Freakonomics Poll: Should Being a Parent Require a License?

Toward the end of our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting,” Steve Levitt points to the loads of social science research demonstrating that the one sure-fire way to have a bad life, is to have a mother who doesn’t love you. Which brings him to a rather radical point: should parenting be licensed? Here’s a bit from the transcript:

LEVITT:There’s a lot of research on un-wantedness and tremendous historical data sets from social science of the last fifty years that suggest that if your mother doesn’t love you, nothing good will happen to you in life. The lowest common denominator for having a kid who turns out well is the kid being loved. And if I were president for a day, maybe dictator for a day, one of the first things that I might do would be to make it harder to be a parent, to make the standards for being a parent more difficult. You should have to demonstrate some proficiency at parenting perhaps to be a parent.

DUBNER: So, you need to get licensed, let’s say?

LEVITT: Yeah. I mean, we make people prove they can parallel park before they can get a driver’s license, maybe we should make people prove that they can interact in a productive way in teaching their kid. Now there’s nothing more un-American than intervening in the family. People just hate the idea of big government looking over their shoulder and telling them how to be parents.

DUBNER: And you’re not a big government guy by any stretch.

LEVITT: No, I hate big government. But on the other hand, I could imagine there being a sensible set of things that you would want to do to make sure that people were ready to be better parents.

We thought we’d put the question to our readers with a Freakonomics Poll.

Should You Have to Get a License to be a Parent?

View Results

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  1. BL1Y says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • nobody.really says:

      That’s a reasonable choice, and I hope that decision has worked out well for you.

      In the interest of balance, could we hear from those who made the alternative choice?

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 57 Thumb down 4
    • James says:

      Which is of course an utterly nonsensical argument. If you didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be a you which could fret about not existing.

      Indeed, we could turn that argument around, and by the same logic force every fertile woman into continuous childbearing from puberty to menopause because, after all, not becoming pregnant is preventing someone from existing.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 69 Thumb down 9
      • Fitty Stim says:

        I imagine that you explain jokes after they’re told as well… get it? It was used!!! Get it??? Ugh!

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4
      • Nikki says:

        You prove a point how can we argue about parental licencing, like you said its like were trying to prevent our own existence.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • Nick says:

      You say that as if those are the only options. Adoption?

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3
    • Sri says:

      Ahem, in case you haven’t noticed it, if you weren’t born you won’t be thinking about how bad it is to not exist at all.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2
    • miriam says:

      If my options are having a neighbor have a kid she doesn’t love, or not having one at all, I’ll go with the latter.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1
  2. Liz says:

    Seriously, how would you implement this? Install semi-permanent contraception in everyone at puberty (such as an IUD or Depo Provera)? What if they have a negative reaction to said contraception? And what happens to those who break the law? Force people to have abortions if they get pregnant without a license? Send them to jail?

    I think the best way to help society with regards to child rearing is to provide better education and healthcare access for all. Provide child care for working parents. Etc. There are so many better ways to solve this without restricting the right of an adult to make decisions about his or her own life.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 37 Thumb down 23
  3. Doug says:

    The best Keanu Reeves quote ever: “You need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car ~ hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming a****** be a father.”

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 103 Thumb down 5
  4. Melissa says:

    I miss the logic here. If the common denominator is love, how does a license that proves you have parenting skills the answer? You can love your child and still be a terrible parent.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 60 Thumb down 4
  5. Liam says:

    Why isn’t it feasible? Having a dog, a gun,a car, being a doctor/lawyer etc all need a licence. There is a method of punishing those who don’t have a licence. So why not for having a child?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 18
    • Tiffany Madison says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Dave Sohnchen says:

      It’d be easy to punish those who have kids without a license but that doesn’t mean that the kid will be automatically be loved. It’s love that’s the determining success factor right?

      Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4
  6. David says:

    I’m sure we’ve all had points in our lives where we see a family in public and when we see how the parents interact with their kids one of our firsts thoughts is that they should not be a parent.

    I’ve always believed that so long as they are sane, caring and responsible then people can have as many kids as they want. I realize the importance of financial well-being when having children as well, but my own dad was the fifth born in a poor family, so if there was a financial background check, my grandparents never would have made it to him.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 5
  7. Katie says:

    Yeah, I can’t see how this could turn out poorly. I mean, you put some people in charge of what a good parent is, and they decide if you meet the qualifications.

    Of course, we all know good parents have enough money to have a child, so we should just deny anyone who isn’t comfortably middle class.

    Oh, and drug users are bad, so if the parents have ever done drugs, we should deny them too. People who smoked pot on college? They’ll probably backslide and start feeding the baby meth or something.

    You know what? Education is important, too. We all know every one has to have a college education these days, so if they didn’t bother to get into a good school? No kids for them. They’re probably too poor for it anyway, so no big loss.

    Kids are also improved by having a stay at home, breast-feeding mom, right? So let’s make sure we deny any of those uppity women-folk who want to go back to work before the kid goes to college. And let’s deny the ones who might want to use formula, or would have to due to medical issues. Sorry, breast cancer survivors! You’d probably die on the kid anyway, right?

    Oh, and speaking of that, let’s deny anyone who has any proclivities for dying before 90. We don’t want to traumatize the kid, right?

    They want to have more than one kid? What the hell?! No one has money for more than one kid! Good parents will only want to lavish their attention on one child.

    Seriously, stop trolling, sirs.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 56 Thumb down 29
    • Peter says:

      All very good ideas except for the old-age thing. Parents should make a personal sacrifice to allow more of the earth’s reasources for their kids. Also, the financial support requirement should include the full cost of educating their offspring.

      Thumb up 4 Thumb down 8
    • jake3_14 says:

      “Of course, we all know good parents have enough money to have a child, so we should just deny anyone who isn’t comfortably middle class.”

      The USA is dependent on a supply of cheap labor to prevent exporting of business or stopping it completely. Witness the devastation on farming in Alabama, where the state has outlawed the cheapest labor — illegal immigrants. And if middle-class children take all the McJobs, then, by definition, they are no longer middle-class. So what would be the point of restricting parenting licenses by economic condition?

      “…so if the parents have ever done drugs, we should deny them too.”

      Don’t you believe in redemption or even second chances?

      “Kids are also improved by having a stay at home, breast-feeding mom, right? ”

      This is optimal (assuming the mom *wants* to stay at home, but you can turn out acceptable, productive people with the mom working.

      Seriously, Katie, stop trolling.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3
  8. Scott W says:

    You also need to consider that people can change over time. I know more than a few couples and single parents who definitely weren’t ready for kids but had them anyway, putting their own parents and other people who cared about them through the ringer.

    Now years later some of these people have grown up a bit and realized that life isn’t all about them—they’re trying to be good parents and by golly they’re making some progress.

    My point is that we may have an idea who shouldn’t have children now, but what about later? I’m not voting, because I don’t see a “we need to discuss this more” option.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 9
  9. David Clayton says:

    TOD: You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.

    from the screenplay of Parenthood (1989), by Ganz and Mandel

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3
  10. Natalia Garabato says:

    I’m curious, What skills would you test?? besides most of us know what you need to be a good parent, now whether you put it into practice that’s another thing…

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6
  11. Tiffany Madison says:

    Wow. Talk about Orwellian. Neglected children cost states millions per year, true. However, the regulation of life-creation is not the government’s business and to even fathom that level of control is impossibly dangerous. You can’t even manage your own affairs, Big Brother. Stay the hell out of mine.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 29 Thumb down 27
    • nobody.really says:


      Yeah, government regulation ain’t perfect. But the point is, LACK of regulation ain’t perfect either. You acknowledge that neglected kids impose costs of millions per year — who do you think pays that cost? Why isn’t that cost part of “your business”?

