Reproduction, Income, and the Future

by Mike Kimel

Reproduction, Income, and the Future

A comment on a post at EconLog, a very libertarian website…

I can say that in my lifetime, I have not earned enough money for me to have kids. I’m 36. I know some have had kids on my income or less but it certainly is not enough money for me. I can’t imagine how it would have been if I had kids.

And this comment on a post by Paul Krugman, on the liberal side of the spectrum:

I personally have never had the stability in my life where I thought it was okay for me to go off and spawn a family the way my parents did beginning in 1953. My father worked hard, and loved to work, had good employment and good pay, without a college degree.

Where as, he sent me to private schools, I got honor roll grades, bachelors degree, doctorate degree, I re-engineered manufacturing systems at some of America’s largest companies, but still I never felt secure in my employment, nor was I.

I am unemployed now, as I was in 2010, as I was in 2006, as I was in 1991, as I was for a time in 1984, 1983 and 1982 – when I graduated.

The current generation is facing a geometrically greater challenge than I did. So I can see why traditional family life is in decline.

Interesting how the problem is the framed the same way at different ends of the political spectrum. I note that this framing also fits my life – my wife and I got married late and had one child (one and done) very late. Economic worries were a big part of the decision making process. On paper, my wife and I are doing relatively well financially, but we are extremely aware that a job loss – something that has become extremely common in recent years – or one financial mis-step could mean the difference between whether our son will have far greater opportunity in life than either my wife or I did growing up, or far less opportunity. There doesn’t seem to be much in-between. In talking with my parents, they also seem to believe outcomes are more stark for families today. Many of my friends tell me the same thing. And when I talk to people ten or twenty years younger than I, in general, their costs seem to be higher than those I faced, and the potential opportunities fewer.

The result is that most people I know within ten years of my age have between zero and two kids. While there are exceptions, in general, people I can name with three or more kids either are in the top 2% or so, income-wise (and most of them are in finance or have inherited wealth or both), or are well below the median. (Note – I went looking for data on number of children by income level in the US but couldn’t find any.) I wonder if that’s a portent of things to come, and what it implies for the stability of society going forward.