Michael O Church on not having children


The brutal, complete answer: don’t procreate. Sure, you may be the smart, thoughtful sort of person that humanity absolutely needs in its gene pool, but Silicon Valley doesn’t want you in its gene pool: you don’t make enough to own a house in a top school district. It’s sending you a clear economic signal. So, you have two options.

The first is to leave Silicon Valley. It’s expensive, exclusive, obsessed with power and success with no concern for how they are achieved, and an utterly terrible place to raise children– unless you want your kids to be the sort who bawl when you give them, as a 16th birthday present, a car that’s “only” $35,000, because the doors “open like this instead of this”. Unless you have no hope of getting a comparable income (say, $250,000 or up, considering cost of living) in Boulder, Chicago, Austin, Seattle, Boston, or New York… (ok, New York probably requires more than $300k to raise a family) I don’t know why you would stay there. The Bay Area’s fine when you’re 22 and need to establish yourself, because the benefits of being in Corporate HQ if you work at, say, Google or Apple, are pretty massive. If you haven’t made fuck-you money (so you can say “fuck you” to all the insufferable people in Silicon Valley, and even if they have more power and wealth than you, it doesn’t matter because you have enough) by child-raising age, I don’t know why you’re still there. It’s not a mark of failure to leave Silicon Valley. (Hey, I know plenty of really smart people and, statistically, most of them will never get anywhere close to $400,000.) It’s a mark of good judgment. San Francisco is just OK, and the rest of the Valley is an overrated, unattractive suburban tract. Sure, the Bay Area has an incredible 3-hour-drive radius… Napa Valley, Big Sur, Yosemite… but, let’s be honest, it takes a vacation to really enjoy a place like that and, if you lived elsewhere, the money saved on not paying Bay Area housing costs would easily cover airfare and hotels, anywhere you want to go.

The second option, which is underrated, is not to have children. Suddenly, you don’t have to own a house: renting’s just fine. You want to own once you have kids, because it’s good for their self-esteem to see their parents as owners rather than renters, but adults know that the difference between renting a place, and renting money to eventually buy it, comes down to mortgage rates and taxes at the time and isn’t a mark of personal value. You don’t actually become a different person when you’re paying a mortgage instead of a rent check. If you’re childless, school districts and private schools aren’t on your radar, and you couldn’t give a square root of a fuck about Stanford or Harvard’s opaque and fluctuating admissions standards. Even in the Bay Area or New York, a childless couple can live pretty well on $400k per year. You can even (imagine this) save up money, go somewhere else, and retire. You can get a beautiful house in the woods of Pennsylvania for under $200,000. Or, if you don’t like winter, you can go to Costa Rica or Mexico.

You seem not to be having trouble “surviving” but with corralling the means to ensure a decent life for your children. The economic signal that our society sends is that it doesn’t need or want more children. If it did, it wouldn’t cost so much to set them up for a half-decent place in society. And, paradoxically, smart kids are far more costly than average kids. (An average, 100 IQ, person will be happy with an average-plus job and a middle-income standard of living. If you pop out a 150+, you need a fucking fist on the scale to get her an ability-appropriate job/position in society because she has to compete with all the smiling, drooling dumbasses who think they’re what she actually is, and who have better connections and more family wealth.) The message is painful to read but clear. Society doesn’t desire more children, and it certainly doesn’t perceive a need for more smart children. There are too many people running around who think they are what someone like me actually is, and who have the connections to get the positions, and too few who can tell the difference.

Let’s say that you already have children or decide to have kids for subjective or spiritual reasons. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. I haven’t had any children, so I can’t possibly evaluate the subjective benefits of having one. (I do love cats and dogs, though.) Then you have to step back and realize this: that house in the top school district is just a means to an end. There are other options: private schools, home-schooling, or high-quality public schools in less expensive places (possibly outside of the Bay Area). Your kid doesn’t need to go to a pre-school with billionaires. She doesn’t need Harvard; again, that’s a nice-to-have but it’s only a means to an end, and there are a couple hundred quality undergraduate colleges in the U.S. that, while they do less in terms of connections, do as much (and, in a few cases, arguably more) in terms of education. She needs, when she’s in her 20s, to get a position in society and a level of respect that matches her abilities. In her first 10 years of work, she needs to be seen as a protégée rather than a subordinate, so that in the next 30, she can get things done instead of implementing others’ shitty ideas. How you make this happen is up to you. The Cupertino pre-school won’t hurt, but is it really going to make a difference when she’s 25? Probably not.

