Friday, May 27, 2011

Author Urges Parents to Go Forth and Multiply . . . More Often

My latest pop culture column this week over on Modern Mom and Mommy Tracked is my response to reading Bryan Caplan's book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.

Caplan used a multi-pronged approach to try to persuade parents who already have kids to have more. "Today's Typical Parents artificially inflate the price of kids, needlessly worry and neglect the long-run benefits of larger families," Caplan argues. Some of his main points:

If you chill out, being a parent is fun and not excessively hard (except for the very beginning). We've made child-rearing overcomplicated by all of our hovering, carting children around to a bazillion things and vigorously pursuing kid-enrichment efforts, Caplan says. After pointing to a whole bunch of studies saying that parents' child-rearing doesn't wind up having much impact by the time the kids are grown -- except how they perceive you and their childhood -- he said there's no point in making ourselves crazy by trying so hard. ". . . [B]y adulthood, the fruits of parents’ labor is practically invisible," he wrote. "Children who grew up in enriched homes are no smarter than they would have been if they’d grown up in average homes."

And if you take this more relaxed view of parenting and just enjoy your kids, adding another one won't be such a big deal. Or so Caplan says.

We, as a society, are more well off than the larger families were in the 1950s, so why are we letting financial concerns stop us from having bigger families? Caplan says: "Big families are more affordable than ever, because we’re more than three times richer than we were in 1950. You can see our mounting riches in our homes. Compared to the tiny dwellings of the Fifties, modern families live in castles, with air conditioning. Why hasn’t the size of our families grown in step with the size of our houses?” He added “our real incomes have more than tripled since the 1950s."

(My respon$e would be one word: College.)

"How many kids will I want when I'm sixty?" His pull-at-your-heartstrings admonition is for parents not to determine their family size when they're overly fatigued by raising young kids, a phase which he says passes relatively swiftly when you look at the general scheme of things. Instead, the author wants you to imagine that you're 60 and are looking at your offspring -- and potential makers of grandkids -- and decide your ideal family size from that vantage point. "Many of the benefits of children come later in life," he said. "Kids have high start-up costs, but wise parents weight their initial sleep deprivation against a lifetime of future rewards -- including future grandchildren."

More kids means more people with new ideas, outlooks and talents eventually entering the workplace and supporting the nation's retirees. "Our population and our standards of living have risen side by side for centuries, and it's no coincidence," he said. ". . . The source of new ideas, without a doubt, is people -- creative talent to make discoveries, and paying customers to reward their success. More talent plus more customers equals more ideas and more progress."

After reading this book, I was intrigued by the studies which he said showed that parents' child-rearing has little impact on their children's intellect, future financial/career success and personalities, but I was still stuck on the whole issue of the cost of college, which I didn't think was sufficiently addressed in the book. His notion, that Americans should have more children than we do, seems contrary to the assertions made by many groups including environmentalists and feminists.

What do you think? Should we be having more kids or not? Do we make parenting too hard and discourage ourselves from expanding our families?

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