Why do dictators have so many kids?

Eric Barker flags an interesting paper from a few years back looking into whether autocratic leaders have more children: Economists have come to learn that politics matters. But survival matters the most to those involved in politics. We provide a theory whereby non-benevolent, non-democratic leaders increase their expected family size to raise the likelihood that ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images

Eric Barker flags an interesting paper from a few years back looking into whether autocratic leaders have more children:

Eric Barker flags an interesting paper from a few years back looking into whether autocratic leaders have more children:

Economists have come to learn that politics matters. But survival matters the most to those involved in politics. We provide a theory whereby non-benevolent, non-democratic leaders increase their expected family size to raise the likelihood that a child will be a match at continuing the regime’s survival. As a consequence, having a larger family size raises the non-democratic leader’s expected rents that they can exploit from the citizenry. In contrast, democratic leaders have a lower desire to appropriate rents from the citizenry, and therefore have a diminished desire to have additional children for these purposes. We construct a data set of the number of children of country leaders as of August 31, 2005. We find that in a sample of 221 country leaders, fully non-democratic leaders have approximately 1.5–2.5 more actual children as compared to if they are fully democratic.

The authors, Dustin Beckett of the Federal Reserve and Gregory Hess of Claremont McKenna, find evidence to support the rent-seeking theory but say more research is needed to prove that dictators have more kids because they’re seeking to perpetuate a family regime. 

In some sense, people who are forced to live under ruling families should probably hope that their dictators have lots of kids for the simple reason that at least a couple of them are boudn to be screw-ups and it’s better for everyone if there’s a backup plan. For example, whatever you think of Saif Qaddafi, Libyans are probably better off with the Davos-schmoozing LSE PH.D. than his brother Hannibal, whose tastes run more toward drunk driving and aggravated assault.

Or maybe they just want more people to shop for

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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