Monday, November 29, 2004

Child-Bearing in Sequence and in Tandem

If I were a woman, I think I’d rather have twins than two children one at a time. The costs of having children can be divided into two main categories: child-bearing costs and child-rearing costs. With two children carried one at a time, the child-bearing costs are incurred twice. With twins, the childbirth costs are incurred only once. Thus, twins allow one to spread child-bearing costs. Think of it: just one body-morphing pregnancy, just one set of visits to the obstetrician, just one set of maternity clothing…

But what about the child-rearing costs? Raising two infants is assuredly more difficult than raising just one. Yet if it’s less than twice as difficult, then you’re still reducing your child-rearing costs by having kids in tandem instead of in sequence. In reality, it’s probably more than twice as costly, since some costs can only be shared over time, not simultaneously: twins require two cribs, two sets of clothes (no hand-me-downs!), and so on. These factors might well increase the overall child-rearing cost of twins relative to infants-in-sequence. Nonetheless, I surmise that the savings from spreading the child-bearing costs would more than offset the increment in child-rearing costs.

I’ve been told that twins have a nasty tendency to wake each other up, which means that parents of twins get even less sleep. I think this buttresses my point. Say a typical infant has a 50% chance of waking during any given hour of the night, for an 8-hour night. On average, then, the parents get wakened 4 times per night. With twins, there is a 75% chance of one or both infants waking in a given hour, so on average parents get wakened 6 times per night. Now, that’s clearly bad. But which would you rather have: 12 months of being wakened 4 times per night, or 6 months of being wakened 6 times per night? The former involves 25% more wakenings than the latter. Now, I grant that on a given night, there may be increasing marginal disutility of wakenings; the 5th and 6th wakenings are probably much more wearisome than the first 4. But are they so much worse that you’d willingly double the number of nights that you get wakened at all? I figure that once I've been wakened 4 times, my night is shot anyhow, so I’d rather concentrate my days of sleeplessness into a shorter period of time. (Update added later: I realize that I’m ignoring that wakened twins may require two parents instead of one to get out of bed. But I still think I’d rather concentrate my misery in a shorter period.)

I say all of this, of course, as a single man without one iota of experience in parenting. I therefore invite any qualified parents to refute my claim. But remember, the only parents qualified to make an empirical comparison are those who have had four children, with one set of twins and two single births!


Steven Horwitz said...

Adopt, Glen. :)

Actually, one set of considerations you've left out are the fact that spacing your children reduces your costs in two ways:

1. Learning by experience. You learn from your experience with child 1 and can raise child 2 at lower cost (c.p.)in terms of acquiring information or intra-couple negotiation times. I suppose that since you are applying the same info costs over two kids with twins, twins might still be cheaper, but that doesn't mean that sequential births involve totally distinct sets of costs. But with twins you are more likely to make the same mistake with two kids than you are with sequential births.

2. Child 2 can help with the costs of raising child 1. You have an older playmate/babysitter/parental helper who significantly reduces the monitoring costs associated with parenting. Even being able to say to a 3 year old "can you go get me a diaper from the bathroom?" is a significant cost saving over time.

Knowing a few parents of twins, I think the various economies of scale and other cost savings are balanced out by complications that sequential births don't face. My gut reaction is that preference for twins vs. spaced births depends much more on the indifference curve than the budget constraint.

Question: does your analysis of the costs change if the twins are identical vs. different-sex fraternal?

Anonymous said...

Well, even if you adopt, you would still face the same dilemna of being woken up (assuming you want to adopt a baby and most people do). And even if they are slightly older the cost of raising the adopted child is still the same. Adopting is a good idea, but for other reasons.

I for some reason never really wanted to have twins. But recently Julia Roberts gave birth to fraternal twins and I thought that was desirable. She's now 37 and done (assuming she wants only 2). She had a boy and a girl. She doesn't have to go through the tiresome pregnancy again at a dangerous child-bearing age of 40-ish old women. She's wealthy enough to hire help, which i would do if i had twins.

As a woman I worry about what multiple pregnancy will do to my body and health. And since I plan on still working on my career and financial security and don't want to start having children until much later or maybe not at all(although my nurturing nature won't allow that), not uncommon for women these days, having too many children far in between ages will be difficult. I saw it with my parents (3 children with 7 year age gap for youngest) and I certainly don't want to do that. And these days it's really hard to live on just one income in the city. And the thought of having college age kids when i want to retire makes me tired just thinking about it.

But I hear all this changes once the stork delivers the baby. Priorities shift, values change, yada yada. I hope so, but before then, I just have to make lots of moola I guess. A child costs about $200K each to raise. My parents are constantly saying that if there weren't the three of us, they'd be millionaires. =)


Anonymous said...

Actually, I remember my mom saying often growing up how hard it was to raise us back to back (my brother and I are a year apart). She said sometimes it was absolutely miserable and depressing both of us being babies. But then again they had no help and no money, not to mention young! And as the other post-er said, the older sibling can guide play with the younger ones. My brother and I were once lost for 2 days once during a watch by relatives when we were 5 and 4 (we decided to venture out to find mom). My hysterical parents found us in a police station all dirty and somewhat fed because as the older sibling, I forced him to hold my hand the whole time and got us fed and turned into the police by the friendly neighbors.
She did say though that my youngest brother's birth is when she really felt it taking a toll on her body, although raising him was just easier after experiencing two already. And yes, he got all the hand me downs.
But I think a lot of it also has to do with *when* you decide to have a child. Older parents (in 30s and 40s) are better equipped financially and emotionally to handle children. Which was the case for my parents and the third child.
I personally would not have children until at least in my 30s. That just seems to make the most fiscal sense.


Anonymous said...

Glen, finally, you posted a blog that I can totally agree with. :) I think it is a lot better for a woman to have twins than two babies at different times.

The problem is that for me to have twins I need a husband whose parents have twin brothers/sisters, since it is transmitted over one generation. Should this be my pick - up line: hey, baby, do your parents have any twin brothers? ;))

All the best,


Amber said...

Don't forget medical costs. Twins are more likely to be born early and thus more prone to complications. Perhaps the comparison should be two consecutive adoptions versus two simultaneous adoptions?

Anonymous said...

There is also a "cash flow" (attention flow?) problem. Twins may be less work to raise than sequential children, but that work is compressed into less time. If you cannot DO the work at the time, then it doesn't matter how much work you save later on.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but remember that children are consumption goods. So, there are likely to be diminishing marginal returns, and my intuition is that this dominates cost considerations.


Anonymous said...

I don't think glen should adopt; he has good genes to pass on to the next generation. He might even consider donating (selling) to sperm banks to impregnate woman who want smart (designer) babies. How do you feel about that? I wish to pose a few questions:

1. Is it more desireable to have identical or fraternal twins? Why?

2. Should people who have no problem conceiving take fertility pills to try to have twins? What are the risks associated with those pills?

3. Is carrying twins to full term more risky than a single baby. If so, then by how much?

Btw, I've been looking to get adopted for sometime now, but at 45 it's becoming more and more unlikely. Isn't this age discrimination?

--Feeling Unwanted.