The typical Manhattan parent probably plows $40,000 per year for 19 years (pre-school through MBA school) into the child’s education, plus 50 percent for social keep-up expenses (e.g., being able to travel with classmates). If, instead, the kid were sent to public schools and that money were invested in an index fund earning 4%, you’d have $1.66 million by that point. Personally, if I were choosing between $1.6 million than a Harvard MBA, I’d take the first. That might just be me, though. Now, obviously you can’t just drop a million and a half on a teenager and say, “Go wild”, because for every one who starts the next Facebook, there’ll be nine who waste the money or end up dead. If you’re giving up the structured wealth transfer of elite schools, you need some other structure that ensures that the money isn’t wasted. Prestigious schools (as opposed to their public counterparts that are cheaper and often equivalent in quality, but don’t deliver prestige and connections) provide a service of controlled inheritance, because most parents understand that dropping a 6- or 7-figure sum on a teenager and expecting him to turn that into the connections, freedom, and prestige that are achieved through prestigious education… has “unpredictable” results. So, I’m not saying that you should give your kids a huge chunk of cash at age 18, and obviously you want your kids to attend good schools (which don’t have to be expensive ones). My point is that there’s a spectrum of possibilities. What you could do is: move out of the Bay Area, get a decent house in a top public school district for $500,000 instead of $2 million, and use the money saved by not having a monster mortgage to bankroll your kid’s first business (while requiring her to actually have a business plan that makes sense, because you don’t want her to get things without working for them and learn the wrong lesson). To be honest, the only case where it makes sense to pay top dollar for schools, from a middle-class perspective, is college and professional school. And with starting capital of $50,000– which is less than what it costs to send a kid to boarding school for 4 years– you can have your kid “start a business” at 17 (it doesn’t have to be a successful or big business, because little is expected from 17-year-olds) and make a case that does as much for elite-college admissions as any but the top 5 boarding schools.

I understand the desire to give your kids every advantage in college admissions, starting at the pre-school level, but it’s very hard to predict the “feeder” dynamic, because the preferences and advantages change all the time. In one year, colleges want “well-rounded” students; in the next, they want “spiky” (pre-specialized) kids. Sometimes, it’s easier to get into Harvard from an average public school in Montana than from Stuyvesant (where, due to the bad luck of it being in Manhattan, you’re competing with NYC day schools that have pre-negotiated, earmarked slots in all the Ivies) and well-to-do parents send their kids out into the mountain states in 11th grade to cop a regional advantage. (Yes, this actually happens. It doesn’t always work, though. These parents assume that their kids will do better in college admissions as 99th-percentile students from a Montana school than 85th-percentile from Trinity… but the kids in Montana are smarter than these carpet-bagger parents realize and their kids end up only 90th-percentile from a Montana public, which is not Harvard-bound.) Other times, those preferences reverse and it’s impossible to get into an Ivy from Montana. With all the opacity and the shifting preferences, you end up with is a system where, based on fear rather than data, people (if they have the means) pay huge amounts of money to put their kids into feeder pre-schools that lead to feeder grade schools that lead into feeder high schools that lead to prestigious colleges in order to get them good jobs. But maybe there are (or will be) other, less expensive, ways to get on the track at a later point, because the schools don’t matter (as anything other than a means to an end) whereas the long-term effects of first professional entry do. Some kids go from Harvard to failure, and some go from state schools into great jobs (although the odds are obviously better at the elite college, and at the college level, spending the money is probably worth it).

