Saturday, January 21, 2012


It is strange, but people talk to me quite a bit about the fact that we have 5 children.  One of the issues that gets raised is how expensive it must have been.

Not really.  If you are going to think about it that way - and I don't advocate that you do - think about this: the marginal cost of children goes down dramatically after the first one, and again after the second one.  Here's an interesting article on the subject in USA Today, which is titled "Hey Parents, the Third Kid is a Bargain."

Now anyone who has had a large family can tell you that the whole argument about how expensive it is to raise children is wildly overrated.  In 30 years of marriage I have never, to my knowledge, had even one moment in which I thought "wow, I wish I'd had fewer children, then I'd be wealthier."  Even saying it sounds silly, but if you've had children, you know how truly risible it is.

The funnier part of the whole discussion is the notion that there is some fixed cost to raising children.  While there are obviously limits you cannot disregard, the notion that $225,000 is some magic number you are going to have to spend in 18 years is just silly.  You have a wide range of choice here.  Some of the choices are very expensive and some are very cheap.

It's not like you have a fixed expense enforced by law, although if we give the present Administration 4 more years maybe you will.  You can feed the kids Kobe beef or you can feed them home-made chicken noodle soup.  You can outfit the whole brood for an entire year at yard-sales and Goodwill for $100 (yep) or you can spend a $1,000 each season on each kid.  So when economists posit an average cost, remember that the reality swings wildly around the average.  Cost per child is HIGHLY elastic.

People from large families can also tell you that their experience was lots of fun.  The notion that children from large families necessarily will be starved for attention is as silly as the notion that an only child necessarily will be a mal-adapted and socially inept loner.  Of course these things can happen, but they are not necessarily the case, and there is precious little in the way of scientific data suggesting that having a large family results in measurably poorer health outcomes for the children.  For instance, one interesting study in China suggested there are almost no measurable health differences between single children and children from larger families.  Another study in rural Bangladesh suggests the same thing.

In any event, if it has any effect at all, family size merely influences our fate; it does not determine it, any more than our parents' wealth or poverty predetermines our economic success or failure.

Interestingly, it also happens that the difference between an average of 2 children per couple and 3 children per couple is the difference between disaster and survival for a society.  You can read more about this subject here.

It's been my observation that the third child is a kind of Rubicon, a milestone, a psychological barrier that places you  and your spouse in a whole new world.  Once you have three, you are definitely not a young run-about couple anymore.  You are a mom and a dad, and that's how you'll be defined the rest of your life.  And you don't mind, either; in fact, this role is profoundly satisfying.

Finally, three happens to be one of the greatest numbers ever.  You can read all about it here.

All these considerations lead me to recommend that you get married to a wonderful, godly spouse and try to have lots of children.  It's good, you'll have fun, and you will save the world.

So here's a link to a great T-shirt website if you have a big family, or are thinking about going down that road.


  1. Often wish I`d had the 4th. Val

  2. Thank you! That was a refreshing point of view that needs to be voiced more! Kids are great! Carol

  3. EO: Actual comments that friends and neighbors really said to my wife, when advised that we were expecting our four children:
    1st child: “That’s great.”
    2nd child: “What a blessing.”
    3rd child: “Really? Another one?”
    4th child: “Are you crazy?”

  4. According to my mother ... you have a small family! She's one of 8 and my dad was one of 13. You should come to my Aug family reunion. I actually don't know how many attend! JK

  5. JK, all we can say is that Mrs. Optimist and I did our best.

    Eternal Optimist