Is the Cost of Living Really Higher?

When I prepare couples for marriage I encourage them to a have a larger family. After all, God said, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). I ponder with these couples that many married people no longer multiply; they merely replace themselves, and barely replace, at that! Many  have just two, sometimes only one child. I recall to these couples how when I was growing up it was more routine for there to be three, four, or five children in a family. My family had four. I glowingly report that my cousins had nine kids in their family and that my one brother and sister-in-law have six kids. My other brother and sister-in-law have three. As I talk to the couples in this way and encourage a larger family they being to look at me funny: “He can’t be serious!” When I ask for their reaction, many (though not all) say something to the effect, “Well, Father, economics have changed and the cost of living is higher today than it was back in the 1950s and 1960s. People can’t afford to do today what you are suggesting.”

Is the cost of living higher? Actually, no, at least not in terms of all the basics. In fact, prices today, adjusted for inflation and earning power, are actually significantly lower. The problem today is that we want more of everything. More on that later. But, for now, let’s look at some data. I apologize that the latest data I have comes from a 1997 report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. You can see the full report here:  Time Well Spent: The Declining Real Cost of Living in America.  I want to propose that the data from 1997, though older than I’d like, still provides a pretty current picture, since inflation has held pretty steady since 1997. Further, most of the data I am going to share is not expressed in dollars but rather in hours of work needed to pay for certain products.

Let’s start with the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Everyone likes to complain that gas prices are always going up. But actually, in the last 100 years they have steadily declined in inflation-adjusted figures and in the minutes of work needed to afford a gallon of gas. Look at the table at the left. You can click on the image to make it larger. When gas first began to be widely sold in 1920 it took almost 35 minutes to earn enough money to buy a gallon of gas. Today it takes the average American less than 6 minutes to earn the money necessary to buy a gallon of gas. This steady decline in the cost of gas is due to an increase in the wages of the average person and an actual decline in the price of gas in inflation-adjusted dollars. So gas is not going up over all. The graph does show a brief spike in the late 1970s due to the gas shortage. We also had a brief spike about seven years ago when, due to market adjustments, the price soared to over $4.00 a gallon. But the price has adjusted back downward to its overall long-term trend. So gas prices are not higher (relatively) than they were for our parents and grandparents. In the 1950s, people had to work, on average, twice as long to afford a gallon of gas as compared to today.

How about the most basic commodities of food, clothing, and shelter? Surely they absorb far more of our income than in the past. No, actually not, and in fact in a dramatic way. Look at the table at the right. You can click on the table to get a clearer view. Notice that in 1901 over 76% of income was spent on food, clothing, and shelter. In 1995 only about 38% of income was spent on these things. I do think this number is higher today, though, than it was in 1997. As you recall, the housing market became overheated and housing prices soared. However, the bubble burst last year and housing prices have tumbled to a more reasonable level. That’s bad news for people locked in mortgages from the last ten years, but good news for those seeking to buy today. A further thing to note is that in some areas housing prices are much higher than others. It is remarkable how much house you can get for $300K in many places in the mid-west compared to what the same square footage costs on the coasts. But again, the national average percentage of our income that has to be devoted to the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter is lower today, not higher. Now here, too, the problem with housing today is that most people want to buy huge houses that they can barely afford. But this is not because the cost of housing has actually increased. Rather our demand for more square feet and amenities has. More on this later.

Looking more closely at food, the chart at the left shows how many minutes a person had to work to afford some basic food items. Again, the numbers have dropped dramatically. Here too, this is due to two reasons. First, the average wage of Americans has increased significantly and this increase has far outpaced inflation. Second, the actual inflation-adjusted costs of most of the food products listed has dropped. This is due to more efficient farming, marketing, transportation, and so forth. The fact is, these things cost us a lot less than previous generations of the 1950s and the 1920s.

Finally, just a look at the chart to the right in terms of actual prices. Again, click on the chart to see a clearer image. The left column show the price of an item in 1897. The right column adjusts those figures for 1997, showing, not the actual cost in 1997,  but what that product would cost if the economic realities of 1897 were operative today. You can see by looking at the chart that ordinary household items cost a lot more in 1897  than we pay today. Imagine an ordinary pair of scissors costing $65, or a pair of nylons costing $22, or an aluminum pan costing $32. Most of the items on the list are far less expensive today.

So here is some data that speaks to actual cost of living today compared to previous times. The actual prices we pay are far less than those in the 1950s or 1920s and earlier paid.

Now the couples that look bewildered as I tell them to have a larger-than-average family, and who claim that the cost of living is higher today are often amused by these data, but not impressed. The fact is, they know it costs a lot to live today, and so do I. But why is that so?

The clearest answer as to why it is expensive to live today is not so much higher prices as it is that we want more of everything. We want bigger houses, fancier cars, more clothes, more options, more, more, more. The average size of a house in 1950 was 1,100 square feet. Today it is over 2,000 sq. ft. Many people I know routinely buy homes approaching 5,000 sq. ft. with a great room, cathedral ceilings, and every amenity you can image from granite countertops to jacuzzi tubs. One TV was common in the 1950s. Today there are often five or six. I shared a room with my brother for a good part of our early years. My 9 cousins had two rooms (boys and girls) in bunk beds. Hand-me-down clothes were a common money saver and the older children helped take care of the younger ones. Our many appliances also use a lot of electricity. Next time you’re enjoying your wide-screen, plasma, HD TV, go out and look at your electric meter. I haven’t mentioned air conditioning and many other appliances, but by now you’re getting the picture. We want more, bigger, the latest, and so forth.

The fact is, children have moved way down on the list. What we once most valued, children, we now often see as expensive and limiting in terms of the other things we want more. But it is not really children who are expensive, it is our lifestyles that are expensive. I realize medical costs are higher but, there too, we want and demand more.

