"One and Done," Lauren Sandler's Time cover story this week, offers a series of reasons why many parents in the West are choosing to have only one child. First, the economic strain: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the average child in the U.S. costs his or her parents about $286,050—before college," reports Sandler. There's also the happiness and freedom that apparently come to parents with only one child. Sandler says the vast majority of married couples understand marriage as primarily about happiness and fulfillment, rather than an institution designed to facilitate the "bearing and raising of children." And if marriage is about personal happiness, as one sociologist writes, "You should say that you'll stop at one child to maximize your subjective well-being." And, on a related note, "Parents who intend to have only one say they can manage the drudgery with an eye on the light at the end of the tunnel."
Sandler also addresses some of the reasons parents traditionally have chosen to have two or more children. There's the concern that only children will grow up to be selfish and spoiled. But current research suggests that even if only children are "highly indulged and highly protected," they also tend to "score higher in measures of intelligence and achievement" than children from larger families. There's also the concern that only children face an untenable burden in caring for aging parents, and will be lonely.
As the mother of two children with a third on the way, I found myself bristling at Sandler's reporting. Her data about academic achievement seem insignificant. I want to value our children not for what they can produce but for who they are becoming. Furthermore, the data suggest that only children's ...1
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