      When the police ask if you would testify against the poorly-socialized kid that burned down your house, will you tell them to stay the hell out of your affairs? Or does it become ok for Big Brother to intervene then — after we’ve raise another generation of poorly-socialized kids?

      No, there are no good options. We need to find the least bad ones.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 39 Thumb down 15
    • jake3_14 says:

      “You can’t even manage your own affairs, Big Brother.”

      That’s never stopped any government in the history of the world. Take China and its one-child policy, for example. They have effectively slowed their population growth by 1/3 every year. Of course, the price for this policy is gender-selected abortions, leading to an oversupply of males. But the silver lining is Darwinian; only the fittest (by Chinese definition) will marry and breed, slowing down population growth further.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2
  12. dan says:

    one of my graduate school friends at some point in time threw out the idea that every male should have a reversible vasectomy at birth. the procedure would then be reversed after passing a test (or some other licensing mechanism) after one’s 18th birthday

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 7
    • Nick says:

      If you ever get a vasectomy, the doctor will warn you ad nauseum that the reversal surgery is far from 100% effective. When I got mine about 6 years ago, the reversal success rate was only about 60%.

      Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2
    • Hibernia86 says:

      There are plenty of bad mothers out there and girls who have irresponsible sex without contraception. Why do you want to punish only the guys for the couple’s mutual mistakes?

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4
  13. Eric M. Jones. says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  14. johnadamsxii says:

    Controlling reproduction is a step away from eugenics.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 10
    • James says:

      Perhaps, but what’s wrong with eugenics? If you knew that you would pass on the genes for some debilitating disease, say hemophilia or cystic fibrosis, would you decide to have kids?

      If you would, what sort of monster are you?

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 17
      • Heather says:

        and who decides how much risk is too much risk? Is it 20% or less? 5%? 80%? Genetics are hardly the whole story. And, who decides what diseases are too risky and which aren’t? Some things may seem obvious (Huntingtons, as an example), but what about diabetes? Do we take the license away once a woman hits 35+ to reduce the risk of chromosomal abnormalities like Down’s Syndrome? Will obsese people be able to be licensed? After all, obese parents tend to have obese kids. Where does it stop?

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  15. Gary says:

    And how does licensing make you a better driver? Passing a couple of tests does not compare to experience and training. Maybe we should figure out how to teach people to be better parents? Used to be that extended families and social institutions, especially churches, did that. Is it a wonder that there might be a correlation between the decline of these things and the decline of good parenting?

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    • Ashley says:

      I don’t think the problem is with the idea of licensing, in terms of driving proficiency, but how easy it is to pass the licensing process. Americans have it so easy compared to other countries that requre licensing to drive. In Germany, most people do not pass the first time around. If more rigorous testing was part of the process, we’d probably have a lot less morons on the road.

      That’s not to say I agree with licensing for children. I have said such things off the cuff, but I don’t believe it’s a practical solution because telling people they can’t breed is overstepping by a long way. I do think a lot of people need to stop breeding though!

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      • Steevn says:

        Stats from Wikipedia say that per 1 billion vehicle km driven, Germany has 7.2 fatalities vs 8.5 in USA. Not a huge difference and both fall comfortably within a range for Europe, from about 5.0 to 20.

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
      • Kiaser Zohsay says:

        I agree that it should be much more difficult in the US to pass a drivers license test. There are a number of people behind the wheel that have no business being there which creates risk for everyone else on or near the roads such people use. The point of licensing is that the roads are safer for everyone because the individuals who did *not* pass the test are not on the road.

        Literally for years, I have said (somewhat sarcastically) that there should at least be a written test you should have to pass to have kids. And me saying “S/He would not have passed the written test” is the strongest criticism of parenting skill that I can deliver. But the point of a written test would be be to apply some draconian standard of fitness to any and all potential parents, but simply prevent the foreseeable parental train wrecks.

        Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3
    • vr1000 says:

      Levitt was not talking about the decline of parenting. His point was that if your mother loved you, you were much more likely to turn out well. How could motherly love ever be quantified?

      I bet if you had to license parents, people who were more likely to be terrible parents would pass because they would game the test and because they would not want to be seen in a poor light.

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    • Innocent Bystander says:

      Well, I think that it’s less about technical “parenting” ability that anybody can learn, and more about resources, and your life being in order.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
    • miriam says:

      Putting as much thought into having a child as one would take to put ones name and address on an envelope and putting it into the mail seems like a good step…

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2
    • jake3_14 says:

      I like the idea of mandatory continuing education for parents as a means of improving their parenting skills. There is also a hidden benefit. Continuing education requirements would reduce the amount of time available for parents to work or sleep. In turn, this would lower their economic productivity. That would lead them to have lower economic value, leading to lower salaries directly or indirectly, through a lack of promotability, Lowered labor costs would raise the profitability of businesses.

      Yes, let’s proceed!

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  16. Joe says:

    As noted by many here, you need a license to drive a car, own a gun, and catch a fish, so why not kids? Well, with those licenses, you can still crash a car, shoot someone, and go home without catching any fish, so what’s to say a parenting license would be any more effective?

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  17. AaronS says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • AaronS says:

      Hidden? Hmmm, I see now why we have a problem.

      This makes all the sense in the world. Oh, wait, now I get it.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  18. PN says:

    The thing is… there is really no reliable way of predicting or indeed measuring the competencies of a parent until they’ve actually had a child…

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1
  19. Tim Dellinger says:

    Parenthood has an interesting built-in bias with respect to the mechanisms of human procreation:

    The careless will always outbreed the careful.

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  20. Geoff says:

    Fascism: a “great idea” enforced by the state upon the masses for the universal good.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2
  21. Beamish says:

    I never took the suggestion literally – even when Keanu Reeves suggested it in _Parenthood._

    Literally requiring a “government license” is something any reasonable liberty loving individual should oppose but the underlying goal: preventing unsuitable parents is completely understandable. Unfortunately there is always that “road to hell” and its “good intentions” to consider…

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1
  22. Tim says:

    I’ve had similar thoughts in the past, but obviously have issues with the government intervention. The following program would have a similar effect, but would be optional to the individual:

    1) Offer vasectomies or tubal ligations to people between the ages of 20 and 35.
    2) If the individual’s income is below $30,000, they receive $3,000 for having the procedure performed.*

    It would be entirely optionally to the individual, and I think would save the government a lot of money overall in welfare. And likely prevent future bad parents.

    *Numbers are arbitrary now. The amount received would need to be less than the cost to have the procedure reversed, to avoid gaming of the system.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2
    • AaronS says:


      A good point. But wouldn’t the money factor ensure that poorer folk were the target of such a campaign? I would think that rich families can make quite poor parents too.

      WAIT! I’ve got it! ALL rich people are sterilized. This means that their wealth eventually flows back down to others. And all poor folks who WANT to be sterilized for the appropriate price point, are.

      I am a genius.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  23. Chad says:

    Plato had these licenses in his Republic 2400 years ago. Then he speaks about eugenics and exposure.

