Should you have children? A philosophical review of Children of Men (2006)

Why Children of Men is one of the top philosophical sci fi movies to watch.

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“As the sounds of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in.
Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.”

You board the train to work each morning. Travel past chain-link fences incarcerating the latest batch of refugees. You hurry through the streets, patrolled by an army that shoots errant civilians on sight.

The memory of your dead son smears the world with a gray, soggy film. And not just your son. No children have been born in almost two decades. Infertile, humanity is on the brink of collapse. While scientists scramble to find a cure, most nations have devolved into anarchist dystopias.

top philosophical sci fi movies to watch

You live out your days avoiding bombings, uprisings, and abductions. How long before you succumb, and take the Quietus pill on your desk? How long before you and the rest of humanity decide to put an end to this futureless world? Why continue? You don’t see the point.

Until … she arrives. A woman from your past. A woman carrying a package that could change everything.

Aficionados of post-apocalyptic science fiction will bask in the intoxicating concoction of desolation and hope in Children of Men (2006). Which explains why the movie appears on many lists of the top philosophical sci fi movies to watch. Emotive and thought-provoking, the film forces us to ask uncomfortable questions.

The film shouts throughout: a world without children is a world without meaning: “I can’t really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can’t remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what’s left to hope for?” says Theo, the protagonist played by a grungy Clive Owen.

top philosophical sci fi movies to watch

As I watched the carnage of Theo’s world unfold, a question niggled at the back of my mind. If we accept the premise of the film, that life is meaningless, hopeless, and valueless without children, why do we seem to think that life has value with children?

Why do we think that giving birth to children is good?

Remember, ultimately, doe-eyed little angels grow into adults. But if adulthood itself is a hopeless existence, why do we think that producing more future adults will make it any better?

You may be shaking your head right about now. “But they’re so cute!” you say. “When your toddler says ‘dada’ for the first time, or learns how to walk, or giggles, then you’ll understand. Then you’ll see the infinite preciousness of your little angel.”

But I’m not so sure – it’s not clear why all value in life derives from the cuteness of children. I am perfectly capable of saying ‘dada’ too, and a whole lot more besides, and yet, nobody is leaping for joy when I do. I can walk a fair bit better than a newborn too, and yet, we don’t seem to think that life is imbued with infinite meaning just because I can walk to the shops.

Cuteness, in other words, is just that. It’s cute. Not earth-shattering. Not brilliant or profound or novel. It doesn’t make life meaningful.

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“Wait,” you say. “Alright.” You agree that cuteness isn’t the feature of childhood that we’re looking for. No, what really makes having children valuable, is that it involves selflessness, or sacrifice. When parents stay up all through the night, every night, rocking little Johnny to sleep, then they understand. They feel the glow of purpose and joy they simply couldn’t have felt without children. Why? Because little Johnny needs their care. Without it, Little Johnny wouldn’t survive.

I’m not convinced by this argument either. Let’s return to the universe in Children of Men. A world without children. A world without hope or meaning. In that world, people are able to give to others who need help. Throughout the film, we see refugees begging to be allowed entry. Begging for food or money. Begging for your care. Without it, they won’t survive. And yet, giving to refugees won’t suddenly make the world a valuable place. It will still have that gray, soggy film over everything one does.

So, I ask again, if cuteness and sacrifice don’t give adult life meaning and value, then why do we think that having children is a good thing to do, especially if we accept that not having children renders life meaningless?

At this point, you may be scratching your head, which is just where a philosopher wants you. This is an excellent time for me to ask the question I really want to ask:

Should we have children at all?

“Dammit,” you say. That’s one question too many. Of course we should have children. Without them, humanity would die out. Without children, there would be no future.

One of the most striking elements of Children of Men is the landscape. The film takes place in England, switching between rubbled cityscapes ruined by civil war, and a luscious, so-green-you-can-smell-it countryside. As you watch Theo move between these settings, you can’t help but wonder just how good an idea it is for humanity to continue at all.

In the film, wherever man is absent, nature flourishes. Wherever man is present, carnage ensues.

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Now, you might think that man is far more important, or valuable, than nature. But why do we think this? Why think that the continuation of man is a good thing? In other words:

Why should humanity survive?

