Ideal Family Size? Do Two Kids Make Sense?

Stick FamilyA recent family e-mail chain got hijacked in royal fashion. One intriguing bit that came out was a discussion of the number of children that are appropriate in a family.

Much energy has been devoted at the global and national level to explaining that the world is over-populated and that resource scarcity will cause dire problems in the future. Even my infrequent posts here about water could be interpreted to indicate that children should be few in any responsible family.

Ironically, there is reason to believe that it is precisely responsible families who should have many children. In this case, let’s allow the definition of many to be four. Why would 4+ kids make sense for a socially responsible family?

Population Replacement

It is well-understood that a population with an equal share of women and men will not achieve replacement unless its women average a fertility rate of 2.1. This presumes that 2 of the children each woman produces will go on to have 2.1 children of their own, with the residual 0.1 (or ~5%) being the portion of the population that will either die or otherwise not contribute to the population that will go on to reproduce in the next generation.

If all women in a population were equivalent, this would indicate that the optimal population replacement fertility would be 2 children per woman, with the occasional woman being allowed (perhaps by proven excellence or petition due to disability of one of her two children) to produce a third. This type of reasoning is being realized in China, which has long embraced a policy of allowing only one child per woman who wishes to gain/retain social benefits (approval, permissions, etc.). I understand from a personal conversation with a Chinese woman with an autistic child that in such cases, the state will approve the family producing an additional child, as replacement for the child who will not be able to leave a reproductive legacy. This idea of all families being limited to two children is seen also in fiction, as in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, where “third” has become a swear word.

Yet not all women are equal. The individual fertility of women in a population varies widely.

As a point of interest, the female fertility rate in the US is currently 1.9, below replacement, where it has stood for several decades. 1

The Childless

One out of five white women will never have children. 2 However all races are approaching that 20% rate of childlessness by age 40-44 (when women may be expected to have ended their reproductive careers). For convenience, then, let us say that 5 out of every 25 representative women won’t reproduce at all. In order to achieve replacement, our 25 hypothetical women needed to produce 2.1 children apiece, or a total of 52 children. The remaining 20 still have to produce those 52 children.

One and Done

Another relatively large percent of women will only have one child. 3 So from our hypothetical pool of twenty women, another 5 will have only 1 child apiece. For those keeping a tally, this means that 10 of our 25 hypothetical women have only added 5 children to the 52 children the group needs to produce to achieve population replacement. We are now down to only 15 women, who will between them need to produce 47 children.

Mothers without a Male Partner

Our 15 remaining women are not all created equal. One in four children under the age of 18 is raised without a father in the home. 4 This means ~13 of our original pool of 52 children is raised by a woman who doesn’t have a male partner. Almost half of these children raised by a single mother is living in poverty, compared to only one in eight raised by both a mother and a father. 5

Though single motherhood is more prevalent at 25%, it is hardly the new norm. The statistics are terrible for children raised by single mothers (poverty alone, even ignoring future prospects relating to avoiding jail and achieving societal success). If I use the numbers in the reference on Single Mothers, there are approximately 9.9 million mothers raising 17.4 million children without a father in the home (1.75). For every hundred single mothers, this would be like 75 mothers having 2 children and 25 mothers having only one child. This isn’t exactly equivalent to fertility rate, since there may be children in the households who are older than 18. We also don’t know how many single mothers were already included in the “one and done” category. But if I consider that 20 of my original women are mothers, and 1/4 of the children raised are in single-mother homes, then I have 13 (52/4) children with no father in the home in 7 families (13/1.75) with 2 of those children (7/4) being only children and the remaining five families without a father in the home producing 11 children between them.

Lots of math. Let’s just say that of our original 52 children we needed our representative pool of 25 women to produce, the 15 women in the first three groups (the childless, mothers (married or unmarried) with only one child, and single mothers of more than one child) have only produced 16 children.

This leaves it to the remaining 10 women to produce the remaining 36 children.

The Fertile, The Few, The Responsible

Our minority population of women who are mothers and functionally married 6 are now faced with the challenge of producing 3.6 children apiece. But it isn’t particularly useful to talk about fractional children, no matter what cruel jokes we might sometimes allow to cross our minds when faced by the actions of our relatives or progeny.

There will be those women who bear more than one child who will only have two children (since we’ve already accounted for childless women and those who only have one child). There will be those who have only three children.

It seems reasonable to consider that the number of women having fewer children would be higher than the number having more children, in part because everyone has been focusing on the 2.1 number as the ideal. Thus I can imagine my ten remaining women having a decreasing likelihood of more than 2 children, as shown below.

Mothers Simple

This would leave the mothers having more than two children feeling unusual and out of the ordinary, even if women with functional husbands are only socializing with other women who have functional husbands. But if we look at the experience of the children, we can see that the majority of them would have been raised in a family with more than two children, even if two-child households are the mode (in this simplistic assumption, 21 children are in families with only 1-2 kids, where 25 children are in families with 3 or more kids).

Children Simple

If I add up the number of children produced by this monotonic reduction in number of children, however, I don’t achieve my desired 36 children from those final ten women. I only get to 30 children (for a total of 46), which gives me a total fertility rate of 1.84 for my hypothetical group of 25 women – a number very close to the US fertility rate for the past couple of decades.

In order to achieve a fertility rate of 2.1 (given the current stats regarding women who don’t reproduce, women who are done with one, and women who don’t have a functional husband), I need more of my ten remaining women to shoot higher than 2, as shown.

Mothers Replacement

So women who are in a marriage-like relationship with the father of their children should be aspiring to have 3-4 children, with those who can afford to support a larger family shooting for 5-6 children. This will also result in even more children experiencing family sizes of 3 or more children, with my replacement assumption, with 17 children in families with only 1-2 kids, and 35 children in families with 3 or more kids. Here the mode becomes 2-4, with the mode for children in mother-father households being 4 children.

Children Replacement

Obviously my use of 25 individual women and not allowing for fractional babies results in some non-realistic artifacts. But the fundamental analysis holds.