    This post is too silly to even be interesting theoretically.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5
  24. Adam says:

    As Levitt loves for someone to change the question or look at it differently, how about we instead ask “If people must pass a variable set of tests/interviews to become adoptive parents (and for that matter, dogs), should people pass these same requirements to be a natural parent?”

    I have an adopted cousin and after hearing about the battery of test like questions/interviews the parents had to go through to be considered, maybe this should be implemented for would-be parents. I mentioned “dogs” in the above question because I recently wanted a dog and decided against adopting simply because of the lengthy, drawn out, what I think to be ridiculous process to be “approved” to own a dog. I understand shelters and other agencies want to ensure a dog or any animal for that matter is placed in a great home. (I found a breeder and got my dachshund there and am pretty sure she is quite happy with her new home). Anyway, I propose a better argument may be this rather than simply stating that if we need a driver’s license then maybe we should require a parenting license. I agree whole heatedly that children are at the mercy of the home in which they are raised. I have not thought out a way in which this method would be implemented, but I’m hoping I’ll get some feedback from other viewers.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1
  25. Scott says:

    This would set a bad precedent. Being able to pass your genes on to your offspring is a personal right, not a privilege like driving on a public road. Regulating parenting with a license would effectively put it into the same category. Additionally, who gets to decide who gets to have license? There is no wrong way or right way to be a parent even if there are bad and good parents. Deciding what traits one must have to get a license is very subjective. And none of that even begins to address how you will prevent people from having sex, or how you can force someone to put hormones in their bodies, or use any other form of birth control. Humans have existed for more than 100,000 years without the need for a license. There are plenty of people that have “bad” lives that come from loving parents and families, and plenty of people that come from bad parents that turn out to have “good” lives. There is just no correlation that a “bad” life comes from having non-loving parents. There is a correlation of “bad” lives coming from poor and unprivileged parents, but that is something entirely different.

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  26. magic dave says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  27. Enter your name says:

    Being wanted and being loved are not the same thing.

    That a parent wants a baby (perhaps for social status, perhaps to keep the boyfriend involved, perhaps for any number of bad reasons) does not mean that the parent is going to be loving.

    On the other side, I know someone who says she was an unwanted child, but that she was also a loved child. The first belief still causes her pain, but you would declare her to be a success on all the usual metrics: college grad, professional career, plenty of money in the bank, stable marriage, devoted children, grandchildren who adore her, etc. As far as I can tell, the only practical effect of being unwanted is that she is a staunch believer in abortion on demand.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1
  28. Craig O'Brien says:

    I’m sterile, so if I wanted children I would need adoption, artificial insemination, or something along those lines. I’ve talked to people who have adopted kids. The stuff they have to go through in order to get a child is tantamount to requiring a license. If adoptive parents should have to get one, why shouldn’t natural parents?

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7
  29. Rob Sharpe says:

    I think one way to feasibly implement such a license is to limit tax deductions for children. Definitely not popular but feasible.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0
  30. Joel says:

    While the idea sounds good in theory, I suspect the practical considerations are overwhelming. As someone other poster pointed out, it implies mandatory contraceptive shots. This is interesting, since it would eliminate the controversy concerning abortion. I have reservations that staging mother hunts for woman avoiding their contraceptive shots will be popular.

    Although we don’t really know how to identify potential good parents, we could identify people with a high likelihood of being bad parents. Convicted felons, diagnosed schizophrenics, active drug users and alcoholics. Nevertheless I anticipate a negative public reaction if we start sterilizing convicts and crazy people.

    This is consistent with how we handle drivers licenses. We don’t look for good drivers. Just for people who are familiar with traffics laws and can keep their car off the sidewalk.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
  31. Dan says:

    Ha! Yes!

    I’ve been saying this for years – before being allowed to have a child every parent should have to pass a theory and a practical test.

    I’m thinking the practical part of it should probably be doing supermarket shopping with kid in tow.

    If they can make it round without screaming at them, hitting them or generally losing the plot then they’re already doing better than some of the parents you see out there

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3
  32. vince2517 says:

    I can’t believe all these people are giving this idea so much “oxygen”. It is INSANE. It is what they’ve done in China for the last 50 years, how well is that working for them? It’s nuts.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2
  33. Christt says:

    Additionally, I am not a big govt person either but I cannot ignore the inevitable domino effects and affects that establishing a “family rule requirement” if you will, similar to China’s “one child laws” would change not only the in’s and out’s of life and parenting, but how it would solve ao many other issues as well. For example, crime and various types of violence domestically, socio-economic status, lost opportunity costs, not to mention the undesirable generational traits that are consistently passed down (I.e. Drugs, teen pregnancy, products of divorce and alcoholism).

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3
  34. nobody.really says:

    Three points for consideration:

    NEGATIVE EXTERNALITIES: What prompts a Freakonomists to favor intervention in private decisions? Among other factors, we intervene when we face negative externalities – that is, when the person making the decision does not bear the full cost of the decision.

    In this sense, the choice to bear kids is pretty much ALWAYS creates externalities. After all, we expect our kids to outlive us, and thus we can’t really be held accountable for the costs they impose on society.

    POLICIES: I see two kinds of policies: command and control, and after-the-fact sanctions.

    Hard to control reproduction before the fact. People have been trying for years.

    Alternatively, we could try after-the-fact sanctions. To manage the negative externalities related to driving, states typically require drivers to buy insurance (or to self-insure). The same theory would seem to apply to parents as well.

    UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: But what remedy for breach of the duty to acquire child liability insurance? Here the analogy to driving breaks down. People who drive without insurance are subject to fine and potentially incarceration. And generally that’s a viable remedy: The mere fact that you drove (with or without insurance) yesterday does not create a reason for society to let you drive today. In contrast, the fact that you were a parent yesterday DOES create an incentive for society to let you parent today: the world now has one more child that needs parenting. Society has an interest in furthering the child’s nurturance, and this interest will probably be impeded if we impoverish or incarcerate the parents.

    In addition to impoverishing/incarcerating parents, policies designed to manage negative externalities have other predictable consequences. First, they tend to increase the cost of domestic production and therefore reduce the amount produced domestically. Second, they tend to increase imports, especially from areas in which the externalities are not as strictly controlled.

    Ultimately, any effort to design social policy optimally would need to consider aggregate demand for kids. If we’re in a desperate demand for kids (labor), then perhaps the threat of negative externalities does not weigh very heavily on the analysis. Alternatively, if we anticipate a famine, the externalities of each new mouth to feed may trump all other considerations.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  35. Mike MacDonald says:

    A government that licenses birth is the definition of tyranny. I find it disgusting to see how many of you don’t recognize that.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 8
  36. gg says:

    Government is already involved – it’s called Child Protective Services.

    I don’t think you could make it required but you could offer incentives for taking parenting classes and getting a license – some kind of free pre/post natal medical support?

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  37. James says:

    Just for interest, some exerpts from a fairly typical set of dog adoption requirements (Original here: )

    “Level 1 & 2 Dogs:

    Adopters must be 21 years old with valid photo ID, or be 18 with a co-signer.

    All adults in the household must agree on the adoption (written consent is OK).

    Adopters must provide proof of compliance with all applicable laws/regulations in their county of residence (such as vaccine & licensing requirements).

    If adopting a puppy 5 months old or younger, someone must be home to meet its minimum housetraining needs (puppies can not be left alone more than 1 hour longer than their age in months).

    Renters must provide written permission from their landlord to bring the animal home along with acknowledgment that any applicable fees/deposits have been paid.

