Opening Lines: Does money affect children's outcomes

The London School of Economics this week published a cheerful report under the title Does Money Affect Children’s Outcomes? An Update.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the update might only comprise one word — ‘yes’.

Reviewing 61 studies from OECD countries, including Australia and the UK, the study found direct correlation between money — or lack thereof — and a child’s outcome in life, including their cognitive development.

The report is great news for anyone of reasonable income who has a sensible number of children — a figure between zero and two — but for those of us who opted to cross the Rubicon into legally needing a people carrier, the report was a further confirmation that we have too many children.

In much the same way that a human year is seven dog years, having a litter of four children today is like having 12 or 16 back in the 1950s heyday of Catholic Ireland.

While then it was seen as a blessing from God to have more children than you needed or wanted, having a large family today means you lack a fundamental grasp of either biology or economics.

When I tell people I have four children, I usually have to add ‘...with the same person’, as I worry it might make me seem like some feckless Johnny Appleseed, wandering the hills of Munster, casting my wild oats about in every direction. When a friend of mine heard my wife was pregnant for the fourth time, he declared ‘Dear God man, she isn’t a clown car, you know’.

But here we are, with four children aged from 14 to two-and-a-half, arranging to sit down together for a meal once a fortnight, an event that usually gets cancelled, as one or the other of us dozes off halfway through.

Discussion of our children with other couples is along the lines of a movie character back from a tour of duty in Vietnam, complete with thousand-yard stare, whispering to themselves about the filth and horror they have witnessed.

Not that we get to meet up with friends much, as going anywhere with four children is like Hannibal mobilising his armies to cross the Alps.

And, of course, there is no babysitter equipped to handle four children, as not even the fastest Formula One car can shift through the gears at the rate you need to cope with a toddler, a teen, and two vaguely manageable ones in between whose names you sometimes forget.

Even a trip to the supermarket — which is now classified as a ‘day out’ for the children — goes off like the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan: chaos, screaming, someone missing a teddy.

I charge up the cereal aisle in Tesco, like I am storming a gun turret, because I have to get six weeks worth of food in 15 minutes, before one or all of the children go off like a heavy artillery shell.

Then, when one of them finally does snap and realises they can do what they want and you can’t shout at them, you have to endure those looks from people who have forgotten what it was like to have children; people who have used the Mandela effect to convince themselves that their children were better-behaved than yours.

Before I had four children, I used to think the parents in Home Alone should have social services called on them. Now, I watch it and think ‘this is funny, because it will quite possibly happen to me some day’.

Not that we will be vacationing anywhere anytime soon — I couldn’t inflict us on air passengers. They are tense enough these days, without six screaming humans creating an atmosphere that makes United 93 look like The Love Boat.

Of course, holidays aren’t even an option with four children, because, unless you are some sort of Celtic Tiger developer or Aztec god, you won’t have the money.

My only hope is that when my children grow up, they can say, ‘well, we didn’t have much, but we had each other’. It will be a comfort to me when they stick me in the cheapest nursing home they can find.

However bleak the picture painted by the LSE report, there is hope: A conference in the UK, late last year, found that most human misery is due not to economic factors, but to failed relationships and physical and mental illness, so while my children won’t get iPads, hugs are free, and I can hug the goddam hell out of them.

And the organisation behind the conference that made this reassuring announcement? The London School Of Economics.


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