Given the continued millions of people in the United States who don’t realize that an average fertility rate of 2.1 means women should have more than 2 children, intelligent married couples should be planning to bear 4 children. 7

Women (girls) without a functional husband who cannot afford to provide for children should continue to strive to remain childless, leaving impoverished single mother status to those unfortunate women who lose a functional husband through death or divorce/abandonment.

Given that at a fertility rate of 1.9, the United States is missing over 6 million children to achieve replacement, extraordinary women (and their husbands) should feel no guilt having as many children as they can appropriately manage.

PS – An inability to achieve population replacement creates multiple social problems such as inability of the working generation to support the benefits owed to the retired generation and a vacuum with regards to workforce that encourages immigration of all forms, including illegal immigration. However it is presumed that people reading this post are already familiar with these facts.


  1. See Fertility rate, total (births per woman), The World Bank, available online at, retrieved 28 Mar 2015.
  2. Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn, Childlessness Up Among All Women; Down Among Women with Advanced Degrees, Pew Research Center, 10 Jun 2010, available online at, retrieved 28 Mar 2015.
  3. Brandy Zadrozny, America’s One-Child Policy, The Daily Beast, 17 Jul 2013, available online at, retrieved 28 Mar 2015.
  4. Single Mother Statistics, Single Mother Guide, 25 Feb 2015, available online at, retrieved 28 Mar 2015.
  5. 21% of children raised by single fathers is living in poverty, making them much more “similar” to mother-father families than to families where the mother has no male counterpart.
  6. Being actually married bodes well for still being in a relationship that functions as a marriage while children are being raised. However the data from which I am extrapolating do not specify that women who are mothers with a man in the home are necessarily legally married to the man who is in the home.
  7. The Pew Research Center article contains data showing that educated women are now less likely to remain childless, apparently indicating that smart women have begun to figure out that they are not the ones who should be “taking one for the team” by remaining childless. See Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn, Childlessness Up Among All Women; Down Among Women with Advanced Degrees, Pew Research Center, 10 Jun 2010, available online at, retrieved 28 Mar 2015.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

46 thoughts on “Ideal Family Size? Do Two Kids Make Sense?

  1. I’d like to give credit to my sister, who pointed me to these references. Though she majored in math, however, she hadn’t worked through the exact implications of the references, merely having an impression that able married parents should be striving to have six kids. My casual impression was that able married parents should strive to have four kids. In a way, we were both right.

  2. Of course, if we could have a few women just bear 17-18 children each (as the Duggars’ 19 kids and counting), then only 3 women would have to bear children, and the rest could relax….

  3. Notwithstanding the statistical analysis, my paternal grandmother had 12. All of the siblings seemed to agree, it was the right number for their family.

    My own “eternal” partner could only manage four, before abandoning me for greener pastures, more’s the pity.

  4. Obviously by quipping about three women having a few women bear 17-18 kids, you are not meaning to reduce genetic diversity to the genes passed on only those “breed mares” who can produce huge numbers of children…

    The take away I got from this analysis was that it’s one thing to vaguely plan to eventually have “kids” and then end up never getting around to it versus planning to have four kids and figuring out (as a couple) when those kids can be produced.

    You will note that nothing in this post discusses religion. So despite the fact that M* is a Mormon blog, this analysis is completely secular.

  5. The problem of children creating stress in marriage is a point of consideration. I found this article interesting when I was stressing about the idea that my life might get harder and harder with each new child.
    In a nutshell, the happiest marriages, on average, are ones with no children, or with 4 or more. It’s worth a read. Or this one by Peter Lawler:

    Jonathan Last’s article,, is important (he wrote a book called “What to Expect When Noone’s Expecting” which goes into more detail.)

    I think that part of the problem is that women think people who stress numbers are saying children are just numbers, and so it’s hard to argue with potential mothers about the need for higher numbers. Of course children are more than just numbers, but that doesn’t mean numbers don’t matter. Part of the problem of trying to ‘evangelize’ large families is that external circumstances often do lead young women to feel large families are undesirable. Some suggest that media mostly portrays smaller families, which is part of the problem, but certainly the other part is that when you see real large families, it looks like miserable chaos.

    As the mother of a large family, I gave up trying to ‘evangelize’ by example long ago. The benefits and joy are just not going to be obvious. Now I just tell people they should have kids, even if they think it’s uncool.

  6. I just kind of have a little laugh to myself when the whole overpopulation discussion comes up. First I think, “Oh the Malthusians have been saying this for over 150 years, and we’re still not dead.” Also, innovation will come along and allow us to produce more food, energy etc. There is also the fact that the earth was made for man, and our loving Heavenly Father has placed what we need here. I have full confidence in that.

  7. The original poster assumes replacement is important (and presents some reasons why not achieving it could cause social problems) but a world with 7 plus billion people, with a projection of at least 10 billion before we level out, is really more people than the planet can sustain while retaining critical bio-diversity (it also makes us as a species much more vulnerable to disease). As long as the process of people existing continues the spirits all get here eventually – there is no inherent need to rush the process. If significant efforts are made to boost worker productivity there is no reason any given society couldn’t function quite nicely while having the (realized) goal of successively shrinking generations. A world with only 2 or 3 billion people (100 years hence), almost all of whom are productively engaged, would be a significantly more sustainable world – there would also likely be considerably less conflict over resources.

  8. So if I put on my lens regarding water, the concern I see is that the United States is a pretty nice place to live. We have abundant resources, we have adequate water *as a nation* and we have a declining native population (native in this case meaning people who are born to those who are citizens of the nation).

    I refer you back to the documentary regarding Gapminder, which talks about which populations stand to increase, to bring us to 10M. The large increases will be in descendants of Africa and descendants of Asia, with the OECD nations stagnating or declining.

    There is no reason, however, to imagine that the descendants of Africa and Asia will remain in Africa and Asia. It would be appropriate for these individuals to migrate to other parts of the world as local conditions cease to be adequate for sustaining safe life.

    By the way, how do you imagine we get to 2-3 billion in 100 years? What massive disasters would be capable of reducing the population by 70-80% relative to normal expectations yet not sufficiently catastrophic to wipe out a large portion of the remaining 2-3 billion?