    Adopters must not have a history of ordinance violations, losing, giving away, selling, or having animals injured or killed by moving vehicles.

    Adopters may be asked to provide non-family references and/or proof of employment or source of income.

    Any application for an animal that will be kept outside or inside/outside will require a home inspection.”

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1
  38. Rob says:

    It seems to me like a licensing process could actually result in LESS government. If we focused governmental scrutiny of parents at the front-end of the process, i.e., before they’ve had children, then we can safely assume that LESS scrutiny will be needed after the child is borne. A sensible application of this idea could actually result in smaller government. The only problem is that there would need to be some way to control who has children. The American public would (rightfully) never stand for having children seized by the government because the parents failed to fill out the proper forms.
    Reversible sterilization, delivered like a vaccine, to children (just the girls would work) before they were allowed to enter school could solve the problem. The reversal process could be price controlled at a level where anyone who is consistently employed could save the money, say right around $2000 in today’s dollars. The price could even be paid back over a few years in the form of a tax-credit. The point is, that people would have to demonstrate both the ability to raise significant sums of money, and a real desire to have children before they would be able to conceive. With something like that, we may not even need licensing.
    The big problem with any such scheme though is that it starts to look an awful lot like eugenics when you try to envision how it might finally, actually be implemented. Just a little tweak here and there and you’ve got yourself a full fledged selective breeding program.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3
  39. Skip says:

    The only reasonable way to determine who will be good parents is the voice of the people who know something about it….other parents. In my opinion, the ideal way to implement this idea would be to have everyone begin infertile (genetic engineering? implants at birth?) and then reverse the process during a sort of coming-of-age ceremony. To be eligible for the ceremony, the subject would be required to obtain approval of their parental fitness from their own parents as well as a select group of well-respected community leaders.

    Pretty much impossible to do without some serious social engineering, possibly new technology, and almost certainly the creation of small, self-governing communities (so that you know enough about the people you’re approving). But it’s a nice idea.

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  40. MattV says:

    What about just using incentives? I understand criminalizing childbearing is a bad idea, there’s no way the punishment wouldn’t worsen whatever situation the child would be born into. What about the government subsidizing the birthing costs for families willing to go through parenting classes / preparational counseling / financial budgeting classes or whatever else might be deemed necessary to ensure a more functional home?
    It wouldn’t prevent children from being born, but it could reduce the number of children born into unfavorable situations. Feasible?

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  41. mfw13 says:

    Maybe posts like this will get policymakers to start focusing on the roles that PARENTS play in determining educational outcomes, instead of just heaping all the responsibility on TEACHERS and the school system.

    Even the best teachers in the world will have a difficult time helping a child who is handicapped by poor parenting, something that policymakers seem to forget when heaping blame on educators for the failures of the public education system.

    After all, whose fault is it when a child does not show up prepared for class? The teacher’s???

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  42. MRB says:

    It’s better a 100 guilty men go free than 1 innocent man suffer, or something like that.

    My mother was 20 when I was born. She told me repeatedly that had she been in the US at the time (she was backpacking through Central America) she would have had an abortion. She sent me to live with my dad – who was in and out of rehab for his crack addiction – for every long holiday. I wouldn’t say she didn’t love me, but I stopped feeling familial love for either of my parents at around age 7.

    Anyhow, although I do struggle with depression issues, I’ve got a Master’s degree, a real job, a life, etc. Honestly considering what I see other kids from my neighborhood and school are up, I feel pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished.

    Although most kids from a situation like mine do end up having pretty crappy lives, they still deserve an opportunity.

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    • Yo Man says:


      There must be something very special about you indeed to have overcome such circumstances. They never knew how fortunate they were to have a child like you. What a shame.

      I totally agree that greatness and goodness can arise from the most trying and tragic of circumstances. It would be a crime against humanity to assume that only those who were wealthy, well-educated, and established could bear children. We’ve all heard the horror stories of just how such children are sometimes raised by nannies, etc.

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  43. Shinobi says:

    I think one simple way to implement this, without licensing, is to promote contraception. The fewer “Surprise” children there are, the more likely those children are to be loved by their parent(s). The new laws on the books about coverage for oral contraceptives is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. Better education, availability of condoms are also necessary for people at a younger age.

    I also think this is excellent information to discuss with individuals who think victims of rape should be forced to carry their child to term.

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    • Enter your name says:

      You’re apparently assuming that the rest of the world is just like you, i.e., above-average income and above-average education. This is a completely false assumption.

      Fact: About half of children born to American teenage mothers were deliberately conceived.

      Fact: The poorer and worse educated the mother, the *more* likely that she deliberately planned the pregnancy.

      That it seems stupid to you for poor and undereducated people to deliberately have children does not change these facts.

      A child deliberately conceived by a young, unmarried, impoverished, undereducated mother is *not* likely to have a better life than a “surprise” baby born to a middle-class, middle-age, college-educated family.

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  44. johnadamsxii says:

    “For You formed my inward parts;
    You covered me in my mother’s womb.
    I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    marvelous are Your works,
    and that my soul knows very well.
    My frame was not hidden from You,
    when I was made in secret,
    and skilfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
    Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
    And in Your book they all were written,
    the days fashioned for me,
    when as yet there were none of them.”

    The dignity of the human being derives from God and not some arbitrary utilitarian standard. You commit a great wrong when you judge the value of another human life.

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    • johnadamsxii says:

      This is in reply to James.

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    • James says:

      Then is it asking too much for that God of yours to provide the child with at least a semi-decent life?

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      • johnadamsxii says:

        That is the point. That you cannot judge another person’s life.

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      • James says:

        But people can judge their own lives, and we can listen to what they have to say about those lives, instead of mindlessly inserting our religious dogma.

        For myself, if I had somehow been given the choice of having been been born into the circumstances that I was, I would have refused. And there are many far worse than me: I at least had reasonable health, intelligence, and the will to at least partially overcome the effects of my genetics and initial environment.

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      • johnadamsxii says:

        I hear you. I hope that for you and me both, our future is better than our past.

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  45. Matt says:

    To all those suggesting there would be no feasible way to implement it, I could imagine some form of withholding tax credits or parental subsidies might do the trick.

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  46. bonnie lynn says:

    Yes, yes, and yes. Every pregnant woman or couple should be required to take some sort of parenting education course, and, if they are unable to satisfy all of the requirements, the child should be put up for adoption by a qualified couple who has. I also think refresher courses should be required at least annually with legal ramifications for non-compliance. I’m a school counselor and every day of my life I see the consequences of what happens when people who have no business raising a child become parents. It saddens and sickens me.

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  47. Paul says:

    We should give classes/a parenting license an incentive such as a tax break or by making classes a pre-requisite for existing child tax breaks . The cost may be offset by the avoidance of future social safety net payouts to under socially developed children.

    We require adoptive parents to take classes to make them aware of the challenges they face…

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  48. James says:

    The world governments must successfully regulate and reduce the currently growing human populations to prevent the increasing demands for water, food, energy, materials, services, and space from pushing the earth beyond its ability to provide a largely livable environment for future generations. We are into a growth phase in populations where we are reducing mortality rates without adding limits to the other end of the formula. The United States has just reached 300 million people in a nation said to best support 200 million. Though growing more slowly, by casual influences or personal responsibility, there are no clear government directives for control and much needed reduction. More food, more energy, more housing, more schools, and more social infrastructures are needed all the time. A capitalistic democracy may initially thrive in a growing population, but pushing this issue to the future is going to leave insurmountable problems.

