Some thoughts on having children

post by pianoforte611 · 2014-01-08T17:26:16.266Z · score: 5 (20 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 107 comments

Contents

  The Practical Case
  The Financial Case
  The Moral Case
None
107 comments

Disclaimer: I am not a parent.

I've seen a bit of discussion here on whether or not to have children. Most of the discussion that I have seen are about the moral case, but there are factors as well. I'd like to talk about three aspects of parenting that I suspect are the main reasons why people choose to have kids or not: the financial case, the moral case, and the practical case (for lack of a better term). The financial case is straightforward - how expensive is raising kids? The moral case has to do with the best use of resources: is it better to divert resources away from having kids towards charity? The practical case has to do with the actual process of being a parent - the effort it takes and the sense of responsibility. 

The Practical Case

I suspect that the main reason for why people don't have kids is because they think that kids are a lot of responsibility because:

1) It takes a lot of work and effort to raise children - effort that could be spent on other activities.

2) Great parenting is extremely important for raising well adjusted, intelligent kids that will grow up to be successful and likable adults. 

Regarding 1) yes kids do take a lot of time and effort, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - lots of things that are rewarding require a lot of effort, such as learning a language or a new skill. I don't know what its like to a parent so I won't say much more on this topic.

Regarding 2) it is actually far from a settled question whether parenting style significantly affects the kind of person that your child will grow up to be. There has been some discussion here on the effects of parenting on children. The tentative consensus seems to be that within the range of normal parenting, parenting style has only small impact life outcomes pertaining to happiness, personality, educational achievement. That doesn't mean that how you treat your child doesn't matter. Steven Pinker puts it quite nicely:

Judith Rich Harris is coming out with a book called The Nurture Assumption which argues that parents don’t influence the long-term fates of their children; peers do. The reaction she often gets is, “So are you saying it doesn’t matter how I treat my child?” She points out that this is like someone learning that you can’t change the personality of your spouse and asking, “So are you saying that it doesn’t matter how you treat my spouse?” People seem to think that the only reason to be nice to children is that it will mold their character as adults in the future — as opposed to the common-sense idea that you should be nice to people because it makes life better for them in the present. Child rearing has become a technological matter of which practices grow the best children, as opposed to a human relationship in which the happiness of the child (during childhood) is determined by how the child is treated. She has a wonderful quote: “We may not control our children’s tomorrows, but we surely control their todays, and we have the capacity to make them very, very miserable.”

The message I would take away is not to worry too much about creating an optimal child. Don't worry about finding the optimal set of extra-curricular activities or the perfect balance of authoritarianism and permissiveness. Instead, try to cultivate a healthy relationship with your child and most of all enjoy the parenting process.

The Financial Case

In agarian societies (and most societies quite frankly) children were/are cheap, in some cases free labor and a life insurance policy for when you retire. But in the post-industrial Western world that is no longer the case. For a middle-upper class family, having a child is a very large cost for two reasons: the first is that children cost a lot of money to raise. The second reason is that having a child might hold you back from advancing your career as much as you would have been able to do otherwise. I will focus on the first problem here. According to the United States department of Agriculture, the average cost of raising a child to age 18 was about $241,080 (in 2012 dollars). This doesn't count the cost of college which can exceed $250,000 at elite institutions. I'll assume the $250,000 figure for the purposes of the following calculations.

Assuming that you are able to invest your money at a modest 5% rate of return, this amounts to having to put aside $8887 each year from your child's birth for college only, and approximately $13,000 (2012 dollars) per year on other expenses such as housing and food. That $13,000 per year figure does not account for inflation and in reality that figure would grow each year but this is just to provide a rough ball-park figure. This figure goes up if you have more than one child but the per child cost goes down.

This brings up the issue of whether or not you "owe" your child an all expenses paid college education. I wouldn't rule out only paying partially for your child's college education especially since this calculation assumes only one child. I would be interested to hear more thoughts on this matter.

The Moral Case

Some effective altruists have advanced the idea that having children is immoral because the money spent on having kids would be better spent by donating it to charity. This assumes utilitarianism, and indeed if GiveWell recommended charities were perfect or even pretty good util maximizers then this argument would succeed, since by design whatever they did would be the best use of money under utilitarianism. However, I do not believe that this is the case. GiveWell recommended charities that focus almost exclusively on public health initiatives, and exclusively focus on providing aid to the poorest countries. While a simple diminishing marginal returns argument might suggest that this is the lowest hanging fruit and hence the best use of money there are other things that need to be considered.

As Apprentice points out the heritability of prosocial behaviors such as cooperativeness, empathy and altruism is 0.5, and I think most people here are aware that IQ has a heritability around that number as well and is a pretty good predictor of life outcomes. If you want to increase the number of people in the world that are like yourself, then having children is a great way of doing so. This is particularly important since high IQ college educated individuals in Western countries have fertility rates that are below replacement levels and are some of the lowest in the world.

Rachels anticipates this argument by pointing out than one child is unlikely to produce the same returns as an investment in charity. I believe this is a mistake because it is short sighted. If you stop the utilitarian analysis at one generation into the future then yes having a smart altruistic child will not give the same returns as saving lives through charity, however consequentialism need not be short sighted. If you have more than one child, and/or if your children have children then the returns get magnified significantly - and it is worth noting that intelligent people contribute a lot to society not just through charity but through their work as well. Moreover, the people you would save by donating to charity would also have children and those children would have children all of whom might require yet more aid in the future. Thus the short term gains in QALYs that giving to GiveWell recommended charities provides lead to a long term drain of resources and human capital. And as I have already mentioned, intelligent people already have the lowest fertility in society, I'd rather not see it go even lower.

Jeff Kaufman provides two counterarguments that caught my eye: that this is an argument for sperm donation rather than having children; and that genetic engineering will solve the dysgenic fertility problem. However, sperm banks are already eugenic (in a sense) and it is fairly easy to saturate the supply of high quality sperm. Sperm donation is good idea for highly intelligent individuals (and to my surprise there are actually sperm donor shortages in some parts of the world making it an even better idea), but it is not a substitute for having children - the bottleneck quickly becomes the demand for said sperm. This is certainly a potential area worth investigating as a light form of eugenics, but I don't know of anyone who's trying to market eugenic sperm donation right now. With regard to genetic engineering, I have serious doubts that the field will develop to the point of commercialization in the next hundred years, and I have even stronger doubts that it will be widely accepted and used. While I realize that prediction of the future is very difficult, I would be very surprised if in a hundred years the average Joe will think about having genetically engineered children. Any mention of eugenics already invokes fear in the hearts of most people, and its pretty hard to deny that genetically engineering babies is the scariest kind of eugenics. Human genetic engineering might well solve the dysgenic problem, but I wouldn't bet strongly on that happening any time soon, whereas having children is an almost guaranteed way of helping to solve the problem.

