Linda & Richard Eyre: Does a child really cost that much?
Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press
This newspaper published an article last week by Lois M. Collins called “Ouch! The cost of raising a child has risen again.” We liked the article, but didn’t like the estimate it quoted.
The article cited a U.S. Department of Agriculture “new annual estimate on what a middle-income family with a child born in 2012 can expect to spend.”
The estimate was $241,080, or an inflation-adjusted $301,970, to raise a child to age 17. The estimates did not include college or other costs after age 17.
So young couples read that and say to themselves, “Wow, if we add the cost of college into that it will cost us half a million dollars to raise a child! We can’t afford it. We'd better wait.”
Well, here is our advice to you: Don’t believe it for a minute. And don’t make your decisions based on these kind of bogus estimates.
Our problem is not with Collins, who wrote a thorough article and included the balanced view that children bring joy and satisfaction to their parents that may be worth much more than their cost. Our problem is with the study itself and with similar studies that parents see regularly. These estimates make children seem so expensive that, at best, they discourage parents and, at worst, make people decide not to marry or have a family at all.
But when you look a little deeper, you find that the Department of Agriculture estimate suggests that 30 percent of the total is for housing — more than $90,000 to house a child for 17 years.
Well, give us a break; those parents would still have their housing costs whether or not a child was in the house. Few parents would spend nearly a hundred thousand dollars to build a new wing on their house every time they have a baby.
Another big chunk of the total estimate is food, and another is transportation. Taking a percentage of what the family spends on these things likely arrives at these estimates. For example, if a family of three spends $9,000 a year on food and $3,000 a year on transportation, the assumption is that the child accounts for one-third of that. But would they really travel less without the child? And would they really spend $3,000 less on food if they didn’t have the child?
The fact is that most people would probably spend more extravagantly if they didn’t have children — and travel more, and live more lavishly. Children may actually make families’ habits more conservative and save them money.
And what about the fact that the child might actually do some work, too — might help support himself, might help around the house, might babysit a little sister, might actually buy some of her own clothes, might have a job now and then?
And what about the statistics that show that people with children earn more money, save more money and generally do better financially than those without kids?
And what about the likelihood that the child might end up taking care of his parents someday rather than the other way around? Maybe having a child is the best economic investment most of us ever make.
Our point is that we ought to do more to encourage young couples to have children, not discourage them. And these bogus, wrong-headed estimates of the huge cost of raising a child frighten a lot of people out of the thing that could give them the greatest joy, the most stability and the best life of any decision they could make — namely, having a child, or having another child.
We think a child should be thought of as an asset, not a liability.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."
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