    The education level and basic literacy of females has a big impact on population growth. Individual choice, coupled with unfettered access to contraception and abortions also has an influence. Using just these causal influences on population growth is some degree of control, and insufficiently effective in the timelines that we need. The world needs aggressive methods like limiting childbirth to trained and licensed “breeders”, tax incentives to sterilized or homosexual couples, and severe limitations on conception and delivery of un-authorized offspring. These may seem harsh, but realize more mouths now, are way too many mouths in the future. Look at the reproduction in any wolf pack, and you will notice that only the dominant female produces pups. This socialized population control naturally had to occur to prevent such a successful species from over producing and outstripping its resources. Before the blunt introduction of Catholicism, many isolated island nations had reproduction tenets that limited conceptions to preserve their resources.

    My own family’s reproductive plan is built upon the concern for my offspring’s impact on this planet. My family plan was “One, Two and Adopt.” I had no compunction about it – my family was going to have a zero effect on the population. After my two children where born, I set about adoption. I went through what I felt was a too extensive screening processes, only to determine that I was not suitable for placement. They proposed the growing adoption service industry, whose payment requirements left me soured. The government would not let me raise their “extra” children. I was irritated by the prospect, how could they disallow me to have another child, when I could obviously just build another of my own? At that point I realized – nobody is regulating my reproduction, and I concluded that society needed conception to be as difficult as adoption, and now I propose that conception should be more even more difficult than adoption. Some people may bear a drudge against the short term over consumption by large inefficient vehicles, most do not look at the long term damage by prolific families.

    Individual governments are making great progress. China and Iran are bringing their populations under some degree of control. Iran went from 4.4 children per female in 1980’s, said to be near physiological maximum, to a projected zero growth in 2010. This is the most abrupt turnaround on the planet. Iran chose this course to reduce excessive demands on infrastructure. Though disrespected as dictator states and repressive regimes, their vision for future populations needs to be emulated and enhanced. The non-oppressive regime of Iceland has strict reproduction laws to attempt to eliminate inbreeding. The United States government has laws that prohibits marriages between second cousins unless sterilized, outlaws incest, and judges have ordered the sterilization of obscenely negligent parents, and has defined at what age, mental capacity and intoxicant levels we can consent to intercourse. These established and socially acceptable legal standards need to expand to limit reproduction in each country. Controlling the population in one country creates an imbalance between neighboring nations and triggers massive migrations, or invasions. The United States with its relatively low population growth, is a magnet for Mexico’s growing population. This created an immigration crisis that will be reduced or even avoided if Mexico’s government adopts strict population controls.

    Many of the materials on this planet are non-renewable. Materials like coal, iron, and oil are fixed amounts, discovered or not, and will eventually be consumed. Even an “answer” energy source like nuclear relies on finite resources like uranium and waste storage space. Viable farmland does have physical limits to how much food that can be produced, sane lodging requires space per person and populations should not overstress social services. Renewable resources are being consumed beyond the earth’s recoverability. Water levels in rivers, lakes and water tables all over the world are dropping and some are drying up. The fishing industry is harvesting more than the ecosystem can replenish. Carbon dioxide is being released at a rate above the earth’s ability to regenerate. Though the harms of a rising CO2 level is being debated the rising rates are irrefutable.

    Seeking a complete whole world livable environment may be untenable to pursue. Enough resources may be one thing – but the other key is distribution. Eliminating starvation at some level is not going to be possible and any plan cannot be criticized for its inability to stop starvation and inequities. To provide a largely livable environment is going to be key, and mass die-offs can be avoided. Rather than leaving our grand, or great-grandchildren a world without resources, this tiny world needs a population model that will allow hundreds of future generations to survive. In America where personal freedoms are respected our increasing demands are leading the world into dangerous hyper consumerism, but controlling individual consumption is nearly pointless with too many individuals. Aiming for a thousand or ten thousand year sustainable consumption of finite resources is going to take humans into a better future, and we must strike some balance between the rights of current occupants of earth, and future occupants of earth.

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  49. Dan says:

    You may not be able to make people obtain a license to *have* a baby, but we can require training before they receive any tax money as a result (anyone remember registering for the Selective Service at 18?). If that means they can’t support the baby, then they didn’t really want it and it should be taken away anyhow.

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  50. Miles Monroe says:

    That’s not the way to do it. Just remove the tax and welfare benefits for having children and watch how things change.

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  51. He'sAnEconomist says:

    I once conceived of a world where the ability to have children was not a nature granted ability. The premise was that human beings were not able to have children at birth, and had to have significant exposures to some specific substance in order to have a functioning reproductive ability: sperm for men, accepting eggs for women. As a result from it’s specificity and eventual privatization, people would naturally create a market where the “birth drug” would be an auto signalling/filter for parents who cared enough to pay the “high” price for the drug. This would also prevent those-too-poor-to-take-care-of-kids-financially individuals from having too many children and placing a strain on the welfare system. Not to mention, if you go through all the processes of buying the drug and having children, you’d probably love your kid more and prevent a lot of the causes of harmed childhoods.

    While it’s a very pragmatic question to ask “is this implementable”, I would argue that this is not important. Sophisticated science will one day evolve to where, to the average human, it is completely indistinguishable from magic. (The iPhone already does that for me personally.) And so with all those beautiful Moore’s cycles happening, the one thing that doesn’t change is the morality of it all.

    As much as I would love to say who could and could not raise children, the system of our constitutional democracy is to not let any man reduce the rights of others as much as feasible. (Hence the inefficacy of Congress: doing no harm is better than a blantant mistake.) While I love my opinion and believe in it, that does not give me the right to determine who should raise kids or not, as thinking like would inevitably encourage elitism and superiority mentality, causing an ideology/class/race war between all people.

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  52. Preemptive Placebo says:

    There are some correlations that can be exploited. For instance, kids who are unloved tend to skip school, fail many classes or get in trouble with the police. These are indicators of parental failure. Not perfect, be close enough.

    If a kid exhibits one of these parental failure markers then their parents lose their child tax credit. If it happens the next year they lose the credit again and are assessed a “bad child tax” of $1500. The next year the tax doubles.

    You cannot force a parent to love their child but you can make them pay for the results of their failure to love. Since these kids have an increased cost to society it would shift some of that cost burden to where it belongs. Like a highway toll or park user fee.

    For the past few decades 50% of pregnancies in the U.S. have been unplanned. The possibility of bringing a bad kid into the world – and the resulting increased costs – might make some of people think twice and ask themselves if they really want that kid after all.

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    • Preemptive Placebo says:

      One more thing.

      The parents can regain the right to the child tax deduction (or reduce the bad child tax) by attending a parenting classes at their own cost. Of course, their child would attend with them.

      It would be similar to the driving-school model, which removes driving infractions from the driver’s record and lowers their car insurance rates.

      Good parents are not penalized with the need to obtain a license. Bad parents are assessed part of the societal cost of their bad parenting and obtain training on how to improve.

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  53. E. Barandiaran says:

    Only elected government officials must be required to have a license. They must prove both their integrity and their ability with relevant and reliable evidence.

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  54. Don says:

    This is a bit of a slippery slope…

    First we decide good parents can have children, it won’t take long before the definition of a good parents is good SES, education, then its intelligence, health….. I think we know where this is going.

