What If Everyone Had Only One Child?

David Fazekas
What If?

On average, it costs more than $15,000 a year, to raise one child in the United States, compared to $26,000 to raise two, according to the USDA. Which might explain why the number of single-child families is up, nearly 15 percent over the past 40 years, making us wonder, what if everyone had only one child?

America, you’re getting one child, and one child only for each family. Which means selfish, lonely kids will be having socially awkward exchanges around the country. At least that’s the skewed public perception, Lauren Sandler, an only child, mother of an only child, and author of, One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One, has fought throughout her life.

“They tend to imagine a world of little emperors. A whole world of people incapable of connecting or nurturing. There are hundreds of studies that bear out that isn't the case.”

Including surveys that show only children earn better grades and are happier, than those dealing with the joys of sibling rivalry.

“It’s simply because, when you don't have to divide your energy, your time, all of your resources between kids, they tend to do better,” says Sandler. “Those things develop confidence and I think develop innovation over a lifetime.”

Innovations like, air conditioning. Thank you, Willis Carrier for being an only child. Then again, some of the country’s greatest achievements came from children of big families. Thomas Edison, Mr. Light bulb, was one of seven kids. Big iconic American families, like The Brady Bunch, taught us it wasn’t just about Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. And of course, there’s the all-American cultural family phenomenon, known simply as the Kardashians. If there were only one, would it really be that tough to keep up?

With only one child, we’d also be without Freakonomics.

“I'm the last of eight kids, so i always think about that, like, if my parents had stopped, I don't even have a vote, I don't even get to sit here,” says Stephen Dubner, author of Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain.

There are about 320 million people living in the United States. In 25 years, roughly one generation, our population would shrink to half that size, if families had only one child.

With a smaller population, class rooms would have a little more elbow room. Right now, there is one teacher, for every 16 students. If there were fewer students, teachers would likely have more time to spend with each one.

“A population where everyone was having one child is going to be a population with a demand for higher levels of education for the small number of children that there are,” says David Lam, Research Professor at the Population Studies Center, at the University of Michigan. “Maybe everybody can get a good university education and that would grow.”

A smaller, better educated population could drive down the unemployment rate.

“Presumably, it'd be a low unemployment population,” says Lam. “The size of the labor force would be declining at a pretty substantial rate. So, it should be pretty good for employment.”

And let’s take note from China, known for its now largely abandoned one-child policy started in 1979 to control its ballooning population. The thinking went that sons had more earning power than daughters, resulting in families taking control over the face of their one and only child. The result? A lot of lonely men.

"Anytime you see a population of way more males than way more females, how do i put this nicely, it's not like a whole lot of good things happen,” says Dubner. “If you look around the world throughout history, typically it's young men who are doing the bad stuff.”

So a country that’s half the size, better educated, but with only one Kardashian to keep up with. And parents? You might actually enjoy spring break.

“The idea of like actually being able to take a trip that you want to take during a school break instead of paying a fortune for plane tickets and having to battle all of those families and the security line at the airport. I mean, come on, that's freedom,” says Sandler.

Host: Dan Kloeffler
Producer, DP: David Fazekas
Associate Producer: Stefan Doyno
Editor: Maurice Abbate