Subscribe to blog via RSS

Search Blog

Should we have a one-child limit?

Categories: Wanna Fight About It?


Fast forward 10 years to the hypothetical future. New U.S. law proclaims a limit on childbearing: one baby per couple. So what’s your reaction?

  • No biggie. I had my brood already. This doesn’t affect me.
  • Fine. Those third-world people have too many babies as it is. Hold on. You mean ME?
  • Where do they get off telling me what I can do with my body? If I want TEN kids that’s nobody’s business but mine and my uterus’s.
  • Thank GOODNESS, and about time, too!

Umbra over at Grist started the gristmill of insightful commentary about the environmental wisdom of limiting procreation to one child per couple. There’s a lot to be said for the idea. After all, what’s hurting the environment most is rampant consumerism. We just buy way too much stuff. Stuff we buy has a huge impact on the environment from the manufacture, transport, and eventual disposal of it all. The thought then is that in high consuming countries there should be a limit to the population. Fewer people = less stuff = easier on the planet.

Yes, but it’s more complicated that that.

There’s also reproductive rights. Society has been telling women for a long time what they can and cannot do with their bodies. What’s the good of creating just one more law? What has a similar policy done in China, where the gender balance is now way out of whack, affecting future generations to come?

My dad would say such a law would unnecessarily cut down on the number of “smart” people (from first-world countries), therefore limiting global future potential. I cringe at such blatant judgment, but I wonder how many of us share the notion. I also wonder if there’s not a grain of truth in it without its judgy exterior. After all, we don’t really know the eventual outcome of such limits. Already we’re heading to about a 1.6 children per mom ratio, down from the previous high of 2.4. People in developed countries are already having fewer babies overall, though I don’t see much evidence of this among people I know. Not even myself: I have 4 kids and I feel sort of awkwardly guilty over it. I adore my kids but as an environmental writer don’t I have some social responsibility?

What responsibility do we have to one another when it comes to the very personal decision of choosing to have a child?

When it comes down to it, I think I’d pick “C.” (That was always the safe answer in multiple choice tests.) I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of my government legislating my body or the bodies of my daughters. But at the same time, we’re headed for change and how else will we get there?

So what’s the answer? Or should this even be a question?

Subscribe to blog via RSS
Share this on:

15 comments so far...

  • Where do they get off telling me what I can do with my body? If I want TEN kids that’s nobody’s business but mine and my uterus’s.

    No one can use the argument that it is not the government’s right to tell a woman that she cannot have an abortion because it is HER BODY, and then turn around and say that it is okay for the government to tell her she cannot choose for herself how many children she will have.

    Anyone who believes that abortion should be legal based on a woman’s right to choose MUST pick C. Anything else is pure hypocrisy.

    Also, buying “stuff” my hurt the environment, but it is the foundation of our economy. Consumerism. Consuming. Without it, we don’t have an economy. Unfortunately.

    Robyn  |  April 15th, 2009 at 9:13 am

  • Europe is already facing problems because the birthrate is below replacement level (who’s going to pay for all the pensions of the elderly?) and they are nowhere near as low as one child per couple.

    Morals considerations aside, the unintended consequences of such a policy could be enormous.

    SoftwareMom  |  April 15th, 2009 at 10:49 am

  • Software Mom is right. Such a requirement would be a disaster for our country. As it is, we are struggling to figure out how to support the “baby boomers” as they retire and develop health problems. Some of the liberal politicians are already saying old people should just suck it up and die rather than burden the health care system.

    Besides that, this is a terrible policy for social reasons. For decades, there has been so much focus on the detriments of having siblings (less one-on-one time with parents, etc.), that people seem to be convinced that there are no benefits to growing up with brothers/sisters. Nothing could be further from the truth. People, use your brains and do your own thinking. The bias in all these studies and scholarly arguments will be the ruin of our society if we let them think for us.