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  55. Ludmilla says:

    The idea of some kind of education, practice, and testing on parenting skills has considerable merit. However:

    The core problem with comparing a child license to a drivers license is the “right vs privilege” clause.

    Given variance in parental decisions, including circumcision, sleep and curfew times, home vs public or private schooling, use of leisure time, vaccination, food decisions, etc. ; having a bureaucrat in some agency decide that you were a bad parent, revoke your “license”, and exercise it’s authority to A) Prevent your reproducing , or B) Take away custody rights, could quickly and draconianly become a nightmare.

    A less invasive system might be one based on rewards, rather than punishment by removal of basic rights. For example, a discount on health care, free or discount/upgrade tickets to sporting or community events, membership in clubs or community pool, after passing parental exam.

    On the other hand, in cases where there has been abuse or neglect, especially if the kids have been put into the social services for some reason, having a an available authorized official parental class would give the parents a way to redeem themselves, get on track, give some measurable way to “prove ” that they deserved another chance at parenting, and provide a clear path toward getting custody of their kids back.

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  56. Robert Balderas says:

    It’s fair to assume the mothers that do not love their children because of the stress a child infers on their life., predominantely financial burden. These distress mothers need to the subsidized resources of government to raise child . Perhaps offer welfare programs or better yet increased amount of resources to mothers who display aptitude for children proven through charity or volunteer participation.

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    • James says:

      It might be “fair” to make that assumption, but I don’t believe it is borne out by the evidence. Some mothers (and fathers) may react badly to stress; others are just downright nasty people, and would be just as nasty if they were rich and childless.

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    • AlphaKat says:

      Yes, let’s give people MORE reasons to have children they can’t afford by giving them more money. That will help society.

      I had a friend, she was 25 when she ‘accidently’ got knocked up (she quit taking her birth control because it was annoying). The father was an unemployeed, abusive high school drop out who enjoyed pushing around 8 month pregant women (he was on his 3rd kid before hers was a year old).

      She quit her good paying job to go on welfare and has flat out said to me that she will NOT persue a better job or education because she would lose her benefits and can’t live as well as she does earning an honest wage. She works about 10 hous a week deliverying pizzas and is constantly complaining about how hard it is to make ends meet and how horrible it is that her family won’t send her money and how she never gets to go out anymore. And last I heard STILL found birth control too annoying to bother with.

      Is THAT the type of person you think is deserving of additional government assistance?

      She’s not a bad mother per se, the kid is healthy, clothed, fed and gets proper medical care (on the government’s dime of course) but stastically the kid will likely grow up to be no different, after all, children tend to learn financial habits and morality from their parents.

      Stastically, that kid is screwed and it’s society that will continue to pay the costs; welfare for the mother, food stamps, section 8 housing, medi-cal, etc (not to mention the increased risk the kid will be the same as the mother or become a criminal….or both).

      And I WISH I could say she was the only one I knew. I believe in welfare programs, I really do, but they need reform and limits. Too many women live easy lives by simply popping out more kids, there is zero accountablity and the majority of these kids will lead the same kind of lives.

      Is licensing the answer? Of course not (nor do I think the authors were serious in proposing it). But it brings up an important point, what IS the solution?

      Personally, I think education, free and easy access to birth control (for women AND men), a tightening and reform of welfare programs and accountablity on the half of parents. Hell, maybe even take away tax credits for having children, after all, why should I be punished with higher taxes for NOT popping out kids I can’t remotely be able to care for?

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  57. Heather says:

    All of those things are an active choice. Pregnancies are not always (and possible mostly aren’t) intentional–they are simply a consequence of sex.
    So, how to we prevent those accidental pregnancies? Do we enforce a reversible sterilization at puberty? Do we force abortions if you don’t have your license?
    I understand the sentiment, but I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of the government making reproductive choices for people. I don’t see much difference between this and women being forced to bear children.

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  58. David says:

    Licensing parents is and idea that Hitler would have loved. What better way to weed out “undesirables” from the gene pool?

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  59. Jackie says:

    This would solve many of the world’s problems – childhood obesity, crime, teen pregnancy cycle, poverty – why start a family if you can’t afford to take care of someone else besides yourself? Yes you could pass all of the standards with flying colors and still end up being a terrible parent, but each prevented birth is an opportunity for your life, and other lives around you, to be better. Think of others and prevent a life that might not be worth living.

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    • Marian Kechlibar says:

      The real question is: how many new, serious problems would be introduced?

      Oh, never mind. I just saw: “a life that might not be worth living”. This just cries for Godwin law. This formulation is actually an almost-direct translation of the Nazi euthanasia program.

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      • Jackie says:

        Ok well maybe getting a parental license is not the answer, but are you prepared to continue to pay for these accidental births? Something has to be done. Yes every life is welcome, but these are the kids that follow the same cycle as their parents: they most likely will be poor, barely graduate from high school, have kids at a very young age, have substance abuse problems, and become criminals. That is something that affects all of us. Abortion is not he answer but some kind of prevention is.

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  60. Torg says:

    We can’t require “licenses”, but what we could require is: (1) mandatory prenatal care and education, and (2) mandatory, regular health checkups on the kids. Some European nations are starting to require both. I think it’s worth considering; whether it turns into a good or horrible system depends a lot on the details of how it’s done.

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  61. Al says:

    I don’t know about that,but it should come with an escape clause.

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  62. The Voice of Reason says:

    I think that it makes me sick how hard it is for a responsible couple to adopt a child, while all that it takes to make an unwanted, abused baby is for two red necks to have a night of fun. Social services should crack down more, and make the standards of keeping your child when you have it as strict as it is when you adopt one. When you are considering having a child, you have social services inspect your life, whether or not one or both of the parents have jobs (and good ones), your temperament, your character, and your criminal history. If they deem that you’re sufficient enough, they’ll give you clearance to have a child for the next five years. Now, if you have a child without clearance, they examine your life, and if you’re a great place for the child to be born, you can keep it, but if somebody who wants to adopt can take care of it better than you can, you give it to them.

    Being a parent isn’t about blood, or flesh and bones. It’s about being there for child, and giving the child what it wants and needs. Plus, the thought of somebody coming up and taking your child might be a deterrent to overpopulation and bringing in children that will just be taken away from you.

    This society has gotten so PC that it disregards common sense, and the betterment of society.

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    • Marian Kechlibar says:

      ” it makes me sick how hard it is for a responsible couple to adopt a child”

      And the reason why it is so hard is … ? Well, bleeding heart busybodies, who, in the name of safety and progress, created incredible bureaucratic hoops to jump through, in order to prove that you will be a good parent.

      Is the irony lost on you? Do you realize that your licencing proposal would, step by step, extend the system that makes you sick NOW on the entire nation?

      Or are you thinking that this time, the government will do it right?

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  63. pawnman says:

    I know the Freakonomics guys are all about incentives…What if we didn’t prevent the actual birth of children, but we remove the tax credit unless you become a licensed parent? Provide a financial incentive, then let people make their own choices. This would be much easier to implement, it wouldn’t require invasive medical procedures, or even government regulation. If you don’t want to engage in licensing, then don’t…we just won’t finance your kids.

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    • Ashly Cole says:

      Yes, actually I think that would be perfect because there are far too many people who have children for the financial incentives. (Even if it were only one person, that one person who has a kid for money is too many. And I’m sure no one can debate that there isn’t at least one person in the world who has had a kid for a bigger welfare cheque.)