107 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by atorm · 2014-01-08T18:40:24.045Z · score: 23 (25 votes) · LW · GW

its pretty hard to deny that genetically engineering babies is the scariest kind of eugenics.

Pretty sure negative eugenics with concentration camps is a scarier kind of eugenics.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2014-01-09T02:34:21.477Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Don't know what I was thinking when I wrote that.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-01-08T19:12:52.228Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Disclaimer: parent of a bunch o' kids.

The question of "should one have children" is very different from "should YOU have children", as "should a randomly chosen LW'er on average have children" is different from "should an American", or "should a human being (including Somalians) have children". Asking the question broadest in scope, even if answered "correctly", yields mostly personally inapplicable results.

Many of the arguments you gave pertain to the generic "should one have children" more so than they do to the readership of your article, thus losing a good amount of relevancy.

Case in point: all of the different heritability coefficients are dependent on the choice of population. As you become a more reflective person with more options open for you to take, heritability coefficients change. It's like asking about the heritability of IQ going off of dog populations, then concluding that different parenting styles have only x or y impact because the dogs' "parenting" barely impacted their litter's IQ. Higher environmental variance leads to smaller heritability coefficients.

Generically determined factors are still useful data points for public policy debates; they are not for personal choices. There is no logical contradiction there. Someone who wholeheartedly embraces polyamory for his/her personal lifestyle may well conclude that society may be better off living majority-monogamic. Atheists may prefer for the masses to retain religiously instilled doctrines to maintain societal stability (as a tangent, do you really want your janitor to question deeply why he should clean up your trash?).

Another point you make is too US-centric. Yes, raising children is an expensive enterprise in most circumstances, but points of contention such as paying for a college education are a non-issue in some societies, such as many European countries ("student" and "debt" don't share the same word cloud).

More fundamentally, there are a number of implicit assumptions skewing the topic: the equation of morality with charity; most any utilitarian would agree that for altruism to be valued it itself must be encoded in the valuer's own utility function, tautologically so. Someone who values personal procreation over "charities" is as moral as the perfect altruist, each fulfilling their respective utility functions.

Much of the "children as economic caretakers when you reach old age" misses the point. In modern societies, the imperative is less on providing material comfort (though that motif is still present, just less so than in comparison to previous ages) and more on "having people around who give a damn about you".

People who (if you do it right) don't need to be bought, or to be entertained using one's public persona, but who have access to your inner thoughts and care about you because you constructed them that way, providing both nature and nurture. Someone to be there, not to pay the bills but to enjoy and celebrate life, and let you share in that experience (and vice versa).

When you do see someone taking care of someone else for extended periods of time, is it typically a friend, or a relative? That may be too generic, but even in our subpopulation I've yet to hear of the High-IQ-Solstice-friends who then move in with each other once one of them loses his edge due to onsetting dementia. Cameraderie and warm fuzzies between friends are nice and all, but concerning their perceived scope are ultimately a fleeting illusion.

To the obvious response of "yea, look how well those parent-child relationships typically work out, check out all the lonely parents in nursing homes", I'd say "correct for the generic case, but these people ain't doing it right":

Just as guns don't grow on trees, neither does parenting. As with optimizing most other human activity, brains help. If you exchanged the Silicon Valley population with randomly chosen humans with innovative products as the yardstick, you'd be quick to conclude that human advancement is doomed and that in any case it's time to climb back up dem trees, once we lost enough weight for the branches not to break. Wrong study sample, especially as a base for your own personal decisions.

comment by Pfft · 2014-01-14T17:15:37.575Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When you do see someone taking care of someone else for extended periods of time, is it typically a friend, or a relative?

If you include spouses under "friends", that might be quite common? I would say typically the spouse will contribute more working-hours in total, although children will be helpful in the last few years.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-01-14T17:38:43.564Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you include spouses under "friends"

I most certainly don't. Relative usually refers to "someone connected by blood, marriage, or adoption".

comment by Pfft · 2014-01-14T18:20:30.740Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But then what is the relevance to the question of whether to have children or not? The rest of your comment seems to implicitly assume that the only way to get more relatives is to have children.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-01-15T10:25:41.344Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My comment focused on children because that's the topic at hand; building a strong long-time bond with a significant other (or others, if you're so inclined) can be another avenue (often less reliable) of attaining a dependable support group. The comment wasn't meant to be exhaustive.

Personally I'd never put a spouse in the same category as "friends" in this context, but of course you may categorize whichever way you like. (For example, I'd agree that if you count children as friends, then friends would always be preferable, since (friends including children) is strictly more support than (just children). Such trivial labelling tennis wouldn't change the underlying dynamics, of course.)

comment by bokov · 2014-01-10T13:48:59.421Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

having people around who give a damn about you

Yes, exactly. I'd add:

...because the best cryopreservation arrangements won't do you much good if nobody notices you died until the neighbors complain about the smell.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2014-01-09T03:20:40.096Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Many of the arguments you gave pertain to the generic "should one have children" more so than they do to the readership of your article, thus losing a good amount of relevancy.

This is true, when I wrote this I wrote mostly reacting to the many reasons that I have heard people give for not having children. With the "but its so much work!" and "but I could be spending that money on famine relief!" arguments being the most painful to my ears. So by writing about the negative case, I didn't have space (nor frankly the expertise) to write about the positive case for having children, which you have done a great job of presenting.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2014-01-09T02:52:00.306Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Wow, that was excellent, thanks for writing that.

most any utilitarian would agree that for altruism to be valued it itself must be encoded in the valuer's own utility function, tautologically so. Someone who values personal procreation over "charities" is as moral as the perfect altruist, each fulfilling their respective utility functions

I actually think that many effective altruists/ utilitarians would disagree with that and assert that there is precisely one correct moral action or use of money at any one point in time - it varies based on circumstance of course but for any one circumstance there is one correct action. Rachels would certainly disagree with that, and jeff kaufman seemed to be convinced by Rachel's argument.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-01-08T21:56:02.525Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Even though reasonably well-off people in the US don't seem to do a lot of hands-on care of elderly relatives, they end up doing a lot of bureaucracy-wrangling-- or at least this is the impression I get from my social circle.

comment by Locaha · 2014-01-08T19:33:31.244Z · score: -7 (13 votes) · LW · GW

This is very nice and all, but most people don't do any kind of analysis before having children. They just have them. So what you are doing right now is rationalizing.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-01-08T19:38:19.425Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

So what you are doing right now is rationalizing.

