Advantages and Disadvantages of Having Children: The Individual Versus The State

There are many advantages and disadvantages of having children. These could be classified as economic, psychological, social and physical. The numerous benefits and costs are further influenced by many factors such as the type of country one resides in, what religious norms they follow and what culture and social setting they belong to.

Advantages Of Having Children

There are many perceived economic, psychological and social benefits to having children. Firstly, the perceived economic costs are expected financial support by children in the parents’ old age and additional workers to contribute to contribution to the household production and income. Secondly, the psychological value derived from having children includes companionship, love, stimulation and the extension of family name across generations. Finally, there are many social advantages of having children such as providing parents with important community roles, making the transition to adulthood or being accepted by other family members (East- West Population Institute 1989).

Disadvantages Of Having Children

On the other hand, there are many economic, psychological and physical costs to having children. Economic costs include both direct costs such as those of food, clothing and education and also indirect costs such as the mother’s potential loss of income because of responsibilities of childbearing. The psychological burden consists of restrictions on parents’ freedom, loss of flexibility, a reduction in free time and an increase in worries. Finally, the physical strain faced by couples is related to work of bearing and rearing children (East-West Population Institute 1989).

Couples in most countries have strong psychological and social motivations to initiate childbearing. After the first child’s birth, parents frequently report wanting a second child to provide companionship to their first child. After the first two children, consideration of the economic costs and benefits generally becomes more important (East-West Population Institute 1989).

Developing versus Developed Nations

Developing Countries

In high fertility countries such as India, parents are much more likely to view their children as productive investments than are people in low fertility countries. Far higher percentages of respondents in developing nations say that children are an economic advantage. This is because in such countries, the economic returns from the children compensate for the costs. These parents are less likely to emphasize the psychological advantages of children (East- West Population Institute 1989).

In some Asian nations, where children’s economic contributions have already declined, parents continue to value children as a source of security in old age. However, among some families, the traditional view that many children will bring old age security is changing to a view that fewer but better-educated children will bring more security. As government and private pensions provide more support for the elderly, and parents become better able to support themselves in old age, children’s economic roles will decline further (East-West Population Institute 1989).

Developed countries

In more developed nations, individuals are better able to afford to raise children. As economic development occurs, children’s roles in the society and economy begin to change. They become less valuable as workers, and social norms against child labour begin to take hold (East-West Population Institute 1989). As the economic value of children declines, there is a rise in the concept of the opportunity cost of children. It would refer to the loss in the income of working mothers if they remained at home to raise their children (Narayan 1979).

Hence, parents no longer value children for their economic contributions, but psychological and social reasons become more important as a reason to have children. Although children’s economic contributions decline, the parental burdens of childbearing remain. Thus parents are no longer the beneficiaries of childbearing but become their children’s benefactors. Parents in low fertility countries are much more likely to cite the restrictions that children bring to family life as a disadvantage. These restrictions may be an important reason that birth rates have fallen to low levels in economically advanced nations (East-West Population Institute 1989).

Policy Measures By The State

Why Should The State Reduce Fertility?

Reduced risk of maternal mortality: Effective use of contraception can enable women to delay the birth of their first child until the age of 20 or later. Contraception can also help women space births a few years apart and decrease unplanned pregnancies which might have otherwise ended in abortion. Family planning is especially important in cases where safe abortions are not an option since contraception could help reduce mortality due to unwanted births (DaVanzo & David 1998).

Improved health for children: Lower fertility also produces healthier children. Closely spaced children, children with many siblings and children born to younger or older mothers all face higher mortality risks.

Additionally, pregnancies that are closely spaced have a higher chance of resulting in low birth weight babies (DaVanzo & David 1998).

Socioeconomic development: Lower fertility reduces the proportion of dependent children in the population. A lower ratio of children to adults can create a “demographic bonus”. This means that families with fewer children have more disposable income that they can save or invest. Moreover, this helps in the age pyramid since less number of children means that a higher proportion of the population belongs to the working-age groups. A prime example of this phenomena is the Asian Economic Miracle. From 1960 to 1990, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong were the five major economies of the world. During these three decades, the women in East Asia were able to reduce their childbearing statistics from an average of six children to that of two children in one generation. An analysis of this experience of East Asian countries shows that the decline in fertility resulted in a decrease of dependency burdens in addition to dependence on foreign capital by contributing to high saving rates (DaVanzo & David 1998).

How Can The State Reduce Fertility?

Population growth can be reduced in only three ways: raise mortality, promote migration or lower fertility. The first is unacceptable and the second infeasible. Thus, lowered fertility has become a proximate goal of development policy in many countries. Meanwhile, an ironic counterpart to this growing theme is that of increasing birth rates in developed countries (Berelson & Lieberson 1979).

A government can intervene to influence the fertility behaviour of its population through various means. Firstly, it can manipulate public and private access to modern models of fertility control, including contraceptives and access to sterilization and abortion. Secondly, they could change the perceived socioeconomic determinants of fertility behavior through education, urbanization and income equity. Finally, they could also manipulate incentives and disincentives in the desired directions through maternity leaves, tax benefits and community incentives (Berelson & Lieberson 1979).

While “supply” factors such as access to family planning services and contraception are important to family reduction, individual attitudes toward the value of children affect the “demand” for children.