Some philosophers, those who support a position called Anti-natalism, think that humanity should not survive. They hold that human life, on balance, is bad. Put differently, on balance, life involves more suffering than joy.

Consider that the majority of humanity lives under extremely trying conditions:

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As of 2005, almost half the world lives on less than $2.50 per day, while 80% of the world lives on less than $10 per day. And 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty – on less than $1.25 per day. (2015 estimates suggest that extreme poverty levels have reduced. But a life of poverty, as opposed to extreme poverty, is still no fun).

We can debate whether wealth brings happiness – see our rich history of fables that warn against greed. But what does seem clear is that living below the breadline, or just above it, is severely stressful. Whatever romantic notions we might have of living a simple life are misguided. Living in poverty is a daily battle to survive.

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But, you say, life isn’t that bad for those who do have enough money to live reasonably comfortably. For those people, at least, life is a good thing, and so, they should have children. Anti-natalists have arguments for why even those with financial means should not have children. But before considering those, it’s worth pointing out that this position (that poor people shouldn’t have children, while the rich should), is morally dubious. It’s a step away from eugenics – a policy that Hitler and other supremacists held centrally to their philosophies.

Even if you’re comfortable with eugenics, there are other reasons why you shouldn’t have children (even if you’re wealthy). For one, if you think that life without money is awful, but life with money is valuable, then surely the right thing to do is to adopt a child that would otherwise live a life without money, rather than bring a fresh child into the world, who may or may not live a happy life?

Second, life ain’t no cakewalk. “Life is suffering,” says Siddhartha Gautama. You can have all the money you like, but your existence will inevitably be filled with pains, some irritating, others unbearable. The joys of daily life include the persistent itches, thirst, hunger, muscle pain, joint ache, colds, flus, diarrhea, constipation, regrets, disappointments, insatiable desires, and the fact that chocolate makes you fat. As one grows older, these irritations increase in severity and frequency.

In addition to persistent minor irritations, life is inevitably filled with far greater horrors. During your lifetime, it’s likely death will take your parents, possibly a loved one, and perhaps your child. It’s uncomfortably likely that your spouse will cheat on you (some studies suggest more likely than not). And even if you’re lucky enough to avoid these calamities, you will inevitably die.

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Think about that for a moment. If you’re lucky enough to live a long life, your death will be likely be slow and painful. You’ll have plenty of time to appreciate the gradual decline of a body you’ve spent decades exercising, nourishing, sexing, and loving. Cancer and senility will progressively eat away at your organs, until your time finally arrives. Then, deeply alone in your own head, you’ll be forced to endure the sensation of no longer being able to breathe. And the thought that you won’t have the chance to see the sun rise tomorrow.

“Life isn’t all bad!” you shriek. Wonderful things happen too. You’re forgetting the miracle of love, the deliciousness of a restaurant dinner, and the beauty of the sunset. You’re ignoring the awe of scientific discovery. The thrill of skydiving.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: why do we think that the joys of life outweigh its suffering?

We tend to downplay the severity of suffering by comparing our suffering to others who suffer more severely.

If a man dies at thirty, we think it’s a tragedy. But if a man dies at ninety, we don’t. Why? Because the man who dies at ninety hasn’t suffered as bad a harm as the man who dies at thirty. But we ignore the fact that dying, no matter when it is, is a massive harm. It’s absolutely (in the true sense of the word) awful.

Downplaying the severity of suffering in this way is similar to arguing that if I chop off one of your hands, it’s not that bad. Why? Because I could have chopped off both of your hands. The flaw in this logic is obvious: even if x isn’t as bad as y, x may nevertheless be awful.

Suppose you’re unconvinced. You insist that the good in life at least equals the bad – for those of us lucky to have money, that is. Then, still, you should not have children. Why? Because if you bring a new child into this world he will live at best a neutral or slightly happy life. But the child you could have adopted, and instead suffers a lifetime of poverty, will likely live a very unhappy life without your help. The amount of unhappiness you can ameliorate by adopting is far greater than the amount of happiness you can create by birthing a child.

Have I convinced you? Do you agree that we shouldn’t have children? Comment below with your thoughts.