Why would you think I didn't do such analyses before having children? Children didn't "just happen" to me, for me to justify their existence ex post facto. (This is a good example of the "most people in general" being a bad rule of thumb when dealing with a highly selected subgroup of dubious but cool disposition.)

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-01-08T20:26:42.955Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Me too. We put a lot of consideration into out family planning and given our priors (my: 3-6 children or none; hers: 2-5) we arrived at four actually with the age distance of about 2,5 years each which we (before the act) considered a compromise between stress for us and posibilty to play with each other for the children.

I admit though that I wanted to have children from the beginning. I knew that 1-2 children are inefficient and would rather have had none (though I'm not sure whether I could have gone through with that option).

comment by Randy_M · 2014-01-08T20:07:20.523Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Why would you think I didn't do such analyses before having children?

Well, because most people don't, therefore you certainly didn't. It's, uh, Bayesian or something.

comment by Locaha · 2014-01-08T19:48:06.652Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I said most people, not you. I apologize if I made it sound personally.

Hooooowever, your argument boils down to basically "having someone to bring me a glass of water when I'm on my deathbed", which is an argument used A LOT for, yep, rationalizing children. And of course, all those people whose children are not there just did it wrong. No True Parent?

In your analysis, have you considered the alternative of spending resources on fun instead of child-rearing, and then committing suicide before dementia kicks in?

BTW, how do you construct a child?

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-01-08T20:23:32.381Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I said most people, not you. I apologize if I made it sound personally.

That's alright, thanks for clearing that up.

Hooooowever, your analysis boils down to basically "having someone to bring me a glass of water when I'm on my deathbed", which is an argument used A LOT for, yep, rationalizing children.

Rationalizing wouldn't invalidate the argument. Also, I object to your summary. Would you exchange your parents (considering a loving relationship) for someone who just "brings you a glass of water on your deathbed"? Exactly.

In your analysis, have you considered the alternative of spending resources on fun instead of child-rearing, and then committing suicide before dementia kicks in?

Yes actually, and it's certainly true there are a number of years in which I'll have less fun with multiplayer games. That is, until I can have more fun with multiplayer games playing with the children (just an example). If "fun" only equated to "endorphin-release", we'd have to go for heroin-drips anyways. Happiness has more components. You don't climb a mountain because every step of doing so is fun, in fact many of those steps can be quite painful. Yet doing so can make you happy. (This is a bit generic of an answer, but then your "you should go for fun instead" wasn't very child-specific.)

Of course, utility calculations change when there are less resources available. I don't lack any material comforts because of the kids. Another one of those your-mileage-may-vary points.

And of course, all those people whose children are not there just did it wrong.

Yes, or did it right but got hit with the wrong end of the probability stick.

First I'd contend that very few people are able to efficiently optimize for reaching their goals even in a cursory manner. I wouldn't bet on a typical person being able to solve a Rubik's cube in a day. Children are harder, and the time constraints are comparably steeper. Watch typical parents in a Pizza Hut sometime. Are these the sort of people you'd trust to solve actually hard problems? Didn't think so.

Second, there are many contexts in which "failure" mostly equates with "doing it wrong" (If you do a 100 yard dash but fail to reach the finish line, chances are that you didn't get randomly hit by a whale -- though that's possible -- but that you did something wrong.) For a less wacky example, freshman college students not eventually graduating.

BTW, how do you construct a child?

You supply the nature, and you supply the nurture. You can influence both, and significantly so. I'm not sure what level of detail you're asking for, and much depends on the specific circumstances. It's just like problem solving (well, because that's what it is).

(Since your kid isn't yet an all-powerful AI, little quirks resulting from the invariable errors you make may be acceptable. So what if your kid randomly yells "I'M A VAMPIRE", charging strangers? At least their little missteps won't accidentally destroy mankind. Instead, they'll lead to karma on /r/childfree! Could be worse. Could be a fire dragon!)

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-01-08T21:28:47.452Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I had a terminal value that I wanted to reproduce. So I have a small child, we're trying for another, and I have also donated sperm. (In the UK, if you donate viable sperm, it is pretty much certain to be used - there's a terrible shortage. So I'm going to have more kids. Free kids! Raised by someone who actively sought to have kids! They'll get my name when they turn 18, perhaps they'll get in touch ...)

Now that I have one, I can tell you that I'm enjoying this hugely. She takes up a huge amount of my time and attention. But it is utterly fascinating to watch a small intelligence develop, to watch each skill come online. She's also really cool. I like her. I'm glad her mother had two kids already, so I had someone experienced on hand ...

If you don't have a terminal value to reproduce, I'm not sure I'd actively recommend having kids anyway. But it's still pretty good IMO. Frequently exhausting, but good.

If you're smart and male, even if you don't have a terminal value to reproduce, donate sperm. Donate all they'll take.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-08T18:14:50.575Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW · GW

So, how important all these deliberations will be when you girlfriend/fiance/wife looks at you and says "I really want to have a baby with you"?

comment by Locaha · 2014-01-08T18:53:20.488Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

And this is why you should ask your future girlfriend/fiance/wife's opinion about having children.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-01-08T20:28:44.298Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This was actually almost the first questions we discussed before really getting together.

comment by cousin_it · 2014-01-08T20:46:24.293Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Great comment. And some men also just want kids, without looking for logical justifications. And it can happen suddenly. Discussing things beforehand helps, but it's not a guarantee that you or your partner won't change.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-01-08T21:49:18.669Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Should we assume it's always the female partner who wants to have a child and the male who doesn't?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-08T21:54:59.396Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Of course not, I was talking in the context of the parent post which I assume was made by a male.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2014-01-09T02:42:41.240Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You correctly assumed that I am male, but incorrectly assumed that am heterosexual, not that it matters. I'd like to echo what Locaha said.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-01-09T19:00:38.877Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

((Unbeknownst to the perp, the term "fiance" he so unwittingly used ("girlfriend/fiance/wife") typically referred to a male. Little did he know that not only would others miss that inclusion of the correct scenario, but that he himself would as well.))

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-09T19:08:56.157Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Heh :-) I wish I were able to claim it was a cunning trap I planted in there X-)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-09T03:08:03.676Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Mea culpa

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-01-09T23:32:42.298Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So, how important all these deliberations will be when you girlfriend/fiance/wife looks at you and says "I really want to have a baby with you"?

They provide bargaining power when it comes to agreeing which parents has to do which household work that relates to the child.

