The Economics of Family Size

Welcome to the first Family Size Blog Carnival!

This post was written for inclusion in the Family Size Blog Carnival hosted by Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling and Patti at Jazzy Mama. Today our participants share their decisions on family size and whether or not to grow their families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


When I was in college studying economics, I became fascinated by the idea of using economic theory to analyze lifestyle decisions. No longer just used for quantifying the price of widgets or the profit of firms, economists were now using economic theory to understand how individuals and families make decisions ranging from who to marry to how many children to raise.

The seminal leader in the discipline of economics of the family is Nobel prize-winning economist, Gary Becker, who helped to capture and quantify the amount of "utility," or satisfaction, parents derive from raising children when assessing the associated costs and benefits.

When I first discovered this novel economic theory, I was a decade away from my own child-bearing and family size choices. But now, as I wonder about the family size choices others make as well as my own, I am increasingly curious how parents make "rational consumption" choices regarding the number of children to welcome to their family, whether through birth or adoption.

According to economic theory, what it comes down to is this: parents should welcome more children to their family as long as the "marginal benefits," the benefits derived from each additional child, are greater than the "marginal costs," the monetary and non-monetary costs of each additional child. The benefits of additional children are many and may encompass the joys and rewards of parenting, the closeness of sibling bonds, the opportunities to learn from and with our children, and the long-term prospect of time spent with our adult children and any future grandchildren. The costs of children are also many and include short-term and long-term monetary costs--everything from car seats to college--and also many non-monetary costs like lack of sleep, lack of personal time and space, and the daily demands of parenting. There are also costs, both monetary and non-monetary, physical and emotional, incurred when expecting another child, whether through birth or adoption, that also need to be factored in to family size decision-making.

At some point, according to this economic model, every family arrives at the "optimal" number of children: that number at which one more child would ultimately tip the scale to marginal costs exceeding marginal benefits. So the goal is to conduct our own cost-benefit analysis to determine when that tipping point might be for our family. If we think that the benefits of an additional child outweigh all those costs, then as "rational" decision-makers, we should go for it, we should maximize our utility, our satisfaction, by welcoming another child.

For us, the many benefits of an additional child do currently outweigh the costs, and we would be delighted to grow our family. So what may seem completely irrational to others (4 kids in a small city condo! yikes!), seems entirely rational to us.


Visit City Kids Homeschooling and Jazzy Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Family Size Blog Carnival!

Please take some time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants below:

  • The Perfect Family The family at Living Peacefully With Children isn't perfect, but the size is just right for least for now.
  • Family Size Carnival Zoie at TouchstoneZ discusses how she loves the extremes of being happily child-free for life to being a mom of several. And on knowing when her family is just the right size.
  • Is Adoption for Me? Christine at African Babies Don't Cry shares why she would consider adoption as the socially responsible way to have a large family.
  • Getting Used to Having Kids Lauren at Hobo Mama went from "probably one, maybe two" to wanting a handful, but not without some major struggles and soul searching along the way.
  • Magic Number For a while, Phoebe at Little Tinker Tales has wondered what the magic number will be for their family, but now thinks she's finally settled on an answer.
  • How Did You Get That Size Jorje explains how she "chose" her family size and why they aren't planning to grow again on Momma
  • Family Size On A Per Kid Basis Sarah at Parenting God's Children shares how plans change as families grow.
  • More Babies: How, When, Why Joella at Fine and Fair writes to her daughter about when, how, and why she might get a sibling.
  • Family Size Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares how she has no idea what size her family will end up being; though she used to be sure, a few factors have recently come up to change everything.
  • Thy Will Be Done CatholicMommy hasn't decided how many children she'll have. And she never will. Because, you know, she's Catholic.
  • Sanity and Health Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment talks about sanity and health considerations when deciding on her family's size.
  • Love Comes In All Sizes Melissa at White Noise and Mothers of Change shares her family's journey to becoming a family of six!
  • Family Size Liz at Homeschooling in Buffalo discusses how this carnival occurs less than two weeks after "closing up shop" by way of vasectomy.
  • Family Size Blog Carnival Billy, a single mother by choice, writes about the size of her family at My Pathway to Motherhood.
  • Creating Your Perfect Family Size Dr. Alan Singer shares insights from his new book, Creating Your Perfect Family Size.
  • Our Family Size You might not be surprised to learn that Patti at Jazzy Mama can't find any reasons NOT to have more babies.
  • Economics of Family Size Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling uses an economic cost-benefit analysis to determine her family's optimal size.