Considering how many children I would like to have when I am 50 has brought me to the conclusion that I want as many as my husband and I can responsibly care for. So far we have five. When I was a teen and in my early 20s, nobody told me how fulfilling and meaningful I would find having children. So I suspect nobody has told most other young people either.
Easy confirmation of this can be had in the latest fertility data, at a record low during an economic boom, shocking demographers who have speculated money is a key reason people don’t have kids. So I don’t think refusing kids is about money for many people, especially for college-eduated, well-off women like me, who are having fewer children than poor women are despite our better resources. According to Lyman Stone’s analysis, about half of currently married, childbearing-age American women will not have as many kids as they want. I think this “accidental” infertility is more deeply about choices and narratives than money.
The truth is, children are a reliably excellent investment in your long-term personal development and happiness. And you only have about a quarter of your adult life to make that investment. That, in a nutshell, is why, if you are young and married, you should consider having a baby this year. Here are nine reasons why that’s true.
1. Your Future Self Is Begging You To
Strangers frequently make kind and even wistful supportive comments about the size of my family. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a Boomer say “I wish I had more” while looking at my squirming shopping cart.
It’s not just the grandparent types. A childless mid-40s professional acquaintance told me privately that she wishes she could trade her career for some kids, and that her dogs can’t fill that hole. It’s physically too late for her now, and that loss gives her constant pain.
She’s a lot more in touch with reality than today’s advice columnists, who regularly receive messages expressing such anguish from women in their late 30s and 40s who see that their chances of building a family slipping away. Rather than validating their loss, typically the columnists brush it off. These women deserve better. Their pain is real, and it’s real to an increasing number of people. If you can choose now to not face this regret later in life, it’s a wise choice.
A handyman my husband follows on YouTube put this up as his 2019 Christmas message, which sums this all up better than I can. Trust him, and trust me: Your future self will thank you a million times for having children now. So do it.
2. It Will Loneliness-Proof Your Life
“Only around half of Americans say they have meaningful, daily face-to-face social interactions,” found a 2017 study. In a 2019 article, Kay Hymowitz gave other extensive examples of the loneliness epidemic across the industrialized world.
“Local Japanese papers regularly publish stories about kinless elderly whose deaths go unnoticed until the telltale smell of maggot-eaten flesh alerts neighbors. ” “In widely quoted research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ashton M. Verdery and Rachel Margolis uncovered a recent surge in the number of ‘kinless’ older adults. Lower fertility translates into fewer siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, whether for hospital visits or emergency contacts.”
You don’t think about this when you’re 30 or 40 and vacationing child-free in Belize and Taiwan. But you sure as heck will when you can’t trade your frequent flyer miles for something more meaningful.
With five kids, I never go a day without a meaningful face-to-face social interaction. When I am 50 and the grandkids start rolling in, I’ll be living even higher on the hog. Remember, the current American lifespan is about 85 years. When you or your wife are hitting menopause, you still have half of your lives ahead of you. Who are you going to spend it with? Who will be there when you’re in need to give back some of what you’ve invested in them?
3. Pregnancy Is More Likely to Go Well Before 35
I’ve already written an overview of why, so I won’t reprise it here. You can confirm by asking your doctor or a quick Google search. But it’s just common sense, besides supported by every graph of every pregnancy complication and infant malady, that pregnancies in one’s 20s and early 30s are significantly lower-risk than later pregnancies. It’s so well-established that simply being age 35 is enough to put you in the “high-risk pregnancy” category, requiring special monitoring and tests as standard care, even if you’re wondrously fit and healthy.
Don’t yammer at me in the comments or on Twitter about how your mom had you at 40 and you’re not disabled. I’m talking probabilities and generalities here. Anecdote is not the plural of data, and outliers don’t disprove averages.
If you have a choice, the obvious choice is to have babies when it will be physically easiest for both mom and child. That’s when you’re younger than 35. (By the way, men, this is also true of sperm quality and dealing with infertility issues, which obviously affects both sexes.)