About the Author

Jason Werbeloff PhDHuman. Male. From an obscure planet in the Milky Way Galaxy. Sci-fi novelist with a PhD in philosophy. Likes chocolates, Labradors, and zombies (not necessarily in that order). Werbeloff spends his days constructing thought experiments, while trying to muster enough guilt to go to the gym.

He’s the author of the sci-fi thriller trilogy, Defragmenting Daniel, two novels, Hedon and The Solace Pill, and the short story anthology, Obsidian Worlds. His books will make your brain hurt. And you’ll come back for more.

Subscribe to his newsletter to receive a free book, and a lifetime of free and discounted stories.

  • Tim

    good movie, very interesting premise. Good sci-fi is always thought-provoking!

  • Karen Giasson

    I do believe that we should have children. The joy they have brought to my life is what makes my life worthwhile.

  • Rhi

    First, I wanted to comment that Children of Men is one of my favorite movies. Cuaron is a fantastic director and the acting was wonderful.

    As to your question… I think we should continue to have children. I do not think I’m responsible for someone else’s happiness or unhappiness. To not have a child simply so that I can adopt a child born in poverty to offer them happiness seems like too simple of an answer.

    What I will be curious is how the answers will skew when it comes to gender.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Good point regarding the gender gap. On the one hand, one might think that women would want their own children more than men would because women have evolved a biological imperative to give birth. But on the other hand, evolutionary psychologists suggest that men have developed lots of strategies to avoid having to look after another man’s child. So there would be reason for both genders to prefer birthing their own children rather than adopting.

      • lizlizzie2

        In my experience in family law, men are very concerned about whether a child is theirs. It goes beyond the financial support aspect. If they even think a child might be theirs, they want to know. It is beyond not wanting to look after another man’s child, they don’t want another man raising any child that may be theirs.

  • SenorSensible

    I think that those who want to have children should go ahead and do so. I personally don’t want any so I won’t be one of them. For me it’s about free will, the amount of relative good it does to society, the future of the human race, and the planet is negligible.

  • Karen Hitt Siddall

    Some should, some shouldn’t. Each person needs to decide that for themselves.

    I haven’t seen this movie but will definitely look for it now. What if the storyline was a steadily improving economy and environment and suddenly no one could have children?

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Interesting. I think the premise of the movie is that without children, adults go nuts. They lose their will to survive and improve their surroundings. They lose purpose, and society collapses. Is this true? I think it isn’t true. But if you watch the movie, it’s pretty persuasive.

      • Bill King

        I was more of the opinion that they went nuts, not because there were no children, but because the loss of children left them with no hope for a better future. When they could have children, they could believe “Well it kinda sucks now, but I can do things that may change it and have hope that it will be better for my kids and the next generation, or the one after that…” Their loss of hope resulted from them realizing “It sucks now, and this is it…and no one will be here to make it better for.”

  • Linda Szymoniak

    I’ll be honest, as the mother of three adult daughters (ages 25, 29, and 31), I’ve found myself thinking lately about the world I’ve brought them into. Would I still have had them if I knew then what the world would be like now? Probably, but I think I would have made some changes in raising them. I do honestly think people should consider limiting how many children they have. The sad thing is, I see many families who are in poverty who have six, eight, or even more. I honestly don’t know how they can provide for that many children – even with public assistance. As a mother, I felt stretched to my limit in being able to provide for my own three girls – just to be able to spend time with them, helping them with homework, dealing with the everyday things. I was lucky to be able to be home with my girls, although I still needed to help bring in money for the family (mostly to pay for the extras for them, like dance classes, etc.). I got up in the wee hours of every morning to deliver papers and also did home daycare in order to be able to be home with them. Right now, I don’t have any grandkids and to be honest, while I always looked forward to having them, at this time, I would totally understand if my girls don’t have kids of their own.

