Missing the Point on Large Families

As the
nation sinks deeper into economic crisis, we are transfixed by the story of Nadya Suleman, an unemployed
single mom who chose to have 14 children by in-vitro fertilization. Meanwhile, British environmental advisor
Jonathon Porritt set off a firestorm by suggesting
that it is "irresponsible" to have more than two children.

intensity of both debates suggests a growing unease with the relationship
between human numbers and resources. In Suleman’s
case, the resources are financial; given her lack of financial support, people
ask, what right does she have to bring so many children into the world? For Porritt and his supporters, the resources are
environmental: population growth and resource consumption, they say, have
outgrown the planet’s capacity to provide for us all.

There is
some truth to both arguments. The relationship between human numbers and
economic well-being is complicated, but there is a strong association between
large families and poverty. The relationship between population growth and the
environment is equally complex; resources are distributed so inequitably and
used so wastefully that it’s impossible to determine how many people the
Earth could support. But it is clear that slower growth would give us a
fighting chance to manage many environmental problems. Smaller families are not
a panacea for the economic and environmental problems before us – but they
could help lower the hurdles we must leap.

the public shaming of Suleman and others who choose
to have more than two children is surely the wrong approach. Instead of
focusing on those who make questionable choices, why not focus on those who
have no choice? Right now, some 200
million women in developing countries lack access to family planning services,
and countless others lack the power to make real choices about childbearing
because of crushing poverty or gender discrimination. Even in the United
States, half of pregnancies are unintended,
and too many lack access to the health care they need to plan and space healthy

ability to choose the number and spacing of our children is a fundamental human
right. That choice – or the lack thereof – has huge implications
for the health and well-being of women and their families. At a family level, it can determine whether children get
the education and other resources they need to grow and flourish. At
a global level, it will determine whether
human numbers — now at 6.8 billion — will climb to eight or even 11 billion
by mid-century. 

These are problems we know how to
address. Real choice means access to voluntary family planning and other
reproductive health services. It means education and employment opportunities, especially
for women. And it means tackling the inequities – both gender and
economic – that are associated with rapid population growth.

Nadya Suleman has captured our attention, but she is not the
norm.  In general, where people have
the means and the power to make real choices about childbearing, they have
fewer children, and invest more in each child. Some people will make choices we
disagree with. Let’s stop worrying about them, and turn our attention to
those who have no choices at all.

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  • invalid-0

    Enjoyed reading this post. Very well put.

  • marysia

    I am someone who is very grateful she had the choice to have a small rather than a large family, and who works to make sure others have the same opportunity.  And I think you are right–when people have the chance, they usually, like my spouse and I, prefer small families, which means that human population growth overall will continue to decline.

    But even if they are in the minority, some people do actually prefer to have large families, whether through their own fertility, adoption, or some combination of the two. I know of families like this who actually have much smaller ecological footprints than some two-child families, because they live far more eco-conscious, low-impact lives.  Also, some people who choose to have large families come from genocided groups such as Native American nations.

     While Earth certainly does have finite resources,the raw number of a family’s size does not necessarily spell overconsumption or eco-irresponsibility.  There are other factors involved as well.

     Sometimes resentment of people with larger families encodes resentment against "the wrong people" breeding more than anything else!

    And anyway, in the end, as you say, it is a matter of making good family planning available to all who wish it–not stigmatizing those who have larger families.


    Nonviolent Choice Directory, http://www.nonviolentchoice.blogspot.com

  • http://notnadya.blogspot.com invalid-0

    Inspired by the Suleman woman, I’ll be cloning myself 14 times and going on welfare.

    You can’t stop me.


  • invalid-0


  • invalid-0

    When individuals can make use of choice, and not rely on outside help (welfare of one type or another)they they will most often choice two or less children. Global Warming is caused directly by too many people. Fewer people means fewer cars, less use of energy in one form or another, and on & on.

    So therefore why don’t females make use of a simple control method? Simple – they do not know how.

    I consider a simple method as self control – causing ones own miscarriage or preventing ones own miscarriage. It is very easy – she just has to know how! Email me at be6rn6ie6@juno.com for details.


  • invalid-0

    It is said that if we tried to bring the global standard of living up to the Western-Civ “ideal,” it would require four more planet Earths.

    We will either reduce global population voluntarily, or involuntarily through famine, war, disease, etc. The easy way or the hard way.

    The problem with Suleman is that her feverish desire for a large family bridges the vast demographic gap between the Third World and an America that is still seen as the Golden Land, and speaks directly to Third World cultures that see huge families as family capital.

    Those who aspire to leave Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Russia, Mexico, etc., and set up the good life in the United States (fed by our cultural exports as much as anything, and Suleman is part of that) also want big families either through reproduction or by bringing them over from the old country–or what the hell, IVF! What’s good for Nadya works for them too.

  • invalid-0

    with my tax money? Some people forget, the right to do XYZ does not mean a right to force everybody else to pay for XYZ. To the extent that a woman or couple can raise children without going on welfare or other aid, their childbearing decisions are none of my business. Otherwise, I have every right to make judgments about who gets my money.

    I am struggling to survive on my own diminished paycheck. Responsible people like myself are compelled to limit our reproductive choices so social services can accommodate those who won’t control theirs. And Suleman got herself into this mess deliberately each time via IVF, so spare me the sob stories about not having access to birth control.

  • invalid-0

    Has anyone considered that it’s not the size of the family that causes the environmental issues but the society that we live. I think if moderns society weren’t so materialistic and each individual did not ‘need’- (want) so much there would be no problem. As to Nadya Suleman- she does not represent all large families- she and her doctor were irresponsible but there are large families with stable incomes and loving homes that can provide everything all the children need. AS to those who are talking about birth control, not everyone believes in birth control, birth control has been known to fail, and if two people are in a stable relationship and a stable income why shouldn’t they be able to have lots of children. It isn’t selfish- if they can care for all the children emotionally and in all other ways they are just sharing their love and creating more loving people.