The Economic Reason for Having Just One Child

The world will tell you that money shouldn't be a factor in deciding to have more children. But should we really have to justify wanting to preserve our resources?

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One recent night, my daughter Dahlia and I popped out for pizza, and while we were chatting over our slices, CBS Evening News came on the television suspended over the counter. We sat transfixed by a segment on a massive number of homeless families that have settled in a makeshift community in the California desert. Dahlia chewed thoughtfully as she watched a father tell the reporter about how he had worn a tie to work until six months ago, when he lost everything and had no choice but to move there with his three kids. Then she shifted her eyes to me and asked, “Mama, that won’t be us because there’s only one of me instead of three?”

She’s on to something. According to the USDA, a child born in 2011 will cost an average of $234,900 to raise to age 18. If your household income is over $100,000, you can raise that number to about $390,000. Yes, there are some savings after the first child — you don’t have to buy another high chair! — but it’s not as though you get a huge volume discount on subsequent offspring. There are also opportunity costs of a mother’s loss of income from parental leave, scaling back hours or dropping out of the workforce entirely. No wonder, according to the USDA, two-parent households with two children devote over one-third of their income to their kids. Add it all up and there’s a strong economic case for stopping at one child.

And yet the world will tell you — from grandmothers to sitcoms to strangers in the supermarket — that money shouldn’t be a factor in deciding to have more children. If you express concern about how much children cost, then you’ve clearly got your priorities wrong. You’ll make it work, they tell you. Don’t be selfish. (I wrote about this and other stereotypes of parents with singletons in a cover story for TIME.)

There’s a popular theory of economics that contends that there’s really no difference between deciding to raise a child and making any other investment. Kids, like anything else, the thinking goes, are a form of capital that yield a future flow of valuable services. Which, if you have land to farm, makes perfect sense; less so, I’d say, in the modern world. If that’s how people make the choice to become parents and to have additional children, I’ve yet to meet any. However you might identify the impulse to bring a child into your family, to love and tend a new and growing life, it’s probably not a cost-benefit analysis.

But why do we need to present a rationale for the decision to devote our resources — whether they are financial or that ultimately luxury, time — to something other than children? What’s wrong with devoting your energy to one wonderful kid while sparing some to travel, maintain friendships, read a novel and be a more engaged citizen, not to mention not stretching yourself until you snap just to get your damn work done each week? Considering the greater flexibility that stopping at one kid allows, it’s no surprise that in a University of Pennsylvania study of 35,000 mothers, those raising only children were the happiest, with each additional child reducing a mother’s well-being.

(MORE: The New Science of Siblings)

Last week, our stove started to fail, and the three of us went to an appliance store to find a replacement. The salesman told me about people who come in week after week, armed with issues of Consumer Reports and cost comparisons. It occurred to me then, as it has many times before, that people agonize and weigh their options about such domestic choices much more than they do about the decision to have a second or third child.

If it’s what their hearts are telling them to do, I understand. But if it’s that culture aggressively recommends having more than one child, that’s another issue. If the stigma of raising an only child were to dissipate — and if parents didn’t feel shamed for wanting to use their precious resources elsewhere — perhaps people would make different choices. Perhaps they’d learn, like I have, that we don’t need to stretch ourselves more than we have to.

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275 comments
BettyAnn1
BettyAnn1

Exceed the poverty guidelines, then they will not want to have children because they will have to pay for their own damn food.....so then more illegals will flood america and then in 10 years the govt will say the same damn thing about the birth rate.....and so the cycle will continue until the politicians really do something smart about the economy!

BettyAnn1
BettyAnn1

I know china has a one child policy....but yet the Chinese have a population of 1.6 billion people, not sure how it got to be high if they only have A one child policy.

Anyway, I only have one child and I would like to have another one, but unfortunately, I live in nyc and don't make enough to afford another child, nor can I afford a babysitter for that child. My daughter is 11 years old already and I simply just can not afford it. More kids also are being forced to move back home with their parents because the job market is terrible and so are wages! The college graduate is suppose to move out and get a job right after college but instead they are stuck living at home until they are ready to move out, which usually isn't until years later.