You could imagine men who agree to have children provided that they don't do most of the work.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-10T00:56:31.669Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

They provide bargaining power when it comes to agreeing which parents has to do which household work

If you need to explicitly accumulate bargaining power with respect to household chores, you (or s/he) married the wrong person.

You could imagine men who agree to have children provided that they don't do most of the work.

I would advise any woman who hears this proposed to her to run fast and far away.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-01-10T01:25:56.745Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you need to explicitly accumulate bargaining power with respect to household chores, you (or s/he) married the wrong person.

I didn't say anything about being 'explicit'.

I would advise any woman who hears this proposed to her to run fast and far away.

There are a bunch of woman for which that would be bad advice. It really depends on the goals of the woman. It basically a traditional model of how a marriage works. There are plenty of woman who are happy in that model.

Different people get happy with different models and there no need to force everyone to replicate the same one.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-10T01:34:03.093Z · score: 2 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't say anything about being 'explicit'.

OK. If you need to implicitly accumulate bargaining power with respect to household chores, you (or s/he) married the wrong person.

It basically a traditional model of how a marriage works.

No, it is not.

What, you really think that in a "traditional model" of marriage the man says "Oh, all right, I allow you to have a child as long as you do all the dishes forever and I never see a dirty diaper" and the woman replies "Oh, thank you, master, thank you!"..?

there no need to force everyone to replicate the same one.

I am not forcing anyone to replicate anything. I am expressing an opinion and giving advice. Besides what I already said, I would advise the woman to inflict some physical damage before running far away. A kick in the balls would be appropriate.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-01-10T01:41:06.097Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you look back a hundred years ago most relationship where organised in a way that the woman did the housework and the man was the breadwinner.

I think it's fair to call that model the traditional model.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-01-10T02:08:21.777Z · score: 19 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Sexual division of labor is historically common (approaching ubiquitous), but a strict breadwinner/housekeeper model isn't a particularly good description of it in most of the times and places I'm familiar with. In forager societies, for example, it's common for both sexes to work as breadwinners, albeit targeting different food sources. Subsistence farmers (who make up a vast majority of the population in pretty much every preindustrial agrarian society) tend to work similarly; in a free 10th-century Scandinavian farmer's household, for example, you might see the adult men (it likely wouldn't have been a nuclear family) plowing fields and felling trees, while the adult women wove cloth, churned butter, tended animals and brewed beer.

I'm not terribly familiar with the evolution of the housewife institution, but I'd hazard a guess that it's an aspirational outgrowth of the division of labor in the upper classes of early modern societies (where "breadwinner" in the modern sense wouldn't have applied terribly well to either sex).

comment by cousin_it · 2014-01-10T12:18:14.981Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That's an interesting comment, thank you. Wikipedia says the divide is not ancient vs modern, but rather rural vs urban:

In urban societies, since ancient times, most men did work that earned money. They worked in workshops, banks, shops and other businesses as well as in churches, schools and the town council. It was seen as the job of a woman to be a "housewife" (homemaker).

But the reality was often different: often, if a family had a business, not only the husband but also the wife would work to make money in the business. This has been happening since ancient times.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-01-10T02:12:19.771Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Few people mean forager values when use the term traditional values. I also not claim that the model has universal usage for everyone. I'm mainly saying that it should be considered, when it fulfills the utility functions of the involved persons.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-01-10T02:22:18.475Z · score: 13 (12 votes) · LW · GW

When people in modern Western culture talk about traditional values, they usually mean the reputed values of the middle classes circa 1950 or so. The point I'm trying to make is that those values aren't necessarily reflective of the conditions most people lived under for most of history (never mind prehistory), and thus that they aren't necessarily a good guide to what people will "naturally" be happy with.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-10T01:47:38.473Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's fair to call that model the traditional model.

We're not talking about the arrangement when the man works and the woman keeps house. We are talking about a man giving permission to his wife to have a baby in return for him not being bothered with house chores. A quid pro quo of sorts.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-01-10T02:14:53.195Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We're not talking about the arrangement when the man works and the woman keeps house.

No, that's the effect of what we are talking about. It one of the models you can end up when it's the woman's goal to raise children and the man's goal to pursue outside projects.

When I say: "agree" I mean that both parties talk about and understand there mutual values and then come to a conclusion that optimizes those.

The good that this post might do is that it helps someone to be more clear about his values. I did use a game theoretic frame to talk about the exchange, but that's just a frame. A way of talking about the issue.

I certainly don't advocate that you should specifically pay attention to optimize game theoretic advantages to win against your partner.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-10T02:22:26.480Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

...when it's the woman's goal to raise children and the man's goal to pursue outside projects.

If the man's goal is to pursue outside projects then why would he want children anyway?

And if you are describing a situation where a man does not want children, but can be persuaded to tolerate them in exchange for not being bothered with house chores, I repeat my assertion that the woman should kick him in the balls and run away.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-01-10T02:29:21.059Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think there a difference between being unwilling to spend a very time and straight out not wanting children.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-10T02:34:40.236Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If the guy wants children but is unwilling to spend time, I think the woman should kick him in the balls several times. Just to be sure.

comment by JacekLach · 2014-01-10T12:10:24.242Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The guy doesn't want children, but he doesn't mind having children with the woman as long as it's not too bothersome for him. The woman either really wants children, in which case this arrangement is to her benefit, or does not want children that badly, in which case they don't have children.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-10T15:27:19.143Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You speak as if these two are the only people on the planet.

comment by JacekLach · 2014-01-10T17:06:25.797Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, it's none of anyone elses business, so I don't see how other people being there is relevant.

If you mean it in the sense of "don't settle for someone who isn't going to help you with kids, no matter how good a match you otherwise are"... Never settle is a brag

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-01-08T20:17:17.916Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I am father of four and would like to add my view to this.

| The Practical Case

| 1) yes kids do take a lot of time and effort, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - lots of things that are rewarding require a lot of effort, such as learning a language or a new skill.

I fully agree with this. I like being a parent and playing with my children as well as educating them and observing their development. There are difficult times when there is conflict between parent and child when the child wants more than the parents want to provide esp. when the children compete among each other (ev-psych-wise explained by the mismatch between child interests and parent interests and the inter-child interests). But parts of the conflicts are more due to constraints of our society. Traffic (which is harder than predotory animals). Obligatory schooling. Complexity of society and media.

As a rationalist I can correctly assign my stress and conflict due to these effects to their sources (biology/society) instead of being dissatisfied with parent life due to stress and perceived child misdevelopment.Instead I am rewarded with the positive effects I do see that come out of my role as a parent.

2) Great parenting is extremely important for raising well adjusted, intelligent kids [...]

