Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University, argues that “good parenting is less work and more fun than people think” and that should be reason enough to have more children. In his article in the Saturday/Father’s Day Wall Street Journal, he presents a flawed case: He primarily bases his plea on studies of twins in the United States and adopted children in Korea and concludes that what parents strive for and do to affect their children’s outcomes doesn’t work: “Parents often change their kids in the short-run, but as kids grow up, their parents’ influence wears off.” He wants parents to stop feeling guilty for what they don’t do and sit back and enjoy their children—a point I don’t argue with.
However, the economic demands on parents grow geometrically in today’s financial world when they have more children to feed, shelter, and educate. What Caplan doesn’t factor in is that multiple children (or even another child added to the one or two or more you already have) put stress on parents—if only to earn enough money to cover basic costs. More children frequently increase the need to have two working parents, a condition many families are in already.
Parents work 11 more hours than they did in the 1970s and dads today feel as stressed as moms. In a 2008 study of Study of the Changing Workforce, The Families and Work Institute reports that for fathers “each additional hour worked per week increases the probability of experiencing some degree of work-life conflict.” Instead of looking at the realities of family life, Caplan asks readers to project to a time when they are older, in their sixties and eighties, and will have lots of grandchildren (to enjoy) if they have more children now.
His claim that “parents’ sacrifice is much smaller than it looks” probably doesn’t feel that way to those raising children today. His examples are supposed to convince parents contemplating having another child that they have a “modest” effect on their children’s outcomes. He urges parents not to worry if they skip reading to their offspring, for example. As he states, “Your choices have little effect on your kids’ development, so it’s OK to relax...you don’t have to go the extra mile to prepare your children for the future.” But, you still have to provide for them.