Brief thought exercise: in a way, is actually having a child more selfish than not having one?

Alright, let’s start here: I don’t have kids but God willing (and maybe a job willing) later, I’d like to someday.

Now move to here: for years, the narrative has actually been based on the idea that it’s selfish not to have a child.

But then consider this: there are close to 9 billion people on the planet right now, and by most logical estimates, the planet wasn’t supposed to support more than 3.5-4 billion ever. The population is doubling every 30-40 years at this point across the last few decades.

Now, logically, yes, a reasonable upper limit on human existence is 100 years old, which means that if everyone currently pregnant was the last round of new humans, our society would be cashed out in about 100-120 years. That’s kind of the idea behind “not having children is selfish” in a way; our goal, after all, should be extension of the species (well, at least one goal).

But if you think about different reasons people give for wanting to have a child, aren’t some of those reasons actually the selfish ones?

“I want to create a family” (again, beautiful and purposeful, but the world does have quite a few people)

“I think it would be fun” (indeed, and adorable — but that involves bringing an entire being in the world off prospects for your enjoyment)

“We’d be good at it”

“I was born and I want to pay that forward”

“I want to bring joy into the world”

“It’s important to my parents to have grandkids” (I have heard this one a few times)

This list has some adorable things on it, but also will make you cringe 3-4 times.

I’ll take a brief sidebar and tell a story. A few years ago, I was at a restaurant in NYC and the table next to me was having a conversation. Basically, one woman was telling the other woman that because her husband was becoming financially successful more and more each year, it was “their obligation” (perhaps the word was “responsibility”) to go from 1 kid to 3-5 kids. “If you have the money, you just need to do it,” was said a few times (maybe 7-8). I’ve never really understood that attitude — having more money certainly helps with more kids, yes, but the flip side is harsh too. I grew up in an area (and went to schools) of kids coming from money, and often you see more detachment there — because the parents have more commitments in order to keep making that kind of money. That’s harder on the kids. (I’m not saying all affluent parents are bad, nor am I saying all poor parents are good. I’m saying it’s based on your specific context.)

And again, most of this is hypocritical as I’d someday like to have kids. But it’s not meant as “my attitude” and more as a “thought exercise” — is it inherently selfish, in the current global context, to bring a new living thing into the world?

Ted Bauer