Children – a Luxury?

Aaron yesterday suggested children may be an expensive luxury. Dude, there’s good science backed up by badass mathematical analysis to support that suggestion.

One of the puzzles of demography has long been that as societies get richer, they tend to have lower birth rates. This seems evolutionarily counter-intuitive. As you get richer, you ought to be able to support more offspring. But it turns out that as we get richer, we end up needing to shower the younguns with more stuff, so as we get richer it gets paradoxically more expensive to add offspring. So as societies industrialize, their birth rates go down. The math involves allometric scaling laws that also match energy flow-body size patterns in critters. Turns out that the economics here can also be modelled as energy flow through the societal system.


  1. And here I thought that the increasng alternative cost of childrearing explained the phenomena good enough… 🙂

  2. I’d suggest that it’s not ‘that simple’.

    As societies become richer, people become more ambitious. Children hinder ambition because they are incredibly time consuming. “Careers first” etc. Also, the greater the ambition and motivation, the less time a person spends looking for partners.

    I’ve witnessed in several poor communities that the vast majority of people have:
    1) a stark lack of ambition (a lot of people only care about ‘getting by’)
    2) nothing to do, so spend lots of time driven by hormones
    3) lots of children to look after them as they grow older
    4) little education about contraception or much else
    5) a strange disregard for the future of their children (instead only caring about their current welfare)

    A least, that’s my observation from having lived in both rich (well, middle-class) and poor (extremely poor) societies.

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