The American govt is doing absolutely nothing to boost the economy, instead they want to allow illegals to take over the country and the politicians are saying that they have more kids, well if you make them legal, they will stop having children because then they will feel the force of all the taxes that they have to pay and then they will try to apply for foodstamps and they will now be turned down because they just might exc

john.a.12890
john.a.12890

Ok but having two children is good and it will not effect much economically and also it depends on parents whether they effort only one child or two.

Jothika
Jothika

My parents immigrated here from a Third World country and each came from a family of 8 children. None of my aunts or uncles, living in the First World, chose to have more than 3 children.

My few cousins who grew up in 1 child households were often raised close together for companionship.

These days, having seen "middle child" syndrome emerge among my cousin's families who have more than 2 children, I think large families deprive the middle children the chance to shine and enjoy their babyhood.

BillHees
BillHees

Let's see... the author has made the economic case for having the fewest children possible, yet she did not follow her own advice. She had a child and is proud of her choice.

Could it be that her child provides non-monetary value? And if so for a first child, why not for a second, third or fourth child (etc.)?

Notice the study she mentioned -- it found that women with more children than she has are less happy. Okay, so what about women with *fewer* children than she has, i.e. non-mothers? Are they more happy? Why weren't they included in the study?

Back to the economics, some of the biggest costs are from simply having children at all, regardless of the number:

* The career hit from working on the 'parent schedule' and less flexibility
* Perhaps one less income altogether
* Switching from individual or couple to family health insurance
* Moving to a family-style home and/or a good school district

Once you invest in all this setup, why use it just for one child? Seems pretty inefficient.


LS0909
LS0909

Adult children not visiting elderly parents risk lawsuits in China; this Law of Confucius will take effect on July 1, 2013.  Let us see whether this Law of Confucius can force children to visit their parents and do so with sincerity!
Pretty soon the Chinese government will not need to enforce One-Child-Policy as people will self-regulate themselves.
Why do I believe this will happen?
Married couples bring their children into the world in hopes of creating their own families.  If they knew that there is a high possibility that they would be discarded by their own children in the future, would they still want to sacrifice twenty years of their lives, energy, money, and emotions to raise children?
Human beings are motivated by nothing but self-interest.  When potential parents’ own interests are being threatened, they would enforce the law on themselves effectively without the need for the authorities to do so.

fmurphy80
fmurphy80

The news today was that 2012 was the first year where there where more deaths than births of white non-Hispanics occurred. Demographics is/ are destiny. Enjoy your extra vacation but your child and grandchild may not enjoy their status as a minority. Nor may the country as a whole prosper with the new majority. The implications of a one child generation are enormous on the macro level but enjoy you micro dessert while you can.

katbert411
katbert411

I have just one child and will only have one child.  There are a million reasons why this is the case - and none of them are really anyone else's business.  This is the right decision for our family - me, my husband, and our son.   Do you think I am lazy and selfish?  Guess what - I could not care less.  Because what you know about me from the fact that I have only one child... is that I only have one child.   If you choose to make a judgement about me on that premise alone, then your opinion is the very definition of ignorant.

Several people talk about all of the things that an only child misses out on - while ignoring that there are some very real gains for an only child, as well.   You could argue that one of five children, will miss out on many of the experiences that an only child will have.   I mean, I look at a large family and think, "How could you possibly devote enough one-on-one time to every child?"  Just as someone with five kids looks at my kid and thinks he is getting short-changed, I look at their children and feel the same.   Every path in life involves some type of sacrifice - a loss of some type of experience.   

There were a few comments about the "Precious Egg Syndrome" or the value of having "an heir and a spare".  I would like to hope that a parent who loses a child feels the same grief whether they have one child or 10.   To say that parents of one child will grieve more if something happens to their kid is to cheapen the relationship that parents have with multiple children.   I hardly think one of these parents who loses a child reacts with, "That's okay - I've got another."

I also think that several people have an issue with the fact that this article addresses the financial costs of having children, and are reacting in a visceral and emotional way.   It always uncomfortable to put a price on a family relationship (especially after you already have it).  I would agree that the experiences I have with my son are invaluable - regardless of how much we have spent on diapers over the last three years.  We all spend money on what we value (if we have the luxury to go beyond the necessities).  But, the fact that you can't buy love ... doesn't mean that it doesn't cost you financially.   And, why is someone selfish if they choose to not have more kids then they can comfortably afford?   I think that is smart, and the best for everyone. 

