The real story behind America's population bomb: Adults want their independence

The reasons cited in this study of childless adults are interesting. I think it would be equally interesting, though, to have a study of people with one or two children who don’t want any more. I’d be willing to bet that a similar percent want their independence back, and sooner rather than later. Still, I wonder whether economic concerns wouldn’t be the highest in that context.


How do we change people’s attitude about how children will affect their lives if they privilege personal freedom over other ideals? A good place to start is to focus on one of the most fundamental psychological needs, the need for existential meaning.

If only there was like, I don’t know, some sort of objective meaning to existence. Like an almighty God, or something.

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If only God had let us know how He “felt” abt it. You know, like telling us to have or not to have children. I mean, why wasn’t He clear about this? Why didn’t He just come out and say what He wanted from us? I think Christians would do what He wanted if He’d just been direct with us and told us, you know?


Actually, I think the desire for independence is an economic concern, broadly speaking. Apropos is a recent Zoom session on the cost of children that Aaron Renn held with subscribers (I watched the recording). Aaron pointed out that the monetary opportunity cost of raising children could be more than a hundred thousand dollars a year for middle class Americans. He furthermore pointed out that our society offers many more opportunities for leisure – travel, eating out, various entertainments, etc. – than ever before. These would need to be largely foregone to take up the responsibility of parenthood. I am thinking that the opportunity cost of raising children in terms of money and leisure may be higher now than it ever has been in history.

When it comes to money, children are a truly terrible investment. Raising a child requires a parent to either stay home and forego earned income or work and pay high costs for childcare. Unlike in past times when even young children could be economically productive on the family farm or shop, children today are a only a cost. Not only that, many years of schooling and often costly post-secondary education or training are needed to enable a child to become economically productive. So much upfront cost and delay before obtaining any return! And a substantial portion of the economic return gained by the child that could be used to support parents in their old age is instead taken by the government and given to strangers whether or not they have children contributing to the system.

In the post-industrial economy, the cost of having children is mostly internalized to parents and the benefit of having children is mostly externalized to society (e.g., workers for the market economy and taxpayers for the welfare state). So with the decline of religion, I think it is no surprise that fertility is declining as well.


That’s not economic, though. That’s the part that interests me. Yes, you may have to give up the economic ability to do those things, but at its root it’s wanting to do whatever you want without being limited by children, whether through time, or money, or responsibility, or flexibility or…

It sure does take faith to believe in the goodness and blessing of God’s commands. But it’s worth pointing out that we’re not just worried about the economic return.

This is a decent argument for promoting government offering financial help to couples willing to raise children. Some of this already happens of course, much more in France than here.


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I think economists regard leisure as an essential part of economics. Why doesn’t someone work additional hours in the week? It’s because that person gives a higher monetary value to their leisure time than what they could earn by working instead.

But getting to your broader comment, children aren’t the only limitation being thrown off by people doing whatever they want. The global market economy destroys intermediating social institutions and reduces everything to transactions between independent actors. The welfare state destroys mutual interdependence within the family and community and reduces everything to impersonal entitlement. And the post-industrial economy destroys middle skill occupations and any ladder for people to climb out of low skill occupations. The result is an alienated and atomized society. This is a deep issue. How do the church and family overcome this challenge?


Kevin DeYoung has a First Things article that serves as a nice companion piece.
The Case for Kids.


NOTE: I wrote this days ago, but apparently forgot to post it.

Of course. I just meant that it’s not about “affording” children in the monetary sense, per se. It’s about doing so in the freedom sense (opportunity cost). I do acknowledge the connection between freedom and money, of course.

Another thought: in the past it didn’t matter if you were a farmer. You couldn’t leave your farm easily for any length of time. You didn’t have freedom anyway, so having children didn’t limit your freedom.


The article makes a lot of good points, but in the end it confirms to me the uselessness of the social conservative pundit class.

Here’s text from a paragraph close to the end.