In the end, we have changed. Blaming it on costs isn’t really the issue. Really, it’s consumption; it’s desire on steroids; it’s slavery to all the latest comforts and conveniences. Maybe it’s even just plain greed. To think that we might live more simply in a smaller, less expensive house and drive an older car in order to afford more children is almost “unthinkable” to us moderns. So the birth rate keeps dropping in the western world; our churches and schools grow emptier and our nursing homes begin to fill. Thank God for immigration. Without it, we would be in serious economic and social crisis.

And to the couples who stare back at me incredulously, I don’t apologize. I just smile and say, “Evangelization begins at home! Have lots of babies and raise them Catholic! The Church needs you; this nation needs you. Without new life and growth we’re dying.”

Life  isn’t really about things; it’s about people. An old saying goes,  “The most important things in life aren’t things.”

I know some of you will think I’m crazy, too, or that I’m missing something here. I also realize that direct comparisons to bygone eras are not possible and that additional things need to be added to this reflection. But that’s why there are comments, so have at it! But I offer this final thought: “It’s not really about cost; it’s about what we want.”

86 Replies to “Is the Cost of Living Really Higher?”

  1. Good post Msgr. I agree with you about all of it. I would add though that I don’t trust grocery store food and try and get all of my family’s products from local markets, CSA’s, local butchers who import from local grain fed and open range beef, lamb, chicken. A little more expensive on the food side but the trade off is to not be inundated with the modern chemicals of the American food giants, all of which are causing these nationwide diseases, disabilities, etc.

    1. Yes, your comment reminds me of a book I read some time ago on “crunky-cons” who are basically social conservatives with a little environmental and other things in the mix.

  2. Yes, I agree, also, Msgr. Pope. We lived similarly to what you described, and we felt blessed.

  3. This is a wonderful post. When we value things more over people, we stop having babies. My family demographics: My grandparents had seven children — they raised more on less, my parents had four, and we have two. I attribute this declining birth rate to the loss of Christian values. My husband and I, in our youth, were not religious. We wanted careers and fun, not babies. We had birth control, not commitment. We were wrong, wrong, wrong every step of the way.

    We are thankful for the two children that God saw fit to give to us. We are trying to raise them right, and we pray that the effects of our sins stop with us and not carry over to our children. At Easter vigil, when they were baptized I literally felt like I was handing them back to the Lord to be washed clean. It was a life-changing event in our lives — on par with getting married and having children. Once and forever!

    I like to give young couples who are getting married a book called: Beloved and Blessed: Biblical Wisdom for Family Life by Kimberly Hahn.

  4. I hope to have a large family. One of my fears though is that children can be very competitive and jealous. If they see their friends or cousins who have smaller families but more fun and more toys, I’m afraid they may come to resent Catholic values.

      1. Also, you don’t need lots of gadgets to entertain yourself when you have lots of siblings to play with (I know- I’m one of 12 and my youngest sibling is now just 4- my parents would agree with all Msgr. wrote!) I’m grateful for my family- it’s much more important to me than “stuff.”

  5. I agree with many aspects: Life is about people, andwe ought to have our priorities in order. But we must be PRUDENT as well as generous (Humanae Vitae)–being married does not automatically grant to a person the ability to run a large household, especially if they do not have a personal experience of a big family as a resource. Prayer is crucial to discerning God’s will as it intersects with our particular gifts. It’s not always about the money.
    There’s an old joke about an Irish mother with 7 children who was constantly looking haggard and shouting at them around the neighborhood as well as in Mass for their fidgeting and misbehaving. One day the pastor called her aside after Mass and said, “You know Mrs. O’Malley, you should be more patient with the children. Try to use the Holy Family as a model–look how patient and lovingly attentive Mary and Joseph were to our Lord when He was young.” “And well they could” she replied, “with only the one.”

  6. I have not been so fortunate as to be able to have several children. We have one biological child, two adopted, so we are a family of five. I was pleased to meet a family at Church who has nine children. Sadly, I discovered that although they won’t contracept, they also won’t adopt the necessary frugal lifestyle. Their family is twice the size of ours (plus one) but their income is more than triple ours. However, they feel they “deserve” lavish vacations, big screen TVs, digital cable with all the bells and whistles, and cell phones for almost every child. This family is completely pleasure oriented. Then when they have money problems, they blame them on the fact that they have nine children and say that they don’t understand why God would allow them to have financial difficulties since he gave them nine children! If I hear a tearful voice saying, “God wills and God allows and I don’t know how we’re going to feed the children” one more time, I’m going to burst a blood vessel. And this family says that, because God has given them nine children to care for, they can’t afford to tithe.

    I’m always shocked that a family with an income as high as theirs is always in dire financial straits.

    My point is, when priests are doing pre-Cana, I wish they would emphasize that there’s more to being obedient to the Church than just not using contraception. We have to learn to be good stewards of our money. Having children is very important but how we manage our money is almost as important. People must learn restraint and postponing gratification so that they can prioritize their money properly. It is just as important to teach your children by example that money is a tool and that we value our Church enough to give it as much money as possible. Wouldn’t it be great for a family to go clothes shopping at a retail store, tally up the prices, then go clothes shopping at a thrift store, tally up the prices there, and then encourage the children to be happy with the thrift store clothing because they’ll be able to give the difference in pricing to their parish?

    I hope I’m making sense here and not just rambling. I feel that we simply must learn to be less materialistic if we’re going to be successful as parents of many children.

