Do parents counter-balance the carbon emissions of their children?

Jonas Nordström, Jason F Shogren, Linda Thunström

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (SciVal)


It is well understood that adding to the population increases CO2 emissions. At the same time, having children is a transformative experience, such that it might profoundly change adult (i.e., parents') preferences and consumption. How it might change is, however, unknown. Depending on if becoming a parent makes a person "greener" or "browner," parents may either balance or exacerbate the added CO2 emissions from their children. Parents might think more about the future, compared to childless adults, including risks posed to their children from environmental events like climate change. But parenthood also adds needs and more intensive competition on your scarce time. Carbon-intensive goods can add convenience and help save time, e.g., driving may facilitate being in more places in one day, compared to public transportation or biking. Pre-prepared food that contain red meat may save time and satisfy more household preferences, relative to vegetarian food. We provide the first rigorous test of whether parents are greener or browner than other adults. We create a unique dataset by combining detailed micro data on household expenditures of all expenditure groups particularly important for CO2 emissions (transportation, food, and heating/electricity) with CO2 emissions, and compare emissions from Swedish adults with and without children. We find that parents emit more CO2 than childless adults. Only a small fraction of adults permanently choose not to have children, which means any meaningful self-selection into parenthood based on green preferences is unlikely. Our findings suggest that having children might increase CO2 emissions both by adding to the population and by increasing CO2 emissions from those choosing to have children.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0231105
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Apr 15

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Economics
  • Climate Research
  • Social Psychology


  • Population growth
  • CO2 emissions
  • Sustainable consumption
  • Time constraints
  • Food
  • Transportation


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