    • Jason Spits

      Higher birth rates among poorer people often are the result of less access to birth control and health care associated with pregnancy, as well as less education around sex in general. In developing and third world nations many kids are also a social security policy for when parents are too old or to sick to work and their children, even if not yet adults, support them.
      This touches upon Jason’s comments above as to why would wealthy people need to have kids if they don’t need them for economic reasons or for their survival as a family/people.
      Answering the wider question posed above, if this life is the only reality and you don’t have any religious reason to procreate, having or not having kids is almost a moot point. The only real difference is how much impact (good or bad) they may have on society once they are born and raised and how you contribute towards that impact.
      Bear in mind having kids to carry on a family name is a bit vain given that people born only three or four generations ago are already lost to memory in many cases unless they became famous/infamous (and the question of their positive/negative impact on the world returns!)

  • Pam E

    With the negative impact that humanity is still having on the planet we probably shouldn’t, but I can’t see that happening any time soon. We will either end up destroying the planet or destroying ourselves.
    I’ve not seen this film yet so I’ll have to look out for it.

  • Tom Adams

    Lots to talk about in this discussion. I’ll just pick on two points. Firstly, from a pragmatic ecological point of view, it’s not necessarily a good thing that humans set themselves on a path to extinction. Nature operates many cycles e.g. Predator prey, natural selection, the carbon cycle. There’s a powerful argument that humanity should limit birth as increased population growth is unsustainable. But complete extinction simply creates a vacuum that will be quickly filled by another species/taxonomic group, who’s influence could be more malign than ours. An ebola-like microorganism that infects all higher mammals anyone? There’s also the question of who or what are we sustaining? The whole of the planet earth, or just higher forms of life, Gaia? There’s a general principle in environmental science that greater biodiversity is a good thing. Humans have a claim in this – just not as much as they currently hold (by a wide margin.)
    My other point is more a philosophical one. Siddhartha Gautama’s famous quote is often misunderstood. The root meaning of the word is more closely aligned with ‘unsatisfactoriness’ rather than outright pain and suffering. In other words, without enlightenment or the pursuit of this state, everything is not quite good enough – there is better. This principle applies to poor and rich alike. Part of the Buddhist raison d’être is to seek contentment whatever the circumstances. There are many external pressures that may make this extremely difficult – persecution, famine, homelessness etc. but the significance of your life has a lot to do with what you appreciate and the relative value you place on it. For example, the simple act of breathing, of drawing in fresh air and absorbing life-sustaining oxygen may seem like a given. But when I consider my father in law and the way he died as a result of pulmonary fibrosis, then it becomes a gift to be highly treasured.
    In conclusion, yes, as a species we should be limiting our birth rate and for some this might mean having no children as a matter of choice. Procreating is not the be all and end all of our existence. But to completely erase it we write ourselves out of the possibility of a better, sustainable planet for all species.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Hi Tom, thank you for your thoughtful responses. I’d like to object to each of them in turn.

      First, I take your point that humanity is also a species, and so if we accept that biodiversity is good, we shouldn’t kill off humanity entirely, since that will involve the loss of a species, and therefore less biodiversity.

      The problem with this argument, though, is that humanity counts as just *one* species. And yet, humanity is responsible for killing off many, many species. Estimates suggest that humanity has killed off *half* of earth’s wildlife in the last 40 years:
      And experts estimate that humans are responsible for the extinctions of species at a rate 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than it would be if humanity did not exist:
      So it seems clear that eliminating humanity would result in a net increase in biodiversity, since humans won’t be around to kill of so many other species.

      Regarding your second response, thank you for clarifying the Buddha’s claim. But even if we accept the claim that life is unsatisfactory (rather than painful), that still doesn’t make life on-balance happy. It is true that the Buddha taught ways to relieve suffering. But he also said it is very, very rare for someone to achieve this – he gave a parable about the chances of someone finding the Dharma (i.e. the Buddhist set of teachings) being as low as the chances of a single turtle in all the world’s oceans surfacing under a single hoop floating on one of those oceans’ surfaces. So when deciding to have a child, it is very unlikely that this child will come to the Dharma, and achieve that lack of unsatisfactoriness.

