Childrearing

Economist Says ‘Stock Up’ On Kids

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“Kids are cheaper than you think, so stock up!”

That’s economist Bryan Caplan, speaking at the Cato Institute yesterday about his new book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think.

The book, said Caplan, might provide some comfort to those who maybe want to have kids (soon or someday) but worry about all the research equating parenting with a life of misery. According to Caplan, the reason these studies find that parents are miserable is because those parents are making themselves miserable. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The problem is that we overestimate how much effort it takes to be a good parent, or how much influence we can have on our kids’ lives. Hence the endless rounds of soccer practice, piano lessons, enrichment classes and all the other tropes/truths of the helicopter parent. But behavioral genetics shows “nurture” just really doesn’t matter that much, at least within the realm of “vaguely normal parenting” (i.e., leaving out, say, kids raised by wolves), Caplan said. Studies have shown parenting has little or no effect on a child’s long-run health, intelligence, happiness, success or character.

To parents and future parents, Caplan says lighten up, and “enjoy the journey.” Don’t do things as “investments” in your child’s future that neither of you enjoy. Oh, and if you’re already planning on having one kid, might as well have a few. It’s “basic microeconomics,” Caplan said — the financial and effort costs of one kid may be steep, but increase little with each additional child (he’s even got a nice little graph to illustrate this). “It makes sense to have more kids, because then you can get the kinds of kids you want with less effort.”