  7. My husband and I would love to have a number of children, and still hope to. We are currently expecting our first child and are trying to figure out how we can afford both food and health insurance. We live in an 85-year-old 1,200 square foot rowhome, carpool to work to save on gas and car insurance, own 8-year-old cars that are paid off, only have one TV in our home (and no cable), and have furnished most of our home with hand-me-down furniture from our family. Unfortunately, we both work for non-profits (one of them being a Catholic organization), which BOTH have their health insurance coverage structured assuming that their are two working adults in the house – making it extremely costly to add a child and a stay-at-home spouse to the plan. We’re trying to figure out how on earth we’re going to have health insurance, food, diapers, and the ability for one of us to stay at home with the baby or pay for childcare. I think the financial analysis above overlooks many of the basic struggles an average family faces, such our own struggle with health insurance. Education is another major concern – in the 1950s Catholic education was free in our home city of Philadelphia. Today it costs roughly $3,000 per child for a parish elementary school, and $6,000 for an archdiocesan high school. In addition, many couples today have college loans that need to be paid back, which was not the case for previous generations for whom tuition was affordable enough that they actually paid as they went. In days gone by, other family members, such as grandmothers, were at home to assist with childcare when needed. Today, many grandmothers, aunts, etc. are in the workforce, leaving a couple with children the challenge of balancing a lot of things on their own. I think society as a whole, including the Church, is structured in such a way that families are strained far more than they were in the 1950’s, and it is unfair to blanket judge people as not valuing children. Society and the Church, which often talks the talk but fails to walk the walk, need to reevaluate their support of families. (I will leave out my dismay about being encouraged to practice NFP by the Church, only to find out that there is not a single OB/GYN in Philadelphia’s ENTIRE extensive Catholic healthcare system who can provide much needed medical support – not just mere tolerance – to a couple practicing NFP, resulting in a lot of frustration and the need to seek medical advice from NFP doctors half-way across the country.) It’s not always a matter of people always wanting more – many of us are doing the best we can and would appreciate a little more understanding of the issues we’re facing.

    1. Yes, you well describe the situation. It is puzzling how, even thought the actual costs of basics have declined over the years the “more” syndrome has drowned out the payoffs. This happens at the individual level to be sure but, as you describe, it also overheats the whole economy and social structure in such a way that, even those who want to live more simply, as you are, find it difficult to make ends meet. You need a pretty high income to in many local economies to make it all work. So I appreciate your perspective here and am sorry you find my article lacking in understanding. THere is however a role for the “prophet” to point outside the system and say how we might have gotten here. And I do think our culture has an enormous sense of needing more and more which makes it difficult even for those who try to live apart from the “more” syndrome. The more syndrome over heats everything.

      1. Thank you so much, Msgr. for your reply, and what you say is so true. I don’t mean to put a damper on your role of prophet, more so I plead that you use your voice for those of us who are often voiceless within the Church. So often the Church turns a blind eye to the plight of the average family, ignoring its own role in contributing to the current situation by setting high standards and then leaving us to our own devices: put time into your faith development, but the Church will only offer programs for the very young and the very old, neglecting people in the middle or ignoring the needs who have to juggle babysitting (which on the other hand, protestant churches do very well); accept the noble calling to work for the Church’s ministries, but don’t expect a living wage to support your family; practice NFP, but the Church will do nothing to insure that there’s at least one NFP practitioner in the region’s Catholic health system…Perhaps it is different in Washington, but the Church’s disconnection – at least in the Philadelphia Archdiocese – is agonizing, especially for those of us who have chosen to remain faithful despite the Church’s shortcomings. It makes our position even harder to defend when interacting with people who have fallen away or do in fact devalue children. Please, prophecy to the hierarchy for us too! Thank you!

    2. One of the reasons that tuition to Catholic school is so high is because of the need for lay teachers. Many of these schools were run by religious sisters, brothers, and priests in the past. Unfortunately, the number of vocations drops when the number of children drops. Large families are schools of generosity. The family that is open to life is the family that is more likely to be open to a religious vocation. Service and sacrifice are part of everyday life. The lack of extended family will only get worse if people have less children. Couples need to make a conscious effort to be generous to life to break the cycle. I married later in life (not by choice) and had two boys at age 38 and 40. I am a registered nurse and could have made a good income if I had continued working, but we had little family support because my husband was an only child and both of his parents were dead before we married and my family do not live in the immediate area. As it turned out both of our boys had special needs and required more of my attention. The thing that really opened my eyes was when I decided to homeschool my older son. I met mothers and fathers who were true heroes. Many of them had large families, but I found that they had some of the happiest families I had ever seen. They were experts on how to have a good time on a shoestring. Many are daily or frequent communicants and take their families with them. I took my son to daily mass during the years that I homeschooled him. Some of the older men parishioners took him under their wing and asked the pastor if they could teach him how to serve mass. What we lacked in family support was made up by the homeschooling families and church community. I guess what I’m saying is God can’t be outdone in generosity if we let him be in charge.

  8. I am actually preparing to get married in November, and find this post quite timely. I agree with the focus recently on society as a whole being more ‘stuff’ oriented than people oriented. However, I think that one thing that is different now as to when perhaps, Msgr, when you were growing up is the diaspora of families. When I was young, and especially when my parents were young, the nuclear family often lived within close distance of brothers, sisters, and grandparents. Thus the whole idea of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ was easily promoted. However, nowadays, the culture is such that in many cases a nuclear family lives far away from a natural familial support system. I know I moved to DC because the state I am originally from (and where much of my extended family lives) has an unemployment rate of nearly 15%! I am very much aware that when we do have the blessing of children, we will not have the support that my parents had with family nearby. And while we have friends, the decision to become parents at a younger age out here is definitely against the norm, and many of our friends tend to ‘disappear’ once a couple decides to get married and start a family. Not to mention that I would say the overall culture of Washington, DC is not very family friendly.

    I would encourage people here to be more supportive of family ministries — especially for folks who actually live in the city where it is hard to find the support much needed. And to continue to pray for the young men and women who are undertaking the vocation of marriage and parenthood.

  9. 18.5% to shelter? IF you live in the city ‘shelter’ might cost 25-50% of your income… at least in European cities..

    1. Yes, this figure as I pointed out in the article surely varies a great deal. The cost of living in certain cities is way high and it usually centers around housing costs.

