Kids Cost A Lot!

The government says “a middle-income family with a child born last year will spend about $221,000 raising that child through age 17.”  Of course, that’s an average; it varies based on income: “A two-parent family that earns less than $57,000 annually will spend about $160,000 on a child from birth through high school. Those with an income between $57,000 and $99,000 spend about $221,000 and those with higher incomes are expected to spend roughly $367,000 through age 17.”

AllahPundit jokes that this is “Another reason not to have kids.”  But, really, $17,000 a year isn’t all that bad; it’s less than I’d have guessed, really. And, as Stuart Buck points out, the calculation puts a lot of costs on the kid that may or may not exist:

If you live in a small apartment, and having children makes you decide to move to an house that costs 3 times as much, then that’s an expense of raising children. But if you already live in a house and having a child merely means using the spare bedroom or putting two kids in a bedroom, then the marginal cost of having a child is much, much lower. Also: if you have one child, and buy new clothes and shoes for every age, that’s a lot of expense. But if you have a second child who can wear the same clothes and shoes as hand-me-downs, the marginal cost drops much lower again.

Quite right.  My wife and I had our first child seven months ago and didn’t need to move because we already had three bedrooms; we just converted one into a nursery/kid’s room.

Moreover, the economic cost of raising a kid is, for most middle class families, not the major factor. Most of us can easily afford to feed, house, and educate our kids.  The main cost is the trade-off in time, freedom, sleep and so forth that comes with the new responsibility.

Those are things we anticipated and accepted when we decided to have a kid.  And well worth the sacrifice.  But they’re a much bigger change than the marginal cost of an extra mouth to feed.

Flickr photo.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PD Shaw says:

    My wife and I had our first child seven months ago and didn’t need to move because we already had three bedrooms; we just converted one into a nursery/kid’s room.

    Do you mean when you bought the house, you didn’t contemplate having children? That you didn’t make sure the neighborhood you moved to wasn’t child-friendly or have suitable educational offerings?

    I understand it’s probably difficult to disaggregate the multiple reasons for buying a house, but I suspect that if child-raising were somehow eliminated, our housing would look a lot different.

  2. just me says:

    I have learned that the cheapest kid time is when they are babies/toddlers and don’t eat so much.

    Teenagers are expensive because they eat more and participate in more things that cost money. And while it may be easy to elminate the activities that cost money, you still have to feed them.

    Our housing choice probably would have been different if we didn’t have any/fewer kids.

    But for the most part there are a lot of areas to cut costs-hand me downs and consignment shops are a good way to save money on clothes.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Do you mean when you bought the house, you didn’t contemplate having children? That you didn’t make sure the neighborhood you moved to wasn’t child-friendly or have suitable educational offerings?

    We factored that in. But we were going to get 3 bedrooms, anyway. And we wound up deciding that it wasn’t worthwhile to buy in one of the few “good” school districts based on where a theoretical future child would go seven or eight years down the road.

    Teenagers are expensive because they eat more and participate in more things that cost money. And while it may be easy to elminate the activities that cost money, you still have to feed them.

    Oh, no doubt we’re not yet at the most expensive part of the child raising curve! But time and freedom are bigger hits than money.

  4. I call BS. How can it take this much to raise kids when I know several families with mutiple kids than won’t earn enough to “pay for their kids” at this rate, much less all the other necessities in life? This all smells to me of another effort to make things “fair” by redistributing wealth. Anyone with more than this needs to give it those who “need” it. Just another variant of from each according to his ability (to pay), to each according to his need (as defined by the government).

    On the other hand, send your kid to an out of state university and you may need to double this number.

  5. James Joyner says:

    know several families with mutiple kids than won’t earn enough to “pay for their kids” at this rate, much less all the other necessities in life?

    People adjust by lifestyle. And they’re clearly including some prorated costs of housing and whatnot in the figure.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    charles, the government has been doing these studies for years, if not decades. The cost of college isn’t included, nor IIRC lost income if one or more parents reduce work. They do estimates for the cost of the 2nd, 3rd, . . . nth child. Each additional child certainly costs less to raise.

    Housing has been the main cost for years, which is somewhat controversial.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    From the study:

    In 1960, average expenditures on a child in a middle-income, husband-wife family amounted to $25,229, or $183,509 in 2008 dollars
    (figure). By 2008, these estimated expenditures climbed 21 percent in real terms to $221,190 (assuming a family had child care and
    education expenses on a child).

    LINK PDF

    The family spends less on food and clothes and more for childcare/education and healthcare.

  8. just me says:

    know several families with mutiple kids than won’t earn enough to “pay for their kids” at this rate, much less all the other necessities in life?

    But other than food some expenses end up being applicable to all. At some point you stop buying a bigger house and the kids share a room. My in laws didn’t pay anymore for a house from when they had three kids to when they had six-as they added kids they just doubled up in one room, they didn’t look for a house that would accomadate all six kids.

    Same thing with cars, and other stuff.

    And of course hand me downs work with larger families. Where a couple with one or two kids may get new clothes and items, a family with more will likely save things and pass them down.

  9. Wayne says:

    It seems that many people don’t distinguish the difference of what a person can raise a child on and what many chooses to raise a child on. This is important when people are talking about who is living in impoverish or neglected homes. Just because a child isn’t given the latest video game and fad clothes don’t mean they are impoverish or neglected. Unfortunately many think they are.

  10. Drew says:

    NEWS ITEM :

    Today President Obama announced his latest program: Not So Many Obama-Kids.

    Noting the tremendous expense and burden on the poor and the middle class of child raising, President Obama, in his “American Child Optimization Program Bill” said “We as a country must find ways to deal with the ever increasing costs of raising children. The government is here to help and offer, well, stuff down your throat, solutions.”

    When further queried, he said “nothing should be off the table.” “We expect that the advice of Ivy League experts and government consultants will be crucial in determining how to deal with this crucial problem.” “For example, government counselors will be available under my program to consult with parents about their options.”

    “Children donated for the “Food for the Poor,” program will of course result in the maximum tax credit. Parents donating ‘Children Enslaved for Bathing the Elderly’ will receive credits at a 50% rate.

    “Now, as I have said, under my program no individual making less than $250K per year will be affected…………unless you have children…….

    Don’t guffaw. Talk to me in 6 months.

  11. Herb says:

    At current and anticipated marginal tax rates, a couple will have to earn $450,000 in order to have the $221,000 to spend on the child.

  12. Raoul says:

    Health care is also a major expense, which not to put it too delicately, makes me wonder if health care insurance policies that pay for abortions should be cheaper and what would that do to the health care insurance debate.

  13. alkali says:

    At current and anticipated marginal tax rates, a couple will have to earn $450,000 in order to have the $221,000 to spend on the child.

    This calculation makes no sense. Most people do not pay taxes at the top marginal tax rate. No one pays the top marginal tax rate on all their income.