The Rich Have More Kids

Bryan Caplan finds that while more education (and being born later) predicts fewer kids, controlling for those factors (and age), more income predicts more kids. I don’t recall doing so, but Bryan says I predicted this result with some confidence years ago, but that he was skeptical at the time. Here are Bryan’s results predicting number of kids for men:


and for women:

Note the year effect is about the same for men and women, but the education effect is twice as big for women, while the income effect is twice as big for men. (All effects are highly significant.) Bryan concludes:

If you’re prone to futurist speculation, trying re-imagining Idiocracy.  The twist: in the real world, the most fertile people aren’t those with low IQ; they’re people who counter-stereotypically combine low education with high income.  Plumbers shall inherit the earth!

Bryan would be right if humans continued to dominate the Earth via ordinary reproduction. However, if (robot) emulations instead dominate, the question is whether the sorts of attitudes that tend to make people want to make more kids also tend to make them want to make more emulation copies. I predict surveys would find a positive correlation in these attitudes. At least I predict this conditional on respondents being induced to accept the emulation scenario as real, which is the frame of mind people would be in if emulations became feasible. Hence I predict while emulations would select heavily from our most productive folks, who tend to be well educated, emulations will tend to select from the richer but less educated part of this population. Really good plumber emulations shall inherit the Earth.

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  • Robert Koslover

    For my whole life, I’ve been told that poorer people have larger families, and that this stems from their beliefs that children are: (1) a practical form of wealth/insurance to provide care to parents in old age, and (2) a way to secure at least some status in their community, even if the family otherwise has very little in terms of any material possessions or property. Oh, and also that poor people tend to be less likely to obtain or use birth-control properly.
    Now… is all that wrong, or what?

    • Miley Cyrax


      I’m inclined to agree with “poor people tend to be less likely to obtain or use birth-control properly.” This is after education is controlled for, and education is associated with intelligence and future time orientation. Educated people are thus more likely to realize that having less kids means you can provide for each of them better, and have the discipline to not pop out babies. Historically, people have lived along the Malthusian trap, especially the poor.

      • Miley Cyrax

        And by “this” I am referring to the results of Caplan’s regression.

  • Abelard Lindsey

    Caplan is referring to the recent trend where the very wealthy have 3-4 kids whereas the upper-middle professionals have their 1-2 kids. This trend is real, but insignificant as to society as a whole since the total number of such very wealthy is such a small percentage of the total population. As such, Caplan is talking about a micro-trend rather than a large trend.

  • apropos rich having more children, a what-if scenario–what if rich people intentionally used their wealth to maximize production of their children:

  • Wonks Anonymous

    Caplan may be referring to this:

    Robert Koslover: the flow of resources is from older generations to younger. The idea that kids were an asset rather than liability in previous eras is just a myth. People had kids for reproductive, not somatic reasons.

    Mike Kenny, the Satmar seemed to channel all their wealth into increasing the number of children. They form officially the most impoverished community in the U.S, but sure don’t look like it (i.e they lack of the social dysfunction of other poor neighborhoods).

  • I know that you’ve been talking about emulations for quite some time, so I am probably not be saying anything new, but it seems to me that emulations wouldn’t be the primary form of approximately human-level artificial intelligence once it is achieved.

    From my perspective, it seems that using computing power to emulate the substrate of the human mind is far less efficient than using the computing power to perform similar tasks using a different strategy.

    Furthermore, it seems to me that AIs that had a similar (or greater level) of analytical power compared to a human would be more valuable if it thought it ways that were different than humans. We have an abundant supply of human minds, so the tasks for which artificial intelligence would be most valuable would be the ones that could not easily be performed by humans. An artificial intelligence of similar (or lesser) intelligence than a human would likely be more valuable if it was able to perform tasks that were off-limits based on the architecture of the human brain than one that was a carbon-copy of a human brain, even one that was deemed particularly exceptional.

    Now, ultimately there are some features of emulations that make their widespread presence a plausible outcome, but I wonder what convinces you that emulations will be the primary or even a major form of artificial intelligence when that level of capability is developed.