To give a concrete example of the general shiftiness of prestige and “feeder” advantages, I graduated from high school in 2001 and, on the East Coast, Stanford wasn’t considered very prestigious. (College prestige was more regional than it is now.) Harvard, Yale, Amherst, MIT, Columbia, U. Chicago, Princeton, Brown… we’d heard of those. Stanford was somewhere in the same region as Michigan or Berkeley: a good school, for sure, but not eye-popping. In 2015, I don’t know where Stanford stacks up in “prestige” (I don’t have kids, I don’t care) but a kid pretty much has to go to Stanford to have a chance at Silicon Valley. (Google admits people from other schools, but the good projects go to Stanford kids.) Ten or fifteen years ago, no one on the East Coast would have predicted that. Stanford beating Yale anywhere? No way. And yet, despite Yale’s higher selectivity (yes, I know that Yale accepts a larger percentage than Stanford does, but that means jack shit) and stronger educational fundamentals, Yale kids apply to law school and Stanford kids get seed funding on the name of the school alone. My point is: 20 years out, it’s pretty much impossible to predict this garbage, but you probably don’t need to live in Cupertino in order for your kids to be eligible for decent jobs. At least, one fucking hopes that that is true. I’m guessing that there are multiple ways to get your kids what they really need. They need good jobs in their 20s, and elite schools two decades before that are just a means to that end.


The world has no demand for high-IQ people. It has low demand for children (and therefore the highly fertile people tend often to be those who aren’t paying attention) in general, as evident by the massive financial penalties on procreation, and this does not change as you get smarter. If anything, it gets worse if you’re smart, because the positions and resources your kids will deserve are going to be handed off to mediocrities who had the good fortune to come out of a richer and better-connected man’s pecker.

If humanity is in a shutdown routine, no sense in creating more suffering.

Reply to Reply>>>> The world may need smart people, but it doesn’t want us. That’s pretty damn clear. Why would I produce a child the world doesn’t want? That seems cruel to the child.


The work/career/money game is rigged, and even if you have a “good job”, you’ll probably lose. The odds, if you’re born middle-class or lower, are terrible. What do I mean by lose? I mean that you spend your life taking orders more than pursuing your own interests and, worse, if you have kids, you don’t have enough resources to bring them up to be anything more than a follower of someone else’s orders, and that’s sad. That’s what losing is. Being a subordinate makes you not want to reproduce, because you’re just pumping out mid-grade meat for your enemies to exploit.

People realize this when they figure out how expensive and difficult it is to make sure their kids have the opportunity to make something of themselves. In 1900, college was enough. In 1970, Ivy League college was enough. In 2013, it’s a lot more competitive. That’s because we have a feudal system that has become very good at making itself look like a meritocracy. The elite have their own private welfare system where hand-outs are dressed up as things called “acq-hires”, to name one example, wherein founders of failed startups gets them some welfarez. Of course, most of us get none of that. We’re on our own, and our kids are at risk of coming into a world that’s even worse.

This is extremely fucking depressing, and so people react with a defense mechanism. “Well, I don’t need a six-figure income. I don’t need to own a house. I can get by as a freelance graphic designer or cab driver and enjoy life.” You can. You find out that it’s actually not so bad. However, it leaves you lacking the resources to raise children. At that point, you need:

  • to own a house before the kids can ask whether you own or rent. It doesn’t matter fuck-all for a baby, but once your kids are 6 or so, you want to be a homeowner. We are old enough to know that owning a house is a prestige flair with minimal economic value, but your kids don’t understand discounted cash flow or depreciation yet, and they will need to see themselves as owners, not tenants.
  • maids and nannies. What, do your own cleaning when you have kids? This isn’t the old-style world where “9-to-5” meant “9:45-to-4:30 and 90-minute lunches to accommodate errands”. Those days are over. Having a career demands that you actually work, so get to it. The demands of a career job in NYC or SF preclude doing your own cleaning. Most people in their 20s are comfortable not hiring maids and living like slobs, but this becomes unacceptable once you have kids.
  • educational and career assistance of unknown amount. If your kid’s dumb or average in intellect, he won’t mind following orders instead of giving them. If he has a 150 IQ or higher, he’ll probably be able to make his own way no matter what, and he’s going to be so anti-authoritarian that you’ll have a hard time helping him. If he has a shitty work ethic, then fuck him, he deserves to fail. The danger is that you have a 125 IQ kid with a strong work ethic. 125 is legitimately, genuinely smart, but not enough to get on to the elite track without a heavy fist on the scale: boarding schools where the guidance counselors are personal friends of Ivy adcoms, ridiculous internships, Ivy League colleges, introductions to angel investors. If you can’t do all this shit, which starts in kindergarten, he might end up in a second-tier career, and it will rape your fucking heart with an iron dildo to see a good person wasted following other peoples’ stupid orders. Also, you’ll know that it’s your fault because, while he never would have become a scientist or top programmer, he could have been placed at the top of something if you had just worked a little bit harder when you were his age.

