Nurture Over Nature: Study Finds Becoming A Parent Leads To Larger Carbon Footprint

LARAMIE, Wyo. — Even the most environmentally conscious among us may end up being more wasteful once they become parents, according to a new study. More and more people are doing their best these days to reduce their carbon footprint, but once a baby is added to the mix, it becomes much more difficult to always choose the eco-friendly route instead of a more convenient, albeit wasteful, option.

Researchers from the University of Wyoming, in collaboration with Lund University in Sweden, have found that a two-adult household with children emits over 25% more carbon dioxide than a two-adult household without kids.

“While having children makes people focus more on the future and, presumably, care more about the environment, our study suggests that parenthood does not cause people to become ‘greener,'” the study’s co-authors, UW’s Jason Shogren and Linda Thunstrom, say in a release. “In fact, the difference in CO2 emissions between parents and non-parents is substantial, and that’s primarily because of increased transportation and food consumption changes.”

To come to their conclusions researchers analyzed purchases among Swedish households. They discovered that households including children typically consume much more goods and services that emit CO2 than households with just two adults. Examples include buying more meat and gasoline.

The study’s authors theorize that parents just don’t have enough time to be as environmentally conscious as perhaps they once were, and convenience becomes a bigger factor in day-to-day life.

“Parents may need to be in more places in one day,” the researchers write. “They also need to feed more people. Eating more pre-prepared, red meat carbon-intensive meals may add convenience and save time.”


The fact that this was observed in Sweden of all places is especially interesting. Sweden as a nation is among the most environmentally conscious anywhere in the world; the vast majority of Swedes believe that climate change is real and the government has already instituted CO2 taxes. Furthermore, Swedish parents are provided with financial support to help with parenting expenses, generous parental leave options, subsidized daycare, and a legal right to reduced working hours as a parent.

“If we’re finding these results in Sweden, it’s pretty safe to assume that the disparity in carbon footprints between parents and nonparents is even bigger in most other Western countries,” Thunstrom says.

Thunstrom went on to add that Sweden features one of the highest female labor participation rates on the planet. This may play into why many Swedish parents feel they don’t have as much time to keep carbon emissions in mind on a day-to-day basis.

Becoming a parent can transform a person — he or she thinks more about the future and worries about future risks imposed on their children and progeny,” Shogren concludes. “But, while having children might be transformational, our results suggest that parents’ concerns about climate change do not cause them to be ‘greener’ than non-parent adults.”

The study is published in PLOS ONE. 

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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