The answer to this question seems simple but when you think about it - really think about it - it isn't. If one is to argue that the need to have children is imprinted in us by design then, in effect, one is arguing against the prevailing notion of us doing what we do because we will it so. If instead one argues for having children in order to be happy then one is simply ignoring objective research that tells us bringing children to this world reduces the parents' happiness; happiness only makes a recovery when the children leave home.
If you didn't know about this reduced happiness before having your first child, surely you would know about it by the time you bring your second one along; yet the majority of parents have more than one child.
In this post I will offer a new explanation to why parents bring a second child to the world: status anxiety.
In other words, parents are pressured to bring the second child to this world not because they really want to, not because they thought it out, but rather because everybody does it and they don't want to be the ones who are "different"; they want to keep up with the Joneses.
The anecdotal evidence at my disposal is as follows:
- Virtually every pair of parents from our age group we have been in touch with in Australia has had two children. This includes workmates as well as mothers' group members. The only exceptions I am aware of come from those who have problems conceiving (and then there's us).
- Those parents that had the two children don't just have two randomly spread births. They all have them, or aspire to have them, within two years of one another. Surely not all of them have pondered the ideal number of children and their timing and arrived at exactly the same answer by accident; I suspect a lot of them are merely copying one another. In other words, they are following a trend, doing what society expects them to do.
- Society does expect them to do exactly that. Becoming a parent is the best way to reduce a person's productivity, so once you become a parent work applies significant pressures to reduce your parental demands as much as possible. On the other hand you get signals telling you what's expected of you whenever you go to places like zoos or museums and are told that a "Family Ticket" is a ticket for two parents + two children. Not one child, and usually not three; just 2+2.
Image by bass_nroll, Creative Commons license