The Producer Reproducer Ratio

Math – for many, mere mention of the subject sends chills down the spine. However, in the case of the Producer Reproducer Ratio, it isn’t the math that’s scary – it’s the implications.

The Producer Reproducer Ratio or, PRR, is a concept I came up with a few years ago in an effort to explain a point to a friend regarding the economics of childrearing. I derived the notion from my mother’s oft repeated comment in which she said “The nine months it takes to get ‘em here is easy, it’s the eighteen years it takes to raise ‘em that’s hard.” Having had six children of her own, I consider her a bit of an authority on the subject.

The PRR explains a fundamental concept of the economics of childrearing by converting my mother’s wisdom into a social mathematical principle. Every human being requires a certain amount of resources (food, clothing, shelter, medical care, etc.) during his or her lifetime. It is the responsibility of parents to provide these resources for their child until such time as that person can provide for himself or herself. The problem, of course, is that many people who are biologically capable of reproducing are unable or unwilling to produce the resources the child requires, thus shifting that burden to someone else.

Now comes the math (try not to panic): say a set of parents reproduces (R) one child (R = 1) and the parents are required to produce (P) the total amount of resources that one child requires for the first 18 years of life (P = 1). As long as the parents produce the necessary amount of resources for that child, P = R or, expressed as a ratio, 1:1. And that’s the way it works in most families. However, problems arise for instance, when the parents only produce half the resources the child needs, resulting in a change in the ratio to 0.5:1. In this case, someone other than the parents must provide the remaining resources. Occasionally, these parents are able to turn to other family members or friends but, all too often, the burden of making up the shortfall is passed along to the taxpayers.

Consider a more extreme example: say a set of parents has three children (R = 3) with the means or motivation to provide for only one of them (P =1) resulting in a PRR of 1:3. The bigger the R, the bigger the problem. As long as P = R, no shortage of necessary resources exists – parents are pulling their weight and properly providing for their children. When R exceeds P, shortages of resources arise and either the parents receive help from outside sources or the child goes lacking.

An alarming trend in our society is the growing rate at which R is exceeding P. Too many parents, usually young, poorly educated, often unmarried and ill-equipped to alter their own life circumstances, are having children with little or no regard for the provision of their most basic needs. Most assume the state will provide for their children. And why wouldn’t they assume such given the acculturation of entitlement to which so many of today’s young people have been exposed?

The PRR may remind us of a dull, dry, uninteresting mathematical formula we were required to learn in high school only to selectively forget the minute we graduated. In truth, it is a numerical reflection of an alarming social trend plaguing modern America. The choice to have a child is the most monumental decision a person can make in his or her lifetime. Regrettably, the biology of reproduction is all too often unaccompanied by the motivation for resource production. No decent person wants to see a child go lacking the essentials of everyday life. We recognize, after all, that the child isn’t at fault. However, by continuing to send the message that it’s okay to have children without consideration of, or provision for, their needs, we merely encourage the behavior.

Further, those who so flippantly disregard the daily needs of their children often fall far short in other areas of effective parenting as well. For the sake of the children, it is important to send the message that having them is acceptable only in the context of being prepared to properly care for them. Merely loving a child isn’t enough. Being a good parent is hard and, from time to time, even requires learning a little math beginning with the Producer Reproducer Ratio.

Posted in Contributors.

Spencer Price, MD, MBA

Spencer Price grew up on a farm near Thomaston, Georgia. A published author, Spencer is a former newspaper staff writer and has written numerous magazine articles. Currently, his conservative political column appears weekly in several Georgia newspapers.