The Brookings Institution, a leading center-left Washington DC-based think tank, recently released estimates that it now costs more than $300,000 to raise child today. And that is just through high school!
Goodness, massive numbers like that are enough to scare anyone away from parenting, especially young couples considering starting a family.
Brookings calculates that a married, middle-income couple with two children would spend on average $310,605—or $18,271 a year—to raise a child born in 2015 through age 17. This figure is based on U.S. government inflation figures, a massive increase over the $233,610 the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported it cost to raise a child in 2017.
These estimates consider things like housing, food, clothing, health and child-care, even things like haircuts, shoes, sports equipment, dance lessons and myriad other costs. Most media outlets do not report these figures do not apply to all families. Obviously, different families have different financial abilities and standards of living. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated a few years ago that cumulative child-raising costs through 18 years of age could range from $175,000 for low-income families and as high as $372,000 for the highest-income families.
But still the sticker-shock effect of such stories is clear … and deeply unfortunate.
“A lot of people are going to think twice before they have either a first child or a subsequent child because everything is costing more,” Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at Brookings told the Wall Street Journal about their report.
And this thinking twice is what concerns us at Focus on the Family.
The healthy and most productive future of the world is found in children being born and raised by married mothers and fathers. We all need more of this, not less. The fact that fertility is well-below replacement level for nearly every nation on earth is a dramatic and serious problem for humanity’s future – far more pressing than climate change – makes scary estimations like this even more concerning.
Young couples today need all the encouragement and support we can collectively muster toward creating and raising the next generation of humanity, not fear-filled warnings that they will never be able to afford doing so. There are many reasons to take daunting estimates like this with a more realistic and hopeful perspective. Let us consider the most important three.
- Children Are Not Products to Maintain
When we start to consider life-choices like having children based on financial costs, that has us thinking of them as commodities. Cost-benefit and all that. “Will this be something that is worth the effort?” is not really a question we should be asking about other people, much less children. We make such calculations when choosing cars, homes, college, etc. Are they in our budget? Are they a good investment? That is good stewardship.
Children are not like this. They are an intrinsic good and should not be considered an economic problem.
God’s first command to humanity was to go forth, multiply and fill the earth. Have babies and raise them. The earth is not anywhere close to being full. Talk of the danger of overpopulation is a farce. In fact, as just noted, declining population is a very serious threat in most nations.
God has not revoked that first command and the best science is actually showing us it is still very much needed. Nowhere does God tell us to “count the cost” about having children as if they are an economic consideration.
“Sticker shock” for children is not something healthy people should really consider. Most of us know this in our heart, mind and soul, and for good reason.
- Children Are a Blessing, Not a Cost
Yes, having and raising another human being is a highly consequential project. They do need to be feed, clothed, housed, educated and cared for in various ways. Babies and children make demands of us all. But humanity keeps having them because we realize they are not commodities. Creating, raising and caring for children create unspeakable blessings in our lives, even as they also bring certain stresses and challenges. Call it one of the wonderful paradoxes of humanity.
Picture the older husband and wife who raised four children, and those children gave them grandchildren. But at the end of their lives, they remark to each other, “Think of how much money we could have saved if we had no children.” Some parents joke about such things, but it is always a joke. No one wants to be, or even know, people who take such calculations seriously.
So why should younger couples do the same thing on the front-end of family life?
The Wall Street Journal even stated as much in their editorial response to the Brookings report in a piece entitled “Children Are Priceless.” Their editorial board said, “Even ignoring human affection and thinking in the most utilitarian terms, children are assets—to the families who raise them, to the nation in which they are born, and to the world to which they will contribute across their lifetimes.”
- Costs of Children Are Not Fixed
One of the primary problems with such child-cost estimates is that the costs of raising children are not fixed. For anyone. We are all individuals with varying tastes, values, dreams and intentions for our children. Some people raise their children on extremely small budgets, such as those who literally live off the grid. And their kids often turn out great. That’s not for everyone of course, but it can be done. This fact demonstrates that everyone is different and such costs are extremely flexible. More practically, the family raising a child in Orange County, CA or Chicago, IL is going to be very different than a family raising kids in North Dakota or Mississippi.
This brings us to the next point. Estimates of $300,000 costs are very American, suburban measures. They are not human realities. Just think about it.
Humans have been successfully raising healthy, happy children all over the world on relatively very little money. And have been doing so for millennia. Such massive price tags speak to unique social and cultural values more than what children (and their parents) actually require for happiness.
If children actually do cost so much, how has anyone but the most wealthy among us ever had any? But all kinds of people are having and raising wonderful children and doing so quite happily.
Because all of us make different choices about what we want for our families and all parents must do the same based on their own values, dreams, abilities and resources. That’s how life actually works.
Do not let reports of exorbitant costs of having children keep you from experiencing one of the richest blessings in life. Such reports do not accurately reflect how most people actually live their lives.
Photo from Shutterstock.