I was alerted to an article on the cost of raising children by one of my brothers who, with his wife, has six children. The USDA estimates that the cost of raising children from birth to age 18 for a middle-income, two-parent family now averages $226,920. That’s up by 40% from just ten years ago. Now, right away, you ought to question a reports that inflates the cost of some activity by 40% in just ten years. It strikes me that how they collect the data has changed, not just the costs. My brother, father of six, says, I’m supposed to believe that my six children are likely to dent my pocketbook by over 1.3 million dollars ($262,000/kid), not including college and wedding expenses? Something about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” comes to mind here. Me thinks that the USDA needs to get back to inspecting meat!

Let’s look at the report, and then ask some technical and philosophical questions. I am here quoting from a CNN Money report on the study. These are excerpts, the full report can be read here: HERE.  As usual, the original text is in bold, italic, black, and my comments are plain text red.

Forget designer strollers and organic baby formula, just providing a child with the basics has become more than most parents can afford. The cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 for a middle-income, two-parent family averaged $226,920 last year (not including college), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s up nearly 40% — or more than $60,000 — from 10 years ago. Just one year of spending on a child can cost up to $13,830 in 2010, compared to $9,860 a decade ago.

Again, beware of a 40% figure here. The average annual inflation rate for the past 10 years is 2.37% [1]. Hence it would seem other things than just inflation are factored into the number. What are they? Do parents do more voluntary spending on their children? Are they less able to say “no” ? It is not clear. So even if we accept the number, (which I am not certain I do), we need to know what factors went into the assessment. This is because the 40% increase is almost double the inflation rate for the ten year period. And remember this, even the inflation rate of 2.37% can mislead if we do not remember that wages have also inflated in the period. Some will argue, and I agree, that wages have not kept pace recently with inflation, due to higher unemployment. But remember 2.37% inflation over ten years is not an absolute cost number, since wages have increased some, as well

“Everything is more expensive and each family makes its own set of trade-offs,” said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in New York. “Many parents are working longer hours, or another job, and they are giving up time at home….

OK, but to be fair, wages are up in the past ten years. Let’s admit they have lagged behind inflation a bit. So the deeper question remains, Why is the cost of raising a child up 40% in ten years? If, and I do not cede this point, the number is real, why? It is more than inflation. There are behavioral issues at work here too. Not every parent feels compelled to buy tennis shoes that light up for their children, others do. This is behavior, not just unavoidable costs. Some parents use “hand-me-downs” in their families, others do not. This is behavior. Some use a lot of childcare (costly), others do not. This is behavior. We do not need to be locked into this $226K number. Chosen behaviors can have a lot of influence.

From buying groceries to paying for gas, every major expense associated with raising a child has climbed significantly over the past decade, said Mark Lino, a senior economist at the USDA.

But again, the ten year inflation rate is NOT 40%. So the question is, if these cost have acutally risen, why? Are all the costs unavoidable?

Food prices, in particular, have weighed on parents’ budgets as rising demand for commodities like corn and wheat, along with other factors such as rising oil prices, drought and floods, have made even a box of cereal a pricey proposition.

Almost two years ago,  I blogged on whether the cost of basic essentials is really higher today, than in the 1950s, a period widely perceived to be a prosperous time for US families. In that post, (read it HERE), we explored a significant amount of data that indicated that the cost of almost everything was higher in the 1950s (in inflation adjusted dollars) than today. The essential problem today is that we need and want more of everything. Life was simpler back in the 1950s, but today we “require” many more add-ons. Thus, while we can look at food prices in the past few years, the big picture indicates that, many years ago, things like food and gas and clothing, took a higher chunk of our income than today.

Even more recently, in the economic downturn, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has only slightly elevated to about 3.7%. Food prices edged upward, especially in 2007, as a percentage, but other prices came down. And then things became more stable as the economy slouched in later 2007.[2] Hence, while prices are higher, the overall CPI has not dramatically jumped, as the the CNN Money report seems to want to indicate. Wages of course, in this era of higher unemployment are less upward and will tend to lag behind the CPI. But remember if we look at ten years (as the CNN report and the USDA report claim to do), rather than focus only on the past few years, the overall numbers are still, steady as you go.

Many employers scaled back or even did away with medical coverage in recent years, leaving many families to cover that bill, said Lino. At the same time, costs for doctors visits, medications and other health services also climbed. As a result, health care costs for families with children rose 58% over the decade, he said.

