Kids Aren’t Cheap. That Doesn’t Fully Explain Why We’re Ambivalent About Having Them.

A new book explores why what was once a default life stage now feels like an increasingly fraught choice.

In a recent Guardian article about “America’s premier pronatalists,” the journalist mentions her own assumption that “the main thing that [makes having kids] hard [is] that it’s now so incredibly expensive to raise children.”

“No,” the father of the profiled family replies. “Not at all”—and in a significant sense, I think he’s right. So do Anastasia Berg and Rachel Wiseman, authors of the newly released What Are Children For?: On Ambivalence and Choice.

That’s not to say Berg and Wiseman (or I) would ever be dismissive of the real financial hardships many would-be parents face. On the contrary, they devote the first of the book’s four long chapters to a sober examination of such “externals.”

But the delight of the book is that they do not stop there. Berg and Wiseman equally reject the assumption—seen in many lesser entries in the kids conversation—that the externals are the whole of the matter, that all this ambivalence would melt away with just the right package of policies to extend parental leave and make childcare affordable.

It wouldn’t, and What are Children For? is a welcome complication of that simplistic account. As the title signals, Berg and Wiseman aim to deliver a sharp cultural and philosophical analysis, giving rigorous but sympathetic examination to a “world that is both pro- and anti-natalist.” Though they embrace at the last moment a major claim they seem to resist throughout the text, their project succeeds.

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