Selfish Reasons to have more Kids

Via Steve Sailer. Jonathan Last reviews a new book by Brian Kaplan, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. The best message I got out of the review is that we can stop worrying about providing a perfect childhood to mold our children, because you really can't mold children.

So you can greatly increase the chances of your children voting the way you do, going to your church and thinking fondly of you. But that's about it. "Instead of thinking of children as lumps of clay for parents to mold, we should think of them as plastic that flexes in response to pressure—and pops back to its original shape once the pressure is released."

It reminds me of Steve's frequent admontion that his parents sent him outside to play because the adults had important martini drinking to do and didn't want the kids underfoot.

Last's review generated an objection from Peter Robinson, who simply could not believe that this statement is true:

In study after study, researchers find that parents are consistently less happy than non-parents. No matter how you control the sample, if you have two identical people—one with a child and one without—the parent will be 5.6 percentage points less happy. Mr. Caplan bravely acknowledges this problem but is never able to say clearly what, exactly, the benefits of parenthood really are. Kids, he says, are "ridiculously cute" and "playful," and "they look like you." And in any case, everyone loves grandchildren.

Robinson's objection is pretty interesting, because happiness is an ambiguous term in English. It can mean purely hedonistic pleasure, or it can take the Aristotelian sense of fulfilling our purpose in life. The survey Caplan cites probably draws mostly on the former sense, while Robinson's objection, and Last's reply really draw on the latter. [NYT Magazine article on survey here] It is entirely plausible that something unpleasant can make you happy.