All this shit’s terrifying, yo, and it makes you embarrassed to be part of this world. You can’t exactly complain about it– “woe is me, I’m an upper-middle-class underachiever”– without sounding like a douche, but the world, by threatening to make your kid an order-taking subordinate and thus breaking your heart, has effectively sterilized you.

The defense mechanism is to divert attention away from one’s lack of resources and the mediocre career that led to that and say, “well, I could never take care of a kid”, as if it were a constitutional inability rather than a sign of low socioeconomic performance. This is projected onto pets and plants, who are sort of a gateway drug to having kids.

They also stop breeding at replacement rate. The combination of the two effects (selection for intelligence plus lowering reproductive rates) means that cities can accurately be described as ‘IQ shredders’.

I don’t think it can be blamed on cities. Society has negative demand for children: massive financial burdens on the parents, minimal to nonexistent support, diminishing career options.

There’s also so much that can go wrong. Even if you have two well-adjusted smart parents, the kid can be a dud, or a serial killer, etc.

The smarter you are, the less appeal there is to you in creating people, at your own expense, that society will abuse because they weren’t born into the right connections. Smart people realize the con.

Indeed. I’m in my mid-30s when one starts to think about having children. The main ethical question is, “Will this fucking system be overthrown in 25 years?” There’s no pleasant answer. Overthrow– preferably peaceful and cultural/political, but probably violent in many countries– of a complex, global economic system will undeniably have short-term costs even if it’s the right call for the long term. On the other hand, if one believes the system will evolve in the same way that it has, then having children becomes ethically indefensible.

In the current US, there’s a serious ethical case to be made for not having children, the odds being so set against children having it better. Technological unemployment is the time bomb we know, but technological surveillance (by employers) is even more dangerous, because (1) it’ll affect almost all of the jobs that still exist, and (2) it will keep getting more onerous until either we institute UBI or have an all-out civil war. Being poor and unemployed isn’t going to make people take up arms, as long as they’re not starving; being watched and humiliated by an increasingly easy-to-use, employer-friendly surveillance system, on the other hand, leads only one way in the end.

every parent will do just about anything they can to make sure their children succeed.

You’re not wrong, but this fact is one of the reasons I question the ethicality of having children. Obviously, people need to do it, but I feel like 99% of the evils in the world come from things parents do for their kids.

Cersei in Game of Thrones is relatable for that reason. She’s a monster, but she does what she does (in the earlier seasons) because, even though she knows exactly what Joffrey is, she loves her children and would rather have thousands die than anything bad happen to her son.

I think the Israeli kibbutzniks had the right idea, if it was somewhat impractical: they encouraged children to be raised by the community so that parents wouldn’t have the selfish attachment to particular children that exists in capitalistic societies. I don’t go know if that’s the right way to go, writ large, but it was an admirable attempt to fix the problem.

Religious people often emphasize the morality of having children on the argument that it gives people an investment in the future, in the years after they die. The problem is that it gives them a lopsided, selfish investment in the future. We have a shitty, dying world out there and almost all of it was built by people who’d do anything to make that next million, not because they had any use for it, but to better set up their progeny.

The data about your chances of moving up in a corporation really is opaque, would be interesting to see it.

It’s deliberately so. The whole system has to make it appear to the middle classes like (A) they have a chance to move up, but (B) it’s really hard. That way, when upper-class kids with generational connections and parental air superiority rise quickly, it’ll look like the latter earned it and really just are that good.

The goal of the corporate system isn’t merely to concentrate wealth and opportunity. That would be bad enough. It goes beyond that; an additional goal is to make it appear just– to ratify the self-asserted superiority of the upper class (when, in reality, no one else had a chance).