    You say more people means more consumption. I beg to differ. Despite being in an outrageous tax bracket, I spend less than $1K per month on myself and my two kids, and the majority of that is on services, not “stuff” that will kill the environment. Lots of people with “only children” consume more environmentally-unfriendly stuff than my family does. It’s a matter of thinking and caring about one’s actions.

    On average, logic would suggest that children with siblings consume less than only children, because they necessarily share, re-use, conserve, and provide free entertainment for each other. This would be even more true if we stopped giving increasing government-funded benefits as people have more children. From an environmental and social perspective, it would be more appropriate to limit “who” can have “any” kids, if we are to limit childbearing at all. People with a strong IQ, who are financially sound, who don’t have mental health issues or a criminal history, etc., should be able to have multiple kids while people who don’t prove fitness shouldn’t be able to have any. If we’re going to micromanage people’s lives, let’s at least be logical about it.

    But I will say that if people are serious about this proposal, I want to see an honest study done of the average “carbon footprint” of families with one versus multple children. Not based on assumptions, but actual behavior and consumption. I think the results, if not distorted, would surprise.

    SKL  |  April 15th, 2009 at 11:22 am

  • I have a hard enough time being told by my husband we can only have one kid. I certainly would not want the government telling me I can only have one. At least with the husband, I know I can “convince” him eventually.
    While I do know there are some people who should not be parents at all, because of their lifestyles (like drug addicts), and just bad genes (oh, the people I could tell you about…), it is not the government’s place to determine that.
    As for the carbon footprint, if we, ourselves become “greener” and teach are children to do the same that alone will reduce the carbon footprint we have. Besides, who’s to say that my 2nd or 3rd child won’t be the pioneer of a “green” breakthrough that will save our planet. (Or at least be the one to take care of me when I’m old and feeble. hee hee hee)
    I would also think that a family of 4 making $60K a year, is going to have a smaller environmental impact, with their 1 house and 2 cars, smaller budget for food, clothing and entertainment than a family of 3, making a million a year, with 1 home, 1 vacation property, 3 cars, and a larger budget for food, entertainment, clothing, etc. Family size is not the only thing that effects environmental impact.
    It shouldn’t even be a question. They should instead ask, “How can we educate the public to be “greener” so that our current and future generations know what they can do as individuals to protect our planet.” “How can we make “going green” more affordable for the average household.”

    Erica  |  April 15th, 2009 at 1:30 pm

  • Banning beef would probably have a much bigger impact, by the way. I mean, if we’re going to throw individual liberties out the window . . . .

    SKL  |  April 15th, 2009 at 1:53 pm

  • I definitely don’t think that one kid per couple would be a good rule. Maybe two would be more reasonable but even then, how does this really work? It would be one or two children per couple? What about people that have two kids and then divorce and remarry, etc? Maybe putting a limit on your children based on your income would be a better solution. This might limit welfare abuse but then how do we ensure no accidents? If someone gets pregnant by accident, what happens to the fetus? I guess abortion but that is cruel to impose on someone who has bonded with the life inside of them or someone who doesn’t believe in it. Although I definitely believe that there are some people who should have had way less kids, I don’t think that there should be a limit, it doesn’t seem right.

    Oceans Mom  |  April 15th, 2009 at 2:00 pm

  • Trust me when I say I’m all for being enviromentally friend, I mean my family decomposes everything possible, recycles, uses a lot of natural methods for cleaning ~ health ~ pest issues, and even gardens. But when there are places out there that are trying to take away a womans right to have as many kids as they want then I’d say there’s a problem. Although there is one thing that I think might be a good idea: If a parent has had their child taken away for valid reasons then that mother (if she can’t apparently for whatever reason take care of her first born) should be aloud to reproduce. But in all other instances I think a woman who is fully capable and willing to take care of multiple children should have that right. To be clear I’m not against being green, I am against this issue on going green though, and I am open to many other ways of going and have taken many of my own steps to go green.

