May 5, 2011

How Many Children to Have? A Scientific Analysis

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What is the issue?

Let’s say you — grown, responsible, possibly partnered, somewhat solvent person — have agreed to have children. They’re important to have for various reasons: in case you need a kidney later in life, or a loan, or someone to spring you from jail because they feel obliged to. Your parents can also serve these functions but only for the term of their natural lives.

So! How many, then, should you have? Some people wing it but I think a decision like this should be well-thought-out and based on logic.

A) 1 child

CONS: Only children are brats. Some only children will bristle at this information and tell you it’s not true, but some only children are also known to be liars and also to think rather well of themselves, presumably because they do not have any siblings to keep their egos in check.

PROSCheaper! Easier. More portable. Best parent-to-child ratio (2:1)

NOTABLE ONLY CHILDREN: Natalie Portman, Robin Williams, FDR, Frank Sinatra, Alan Greenspan, Chelsea Clinton, Ella Fitzgerald, Hermione Granger, Jack Nicholson

B) 2 children

CONS: If you produce one good kid, you could chalk that up to luck. If you produce two good kids, it’s tempting to become a snooty, self-righteous prick who thinks they have it all figured out. Also it’s tempting to dress the two kids in matching tennis outfits and have them pose for the cover of the J. Crew catalog.

On the other hand, if one child is good and the other bad, the good child inevitably becomes resentful of all the time & attention lavished on the bad one.

PROSHaving two kids is optimal for your health. “Too few or none at all, and they are at increased risk of dying from almost all of the conditions studied, perhaps because they lack the extra motivation to look after their health. But too many, and they struggle to cope with the financial and emotional stress of bringing up a large family. Having two children, however, is just right, the journal Social Science & Medicine reports.” — That’s reasoning right out of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”!

Two girls, specifically, if you can manage it. Harmony! Hair-braiding! “Helping around the house!” (Ew.) But doubling it up doesn’t mean double the fun—for some reason, four girls is poison: “Families with four girls were the least happy, according to the study.” Doesn’t that seem a bit weird? After all, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy did all right.

If you do have only girls, though, the father is more likely to leave. It is true that Marmee spent a suspicious amount of time as a single-parent, and Mr. Bennett, God knows, was not a fulfilled man. Would Tevye have skipped if he were able to? A question for the ages.

Also, two gives you a bit of an insurance policy in case the first one is rotten and/or refuses to donate that kidney.

NOTABLE PRODUCTS OF TWO CHILDREN FAMILIES: Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, the Coen brothers, Sasha & Malia Obama, Jake & Maggie Gyllenhaal, Alanis Morissette

C) 3 children

CONS: At this point, it probably helps to have a house—ideally, a bed-and-breakfast with a staff.

PROS: A big, happy family! (Maybe.) Or just a realistic view of life. Even if your first two were good, what are the odds the third will be too? If the third is indeed less good, then you’re brought back to earth and can go around with a humbled, penitent smile, apologizing for all the bragging your first children made you do. Then your friends will once again take your calls.

NOTABLE PRODUCTS OF THREE CHILDREN FAMILIES: Ayn Rand (oldest of 3 girls); Bart, Lisa, and Maggie Simpson; Alvin and the Chipmunks; the Chipettes; the kids from “Full House”; Hillary Rodham Clinton (oldest of 3); Meryl Streep; me

D) More than 3 children

CONS: You’re contributing to global warming.

PROS: Well, you’re definitely hedging your bets.

NOTABLE PRODUCTS OF FOUR CHILDREN FAMILIES: Paris Hilton (oldest of 4); Nora Ephron (oldest of 4); Jo March / Louisa May Alcott (2nd of 4)

… FIVE CHILDREN FAMILIES: Elizabeth Bennett (2nd of 5)

…  SIX CHILDREN FAMILIES: George W. Bush (oldest of 6); Charles Darwin (5th of 6)

… SEVEN CHILDREN FAMILIES: Mark Twain (6th of 7)

…  NINE CHILDREN FAMILIES: JFK (2nd of 9) TC mark

image – M@rg
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