Are Children a Lifestyle Choice or a Social Necessity?


In a conversation about government-run schools’ use of taxpayer dollars to out-compete private schools, Mike678 asks:

Are not children these days a choice and a lifestyle? Why do taxpayers w/o children have to pay for other peoples choices?

Those questions rely on a pretty progressive premise that people are burdens to manage, not ends in themselves.  The implied point of view also skips over the fact that having children is pretty much the social and biological default for human beings (yes, still).  That is, for most couples, not having children is the more deliberate choice.

And it’s a choice with severe ramifications for the rest of us.  Very directly, for example, one might ask why somebody else’s children, as taxpayers, should have to carry a heavier burden to pay the Social Security of a childless senior’s choices.  Even without entitlement programs, though, the fact is that a society needs children.  Look to Japan:

… in the long run the fortunes of nations are determined by population trends. Japan is not only the world’s fastest-aging major economy (already every fourth person is older than 65, and by 2050 that share will be nearly 40 percent), its population is also declining. Today’s 127 million will shrink to 97 million by 2050, and forecasts show shortages of the young labor force needed in construction and health care. Who will maintain Japan’s extensive and admirably efficient transportation infrastructures? Who will take care of millions of old people? By 2050 people above the age of 80 will outnumber the children.

I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest new child tax credits or a directly paid government child allowance, as some do.  Social engineering is, after all, social engineering, and the government tends to plod along in a march of unintended consequences.  (It matters, for one thing, for whom in our society we create incentives to birth more children.)  However, when children are born, it behooves us to ensure that education is a priority, and alleviating that burden becomes quite a different thing than subsidizing the procreation.

  • ShannonEntropy

    Japan is not only the world’s fastest-aging major economy … its population is also declining. Today’s 127 million will shrink to 97 million by 2050 ….

    And you think that’s a *bad* trend ??

    Nobody who has ever been to Tokyo has taken a look around and thought, “You know what the problem here is ?? Not enough people !!”

    • Rhett Hardwick

      Large families are the “poor man’s social security”. As countries progress into the “First World” family size almost always declines.

  • Mike678

    Social need or necessity aside, do we agree that having a child/children given today’s pharmaceutical abundance is a choice? Not pro-choice/pro abortion–which are pretty gruesome progressive pathways (as demonstrated by the recent videos), but a deeply personal choice, i.e., freedom? Frankly, I don’t see championing personal freedom as a progressive concept. Growing the population (through birth or immigration) may be good for society, the country and so forth, but it still comes down to choice (caveat: we don’t get much input in immigration as the Executive branch isn’t enforcing current laws).

    You can incentivize children–which you discuss–but that acknowledges that having children IS a choice. I’d argue paying for schools through property tax IS burden sharing/incentivizing children as the education of these children is shared throughout the community. In my town we have ~10,000 households–4,000 of which have a child/children in school (K-12). If the 4,000 alone had to pay the $50M a year for education I think we’d have a lot of home-schooled kids. Yes–Public education serves the common good–in theory. Whether or nor we get value for the $ is another question…

    And you are correct–incentives need to be targeted. Right now we incentivize irresponsibility and poverty, i.e., single mothers through a variety of short-sighted, feel good programs that do little but doom the children, in general, to increased odds of failure.

    Finally, your social security example is flawed. The childless senior paid into the system, no? Should he/she not also receive from it? Is it his/her fault that the Gov’t funds SS like a ponzi scheme?

    Have a great weekend!

    • OceanStateCurrent

      The title of the post notwithstanding, I do agree that couples can effectively sterilize themselves, these days. That doesn’t mean that having children is just another choice on the menu. As I said, it’s pretty much the default in a healthy society, meaning that the contrary decision is the more-active choice.

      Similarly, funding education is not so much an incentive to have children as the removal of a disincentive. If we imagine the most crass, selfish parents in the world, they don’t really gain anything by not having to pay for school versus not having children… unless you assume there’s some inherent incentive to have the children in the first place (which brings us back to the first point above).

      On Social Security, the childless senior may have paid into the system, but not enough to cover his or her benefits. More to the point, the system is designed to take money from the young and send it to the old. However much the senior may have given to people in a prior generation, the money will not be there for him unless there is a subsequent generation.

      • Rhett Hardwick

        My comment on “poor man’s social security” was intended to mean that before “Social Security” a large family was needed to provide for elders.

      • Mike678

        Semantics aside, the defense of social security…a classic nanny state program IMO…is interesting. What was the original intent of the program? Was it designed as a ponzi scheme? Who gets benefits drawn from it today? At what point does the population necessary to support the previous generation exceed what the country can support?

        • Rhett Hardwick

          As far as I know, it has never been actuarialy sound. Consider people who retired in the 1970’s and 80’s. When they began working in the 1930’s, the minimum wage was $.25, what could they have paid in? The old canard is that the retirement age of 65 was selected because that was the age that Bismarck had selected in 1880 +/-. The system probably limped along soundly for a few decades when the average life expectancy was 68, or so. Can’t lay out the math here, but for a moderate-high income worker, if the SS tax was privately invested at a 6% average, it far out performs SS.

  • ShannonEntropy

    On Social Security, the childless senior may have paid into the system, but not enough to cover his or her benefits. More to the point, the system is designed to take money from the young and send it to the old.

    This generational money shell game will always be with us

    I haven’t had a kid in the Warwick public school system since 2002, yet I just paid the city nearly $12K in property taxes — 70% of which will go to the schools. In return, the generations I educated can pay for my Social Security benefits

    Likewise with Obozo·care … I educated those young healthy adults, so let them get mandated to pay for health insurance to subsidize my Medicare

    Luckily for us us oldsters, kids and young adults don’t vote … so WE are already the winners of the ongoing generational war …

    • Mike678

      An optimist! Good for you. I wonder at what point the taxes to pay for our healthcare and SS will disincentivize the hard-working youth from actually working. And before we get to that point, how means testing and rationing implemented by the elites will affect those approaching retirement. You can’t get blood from the stoned…(apologies).

      • ShannonEntropy

        A “supply-side” economist would point to the Laffer Curve and suggest we are already at that point …

        Employers here in Li’l Rhody talk all the time about how often potential employees only want to work part-time so as not to lose their SNAP benefits &/or Obozo·care subsidies

        Speaking of curves ,, we have a much bigger problem with the Fed — which is run by economists who still believe in and set interest rates based on the Phillips Curve

        … which nobody else with even a rudimentary understanding of economics has given credence to for decades now