Parenthood Causes People to Emit More Carbon Pollution: Economists
Thu, April 22, 2021

Parenthood Causes People to Emit More Carbon Pollution: Economists


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Two-households with kids emit more than 25% more carbon dioxide than two-adult households with no children, new research by the University of Wyoming economists has found.


Households with children v. childless households

The economists, in collaboration with a colleague from Sweden, revealed in their study titled “Do parents counter-balance the carbon emissions of their children?” that parenthood is a transformative experience in the sense that adults change their consumption and preferences.

University of Wyoming College of Business economist Jason Shogren said that the presumption is that parenthood causes parents to be greener because they tend to focus more on the future. However, their study reveals otherwise. When analyzing the expenditure of households with children versus childless households, they found that convenience becomes more important for houses with children. Parents have to be in more than one place within 24 hours, which means they are often time-constrained.

The tendency is that parents drive using their vehicles rather than bicycling or using public transportation. They also have to feed more than one person so they tend to rely on pre-prepared foods, but these very foods are carbon-intensive. Parents may save time and it adds to their convenience but it emits more carbon pollution.


Co2 in a home

Carbon dioxide (Co2) is a colorless gas with a density. At low levels, it is harmless to humans as it keeps the planet warm and comfy but elevated values can lead to health problems, such as breathing difficulties, fatigue, and headaches. The more Co2 in the environment, the warmer the climate is.

Outdoors, human activities that generate carbon pollution include land clearing, deforestation, and burning fossil fuels. One of the largest sources of indoor Co2 is our bodies. As we breathe, the cells take in oxygen to complete the cellular respiration process but it is also during this process that chemical reactions produce carbon dioxide. This is why carbon dioxide will also be dispersed into the air as we exhale. Other sources of indoor Co2 are home cooking and poor ventilation.

Between June to July 2018, more than 1,000 respondents in France were surveyed by database company Statista. It shows that the main sources of pollution in the home according to Parisians are household products (57%), tobacco (57%), wood heating (31%), burning incense (23%), burning candles (19%), and cooking food (11%).




Econometric specification

In the University of Wyoming study, economists combined the data on household expenditures with carbon dioxide emissions to generate micro-level data. Household characteristics they used include the number of adults living in a household, the number of children, disposable income level, age of household members, size of housing in square meters, and type of housing, whether it be an apartment, house, or ranch.

Then, they calculate the quantities consumed by dividing the prices of expenditure items that comprise the majority of household carbon dioxide emissions. They found that compared to adults, kids have less preference for food that generates low carbon dioxide emissions, such as fish and vegetables. Households with kids also have a lower budget share for fish compared to households with kids. Authors believe that this is a possible explanation for why households would prefer to eat foods that will be agreeable to both children and adults. Parents may also likely want to avoid the stress linked with repeatedly offering their kids foods that they would highly reject.


C02 emissions linked to cheese and milk consumption

Aside from this, the economists found “weak evidence” that emissions are higher in households with kids due to cheese and milk consumption. For transportation, they found that two adult-households with no children emit 397.55 kg less of Co2 every year compared to households with children. A household with children emits 1,376.32 kg CO2 annually from transportation/gasoline.

For heating and electricity, the authors brought up the hypothesis that adult carbon dioxide emissions are just the same between two kinds of households compared. The authors mentioned the limitations of their study though, such as that they focused on Swedish households and the result may be different in other Western countries.

They concluded with the importance of innovations in creating meat substitutes that will taste like meat so that it will be appealing to families with children.


Household carbon footprint, by income level

The US consumer expenditure survey program, which provides data on demographic characteristics, income, and expenditures of consumers in the US, shows that more than 20% of all US emissions are attributed directly to household consumption. Furthermore, carbon footprint increases along with income. It was found that households with less than US$30,000 disposable income annually comprise 25.7% of the total population in the country but were only responsible for 19.3% of the total carbon footprint in US households.  

Those with more than $10,000 annual household income were responsible for about one-third of US household carbon footprint.

University of Essex School of Biological Sciences’ Professor Ian Colbeck, who is also an indoor air quality expert, offered few tips to limit people’s exposure to indoor air pollution. For instance, people who may need to smoke should do it as far away from their home or any open windows of the house to prevent the smoke from seeping back inside the house.

Avoid rugs to prevent harmful particles or allergenic from building up. Instead, what he advised is to use a microfiber mop when cleaning floors. To also prevent debris and dirt from entering the home, put a doormat outside the front door and encourage the family to not bring their shoes inside. Whenever the family cooks, use an extractor fan to protect the home from the harmful No2 level that is caused by gas cooking.

Putting houseplants indoors will also improve air quality effectively and naturally. Some of these plants include peace lily, bamboo palm, mother-in-law’s tongue, philodendron, and English ivy. These plants work well if the house has an air indoor purification system that captures even the smallest pollutants and allergens from the air.  Professor Colbeck is not a part of the University of Wyoming study.

With global warming becoming a hot topic, parents play an important role in teaching their kids to respect the environment by modeling earth-friendly practices. They can also encourage their kids to limit their waste and go green in their daily activities.