Well. What I read is that the work of parents accounts statistically to roughly one third of the observed differences. Statistically and on average. That doesn't say anything about the variance and which differences can be made.

As with most human achievements I'd guess that if you fully concentrate your energy and affection onto parenting that you should be able to achieve exceptional results (albeit at the risk of possibly very negative ones).

This is tentatively supported e.g. by this study that shows that indeed the parenting style didn't have as much effect as the total amount of parent involvement: http://jea.sagepub.com/content/14/2/250.short

We may not be able to shape the future live of our children but I always assumed that we can surely affect the future knowledge of our children. Even if puberty resets all the values we may have tried to establish the knowledge will most likely not be discarded (at least not if the child becomes a rationalist). At worst the knowledge will not applicable to the path the child goes. But that can be hedged against by focussing on general and procedural knowledge. And regarding values questioned after puberty: I think it is unlikely that the child will discard values it is happy with. And a happy safe youth (not neccessaaryly a simple one) will make this more likely.

| The Financial Case

The spendings may be significant but here I'd like to adapt your reasoning from point 1: "lots of things that are rewarding cost a lot, such as a cool car and experience rich holiday." If you are a conscious parent and gain satisfaction from parenting you may intentionally choose children over societies consum good. Of course you can't reduce the costs to zero.

I have read that the satisfaction from children doesn't increase further after the second child (or at least it doesn't exceed the increase in effort more than two children make. But economics of scale esp. financially just start to set in with two children. A lot of goods can be reused: clothing (esp. for smaller children), romms and furniture, trips (counting the fraction of child cost). Most significant is the time cost: Caring for four children doesn't cost you more time than caring for a single one (it is much more demanding though).

It is therefor rational from a rational utilitarian point of view that some couples should have no children and some many. In in that case you should choose the classical division of labour and one parent specializes in parenting (not neccessarily the women) with the other being the 'provider'. That is something I alway have wondered: Why do all people seem to assume that both parents should do equal shares of work, household and child care. That is often plain inefficient and robs them both the opportunity to specialize and invest full energy into what they do best.

| The Moral Case

I will don't want to address the morality of parenting here. I have already written too long of a comment above. I only want to say that I think that morality is a function of the structure of the society (you might say of the advancement or freedom of the society) and that I personally value freedom and happyness probably less high then 90% of this society.

I think it is a good point to look farther into the furture than one generation.

I'd also like to say that if you choose a child for moral reasons you are probably in for a surprise wehen your child reaches puberty and questions all your reasoning. Can you deal with the dissatisfaction if your child turns out quite different from what you intended in such a case?

In particular I think that happyness is overvalued or too simplistically reduced to short term joy. I'd rather like to see a more balanced valuation which allows some bad experiences (if they don't hurt you in the long run you may learn a lot from it) and provides a rich experience and favors baseline satisfaction. I think we can learn a lot from less 'developed' countries where people are often more 'happy' than we.

Tag: parenting

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-01-09T13:04:01.341Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Why do all people seem to assume that both parents should do equal shares of work, household and child care.

Mostly for political reasons, I guess.

The rational part is that one day the parents may get into conflict and instead of playing cooperatively they will start playing against each other. At that moment the one which focused last years on their professional skills will have an advantage against the one which focused on child care. Dividing the household and child care is the most simple (and most likely suboptimal) way to reduce this advantage.

Most significant is the time cost: Caring for four children doesn't cost you more time than caring for a single one (it is much more demanding though). It is therefor rational from a rational utilitarian point of view that some couples should have no children and some many.

In my opinion this is suboptimal in a similar way. Many people want to have their own biological children. I believe a better solution would be somewhere in a direction of caring for the children together. Somewhere between an extended family and a kindergarten; like a small private kindergarten where the parents are close friends with the caretakers. Sometimes the role of the caretaker can be changed, but it is not necessary for everyone to do it. If rationalists in some parts of the world are already moving to live closer together, this seems like a logical next step, if they decide to have children. With a critical mass of rationalists at some place we could probably invent some kind of a pyramid scheme, where the older children would take care of the younger children, so less adult supervision would be needed. This could be mixed with homeschooling, etc.

comment by bokov · 2014-01-10T13:41:44.957Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Somewhere between an extended family and a kindergarten; like a small private kindergarten where the parents are close friends with the caretakers.

That, right there, is one of my fondest dreams. To get my tiny scientists out of the conformity-factory and someplace where they can flourish (even more). Man, if this was happening in my town, in a heartbeat I'd rearrange my work schedule to spend part of the week being a homeschooler.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-01-09T14:13:29.682Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The rational part is that one day the parents may get into conflict and instead of playing cooperatively they will start playing against each other. At that moment the one which focused last years on their professional skills will have an advantage against the one which focused on child care. Dividing the household and child care is the most simple (and most likely suboptimal) way to reduce this advantage.

Indeed this has been the case. I have had such an advantage during our crisis and that is one reason I could deal with it. But then caring for four children is also something you can specialize in and also has a high worth in most countries and is also some kind of advantage.

Somewhere between an extended family and a kindergarten; like a small private kindergarten where the parents are close friends with the caretakers.

Sounds like a kibbuz. I like this idea. But I still think that a professionalization of 'motherhood' wouldn't be a bad idea either. It has the advantage of high motivation. I once even read that this is generally an overdue and possibly needed step. Just cam't find the ref.

comment by Randy_M · 2014-01-08T19:54:12.983Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

three aspects of parenting that I suspect are the main reasons why people choose to have kids or not: the financial case, the moral case, and the practical case

None of these are reasons to choose to have kids; they are all reasons not to. That is, even if you refute them, you still haven't made a positive case.

This brings up the issue of whether or not you "owe" your child an all expenses paid college education. I wouldn't rule out only paying partially for your child's college education especially since this calculation assumes only one child. I would be interested to hear more thoughts on this matter.

I don't feel obligated to provide any college tuition to any of my children; I certainly haven't ruled it out, but to have had their prospective existence hinge on going to a college or not seems to wildly exagerate the importance of a college degree.

I also tend to think the other financial costs of having a child are overblown due to a desire for convenience or status (that is, there are cheaper ways of doing things that may not signal high status, but that is true of everything really)

comment by Oligopsony · 2014-01-08T18:18:23.965Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Also, deontic concerns about forcing existence on people.

As Apprentice points out the heritability of prosocial behaviors such as cooperativeness, empathy and altruism is 0.5, and I think most people here are aware that IQ has a heritability around that number as well and is a pretty good predictor of life outcomes. If you want to increase the number of people in the world that are like yourself, then having children is a great way of doing so.