And we must ­admit—scary as this sounds to me as a parent of four ­teenagers—that many young men and women should be getting married earlier. The postwar baby boom was actually a marriage boom. The average size of families did not increase as much as the number of people forming families did. Since 1950, the average age of first marriage for women has increased from just over twenty years old to almost twenty-eight. Women are having fewer children in part because they are having fewer married years in which to have children. And surely, for both sexes, resisting the allure of pornography and fornication is not made easier when sexual desires burn hot for ten or fifteen years before marriage is ever considered. The Bible never says “Thou must finish thine education before marriage,” or “backpack through Europe before marriage,” or “make time to binge-watch Netflix before marriage.”

This is completely clueless. The reason why people married so young in the baby boom era was that jobs providing a good income were available to high school graduates, college could be paid for with a summer job, and housing was cheap and abundant. Now there are very few good income jobs for high school graduates, paying for college usually requires taking on substantial loans, and housing is expensive and scarce in most areas with high income jobs.

Although people farther back in history married and had children under much more impoverished conditions, that is too distant to be a psychological anchor point. Instead, expectations are set by awareness of the experience of the immediately preceding generations. And if it takes longer to reach the milestones the previous generation passed before marrying and having children, the following generation will delay marriage and children. Improving the economic prospects of the younger generation will have more effect in raising fertility than will moralizing about porn and Netflix.

I’d say this is not quite right either.

Expectations are set by the people around you now. Relative deprivation is the big motivator, and it’s not relative to any previous generation, really.

I’d venture to say that a high school education today is enough to get the same standard of living my grandparents had for much of their life, or even better. My grandparents had way less than me. So did my parents at my current age. That doesn’t matter to me.

What matters is that the people around me have nicer vacations and cars than me. Thus, I feel deprived.


I think this must vary with location. I live in a ~1200 sq. ft. house built 70 years ago and originally owned, I think, by a mailman with a stay-at-home wife. Houses on the block have recently sold for more than million dollars. Now it takes two professional-class salaries to have what was available to the working class on a single income a couple generations ago.

Edited to add:
Also, the nationwide data I’ve seen indicate that over the past several decades incomes have been declining for people near the bottom of the economic ladder and stagnant for people in the middle. So it’s not clear to me that, on average, people are doing better than their parents and grandparents.

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I think this is an oversimplification. Is there evidence that young adults who are financially secure are marrying earlier and/or having children earlier? It’s not that hard to find examples of young adults who go into the trades and get good incomes at a young age without much debt, or young adults whose college was paid for (by parents or scholarships) and get good jobs after college. Without evidence, I’d guess that they are marrying/having kids younger than their peers, but not nearly to the same extent as a typical Boomer.

I think the rot here is cultural. Biblical marriage is effectively banned (no-fault divorce allows either party to nuke a marriage on any whim), and marriage and child-rearing are low-status, especially when done young. Our culture doesn’t bat an eye at young people spending 25 years (!) fornicating, but try to get married at 18 or 22 and watch all the side-eye.

Economics is a piece of the puzzle here, but I think the answer lies in cultural and spiritual problems.

No doubt, if Americans (or western nations in general) were wild animals, the save-the-whales crew would be pretty worried. And we’ll should they be. A TFR of 1.5 or whatever we are running is basically a slow-motion catastrophe.

One thing that has changed dramatically in the last couple of generations is the expectation that all kids will have their own bedrooms. Boomers often ran very large families with one (small!) bedroom for each sex. For some reason, GenX decided that kids should all have their own bedrooms and that’s really changed the real estate calculus for large families.


I think the early age of marriage in the baby boom era is widely attributed to the unusually good economic prospects because marriage had occurred at older ages in the prior decades going all the way back to the 19th century. But it is an oversimplification in that a return of the baby boom economy would likely not result in an equally early age of marriage now because the cultural script has changed.

The way I would put it is that the problem is primarily cultural and spiritual, but it is a great error to view it only as cultural and spiritual, and especially to view it only as a spiritual problem at the individual level (e.g., porn and Netflix). One might say many of the economic challenges arise from a culture that no longer values family formation. Perhaps a pastor is best off addressing the individuals in his congregation regarding the issues that are within their scope to change, but I was disappointed that someone with a platform did not consider how a change in social and economic policy would promote greater marriage and fertility. Social conservatives in America have a blind spot when it comes to economic policy.

This is a good way of framing it. The fact that real median wages have stagnated in the US for 50 years (two whole generations!), with a brief respite during the Trump years, is a national scandal. It’s not the only problem, but it certainly frames how much we as a country value young people and their ability to affordably form families.

