for hundreds a month, ETC and shit adds up fast and you wonder how you can even afford yourself. Don't have a car payment, or house payment, eat out less, don't drink and smoke and the numbers are completely different. We have a huge rent payment in Ireland that was the biggest hit moving here. Going from paying property taxes to 2800 a month in rent hurt. But we rented a huge house and rent a room out for 600 a month; which helps off set costs. The house is walking distance to work, grocery, train, and kids school - the higher rent facilities the no care life style. We could live further out and pay half the rent but we would need 2 cars. We chose higher rent over cars.

I wish you and your kids the joy that comes from having one another.

When hearing “Have you brushed your teeth?” “Yes, twice!” makes you really happy, I think you’ve made it.

In the U.S.A., at least, the last thing one would want is a son. A daughter is ideal. Just one. That wins over all other scenarios, including not having children.

Yes, but then your problem becomes everyone else's sons.

In the U.S.A., at least, the last thing one would want is a son.

Pleasant sort, aren't you?

I have three kids, what Tyler says is true.

I would not give up my kids for all the money in the world, but if at the end of my life I got a chance to re-live it in an alternate universe, I'd not have kids again.

I’ll submit a cancelling vote. I’d have had more.

This literally makes no sense.

With rising life expectancy, non-child family care obligations have increased significantly. The long-term rewards of having children may not be commensurately higher if my utility function stays pretty low once I get a life-limiting condition.

I forgot to add a related point. Life expectancies for developmentally disabled children are also a lot higher now. Parents who choose to have children with genetic or other illnesses face the prospect of changing their lives forever to provide 24-hour care for one of their dependents, who is likely to outlive them. While there are obvious improvements to the kids' quality of life from medical progress in many other ways, the latter impact of life expectancy in particular is pretty scary for those prospective parents.

Get rid of public unions.

BTW, people overlook the fact that, in many families, the US government is one of the parents. This means higher taxes on two-parent families. End the welfare state, and a lot of the problem is solved.

Divorce rates are still high and this might put a damper on family formation. A man with good income and the ability to be a good parent might think twice given divorce courts that tend to favor the woman on alimony, child support and custody.

This (otherwise terrific) comment thread also has not asked why some ethnic groups vs, others do have plenty of kids with no apparent problem. It's been a pretty whiteocentric discussion

Just out of interest, what is the ethnic mix of those commenting on this thread?

I think there are lots of good explanations above, but I didn't see the biggest one in my opinion: Families are being pushed off later into life due to college educations, student loans, getting careers started, etc.

It used to be that a man would go to college get a degree, then marry someone (often someone slightly younger). That person would be in charge of raising the family - a project they would start on right away. Or in the blue collar case, people would often marry right out of high school or within a couple of years of graduation, and by the time they were 25 would already have two or three kids.

But now, men and women both go to college. They get out, maybe saddled with debt, and both embark on careers. It's not usually until you are 30 or so that you might be secure enough ina career to take time off to have a child. At that point, almost half of a woman's healthy child-bearing years are already behind her.

Add in student loans and the need to move away from your familial support structure to further your career, and having more than one or two children is very difficult to achieve.

Here's a cite that backs this up:

That says that over half of women now have their first child at age 30 or older. That's double what it was in the 80's. More shocking is that for the first time, more women in their late 30's are having children than are women in their early 20's.

We can add into that the fact that children are living at home longer and delaying adulthood. When I was a young adult, it was almost unheard of to still be living at home when you were 25 or older, unless you were in college. Certainly you were expected to have moved out and started your own life by age 30. Today, 1/3 of adults in Canada between the ages of 20 and 34 still live with their parents. 13.5% of people between the ages of 30 and 34 still live with their parents!

I think there is something deeper going on here as well. Helicopter parenting and our excessive sheltering of youth have left them wholly unprepared to take on the burdens of being adults in a free society. Student loans, safety nets, and wealthier parents have enabled them to just stay in the nest, probably far longer than is good for them or for society.