  10. Hi. That’s true. It’s really more on the kind of lifestyle. If we want expensive things we will seem to be poorer. If we transferred to a smaller house, second hand car, simpler living, true to ourselves of what’s the humble lifestyle to have, the budget will fit.


  11. It seems to me that there is a list of things which a person would do well to have these days. One can’t call them basic necessities however, in our society, it would be an unnecessary hardship to live without them. Insurance, medication, car maintenance, private or religious education are some things. Also, there are less important things which are still pretty necessary for some people: cell phones, internet. There are more things that could be added.

    1. You are right, insurance has become a big thing. As for cars, this too has become significant. THough I know many people who are at least willing to buy cheaper cars and don’t have to have one for every member of the family. As for Catholic Education, we are in a real pickle. What was once almost free is now quite exprensive and quickly becoming the bastion only of the wealthy. Paradoxically one cause is low birthrates. This has caused two things: fewer vocations, and fewer children to attend our schools which makes the per capita cost rise. Also, we demand a lot more from education today: low class size, PE instead of simple recess, foreign language, lunch programs instead of brown bag lunch, before care, aftercare, promethean baords, special education, MA degrees for teachers, on-going certification, professional development. In the old days, basics of reading, grammar, math, history and science were emphasized and done simply. What we demand today may seem necesary but it is quite expensive. Currently the Catholic School system is in big trouble financially since we can’t do all this and keep the price low. Somewhere we got on the more, more , more tredmill here too. Is there any limit to all the bells and whistles? What is really essential. And, are our children really any better educated with all the add-ons as compared to what they knew in the 1950s. All of this is debatable. They may know computers, but grammar and basic math skills might be wanting. We seem to want everything with no trade-offs. This is not a problem of Catholic Schools only, but with the whole education system in this country.

      1. It seems that more large families wold be willing to make even more sacrifices to send their kids to Catholic schools if they were a lot more Catholic. Many families that I know choose the homeschooling route because they cannot trust what their kids wil learn, either from the teachers or the other students. We need to hire great teachers and pay them a living wage and forget about all the other “stuff” that is really secondary and not essencial for an education.

  12. Msgr.

    The one thing you are leaving out is college. I just looked at one school (Penn) because the data was readily available. In 1920 the tuition for Penn as an undergrad was $3086 in 2010 dollars. In 2010 tuition is $34,000 for undergrads. That means the cost has outpaced inflation by more than 1000%.

    1. Yes, you are right. The cost of college is obscene. I find this very frustrating too. Most of these colleges are also bastions of social liberalism and hence you’d think they’d keep the thing more affordable for the “little guy” And no one seems to want to blow the whistle on the high cost either. Another aspect of this is how and whether a parent should promise a college education to their kids. I have noticed this varies a lot from family to family. At least half of the people I knew at George Mason back in the 1980s were working their way through college. THese days a lot of people have to go to community and state colleges and have to string it out for years while they work and go to school.

      1. I’m hoping my children will be able to go to our state college. My eldest did and then went on to law school. Without the lower in-state tuition, law school would have been many years off. However, currently, our state college is declining qualified in-state applicants in favor out the higher-paying-outta-staters. So much for those state taxes!!

  13. I agree that it’s possible to cut-costs and have a large family (although I’ve only been blessed with 2, so far). I’m a big fan of envelope budgeting.

    However, I think it’s important to realize that there is a progression, and that it isn’t just all about simple materialism. The problem is structural.

    1) No fault divorce
    A lot of people don’t want more than 1 or 2 children as a hedge against divorce or abandonment. It’s hard to raise 2 kids on your own, but it’s really hard to raise 5 on your own (or pay child support for them all, while maintaining a second household). Many women are eager to have their kids and then rush back to work. The more children you have, the harder that is to do. As a homemaker, I can assure you that I am routinely lectured by older women who remind me that I’m risking my future to stay home with my children.
    Many men also don’t want their wives to be homemakers because they would have to pay more alimony in the event of divorce. They want their wives to be “independent” and “make their own money”. That weakens the marriage and reduces procreative urges.
    I’ve always felt more protected than other women because I am Catholic, but the annulment-craze has eroded that considerably. Now I’m just trusting in God and betting on my husband’s fidelity. Which most people would describe as “being a complete fool”.

    2) Older mothers
    I was married at 23 and was pregnant 2 months after my wedding, with our first child. The second followed about 2 years later. That is becoming unusual, and I personally only know one woman who was younger than me at her wedding. On the other hand, I know quite a few women who marry in their 30s and struggle to have even 1 child. Fertility declines rapidly in women, so delaying marriage will reduce the birth rate automatically.
    Also, it’s rare for a woman to remain chaste for 30 years (hey, let’s be honest here) in our hyper-sexual society, so many of the woman have STD’s which have damaged their fertility.

    3) Dual-incomes and school zones
    Many people buy larger and more expensive houses in order to move into a better school-catchement area. At my homeschooling co-op, the families are unusually large. They are also able to buy houses wherever they like, regardless of school zoning. For that reason, their houses are cheaper, and one parent can stay home and homeschool. That makes a big difference in birth rates (homeschoolers average 3 or more children, and homemakers tend to have more children than working mothers).

    4) Cheap credit
    It is true that average wages have increased, but median wages have stagnated. That means that the upper half of wage-earners are becoming wealthier, but the lower half are becoming poorer. Cheap credit long made up the difference (hence all of those consumer electronics), but the credit market is contracting at a fast pace, resulting in a recession. The birth rate will probably decline further in the Great Recession, as it did in the Great Depression.

    5) Increasing secularism
    The more religious the couple is, the more children they will have. Fertility correlates directly with religious attendance.

    1. “but it’s really hard to raise 5 on your own (or pay child support for them all, while maintaining a second household).”

