I've mentioned this a couple of times in passing, but we're in the market for a minivan. What choice do we really have? We're about to have three kids in car seats, and here's the crazy thing: you cannot fit three car seats in the back of a regular car.
You can barely fit two! I have a Subaru Outback, which I love, and it's actually one of the longest cars out there. That means it has more backseat room than most. But already, our two car seats are comically jammed and wedged in back there. Leave the middle seat open, and you can't fit a third adult--and not taking grandma along is out of the question. So we shove the car seats side-by-side, leaving both at a slight tilt, and the passenger seat unable to sit back at a normal angle. It's uncomfortable for everyone. "Suboptimal," as Jim Cramer likes to say. Adding a third is literally impossible.
The other day, as I was squeezing the little one into his seat and bumping his head along the way for the upteenth time, I turned to my mom in frustration. "How did you guys do this all the time??" I asked. My siblings and I are only three years apart in total, and our cars growing up were certainly no bigger than my Outback. "I don't remember it being like this," she said. I, the oldest, was apparently in some kind of "bucket" seat that was more manageable than today's contraptions, and not for as many years.
It's not a small thing that multiple car seats require a bigger car these days. The car is most people's second biggest expense after their house or apartment. That makes it a pretty big consideration in having kids. And it turns out, people are, in fact, taking it into account.
A new paper, "Car Seats as Contraception," (h/t Catherine Pakaluk) finds that the laws passed since the '70s raising the car seat age have resulted in fewer births of third kids. Specifically, the probability of having kid three in a given year when two are already in car seats falls by 0.7 percentage-points. That translates to 8,000 fewer births each year, or 145,000 fewer births overall since 1980, against an estimated 57 lives saved each year by the car seats.
One suggestions is to roll back the car seat age by a year, to age four. But it's still hard for parents--and society--to stomach the additional risk. So we're minivan shopping. Granted, we could get one of the monster SUVs with a third row instead, but I can't help feeling a little ridiculous driving one of those around, not to mention trying to park it. (And they're expensive!) That said, the minivan is a little ridiculous-looking, too.
So here's my plea to carmakers: hook us up with a sweeter ride. Elon Musk, want to bring me over to the electric vehicle dark side? Simply roll out a baller three-car-seat model. GM, you're reviving the Hummer? Great! Just in time. Whatever a Sport Utility Truck (SUT) is, I'll sign up tomorrow if it can comfortably sport three car seats plus room for a stroller and a few more passengers. And not cost a fortune.
You know what? I'd even support tax incentives for vehicles that fit three-plus car seats. You could phase 'em out over $50,000 per car or for high earners. Side note to entrepreneurs: maybe there's also a better way to make car seats for a more elegant fit. But we can't build a society that doesn't "fit" more than two kids, and then lament our plunging birth rate.
See you at 1 p.m...