Are bigger families more environmentally friendly?

Certainly an interesting question, and a point presented in the article "Big Families are the New Green", Simcha Fisher, published on the web site Faith & Family. In the article, the author attempts to argue that bigger families are better for the environment, and in many ways they are, but there are some things that the author conveniently overlooks.

Common cents

Many of what Ms Fisher notes in her article is common sense. When you find your budget feeling like a cantaloupe in a tin can either because of diminished incomes or bigger families, you will naturally search for ways to stretch every dollar you have further.

For example Ms Fisher says that many of the things in her household are used, and because there isn’t the environmental pain of manufacturing something new, she’s being environmentally wise on that mark. This is also an economically common sense way of saving money. Used items tend to be less expensive than new items, and because they don’t take any new resources to deliver to a market, they also don’t diminish the supply of natural resources. Economically this makes sense in the long term as well — reduced demand for new items reduces the market price for new items.

She also points out another common sense observation regarding electricity: more people per light bulb, television, and so on. So while there are a larger number of people in the household, their electricity usage doesn’t go up as quickly as one would necessarily expect.

Larger loads of laundry are more energy efficient, as are larger loads of dishes, and larger meals (to an extent). So for many of the aspects of living, costs aren’t as much of a problem as one could expect.

Diminishing returns

So while these aspects may offset the fact that Ms Fisher and her husband have brought a lot of children into the world, there comes a point where the benefits she cites in her article are reduced by the realities of living.

First is the obvious: food and water. Each mouth needs to be fed, and while a family can certainly look for ways to cut costs by buying food in bulk, saving leftovers, and the like, more food translates into more electricity needed to store perishables and cook it. While larger meals can be more energy efficient to prepare (cooking times do not directly correlate to the amount of food being cooked), all of that food must be kept somehow and larger meals will still require more electricity to prepare.

While you can buy non-perishables such as canned goods in bulk and save a lot of money, the same isn’t true for perishables. Regardless, though, everything has a shelf life, even canned goods. And if you don’t account for shelf life with buying food, you can potentially waste a lot of money instead of save a lot of money. But regardless, an increased demand for food means they are actually increasing their "carbon footprint", and that demand will only go up as each child grows up, though it will eventually go down as children move out of the house (with spikes in demand around the holidays).

Water provides an interesting observation that will not remain constant. First, Ms Fisher says, "Two or three kids fit in a bathtub at a time". While this is true looking at numbers, this will only hold true for a period of time. Once children start growing, you lose this benefit, so unless you’re reusing bath water (not draining the tub between bath rotations), your water usage will go up. Like with food, as the children grow up, your usage will go up.

Along with this are the supplies needed to maintain adequate hygiene: soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, mouthwash, and shampoo (and conditioner). And let’s not forget bathroom tissue and paper towels. The more people you have in one house, the more of these you go through. Hope you can find those bulk savings, and definitely pay attention to expiration dates.

And remember that with any size family, some costs are inescapable and proportional to the size of the household.

"Perfect environmentalists"

Ms Fisher makes the mistake of saying that she’s churning out "perfect environmentalists". For this she can only hope. Once her children grow up and move out of the house, this could easily change.

First, as her children grow up and move out on their own, or go to college, any benefit gained with all of them all living under the same roof goes away. Water and electricity usage will increase as the small "carbon footprint" gets spread out and grows during the years that her children remain single. Eight children under one roof will soon become eight adults under their own roofs. And individual households require their own electricity and water supplies.

Plus unless they move to a smaller home or apartment after all of the children move out (something I find unlikely), their "carbon footprint" will increase as the children move out and establish their own "carbon footprints".

Demand for food, water, and hygienic supplies won’t change significantly, but demand for electricity, gasoline, and the like will. While Ms Fisher wishes to claim herself to be more environmentally friendly than smaller families, this will only hold true for a period of time, something she conveniently overlooks, and a reality she will soon be experiencing when more of her children become teenagers.

Plus because her children lived in a household of tight budgets, conservation, and savings does not mean they will continue to live as such once they have their own incomes and start buying things for themselves, so she is being very presumptuous on that mark.


In short, if you want a large family and can afford it, then have a large family. But don’t at the same time think you’re being more environmentally friendly. In the short term many of Ms Fisher’s assertions may hold true, but I doubt they’ll carry for the long run.