      • Tom Adams

        You raise some valid points, Jason. Once again, there’s no denying that the human race is causing mass extinction. But thet’s not to say that we are the only cause of mass extinctions during earth’s history. There have been five recognised on the geological timeline, the most recent being at the end of the Cretaceous probably due to a comet or asteroid strike. As a race we should be ashamed that our impact is on the scale of such catastrophic impacts but asteroid strikes are being predicted by scientists within a 50 year time frame. Yet life recovers from these events albeit in millions of years. So, we could remove ourselves by not reproducing, but this wouldn’t guarantee protection from another mass extinction in the future.
        This is a good tool for engagement you’ve set up here. I’d love to write more, but I better get back to work!

  • Dave

    This is quite possibly one of my all-time favorite science-fiction movies. I feel that this film exemplifies the magesty of life by contrasting it with how far we can fall from having any respect for its value. In the midst of a battle, when the soldiers saw the newborn child being escorted through the warzone, they temporarily ceased fire. They were struck with the awe of what was not just a scientific anomaly, but a full fledged miracle that undoubtedly provides a sense of meaning and purpose to their own lives once again in a world where life was fleeting and all other efforts seemingly futile.

    I truly struggled with the concept of bringing life into this world myself. However, just under 3 and a half years ago, my wife gave birth to our most incredible little girl. She brings me in touch with a magical world filled with wonder with which the cynical adult version of myself had started to lose contact…

    And as far as life being full of pain and suffering… well, yes. However, as the venerable Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant. There are so many things that are enjoyable, but when we don’t practice mindfulness, we don’t appreciate them.” Happiness comes from our awareness of the beutiful things in life and appreciating the moments of non-suffering that are informed by those moments of pain we must endure.

    Perhaps Buddhist philosophies aren’t your thing… When in doubt, I turn to my favorite sci-fi television program. The Doctor from the long-running British program Doctor Who once said, “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. Hey. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

    Life is beautiful. Life is ugly. Life is comfort. Life is pain. These concepts are not false in and of themselves, but do not do justice at explaining the intricacies of life without drastically oversimplifying the meaning of life. I don’t dare suppose to guess what my life is about – but I stick with the notion that my goal is to reduce the amount of suffering within both myself and those around me. And I have to say that my little girl’s smile does that to everyone around her on a daily basis.

    Brilliant post, Jason. Thanks for the opportunity for discourse. 🙂

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Dave, I enjoyed your reply. And it was lovely to see Thich Nhat Hanh mentioned. I was a practicing Buddhist for eight years, and spent a lot of time reading his books and thinking about his ideas. My favorite book of his is ‘Anger’.

      There is a lot of rich thought in your response, but I’d like to comment on one of the ideas you raised: what I like to call the “Ying-yang Principle”. This is the idea that you can’t really experience happiness without experiencing a corresponding suffering. Some people interpret the principle stronger than this, as you have, that suffering results in more happiness than one would have had without that suffering. Kahlil Gibran has this in mind when he writes, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain … When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.” (The Prophet)

      Now, although I have utmost respect for both Thich Nhat Hanh and Kahlil Gibran, I think the Ying-yang principle is incorrect. I think they may be confusing pleasure/joy/happiness with *relief*. It is undoubtedly true that when I have a toothache that goes away, I feel very different to how I would feel in the absence of tooth pain never having had the toothache to begin with. But the difference is not that I experience greater happiness – it’s that I experience relief. And I think this is the crux of Buddhism – it teaches you how to feel relief, rather than suffering.

      Now if this is the case, then the best you can hope for from life by reducing suffering is relief. And although relief feels good, I wonder whether it feels *good enough* to substantiate bringing another person into the world. In the end, the Buddha taught that we need to stop the endless cycles of rebirth. Why? Because on balance, life on the Buddha’s view, is not something we should want to perpetuate.

  • Ultimately the question isn’t whether humanity *should* survive but whether there’s ultimately any likelihood of it (Vonnegut for one posited that our big brains turned out to be a liability in the long run, an evolutionary dead end). As for having children or not, I’d just ask myself thus question: is my object to good vebthem a better world? And how am I prepared to do that?

  • vachona

    Though I don’t personally have children, I do think that children have a meaning and a purpose in a family.

  • Sue M.

    I never had kids because I know I would have been a HORRIBLE parent. I do agree that adoption is a great option, that there are a lot of adoptable children who deserve a chance at a happy life with good parents who choose to adopt rather than bring another child into this world that is already overpopulated.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      I think it takes enormous self-awareness to realize one wouldn’t be a good parent. Just look at all the bad parents out there who didn’t come to that realization. (Not that all parents are bad.)