In developing countries, children’s economic contributions typically increase as they grow older. Further, as parents’ age, they become more aware of the need for old-age support from their children. A countervailing factor is that the costs of children increase with family size. Thus, efforts to persuade couples to have smaller families are likely to be more successful if there are alternative sources of old age support available. These could be in the form of increased household savings, public or private pensions, or greater potential contributions from their first and second children.

Case Studies

China

In 1979, the Chinese central government officially launched the “one-child policy”. The initiative was aimed at reducing population growth because the government saw it as a threat to the economic ambitions of the country. The basis of the policy was that each couple was only allowed to have one child. Many national and local birth control policies were implemented. The one-child policy was applicable throughout the country, whereas regional policies such as penalties for above-quota births varied between rural and urban regions (Irigoyen 2017).

The one-child policy significantly impacted China’s population growth rate. After 1979, the birth rate drastically fell, resulting in the rate of population growth to drop to 0.7%. This resulted in unexpected shortcomings in the demographic development of China. A traditional preference for boys over girls resulted in female foeticide in addition to abandonment of female babies. Hence, the gender equilibrium of the Chinese population became distorted. Another unintended long-term effect of the one-child policy was that the low birth rates resulted in an extreme shift in the population age pyramid. This meant that a high number of citizens would age out of the labour force (Irigoyen 2017).

Singapore

Singapore is an interesting example since it has implemented government-led policies aimed at both decreasing and increasing the population over the course of a few decades. After the Second World War, Singaporean women were having an average of six children which contributed to rapid population growth. The government introduced the ‘Stop at Two’ program in the late 1960s. The state campaign educated citizens about the benefits of a small family. It was very successful and led to a rapid decline in the birth rate. The annual population growth of 4% per year in the 1950s declined to 1.6% in the 1990s (Economic and Social Research Council n.d.).

The government became concerned by the fact the most children in the country were born to less-educated couples. This was a result of university-educated women prioritizing careers over families. In the next step forward, the government introduced the Graduate Mothers program in 1984. This program gave preference in primary schools to those children whose mothers were university graduates. Moreover, financial aid was offered to less-educated women who agreed to be sterilized after two children. Finally, a Social Development Unit was established to act as matchmaker university graduates that were single. These policies proved unpopular and were soon abandoned (Economic and Social Research Council n.d.).

The government switched to a pro-natalist policy in 1987 with the campaign, ‘Have Three or More if You Can Afford It.’ Families received tax rebates for third children, longer maternity leave and subsidies for daycare in an effort to incentivize larger families. These pro-natalist measures remained in place, targeted particularly at the well educated (Economic and Social Research Council n.d.).

Hence, Singapore has undergone a rapid ‘demographic transition‘, moving from the high birth and death rates typical of a poor country, to the low birth and death rates of an industrialized economy. This was only possible due to the country’s changing approaches to population management (Economic and Social Research Council n.d.).

Improving Policy Implementation

From the case studies of China and Singapore, it is observed that while policies to control fertility rates are important, they must also be flexible to the needs of the economy. While China’s one-child policy was supposed to be implemented for only one decade, it remained for three. In contrast, Singapore adapted its policies every few years based on its citizens’ and the economy’s reaction.

In addition to being flexible, “harder” measures such as China’s one-child policy must only be brought into action once “softer measures” such as incentives and voluntary family planning programs have been exhausted. This stepladder approach would reduce potential harmful effects on citizens. Moreover, members of the community to be affected should be involved whether directly or through representatives, in a discussion as to whether to institute the program in the first place (Berelson & Lieberson 1979).

Unfortunately, the problem of population control arises because public and private goals are in disharmony. The private decision about fertility does not add up to the net, let alone the optimal, benefit of the collectivity. Hence, the procedural aspects of the implementation of any policy are important along with the community’s right to participate and dissent (Berelson & Lieberson 1979).

Conclusion

This article has looked at the various advantages and disadvantages of having children from the perspective of the individual and the state worldwide. The decision to have children does not lie solely in the hands of an individual couple but is also influenced by the state. This is important because the consequences of one child are faced not only by its parents or family but also by the country they belong to. The case studies of China and Singapore provide many learnings regarding implementation of policies surrounding fertility. For any such policy to be efficient, there must be harmony between private and public opinions regarding childbearing.

References

Berelson, B., & Lieberson, J. (1979). Government Efforts to Influence Fertility: The Ethical Issues. Population and Development Review, 5(4), 581-613. doi:10.2307/1971973

DaVanzo, J & David, A.M. (1998). Family Planning in Developing Countries: An Unfinished Success Story. RAND Corporation. https://doi.org/10.7249/IP176

East- West Population Institute (1989). Costs and Benefits of Children: Implications for Population Policy. Asia- Pacific Population & Policy, No. 8. https://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/10125/3870/1/p%26p008.pdf

Economic and Social Research Council. (n.d.). Population growth. Retrieved from https://esrc.ukri.org/public-engagement/social-science-for-schools/resources/case-studies- china-s-one-child-policy-Singapore-s-dual-policy-and-France-s-pro-natalist-policy/

Irigoyen, C. (2017). The one-child policy in China. Centre for Public Impact.https://www.centreforpublicimpact.org/case-study/chinas-one-child-policy/

Narayan, D. (1979). Perceived economic costs and benefits of children, occupation and family size in rural India. Retrospective Theses and Dissertations.https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/rtd/6614

Arushi is a sociology and environmental studies. She is passionate about writing and researching about these two fields. She has a keen interest in social work and has collaborated with many volunteering programs in the past. Her hobbies include horse riding, trekking and painting.