So... Has anyone considered that mentoring could possibly be an alternative to having children? In terms of overall psychological well-being? The studies do show that having children is inversely related to happiness, but many people choose to have children anyways since they get a different sort of satisfaction from having children.

But with mentors, they can get many of the benefits and few of the costs (plus, they'll know unambiguously that they've helped someone - with parenting, it's different). And the people they mentor are most likely more compatible with them than the children that they'll most likely have (it's selection bias for compatibility, basically)

That being said, maybe there is something psychological missing out from all this. I was never brought up in a loving or close family (asian parents), so I don't really see any benefits to having a family (incidentally, this might be one huge reason why the fertility rate in places like Taiwan/Japan/South Korea are now among the lowest rates in the world - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_territories_by_fertility_rate#The_CIA_TFR_Ranking ).

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The studies do show that having children is inversely related to happiness, but many people choose to have children anyways since they get a different sort of satisfaction from having children.

A major flaw that seems to run fairly consistently through these studies is that they aren't longitudinal over the course of an entire lifetime. That is, they focus entirely on the effect on happiness of having children while they are children, and ignore the possible difference in happiness when the parents are elderly. The old person surrounded by children and grandchildren is quite plausibly going be happier than the increasingly isolated person watching their friends die off one by one in the relatively unappealing environment of an assisted living facility.

I was never brought up in a loving or close family (asian parents), so I don't really see any benefits to having a family

The conclusion does not follow from the premise. This seems like excellent reasoning for employing different parenting strategies and family values than you experienced in your childhood, not evidence that there is no benefit to family under any circumstances.

A major flaw that seems to run fairly consistently through these studies is that they aren't longitudinal over the course of an entire lifetime. That is, they focus entirely on the effect on happiness of having children while they are children, and ignore the possible difference in happiness when the parents are elderly. The old person surrounded by children and grandchildren is quite plausibly going be happier than the increasingly isolated person watching their friends die off one by one in the relatively unappealing environment of an assisted living facility.

True, those are good points.

The conclusion does not follow from the premise. This seems like excellent reasoning for employing different parenting strategies and family values than you experienced in your childhood, not evidence that there is no benefit to family under any circumstances.

Perhaps. But having never felt familial love, I'm very resistant to the idea of starting a family, and I default to a decision to not start one. If I could even feel any reward from having a family (the way a lot of white families feel), then maybe I might intrinsically default to the other decision. To me, having a family sounds like an extremely irrational decision (one made out of a decision to cave into social pressure rather than from any real intrinsic reward), but that's because I've never felt the intense rewards that other people have felt from having families

A major flaw that seems to run fairly consistently through these studies is that they aren't longitudinal over the course of an entire lifetime. That is, they focus entirely on the effect on happiness of having children while they are children, and ignore the possible difference in happiness when the parents are elderly. The old person surrounded by children and grandchildren is quite plausibly going be happier than the increasingly isolated person watching their friends die off one by one in the relatively unappealing environment of an assisted living facility.

Is there a difference between saying that and saying "the reasons I have kids is so that I won't be lonely when I'm older". Seems like an unfair expectation on the child. I have great difficulty with seeing it as ethical to expect anything off offspring. Where am I going wrong?

Pre-industrial revolution, people had the expectation that their offspring would work for the family as soon as they were able, because that was the only way parents or children were going to survive. It seems a worthy trade for existing. Post-industrial revolution, I don't think people consciously have children primarily for the benefit to themselves. There may be an underlying economic logic to it, but people think they are having children for the benefit of the children.

You haven't really explained your ethical objection, so it is hard to reply to. I think one can make both contractarian (with a hypothetical choice between never existing at all, or an agreement to support one's helpless parents after they have supported you when you were helpless, pretty much everyone would choose the latter, and we can therefore infer the consent of future children living in non-abusive families) and consequentialist (the norm of children supporting their parents in old age encourages bringing more children into existence, which is generally taken to be a good thing above the repugnant conclusion threshhold) arguments in favor of it.

My ethical objection has to do with the imposition of life on a being without their consent(which is impossible they don't exist), with full knowledge of the inherent cruelties of both your existence and theirs. I think people have children for the same reason they've always had children, which is ensure genetic off spring anything else around it is consequential. I don't want to have kids for example or at least not the conventional way it just seems altogether a cruel thing to do with current understanding of the world.

Right I'm down 2 karma points with no explanation. Care to enlighten me?

Ya I'd still really like to know why what I've said is so harsh.

I agree with the other comment makers that there are more effective ways of contributing to the world (i.e., saving the world) than causing a few 18-years-olds to exist in a couple of decades that would otherwise not have existed. However (and this has not been mentioned here yet) it might be the case that the experience of having children drastically improves a person's ability to pursue these more effective ways.

(Since most civlizational progress consists of significant contributions from a relatively small number of people, it would be nice if someone did a study of the rate of parenthood in that relatively small group of people.)

Particularly, having children might make a person much better at mentoring than anything else the person might do to get better at mentoring -- including getting practice at mentoring. (I know that many of my readers will consider that unlikely, so I am now going to try to defend it.)

For the purposes of this comment, let us define "mentoring" as the loaning of one's own instrumental rationality to another person to help that person with his career or his life. One advantage of defining the term this way is that it tends to illuminate what I consider the primary barrier to becoming a good mentor: actually caring about the other person approximately as much as one cares about oneself. In other words, the most important fact I know about mentoring is that most who want to be mentors or who consider themselves mentors are vastly better at optimizing their own careers and lives than they are at helping other human beings optimize their careers and lives. In other words, most prospective mentors are very bad at transferring (or "loaning") whatever skills and bodies of knowledge the prospective mentors have for dealing with the messy, not-easily-codified parts of work, life and human relationships.