  • sherry fundin

    I’ll make this short. If we don’t have children, the human race will die out. We are programmed to perpetuate the species, like all animals.

  • Rob Greco

    God’s plan was for man and woman to procreate. End of story.

    • Corey Hutton

      And Superman plans to protect the Earth. Aren’t fictional characters great?

      • Rob Greco

        We’re all entitled to an opinion.

    • Bill King

      If this is all you can come up with to say on the subject, I have to say it doesn’t demonstrate much in the way of deep thinking. Is it your viewpoint that we should not use the brains that are part of who we are to examine why we are to do these things and how they will affect the universe? A God that encouraged that kind of non-thinking, blind obedience would not seem to show much care for her/his creation…and really doesn’t seem to be in line with the belief that humanity was created WITH FREE WILL…

  • Wendy Hutton

    well its a personal choice to have kids or not, no one can tell anyone not to have them, if that is what a person chooses its their choice

  • Christian Meyer

    Like others, I have very much liked the movie when it came out.
    There is one point I’d like to discuss, which concerns adoption. The premise we see here is that adopting a child would automatically generate more good that having his/her own; I’d like to challenge this assumption. Indeed, I see no guarantees that adopting a child will ensure it leads a happy life, no more than raising one’s own.
    Both approaches are ripe with examples of successes and failures.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Sure, there will certainly be cases where adoption is a dismal failure, and having one’s own child brings enormous happiness (and vice versa). But we have to look at probabilities. It seems like the probability of living an unhappy existence is higher if one does not have parents, and one lives in poverty. On the other hand, I’ve argued that life is likely to be pretty awful for even those with money, although not as awful as it is for those without. So if you raise your own child, you’re likely to raise a child with only moderate happiness, but if you adopt a child, the chances are that you’ll reduce their suffering considerably. The net gain for the adopted child is greater than the net loss for the child who would never be born if you adopt.

  • Corey Hutton

    I think only certain people should be allowed to breed. There should be a Pregnancy Registry and you need to pass several tests with flying colors. One of which should be an IQ test, the stupid shouldn’t be allowed to breed. Just look at the World we live in, it’s a product of decades of the dumbest in society, breeding like there’s no tomorrow.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Interesting! I’m secretly sympathetic to this view. But here are a few possible objections.

      1. Often our personality/intelligence tests are culturally biased. For example, IQ tests are famously biased. If we make it a pre-requisite for people to achieve a certain IQ score in order to reproduce, we will breed out certain race groups. Not because some races are more intelligent than others, but because our tests measure certain types of knowledge that are easier for some ethnic groups to obtain than others, and yet are not an objective indicator of intelligence.

      2. Just which qualities of a person would you measure? Perhaps a parent with high emotional awareness is a better predictor of raising a happy child than a parent with a high IQ. How would you weight the different measures on which you test potential parents? Depending on which measures you weight highly, you could genetically engineer society as you want it to be. Perhaps this is just too much control for the state to have.

      3. Finally, it seems like individuals should have liberty, or freedom, over their own bodies. If I choose to give birth, it seems like the state shouldn’t be allowed to stop me. Because if the state can choose who I breed with, we’re not far from a totalitarian regime.

    • lizlizzie2

      The best genetic contributors are not necessarily the best parents. Not would testing individuals give you the results you seek. It is the sum of two parents and recessive genes would still affect the results. To breed for intelligence or creativity or other positive qualities would require genetic testing at a level science has yet to achieve.