Young people live with their parents because it is wasteful to live alone. They delay family formation because they can - fertility is higher now, why spend your youth raising kids when you can probably have them at a more financially stable time? Is child regret a huge movement now among middle-aged women? Because I've seen a lot more about sexual harassment - so maybe bad behaviour by (a small number of) men is a more plausible explanation.

"Fertility is higher now"??

Fertility not TFR. There's not much scientific evidence for cell phones / plastics killing male fertility, and plenty of evidence that technologies are being deployed to help fertility among the 38+ age cohort.

I'll just add my own personal $0.02 here.

While my wife and I both worked when we were younger (and didn't have children), I didn't feel like we could really consider affording children until I was about 32-33 years old. My wife and I married around age 22-23 and after college moved to Nashville and both worked in white-collar careers. I remember working so hard just to "make it" for the longest time - focusing all of my energy on career. At around age 30 we were able to save up enough to have down-payment for a house (also with help from the stock market). We were living frugally, driving old used vehicles and using hand-me-down furniture - but there's just a lot of overhead. I remember telling my mom around 32 years old that only then did I feel like I could take care of myself without as much worry, but it did still feel like a struggle. If we were going to have kids that might've been the time, but there was no doubt that it was all precarious even then.

I guess to me it would've felt irresponsible to have children before that point, but risky still. I think prior to that I was trying to reach some type of expectation - and it was never stressed growing up that having a family was part of the path - so I never had it as part of "the plan." And probably 32 yrs old is close to being "too late." It was pretty clear at that point that we didn't want children, and my wife was sure of it because she was so stressed with her parents and sister that she felt like she'd already raised a family. But I do wonder how many paths out there were similar to mine. The window for having kids seemed to be so tight, and even then I was just barely to the point of getting my feet under myself financially.

Oddly, about 5 years after that I was on very strong financial footing, and now at age 48 am very comfortable financially. It's almost as if from the late 30s onward suddenly there was quite a bit of excess, but prior to that it was so tight. The change seemed to come fast, but I think the promotions and salary increases just started happening and the compounding of all that kicked in. But by the time that happens it's too late to consider family.

Almost makes you wonder how all the poor people do it

Perhaps evolution does not favor responsibility and prudence. Seriously, maybe it's not a winning trait.

Well, this post has been absolutely fascinating for revising my opinions about how old various commentators here are.

I'm stunned that nobody seems to have considered care responsibilities for their parents. It's coming for you too, people!

What does that have to do with anything?

Alice and Bob are identical twins, except that Bob has to care for a relative, who has dementia, for fifteen years. (A) Alice is going to have a higher-utility fifteen years than Bob, I'm afraid, though everyone will signal praise for Bob at the funeral. (B) Then Bob will probably have no financial future if she doesn't have some kind of pre-existing security from her thirties, or gets a house in the will. (C) These kinds of outcomes are more likely than ever before and increase both Alice's and Bob's expected value of overall family care duties.

Some ideas:

1. Limit your education to a bachelors, so you aren't spending till your mid 30s in school accruing debt and losing years of earning potential as well as time spent finding the one you love. This means...
2. Realize children are more important than upper-middle class knowledge worker's silly mores and status games. You spend an enormous amount of time and energy on them, like...
3. Try and not live in absurdly expensive cities in order to chase high status but low life-fulfilling goals. Like the ones in the rest of the USA. It's a bit easier when you pay 1/2 to 1/3 of your income on rent.
4. If you are a woman, realize that in the end, it's possible to live an incredibly fulfilling life without a full-time career. Again, it;s a lot easier to raise kids when you aren't dumping 25k per year hiring someone to do it for you.
5.Educate your kids, but avoid the massive and ridiculous spending and time effort that results in the upper middle classes version of the educational hunger games. It's so much easier when you aren't trying to make your kid a one percenter.

The word "afford" is nearly useless the way people use it. I'm always point that out.

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.

Part of the economists' job today should be to explain to people how little, if at all, better schools matter.

IMO having read a lot about this, there are very very few bad schools in the developed countries though there are lots of schools full of bad students.

Oh and they all should read this:

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