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Following on from Why do so few EAs and Rationalists have children?, I'd like to know people's reasons for having kids (if you have them, or if you plan to).

I'll start with my first two...

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The following list is not ordered.

  1. I am glad my parents decided to have me. 
  2. My parents seem to be glad they had me. 
  3. It appears that my parents and my husband's parents derive an intense amount of joy from interacting with their first grandchild, more joy than they receive from any other activity.
  4. My family is one of my main sources of happiness and meaning. It will literally die off if I do not have children. (Alternative path: invent longevity technologies? Unfortunately not my skillset.)
  5. I am relatively young, healthy, and financially stable. Statistically my child has a very strong chance of leading a positive utility life.
  6. You don't have to choose between having a positive impact on the world and having children; you can very much do both. 
    1. During my child's first year of life, I started working on some cool EA Psych/X Risk research. 
    2. During my child's first year of life, my husband published a highly appreciated (objectively measured by upvotes!) AI-alignment literature review and did EtG without getting fired. 
    3. Plenty of EAs doing AMAZING work have kids (e.g., Toby Ord, Julia Wise, Michelle Hutchinson, Peter Singer). 
    4. Nothing at all was accomplished for the first three months after having a baby. Little was done between 3-6 months. 50% productivity was achieved between 6-12 months. At 12 months, things are pretty good. The massive hit to productivity seems to be a 1 X child event, which, amortized over the next 30 years of our expected careers, is not too bad. 
  7. After having a child, I feel more connected to humanity in a way that is difficult to describe but is nice. Things I file under this category include:
    1. Having spontaneous, warm conversations with people who would absolutely never speak to me otherwise when I was visibly pregnant. I lived in the same town for 7 years and went from having approximately 1 conversation with strangers a month to ~10 a month. These interactions were all very kind, and made me very happy. (Your mileage may vary if you don't like interactions with strangers.)
    2. Going from feeling vaguely positively towards children to feeling incredibly protective of all human children. Reading about violence against children went from unpleasant to intolerable.
    3. Having more positive conversations with my family/my in laws than ever before. 

All this being said: the first three months after childbirth is literally torture for whoever is waking up at night to feed the baby. Plus there is a strong possibility that I and/or my baby would have died if I hadn't given birth in a high quality hospital (we had a prolapsed cord and then a lot of maternal hemorrhaging). So despite all the nice stuff written above, I don't think it's an easy decision to make.

Thanks for sharing!

You don't have to choose between having a positive impact on the world and having children; you can very much do both. 

I don't think anyone denies this. People say that having children will reduce effectiveness, not completely obliterate it. 

At 12 months, things are pretty good.

This is nice to hear. How do you think your work productivity now compares to what it would have been if you hadn't had children?

Also, how confident are you that this will continue? I'm not sure how the difficulty of being a parent is supposed to vary wi... (read more)

As a parent with older kids, I'll point out that the demands differ, but (when there isn't COVID,) you get back to having "work time" when kids are away, without the sleep deprivation that happens in the first year. (Mostly. There are still the occasional night waking, but these are sporadic and get fairly rare, instead of being chronic and making you horrible sleep deprived overall.) And yes, kids will dominate your free time while they are young, but in an enjoyable way (Mostly enjoyable. How much depends on the kids, and the age.) 

And as they get older, the problems become much more like ones that you'd talk to a (younger, less mature) friend about, rather than being physical issues. Also, around the same time, they start to get more interesting to talk to, and you can teach them cool things, which is awesome. (And yes, I'm sure this changes again once they get to be teenagers. But I'm taking things a year at a time.)

Thanks for sharing!

Because I want to.

I've always wanted kids, biological or adopted. I see EA as a question of "how can we use our resources effectively to do good... for the resources we choose to allocate to doing good".

Most people draw the line somewhere between what they want for themselves and what they want for the world. I believe kids will enrich my life and can be done in a way which still enables me to do a lot of good.


EA is instrumental. Effectiveness for what? What is the ultimate objective of the effectiveness? Happiness? Happiness for who? For the other only? For other and for myself? We should first locate our values and objectives and later, get it in a EA way. The World includes ourselves and other. Putting the other's values or happiness before our own gets lack of value our life, and if our life have no value, why the other's has? 

Group Rationality and Long-term Investment

Children are important for the future. But who should have them?

First, I imagine a world filled with people like myself. If they have children, these children will be raised by people like myself, who are mostly good and do a decent job. Alternatively, if most or all decided not to have kids, humanity would be far poorer (or extinct) in the future. In game-theoretic terms, the cooperate action is to have children. 

Moreover, if we imagine a world with two classes of people, which I'll call rational altruists and ineffective egoists. In this world, the ineffective egoists have children, due to different values, neglect of the long term, or even carelessness. Those children are unlikely to embrace rational altruist values. Because of this, the rational altruists have a choice about whether to have children to raise with their values, and in the long term, investing in children leads to a better long term world. 