  9. Part of the culture that produces a feeling of unease or guilt for having a large family is the depiction of families in movies and on TV where we seldom see families with more than two or three children except for extraordinary families like the Duggars.
    I know a number of women who have had as many as fourteen children and none of them would take kindly to being referred to as ‘breed mares’ or ‘breeders’. I gave birth to ten children. One died in infancy and one neither married or became a parent. The eight who married produced 28 living children, averaging 3.5 children per couple. The parents are active LDS, a group that could be expected to have more children than average.
    In our ward boundary one street of relatively modest homes has a high number of large families; 5 or more children. I believe a peer effect is at least partially responsible. In neighborhoods where larger, more costly, homes prevail it seems the average family size is smaller and mothers are more likely to have jobs outside their homes. I wonder what effect materialism, as reflected in a preference for up to date consumer goods, large homes, expensive cars and various ‘toys’ such as boats has on the plan to have a family of four or more children.

  10. It is important to avoid personalization of such issues as family size. It is too easy to make assumptions about the motivations of others. However I found an article on about the homes of LDS prophets interesting. President Monson lived in the same relatively modest home during most of his adult life and others seem to have avoided the McMansion style of residence even when they had significant personal wealth or large families due to polygamy. The major exception was the Gardo Mansion which apparently was intended as the official residence for Church presidents with an eye to the dignity of the office but which soon fell into disuse.

  11. Tonight’s Women’s Conf included a note of one sister who applied to do Career Day at the local grade school as a Mother. She was completely ignored until she called two days before the event and they scrambled to get her into a couple classes. That we often demean motherhood (whether of one child or 19).is sadly a societal dilemma today.

    In the 1960s, Zero population alarmists insisted that if the world got to 2-3 billion, there would be massive starvation. Now at 7 billion, we have less starvation than in the past per capita. Technology and increased freedom have made a huge difference and will continue to do so, even if we get to 10 billion. The problem lies not in numbers, but in national aggression, culture, and belief. Most Iranians are not starving to death, Osama Bin Laden was worth 100 million plus, etc. They were moved by ideology, not hunger and need.

    There is enough food now to more than feed all people on earth. However, corrupt governments, inefficient transportation systems, and war keep us from getting the food to those in need. There is no guarantee that reducing world population to 2 billion won’t prevent another world war or genocide.

  12. Incidentally, this link suggests a linkage between rising STD rates in Iran with a catastrophic drop in fertility. Interesting reading.

    The original poster assumes replacement is important (and presents some reasons why not achieving it could cause social problems) but a world with 7 plus billion people, with a projection of at least 10 billion before we level out, is really more people than the planet can sustain while retaining critical bio-diversity (it also makes us as a species much more vulnerable to disease).

    The one caveat to this scenario, is that the future belongs to those who are born. In an increasingly interconnected and theoretically “democratic” world where people increasingly believe that the burden for their own support naturally falls upon some nebulously defined “other”, the cultures that don’t bother to replenish their numbers will ultimately find themselves getting subjugated in various ways by the cultures that do.

    IMHO, we should be trying to alleviate poverty where it occurs; rather than using maldistribution of resources in famine-stricken or war-torn countries half a world away as a reason to browbeat a professional in New York, a farmer in Iowa, a rancher in Texas, or an entrepreneur in Utah into never ever having more than two kids even if those individuals in fact have the resources to support many more children.

  13. While some of the population alarmists claims are bogus, some are worth investigating. While we can currently feed the world population, we can only feed them low quality , low nutrition carbohydrates. Whether the economy could be shifted to more nutritious vegetables and meat and still provide enough quantity remains to be seen. Doors anyone here know if the grain the church provides is the natural wheat, or iS it a GMO/hybrid? While we may keep people alive, we are also degrading their quality of life by providing them with food with little nutritional value.

  14. The population alarmists are full of hooey. There are many threats to the world, but they mostly have to do with people spreading “blood and horror on this Earth” through wars and left-wing economic policies. People allowed to do what they want without hurting others will do fine.

    It may be worth pointing out that northern Europe and Japan and Korea are likely to lose population in the coming years. As other countries become wealthier, population growth will slow. Here’s an interesting look at some of the trends:

  15. I liked the articles Lucinda posted on happiness. For those who can’t count beyond 3, all they saw was parental happiness declining as more children arrived. But when you allow yourself to count to four, happiness recovers to the level reported by those without children.

    Further, when the researchers controlled for religious activity, those who attended weekly religious services were massively more happy as they got to four children. Those who were not religious saw no increase to marital satisfaction as they increased family size to four.

    In situations where elder care resources are fungible (meaning people don’t have a tangible sense of where that money comes from), it is easy to “relax” and decide that the state should care for you. But when you consider that it is exactly your investment in the future (by virtue of producing the inhabitants of that future) that provides for your care in later life, then “relaxing” is another word for “slacking.”

    Now, there are all kinds of tragic reasons why women are unable to bear children, or only able to bear one or two children. This discussion is not intended to heap salt into their wounds. This analysis is intended to inform capable, healthy people who are arbitrarily limiting their family size because they are surrounded by mentors who don’t know how to do math and don’t understand the national need for them to produce more children. These people are presented with a world in entertainment were families usually have one or two children, not understanding that this is for simplification of exposition even when there isn’t a Mathusian social agenda.

    Non sequitur. As to the nutritional value of food, aquaponics allows individuals to produce fresh vegetables and berry fruits in a much reduced footprint with massive reduction in water resources. If you pair aquaponic crop production with raising chickens or rabbits, then your protein sources are similarly thrifty of required input resources. The way you convert manure from chickens and rabbits into aquaponic nutrient is to mineralize the manure (droppings, pellets) in an aerated solution, turning off the air for an hour, then decanting the supernatant that now contains the minerals that were in the manure solution. Aquaponics is resistant to the devastation associated with drought and flooding, as well as the devastation associated with feckless gardening (e.g., forgetting to water the garden, since aquaponics is ‘self-watering.”