    Lindsey  |  April 15th, 2009 at 2:27 pm

  • Well, C is the obvious answer, but if we were really doing this to be environmentally friendly, we’d be better off putting limits in a different way. One kid per family requires way too many baby things, clothes, etc, that won’t get reused. Instead, 1 in 4 families should have 4 kids, and everyone else gets none. Of course, that would be ridiculous though.

    Kristie  |  April 16th, 2009 at 12:22 pm

  • Mandating one child per family has been a policy in China for decades. Has it worked? It depends whom you ask. Can we do such a thing in the US? Unlikely. However, I’m not convinced we need a law. The economy is forcing many to limit their family size as noted by comments elsewhere on this site and by an increase in the number of vasectomies being performed. Is there a vasectomy (or tubal ligation) in your future? It’s a topic like all mentioned above that I’ve addressed for Psychology Today magazine. From China’s one child policy to the rise in vasectomies, from being paid to have babies to Is One Child the New Traditional Family? check out:

    Susan Newman  |  April 16th, 2009 at 8:28 pm

  • I like C, but it would never be enforceable. Despite the fact that every environmental ill can be traced to the fact that there are about 1,000 times more humans than there should be. So we’ll be just forced to sit back and enjoy the ride to total collapse, whether it’s in our generation or our children’s or grandchildren’s. Yeah, I’m a depressive sort, why do you ask?

    Brigitte  |  April 17th, 2009 at 3:53 am

  • If the question, is “How do we limit our consumption of stuff?” I’m not sure “By having fewer children” would be anywhere near the top of my list. Both because people in developing countries manage to have a lot more kids with a lot less stuff and because much “kid” stuff (high chairs, clothes, etc.) is re-useable with later kids — why not spread the impact of all those purchases over more children?

    The core problem is the huge difference between minimum resources needed for a healthy comfortabble life and resources consumed by the average person in the developed world. Yes, that gets multiplied by the number of kids we have, but limiting the number of kids doesn’t get at the root cause.

    Plus, I’d thank the government to keep it’s hands off my uterus.

    Emily  |  April 17th, 2009 at 4:17 pm

  • There are limited resources in our world. Going green helps, but at some point there just won’t be enough. In theory the 1 or 2 child maximum is a good idea, but I don’t like it as a mandate. I don’t know what the real solution is, but government regulation isn’t a good solution in my opinion.

    Stacey S  |  April 20th, 2009 at 10:41 am

  • I agree and you have a point. I actually have to right a paper on proposition of policy, and I choose this subject to write about. You colume was every insightful. Thank you

    Chancey Duncan  |  September 25th, 2009 at 8:38 am

  • I totally think that this should not be taken into concideration!!!! The government has no control over what i do with my body!!! I think that this is is the worst thing that i have ever heard of. There is enough space for everyone to live, and we are not suffering becaue of the amount of children we have. Childbearing is a sacred thing. It brings a husband and wife closer in their realationship and besides it is not something that needs to be announced publicly. And it is a commandment of the lord to bring his children into this world. this law being concidered is a law that may be put to act but it will be a act of wickedness. And the rath of god will be brought down on those who vote yes for this!!!! I want and will have more then one child!!!!

    Samantha Conover  |  November 5th, 2009 at 5:47 pm

  • I believe population limit is a good idea, but please hear me out before you become judgmental.

    The issue to me is less of a current issue, and the future consequences need to be taken into consideration. I believe it is less of an issue of environmental consequences now, and more of an issue of overpopulation later. If practices of large families continue, the population will continue to increase exponentially. In my opinion, having a large family is simply irresponsible; If anything, the population needs to decrease, not increase.

    I believe government regulation is harsh, but necessary.

    The way to enforce the government regulation is simple: fines. Nobody is going to make you have an abortion.

    Remember, it’s not our problem, it’ll be the later generations that suffer for our irresponsible procreation.

    Landon H.  |  April 14th, 2010 at 9:19 am