  • Christiana Lee

    Whew, where to start?! At its most basic, having children is a way of expressing that you believe life is worthwhile, that you have hope for a good future and love to give. That being said, I think many people have children because they’re expected to or because they simply fail to prevent it. Then there are the biological and neurological aspects of pregnancy, childbirth,etc. to consider. Both men and women have chemical reactions when they hold their child for the first time. Many say they feel love like they never thought possible and are fiercely protective. Parents of all economic levels express these feelings. It seems apparent that lack of money is not a critical factor in having children or being happy even. Look at the poorest of people in other countries that don’t have running water, an assurance of their next meal or even their life continuing tomorrow. Yet we see them wearing bright colors and their children singing, joyful for reasons that are not apparent to us. They laugh and dance appearing to take great pleasure in their very existence. Our values tell us they should be suicidal. Is there a correlation between lack of money and suicide rates? If I’m not mistaken, I believe there is an inverse correlation. I should admit that I have chosen not to have children and have not seen this movie. I have however experienced a crippling depression that would not have been alleviated by wealth or children. My life was only shades of grey with no light found anywhere. I had spent many years in talk therapy and I healed from childhood abuse, neglect and sexual molestation but my depression persisted. I have only found reprieve with medication. I’ve come to realize that we are all enormously influenced by the chemicals in our bodies. Indeed, “feelings” are chemical- adrenaline, serontonin, dopamine. Yet I am more than an accumulation of chemicals just as we all are more than the sum total of our feelings. My point is that being poor, losing a loved one, living with a painful disease, having more money than I need or giving birth- these are all things that we experience but do not define us. And they do not determine if we should continue to exist individually (suicide) or as a species (procreating). At least not for me. I have chosen not to have children simply because I don’t feel strongly one way or the other. It seems very clear that if you have children you should have a strong desire to do so. Too many people “fall” into parenthood.

  • bilqees bano

    we should have children because its nature or natural process

  • A very intriguing post. I’m in some conflict over the matter myself. I am definitely not interested in having children, for a number of reasons. My skills and personal qualities don’t fit the task, and I am wary of what the near future holds. Most jobs are going to be replaced by automation, and fewer humans will be needed. Yes, it may sort itself out in time, but the near future will be extremely tough. I have no desire to bring new people into a world where only the luckiest and most talented can make a reasonable living.

    My fiance, on the other hand, loves children. His entire nature is geared towards understanding and teaching them. He would be extremely unfulfilled if he didn’t have them, and emotionally speaking he’d prefer them to be his own. I’ve reluctantly decided to do it for his sake, but it will not be easy. Thank you for discussing the subject – it truly is a complex one.

  • Sue M Marie

    I think that a world without children is a world I would not want to live in. I have 3 adult daughters and they bring meaning into my life. A reason to live. Now they have their own children and I simply adore those grandchildren. Is this world a fit place for children? Well, I guess it isn’t but I would rather be dead than face a world with no children in it. Besides, ultimately, no more children being created would eventually spell the end of human beings.

  • Bill King

    Hi Jason,

    Interesting essay with some thought-provoking points and responses. One thing I see being overlooked is that while humanity is pretty tough on the environment and the world in general, people are also capable of great good and of creating great beauty. The world, the universe, existence…all would be less if there were no Da Vinci, no Michaelangelo, no Beethoven, no Mozart, no Christ, no Mohammed (just to name a very few examples)…

    There are also any number of examples of humanity having positive effects if you choose to look for them. Your position seems to be that there are no redeeming reasons for humanity to exist. I would put forward that a reason is to leave the world a better place in some way, no matter how small. You do this by telling stories. Others do this by creating art, making music, easing suffering, doing good works, protecting people or other species or the environment…

    My point is not to blow sunshine up your ass. Rather, it is to take a look at the positive along with the negative. Even if you see the negative outweighing the positive, there is always the possibility of that balance changing. That all the negative we can tabulate now could ultimately lead us to finding and embracing positive outcomes. You, me, everyone…we are not just the positive or the negative things we do, say, think. We are ultimately the sum of all of it. The fact is, we exist. We choose. I don’t know what the ultimate endpoint is that we are moving towards, but I choose to believe that while I might not find or create anything that gets us there directly, just the fact that I am here doing something and so are you and everyone else and that my son is here and his children will be and so many more children will be and that any one of them could do or find or create whatever it might take to make things more positive…that says to me that continuing the species is worth doing.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Bill, I think you have a very plausible and intuitive account of how one should live one’s life. And I agree that having a child brings with it the possibility of making the world a better place.

