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PH got $100 in Chapters money from his workplace for being generally awesome, and I used part of my share to pick up a book I’ve been eyeing for a while:

Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids

It seemed apropos, since PH and I are starting to think about committing this insanity again. I liked the Freakonomics sort of look to it, since I really enjoyed NurtureShock, which is also full of wacky thought-provoking research.

It was interesting, if not as convincing.

Really, this book isn’t going to convince you to have more kids if you don’t want more kids. His only real argument in favour of kids is that if you enjoy the one or two you have, you’ll probably enjoy a third or fourth as well.

It’s mostly just full of stuff to convince you to commit to it if you’ve already been tossing around the idea by poo-poohing a lot of common reasons NOT to have more kids.

Objections that he lays to rest through careful logic:

Myth 1: Kids are too costly, time-wise and financially speaking.

He argues that kids are only time consuming because we make them that way. While the baby years are unavoidably filled with work, he says that people over invest their time and money in their kids these days, by spending thousands on organized sports and lessons rather than let them run off and play on their own.

According to his statistics, the average working mother still spends as much or more time actively parenting her children than the average home maker did back in the 50s.

As Hannah over at Hodgepodge and Strawberries once pointed out, scheduled activities really eat into your time – organized sports and the like are a parental time-suck that hardly existed a few decades ago.

When I was a child, things were different. For one thing, North America was covered by glaciers. For another thing, when it came to sports, we kids were pretty much on our own [….] We rode our bikes to the field, played the game, and rode our bikes home.

At dinner our parents might ask us how the game went, but they might not. It was no a big deal either way. We didn’t expect the grown ups to think it was all that important. We didn’t think it was all that important. It was Little League.

If an adult had appeared at the Wampus ball field and spend an entire game yelling at the players, everybody would have thought that person was a lunatic” – Dave Barry, I’ll Mature When I’m Dead

So Bryan Caplan says that parents spend so much time taking their kids back and forth to organized activities and trying to have “quality time” that they end up cheating themselves out of the joy of more children.

He isn’t telling parents not to sign their kids up for anything, but points out that if you cancelled the one or two lessons a week that you kid really hates going to, you might have time for another kid.

Myth 2: Kids need to be supervised to be safe

Caplan buys into the Freerange Kids philosophy, and even quotes from that book. He argues that today`s children are the safest in the history of ever, and that the chance of your child actually being kidnapped from the playground across the street is so remote that it isn`t worth you losing a lot of sleep (and time) over it.

He encourages parents to let their kids roam free, so that parents can have some downtime and be less stressed and more able to actually enjoy being parents when the kids come back inside.

Myth 3: Over-parenting can change your child`s life

This may be his most challengeable argument. He says there’s no point in spending a lot of time on one individual kid, because twin studies (he’s big on identical twin studies) show that separated twins raised by different parents still turn out pretty much the same. Thus, your children’s futures are largely genetically determined, and as long as you help them reach their full potential by feeding them nutritious food and loving them well, they’ll be just fine. Investing hours and hours on flash cards and piano lessons won’t actually have much of a measurable effect on who they are.

Personally, I found this to be a slightly odd argument. He’s trying to convince me that I should parent more kids, while convincing me that my parenting doesn’t make a lick of difference.

The point he should have made clear, is this:

If I want to have a child who turns out to be brilliant or famous, or good at music, or good at science, having more children improves my odds more than simply trying to turn my single kid into a prodigy. I know what it is to be the only child, and thus the seat of all hope and disappointment. I think THAT would be a great argument to have more kids, but I actually heard it from my mother when I was a teen.

I also felt really bad for adoptive parents when reading his twin studies, because he makes you feel like a total lame-duck parent, just a sparrow raising a cuckoo. But he does go on to say that if you do really want your parenting to make a difference, you should adopt from the 3rd world, because you will really be giving them a noticeably different and better life and helping them reach a potential they would not have reached in an African orphanage.

So there’s that.

Myth 4: We have too much population already

Caplan fights this argument with an economist’s point of view: more population is better, he says, because a higher population can support more people with fewer dollars spent per person. Sort of like Wal-Mart.

As the baby boomer generation ages and the younger population shrinks, the taxpayer burden gets heavier because fewer workers are around to help pay pensions for all of those old people. We’re like an upside down pyramid. Instead, the younger population should be larger, so that each person contributes a small amount of money while providing MORE social services to those who need it.

He also points out that our environmental and poverty problems are not a matter of how many people are in the world, but how unfairly the wealth is distributed and how messy our technology is. He points out that the best way to solve our current problems is to have some visionaries invent cleaner technology, more ways to use our world sustainably, and better ways to share the world’s wealth.

He says the best way to increase our chances of producing the next world-saving genius is simply to produce more people. It’s like buying more lottery tickets to improve your chances of hitting the jackpot.

I actually found this a convincing argument. I have always said that intelligent people SHOULD breed, because higher IQ is correlated to a lower birth rate, probably due to things like foresight, and putting off children until a higher level of education has been completed.

But since IQ is at least partially inherited, filling the world with more stupid people than smart people seems like a great way to not only supply morons like Akin as potential leaders, but to idiots to vote for them as well.

Ultimately, I can’t say this book convinced me to have more kids.

It spent far too much time trying to convince me that my parenting doesn’t matter in the long run (even he couldn’t argue that parenting doesn’t make a HUGE difference in the short-term, resulting in either a pleasant well-balance kid or a crazy brat), which was hurtful and not particularly inspiring (yes! I want to have more children who I will be unable to influence on a long term basis!) and not enough time on arguments like:

  • The more kids you have, the more likely you will be to produce the musical/scientific/literary genius you always wanted.
  • The more kids you have, the fewer taxes per person everyone else will have to pay in the future.
  • The more kids everyone has, the better a chance that someone will come along to straighten out the oil barons.

The book is full of interesting statistics, research and data, but it’s not very convincingly written. However, I am inclined to check out that Free Ranged Kids book, since he quotes from it constantly and seems to get a lot of his data from there as well. 

He also promotes cry-it-out and I sometimes get the feeling from him that he is against abortion (he spends a lot of time arguing that you owe it to your future children to let them be born, which sounds suspiciously pro-life). That, plus his economist’s arguments for increasing the population, made the book feel a tad right-wing, and I wasn’t overly comfortable with it. 

I would say that Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids makes some interesting points, but isn’t very convincing, because he can’t argue the fact that people with small children are overall less happy than people who don’t have kids at all.

All he can really do to fight that is point out that people who have children are happier and more satisfied with their lives 20 years down the road.

That’s nice to know, but it doesn’t help me when I’m wondering how much more sleep my husband can lose without turning into The Hulk.