“The Case Against Kids,” Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, 4/9/2012
Most of our generation assumes parenthood is universally desired and deeply satisfying, but in a famous study in 2004, surveyed women would rather shop, eat, exercise, watch TV, or talk on the phone than take care of their children. Caring for children only ranked above housework, which is mostly cleaning up after the little rascals, anyway. This is no surprise to modern women.
Research shows that people who do have children are no more satisfied with their lives than those who have none. Children require a lot of work and sacrifice, so why does anyone desire them? One thought is that procreation is programmed into us by evolution. Everyone alive today is descended from a long line of people who did reproduce successfully. People without that desire to reproduce soon died out.
My parents came from families of six and seven children. My own family is two children. The separation of sex from procreation in today’s world allows couples to decide for themselves how many children to have—if any—but there is little guidance on how to make that choice.
One theory is based on our tendency to think only of the present and ignore the future. At age thirty, we may feel one child would provide enough benefits without interfering with our social and economic goals. At forty, with more free time and money, two would be optimum. At fifty, all our children will be busy with their own lives and four would be nice. At sixty, we want to enjoy grandchildren and five children would be sure to provide many. Therefore, the theory suggests the best number of children to have would be three, the average of these stages.
Others have observed that three is way more trouble than two, much more than the 1/3 more that you would expect. The world is geared for families of four: restaurant tables seat four, cars seat four comfortably. And the dynamics change. As the old saying goes, two’s company, three’s a crowd.
Global population is expected to hit eight billion by 2025, and any higher would begin to have horrific consequences. How many children will couples want then? We may get to see what happens.