  16. Regarding overpopulation, See

    Let’s get a feel for how the whole human population, estimated at 7 billion, relates to the surface area of the planet.

    John Brunner
    wrote a novel called Stand on Zanzibar,
    expressing the image of a projected world population of 7,000,000,000 standing shoulder to shoulder, all fitting on the main island of Zanzibar,
    approximately 600 square miles. That would give each person, on average, 2.39 square feet, 600*5280*5280/7000000000. Or, each person taking up a square 18.5 inches on a side.

    I’m a bit crowd-phobic, so let’s be a bit more generous, and give everyone a square yard, 9 square feet, a little plot 3 feet by 3 feet.

    7000000000 people * 1 square yard = 7000000000 square yards.
    (1760 yards/mile)
    7000000000/1760/1760 = 2260 square miles.

    2260 ^ .5 = 47.54 miles per side.

    is 2490 square miles.

    So Isaac Asimov was right, the Earth is Room Enough,
    and we could all stand in Delaware.

  17. Doors anyone here know if the grain the church provides is the natural wheat, or iS it a GMO/hybrid?

    I’ve read that no GMO wheat is grown in the US outside of strictly controlled test plots. Wheat farmers, the grain mills, and big commercial usersare all afraid of the backlash of GMO bread.

    But _all_ commercially grown grains in the US are some form of hybrids (either sterile or non-sterile), especially wheat, corn, soybeans, and rice.

    “Hybrization” is a naturally occuring process that has been going on both randomly and via human control for thousands of years. It’s merely cross pollinating or cross breeding varieties until you get the traits you are seeking. Not all hybrids are sterile, but many of the highly desired varieties of hybrids are.

    Hybridization (naturally cross breeding various strains without using gene level manipulation) has been required to get the high yields, and resistance to crop diseases. Without hybridization of wheat and rice, thereby using only previous crop yields per acre, the planet literally could not feed 7 billion people.

    The man who invented a widely used hybrid of rice is literally credited with literally saving the lives of over a billion people. Can’t remember his name right now. He died recently.

    There might be some individual grain farmers using “heirloom” varieties, that can trace their seed ancestry back a few decades or even a few hundred years without cross-breeding. Heirloom vegetables are popular among gardeners. So I would suppose there might be some “boutique” famers planting heirloom grains too, but they would be expensive.

    Spelt, millet and korasan wheat are gaining in popularity among the organic-eating, Birkenstock-wearing crowd. I kind of like spelt, it has a nice nutty flavor (bought some from Wheat Montana) but it gives me gas.

  18. Ram, here are similar numbers worked for Marion County plus the surrounding donut counties. It might make for a good bar bet. “Starting with Marion County and working outward, how many Indiana counties would be taken up by 7 billion people, giving each person a square yard of space to stand on?”

    Answer: 9.

    County Square miles land area as per Wikipedia
    ——— ——-
    Marion 396.30,_Indiana
    Hamilton 394.27,_Indiana
    Hendricks 406.91,_Indiana
    Johnson 320.43,_Indiana
    Hancock 306.02,_Indiana
    Boone 422.91,_Indiana
    Morgan 403.97,_Indiana
    Madison 451.92,_Indiana
    Shelby 411.15,_Indiana
    Total 3513.88 Square miles.

    Total square feet in the 9 counties: 97,961,352,192 sq ft. (3513.88 * 5280 * 5280).
    (5280 x 5280 square feet per square mile).

    Divide by 7 billion world population: 13.99 sq feet per person.

    Take square root to get length of side of the square: 3.74 feet = 3 feet 8.9 inches.

  19. Corrections:

    1. Wiki says Delaware is 1982 square miles, not 2490. I don’t know where I got the 2490 from, unless a recent correction was made on Wiki. The next biggest state is Connecticut, at 5543 square miles. Rhode Island, at 1214 square miles plus Delaware would also work.

    2. The rice guy I mentioned was
    And he also created high yield wheat varieties in addition to high yield rice. All hybrids, but none were GMO. Good reading if you want to know how the planet got to feed 7 billion people when it was said in the 60’s that it couldn’t feed 3 billion.

  20. While we could cram all mankind into a small area (Delaware and Rhode Island), that small space would not be sufficient to produce the resources consumed by mankind.

    Mankind currently consumes more resources than the earth yields per unit time (say a year). The reason we are able to do this relates to use of fossil fuels and aquifers, the “credit cards” of natural resources.

    Luckily, it is possible for individuals to reduce their resource consumption to responsible levels. There has been a lot of hooey involved in this in the past, but effectively, if we walk and use public transit and then eat vegetarian or low-conversion ratio proteins like chicken, rabbit, and fish, then a family of 6 can easily consume less resources than a feckless individual.

  21. Bookslinger… There was a time in my life when I too parroted the lines about the safety of hybridized plants, their neccesity, etc. There was and is nothing natural about producing a hybrid that cannot survive without human intervention, like modern day “wheat.”. After a truly natural cross fertilization, a plant would have to be more able to survive, not more dependent on humans. Also after a natural cross, humans would have centuries if not longer to adapt to the new proteins present in the hybrid, as there are often 20% novel proteins found in neither “parent”. Also, there is a difference between animal and plant reproduction, plants gain more copies of genes, leading to unexpected production and behavior. The incidence og IBS, leaky gut, and diabetes are skyrocketing. If you would like to learn something more than the propaganda produced by the wheat industry, I’d suggest starting with ” wheat belly”. It may be crass, but saying modern hybridization techniques are natural is like saying in vitro baby making by doctors from a gay man and lesbian woman, sure the process is biologically equivalent, but it is by no means natural, and the result isn’t right either.

  22. I would suggest that in vitro means of starting a human blastula are not nearly as “un-natural” as the patented grain hybrids, particularly the hybrids that warrant IP protection because they are so other.

    Specifically, I wanted to comment that children who happen to have been engendered/conceived using in-vitro techniques are not known to be unusually obnoxious. The factors involved in their parents choosing to use in-vitro techniques might contribute to interesting dynamics, but the human experience varies widely, and I have no reason to believe that in-vitro-ness itself is correlated with negative outcomes.

