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Smaller families succeed more: Swedish study

Smaller families succeed more: Swedish study

Published: 29 Aug 2012 07:16 GMT+02:00
Updated: 29 Aug 2012 07:16 GMT+02:00

Providing scientific support to what is anecdotal evidence, it says that in an advanced industrialised society, having fewer offspring means children benefit from greater parental investment and from inherited capital.

This translates into socio-economic success, which is transmitted over generations, the paper says. Scientists from London and Stockholm pored over a remarkable database which assessed 14,000 people born in Sweden between 1915 and 1929 and all their descendants up to 2009.

Families that were smaller and from more prosperous backgrounds were linked to better grades at school, a university education and a higher income and social status, they found.

The benefits were greatest when the parents were also in a high socio-economic category. The advantages were enduring, because they carried over the four generations which were studied.

In the modern world, fertility rates -- the number of offspring per woman -- decline as a country becomes more prosperous, a phenomenon called the demographic transition.

The trend occurs first and most substantially among wealthier sections of society.

"One of our most interesting findings is that being from an initially wealthy household makes the benefits of small family size even bigger," said David Lawson, an anthropologist at University College London.

"Poorer households in contrast have relatively little to gain by limiting fertility, perhaps because the success of their children is more determined by broader societal factors, rather than investment and inheritance from parents, which is in short supply."

The research, published in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, touches on a keenly-debated aspect of Darwinian theory, said lead author Anna Goodman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"It's been a puzzle for evolutionary biologists," Goodman said.

"It's not what you would expect, because as a species gets more resources, it has more offspring." In this case, lower fertility was a success -- but in socio-economic terms, not in reproductive terms.

In the study, the first generation had an average of 3.2 children; their children had 1.7 offspring; the grandchildren had 1.8 children; and the great-grandchildren, as of 2009, had an average of 0.7 offspring.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

08:41 August 29, 2012 by azimuth
Obvious things as usual. "British scientists" phenomenon in its pinnacle :D
08:42 August 29, 2012 by skogsbo
also the fact that if both parents are working, they represent working role models for the children. A working women will probably have less children than a stay at home mum, because of the desire to continue their career and bring the family income back up to the pre children level. Where as a stay at home mum, can continue to justify their lifestyle, by having a child every 2 or 3 years. But, clearly by having a big family, the time invested in them individually is rationed.
09:25 August 29, 2012 by bourgeoisieboheme
This is nothing new. Many books have cited this as evidence as to Europe's economic miracle, going back thousands of years. When Europe had castles, guns, science, writing, etc. many other civilizations were still throwing spears. While this is not the only reason to the Success of Europe and Sweden, it's a contributing factor.
09:46 August 29, 2012 by Swedishmyth
Did they control for nationality? If not, the conclusion might as well be "children of Western parents succeed more.", which would be a reasonable one.

Having fewer children is not the cause of prosperity; it's an effect of it.
11:27 August 29, 2012 by Dr. Dillner
@Swedishmyth

Excellent, drawing a relation between cause and effect!
12:07 August 29, 2012 by bourgeoisieboheme
Well to counter that a bit, people with fewer children have less capital outlays of which they can put to more efficient use, like investing, starting a company, etc. When you have 4 kids, you need a big flat, increased medical, food, etc. expenses, so your net savings is so small as to not put it towards any capital multiplying uses. So to put it simply, more children lead to more expenses and less money to make money.
12:55 August 29, 2012 by Swedishmyth
Then would you say that African or Middle-Eastern families would suddenly become prosperous if they were to have no more than two children? That wouldn't happen, especially in Sweden where child support is not only unlimited with regard to the number of children per family, but escalating per child rather than descending.

For productive people the number of children is a matter of preference, not necessity. They are not in the business of raising unpaid farm workers, nor do they stand to gain from making child support receptacles and feeding them ramen for a net gain in "income".
15:29 August 29, 2012 by millionmileman
Most Families in Europe average around 1.2 children per family because the wizards of smart (the educated elite) have taxed everyone into oblivion that makes having a decent sized family almost an impossibility.

Tell this to Mitt Romney who started from scratch to raise 5 sons with his wife Anne and he is a remarkably smart and successful man.
17:26 August 29, 2012 by prince T
Interesting find. having smaller family leads to prosperity. They forget to add that it is bad for the economy. Why do countries with smaller families like sweden and canada to look for immigrants to fill the population.
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