      That’s no bigger welfare cheque, no tax breaks, no child tax benefit, no child care bonus, nothing without a license. And if you couldn’t look after your kid you would lose it via social services.

      I mean child tax and all that is great but it should be for people who are trying their hardest, working and then it should tie up the loose ends. Welfare should be for people who did work but lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Not for people who just don’t want to work.

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  64. Ashly Cole says:

    Proposed Regulations:

    – Two people must agree together that they would like to be parents together
    – These people would be in a legal civil union (or marriage) for minimum 1-2 years
    – One potential parent, at least, must have full time permanent which they have held for a minimum of 2-5 years
    – Like when getting a passport, someone who has known each person for three years or more should sign a paper verifying their information
    – A character reference for each parent and one for the couple together
    – Basic child care multiple choice quiz (Can you leave a baby unattended? At what age to children begin school? What are the four food groups? How many hours a day does a person/child need physical activity? What do you feed a newborn?)

    – Then it should take about 6 months to get so only people who really want kids will bother.
    – Licenses should have an initial cost similar to driver’s licenses and could be renewed to have additional children
    – Age restrictions would apply.

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  65. ND says:

    It’s not just about “having a mother who loves you,” although I imagine Leavitt would enjoy a world where he did not have to take responsibility for a child and could shift it all to the mother.

    It’s about having two parents who love you and who model healthy realtionship.

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  66. Marian Kechlibar says:

    “Kid” licensing similar to “gun” licensing? Well, how will the inevitable “kid control” look like, given the enormous amount of busybodies, tough-on-crime politicians etc. in modern discourse?

    I can imagine the ghastly consequences.

    Felon? —> No kid licence to you. Regardless which of several thousand silly statutes like “driving into a natural reservation without permit” or “destroying hard disk that may have contained information related to investigation” you broke (read some Radley Balko on for more examples).

    Being on sex offender list? —> No kid licence for you. Regardless of the fact that your conviction was for “indecent exposure” (e.g. urinating in a bush in a dead-end street at the outskirts of the city at 2.a.m.)

    Having too large carbon footprint? —> No kid licence for you.

    Being an illegal immigrant? —> No kid licence for you.

    Having tax debt at the IRS? —> No kid licence for you.


    Not to mention that enforcement of such rules would almost certainly mean either forcible abortions, or forcible adoptions (doubting that? Watch “War on Drugs” getting increasingly crazy). Neo-Malthusian fanatics may be salivating at the prospect of armed guys dragging someone to abortion clinic in the name of General Public Welfare, but normal people?

    Hey, aren’t you having enough of police state already?

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  67. Mick Bauer says:

    To adopt a child (at least up here in Canada), one does essentially have to get a permit. The rigorous process takes about half a year with a social worker writing up a (family resume I call it), courses and well over $10,000.

    If there was anything in our past (say a sibling of an adoptive parent that was incarcerated and not rehabilitated), game over. We would have been denied or at the very least not selected by a birth parent.

    I’ve often thought how beneficial it would be for young parents to HAVE TO go through some of the rigors my wife and I did. It would make a lot of couple think twice about having unprotected sex AND think twice about how they will raise their kids.

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  68. Stephen L says:

    Smells too much like eugenics combined with big brother.

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  69. Rick Louie says:

    I personally think parenting should require a license. Creating a life is a lot more responsibility than driving a car or owning a gun. Freakonomics should collaborate with You seem to have similar writing styles, with fact-based research to support your theories. Otherwise, I’d appreciate more posts on parenting-related topics.

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  70. LLM says:

    I’ve thought this before too, but the problem is classism, racism, differences in culture…it seems that it would only be a short time before this would be abused. However, I could see a system where, if you are having a child in the hospital, you are required to take mandatory parenting classes or be assessed a fine. At the very least then you would be giving people the information on how to be a better parent, it wouldn’t prevent bad parenting but might help it subside.

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  71. Jo Vandewall says:

    The problem with regulating this sort of thing is that no matter how well intentioned you are, no matter how well such a program starts, someone has to administer it and eventually the only ones who will get “licensed” are those deemed “worthy.” It would become a politically correct club.

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  72. Kevin says:

    I thought the big thing about economics and freakonomics in particular was about incentivising! If there is incentive people will do it, and if the disincentive is too hard to see it won’t be enough to stop people from going ahead – this should be a clear case for that to work. Main reason being that people will never go for government absolute say so in who can and cannot be a parent – but surely people who would prefer to have tax breaks rather than kids aren’t going to be ‘willing’ to be good parents, and perhaps people would be willing to get more time off jailterms for getting the snip! etc etc. We need to think about the incentives that would work to best choose those who would make the best parents to go through with it. In Australia the government gives a baby bonus – a few thousand dollars for each bub, and social welfare pays you fortnightly payments for single mothers with more kids – which is a clear incentive for the most potentially bad type of parents to have more kids…..

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  73. Paule says:

    In the movie, Parenthood, after hearing that a boy’s father woke him by putting a cigarette on his skin, Steve Martin said that there should be a license required for parenting

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  74. Alan Smithee says:

    Who shall issue the license? The State where you live or perhaps a new Washington alphabet soup agency? What shall be the requirements? Can members of the American Communist Party get one? How about the American National Socialist Party? Will there be a literacy test? Math?
    Satanists? Randites? Will there be exceptions for the Amish?
    How long will it be until questionaires attempting to make a window in mans soul are required?
    What will happen to those women who get knocked up w/o a license? Prison? Forceable sterilization? To the fetus? Abortion? What if the Man doesn’t find out until after it’s born? State run orphanage/rape factory?
    How long until control of the licenseing process becomes a contested political issue like the state board of educuation in Kansas?

    What about abnormal people? Can the left handed get a license (being all sinsister and the most discriminated against group other than smart people)? How about hemophiliacs? The bald? The ugly? Cogenital heart defects?
    How long until a eugenics party takes over?

    Oh the slippery slope…

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  75. Jacob Shepherd says:

    Ability to do something and how one “feels” about it are not directly related. One can be a fully capable parent, and do the job with no externally discernible difference in ability or function to another, and yet not be emotionally vested in the enterprise itself. Granted, I believe most research shows that where one is emotionally invested then results tend to follow the degree of personal investment, but let’s not omit the outliers.

    For example, in my own life, determining whether or not my mother “loved” me, by conventional terms, is nearly impossible because of my mother’s own battles with addiction and mental illness. I’m sure in her way she loved me, but her emotions certainly never correlated to any defined action that would prove such love. For example, I met her for the first time I can recall when I was 6 1/2, when I moved in with her following my father falling gravely ill. The best that can be said of the following 4 years that I lived with her, before being placed in foster care, was that I survived our persistent state of abuse (sexual and physical), poverty, deprivation, and homelessness.

    In foster care, I cannot define any maternal figure who I can say actually loved me, yet the actions of the various foster mothers I encountered were closer to those that we would define as being loving, at least as far as behaviors leading to desired outcomes are concerned. I didn’t suffer further abuse and the households were poor but no longer defined by systemic poverty.

    It would be interesting to know how “love” in the uncited literature is defined – as the desire/emotion or the behavior/action.

