Why Have Children?

From Basic Bioethics

Why Have Children?

The Ethical Debate

By Christine Overall

A wide-ranging exploration of whether or not choosing to procreate can be morally justified—and if so, how.





A wide-ranging exploration of whether or not choosing to procreate can be morally justified—and if so, how.

In contemporary Western society, people are more often called upon to justify the choice not to have children than they are to supply reasons for having them. In this book, Christine Overall maintains that the burden of proof should be reversed: that the choice to have children calls for more careful justification and reasoning than the choice not to. Arguing that the choice to have children is not just a prudential or pragmatic decision but one with ethical repercussions, Overall offers a wide-ranging exploration of how we might think systematically and deeply about this fundamental aspect of human life. Writing from a feminist perspective, she also acknowledges the inevitably gendered nature of the decision; the choice has different meanings, implications, and risks for women than it has for men.

After considering a series of ethical approaches to procreation, and finding them inadequate or incomplete, Overall offers instead a novel argument. Exploring the nature of the biological parent-child relationship—which is not only genetic but also psychological, physical, intellectual, and moral—she argues that the formation of that relationship is the best possible reason for choosing to have a child.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262016988 272 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 7 tables


$20.00 T ISBN: 9780262525299 272 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 7 tables


  • Cogently argued and exhaustively researched, Overall's newest will be of particular interest to thoughtful adults engaged in this debate, as well as students and professionals in philosophy and sociology.

    Publishers Weekly

  • …Overall is clearly invested in making her work accessible to a range of readers. Given the current national conversation about reproductive rights, I wish work like Overall's was not only accessible, but required reading.

    Tammy Oler



  • Christine Overall offers a careful investigation into the moral issues surrounding the choice to have a child, demonstrating in the process how wide-ranging those issues really are. She never forgets that it is women who gestate and deliver babies—not machines, not society, and not gender-unspecified reproducers. This book is a useful read not only for people considering parenthood, but for parents who want to think harder about their choices.

    Hilde Lindemann

    Professor of Philosophy, Michigan State University

  • Why Have Children? asks a question of central importance to most human lives. This topic has received little philosophical attention but clearly deserves it. Overall's book, with its clear-headed analysis, consideration of a wide range of factors, and thought-provoking proposals will shape the debate for years to come.

    Amy Mullin

    Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto

  • Christine Overall has taken a topic that had been under-analyzed and produced a book of such exceptional thoroughness and breadth that it is hard to imagine anyone surpassing her for some time to come.

    Dena S. Davis

    Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University

  • Christine Overall's latest book includes everything we've come to expect from her: relentless pursuit of the argument, crystalline prose, and a persistent drive to engage with the toughest and most important questions. At the heart of this conceptually sophisticated and factually rigorous book is a seemingly simple point: babies are borne by women. If you think that, by now, any philosopher writing about reproduction or population ethics would be keenly aware of this fact and its implications, you really need to read Why Have Children?

    James L. Nelson

    Professor of Philosophy, Michigan State University