Kathy Petersen’s Blog

It depends on your point of view

Posted in frugal by Kathy on March 15, 2009

On my other blog, I previously mentioned the Jim Bob & Michelle Duggar from Arkansas who currently have 18 children (the oldest is married; and the youngest just a couple of months old; they will continue to have children as long as possible). Anyway, I got a comment from someone who said she believes the Duggars have a right to have that many children, but thinks that they are “selfish” to use “more than their share of the earth’s resources.”

I thought about that sentence a lot. Certainly a family with 17 children uses more resources than a family with two or four children; but I think it deserves a closer to look to see if they are really using “more than their share” of resources. First, it assumes that there are limited resources, rather than renewable resources, which I think is a faulty assumption. Most of the resources used are for things like water, food, oxygen, and clothing — all of which are renewable and/or reusable resources.

Since the Duggars are frugal (living within their income and paying cash for everything), I would assume that a large portion of their clothing comes second-hand, and/or is all passed down through all the children until it wears out. Families with just a few children usually do not wear out clothes, so may end up throwing them away. Which of these processes uses more resources — brand new clothes for each child, or handing down clothes through 5 or more children?

We are not facing a water, food, or oxygen shortage — and even if we were, each human should be able to get a share of these necessities, regardless of how many siblings he or she had. I know that some people think that we are overpopulating the planet, but that is a matter of opinion, and I’ve read numerous times that we actually have more than enough resources — that all humans could stand in the state of Texas, with a three-foot “body buffer zone”; and our country could produce enough grain to feed the world — or something like that. Anyway, the problem with starvation is not that there is no food that could be given these people, but usually that food that is supposed to be used to feed the hungry is held in warehouses by despots who want to starve people into submission.

But, let’s look at the per capita use of resources, to see if the Duggars are using more than their share. Somehow, I daresay that this family of 18 (counting the parents and only 16 of the children, since one is a newborn and one is out of the house and on his own) uses fewer resources than 6 families with 3 members; or than 4 families with two parents and two adults, plus an extra couple of kids thrown in somewhere. By the same principle that school districts use to justify the use of the large school buses, rather than using minivans or cars to transport a large number of people at once, the case could easily be made that all the Duggars in one van uses the same amount of resources as two (or possibly fewer) family minivans or other large vehicle (such as an Explorer or Suburban). My sister has a 7-passenger van (not a minivan, but the larger kind), which she drives everywhere, even when she’s alone because it is her vehicle, while her husband drives a 4-seater truck back and forth to work. They have two children. A family in our church which also consists of father, mother and two children, has a Suburban which they sometimes use for just the four of them. Somehow, I bet that these two vehicles (which typically only carry 4 people each at a time) use about the same amount of fuel to go the same distance as the Duggars’ family van. If this is true, then they move the same number of people the same distance for half the cost. Even if I’m wrong, and it’s not half as cheap, I really doubt it’s more expensive for the Duggars’ transportation expenses than the average per capita transportation cost times 18.

The same thing applies to food and water. I would be surprised to find that the Duggars’ per capita food budget is more than the average per capita national food budget — and assume it to be far less, because of all the frugal methods they employ, such as buying in bulk and getting a great price.

But the real thing that gets me about comments like that, is that it focuses attention on people who are living frugally, and the assumption is made that they are wasting resources, while little or no attention is given to people who have small families but are extremely wasteful. For some reason, Paris Hilton comes to mind. I wonder how much she spends on food. She’s skinny as a rail, so she ought not eat much, but I bet it’s very expensive, and also that she’s very wasteful. Also, she probably spends thousands and thousands of dollars on her clothes every year, if not every season. It wouldn’t surprise me if what she spends — and a lot of other super-wealthy people too — I’m not just picking on poor little ol’ Paris — for food, clothing, housing, transportation, etc. is more than the entire Duggar family’s. But she’s just one person.

Now, she’s got the right to use her money however she wants; and as far as “resources” go, a cup of water is the same whether she drinks it or one of the others, even if hers costs $10 a bottle. The actual “resource” of water is the same. But if she flies a private jet every other month to Europe or Australia or even just cross-country, I would guess that she uses more fuel in a month, or at least in half a year, than the entire Duggar family does in a full year. But nobody’s getting on Paris Hilton for wasting that much in fuel. And let’s not even get into the topic of upkeep of her various mansions. I can only imagine how much electricity it takes to keep a 40,000 square-foot house cooled.

So, before people talk about large families consuming “more than their fair share of resources,” I want them to talk first about the wasteful spending of the average small family, or even of single people, who may spend more per capita than most people spend for their whole family.

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4 Responses

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  1. Suzanne said, on March 15, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    I like your article. I agree and have been dismayed by those who say this family is selfish cause they have so many kids. I do believe that most resources are renewable.

  2. Janelle said, on March 16, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    I love this post and look forward to many more! I have always been annoyed at people who make those kinds of comments, but now I have some thoughts to respond with. I think Paris Hilton spends $100 per water bottle, not $10. But yes, you are right – I know many small family that are extremely wastful (big house, too many cars, too much waste, etc) while I also know many large families that live in small homes, reuse resources, buy food in bulk (reducing packaging), etc. I think I may blog about this sometime…

  3. Jen said, on March 19, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Hi! First time on your blog…I agree with your statements. I have a large family-all boys, which is quite rare. I drive a 12-passenger. We only use it when we need it (1-2 times per/week). My husband drives something much smaller for work, or he uses the company vehicle. We rent a very modest home-even by ‘small’ family standards, but it supplies our needs…we’re saving up for a larger home-kids grow-especially boys. 🙂 We reduce our ecological footprint by composting, gardening, recycling, passing down clothing…the list goes on and on. We buy almost everything second hand (we’re blessed to live in an area where there is a string of great thrift shops w/gently used items), except for underware, new shoes and some other things. My boys love each and every one of their siblings-they will tell you. We save money on trips and outings often-my boys have a built in basketball team (or anyother sports team). There are ways around a lot of the issues that creep up-whether a family is small or large. You just have to do the math, research your options and be willing to get your hands dirty.

  4. Leah said, on April 24, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    They Duggars have addressed this issue on their show, that while they do have a large family they do all the can to use less energy, water (short showers for everyone), food, buy everything second hand, etc. They did the calculations and while I can’t remember exactly, they found they use resources that amounts to a much smaller family. I admire them a lot in how they live debt free and so close knit!

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