Birth rates are going down all over the world. Clearly many people are delaying or forgoing raising children in order to pursue other life goals. However, changes in moral thinking possibly play a part in this story. As the world has become more secular, consequentialism has displaced deontology as the dominant ethical system. Additionally, the sexual revolution led to increased emphasis on consent and decreased emphasis on duty in interpersonal relations. Both of these trends have come to bear on bearing children.

consequentialism

In positive utilitarianism, we have a moral obligation to maximize the value that people derive from life. Therefore, if life is net-negative (on average or for a specific potential person), it would be immoral to create a new person.

In negative utilitarianism, we have a moral obligation to minimize suffering. Therefore, if we expect a child’s life to contain suffering, it’s probably immoral to create it.

The ways that modern conditions have shifted incentives from the parents’ perspective probably has had more impact on actual behavior. However, there is enough writing on the alleged selfishness of the childfree lifestyle that I won’t rehash it here until I have a suitably cogent contribution.

consent

Nobody can consent in advance to their creation. If we take seriously teenage anomie that says “I wish I had never been born!”, many parents have wronged their children by creating them. Beyond conception, if one believes consent must underlie all interactions raising children will be a struggle. As more people experience depression themselves, doubts about whether potential children assent to their own creation may become more widespread.

Children are unlikely to return to being assets to their parents. A society that values growth must find ways to provide meaning to the individuals that make it up, lest having children be ethically questionable.