4. There Will Probably Never Be a Better Time than Now
Lots of people hold off kids until they feel “ready” someday in the nebulous future. But you will never feel “ready” to be a mom or dad. You’ll just be older and still not have kids. Like marriage, having kids is one of those things you just have to figure out on the fly.
Of course, there are some exceptions, such as if you have a serious medical condition that would make it dangerous for you to try to care for children, if you and your spouse are both unemployed and you have no savings, or if getting pregnant would threaten your life. I’m not urging you to be truly stupid here.
But I am urging you to reassess whether you need to have paid off all your college loans or have a down payment on a house before getting your babies going. We did neither, and found we didn’t need to. This was also true for multiple millennial friends, whose grandparents and aunts thought they were crazy but were all wrong. While we’ve had a dual income marriage most of the time we’ve had kids, which certainly makes things easier, we’ve been careful budgeters since the beginning and therefore know that we could have done our kids that whole time on a single income, too.
What I do urge you to do is be married to the other progenitor of your children before having kids, because doing otherwise is unequivocally unfair to the kids. But being married, having at least one job between you, and lacking an extreme caveat like a non-functional uterus are the true basic qualifications normal adults need, not a fantasy amount of money or roster of “life experiences.”
5. Parenting Is Easier and More Fun When You’re Young
During my first pregnancy, my boss surprised me by telling me it was so great I was starting in my early 20s. He and his wife didn’t start until their 30s, and by their early 40s he was surprised how exhausted and sore it made him just to play with his still-young kids.
My boss was no couch potato. He regularly biked 20 miles to work. Still, it was obvious to him that the physical work and play of parenting was made harder just by starting on kids at an age that many educated adults now consider normal.
This is also true of holding your baby and toddler, getting up in the night with them, and chasing them down before they run into the street. Now, don’t sterilize yourself over all this if you’re older — kids are worth a few sore backs and knees — but again, if you get to choose, choose wisely.
A related benefit: Your kids will be at least in their teens or older, and thus a lot more self-sufficient and even helpful, about the time you might need to care for aging parents.
6. Kids Make You Happier
You might have seen the stories and polling about how parents are more anxious and less happy than single people. Obviously, having more responsibilities makes people less frivolous and self-centered. But what lots of these polls and stories ignore is the larger amount of connection and meaning parents have in life on average compared to non-parents.
Yeah, for about a decade of their eight-decade life, parents might not get to enjoy a daily latte savored over a morning hour of quiet, but they also have a toddler who runs over to hug them while shouting to the world, “Mine mommy!” Parenting is like a career: You get out what you put into it. And kids require more putting in. But the investment pays off.
In addition, those happiness measures have flipped to where parents today report themselves more happier and satisfied than nonparents, found a 2014 study: “parents are becoming happier over time relative to non-parents, that non-parents’ happiness is declining absolutely, and that estimates of the parental happiness gap are sensitive to the time-period analyzed. These results are consistent across two datasets, most subgroups, and various specifications. Finally, we present evidence that suggests children appear to protect parents against social and economic forces that may be reducing happiness among nonparents.”
7. Kids Aren’t as Expensive as You’ve Heard
A lot of people will claim a major reason they aren’t having a child is money. If you are living hand-to-mouth in a minimum-wage job in an expensive city, it makes sense to coat your womb with sperm Raid. But most people of childbearing age actually do have enough financial resources to sustain a baby, especially married ones.
Pew Research reports that “Millennials in 2018 had a median household income of roughly $71,400.” For millennials with a college degree, that number was $105,300. If you can’t make room for a baby with income figures like that, you need some better financial habits. A good place to start is Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover.” Georgi Boorman wrote a great, nitty-gritty explainer about how cheap kids can be while still living well, and coauthored a related book.
