If you grew up in a big family, you know what it was like to fight tooth and nail for everything. Bathroom time. The last string cheese. Shotgun in the minivan. For a lot of people, it was a nightmare. For others, a blessing. And if your parents had a lot of kids, you may consider your childhood with numerous brothers and sisters to be one of the more important aspects of your life – teaching you all kinds of things about strategy, leadership, and competition.
Again, this may have been a blessing, or a curse. When we take a look at the reality of big family life, it turns out that it was more harmful than helpful for the majority of people.
Researchers from both the University of Houston and the London School of Economics recently published a study called The Quantity-Quality Trade-off and the Formation of Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills, which took a look at the relationship between the number of children a family has, and the resulting quality of life those children experience, in addition to comparing the cognitive abilities of children from smaller families.
Basically, what they found is that the more children a family has, the lower the quality of life for those children. Or, the more siblings you have, the more difficult your life is going to be.
“Increases in family size decrease parental investment, decrease childhood cognitive abilities, and increase behavioral problems,” the study found.
The meat of the findings were that girls from large families typically suffer from cognitive abilities that are impacted negatively, while boys feel the sting economically. Does that mean you can blame your current woes on your parents deciding to have an entire litter of children, rather than one or two? It may be part of the equation, but there are a lot of things to take into account.
“Differences in mother’s AFQT scores are correlated with a wide set of lifestyle differences that could explain these differences,” the study says. “For instance, having worse child care coverage, maternity policies, or flexibility in household labor supply could all make the presence of an additional child more detrimental to other children in the household.”
Time, money, and a lack of resources all play into the conclusion. For prospective parents, this can be some incredibly valuable information. Reading through the study, a big portion of the research boils down to the ability of parents to effectively divvy up two important resources to properly take care of their families: time and money. Failing to provide enough for each child leads to detrimental impacts.
Of course, this isn’t going to be the case in every instance. Plenty of people grew up in big families and went on to become very successful. Conan O’Brien, for example, is one of six children. He turned out just fine, as a world-famous and wealthy television star. Another late-night TV host, Stephen Colbert, has 11 siblings. So not everyone is doomed.
You can obviously still become successful after spending your entire childhood fighting for every inch of space. The point here is that you don’t need to go all ‘Jim Bob Duggar’ if you plan on starting a family. Some people want to have a lot of children, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but there are things to take into account. Having a child is expensive – upwards of $250,000 – and when you have a few, you’re not doing yourself, or your children, any favors.
This isn’t the ‘good old days’, where it wasn’t all that uncommon to see families with five, six, or even 10 children. The costs are just too high. And in most cases even two parents, working full-time, won’t bring in enough income or have enough time to support families of that size (again, there are exceptions).
With current economic trends, we’ve actually been able to see this happen in the numbers. Average family size has been dwindling for some time, with U.S. Census Bureau data showing that the average U.S. household size drops by one person for every 100 million new citizens. Why? People are poorer, relatively speaking, and having children is a gigantic expense. With low to no wage growth, and jobs hard to find, having more kids just isn’t an option.
That’s what you need to keep in mind if you are planning on starting a family – or working in the middle of raising kids. Adding more bodies to your household may be harmful to those already there, and you need to think carefully before pulling the proverbial trigger.