The Immorality of Having Children

Paper by Stuart Rachels, published on September 17, 2013 in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

This paper defends the Famine Relief Argument against Having Children, which goes as follows: conceiving and raising a child costs hundreds of thousands of dollars; that money would be far better spent on famine relief; therefore, conceiving and raising children is immoral. It is named after Peter Singer’s Famine Relief Argument because it might be a special case of Singer’s argument and because it exposes the main practical implication of Singer’s argument—namely, that we should not become parents. I answer five objections: that disaster would ensue if nobody had children; that having children cannot be wrong because it is so natural for human beings; that the argument demands too much of us; that my child might be a great benefactor to the world; and that we should raise our children frugally and give them the right values rather than not have them. Previous arguments against procreation have appealed either to a pessimism about human life, or to the environmental impact of overpopulation, or to the fact that we cannot obtain the consent of the non-existent. The argument proposed here appeals to the severe opportunity costs of parenting.

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17/3 (2014), 567–582