      Not proud to admit it, but the reality of raising 6 children on my own has kept me in marriage. I’d like to be able to say it is commitment to my husband and vows that keeps me here, but the truth is that I cannot raise this large of a family on my own. Raising chidren has grown my patience, but staying in this marriage has grown it many times more. I imagine, at some point in time, I will be thankful for this opportunity to grow.

  14. I just wanted to second Karen’s comment. Health insurance and education are both huge drains on family budgets. We homeschool and are lucky to have cheap health insurance through his employer. Not everyone is similarly situated. When he was between-jobs, we purchased bare-bones insurance for our family, and it was over $800/month. The prices are horrendous. The local Catholic school costs $5000/child, which is unaffordable for most families.

  15. One more comment!

    About gasoline: people commute much longer distances now, and there are often 2 people driving to work.

    About inflation: please remember that the inflation indices are used for setting policy. The CPI (the one normally used to determine purchasing power in such comparisons) is defined and calculated in order to determine Social Security payments. Those payments go up and down in accordance with the CPI, which is why the government has a vested interest in keeping CPI measurements as stable as possible. That is why we are regularly told that inflation is at near-zero rates, but we have to keep forking out more and more money to buy the same things. The inflation index is weighted, and things like house prices, stock prices, and health insurance are missing. They keep these items out of the index on purpose, becuase the inflation is so bad that it would (they say) skew the whole index uneccesarily. So it is no longer a valid measure for calculating purchasing-power-parity (PPP), and we have no simple measure for comparing prices between years.

    Here is a chart where you can see what inflation really is, if they hadn’t changed the way that it is calculated:

  16. My fiance and I will be getting married next summer, and we are very excited about having a large family. Sure, having kids is expensive and will require sacrificial love on our parts, but we would rather give our children the gift of siblings rather than own an expensive lake house or buy our children everything that society tells them they ‘need.’ Keep encouraging couples to choose life, and choose it abundantly!

  17. I think the financial analysis above overlooks many of the basic struggles an average family faces, such our own struggle with health insurance. Education is another major concern – in the 1950s Catholic education was free in our home city of Philadelphia. Today it costs . . .

    Everywhere that government has intervened to “improve” some aspect of society, costs have skyrocketed, especially in the areas of education and healthcare.

    Before the push for “universal” healthcare, which was always a farce, people could afford to go to the doctor and pay for the visit themselves out-of-pocket. And they expected to do so. But then there was the push for universal healthcare, which was never about the actual provision of care and treatment to people, but was instead always about $$$, about financing and the control of money, that is, it was always about power.

    Private schools and colleges were once affordable to people until the government push to “improve” education, together with the teachers’ unions perennial cries that teachers weren’t being paid enough. Like healthcare, it was never about improving the actual provision of education and instruction, but was about money and power. Those high costs from government intervention naturally bled over into private, parochial schools, causing their tuition rates to go up too.

    1. then there was the push for universal healthcare, which was never about the actual provision of care and treatment to people

      I meant to add that, for example, every indication is that ObamaCare will end up with people paying more money for less actual care. That it will make things more expensive to everyone, while providing more delays, more bureaucracy, more hoops, more rejections of care.

    2. You’re right Bender. I am sure Gov’t involvement has usually had unnatural and usually bad effects on economic reality. When gov’t regulates things you usually get less of it and its more expensive.

  18. whether a parent should promise a college education to their kids

    By the time they are in college, they are no longer “kids,” they are grown-up adults. Adults who are responsible for themselves. Rather than perpetual childhood, they need to get a job. Pay their own way. They will learn more valuable life lessons pushing a broom or flipping hamburgers than they will sitting in many college classes.

  19. I pulled my children from our parish school when the tuition bill for one year would have been $39,000 (I have 6 kids and our parish eliminated sibling discounts). At the meeting when the elimination of a discount was announced, the pastor talked about “justice” for families with one or two children; it wasn’t fair for them to “foot the bill” for the families who have more children. When I went to my (now former) pastor with my concerns of what the change would mean (there WERE many of us w/bigger families in parish, and he was going to lose us), he made a flip comment about the need to think about what it might mean before having so many children and added, “there is such a thing as family planning.” I wasn’t sad to leave the parish.

    You all hit on the points about the rising costs of Catholic education, but there is a mindset thing at work too. In the short term, smaller families are more lucrative for the parishes, as they use fewer resources, have more disposable income. You all hit on what happens in the long term when we encourage/reward keeping our families small. It seems the Church, too, have given in to a need for immediate gratification.

  20. Msgr this is so right. I’m only a year married and for me and my wife it is a foregone conclusion that a big part of our vocation is to bear and adopt many children. As children it is easier to teach them to share, and to learn that one of the greatest joys of material things is to share them with other people; experience them together.

    I can personally attest to the amazing witness that it gives: I am a convert, and the biggest effect on my faith were the families at the Heights School. I only have one living brother (and two miscarried sisters) and just the strength on my family led me to be drawn to big families. A family of 9 is like an adopted family to me, and their witness brought me to the faith. Oh, and having big families keeps you spiritually young and you get to experience the great joy of playing with children, seeing their eyes light up when you show them something new. You get to reminded over and over what a gift life is; something we take for granted as adults.

    Raising children has gotten much cheaper. It’s the greatest bargain out there!

  21. Monsignor, I think the one thing that has been left out of the equation is TAXES! The rate of taxation has gotten so out of hand in many areas that it makes it tough to live there unless you have two incomes in a family. Likewise, high taxes going into a central govt. coffer where it is dispersed inefficiently and with less effect (watered down by layers of administrative costs) limits the dollars that a family could offer to assist on a local level with those they know–neighbors and parishioners. But I also agree that lifestyle choices make a difference. I quit my job 18 years ago to be able to stay home and homeschool our child. I wouldn’t trade the income I missed out on for the world!

    1. Oops. That’s a true fact. I think the marginal rates have gone down from where they were in the 70s but they do creep back again. I wonder what the tax burdens were like in the 50s?