    • Dave

      You are right. There seems to be an assumption that the human brain is a super computer and that if we create EMS ,they will be even more super than regular computers. There seems to be a big leap of faith that there are the requisite similarities for this to work. What if the human brain works in fundamentally different ways,not just digitally,like computers?
      Why not first start with animals? Instead of drug sniffing dogs at the airport,let’s create drug sniffing EMS? But you would object,why? Why not just use dogs?
      I sometimes wonder,if the dream of EMS ,like cryonics is an approach to the old problem of our inevitable mortality. In past times these guys would be priests.

      • sometimes wonder,if the dream of EMS ,like cryonics is an approach to the old problem of our inevitable mortality. In past times these guys would be priests.

        Are you insinuating that uploading might solve the mortality problem?

    • Tyrrell McAllister

      From my perspective, it seems that using computing power to emulate the substrate of the human mind is far less efficient than using the computing power to perform similar tasks using a different strategy.

      That may be true in principle, but Robin argues that we will be able to copy the human mind to a computer (without understanding how it solves problems) before we will be able to make a problem-solver from scratch that can solve human-level problems. So, while more efficient problem-solvers might be possible, we won’t know how to make them (yet).

      • Dave

        There we go again with the unfounded assumption that the human mind is information,that is transferable to a digital media. It is like saying you could improve a camera by putting an eye into a camera instead of a lens. I can’t see why it is not just magical thinking.

        It is just not clear that even though thinking and computing do similar things that you can mix them. For example you can move a rock with a mule or a stick of dynamite. That does not mean you can improve the ability of the mule by feeding it dynamite. Ideas like this are silly until proven otherwise.

  • J. Cross

    if that LREALINC is the log10 of income than this effect isn’t that large (at least to my way of seeing things). 10 times more income corresponds to 0.19 more kids. 3 times more income less than .1 more kids. 10% more income is 0.007 more kids, one tenth the magnitude of one less year of education. So, if I’m interpreting this right, education is still the dominant factor here. I’m wondering if the income “effect” could just be a byproduct of improperly assuming that the education effect is linear.

    I’m not sure that multiple regression is the best way to go about this one.

  • Buck Farmer

    I’m not sure if the lurking variables that draw high income low education individuals to high reproduciton will also draw them to high frequency of emulations. I even think it is likely that they will be laggards in accepting EMs as people.

    Personally, I’d like to have between 3-5 kids. I’d also gladly sign up to have my brain scanned to produce emulations. I would, however, feel responsible for ensuring that these EMs weren’t tortured and further would prefer that they had a diversity of experiences and varied from me. I want them to surprise me.

  • A major difference between ems and children is that you need to raise children, whereas ems are pre-raised. I would think children and ems would appeal to very different motivations.

    With children, you’re betting that you can have a positive influence on a person different from yourself, and be building a family which goes on into the future.

    Ems are more like replicating the present.

    • I think that is right, and that for some people the difference between EMs and children is only one of degree. Some people don’t want a child that can grow into a unique and self-actualized adult, they want a mini-me.

      I think that is the difference between replicating, and nurturing. Generating an adult is a process which requires nurturing over a childhood and produces a unique individual with abilities different than and perhaps superior to the parent organisms. Replicating produces an identical copy.

      I suspect that EMs will appeal more to conservatives than to liberals. Conservatives tend to want things to stay the same and for there to be a rigid hierarchy of control that doesn’t change. The original will be at the top, the copies underneath the original with absolute loyalty and subservience or the copies are imperfect and will be erased.

      I suspect that EMs will appeal more to men than to women, women being configured by evolution to be nurturers more so than replicators.

  • MPS

    I’ve spent some time looking over census data and CBO data on income distributions, and although I never looked carefully at the issue, I recall seeing that the household size increases with income. This is based on zero controls but because of it I’m not surprised.


    just for your information …in my country(indonesia)… well its only on cultural beliefs .. ,if we have more kids then we will be more prosperious(rich) .. you dont have to be came rich first for having more children… but again its only cultural beliefs . And i dont know why many indonesian people still rely believe in this …

    may health n prosperity be always with u guys…