A list with counter-commentary:

  1. “In the past kids assisted in farm work, and child labor was legal; the incentive then was to have many kids. But today kids take forever to be economically productive and are much more expensive. Thus many people have fewer kids. Circumvent the incentive structure by training your kids useful at younger ages.” -Various authors

    I don't think this is a factual representation of the dynamics. In the past people had lots of kids for two reasons. One, sex caused children. Two, any group which failed to have enough children survive into adulthood would die out quickly and visibly. Making children useful at younger ages might give us some semi-useful 8 year-olds, who are helpful with the little ones. However, in a larger family one parent is still going to be a 4/5 time domestic engineer, even with help from the 8 year old and not contributing to GDP. I don't see how this pronatalism 3+ kids stuff works without pulling one parent out mostly out of the GDP equation. TANSTAAFL.
  2. “Technological innovation is more likely when the next generation is bigger. As the gains from technology slows to a halt, so too will the stock market cease to grow. In a world that is not growing, many financial instruments will collapse.” - https://pronatalist.org/

    AI is probably going to allow GDP to keep rising. Eventually, we won’t need people at all, and the stock market will be fine. Don’t worry about it.
  3. "National greatness, and staying ahead of China for world influence requires that we have the biggest economy. To do that, we need more people." -Matt Yglesias, One Billion Americans.

    Yeah, the guy who has chosen to have one child is going to inspire me to make the sacrifices involved in having four. It might be good for America, but the ‘ask’ here looks like it is that I sacrifice my utility for Matt’s one kid, and thus is not cooperate-cooperate. I’ll jump when you jump.
  4. "You might not like the sacrifices of having children now, but look out over the course of your life. The cost of children is finite and the pleasure of grandchildren is, while not infinite, very high. Most people don't want to limit their number of grandchildren. On the margin, you should increase your chances of having more grandchildren by having more kids!" -Bryan Caplan, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

    Bryan Caplan, at least, has three four kids. Looking out over the long-term sure sounds good. And, I remember Solon of Athens identifying eudaimonia with being a grandparent of healthy, smart grandkids. It sounds so nice! But, first economists told me to move for more productive work, and now they want me to have kids with no grandparents around to help me with them. Thanks guys! This sucks.

    Long-term thinking for someone in their late 20s about grandchildren only works when there is enough financial and psycho-social slack to make the long-term optimizing choice. I mean something like the following: The cost of children is not merely financial, but also a huge logistical problem - random sickness, work-life-friends schedule conflicts, transportation costs, shifts in the network of people you have time for. Just as people living paycheck-to-paycheck don't invest, nor does a couple up to their eyeballs in career capital investment invest in having more than the minimum acceptable number of grandchildren.
  5. “Don’t be a mesa-optimizer for sexual stimulation. Try to recouple sex and children in your life. In fact, not only that, become a meta-optimizer! Create social environments that make sex reinforce your love of partner and increase the quantity of love both partners offer to the next generation (by increasing children). Those children will in turn become lovers of others, accelerating the growth rate of love in the world!” - LoveBot 2084

    Evolution doesn’t care whether we circumvent the sex->children dynamic, because evolution is not a person. I’m not cheating nature by not having kids. Some moral rules might make evolutionary sense, but evolution does not create right and wrong. That’s a Naturalism Fallacy.
  6. “Children are not that hard to raise. Lower your obsession with saving for college and buying expensive summer camps and caring so much about having the highest consumption standard of living. Only the first few years are tough in terms of sleep and work.” -Bryan Caplan again, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

    Except, when I have four kids, that “first few years” is actually 15 years, and the lovely spouse who has the higher income job would experience a huge opportunity cost staying home, and the other spouse who specializes in prosocial nonprofit work would experience an opportunity cost too. How is that tradeoff going to work?
  7. “If you are not willing to make the sacrifices to have 2.1+ kids, why should anyone else? Hypocritically you wish for other people to carry the burdens, while you reap the benefits of a consistently and sustainably growing society. Free-riding scum. Irresponsible lout.” - Deontology-ish