Is America really this way? Like, are there actually people that are that poor?

Yes. In the US, the bottom is atrocious. It’s pretty common for people to skip medications because they can’t afford them. I’ve hired software engineers who had been “isolated” from the company for the first 2 months because they couldn’t afford their meds while they were between jobs.

Late-stage American capitalism is fucked. There’s a lot that’s good in our history, and there are aspects of American culture I like, but in the 21st century, our society sucks; I don’t see why anyone would want to copy our work culture or our health insurance system. There’s literally nothing good about either.

there are kids that do not have as much money as others, but they never really have been bullied

It happens a lot, and at all levels. The only-somewhat-poor pick on the destitute, and “trailer trash” was one of the worst insults growing up in (moderately depressed but not destitute) central Pennsylvania. That said, the social gaps are usually more subtle than that. But it’s pretty awful for the poor in a country where wealth is equated with moral value, even though kids had nothing to do with where they were born.

Child raising is also ridiculously competitive and focused on the parents more than the kids. College admissions aren’t really about academic merit, and 17-year-olds don’t really care about getting in to stuffy institutions– rather, they’re the yardstick by which parents measure whether they did a good job of setting their kids up. So the rich parents push their kids to have internships at investment banks, art galleries, and publishing houses in high school– and this is really only available to the 1 percent– and the kids who have those opportunities tend to look down upon those who bagged groceries for gas money as unambitious losers, even though from an adult perspective, that’s absurd.

America surely has similar projects?

It does, but a lot of people fall through the cracks. For example, there are a lot of people who are mildly disabled and can’t get hired, but not disabled enough to qualify for disability. Also, most of the American poor have jobs– they just have shitty ones that don’t pay well or come with health insurance.

Up until a couple generations ago, no one retired.

Retirement– involuntary retirememt– has always been the old-age norm. Only the rich can get jobs that you can still do in the last years of life. What we call retirement is a euphemism for “fired for age and unable to get back in”. Working older people had to live off their kids.

That was why people had large families: if you had 4 kids, you were diversified because you’d have at least one who could support you. But in the olden days, we had a poor-but-improving society. Now that we’re a rich(-ish) declining one, most of us rightly deem it unethical to bring a person into such a world.

In the unfortunate event that corporate capitalism continues, I’d rather blow my brains out at 70 than have it on my conscience that I had created a person, solely to feed him to this monstrosity, just to live a few years more.

I’m 35. We haven’t really been allowed adulthood. We’re in this weird twilight state. Most of the jobs are shitty and lead nowhere but further subordination. Houses are expensive. A lot of people are paying off student debt. Education costs are obnoxious. Our society doesn’t invest in our own people, and our business/corporate environment has third-world levels of corruption. Most of my friends aren’t interested in having kids until they have $500,000 net worth (for education, mainly, and contacts, in order to set their kids up not to be workplace subordinates– since that would only perpetuate misery and humiliation) per child, and very few people get to that in any honest way.

The U.S. was an upwardly mobile society from 1932 to 2007. That was a good run, but unless we undo a lot of Boomer Damage– I’m talking about radical restructuring of employment, basic income, and real estate nationalism under which nonresident speculators/launderers have 90 days to sell or lose their houses– it’s over.

I don’t think we’re gearing up to be a lost generation, though. I feel like something’s about to blow, and that the pressure has only strengthened us and increased our force, and I hope I’m right.

elite schools are not very useful for elite people, because they already have resources and connections it doesn’t matter where they go but if you or I went to Yale, that opens a whole new world to us

Agree on much of this, but disagree on “whole new world”. The rich legacy douches are one clique and the smart middle-class kids are another. They don’t mix.

Don’t get me wrong: if you get into Harvard or Yale and can afford it, by all means go. In general, it won’t hurt you, and they are fine schools. But the upper-class shits aren’t going to accept you as one of your own. You’ll end up on the middle-class job market as high as you can go– you can become a doctor, lawyer, professor or middle manager– but you’re not going to get access to the kinds of jobs those kids get (more often from their daddies than their college connections, in any case, because most of them end up not remembering college).