Thinner, fitter, healthier, happier - the case for bigger families
In his new book, Sky News presenter Colin Brazier examines the evidence for the health and emotional benefits of having siblings
Blame it on the hormones but I can clearly remember being moved to tears on several occasions during the late stages of my second pregnancy as I reflected on how, for my first-born, the world as he knew it was about to end.
He would no longer be the sole focus of parental attention in the house as a little usurper was about to arrive to monopolise his mother. One-on-one time together would be limited from now on and liable to interruption by the wail of a hungry baby.
How, at the age of two and a half, was he going to cope with sharing his parents, his house and, in no time at all, his toys?
For my part, there was the niggling worry about whether that all-consuming love generated by child number one would stretch to number two. Could I really be equally besotted second time around?
However, luckily, at that stage financial considerations did not come into it and I had no doubts at all that a younger sibling and companion would be a blessing, even if my eldest might not see it like that right away.
But, for an increasing number of couples, the decision to at least attempt to add to a one-child family comes with a lot more agonising, for a variety of reasons. Will their bank balance, their careers and their relationship be able to take the strain? Does it make more sense to focus limited resources of time and money on one?
Despite our much-vaunted baby boom of recent years, due to demographics more than anything else, the average number of children per family has been falling. In 1991 it was 2.0 children; by 2011 it had reduced to 1.4.
The 2011 census also showed that more than half of married couples with one child belonged to the top three social classes.
In the UK there has been a significant increase in the proportion of “only” children – in the 1970s one in five children was raised without a sibling; now it’s one in four.
Are there benefits to having at least one brother and/or sister that these children, as well as their parents and society at large, are losing out on? That is a question Sky News presenter Colin Brazier looks at in a new book, Sticking Up for Siblings, published by Civitas, a UK social-policy think tank.
“The whole purpose of the book was to acknowledge there are massive and growing contraceptive forces out there,” he tells The Irish Times. He is referring to the high cost of childcare and lost income from a mother’s career that is repeatedly interrupted. The publication is aimed at parents who feel that a sibling for their only child would come at irrecoverable expense, both financial and personal. They cannot imagine a calculation that tilts the ledger in favour of another pregnancy.
Maybe they have read too many of those eye-popping, “cost of raising a child” stories, which usually arise from the latest survey conducted by organisations with a vested interest – personal-finance companies – and never mention diminishing costs of subsequent children through hand-me-downs, pooled resources, and so on.
“Having a second child, once the ‘traditional’ choice for married parents, now presents a stark choice to parents: a life of relatively unflustered parenting with one set of university tuition fees and no need for a people-carrier, or – even with just two children – a protracted period of anarchy in the home and years of umpiring the squabbles of siblings,” he writes.