Agreed. Getting manufacturing re-shored should be considered a national priority. Has anyone re-shored antibiotics manufacturing yet, or are 90+% of antibiotics still being manufactured by a semi-hostile rival power as we discovered in the early days of Covid? America is an amazing country. We could re-shore manufacturing with some strategic tariffs, like what happened with the Japanese auto manufacturers, who now have plants all across the US.

I’ll also say that social conservatives have been on the runt end of the Republican political coalition in America for decades. Before Dobbs, what was their most recent prior victory? Defeating ERA? I don’t know whose fault it is but social conservatives have gotten almost nothing from their political coalition in the last 50 years. Less than the NRA and certainly less than the Chamber of Commerce.

Just want to add that the massive metro area housing difficulties and job markets aren’t the only or even the main reason people in the West aren’t having kids. I live in a major city with all the same issues @Joel is talking about. That’s all true here. My parents, however, live in a much smaller city in the midwest where housing is far cheaper, good jobs abound (a dozen significant factories within the county, some with very good healthcare and hourly pay regularly between $20-30/hr plus overtime), and comparatively decent schools.

And the Christians there are following many of the same trends as those in the metro areas. It’s not just economics. While there is a place for some to stay in the metro area for spiritual reasons (as has been mentioned on this thread here), many young people want to live in expensive areas because of the perceived benefits to themselves and their lifestyles, not because they must to make a decent living. And even those delaying or limiting children in my church context aren’t doing so primarily out of cost/benefit analysis - it may be a factor, but it’s hardly the biggest one.

I’m sorry, but pastorally I just don’t see that ‘milestones’ are the reasons younger couples are delaying marriage and children. Here in the city, or back home on the farm. I’m all for improving economics for all the reasons you mention, but that’s neither the source of the problem nor the fix to the problem. And ironically, a bevy of young couples viewing marriage and family through a moral (ie Christian) lens rather than an economic lens might actually help provoke some of the economic change that’s necessary.

On a related note, do we know if the number of long-term (30-plus) singles in our churches is increasing over time?

I think that Kevin DeYoung coming around on the goodness of having more children is not useless.

As to the economics of having children, evangelicals have done a very poor job understanding and responding to the industrial revolution’s destruction of the traditional family paradigm. If you haven’t read him, I would recommend reviewing Alan Carlson’s work He has done a great job illuminating not only the tremendous changes but also the efforts pro-family leaders have made to stop the havoc. Looking back its clear to see that those mostly political efforts to stop the damage failed.

Why did they fail? If the majority of Americans felt(feel) strongly about having larger families, wouldn’t economic policy follow? I would argue they failed because Protestants no longer thought large families were important or even desirable. Early 20th century Protestant pastors and their elite parishioners set the tone and example for their congregations by severely curtailing the number of children they had. Public opinion gradually turned through the first half of the century, resulting in the mess we have now.

If DeYoung is changing his mind and being more bold about Christians having more children, I think that’s useful. Could he do more? Sure. Maybe he will.


I’d add one more thing about DeYoung - the real test of his opinion is whether or not he shepherds his own flock at Christ Covenant Church outside of Charlotte to understand, submit to and ultimately love God’s will on the issue of raising children. Hard to do at wealthy churches.

Absolutely. Subscribed for many years to Family in America, and recommended it many times, also. RE Kevin, did anyone else notice him referring to being a “parent of four teenagers,” rather than a “father.” Words matter, although it’s hard to convince anyone of it. We must work hard to notice the death of “father” and its cognates. Read “Daddy Tried” for proof ot its attenuation in modern Bible versions. A third and more of “father” and its cognates have been deleted from God’s Word by modern versions. Documentation of this in DT wreaked havoc relationally one day at our Taylor Family Reunion. Love,


One positive, thanks to the pandemic. Because of Teams and Zoom, it became acceptable to work from home for nearly all the time. Example: I live and work in Scotland; but one of my government colleagues lives two hundred miles away in Yorkshire. She does have to put her head in the door every so often, but distance working is now an accepted part of things. The point is that if people can work from and at a distance, it means that they will be able to live in a cheaper area, and this might well aid in family formation.

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