Many people responding to this article claim that the author is "justifying her decision", but isn't that the case for everyone with multiple kids?  I always love it when someone says I have four kids that turned out great... and the they list what jobs they do.   Being a lawyer means that you are well-educated, not well-adjusted.  I think we all know doctors and lawyers are a-holes.   In fact, I know that we ALL know someone with siblings who is a completely horrible person.  Not being an only child doesn't automatically bestow on you more social skills than being an only child.  A fact, I believe is proven by may commentators to this article.  (NOTE:  If you claim women who don't want to have lots and lots of babies will be the downfall of this country - all while making racist comments about minority groups - I don't exactly think you are making a case for children with siblings always turning out to be emotionally-stable, well-adjusted members of society.)

And, for those who keep bringing up China's One Child Policy - that is not relevant to this discussion.  That is the government making the choice about how many kids you can have - something that I do not believe anyone here is advocating.  This is about how many kids one chooses to have.  There is nothing about discussing the benefits of a decision to have only one kid (or to have multiple) that says everyone should be forced to limit their kids to one.  Let's not be melodramatic.

Of course, I guess if people weren't melodramatic (and occasionally horrible and racist), then it wouldn't be the internet...


MKM3277
MKM3277

I think the fact that so many people are mad about this article only proves that a stigma does exist against one child households. I physically cannot have another child, and I cannot recall how many times I have been chided for this. Without going into private and emotionally painful medical history, how do you explain to people that they do not have the right to comment on your own personal, and often, out of your hands, life choices? People really need to mind their own business and spend more time providing for all these children they believe in having, because our social programs and welfare issues are out of control.

emcourtney
emcourtney

The biggest problem I see with having only one child is there in no margin for loss.  Better to do like the royal's; an heir and a spare.

LadyinLA
LadyinLA

Am I the only one who hears China's One Child Policy echoing through this article?  I find it a little chilling.  

To be sure, having children involves costs... and more children "cost" more than fewer, but why an article stating the obvious?  Besides, anyone who already knows they want to have more than one child doesn't need to be persuaded out of it, surely.  Must they deny themselves the joy of a house with more than one child?  And I'm surprised to hear intimations of guilt on folks who choose to have only one child.  Hadn't heard that one before.

One point does resonate, however:  every woman who chooses to have a child takes on an economic risk that is unique to her and not shared by the father; and US and workplace policies have not caught up to that fact.  I would really like to see more articles about that.

jejema
jejema

Ok careful now this might blow your mind, but maybe, just maybe, it would be ok to not fill your body with chemicals or have it surgically altered to prevent a natural healthy process that sometimes occurs after intimate relations between the sexes. And maybe it would be ok to relax a little and enjoy life including children. Raise responsible, good children who care about others and you'll do the world a favor. Bring up one child to hoard his possessions and fear homelessness, never learning to share or care for others, and, well, that's part of the problem with the world today.

dejisugg
dejisugg

The problem with the European Union right now is that for decades people in Europe have been having one child, now as they face huge population declines in countries like the U.K., France, and Germany, they are forced to open their borders using immigration programs that are designed to help population declines without giving much consideration to proper immigration policies. Who am I to tell anyone to have more than one child? But, on the same token, I do not particularly enjoy the self-justification that people with one sole child always seem to be grasping at. It's cool that you are happy, but there are also a lot of families that have multiple children that consider themselves happy.