  23. Meg, I am glad that you recognize the downsides to unnatural hybrids. However, from some of your comments, it appears you but into the vegetarianism good, animal fat bad, plant fat good, lies that have irreparably damaged the health of so many Americans. Is that correct? If so, I would invite you to acquaint yourself to the following resources: death by food pyramid by Denise m… Perfect health diet… As well as Denise’s critique of the China study on her rawfoodssos blog. Finally, nourishing traditions (minus of course the anti vacinne and eating of cow brains). If you have not encountered these resources yet, they will be eye opening. One of the most important things I can relay, is that just because you think a statistic is valid doesn’t mean it agitatedly describes the perfect idea of diet for my health. So your ideas about pushing chicken or plant protein out of proportion just doesn’t work for me. Plant seed fats, are toxic. Animal fats, organically grown ( e.I. without added arsenic) are safe. That will be one clear thing from death by food pyramid.

  24. Laserguy: Those are valid points, and real problems you bring up. The subject deserves more than a few brief comments tossed back and forth.

    I’m a big fan of heirloom varieties. My understanding is that many of the sterile hybrids were intentionally worked out in order to be sterile in addition to other sought-after traits (though much of the sterility in various hybrids is/was merely a side effect). The “on purpose” sterility of some varieites was/is pure greed on the part of the seed producers. Another evil design was political and economic influence to force agrarian African farmers to use sterile seeds (political or market manipulations to keep heirloom and non-sterile varieties out of much of Africa). By selling and/or donating only sterile seeds to African farmers, the seed corporations, and those who paid for the donations, helped perpetuate famines, and future dependency. (Whereas non-sterile seeds would allow farmers to set aside some grains produced for the next year’s crop. You know that, but I’m repeating that for some of the silent readers.)

    My main thesis/purpose in the previous comment was to distinguish “hybrid” from “GMO” because a previous commenter put them together with a slash, and I thought that was misleading even if he understood the difference. I wanted to head-off or correct possible misunderstanding among the silent readers.

    Hybridization, per se, is not the boogey-man that GMO is. GMO is gene splicing, adding here, taking out there; cut-and-pasting on the molecular level. A veritable formula for creating some Frankenstein via accident.

    But at least with hybridization via cross-pollination, the cross-pollination “worked” in the sense that a child seed was created, without having to go down to the molecular level, and it went on to sprout and grow into a plant.

    Yes, there are some negative side-effects to highly hybridized grain. New forms of protein are causing many people to have sensitivity to them even if they aren’t celiac sufferers. New wheat proteins likely have some factor in the obesity epidemic.

    And widespread use of a narrow range of hybrids has lowered the biodiversity of major crops, making the whole commercial agricultural system more fragile due to the possibiliity of new crop diseases wiping out just a few families of hybrids. In other words, if a new disease shows up for a variety which constitutes over X% (5? 10? 20?) of the planted acres of that grain, it can result in the deaths of millions of people because poor people won’t be able to afford the higher grain prices due to the shortage that the disease will create. Famine, or at least a food dearth (which is actually the definition of famine), in 1st world countries is a real possibility that has *increased* due to widespread use of just a handful of varieties per crop!

    Last I checked, world-wide grain reserves have been falling. US federal law demanding a certaink percentage output of biofuels (as a fraction of all fuels) has raised prices of grain for the food market. Diversion of US corn for the biofuel market has raised the price of corn tortillas in Mexico. IMO, the US federal government should stop this artificial demand it created for the diversion of food crops over to biofuels. Brazil has a better idea, cellulosic biofuels, which ends up cheaper than corn-based, and that leads off into a whole ‘nuther discussion.

    This all serves as temporal arguments to support the prophetic injunction to have a food supply. In my food storage, I have spelt, Bronze Chief (hard red winter wheat), and Prairie Gold (hard white spring wheat) from Wheat Montana. Plus hard red winter wheat, and hard white wheat from the church distribution system. Granted, all of those are hybridized. But what ya gonna do? Are there really 1940’s era wheat varieties still grown, and are they available for something less than an arm and a leg?

    I still stand behind the point that if all hybrid wheat, hybrid corn, and hybrid soybeans varieties that were created since the 1940’s were to all of a sudden stop being used, and the same amount of acres were planted with pre-1940 varieties, those acres could not sustain 7 billion people. So what should we do?

    I have various types of pasta/vermicelli, including durum, whole wheat, multi-grain, somen, ramen, soba (buckwheat), rice noodles, bean threads. But most of those don’t have long shelf lives. I also have at least a half dozen varieties of dried beans in dry-packed cans and pouches. Lots of white rice. No brown rice except for immediate needs, as it doesn’t store. A few pouches of dry-packed pop-corn (bought in 50 pound bags from a movie-theater supply place.) A 90-day supply of canned chicken breast, vegetables (no salt mixed veg, no salt corn, potatoes, no salt green beans, no salt peas, kidney beans), fruit, and tomato-based salsa. (IE, enough to survive 90 days eating solely out of cans in case there is no heat source to boil/cook.) A few pouches of dry-packed table sugar (sucrose), a few of corn-sugar (dextrose monohydrate), and a few of maltodextrin, for emergency energy/carb needs.

    So yeah, I’m aware of the concerns you raise. And I greatly admire home gardeners, especially if they seek out and plant heirloom (non-sterile) varieties. (I once did a web site for an heirloom seed-seller back in the 90’s, and that’s when I picked up a lot.)

    But I haven’t checked the prices of heirloom whole wheat berries at Whole Foods. I’m sure I could find _organic_ whole wheat berries there, but do they actually have organic _heirloom_ whole wheat berries? And how much does that cost at the retail level? Organic alone adds a huge price differential. The lower yields and smaller farms doing organic _heirloom_ (and pre 1950’s or pre 1970’s to boot) would likely even be more expensive.

  25. Laser, [DOHT!], I just realized that “previous guy” was you! Sorry. But seriously, if you’re going to dis all hybrids, you should have known that there is no commercial quantity of non-hybrid grains (or hybrids older than 50-70 years) available in the US. Their scarcity and high price would also preclude the church having them in the church’s food distribution system.

