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UW Researchers Find Parenthood Increases One's Carbon Footprint

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A recent study by University of Wyoming (UW) economists found that parents have a bigger impact on the environment than those without kids.

The researchers compared the consumption patterns of members of the two groups with similar demographics and lifestyles. The study, published in PLOS ONE, a journal published by the Public Library of Science, was conducted by Jason Shogren and Linda Thunstrom from UW and Jonas Nordstrom of the Lund University School of Economics and Management in Sweden.

They found that the addition of children to a household changed the adult's patterns, which increased their personal carbon footprints. In fact, they found that it's 25% higher than nonparents.

"The main groups that we see increase from parenthood is food and transportation. Those are the types of consumption that changed the most in terms of CO2 emissions," said Thunstrom.

She said this is likely due to the time constraints that kids place on a parent.

"It's not just adding more people to the family. It's because their consumption patterns change. You have less time and so you take the path of least resistance in many cases, which is you drive somewhere when you might have walked before or you buy products that have a higher carbon footprint because they're faster and less expensive," said Shogren.

The study was conducted with data collected by Nordstrom. Shogren said that Sweden was the perfect place for their research.

"In general, the Swedes are proud of being green and are proud of being environmental," Shogren said "And so we thought this would be a good example because if parents aren't greener in Sweden, then it's hard to imagine them being greener anywhere else."

Both Shogren and Thunstrom agree that the results were surprising. They expected that having children would cause parents to be more future-oriented than their childless counterparts and this would lead to a decreased carbon footprint.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Ivy Engel, at iengel@uwyo.edu .

Ivy started as a science news intern in the summer of 2019 and has been hooked on broadcast since. She was supported by the Wyoming EPSCoR Summer Science Journalism Internship program. In the spring of 2020, she virtually graduated from the University of Wyoming with a B.S. in biology with minors of journalism and business. She continues to spread her love of science, wildlife, and the outdoors with her stories. When she’s not writing for WPR, she enjoys baking, reading, playing with her dog, and caring for her many plants.
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