  22. What about the cost of education, especially college education? And insurance, especially medical?
    I totally agree with your assessment, however.

    One can definitely raise more than “replacement level,” but it means less luxuries, for sure.

    And as for making kids pay their own way, I would agree with that totally if only I didn’t have kids who were really bright and would not be able to pay their way for some time.

  23. This is right on, excellent post! And, the comments all bring up good points as well. As a mother of five, who went through several years of financial struggle when my husband lost his job, I would say that no matter how costly it is raising many children (ditto the complaints about insurance and tuition!), it is the greatest thing my husband and I will ever do to glorify God and bring about His kingdom on earth. My children are constant joys and the best of friends to one another in spite of the normal sibling squabbles and teenage rebellion. I don’t know how I could live without each and every one of them and there are many days that I am sorry that we didn’t have more!

  24. Dear Father,

    With all due respect, your conclusion is incorrect. The cost of living today is indeed higher than in the last generation. Here’s why.
    1. The median income is roughly the same as it was 30 years ago. The average income is higher, but that is entirely due to the fact that a few top executives are receiving a much larger percentage of the total pie than 30 years ago. The average income is therefore distorted. What matters more is the median income.
    2. Although it is true that the cost of food and clothing have declined over the past 30 years, three major costs have gone way up:
    A: Health care costs
    B: Education
    C: Housing
    And, these three are not something that someone can do without. Hence, the FIXED cost of living, which includes housing, education, and heath care, is a lot higher than it was 30 years ago.
    It is true that the cost of a computer and other technological equipment is much lower than before, if it even existed at any price, but the amount of money that people spend on these items is dwarfed by what they have to spend on housing, heathcare, and education.
    So, it is an undisputed fact that people have LESS discretionary income today than they did 30 years ago. A lot less. And this is true despite the fact that many more families have duel incomes today as compared with 30 years ago. People today are living much more on the edge than 30 years ago.

    Having spoken with many single people, I can assure you that the main reason why people today wait to get married and have fewer children is the lack of a secure job that pays a sufficient income to support a family. Economics matters. People today do not have weaker morals nor are they more materialistic than 30 years ago, contrary to popular belief. Remeber: 30 years ago was 1980 not 1280.


    Anthony Santelli
    Ph.D. Economist

    1. OK Dr. Santelli but in my own defense I am quoting from a document by other economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. THe conclusions are theirs. I provide the link to the report and all the graphs I embedded are from that report and you can read the full report. Hence I am not merely presenting my own conclusion. I also respect your conclusion as a different anaylsis. I have put this theory out there for debate. As you can see by the other comments, many have wanted to add to and distinguish as you have. And I accept that. THis is a discussion and hence my conclusion is not a conclusion but an invitation to further discussion.

    2. It’s not really a question of one or the other. It is really a little bit of both — both economics AND 40+ years of diminishing respect for and understanding of marriage does take a toll. Add in a higher expectation of what constitutes a reasonably sufficient standard of living. An upper-middle class standard of living in 1910 would probably be considered close to poverty today in 2010. People expect more now. That is BOTH an economic matter AND a moral one.

  25. In the end Monsignor, having a lot of children is a leap of “Faith, Hope, and Charity”. It is not obvious from the outset, that the having many children will be a blessing. In fact, most couples find that prospect quite rattling. Truthfully, many personal dreams and desires die on the cross of parenthood. And some are not willing to climb that Calvary. But children, no matter the number, are an eternal blessing. They are the path to holiness for a couple who is willing to receive God’s graces. Life is good!


  26. Thank you for this witness. We are seldom encouraged by those in the Church (or in our family fo rthat matter) to have a large family. We now have four, not at all large, but people say things, even at Mass! We homeschool, for numerous reasons, only one of which is the outrageous tuition at the parish school. So, we have the time to attend daily Mass. Our oldest is 8, or youngest is 6 months. They do ok at Mass, but they are far from perfect angels and people say things. There are some that encourage and others that think they distrupt their peace and quiet. Large families are a struggle in today’s inviroment, although a great blessing as well, and they need all the ecouragement they can get. I am tired of the Church acting as those who practice NFP are doing something heroic. Would that all pastors talked to engaged couples about their obligation to be open to life, not just one or two.

    One thing that I do think you missed in your post was housing. We we went looking for a house it was almost impossible to find a house that had more than 3 bedrooms unless it was very large. They do not build houses the way they did. Now, to get a house with 4 bedrooms you have to have a huge master bedroom, and the like. Oh, I we have a boys room and a girls room, they share. I need a room for my office since I work at home. But, good luck finding a home under 2000 square feet that has the necessities for a large family these days.

    For those considering having a large family, we are only on number four, but the blessing are amazing. I tell people that my kids are what I am investing in, the returns will far exceed a retirement account (especially today)!

  27. “Go forth and multiply” Most young people today are not committed to anything especially marriage and a family life with children. Is it possible to raise a family of five with todays high prices? Yes is the answere if you give up things like alcohol, drugs, tobacco and many of the electronic gadgets which are a waste of money. Become a family and live like one. The family is a wonderful thing that replaces many vulgar things that young people do today. We live in a society of permissiveness and that is what is expensive. Many large families today reap God’s rewards and are very devout. I know one family of eight that lives very well with only one working parent. Follow God’s plan and life will/is wonderful………

      1. “Yes is the answere if you give up things like alcohol, drugs, tobacco and many of the electronic gadgets which are a waste of money. Become a family and live like one.”

        I long ago gave up alcohol & tobacco and the electornic gadgets in my home are bare necessity. Try sports. If you have children involved with sports and they’re good- the pressure (and cost/time) is astounding. Try avoiding these pressures w/o feeling guilty and then let me know how you do it, please!