    What’s with the ad hominem? You sound like some sort of reactionary, did you know that? In any case, immigration might solve the problem both in the short-term, through creating higher productivity, and the long-term, through cultural change. Though for now, who, of those who hope immigration will solve the problem, are being the solution they want to see in the world?
  8. “The statistical value of a human life is between 2 and 10 million dollars in a Western Country. The cost of raising a child to 20 is around $300,000. Those re turns after only 20 years beat every hedge fund in the world. If you allow that the dollar values there correlate to utility, then you’ve created a ton of utility at very little cost.” -Utilitarian-ish

    But no, this is a ridiculous accounting method! Comparing the average actual cost of raising a child to the statistical value of human life is apples and oranges! The real comparison should be the total economic cost of having children to the total economic benefit. And none of that, “existence-is-infinitely-valuable funny business either!” Still the scales probably would weigh in favor of children (median US lifetime income is $1.7 million). Nonetheless, this proves nothing! Children are utility monsters. Help! I am being utility mugged! If I accept this logic I'd be compelled to have as many kids as possible!
  9. “Life is good and worth living. Create more of it, because it is good. Eventually the sacrifice becomes sweet as your utility function updates towards an appreciation of kids. When you realize just how good it is that this new toddling space-invader is enjoying life, you will be at peace. Thus the righteous person considers kids as the default option and requires a very strong reason to not raise the additional kid.” - Virtue Ethics-ish

    When I understand how Aristotelians think, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, this “inherent sweetness of life” stuff seems mystical (along the lines of infinite utility). Having children is hard. Is Aristotle going to acknowledge that? No, he’s a dude and thinks kids are a woman’s job. Sorry, sorry that's an ad hominem. Stick to the object level! As for the argument, eudaimonia consists of a balance of many competing goods and for any couple that will include career and lifestyle sacrifices. How much consumption can we afford to sacrifice? It seems pretty bare bones already…

Are these reasons all bad? They are okay and yet, for many, not compelling. Can one really be intellectually convinced to go through the deeply visceral experience of conceiving and raising children? Yes, some people for sure; for us, perhaps especially! But we need more than that. We need visceral experience and a community of practice to clear the way.

So in addition to the reasons above I submit to you my visceral experience from yesterday as an additional reason to have kids.

"Hello, Lórien!" - Big Brother on behalf of World
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I think I would prefer seeing these arguments steelmanned than strawmanned...

Which arguments do you think are the strawmen?

Well e.g. One Billion Americans isn't addressed at readers to tell them to have more kids. It's addressed at policy makers to pursue policies to allow for more population growth - including through immigration, not just pro-natalist policies.

You are right that Matt's places a larger share of his hope in immigration than birthrates. However, Matt argues that immigration leads to assimilation and that includes assimilating to Western birthrates. His commitment to the political project of one billion Americans seems to require escaping the current equilibrium birthrate.

Sure, but he's not giving an argument for you as an individual to have more children. He's saying government should support policies which increase birthrates. So his having one child is not hypocritical.

That's fair! The cynic's voice was definitely too unfair in that context.

The only good reason to have children is because you want to have children, whether because you like children, or because you want them to take over your business one day, or any other reason. The only thing that matters here is what you want, not any moral philosophy considerations. At least in the world where you are not relying on them to support you in your old age. If you need to justify having children or not having children by logicking about it, you are doing it wrong.

I think if you live in a context where having kids is a norm, that is, where the local knowledge and family -friendship support of having and raising kids prevails, then truly arguments are a waste of time. You have freedom of choice, knowing well what that option entails.

But I think most people are not in a situation like mruwnik where they have seen large families in action; they don't really have the freedom to have a large family, since the metis is missing.

In any case, I think any ethical philosophy worth a penny includes an ethics of family, economics, and societal growth. Philosophical argument on its own might not serve as reason to have kids. But our philosophies, examined or unexamined, often serve as justifications of momentous life choices of this sort. So I think I will reject that 'logicking' about having kids is a waste of time. Especially when people cite reasons philosophical and ethical for having/not having kids all the time.