DanielHayes
DanielHayes

I read Lauren's new book.  It's too bad many of these people making comments about population decline and selfish parents did not.  Only children, starting from kindergarten(or pre-K), feel like outsiders because of their advanced language and conversational skills, causing many of them to accept, at an early age, a label on themselves that is untrue: that they are selfish and bossy because their parents stopped at one.  The accepted, and erroneous, cultural line goes something like this: "only children are doomed from birth to be unhappy, regardless of parental or community involvement, because they have had too much attention and never had to share".  Although this short article does strongly argue the case for one child families(the homeless anecdote at the beginning was a bit much), Lauren's goal in life is not to convince the world to have small families.  That type of one-size-fits-all answer would be as intellectually irresponsible as saying that everyone should have big families because the human race might die out.  Lauren simply wants to eliminate the stigma of having a one child family by showing that parents of big families are just as likely to screw up their kids as parents of singletons.  So keep on having big families, Lauren is happy for you, but stop judging and demeaning parents that choose to have just one child.  

gmonsen
gmonsen

Yes, sir, more pressure for fewer children.  That actually has happened over the years.  White, educated, fairly well-off Americans are have been having fewer and fewer children for a variety of reasons over the past 4 decades.  Less educated, less well-paid Hispanics and Blacks have much higher birth rates and no evidence of any slowing.  I suggest the author should stop writing in Time and start writing for Jet and Ebony.  They are the majority of the poor and they can least afford the children, yet they have absolutely no interest in having fewer children regardless of the consequences laid out by Lauren.  Just plain stupid.    

iamwaqar
iamwaqar

Very wise decision. Nowadays economy is so poor and inflation is so high that feeding multiple children is not that easy. Property is also shrinking. So its wise to have just one baby. By this we can give him proper education, attention and so on. 

Fully Agreed!!! 

brianjns
brianjns

if everything the author says is true, why bother having any kids at all?

GaryTschosik
GaryTschosik

All social welfare models are built on one generation providing more taxpayers than the next. This is bad news indeed.

EzekielRussell
EzekielRussell

A summary of this can be: 

1. "Having one child makes economic sense" Tell me about it. I have 4 and it doesn't make sense!

2. "Having a child costs 1/4 million"  Don't be silly :)  

3. "Don't tell me I am selfish if I have one child" Ok. Money money money I am not selfish money money money. 

4. "If we weren't judgmental, more people would have less kids" Bad idea. Birth ratio is 2.1 and if it goes under 2 society is not sustainable.

Good article though! It's an interesting topic I think, has a lot of potential, and it seems the writer has good intentions. But it got to go beyond money....into relationships, education issues with one or more children, even philosophical stuff - what is important in life? I love my 4 kids. They will not be a burden to anybody, nobody is. They will leave my house and live their life with great values: giving, loving, helping, working.  Heck, they may even try to change the world! 

rmj142
rmj142

A very wise decision Lauren. One of your off-spring in this world is more than enough.

wscott905
wscott905

    The quality of life is all about money? A lot of people reading this won't be a first child, but go ahead Liberals, go ahead.

Historybuff
Historybuff

Perhaps if we just change presidents, we will be able to avoid the Chinese solution.

A family needs money for children... the point of the article.   With obama and his socialist economics out of the way, the country can recover.

HB


pandjfillmore
pandjfillmore

We have raised 8 children, all college graduates ; doctors, business owners, engineers, teachers, musicians, and artists. I never remember boredom as one of the problems. They will provide much needed social security for many since they are all contributing members of society. They do humanitarian work in third world countries; provide neighborhood enrichment with mother-tot music groups, children's choral groups, dance lessons, piano and violin lessons. They are sharing their talents and worldly goods wherever they are. The world is a better and richer environment because they are in it. They enjoy being together and sharing with each other; all 8 children their spouses and 39 grandchildren. Is everything always easy and perfect? Of course not! But it is grand and wonderful all the same.

mertsj
mertsj

Peddle your slop to the Hispanics and blacks that are changing the country because of their large families.

Ransom_x
Ransom_x

$234000 for one kid???...why even have the one kid, not even considering just the money but also all the time you have to put into it.... Not to mention that there are already too many people in the world already.