I would submit that most people are not very good about judging whether they are prosocial geniuses. (This goes double for people who are likely to be reading this.)

Also: inasmuch as the problem with sperm (and egg) donation is lack at the demand rather than supply end, surely one should seek to enter in on the demand side. Perhaps you really are a prosocial genius, but surely you are not the prosocialest geniusest. You probably suck in other ways too.

Also: heritability is not contribution, but that's veering towards a debate we've had and mostly exhausted already.

Moreover, the people you would save by donating to charity would also have children and those children would have children all of whom might require yet more aid in the future. Thus the short term gains in QALYs that giving to GiveWell recommended charities provides lead to a long term drain of resources and human capital.

That "might" is doing a lot of work here. The overall effect of economic development is to greatly reduce fertility.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2014-01-08T18:25:46.094Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"The overall effect of economic development is to greatly reduce fertility."

That's very interesting, why is that?

comment by Oligopsony · 2014-01-08T18:30:14.648Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Educated women have less children, reduced childhood mortality means less hedging to reach a desired number of children, above-noted changes away from agriculture and mandatory public schooling reduce the economic value of child labor, some other stuff.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2014-01-09T03:03:21.186Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wait a minute does providing malaria nets or deworming kits lead to economic development?

comment by Oligopsony · 2014-01-09T08:04:47.421Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. Or more glibly, does malaria not inhibit economic development?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-01-08T21:25:18.383Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

deontic concerns about forcing existence on people.

I find this to be the most interesting and important ones, because to me, everybody who has dead children is technically killer.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-01-08T21:50:38.474Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Presumably, everyone who has children is technically a killer.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-08T21:59:11.782Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Since I descend from a long line of killer ancestors I don't see what the big deal is.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-01-08T22:24:12.034Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Unless you think that this kind of killing a human is morally wrong, it's not.

Since I descend from a long line of killer ancestors

Very interesting argument. May I apply it to infanticide, slavery etc.?

Edit: may I know why I was downvoted?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-01-10T14:05:57.271Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Edit: may I know why I was downvoted?

Because I thought this way of discussion was not productive.

(By which I mean both your and Lumifer's replies, and I have downvoted both. It is just not obvious because other people voted here too.)

comment by [deleted] · 2014-01-10T14:15:27.030Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-08T22:26:34.801Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

May I apply it to infanticide, slavery etc.?

Sure, knock yourself out! :-D

comment by [deleted] · 2014-01-10T13:40:10.934Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
  • Since I descend from a long line of slave owners I don't see what the big deal is.
  • Since I descend from a long line of ancestors who practiced infanticide I don't see what the big deal is.

Well, remembering this discussion, it actually doesn't seem like a big deal :)

comment by [deleted] · 2014-01-08T21:57:58.321Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for taking the burden of this statement. I wasn't ready. :)

comment by CAE_Jones · 2014-01-08T18:32:07.514Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I've updated away from "No; in the unlikely event that I decide I want kids at some point in the future, there are plenty of kids that need adopting" toward "It's probably a good idea, if my DNA turns out to be sufficiently awesome (measurement pending)" over the past year or so, which I believe is due largely to things I've read at LessWrong and LWSphere blogs. In particular, the idea of heritable intelligence being negatively correlated with number of offspring finally started to concern me enough that I started treating it as a problem to be solved.

But I am in no position to be planning for that sort of thing, for a number of reasons that I whine about too much as it is. So my efforts will be directed toward changing those reasons, ad victorium.

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-01-08T21:33:04.372Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If you're smart and healthy (bad vision notwithstanding), donate sperm. Free kids! Raised by someone who actively sought to have kids!

comment by thelomen · 2014-01-10T11:06:29.354Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks I needed that with my afternoon coffee. Now to clean this keyboard and table. 'Free kids!' begs the question for me how many economists donate swimmers.

comment by Prismattic · 2014-01-12T05:27:32.902Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are widespread claims floating around the pop-sci-o-sphere that intelligence is disproportionately inherited from the mother (see, e.g. here ), which would suggest the important thing is getting smart women to donate eggs, much more than getting smart men to donate sperm.

Although, I see that when this topic was briefly raised at the skeptics stackexchange, the evidence appeared to be lacking.

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-01-12T09:34:19.601Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Apparently there's a lot less demand for eggs than sperm. I don't know why.

comment by lukeprog · 2014-01-08T17:52:43.469Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

See also Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.

(I still have no plans to have kids.)

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-01-08T21:35:45.770Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There's probably a section in How to Lukeprog For Dummies about making more Lukeprogs. Donate sperm and spread the foundations of your abilities!

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-01-08T20:56:00.915Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(I still have no plans to have kids.)

But would you update toward "if I have children, then more than two would be more rational"?

comment by Gurkenglas · 2014-01-09T11:05:02.149Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why are you not mentioning that we Humans are hardcoded per hormones to want to reproduce?

(Prepuberty me realized that, and precommited to remember that it might be a good idea to ignore that voice in your head telling you to have kids without bringing forth arguments)

comment by bbleeker · 2014-01-09T11:55:21.893Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Are we really, though? We may be, but it's not necessary. We are hardcoded to want sex, and before contraception, that was sufficient to make us reproduce.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-01-09T23:14:32.926Z · score: 1 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There are a lot of women who report strong emotions to having children when they reach a certain age. To me that looks "hardcoded".

comment by tadamsmar · 2014-01-15T14:14:39.392Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Studies indicate that the normal range of parenting styles have little impact. But the normal range is grossly sub-optimal. So, this research says nothing about the impact of optimal parenting.

Scientific research on parenting has provided superior evidence-based methods that have not been widely adopted by parents due to poor technology transfer in this area. In fact., it's normal for parents chronically employ methods that have been known for decades to be counterproductive.

Certain behaviors are called "behavior traps". Once they are learned it's hard to unlearn them. The behaviors are intrinsically reinforcing and there is a behavioral barrier to unlearning them.

Not eating veggies seems to be a behavior trap. It's not uncommon for picky eating to start around age 2 become a lifetime habit. Parents tend to use counter productive methods in an attempt to address picky eating. Evidence-based methods are available but not widely used.

I conjecture that optimal evidence-based parenting methods have a huge impact on the outcome of adult unhealthy eating behaviors.

comment by tadamsmar · 2014-01-15T13:53:15.204Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would make a different argument than Pinker's in favor of the notion that parenting matters.

Studies show that the normal range of parenting has a limited impact on outcomes. I will grant that.

The normal range of parenting styles is dominated by sub-optimal parenting, so studying the normal range tells you nothing about the impact of optimal parenting methods. Scientific research has provided evidenced-based parenting methods that are superior to those commonly practiced, but the technology transfer has mostly failed, in particular when it comes to getting most parents to practice the most effective methods. In fact, parents commonly chronically engage in actions known to be counterproductive.