My husband, the family economist, estimates we spend $4,000-$5,000 per kid per year, including averaged medical expenses (we have a high deductible so have paid out-of-pocket for nearly all our health care so far, including births), insurance premiums, clothes, a bigger house’s mortgage, diapers, toys, music and swim lessons, and food; not including their tuition. He says we could get that down to less than $3,000 if we needed to. The cost per kid goes down with each additional one, because kids share and pass things down, and once you’ve gotten a bigger house or car, the cost is less for each additional kid because the expenses stay roughly the same divided across more kids.
We have deliberately made choices that make our kids less expensive, and anyone can do the same. We moved to a part of the country with a low cost of living, so our mortgage payment for a 2,500-square-foot house is half the rent for my brother’s 1-bedroom, 600-square-foot apartment in New York City. We also purposefully bought a small, 900-square-foot house for our first, and had four kids in there. Little kids don’t care how big their room is, and if you have a small yard, parks are free.
Our kids wear hand-me-downs, clothes from Goodwill, and high-quality outerwear and shoes I buy from Land’s End when they’re 60 percent off or more (a tee can get junked but a coat or shoe needs to be warm, dry, arch-supportive, and reliable). I also buy clothes from the great sales at Children’s Place. Just sign up for the emails and strike when it’s hot. I outfit each kid’s size and season of clothing for about $50 for little kids and $100 for bigger kids, minus shoes and outerwear. When they get older, they can babysit and mow lawns to waste their own money on new brand-name clothes if they want.
Not to mention that Republicans’ tax overhaul doubled the child tax credit, so we get a whopping $10,000 off our tax bill every year for our five kids for the next nine years. It, plus our steal of a Midwestern mortgage, pays the private school tuition. You could use it to pay down debt, pay for birth expenses, or buy a family car (Ramsey tells you how to be smart about that too).
8. Kids Are More Adorable Than the Best Instagram Feed
You don’t need a cute dog calendar when you have kids (although, heck, get ’em both). Kids are a living, breathing Instagram feed of adorableness. And silliness. This kind of thing makes my life worth living about 500 times a day.
9. It Will Make You A Much Better Person
Have you ever compared the difference between how some people treat their physical health versus how they treat their moral health? Nobody bats an eye if you go on some wild diet or grueling exercise regimen and pay thousands of dollars to do it. The pursuit of health justifies itself in our society, and all sorts of gargantuan efforts such as learning a completely new and much more expensive cooking palette and hiring a spendy personal trainer and gym.
The same is true about career development. Even though half of college graduates end up in jobs that don’t require the $100,000 they spent to get that sheepskin, people still think that $100,000 dumpster fire is justified. People get career coaches and purchase solitude weekends to pursue “deep work,” or spend thousands on specialized training to get ahead professionally.
I’m not saying there’s necessarily anything wrong with these things. Yet I’ve rarely heard anyone talk in a parallel fashion about their character development. When’s the last time you heard, “Yeah, I was getting kind of addicted to my screens and ignoring my friends, so I spent $1,000 for a detox and personal habits trainer — it was awesome”? Or “I realized that my overseas vacations and indulgence in designer shoes could instead provide for the physical needs of an eternal soul who would multiply the love in our home and world”?
Children are an excellent moral trainer. Whether you want to admit it or not, we all need one of those. (I guess God decided I need five.) A spouse does the same thing, but since the spouse is an adult the effect is often not as strong as with children. Children are wholly dependent on you putting their needs first. To be a good mother or father, therefore, becoming less selfish is mandatory.
There are other common personal training benefits: Career advancement. A higher likelihood of saving for the future. Better health and connections to your community. I have also noticed a stronger impetus to listen, observe, and otherwise try to understand and empathize with people with different personalities, as kids are often very different from you and each other, so loving them requires learning. Children are a huge investment in your social capital, as well, for they help you make new friends, spur you to volunteer more, and keep up connections.
Committing yourself to another person is very, very hard. But, as they say in the gym: No pain, no gain. You can either be the person who chooses to love more deeply, or the person who shrinks from that because you’re scared and unwilling to endure discomfort to become better. It’s up to you to decide which. And not making a decision is a decision. Tick tock.