Ransom_x
Ransom_x

$234000 for one kid....why even have the one kid, not even considering just the money but also all the time you have to put into it.... Not to mention that there are already too many people in the world already

dblevene
dblevene

Living in China with its One Child Policy gives you a different perspective. In China, they call all the only children "Little Emperors" and "Little Empresses" because they are so spoiled.  The One Child Policy is widely hated by the public and is sure to be abandoned in the next few years.  In any event, a healthy society, one that has hopes and dreams for the future, has lots of children and its growing. A dying society, one that has no hope and no future, doesn't have enough babies and is shrinking. See, e.g., Russia.  Which is the US? A society of hope for the future? Or a dying society, drawing into itself and closed to the future?  

dgdoesstuff
dgdoesstuff

Who's more "selfish": 

1. "Hmm... I won't have kids, therefore I should probably save up a lot of money, because when I'm 85, I'll be the one in charge of myself. That being said, given the ratio of people to jobs and the proliferation of automation, I will probably be fine, as long as nothing too crazy happens (WW3 or some such nonsense)"


2.  "Hmm... BABIES! Yeah, they'll take care of me... just like I'm taking care of? Wait. I'm not taking care of anyone. My parents have to pay for their own caretakers and live in Florida. Doh!"

SchylerEOsborne
SchylerEOsborne

Aren't the backward religious people keeping us back the ones having all the kids? It doesn't make sense to me that we should produce a fraction of the future voters that they are.

HannahWyn
HannahWyn

Wow. Cynical much? Monkeys feed one another and without complaining. Funny they should be more humane than humans. Food should be free for everyone. Just like healthcare and higher education. But why would we do that!? We need to send more jobs overseas and build more robots. The less people employed in our country the better, right?

realgone222
realgone222

@fmurphy80 I understand your point and it concerns me too, however whites will become a minority regardless. Having a 2,3,4 kid family will only delay the inevitable by a few years.

readwriteandblue
readwriteandblue

I am trying to tread lightly here incase you are a real person, So as the parent of only 1 child, loss is not something you consider.

The very thought of it is beyond consideration. I don't know that having 2 children would mean I would feel differently. but as i only have one i can can tell you, your comment is not something that i believe parents spend time dwelling on. They would go out of their minds if they did

jejema
jejema

btw do not mean to imply that an only-child is necessarily brought up badly, it depends on the parents, not the number of children. but sometimes having siblings can help us learn to be generous and caring.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@jejema Be careful that this doesn't blow your mind, but since the default position of the mammalian reproduction system is "on," and resources are finite, maybe, just maybe, it might be better to limit reproduction lest we outstrip our environment.

And there's this: my sister had a dozen kids, and is not in terrible health.  Manuy pregnancies han be very deleterious to the health.

I had one child, and am in excellent health. There's a lesson for the individual, as well as for the species there.  Sometimes, less eventually becomes more.

readwriteandblue
readwriteandblue

The problem with the European Union right now.. 


I disagree. The problem with europe is that it is made up of a lot of very different cultures and langages located in areas that used to be self governing countries that are being forced together by the political elite and for the sake of a easier marketplace to sell in.

Of corse that is just my opinion and doesn't relate to this article but i think your sweeping statement is completely wrong



readwriteandblue
readwriteandblue

That has always been so (except where cultures manage to pressure a Idealogy of lots of children)

Generally the well educated in a free society have less kids . The poor have the most kids, But 1 point i disagree and the " Less educated, less well-paid Hispanics and Black"  comment. 

It may just be the way i had read it, but it is Education and Affluence that seem to decide that, at least far more so than culture or race

readwriteandblue
readwriteandblue

4. "If we weren't judgmental, more people would have less kids" Bad idea. Birth ratio is 2.1 and if it goes under 2 society is not sustainable.

For the current Economic Model, Those things, like all things can (and will) change. Such things are not permanent regardless of how we may see them

readwriteandblue
readwriteandblue

@Historybuff and go back to wars that will unjustified and  be un-budgeted for, complete deregulation of all industry both social and environmental, an even greater disparity between rich and poor , even less access to healthcare for even more people, an even worse standard of public education ... . that really does sound like a recovery to me .. Yes lets do that.

This adminstration (unlike the last) seems to be on the side of parents dictating how many children they should have, rather than how many society wants you to have, those will always include economic restrictions for responsible parents.

Irresponsible parents will not have those restrictions still now as they did not then. 