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  76. Ashley says:

    I agree, not all people should be parents. However…

    There is no logical way to implement such a law on a person, a “life clause” if you will. Consider the law that was implemented stating that all sexual positions except missionary were illegal, which was implemented to deter homosexual relations. This clearly wasn’t something that could be regulated and neither is this. How can we regulate the sexual acts of each and every fertile person? And it isn’t feasible, nor is it proper for health to remove a person’s fertility because they don’t have a license. Even if they were to do that, when is it determined that one is fit? Most are able to bear children much sooner than their parental abilities should be assessed. We can’t be forcing them to have abortions or to give up their children. There are a lot of moral issues with that and it would surely cause an uprising among the American people.

    Sure, it’s a great concept, but so ridiculously flawed that even discussing it is a waste of time. I just wasted my time typing this up.

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  77. Tracy Rolling says:

    This is just plain, old-fashioned eugenics. Gross.

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  78. Jon says:

    There are so many requirements in order to adopt a child, yet there are none whatsoever for creating your own.

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  79. newbie82 says:

    As Steven says strip away the morality and look at the economics/logistics of the question. If the data say if you don’t have a mother who loves you, then you will have a hard time in life, how do you solve the problem?

    I don’t think licenses to become a parent is the solution because then you would have a “Brave New World’esk” type situation where people have baby’s illegally under the nose of the government.

    The solution could be removing children from their mothers who don’t want them, and put them up for adoption to mothers who do want them. We already do this, but the system is inefficient and paperwork takes too long.

    Another option easier abortion procedures. While I don’t agree with the idea, some do not believe in this as a moral issue, and it is not my right to decide they can or can’t do this to their body or unborn child. Personally I do think it should be an option, an unborn fetus do not have sentiant thoughts yet, and aside we kill bugs and other animals all the time without moral issue. Why is a few celled organism so much more important than other beings (such as cows, chickens, grasshoppers, spiders, bugs, mammals, etc.)?

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  80. Marlowe says:

    Instead of taking away a freedom by issuing a license, why don’t we take away the governmental and societal incentives for someone to have a child at a very young age, out of wedlock, etc. ?

    Since especially here, we know that people respond to incentives, it only makes sense that this would be a suggestion.

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  81. Marlowe says:

    Is this a trick question? From the guys that stress that people respond to incentives, they’re suggesting licensing?!?

    This would likely create a group of people that have dodged the licensing and will have a ‘unlicensed baby’, which would likely have incredible unintended consequences like a social stigma or need for govt funding, etc… sounds ugly to me.

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  82. Frith Barbat says:

    This was the best hour I’ve listened to on radio in many many months. I thought the show was fabulous. As a mom of one I was quite the obsessed mother, until my son turned 2, and I realized I wasn’t doing him any good by it. It was easy to step back and see that he’s just unfolding by himself. I feel like it’s really my job to set some basic boundaries, provide ethical input and good food, and let him rip.

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  83. scf says:

    Seeing how many people have totalitarian impulses is very frightening. 90%

    I don’t want to live in a world where a bunch of bureaucrats decide whether I can have a child. What a horrible world to live in that would be.

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  84. scf says:

    As for those who say it cannot be implemented, two points:
    1. They already do it – in China. Everyone is forbidden from having a second child.
    2. It’s easy – all you have to do is take away peoples’ children. Or refuse to recognize them as citizens or people – like they do in China.

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  85. Jerry Simpson says:

    You say “I’ll take the parent who doesn’t love me” if it mean you will exist instead of not exist.You are ‘projecting’ a threat to your existence. By that logic, there is no way we will be able to stop overpopulation because people such as yourself will be saying “OOOh my! I might not have existed!” as if that were an actual issue. It isn’t.
    Think of it this way: There are trillions (indeed godzillions) of people who have not “existed” because trillions (or untold godzillions) of sperm and egg did not meet, for various reasons. You phrase it as if this were some kind of tragedy.

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  86. L_Emerson says:

    One way to encourage the birth of wanted babies would be to remove the stigma attached to abortion. That way people who know they will not be good parents, even if it’s only specific to that time in their lives or that partner, would be able to do the responsible action for that scenario.
    (It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that abortion should always be considered a very last resort, and better sexual health education, access to contraception, and frank discussion about sexuality are much better options than having to make what is often a very difficult decision to potentially take a abortive drug or go through invasive surgery to ‘kill’ a fetus.)

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  87. PforBob says:

    With so many children in poverty and unloved children filling our schools and prisons after they had been abused, some sort of licensing is essential. I suggest reading Dr. Jack Westman’s ‘Licensing Parents’ and the parts of books 1, 3, 5 and 9 1n the free e-book series “In Search of Utopia”at for some ideas– some rather far out? And

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  88. Sam says:

    The percentage results add up to 106% and I’m not sure where the error occured but it’s important i find out. If anyone knows respond, please.

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  89. gadfly says:

    Absolutely restrict who can become parent. Tie those tubes or whatever. It is patently absurd that any abusive creep can father a child, which abuses the civil rights of those future abused children–better if they were not born to suffer.

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  90. Nikki says:

    Hold on what right do we have to say someone shouldnt exist

    What if someone had dicided you shouldnt exist then how would you argue about parental license and the population rate and unwanted children.

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  91. Jerry Steinberg says:

    I believe that many — if not most — people are poorly prepared to parent. We require education and testing to qualify for a license to drive a car, shoot a gun, fly a plane, catch a fish, or operate a ham radio. Yet, most people give very little forethought to parenthood, and are given very little, if any, training for one of life’s most demanding and important jobs.

    Many parents are shocked when they discover that their infants don’t keep the same wake-sleep schedule that they’re used to; that their toddlers have a propensity for finding ways to hurt themselves the moment the parent looks the other way; that their teenagers are not the sweet, obedient, gentle, respectful children they used to be; that, despite lectures to the contrary, their teenagers are still quite curious (and cavalier) about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs; that their teenagers have “no fear” when they are behind the wheel of a car, diving into dangerous waters, or committing a crime. They are perplexed about proper nutrition of children of all ages, and discipline seems to frustrate most parents. They are also stunned when they discover how much time, energy and money are required to raise a child properly.

    I am convinced that there should be a “LICENSE TO PARENT.” Courses and tests (both theoretical and practical), created by and given by experienced and successful parents, teachers, nurses, daycare workers, doctors, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, family counsellors, police officers, etc. would have to be taken, with at least 80% needed to pass in order to receive your License To Parent (could you justify any less?). Such courses should be mandatory in every high school in the country. Even though, in a democracy, we can’t really prevent people from making babies irresponsibly, such courses would, at the very least, make people more informed, more responsible, and possibly less likely to make babies without sufficient forethought. It might even convince a few people that parenthood wasn’t right for them, and would save them, their potential children, and society at large from the catastrophic consequences of poor parenting.

    Parenting is a serious responsibility. It is the hardest job in the world to do, yet it’s the easiest job to get — no education, no training, no experience with kids (of any age), no tests, no interviews, no probation period, no periodic evaluations, and hardly any risk of being fired.

    It is the most irrevocable decision one will ever make in one’s life. It should be seen as a privilege, not a right — it shouldn’t be automatic or accidental, and it should certainly not be taken lightly. Children are too precious to be created without making a careful, conscious decision about them. Unfortunately, creating a child takes very little effort and even less intelligence. To be a good parent, however, is to achieve one of the most difficult and important goals of modern life.

    More time should be spent considering children than conceiving them.

    Jerry Steinberg
    Founding Non-Father of NO KIDDING!
    The international social club for childless and childfree couples and singles

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