By Simon Kuper
Let me quickly solve one of the great questions of life: How many children should you
have? Some parents of young ones secretly suspect that the optimal number is
zero. Soon after my twin boys were born, my sister called to ask how things were going.
“Well,” I said, probably splattered in vomit, but too exhausted to realize it,
“if anyone thought they were going to be in this phase forever, they’d have to
be a psycho to enjoy it.” I used to push the double stroller down the street, eyeing
the childless people sprawled in front of cafés with envy and rage.
It’s a feeling that Bryan Caplan, economist at George Mason University, must know.
The poor guy is also the father
of twins. As he writes in his book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids,
“moderate foresight tells you to stop having kids. If one infant makes you tired and
cranky, why have another?” Yet, Caplan goes on to say that moderate
foresight is wrong. You shouldn’t extrapolate from the present moment forever.
Today, he says, you might be living with “dirty diapers and lost sleep”. But
that won’t last forever. Instead of moderate foresight, you should try full foresight.
Rather than just obsessing about the next few years, you should work out how many kids you
will want at every future stage of your life. Caplan explains: Suppose
you’re 30. Selfishly speaking, you conclude that the most pleasant number of
children to have during your 30s is one. During your 40s, your optimal number of kids will
rise to two — you’ll have more free time as your kids assert their independence. By
the time you’re in your 50s, all your kids will be busy with their own lives. At
this stage, wouldn’t it be nice to …read more