Piacevole
Piacevole

@Historybuff We're still in recovery from the Bush era.  Things are getting better, now: housing starts are up, the automobile industry is doing better, the DJA is at an all-time high. . . remember what happened leading up to the debacle in 2008?  I do.  It wasn't pretty.

readwriteandblue
readwriteandblue

You rock 

I am struggling with one. But and i mean this respectfully, Not everyone will be as sucessfull a parent as you

jejema
jejema

@Piacevole @jejema No one lives forever. If she wanted many children, and found joy in life, good for her. Why judge her because of her health? At least she didn't pollute the water supply with hormonal contraceptives. We are not in complete control. Parents today are raising the next generation who will innovate and find a way, as humanity always does. Maybe future generations will live on Mars. We must have some hope for the future.

dejisugg
dejisugg

Well Europe has many problems as do many other countries but my statement relates to the topic of discussion and yours, well, you get the point.

pandjfillmore
pandjfillmore

@readwriteandblue Thank you.  Raising a large family responsibly is not easy. I sometimes felt like I was hanging by my fingernails.  You are doing what you need to do.  I actually never make comments in public places.  I just felt that too often people who write articles like the one above write from a faulty premise.  Life doesn't stop for parents while parents are raising children.  We contributed our time to the schools and community we lived in while we were raising our children.  My husband traveled to third world countries to give service a couple of times a year throughout our life.  When most of our children were raised and on their way, I began to go with him, sometimes taking the remaining children who were in junior high and high school.  No one should be pressured to have or not have children.  Children are both a blessing and a responsibility.  I felt that the author of the article gave the impression that those of us who raise large families are a little less intelligent and enlightened than the writer.  We simply march to the tune of a different drummer and view the world and life a little differently.  We should make whatever decisions we make consciously and responsibly and allow others to feel right about doing the same. Those that have fewer children may be able to do things that I couldn't.  That is a good thing.  We all contribute in different ways.  The important things is to contribute.  I know that an important part of my contribution is the children I sent out in the world that will influence many people for good as they teach, give humanitarian service, serve their communities and raise children that will do the same.  Do what you are doing an feel good about it.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@jejema @Piacevole No one lives forever, indeed.  But has anyone the right to overpopulate the only earth we have?  I don't know whether you know much about Mars, but it's not exactly ideally suited for human habitation.  Further, the is the question of getting there.  For most of humanity's history, there was always someone else to colonize, but we've pretty much taken care of that option, and a lot of the places which have now got human populations are become questionable.  Tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, droughts,, floods. . . all seem to be taking a pretty good toll, not only in terms of lives, but in terms of expense.  How many of these occurrences can we pay for?  That's all in addition to the wars we seem to find so irresistible.  We do lots worse things by our sheer numbers and demands for energy, housing, and so forth than any "hormonal pollution" could do.

My sister's health isn't just bad, it's bad because of a lot of problems proceeding directly from gestational diabetes.  Since she's also sliding into dementia, she doesn't know a lot of what's going wrong, but, all things considered, I'd sooner have had my one child,  my excellent health - and clear mind.  

"Hope for the future" is greatly helped by taking care in the present.You know, the "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" story.  This is particularly true since we may not be able to summon up the "pound of cure" when we need it.

readwriteandblue
readwriteandblue

I am from the UK 

But my child was born here. it isn't a patriotic argument i make.

The idea that societies must constantly increase it's population number or fail, is an economic model that i believe represents mismanagement. 

Affluent societies now need to decline in population. The economic model for Government of those societies needs to take that into account, not simply use the old model because that is what has always worked. 

If they do not come up with something else then we are all (in the 1st world at least) doomed to start losing our current standard of living.

dejisugg
dejisugg

Most of the major economic powers in Europe have a massive shortage in labor and that's one of the reasons for the free movement of labor accross borders and the need for countries like Turkey. You just keep harping on about economic management but the U.S. has not faired better. If the U.S. tries to address it's debt problems the way Europe is, we will probably be worse off right now. Germany has less debt, a better credit rating, better economic growth.

readwriteandblue
readwriteandblue

I do 

But i think the smaller family decision buy parents in europe has nothing to do with europes woes.

That was just good old plain and simple economic mismanagment.

readwriteandblue
readwriteandblue

: )

Maybe it's just inflection or lack of it in a written article. The thing i got from it mostly was that as a 1 child family she has felt pressure from society as a whole to have more. 

You should write in More Blogs. It's the new real estate and if only the nutters write, people will stop reading the opinions