Why Having Children is Immoral

I noticed a few months ago, that many of my friends had moved on from their youth and began buying houses, settling down and most of all, started to get married and begin families. Honestly, as someone who still feels that they understand very little about their existence, I am stumped how they can make such huge decisions while understanding the variables that determine their lives so badly.

Buying a home may be a big decision, but having offspring is a far greater responsibility to bear. A baby, later a child and much later an adult, is a human being with feelings, attitudes, dreams and aspirations that the parents will need to engineer carefully, to prepare them for their life to come. Making mistakes during this time can be detrimental to the health of this new person.

While I used to daydream about having children, and still desire to have them, I don’t see this is as a good choice anymore. Humanity, despite its obvious challenges and seemingly unsolvable problems, seems to be going forward with placing people onto the globe anyway. After all, it is the most common and reasonable desire to have. But considering life as a whole and all the possible ways it not only can go wrong, but does wrong, it would be unwise to give in to this desire.

The Invisible Siege

Financial struggles, birth defects and complications, wars, shaky familial relationships are all realities that negatively impact children, not just for the duration of their childhood, but for their entire existence. People who want to become parents then, should recognize this fact and accept that their child might suffer in ways that have not quite revealed themselves to them yet. We do not know how a future human will feel about their existence, making the birth, therefore, a gamble on their satisfaction of existence. And while there are hardships for newly minted parents, the hardships for children will be likely greater than those of its parents, simply because they are younger: they will need face the same sorts of choices and decisions that their parents will have made in the past. Having children then, is an endorsement of one’s own past suffering.

If we do accept these struggles as a “part of life”, we are recusing ourselves from the responsibility of such negative occurrences, probably to have children without regret. We downplay the suffering that we experienced in our lives to move forward with our desire, because we are told not to dwell on the past, even while sickness, weakness, lack of sleep, hunger, thirst, anxiety, confusion, depression, are all future realities that will come to us all (if we are not at the brink of death).

Few of us consider these discomforts as being truly bad: We argue, that if these mental states can be rendered into something better, such as via therapy, ingestion of food or drink, then life must not be as bad as it is good. Therefore, children can only add to the happiness of the parents. However, this does not seem to entirely be true, as researches seem to find similar happiness ratings among those with, and those without children.

Therefore, happiness is not a good argument for having children.

Now, we know that any suffering is bad, to some degree. We also know that we cannot know how intense such negative feelings inside all of us truly are. If a baby or a child cries, we treat it as something normal, while a child’s emotional state, might be the worst it has ever been in. What I think is scary, is that this is the standard that we are beginning our child’s life at and this doesn’t take into consideration the idea of adults suffering without ever expressing the things that are on their minds.

Then if we were to start a life, because we know that children cry for many years before they cease (which has its own problems of repression), a new life will inevitably come in contact with suffering from the get go. Unless one argues that a child’s crying is not any form of suffering, pain is a permanent reality of our lives. Adding the insidious effects randomness, far worse things can emerge, which only further promotes further trauma. With the advent of Global Warming, there is no doubt that such tragedies will increase from the numbers we already have today.

Of course, we can also make a similar list of positive events, although many us today will not be happy if we only satisfy our hungers or stay healthy. We require affection, financial stability, career possibilities, a possibility to be involved with our community, etc.. Otherwise, loneliness, feelings of stuckness, pressure and displacement will come to light within our minds.

Religion then, might seem a solution. But wallowing in religious fanaticism will also not save us because it will require us to continually strive for our next hit of euphoria, which we will need to pass down to our children. Note, that such a dependence is very privy to abuse.

In my opinion, while the horizon of possible good things may be big, the universe of bad things will always be greater in size, because there are more things in the universe that are not what we imagine for ourselves. Why the negative seems to be greater than the good, is a the topic that a particular South African philosopher has made his defining work.

Measuring our Suffering

David Benatar made several good arguments using such an approach of goodness vs badness, in order to argue that no matter when, or under what circumstances someone is born, the child and subsequent adult will suffer throughout their life. One of the points he makes in his book Better Never to Have Been, comes from the idea that our opinions are skewed toward optimism. Our brain seems to try and show us that there will always be a “net positive” rather than a “net negative” of good versus bad in the world

However, if we overcome this bias, we see that the world is worse than we previously thought. From this more objective standpoint, he says, it is hard to argue for a net good and analyzes why this is so. The second part of the book deals with the consequences of such a view, one of which is antinatalism, the position this article is advancing.

I am admittedly biased myself, because I am a negative utilitarianist, and I find positive utilitarianism to have huge problems. Which view is more valid however, is an open problem. While I don’t present a rigorous proof, I would argue against the view that we should be spreading goodness, despite the costs that sometimes come with the decisions related to it, and that we should rather reduce the negative, to enjoy the little good that we can get.