    And if you’re going to dis all hybrids, how far back are you going to go? 1940’s? 1800’s? 1500’s? 100 AD? 1000 BC? Almost every grain we have today was “crossed” and “domesticated” (ie, “hybridized”) at some point in human history.

    And in case anyone doesn’t know, hybrids are not synonymous with sterility. Not all hybrids are sterile. And, sterility is not in and of itself an “evil” thing, or in-and-of-itself indicative of other negative traits in a variety. Though there is often a correlation with post 1940’s hybrids being sterile and having those new proteins, they are _not_ synonymous; they do _not_ necessarily imply each other.

    Yes, we have _some_ people having dietary problems with recent modern hybrids. Yes, we have a fragile “biodiversity” problem such that a single new disease could cause a famine. And yes, we have political machinations that are screwing over subsistence farmers in Africa via forced use of sterile varieties. But none of those are sufficient reason to dismiss all hybrids out of hand.

    Nor are those sufficient reasons to lump hybrids in with the dreaded molecular-level cut-and-pasted “GMOs”. (And if accidents can be prevented it looks possible that we may really _need_ GMOs to get the yields necessary to feed 10 billion people on the available arable land on the earth.)

    And Meg, I do have dried seaweed, “Ito Wakame”, in my food storage!

  26. Bookslinger, thank you for your response. While I find the discussion of the sterility of hybrids fascinating, I was actually referring to the survival of a plant requiring human intervention, and not merely its propagation. That is something wheat belly can outline to you if you are unfamiliar. While I am cognizant of the strength and importance of capitalism, I also recognize the danger of companies and farmers choosing traits for propagation, essentially forcing evolution by short circuiting the survival mechanisms, when those aren’t the takes nature would have chosen. A capitalist farmer has no qualms about sacrificing a plant that can’t grow without herbicides as long as they get 10% more yield. I’m not suggesting changing from capitalism, just recognizing a shortcoming. And I don’t think this short coming can be fixed by government intervention either. Individual consumer choice, and education IS important and the only solution. There is a huge problem with food storage. Most of us are dying faster than we should because we are eating rancid foods, foods that lose nutrients or never had them in the first place. Foods full of anti nutrients, that aren’t prepared properly. Food really needs to be fresh, and if preserved, it really needs to be naturally preserved, not by adding copious amounts of sugar, or cooking all of the nutrients out if them. A big secret, is that every commercial grain product is an empty calorie, even if you buy the whole wheat flour and bake it yourself, or grind the wheat dry. Unless the wheat had been properly soaked and sprouted, before being ground and fermented with sourdough, it retains none of the nutrients, and all of the anti nutrients, and still has a higher glycemic index than table sugar! So long term food storage really shouldn’t be consumed unless you are in an actual emergency, where calories, not nutrition matters. The problem is also there with the legumes. Unfortunately, if folks are trying to “eat what they store”, and they store bad food, thinking it is healthy, they really are being done a disservice. There is no nutrition in commercially canned fruits and vegetables, commercial pickles are just salt and vinegar. Natural fermentation canning helps retain the vitamins while the bacteria protect the food. Homemade sauerkraut, kimchee provide copious vitamins c. But these procceses require high quality vegetables, picked when ripe and canned while fresh, again something which capitalism delivers only at a premium. As I’ve encountered my own cognitive dissonsmce learning a lot of things about health, things Taught by Mormons, and by Mormon prophets simply are not true, at least, not anymore. During the days of severe food scarcity, god may have allowed us to call grain the staff of life, or it may have been cultural belief that was just picked up. But for my own experience, and revelation, it seems clear that in our day, vegetables are meant to be the staff of life, with wise use of meat, dairy and healthy fat. Sugar is more deadly than alcohol, and grains and legumes merely turn into sugar in your intestines. Foods high in omega 6 days (plant seed oils) are killing people off at a really high rate. The us government had killed so many people by telling them to eat low fat, high carb food, that they should all be prosecuted for treason and hanged. Wheat literally acts on the same receptors in the brain as opiates. Read wheat belly for more info on it. I am experimenting with aquaponics, but it is very inefficient where you have no sun. We as time more water to our system than we have ever watered in one lives. Sorry, but as I look at the data, the way the system is set up, there is not enough healthy food to go around, nor can there be for our population levels. Maybe that’s how god designed it. Maybe he wants everyone to get diabetes like gbh and tsm, and be reliant on medicine the rest of their lives so they can continue consuming carbohydrates. But I don’t think that’s true. I’ll admit its possible, but I’d rather good wasn’t going for that kind of suffering by insisting we all partake of “wheat”. Forgive typos, this is on a phone…

  27. Yes book, I knew that it s me but chose to not be offended because, I too used to parrot the lines that hybrids are just safe. As you’ll read in “wheat belly” ( I swear I’m not the author), if you went back to einkorn, this probably would be OK, if you had it less than 3 servings a week. Read the perfect health diet by the jam* in as, man didn’t evolve to eat grain as their major caloric source, and chronic disease had only increased since man had been partaking of it. I’m really trying to be patient, and remember just how earth shattering it was for me to learn that grain was not healthy. It was really hard, but as a scientist, I must be willing to reexamine my assumptions, and no amount of brain washing from the schools, first lady food Nazi Michelle Obama, or the farmers lobby can change the science. With that, I’ve fully exhausted my typing finger. I have provided my sources, and challenges. Good luck all in navigating this.

  28. Hi Laserguy,

    My comments are not derived from the source you suppose, but from the recent accounting regarding water footprint (largely ignored by Americans, since all the science is done in metric) and a little-known piece of holy writ called the Word of Wisdom.

    I’ve no fundamental problem with eating cow protein. If it weren’t for the protein of cattle, I would not exist in my current form (bovine protein being the thing that kept a group of Mormons alive at Devil’s Gate from December 1856 through February 1857, many weeks after the more well-known disaster of the handcart companies. My ancestor, Joseph Leland Heywood, was in that group who figure out how to stomach nasty gross desiccated bovine flesh (the recipe was described in the Juvenile Instructor back during the 1800s – blech).

