Parents spending more money on children, but does it make for happier, more successful kids?
SANDY — Valerie Simpson picks up her three children from school, all bundled in winter coats, on a biting winter afternoon in Sandy and begins her weekly rally of parental effort known to many as raising kids.
On Wednesdays she must drop off two of her sons, 8 and 10, at Boy Scouts, then take the six-year-old to piano lessons. After piano lessons the youngest goes to a Jr. Jazz basketball league, maybe stopping off at Wendy's for a quick and cheap dinner, while the middle child goes to violin lessons.
It's a frenzied rush many parents are familiar with. Simpson's dedication to her children is typical of parents across the country, and especially in the family orientated demographic found in the Salt Lake valley, but for many, it's a dedication that can be limited by money and time.
While Simpson and her husband are lawyers, they have felt the downturn in the economy. And it hasn't helped their finances that the children have chosen to play the costlier sport of lacrosse.
One reason many decide against having more children, or having children in the first place, is that they are seen as too expensive. Americans spend a lot of time and money on their children and, according to recent data, they are spending more.
A middle-income two-parent American family spends more than $40,000 more on raising their children today than they did in 1960, according to a 2011 report by the Department of Agriculture. Parents can expect to spend $226,920 to raise a child to the age of 17, the study found — and that doesn't include college.
What's more is that for many parents, raising children can take up more time than it once did. A 2004 American Journal of Sociology paper showed, using time diary data, that both mothers and fathers reported spending more time in taking care of their child in the late 1990s than parents did on average in the 1960s. Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University and blogger at the popular site Econlog, notes that "[t]oday's mom spends more time taking care of children than she did in the heyday of the stay-at-home mom" era.
But does raising kids really have to be so much more expensive than it was a few generations ago? Caplan argues that children can be cheaper than you think. In his new book, "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think," parents can find ways to cut back on unnecessary money, time and stress that can come with raising children.
He suggests, for example, that activities that both children and parents hate doing may have little effect on long-term development and can therefore be dropped guiltlessly.
Think painful and costly private school and tutoring is a waste of time? It probably is. Does your child hate being dragged to karate class? Stop doing it.
"[Activities you and your child hate] are big wastes of money and not doing much good," Caplan says.
His book is based off research from twin and adoption studies which, by looking at twins or siblings split at birth and adopted to different parents, can isolate the parent's effect on the child's development — as opposed to the effect of genetics. And the results are surprising.
For a quick rundown, according to these studies, parents have little to no effect on a child's overall health to the sort of school they'll get in to.
Caplan allows that there is a difference between raising your child in Salt Lake City and a war zone. But the studies hold for children raised in rich Western countries like the United States or Sweden. While parental involvement often has short-term effects, they fade over time. In the long-run nature often outpreforms nurture.
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