I do feel like you are somewhat overstating the difficulty level of raising kids. I have three kids, the youngest of which is only five and yet well out of the phase where she is making big messes and requiring constant "active" parenting. The meme that raising kids is incredibly hard is, perhaps, a pet peeve of mine. Childless people often talk about children as if they remain helpless babies for 10 years. In truth, with my three kids, there will have only three years out of my in-expectation-long-life where I had to deal with sleep disruption and baby-related calisthenics. Once you get through that time period, there are very few child-related obligations that aren't more fun than whatever you would have been doing with your time anyway.

Another good reason to have kids that I don't see mentioned often is that the child will predictably become your favorite person. Before you have had kids, the default is to view future possible children as "abstract potential humans" with no particular qualities, which means it is basically impossible to vividly imagine how much you will care about them. We are particularly bad at reasoning about predictable changes to what we care about. I think it is important to at least try -- what you care about is going to inevitably drift over time, and if you're not modeling yourself as a person who cares about different things over time, then you're making an error. Having kids allows you to achieve a huge amount of "value" at a very cheap cost.

If you have only one child and he or she dies, your entire life is fucked up for ever. 
If you have 3-4 children, losing one is heart breaking but you will survive.
Big families are more resilient against death and grief.

(This is from experience with close friends and family members btw).

Bryan Caplan, at least, has three kids

nit: he has four

Thanks! Fixed :)

Sorry, Bryan. 

Nobody will care about you in the long-term future – except spouse and children (and maybe friendly AI?). So having children increases your chances to be resurrected or at least achieve significant life extension. 

Hi Mack, 

You seem somewhat new. I just want to let you know that community standards of discourse avoid appeals to authority, especially appeals to authority without commentary. A comment like this provides little value, even if in jest.

Downvoted because just running in and dropping a scripture quote without commentary degrades LW conversational norms. This is not Wednesday night bible study and people don't nod their heads smilingly because you found a related scripture quote. Even if the audience were 90% believers, I doubt they would interpret scripture the same way you do. You should explain why you chose this quote and what bearing it has on turchin's admittedly glib point.

Besides switching from protestantism to at least something with a bit more harumph like, catholicism or orthodoxy, I encourage you to wrestle with the sequences, if you haven't already.


It is a variant of Roco Basilisk: people who cared about superinteligent entity will be rewarded more.

Updateless Decision Theory allows for acting as though you need to cooperate with an agent beyond you, even if it has a low probability of existing. I suppose your case of grandchildren works like this? I can cooperate with my as yet nonexistent grandchildren by making the probability of their existence higher, they will likely reward me more?

I'll have to work on my family norms then! Ancestor worship, it is!

Yes, it is something like this. For example, I still working on projects which my late mother started (like publishing her book and preserving archive).

The counterpoint to 3 - AI - invalidates most of the economical counterpoints.

The counterpoint to 5 - evolution - invalidates most arguments too - including itself! If you don't accept the indirect incentives evolution created why should you accept the also indirect economical incentives?

I agree with your visceral incentives though;-)

The first argument (cheap labour) is actually a valid one. Anecdotally at least. I know a few families with multiple (e.g. 10) children who keep animals etc. as a large fraction of their income and the children help out a lot. A 4 year old can pick fruit and chase chickens. A 6 year old can peel potatoes and pick herbs. A 10 year old can fix easy mechanical problems. A 12 year old can be trusted with the younger children. Once they're around 16, they're pretty much adults and can take on stuff that otherwise you'd have to do.

That being said, you're right about this being at the cost of one parent a 4/5 time domestic engineer. Though in the case of a farm (or in general a family type business), this is still worth the investment. Especially if you treat it as a form of retirement protection - hopefully one of your children will take over the farm once you get old and hopefully won't kick you out.

Kids can be surprisingly useful resources at a surprisingly early age.

Kids can be surprisingly useful resources at a surprisingly early age.


On farms, as you've said, kids can figure out what to do and help out easily. If your work requires a lot of low-skill repetitive manual labor, kids can do that, and it can help teach them how to do your slightly higher-skill labor next year. 

This does not apply if you work as an engineer, or in an office, or many other cases where specific skills contingent on mostly-finished-developing brains are required to do your work and there is no manual labor that you can offload to children. If you expect your kid to go through the standard college route, there are 22 years of waiting before they can really do anything useful to help with your labor.