      But … I’m not sure it resolves the problem of adoption. It seems that helping an otherwise poverty-stricken child by adopting them will likely make a massive difference to their lives. It will take them from extreme suffering to anywhere from moderate suffering to joy. But if you birth a new child, you have no guarantee that you will make such a big positive difference to the world. It *might* happen, but there is a lower likelihood of it happening than the likelihood of improving the adopted child’s life.

      • Bill King

        Point well taken. However, is there any reason is has to be either/or? Why not *and*? Especially in a society that has so much to give, there is no reason not to adopt children and raise them right alongside your own biological children. This has the advantage, as you rightly note, of taking a parentless child and putting them in a better situation (with an added benefit that you are giving them a better chance of being one who *might* make the big positive difference). It also has you raising *two* chances at making that difference.

        Great discussion, by the way. Nice to see that some corners of the interwebs allow for civil discourse examining an issue that some might find to be a hot button.

      • lizlizzie2

        THe problem with adoption in America is the legal system makes it complicated and costly with requirements while for the purpose of protecting children preclude a large portion of average people from adopting children.

  • Voice

    Hmmm, while I get that this is meant as a thought it experiment it is so far removed from the realms of possibility that it is not a particularly useful one. Individuals may choose not to have children but there is no way that all people would make that choice and thus allow the species to become extinct. This is the problem with “should”, it’s not relevant what people “should” do, what’s relevant is what they DO do.

    The harsh reality is that we do live on a planet with finite resources (and we are pretty wasteful and destructive in the way we do things) so too the human population has a finite limit. Either we voluntarily keep our population in check by limiting family size, or nature will do it for us through disease, starvation or war over access to resources.
    Currently I think it’s a bit of a mixed bag with people in wealthier countries mostly doing the former (hence shrinking populations in some first world countries) and people living in harsher circumstances somewhat limited by the latter. The best case scenario for the future would be one in which modernisation and poverty eradication allows for more of the former, of course there is also the possibility that deteriorating conditions may lead to more of the latter.

    On the personal question of whether to have a child or not, I think that people who already have kids are probably the least objective on this issue. Of course they love their children and cannot imagine a world in which they don’t exist, so they are emotionally involved in the question, plus there is an element of cognitive bias in defending the choices you have already made.
    I think any attempts by an authority to limit who can and cannot breed (as superficially appealing as this idea may be) are doomed to failure, both in the difficulties of actually deciding and enforcing the decision, but also in that such a totalitarian government is the antithesis of the kind of highly evolved modern society that seems to be the only situation that leads people to voluntarily limit their fertility.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      I take your point – that people simply *will* have children, so extinction through birth control is highly unlikely. But that only helps my position, since one of the main objections to anti-natalism (the view that people shouldn’t have children) is that this will lead to extinction. But if extinction isn’t a threat, then that objection is removed.

      I think it’s important to distinguish between two senses of ‘should’. There’s the political should – i.e. the state should intervene in stopping us from having children. And then there’s the moral should – i.e. it is morally wrong for me, as an individual, to have children. In this article I’m arguing for a moral, rather than a political, should. I agree with you that giving the state that level of power would be catastrophic.

  • gecko

    Honestly, I made the choice not to have children pretty early, and I have not yet regretted it. On the other hand, my best friend went through great pains to conceive a child even though biology was out to keep her and her husband from having one, so I have a goddaughter that I love very, very much. Do I think children are a necessary part of a happy life? Nope. Do I get that other people might have a different opinion? Yup, sure do. And I don’t think people can be convinced either way. There’s either the desire to have children, which logical arguments can’t kill, or the there isn’t. It’s a very personal, very emotional question.

    As for the movie, I do get the general mindset that the despair will arise from knowing there’s going to be no one else when we, as we exist today, would be gone. But yeah, I, as an individual, can’t really see the tragedy in that. There’s too many of us anyway, we did the world we live in pretty dirty, and it would surely be better off without us.

  • I think having children is something so precious but I believe there should be some kind of stopping point however.

  • lizlizzie2

    My children have sworn they will contribute to my income at age 65 so that I don’t move in with either of them. It seems to have been a better retirement plan than the two husbands who left.

  • lizlizzie2

    Someone commented that the movie was about loss of hope giving rise to despair. Maybe in the end that is the reason to have children – hope.