So the issue of whether optimal parenting would have a bigger impact is mostly an open question.

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-01-08T22:00:59.351Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Some previous comments where I've pontificated on children: 1 2 3 4 5 6 (that last about sperm donation in the UK in particular).

comment by [deleted] · 2016-01-07T14:21:48.147Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm interesting in the hedonic experiences of fatherhood.

I intend to find a coparent if I don't find a partner by 35, then donate sperm at 39, before the upper limit on the recommended sperm donation age as a last option.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-01-09T23:16:15.927Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Any mention of eugenics already invokes fear in the hearts of most people, and its pretty hard to deny that genetically engineering babies is the scariest kind of eugenics.

That's a failure of thinking that most people in the world are similar to yourself. China has a large population and not the same issues with eugenics that the West has.

comment by mwengler · 2014-01-08T23:46:25.907Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The idea that it would be morally superior for me to devote my productivity to somebody else's children makes me laugh. Presumably most of us agree that a moral system is something we choose. I have a strong aversion to choosing a system which would have me valuing other people's children over my own, even if I have not had my own children yet.

In case it is not clear how choosing charity over having children amounts to choosing somebody else's children over my own, here it is. Charity as discussed around here almost always means something which increases the utility function of some group of humans other than myself or those I might said to have a selfish interest in. The humans whose utility is increased are the children of other humans, not my own children certainly. When people pose charity as an alternative to having children, they are referring to taking a finite set of resources you have under your control and devoting them EITHER to charity OR to raising your own children. So as we see, choosing charity over your own children is to choose the utility of other people's children over your own children.

Certainly if you want to, you can characterize my distaste for choosing other people's children over my own as selfish. There is another principle I think of, though, and that is sustainability, or survival. Consider a world with two groups of productive people, group A has a meme of giving to charity instead of supporting its own children and group B has a meme of having children and raising them. If in all other respects groups A and B are similar, one will expect to see group A decline precipitously by comparison to group B over the course of 30 to 100 years. A few years after the last of group A has died of old age, one might read wikipedia pages about them much as we now read wikipedia pages about the Shakers.

To summarize, I will not follow a culture which can easily be predicted to fail in a Darwinian struggle against the other cultures around it. I can't imagine why I would ever adopt a moral system which had no place for my descendants in it even as I worked to preserve a place for other people's descendants.

comment by philh · 2014-01-09T12:23:18.202Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think you make a valid point, but

choosing charity over your own children is to choose the utility of other people's children over your own children.

This seems to ignore conversion rates - how much utility for other people's children can you buy versus utility for your own?

I wouldn't judge someone badly who saved the life of their own child over the life of a stranger's child, but I would if it was 500 children of strangers.

comment by mwengler · 2014-01-09T21:37:02.521Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Judge them as badly or as well as you like. I wonder how much they will care?

How often do you suppose that humans find themselves in a situation where they must choose between their own children and some larger number of other people's children. At one level, hardly ever. At another level, I'm about to buy my 16 year old daughter a car for a few thousand dollars, presumably that few thousand dollars could save the lives of a few tens of children somewhere else? Presumably every time I have taken my children to Disneyland or on a nice vacation I have used resources that could have saved many other children?

Judge me if you like. I hope my children will do the same for their children as I have done for them.

comment by philh · 2014-01-10T14:13:15.719Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What you describe would fit well within not-going-to-judge-you if you were spending that amount of money on yourself, so I'm hardly going to judge you for spending it on your children.

I wonder how much they will care?

This seems irrelevant? Of course if someone has different values to me, then they're not going to particularly care if they violate my values.

But are you saying that you would save your own child over 500 others? Would you judge someone badly for saving their own child over 500 others? What about a million others?

The point I'm trying to get across is that I feel there's a limit to how much you "should" value your own child over other children, and your original post ignored this.

comment by mwengler · 2014-01-10T15:11:32.423Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Actually trying to imagine any kind of situation like this, I imagine I am putting my full effort in to saving my children. It is very hard to picture a real situation where it is a choice between one or two of my children vs 500 others. If it is some evil dictator of Alpha or Omega or a p-zombie or some other fiction we like to screw with around here offering me a choice to threaten and manipulate me, then fuck them, I'll take my children and THEY are the murderers of the other children.

Frankly, it is a lot easier to imagine living with myself and Julia and Melissa after 500 nameless faceless strangers are gone than living every day without Julia and Melissa while 500 nameless faceless strangers wander around somewhere in the world doing whatever it is that nameless faceless strangers that I don't care about do. In the grand scheme of things, people are going to die, some sooner, some later. Any good or ill I do is apt to soon be lost in the noise as far as the world is concerned, whereas as far as I am concerned, it might have a rather large effect on me.

So here's an interesting theory, if I work hard to please myself and everybody did that, would total utility be increased? I know I remember studying something like that theory 35 years ago.

I can imagine trying to save my children and increasing my risk of failure somewhat in order to save other children with my children. I can't easily quantify this. I would delay leaving with my kids at the risk of being "too late" in order to get some other kids out of something dangerous, and a hell of a lot fewer than 500. It is hardly a matter of indifference. More a sense of agency and responsibility, my job is my kids, my relatives, my friends.

I do see morality as an aesthetic decision. It is clearly not derivable. It is pretty clearly based on feelings we have which we have evolved with the help of natural selection. Which is to say our moral sentiments carry no moral weight, they are just sentiments. We can use math to determine features of simple models of how our sentiments work, but when our math or our model flies in the face of our sentiments, there isn't a reason in the world to put the map before the territory and the territory is our sentiments.

A million others? What about 1 million others? Would I escape the earth with my kids rather than stay and work a plan to save the earth that had a 1/6000 chance of succeeding? so a 1/6000 chance of succeeding has an expectation value of 1 million lives. Your damn right I would get me and my kids out of there. My moral sentiments have taught me that in matters of life and death 1/6000 = 0. Now amount of math based on a model of my sentiments can override my actual sentiments. Do you think it "should"?

comment by mwengler · 2014-01-10T15:19:50.244Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The point I'm trying to get across is that I feel there's a limit to how much you "should" value your own child over other children, and your original post ignored this.

I would not kidnap a strange child and kill her for her kidney in order to save the life of my child. SO in that sense my own moral sentiments respect significant limits on the lives of others over my own children.

But given a chance to save my child vs save a bus going over a cliff I'd save my child.