The evidence I have that parenting makes you better at mentoring is not particularly strong. One big piece of evidence is that many parents seem to love their children more than they love themselves. E.g., when faced with resource constraints, they choose to spend resources on their child's education or health care instead of equally pressing needs of their own. Loving someone more than one loves oneself is very rare outside of the parent-child relationship.

It stands to reason that the hardest part of becoming a good mentor is achieving that first mentoring relationship in which the degree to which the new mentor actually cares about the protege is a signficant fraction of the degree to which the new mentor cares about him- or herself. Having children strikes me as the "royal road" (the most direct path, the best way) to achieving that first successful mentoring relationship. The other royal road would be having a committed sexual partner.

On the other hand, one of the best mentors I have ever met is a woman under 30 who has never been married and never had children. Both of her parents worked in occupations in which mentoring was the whole point. Overall, having parents who are good at mentoring is the strongest predictor I can think of of who will become a good mentor.

Another piece of evidence: I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to pick doctors because I have had a chronic illness my entire adult life. I am 50 now. Doctors very wildly in how useful they are to their patients, and the doctors who treated me who have children have been drastically more helpful to me than the ones without children.

If you're pretty sure that your comparative advantage is in discovering new scientific laws and such, then the expected utility of having kids is lower because there are plenty of examples (e.g., Newton, Thomson) -- even from the era before effective birth control during which most successful men had children -- of successful scientists never getting married and never having children. Of course, one does not need to be a good mentor to discover a new scientific law (although being a good mentor is a nice-to-have for its usefulness in helping one enter into mutually beneficial relationships with other good scientist-mentors).

Ah, interesting comments. Maybe that could be so in some cases. The experience I've had does sort of differ though. Adults without families are often more helpful than those with families because those without families tend to have more time (and also, more of a desire to mentor, even, because they don't have anyone to project any parental impulses on). Those with families have so little time that they're often somewhat more resistant to mentoring.

Though I do think it is a person-to-person situation

If I didn't want kids of my own, I might consider fostering or adoption. (I consider it anyway, but ultimately continue to decide against it.)

As far as I can guess -- a foster parent would be a much better source here, but I don't see one forthcoming -- the main drawbacks of fostering and adoption is the emotional turmoil of the lack of security regarding keeping the child when attachment takes place (such children are often in limbo, with no biological parents not taking care of them at the moment but the parents can often reclaim them), and the challenges of attachment with children that haven't been taken care of in the past.

But if you are a kind person that can provide a stable, comfortable home for a child, I can think of hardly any greater contribution to the happiness of the world. Children, especially small children, desperately need to be part of a family (where a family means a safe adult they can depend on, and the more the merrier after that) and lacking that they are miserable and may cause further social trouble when they are adults.

Personally I realize I don't have the emotional resilience. While I could take care of a hurting child if I needed to, I have such a small store of emotional strength that if had foster or adopted children I know I would be less of a parent for my own children. However, if someone had the strength, wouldn't that be an incredibly direct way to help the world?

If you're mainly interested in optimizing your influence on the world / future generations, things like writing, mentoring and so on are surely much more efficient than parenting.

Depends. Genetics matter.

To get a decent estimate one needs to ask many questions. How far in the future is the singularity? How odd are you? How intelligent are you? What traits do you seek in a mate or rather are you willing to become a single parent with the use of technology and getting the best sperm/ovum money can buy? How good is one at crafting memes and choosing life situations that will ensure high fertilty and transmission of values to their children?

If the singularity is 50+ years away I'm quite sure an average TFR of 4 for LWrong readers would have a greater impact on its course than if they had directed the time and resources that allowed the community to rise above the expected fertility its demographic on things like mentoring and writing. Especially since mentoring and writting seems like something one can do after one is "done" with children, things like especially tricky and important math are however worth sacrificing reproductive time for.

On timescales longer than that having children, except for the top talent who builds a cultural base, is just ridiculously more productive especially if they can form virtual communities and peer networks for their children ensuring they have above average fertility as well. This would I think move LW into, socially speaking, functioning more like a religion, with all the potentially positive and negative consequences.

If you were really trying to optimize impact on the future, both genetically and memetically, then regular donation of sperm/eggs plus mentoring/writing/educating is clearly more effective.

This is supposing that perhaps one dosen't come from a line where genetics and memetics co-evolved to a great codependency.

While meme dissemination may find a few people with the right traits to hold on, my (if I was human) biological children seem unlikely to stumble into the proper memes.

Also both parents and educators effect on children is minimal, but a parent can influence a child's peer group (which does have a considerable influence) far more effectively (he can move) than a teacher or mentor.

In any case optimizing for genetic success is so low cost, I can't see why everyone, those with children and those without don't donate sperm/eggs in countries where they can do so anonymously.

Donating sperm is pretty easy. Donating eggs requires some hospital approving you, injecting yourself daily with fertility drugs with unknown long-term effects, making really sure you don't get pregnant while you're super-fertile and can't use normal birth control, a 5% risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, and people poking around inside you with a big needle (possibly puncturing something while it's in there). I would be more likely to consider it if the health risks didn't make my husband so nervous.

The studies do show that having children is inversely related to happiness

I haven't seen the relevant studies, so I don't know if this has already been accounted for, but it strikes me that since most people do have children at some point, there are probably some distinct psychological differences on average between people who do and don't have children.

It's like the studies that show that people who occasionally drink alcohol in moderation tend to live longer than those who don't drink at all; one might conclude that moderate alcohol consumption is healthy, but since adults who don't drink alcohol at all are exceptional, you'd want to look for other relevant ways non-drinkers tend to deviate from the norm.

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