    That said, it takes far more resources to produce a pound of bovine flesh than it takes to produce a pound of chicken flesh. Or turkey flesh. Or even pork.

  29. Regarding the OP, I think part of the presumption is that actual and desired family size are pretty much the same. While in many pre-transitional countries, ideal fertility is lower than actuality, in modern societies, desired fertility is actually higher than actual fertility.

    “Some 52% of American women (who gave numerical responses) said their ideal is two children, and an additional 44% said that three or more children is their ideal.”

    This in the face of below replacement fertility in the US.

    “But 40% of U.S. women nearing the end of their childbearing years have fewer children than their ideal.”


    The 52% and 44% leave out the 14% who said, “as many as [someone] wants.” And really, that’s got to mean “as many as God wants” for the most part, which is likely to mean they’re going for higher numbers.

    So my point is here that because of delayed child-bearing, and unavailability of acceptable mates, like with a bow and arrow, you need to aim above the target commensurate with distance, compensating for the depression on actual fertility that older marriage and older birth of first child represent.

  30. Looking at the Daily Beast article, I have to think it is interesting that many think “at a time when women have become the primary breadwinners in this country, why not just institute sensible policy that includes affordable child care and universal preschool—like most of the rest of the industrialized world enjoys?” apparently ignoring what a failure such policies are at producing results.

    I tend to think in the other direction, why not look back at what worked, namely making it possible for fathers to be the primary breadwinners. I know why many don’t want to look back, because it feels so sexist. But if we care about helping women achieve their goals, we should care about creating a system that allows them to have the children they desire more easily than at present. (And for the most part, “industrialized world” policies that “promote” childbearing do not work.)

  31. Wives and Husbands should have as many children as they feel inspired to have. It should be a part of regular, earnest consideration and listening. The family proclamation says, “We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.” I agree with that.

    Those who catch the spirit of what the Lord envisions with this first commandment, will recognize that it is a privilege to raise children. To help guide precious ones from our Heavenly Parents. I think this spirit of understanding usually comes after years of personal, spiritual development whether Mormon or not.

    I don’t think it is our place to tell others how many they should have. We know that the Lord’s boundaries include no sexual relations before marriage and complete fidelity after it. That is a good enough guideline for me.

    It is important that we do not judge the size of other’s or our own families unrighteously. Let us give general counsel, if asked. I do think it is important to teach our own children that we should not have only the amount of children that will allow a comfortable life. Nor should we delay having children unguided by God. If we choose that, we may be denying ourselves blessings. And rich experiences in this life.

    Here is what I wrote about it almost 7 years ago.

  32. The way other countries manage this is to have the older generation provide the care for the children. Looking back to my grandmother’s day, this is how my mother and her siblings were raised, given that both mother and father were working (this is circa 1930-1970). In the generation before that, one great-grandparent was the stay-at-home mother but the other was a working woman who left the care of her children to her sisters (who were also her fellow widows as they had all be married to the same man). In that era and before that time, there was no such thing as a woman who “stayed home” and a father who bore the entire load of winning the bread. They worked together as a team, each doing the tasks to which they were best suited.

    In my own family, we have a parent who stays at home. And we have a parent who “wins the bread.” If the parent who can birth children had been pregnant more than five times, it would have made a lot more sense for the parent who births the children to be the parent who stays at home. However in our case, other factors were in play, so the parent who birthed the children was the breadwinner and the parent who engendered the children was the one who stayed at home.

  33. Hi Rich,

    Within the context of Mormonism, there is certainly a rich history of encouraging families to have as many children as possible.

    This article, however, is merely looking at the math of what it takes for the United States to achieve replacement. To achieve replacement, the women who are in a committed relationship (e.g., marriage) with a man capable of engendering children and able herself to bear children would need to be bearing roughly four children, with plenty of room for those who wished to bear more.

    As for family planning, there’s one LDS apostle who was involved in “family planning” in 1901. John W. Taylor told his second wife he could no longer allow her to risk death (she had almost died, again, birthing the child she bore in 1901). In those days, sparing a woman the risk of pregnancy-related death was achieved by not engaging in the activities that engender children. Now John’s sacrifice would have seemed greater had Nellie been his only wife. Nellie’s anger at being “spared” the trial of bearing additional children was well-documented, to the point that she threatened to go to Joseph F. Smith and have him tell John W. Taylor to allow Nellie to get pregnant.

    The challenge I see in our days is that the media is so strong that we, as a society, are cut off from the natural indications regarding reproductive pressures. And too many people can’t do the “advanced math” required to inform them that serious childbearing is a substantial part of the civic responsibility able married couples should be engaging in.

  34. I agree Meg, your article makes a good point that in order to balance all those people not having children. Husbands and wives should have at least 4 if we want to just replace the existing population.

    I also think it is naive to think that by not having children you are going to save the earth. It will be people who are willing to raise healthy, responsible, capable children who in turn do the same for the grandchildren; these are the people whose descendants will inherit the earth.

    Those who choose not to reproduce both biologically and memetically are self-selecting themselves out of the gene pool.

  35. Hi Meg-
    My suspicion is that the main factor in a lack of fertility is the stability and quality of relationships. This is why I understand David Blankenhorn’s reasoning for flipping to supporting gay-marriage. He really believes that it would increase the stability and quality of relationships, and hence improve prospects for children. I disagree with him, but I think he’s right that stability matters.

    Placing the entire burden for provision on the fathers is an unsustainable solution in the long-term. I think that is why the highly reproductive 50s collapsed. But men need reasons to be involved, and their limited ability to participate in pregnancy and childbirth and nursing makes it easier for men to feel marginalized in the family when you remove the breadwinning role, creating instability. Failure of men to feel needed and abandoning women is not the only problem. It’s not the case that most single or relationally transitional moms have been abandoned by otherwise desirable men. A large portion of moms just don’t want to marry the one they are with since women generally prefer to marry men with higher earning potential than themselves, so the lagging of men in terms of career attainments is a stress on stability. There’s also a snarling anger and distrust between the sexes.