Of course, given the second argument, the reasonable alternative is to propagate values via education and similar. This is perhaps more limited, since education has a limited scope to influence children, but also plausibly more scalable and effective. However, if the world begins to resemble the first proposed world, this counterargument no longer applies. (This is one of several answers.)

Partial Selfishness / Sustainability

I love my kids, they bring me joy, and I am partially selfish. Even though I'm happy to give money and work on EA causes, it's not my entire life, and I'm partially selfish. Kids are part of my "being selfish" budget.

More than that, I think it's a reasonable long term decision. Just like I feel that I would be short term and irresponsible to spend 100% of my disposable income on charitable giving, since it would be unsustainable, I feel that abstaining from things that make my life joyful would be a bad decision. At the very least, I am nearly certain that I would have regretted not doing so, and I think that I would have been upset with my past self's values for making that decision.
(This is one of several answers.)

Precommitment to having (more) Children.

Before I was involved in EA, I made decisions. These decisions include commitments, as well as emotional investments and building personal relationships with my wife and family. Given that my emotional and personal commitments cannot be changed without consequences to myself and to others, future decisions must be made in that context. Further, despite my somewhat changed personal values, from either a rule-utilitarian or contractualist perspective, as well as from most non-consequentialist deontological perspectives, it would be morally inexcusable to change certain of the plans to which I am committed. (This is one of several answers.)

Because (i) my wife wanted to have a child and I thought it would strenghten our relationship, (ii) I assumed my child was likely to become a happy person and possibly an EA, (iii) I'd potentially have a very close friend for life.

My little dude is only 2 but one of my best mates. Have never had more laughs than as a dad. But, never had more tears either. It's turbulent, but the highs are high.

Risto Uuk
Yeah, I feel that too. My daughter is just 1 year and 9 months. We are constantly high-fiving and fist-pumping.

Because they are the future, literally.

I'm motivated to build a better future, I believe that more happy lives are better.

Our lives are significantly influenced by our parents (nature and nurture) and I think raising good children in an environment where there's an emphasis on caring about others is a good thing for the world.

It's hard for an anti-natal social movement to last the test of time.

Nuka zaria: longtermist parenting? I'm not totally kidding (ok, no more puns). Maybe reproduction could be seen as a credible commitment with the future - at least for rational people that actually ponder on having children. (That's something that weighs against me having children: do I want the people I care about most to live in the future? hmmm... maybe I'll think again in a few years) I wonder if there's going to be a similar question on adoption

"Reproduction is a credible commitment to the future" is a potent meme.

It reminds me (I'll have to share it) this weird sonnet (On fate & future) I drafted (sorry for any lousy rhyme or offense I may have caused to this beautiful language, but I'm not a native speaker) for some friends working with Generation Pledge:   Unhealing stains, sons to be slain / As it's written: jihad and submission / We let Samsara ourselves drain / While Lord Shiva stated a mission. Mystics, and yet, we don’t believe / For no told miracles anticipate / What brought us luck, skill and fate / The true great wonder we might live: In a century – in History, just a moment – / The length of happiness has grown six-fold / And more than doubled the expected life / Now, let it be your faith and my omen / As their fears and promises grow old / No more be bound to ancestors’ strife.

It's hard for an anti-natal social movement to last the test of time.

I'd like to hear more discussion about this. If EA as a value system should last a very long time, is it sustainable to  convert enough other people's children to make up for the fact that we aren't (presumably) having as many?

An example motivating that question follows. It builds on / rephrases one of David's replies. 

Assuming there was only EAs and ineffective egoists (and the value systems are incompatible), and 1. each group was equally good at converting people from the oth... (read more)

I'm planning to have children because I feel excited about the aesthetic of parenthood, it seems wonderful to be able to intimately participate in bringing more life into the world, and many people I respect endorse becoming a parent (1, 2, 3, but the list goes on and on...)

I agree with several of the previous responses, but just to add something I haven't seen mentioned: it is a new / different experience 'outside the convex hull' of anything else. I selfishly enjoy that, because I like to experience new things (travel, changing research focus, ultra-running, etc), but I also believe that all of this gives me a more flexible and broader view of the world and how it can work and what it can contain, in a way that improves my perspective and my thinking. Imagination only goes so far, even for the most creative amongst us.

I think that if kids would bring you joy, you can fit them into your life plan, and your kids are unlikely to grow up to be evil, it's worth having lots!! There's a lot of big problems in the world and not enough time for our generation to solve 'em. I think I want to have 4, and I'm 3 months from being halfway there :)

Also, they grow up eventually, so I'll still have lots of time in my life to do other stuff. I have coworkers I look up for being really effective people in their industry, whose kids are fishing high school

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