At a sort of deep level I don't even care if it makes sense. It arises from feelings bred into my brain for 10s or 100s of millions of years before a human neocortex was even a twinkle in the flying spaghetti monster's eye.

comment by Dan_Weinand · 2014-01-08T20:57:01.826Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A study suggests that happiness is negatively affected by having children http://www.npr.org/2013/02/19/172373125/does-having-children-make-you-happier Note, there seem to be some issues with the methodology used in the study, but it also seems to be fairly well respected in academia.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-08T21:03:30.453Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

A study suggests that happiness is negatively affected by having children

It doesn't seem to. Following your link, the study suggests that working women in Texas weren't very happy when taking care of their kids.

That's an answer to a drastically different question.

comment by Dan_Weinand · 2014-01-09T04:25:45.035Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, a more applicable study is behind a pay-wall. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/351391?uid=3739640&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21103313626383 Summary: data from six surveys suggest negative correlation between having children and several measures of life satisfaction. Standard caveats that correlation doesn't imply causation, etc.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-09T04:38:57.030Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. Pity about the paywall. Throwing in here a PDF on the likelihood of depression among people with children and childless people. I read it as no significant difference (I understand that the authors don't feel that way).

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-01-08T21:35:43.875Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I seem to remember that this was brought up earlier and may be true to some amount. Parenting can be a lot of stress esp. if nobody honors it and/or you cannot see the value youself. Feelings of happyness are heavily moderated socially. But less happyness doesn't mean that the didn't think it to be right.

comment by DanArmak · 2014-01-08T19:48:10.533Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One should also consider adopting vs. using sperm or eggs from banks vs. one's own genetic children. Obviously different people will have different concerns, but if I wanted to have children (which I don't), I would try to get the guaranteed-best sperm available from a bank instead of using my own.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-08T20:06:27.713Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

guaranteed-best sperm available

What is this thing that you talk about?

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-01-08T20:28:04.414Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

See e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/broadband/tx/spermbank/doron/index_textonly.shtml

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-08T20:37:04.043Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. This, of course, presumes a very specific understanding of "best".

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-01-08T20:46:50.886Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A quite subjective one indeed.

comment by DanArmak · 2014-01-08T20:11:12.322Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't really know if it exists; I never checked. Don't sperm banks provide some measures of the expected genetic quality of sperm samples (or at least of the donors)? It may not be guaranteed, but I'd imagine there would be screening for common deleterious mutations, and some general info on IQ, height, etc.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-08T20:22:56.868Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think sperm banks provide some non-binding guarantees about lack of known major genetic problems -- for example, you're unlikely to get genes with hemophilia. You also might or might not get some basic information about the sperm donor, e.g. race, height, or highest education degree received. I doubt each sperm donor undergoes IQ testing.

All of these help (but do not guarantee) to avoid "bad" sperm. However I have no idea how to define "guaranteed-best" sperm or how will you find it in the sperm bank's vaults.

comment by DanArmak · 2014-01-08T21:47:33.117Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sperm banks are a market, so why wouldn't / aren't there banks providing more expensive sperm that they guarantee to be higher quality? It's something I really expected to exist; why doesn't it (if it doesn't)?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-08T21:57:40.315Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

why wouldn't / aren't there banks providing more expensive sperm that they guarantee to be higher quality?

Because they can't. For most reasonable definitions of "higher quality" there is no current technology which will allow you to take a look at sperm (and, say, sequence the DNA) and provide assurances about characteristics of the future person.

Now, their marketing materials, of course, are a different issue :-/

comment by DanArmak · 2014-01-09T18:42:19.051Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't mean to imply they could measure these traits in the sperm itself; they can measure them in the donor instead. All we need is to know that these variables are heritable: IQ, height, race / skin color, emotional and personality profile, health history, family health history, specific mutations which can be tested by sequencing the donor's DNA (not the sperm).

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-09T18:52:52.252Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

All we need is to know that these variables are heritable

Partially heritable.

So, let's get a bit more specific. Can you give a description (in whatever terms you like) of a donor which who will provide "high-quality" sperm of the kind that you're looking for?

comment by DanArmak · 2014-01-09T20:31:47.564Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly, few things are perfectly heritable. 0.5 heritability (correlation), as claimed for IQ, is quite impressive.

I can list the qualities I would look for. Keeping in mind that I'm not in fact looking for sperm donors, don't have or want children, and other people would certainly want (or prioritize) other things - but that should still allow a market.

  • High IQ. In addition to regular IQ tests it's probably good to look at other factors like education and other intellectual achievements - would need to research to know what to look for exactly.
  • Physically attractive (would need to research how heritable this is)
  • Good personality factors - high conscientiousness, etc (ditto)
  • Above average height for my population, but not too tall. I remember that height is positively correlated with various good life outcomes; would need to check how tall is 'too tall'.
  • Racial appearance matching mine and my partner's, and presumably also matching the local socially dominant group (Ashkenazi Jewish in my case)
  • Good physical health, strength (lifetime)
  • Medical history without diseases that are known to be heritable (donor and his family)
  • Gene sequencing to screen for known genetic predispositions to certain diseases (donor and his family)
  • Donor's family known to be long-lived
  • Screening for factors known to adversely impact sperm (e.g. exposure to mutagens, history of cancer, advanced age at time of donation)
  • Donor should have already had children (whether natural or from donated sperm) that were healthy, to indicate the absence of de novo deleterious mutations in the donor's sperm cell line

There are many factors I would want, but I don't know how heritable they are, and would need to research. But the above list should already lead to a much better than chance outcome that would be worth a significant price paid to the sperm bank, if I trusted the bank to ensure these qualities (to a certain degree of certainty, etc.)

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-01-12T10:31:43.917Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In practice, very little of this is checked for or marketed. They check for sexually-transmitted diseases, they check for non-negligibly likely genetic problems (e.g. Tay-Sachs in Ashkenazi-descended people, sickle-cell in West African-descended people). It's possible someone is marketing sperm along the lines you posit, but I'd consider it non-negligible that they're scamming.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-01-09T23:21:14.238Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One should also consider adopting vs. using sperm or eggs from banks vs. one's own genetic children. Obviously different people will have different concerns, but if I wanted to have children (which I don't), I would try to get the guaranteed-best sperm available from a bank instead of using my own.

I'm not sure that artificial contraception technology is at the state where one would want to use it in cases where one can contracept naturally.

comment by Prismattic · 2014-01-10T07:40:05.578Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure that artificial contraception technology is at the state where one would want to use it in cases where one can contracept naturally.

Amusingly, this statement manages to be both strikingly correct and strikingly incorrect at the same time, depending on how one looks at it.

(I think you wanted "conception" and "conceive" vice "contraception" and "contracept".)