When I express the previous arguments, one of the counters I tend to get, is that children create more happiness in the world. I do agree with this. But if positive utilitarianism is the way to go then we should clearly be donating to charities, volunteering, helping people, etc. because these things bring more happiness. Most people don’t do these things on a regular basis, meaning that while a solution to increasing happiness is present, we don’t pursue it. Therefore, creating more happiness cannot be the end goal of having children, because otherwise people would be making more donations. That is, unless it’s happiness for ourselves, that they are talking about.

We don’t actually perceive the happiness that we can give, and so, don’t believe our actions are creating happiness. We measure our influence only from our own personal emotions. If we are not happy, we cannot understand the positive influence we have on other people. The contrapositive seems to be true as well: those that are happy, cannot see the suffering they cause. Therefore, happiness as an argument for children, is flawed.

Perhaps having children is deep down an economic reason. Our children will happily take care of us in our old age. Giving to charity and helping people, does cost money and time. So do children. But as long as self-interest extends to our descendants, that is, as long as our emotional reach includes our children, we can argue that we create happiness, in time, for us and for our kids is higher than it would have been if we hadn’t had children.

If this theory is to be believed, our children then, are an extension of our selves, which means that money and time spent on them, is money and time spent on us. Tie it up to the idea that any actions done are done in the name of self-interest, it begins to make sense. It therefore seems then, that creates more happiness than it does suffering. That is, if not for Global Warming.

We, and definitely our children, will have major reductions in self-interested actions as argued by reduction of GDP and resources. I argue that if we care for our children as we care for ourselves, then we should agree that bringing someone into the world at this point in human history is a bad thing, because it will reduce their happiness and create more suffering, one way or another.

More disasters, pollution and food & water shortages as well as mass migrations that the world hadn’t seen before will arrive, with our children in the midst of it. Even if you don’t believe in Global Warming, or don’t believe in the severity of it, with concentration camps springing up in several powerful countries, the threat of nuclear war and ecological collapse from pesticides and urbanization descending upon us, it is not unreasonable to imagine that our children will suffer, even before they might come into awareness of such events. Considering the following that Greta Thunberg has gained, it seems we have already reached this point.

The possibility of not having kids then, is not necessarily a selfish decision, but in fact, is a deeply compassionate one. We know that there is an increase of depression and anxiety in teenagers today, for some unknown cause. We could be looking at a mental health epidemic that will continue into the future. Because we are wired to care for our children’s health, as well as to avoid their premature deaths, having children seem in the very least questionable. If we know that our children will lead harder lives, not having kids become a better choice to make.

“What will come, will come”, some people say. A rephrasing of this, as far as I see it, is “Yeah, people may suffer in the process, but in the end, I benefit from it” Those that argue the opposite (“I can increase the suffering of others because it decreases the suffering within me”), are similarly misguided. Yet, finding an absolute middle path is difficult: I cannot know your inner suffering by, for example, not having children. Therefore, I must accept your decision to have them.

The End of All Things Good and Bad

One thing is clear though: We will all die. Some of us will die early, some of us will live long, and slowly but surely, become more fragile, more injured, until we succumb to the ravages of time. Neither process is pleasant, but one will definitely come to pass. If one has a child, one guarantees this Chinese finger trap, even if the parents won’t be around to experience the final resolution of this mystery for their children.

As difficult as it is for me to stand my ground for this invisible cause, I cannot see a way which we can achieve true goodness otherwise.

In our current age, having children is still seen as something good. But with evolving morals, just like the rise of gender egalitarianism, so I hope in a future where antinatalism becomes accepted as the status quo. Perhaps acceptance of this view is already under way: A Canadian university student has started an antinatalist movement for teens a few months ago, to protest to inaction taken by the Canadian government on Climate Change. Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez, as the sort of millennial beacon of light in the US government, has also brought this idea up at one point as well.

Yet, the most significant side-effect of not having children, if everyone were to abide by it, is the awesome end of civilization. Humanity will not be able to sustain the continual environmental exploitation we are committed to, which means that we will be paying the price for our exploits, either through us, or more likely, through our children, or their children, or their children.

This is why the only way to discontinue the pain we might be causing, are causing and will be causing, is to discontinue ourselves. With no one there to witness the destruction that we are wringing, there can be no one to suffer it, from now, unto the end of time. And I think this is a beautiful thought.



Michał Burgunder is a software engineer, who is pursuing a masters degree in computer science. He currently resides in Lugano, Switzerland.

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Michał Burgunder

Michał Burgunder is a software engineer, who is pursuing a masters degree in computer science. He currently resides in Lugano, Switzerland.