  28. One more thing…..all of the wealth built up in the USA in the past has come from large families….only to be wasted by today’s young people who do not have large families and in some cases no family at all. There are so many examples out there that you will have no trouble discovering this for yourselves….

  29. Thank you, Monsignor!

    My fiancee and I will be married in November. We will have to wait a little while on kids because we are both still in professional school, but we are hoping for at least 5-6. It’s amazing how many of our classmates are completely shocked by that number, but what better gift can we give back to God than more souls for the Kingdom of Heaven?

    We live in Boston, which is certainly more expensive than average, but thanks be to God we both have good careers ahead of us (though she’ll be home with the children, ultimately).

  30. The Catholic church is morally bankrupt. For decades priests sexually abused children worldwide. Once an abusive priest was uncovered, he was conveniently relocacted to abuse again, so the image of the church didn’t suffer.

    How can people who will never marry give advice on marriage? That would be like me giving advice on childbirth. The catholic church is losing it’s economic base(people) and must reload to replenish the coffers. That is why they cater to groups that have high fertility rates mostly hispanics and filipinos.

    This quote from the article has me laughing: Thank God for immigration, without it we would be in serious economic and social crisis. The illegal immigrants are currently putting an incredible strain on state budgets as these folks sap social program dollars from the state. Just look at California.

    People just make up your own mind about what size family you want. If you desire a large family, that is great, but don’t let someone or some business or cult shame you into doing something that you are not comfortable doing.

    From a former alter boy.

    * I doubt this will even get published but who knows

    1. Neal,

      You seem to be angry. What is that all about? A lot of cynicism too. Kindly note this is a discussion. Points of view are appreciated. As you may note there are others who either disagree or would like to add important distinctions or qualifiers. I appreciate comments that do that. See, this is a discussion. As for your remarks however they are accusatory, ad homniem, and consisting of non sequiturs and name calling. This is less effective and less appreciated. I am not able to “tell people what to do.” I propose ideas and propose the gospel as I undertand it, then we discuss it. That’s what this is, a discussion, not a yelling sesssion.

      1. Chuck
        I’m not angry, just enlightened. And nobody is yelling, making personal attacks nor name calling. The points I made are well documented.

        The point I was making for discussion sake is this. The catholic church will tell it’s followers what they need to do, for the benefit of the church, not the benefit of the followers. Instead of telling followers they need to have larger families, why not tell them to have the size family they are comfortable with? Don’t use shame or guilt to manipulate those who are easily persuaded. So in the catholic church’s eye, are the blessings bestowed on large families greater that those reserved for smaller families? The article and discussion seem to indicate that.

        I find it interesting your reply that you go into detail about what a discussion details, but you don’t address any of the points in the original reply. Interesting.

        1. Neal,

          How can you be critical of the Catholic Church, the immigrants or anything else for that matter. Yes,
          you are an angry mean heartless man. You are emotionally abusive to women and will probably continue to do so until the day you pass. You drive around in your motor home playing with their hearts. You jump from one to the next in a day! You are Catholic! You are married!

          Can you look at yourself in the mirror and say you are a good person? Are you happy with what you have done to people? Unfortunately, you won’t see this message, but maybe it will be a heads up those that meet you! Happy fishing, Happy tavels in your motor home. To people in FL, MD, NY, AK…watch out for this one.
          He promises cruises and trips and lies and cheats…and is critical of the Catholic Church!!!

      2. I am not called Chuck. My name is Charles. Once again, your argument is ad hominem. You cannot know the motivation of the Church, or the “cult” as you called us. It is hard enough to know the inner motivation of one person, let alone of a group of over 1 Billion.

        I am not “telling people what to do.” I do not have the power to make people do anything. I am inviting them to consider some possible reasons as to why we find it difficult to be fruitful and multiply (as God directs in Genesis).

        It is not my job to tell people to do what “they are comfortable with” I am a preacher of the gospel and my purpose is to be a prophet and propose to people what God says whether or not is what makes them comfortable.

        I am attempting here to address a common reason people propose that larger families are not reasonable. I am attmpting to address that and also to propose that there are ways that this is not excatly true and that perhaps God’s way is not “unreasonable.” Many reponders here clearly agree with that, others do not.

        I do personally believe that greater blessings come on larger families in the general sense since that is what Scripture says (eg. Ps 127, 128, 144 inter al). But I am not ultimately able to compare one person to another in this regard for that vision belongs to God. As is said in 12 step programs: to compare is to despair.

  31. Msgr. Pope, glad you spoke out on this issue, and your willingness to read and answer the comments.
    Were it not for immigration we would not even be able to replace ourselves. Unfortunately this changes with the next generation of immigrants. I raised 4 on a shoestring in comparison to what my children now have to shell out. It is a big sacrifice to raise a family, you do without. Which is OK up to a point when you are unable to take care of your own health because the kids’ needs come first. We have to trust in the Lord to show us the way.
    He does watch over us. It is also so important for large families to stick together and support one another in their trust. Stay away from negative comments! We came across teachers who would comment behind my back
    “well, the child is bright indeed, but let’s not advance him, he come from a large family.”
    Enough said, again thank you, you always make my day.

  32. Thanks for these insights. They are important distinctions and additions. You’re right I think about the lack of practical support given to support couples re NFP and we have to be honest, it is not a perfect system. As you say, in the end NFP is ultimately about trusting God and that is ultimately the bottom line on the Church teaching about birth “control” Thank you for your faithfulness to God despite the human imperfections of the Church.

  33. Wow Neal Murray.

    OK, you have some disagreements and disputes with the Church. I get that. But can I offer you some friendly advice?

    Anger and hate are corrosive and cancerous. And both anger and hate will corrode and destroy from the inside the person who wields them.

    Let go of the hate. Let go of the anger. For your own personal benefit and good, do this as soon as possible. Even if you believe that you have legitimate grievances, the anger and hate that is oozing out of you does far more damage to you than the targets of that bile and rage.