    Alana Newman frames it this way: “This lack both of moral standards and one’s own confidence in one’s ability to keep to them results in major insecurity and relationship failures. And where there are few stable relationships, there are few children: Today our birth rate is 1.86 (non-replacement).” from

    The above cited article speaks of a need to return to virtue, but you know how it is, it feels like there’s got to be a way of incentivizing functional behavior that reaches out to those that are persistently uninterested in virtue for its own sake (particularly young people whose decisions in youth have powerful impact on the rest of their lives). There’s got to be a bait that can draw these people toward a way of living that benefits themselves and their community without requiring conversion to virtuous living up front. (I know I got a lot of disagreement about this before, but I really think it is possible to promote happy living line upon line.)
    And it seems to me that the best way of spreading family happiness in the civic realm is to promote scripts that generally lead to stability, and even codify moral standards that promote these scripts (like out-of-wedlock-sex being illegal. Though as someone pointed out, laws themselves cannot enforce themselves.)
    Relationship stability is something that everyone wants to see, but almost no one understands how to bring about. I do think it is a mistake to think that converting *everyone* to the Gospel is the only answer. There are intermediary steps that have been utilized by civilizations throughout history that have blocked destructive behavior and promoted responsible behavior.

  36. Just read this pertinent article about birthrates in the US:
    The new low number is driven mainly by a continued decrease in younger women having babies. Probably a good thing that teen pregnancy rates are dropping, but the fact that fewer women in their twenties feel secure enough to start families is a problem. I know when I was signing medical forms at doctors offices for my first child, an age of 30 was considered the threshold for high-risk pregnancy.

  37. Q: Why do Mormon women stop having chldren at 39?
    A: Because 40 is just too many!

  38. Back to an earlier comment you made, Bookslinger, primitive hunter-gatherer models indicate that it took 10 square miles to support a single person. It’s possible to reduce that area significantly using various forms of intensive agriculture. But the idea that there is no population pressure merely because we could cram all current humans into two small US states is roughly as useful as saying there shouldn’t be rush hour traffic since I can cram 20 college students into my car.

  39. Meg, I think you’re inferring things I didn’t mean to imply. It was merely intended as a visualization to compare the mass of humanity to the surface area of the planet, using a reference or technique from a science fiction novel that dealt with over-population.

    But continuing in your vein, (from Wiki) there is 134,000,000 sq km of land area on eath, not counting Antarctica. That’s 52 people per sq km. That doesnt take into account non-habitable/non-arable land, but its a starting point. China currently has an overall density of 145 people per sq km, and India has 382 people per sq km. granted, neither of those countries is self-sufficient in terms of food. As far as I know, they are net importers of food, but not entirely dependent on outside sources.

    Cities and towns, not counting the farm land that supports them, generally have 800 to 3000 people per sq km. Megacities have even higher densities.

    I think the strongest indicator of food supply versus demand are worldwide stockpiles/reserves or whatever they’re called. Last I checked, they were declining, which is not good. There was a rice shortage a few years ago, and that got me looking into it. What i think this implies is that more land needs to be converted into arable land. And if I understand correctly, things like rain forests are ( or at least should be) off limits, since they are the major oxygen producers.

    So just using these numbers as starting points, i think the earth is capable of supporting somewhere between 52 and 140 people per sq km in terms of food production. We have plenty of land that can still be put to food production, and we can look forward to some increased yields too.

    I think the bigger question, which is up your alley, is fresh water availability. We’re sending too much run-off water down rivers and into the ocean instead of letting it filter down to replenish aquifers. US aquifers are shrinking at an alarming rate, especially the one in America’s breadbasket, the Ogalala, if I got the name right.

    But I think we can solve that too with science, engineering and cooperation.

    Some say there are fresh water aquifers under the sea floor on the continental shelves that we could tap it into with off-shore drilling.

  40. You write well about a lot of great insights Meg, but this simple exercise in counter-conventional wisdom is profound.

    I would suggest one extra line (in case I missed it on my quick read) to reinforce the obvious: almost all women want to raise their children in a stable family, altho some manage well when death/divorce/etc intercede, wanting to provide what their children will see as the practical ideal.

  41. Flush toilets, and the rather profligate way most of us use them, while a really great convenience, are an example of one aspect of modern life that wastes a vital resource. One of my sons made a practice of showering in a plastic container that caught his water. He reused it to flush his toilet. I have considered plumbing the discharge from my washing machine into a holding tank to provide water for my toilet.
    We need at most a couple of gallons a day per person to cook our food and quench our thirst. Most of the rest of our water consumption per capita is used up in food production, pursuit of cleanliness and sanitation and green lawns in desert situations.
    While a drastic reduction in population could allow us to continue current practices, I believe it would be better to institute alternatives such as the reuse of ‘grey water’ from our showers, baths and washing machines, to provide for flushing as well as taking care in choosing foods, condiments and transportation to minimize our water footprint. I wonder if the droughts we face will cause governments to force us into practices we should have taken voluntarily. Currently some local governments penalize citizens who convert their front lawns into vegetable gardens or fail to keep existing lawns up to the standard emerald green.
    When considered simply in the light of best use of a resource, a large family certainly makes a more intensive use of the water provided for a lawn. ; )

  42. Just after finishing the previous post I took a gander at an article in the online Washington Post which discussed measures mandated in California in response to current drought conditions. Currently residents of Los Angeles use 90 gallons per day per capita although health officials estimate that 55 gallons a day is adequate for health and sanitation.

  43. The NPR story about the mandatory water conservation measures indicated that there are some areas in California where the per capita municipal water consumption is 300 gallons a day. That’s nuts.

    Remember, of course, that the amount of water consumed to grow daily food per capita (using the recently approved ISO standard for calculating water consumption) is over 2000 gallons per day. If we avoided the meats that consume the most water (ahem, beef) and focused on small animal protein (chickens, rabbits, pigs, fish) in moderation along with plentiful whole fruits and vegetables (mostly leafy greens), we could cut over a thousand gallons out of our daily consumption. For example, the per capita diets in China and Chile “cost” only 600 gallons per day in water.

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