    So do yourself a favor. Let it go.

  34. There is a very simple rule to follow. It goes like this:
    “Love people, use things.”
    Don’t mix it up or everything is out of sorts.

  35. I long have been amused that the parking spaces at the church my family attends are more appropriately-sized for sedans and SmartCars than for station wagons and minivans. The spaces are all way too short!

  36. Dear Father,

    Taking into account the fact that a home is larger today, it is 46% more expensive to buy a home in 1996 as compared to 1956, using the data from the Fed’s article (Avg home’s Sq ft in 1956: 1150; 1996: 1950 sqft. Hrs of work per sq ft in 1956: 6.5, 1996: 5.6. So, 1150*6.5 = 7475 hrs of work to buy a home in 1956. 1950*5.6 = 10920 hrs of work to buy a home in 1996. 10920/7475 = 1.46, or 46% more expensive in time.)
    And, further, the price of a home has gone way up since 1996, even after accounting for the recent drop the past few years. Finally, you can’t choose to live in a smaller home because they aren’t built anymore! And, the older ones are in neighborhoods where you wouldn’t want to raise your kids.

    Since housing cost is about 35% of the total take-home pay, if that costs 46% more, that eats up 17.5% more of one’s income than before. No matter how many gadgets you buy, they are dwarfed by the higher cost of housing.

    Then, that article indicated that university education cost in 1997 was double what it was in 1979 in terms of work hours. And, as of 2010, it’s much higher than that, probably close to triple the 1979 cost. In fact, much research has been done in the past few years that indicates a college degree no longer pays for itself in terms of higher future income.

    When the masses, using their common sense, are saying something in unison, they are usually right. Today, they are saying that the cost of living is higher and that it is more difficult to make ends meet. When you look at the facts, they are right.


    Anthony Santelli, Ph.D.

  37. I enjoyed reading your comparison but I believe you left some vital costs out that we incur today that we did not have back then. Examples include education and health care. Also we use more for transportation cost because everything is so spread out now and walking places is not an option. I still agree people are more materialistic today, but I still do not have enough information to completely agree. Thank you.

  38. You said:
    “But it is not really children who are expensive, it is our lifestyles that are expensive. I realize medical costs are higher but, there too, we want and demand more.”

    No, it is not that we want and demand more medical care.” Pure casuistry. We NEED more medical care when we have cancer or heart disease, for just two examples, than we did forty years ago when there were no expensive scans, radiation, bypasses to treat you. You just got some nitro and a whiff of oxygen and died. Pretty cheap. Not any more, but we need these to stay alive if we are unlucky enough to become sick. You make it sound like we are clamoring for frivolous medical care as if it were Blu-Rays and Flat Screens. Disingenuous.

    You said:
    “Today it takes the average American less than 6 minutes to earn the money necessary to buy a gallon of gas. This steady decline in the cost of gas is due to increasing wages of the average person.

    Absolutely wrong on the face of it. If gas is now $3 a gallon you would have to make $30 an hour to pay for one gallon with ‘less than six minutes’ of wages! If it is $4 a gallon you have to make $40 an hour! Neither of these figures are anywhere near what the average wage earner makes…! Again, Disingenuous.

    1. You are presuming that I absolutize the medical point since you yourself absolutize from your point of view. Clearly there are medical things we “NEED” but when something is all but free we also tend to use it more than is necessary. There is a lot of surgery available today that is not for life or death matter but more for comfort. I don’t argue that such surgery should not usually happen but only that it has driven medical costs higher and that if the cost of less absolutely necessary medical things were shared more by the patient in such matters there probably would be less of it and such patients would be fine. Comfort is not the only goal in life. I knew someone recently who had a knee replacement so he could play tennis. In the “old days” we just naturally backed off from youthful activities as our joints aged. etc. Our expectation about health are very high.

      Your second point misses the context of inflation adjusted dollars.

      You appear to be very angry, what is that about? You seem to have taken up a great indignity for what “we” must suffer at the hands of “disingenuous” writers like me. Well you don’t speak for “we” and I’m just some dude. So take a chill pill and make your comments with a little more serenity and avoid calling people “disingenuous” whom you have never even met. I am not as sweeping in my views as you presume. Just adding to the picture, not replacing it. I think you may be projecting an attitude here.

      Perhaps too you know I am quoting an article. And also, I am not sure if you know, but I wrote this article over four years ago, so you’re a little late to the conversation. And I’m not really willing to further engage comments on an article I wrote so long ago. I by this time have a few other conversations going on at this blog

  39. OK…points taken…and obviously there are elective surgeries for trivial issues.

    But I am still wondering about your quotation, be it from another source or self-authored, which says:
    “Today it takes the average American less than 6 minutes to earn the money necessary to buy a gallon of gas. This steady decline in the cost of gas is due to increasing wages of the average person.”

    Absolutely wrong on the face of it. If gas is now $3 a gallon you would have to make $30 an hour to pay for one gallon with ‘less than six minutes’ of wages! If it is $4 a gallon you have to make $40 an hour! Neither of these figures are anywhere near what the average wage earner makes…!

    Can you not see that this is false on the face of it, unless you think that the average person makes the 30 to forty dollars an hour necessary for this arithmetic to be accurate?

    What am I missing in that simple numbers crunching, which you feel is accurate?

    Not trying to be contentious or ‘angry’, I’m just allergic to simple economic errors published as fact.

    1. I dunno, maybe its a typo, I wrote the things four years ago..One of these days i”ll go back and check I am very busy, I have written over 3000 articles both on the blog, in OSV and the magazine No time now… not at my computer, dictating into my phone as I walk into the hospital etc. I am a theologian, not an economist I am quoting an article maybe I dropped a zero when typing it…….. allergies can be ameliorated by meds that reduce sensitivities to things that aren’t really that big a deal to the body…. so too for things like typos 🙂

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