Here too, there are a lot of behavioral issues involved. In recent years we run to the doctor more quickly. All but free medical care has made us prone to presume a doctor needs to see us for the merest reason, and that prescription medicines should be available to us free of cost. When I was a child,  the emergency room was for real emergencies, a place rarely seen, and the doctor was consulted only after the usual drug store products proved ineffectual. There was the usual “yearly check-up” to get a few shots, and do preventative medicine. But today, the expectations are much higher.

Demand for services inflates costs, and we do well to ask questions not only of employers, insurance companies, and doctors, but also of ourselves. Medical costs don’t have to be up 58% in every household.

I realize that some, reading this will say, “How dare you, and a priest at that, suggest that complete medical coverage is not an absolute and inalienable right of every human being?!”  But in the end we do take care of uninsured people in this country. Most emergency rooms, if accredited, are required to provide care even if a medical insurance provider is not identified. We ought to provide urgent medical care for to the poor. But the focus here is families, and it remains a valid question as to whether all recourse to the doctor and hospital is immediately required just because I happen to think so. A little personal triage is helpful in families to keep costs down and medical costs don’t have to be 58% higher for all families in all circumstances.

All of this comes at a time when incomes are shrinking and unemployment is near an all-time high. Over the past decade, median household income has fallen 7%, according to a recent report from the Census Bureau. Granted, this is true in the last four years. But remember the USDA numbers cover ten years. There are cycles, this one has been severe, but children are part of a twenty year cycle and the numbers there are still steady.

The child care crunch – The early years are among the toughest for parents who must find a way to afford all of those costs, plus child care. “It takes half of my paycheck to pay for my child care — you start to feel like, Is this even worth it?” said Anna Aasen, a mother of two from Roseburg, Ore. Although housing generally represents a family’s largest expense, putting more than one child in day care tips the scales.
Here too we have a lot of behaviors in the mix that are not always required. Most families today decide that, to afford their lifestyle, to live in the kind of home and place they want to live, they need double incomes. But who says you need a 3000 square foot home, three flat screen TVs, in the perfect neighborhood? These are largely voluntary lifestyle choices.
Most of us who are older lived in homes far smaller (1200-1500 square feet), had one TV, one car, hand-me down clothes, and children often shared bedrooms. We survived this extreme deprivation. I was kidding a parish family but spoke truly when I said to them that their “great room” was larger than the entire house I grew up in, and it was.

What if a family decided to resign from the current circus, and live more simply and needed only one income? Child care IS crazy when we think of it. Ms Aasen, in the report above,  asks a very valid question, “Is this even worth it?” Exactly.  Why ask some one else to raise your kids? Why not live in a simple house or even an apartment and raise your own kids? It is true there may be not yard for them to run in, and the neighborhood may be less than ideal, but its the inside of the home, more than the outside that ought to influence the children.

Better a little, with love, than lots with stress and anxiety (cf Prov 16:8). Again, behavior may have more influence on the cost of raising kids than simple “inflation.

For many parents, choosing to work and pay for child care is often a difficult trade off when they might otherwise stay home. “The sad truth is, when you weigh the cost of child care and the cost of my wife driving back and forth to work it comes out to an extra $2 to $3 an hour,” Ben Hammond, 31, said of his wife’s decision to return to the workforce after their second son was born. “But we can’t really live without that.

I’d like to know why. I will not personally judge a situation where I don’t know all the details, but I wonder if this family really needs everything they choose to pay for. What are some of the voluntary things that could be foregone? Even Air Conditioning in every room, and two cars aren’t always essential. Smaller houses, fewer commodities (extended cable, etc) can make a difference. Prioritized spending can put to the lie many things on the list that we say we cannot live without.

OK, well you get the point. USDA and CNN Money report that child care costs have risen 40%. But it seems, I would suggest,  there is more behind this data than mere inflation and victimized families caught up in an unjust economy. There are many personal lifestyle decisions that all of us Americans engage in. The list of things we cannot live without grows ever longer. And it is worth asking, “Is it really true that I cannot live without all these things?”

I am not immune from such questions. In recent years, due to the terrible economy, the Lord has called me to be more generous to the poor. This means that I too have had to ask what creature comforts and latest gadgets I can do without. The fact is, we Americans want a very comfortable and very pricey life. Fifty years ago most Americans easily lived without most of the things we deem essential today. I admit most of us are expected to have cell phones and some Internet connectivity. I do not suggest that we can simply get in a time machine and live exactly like we did in 1960. But, in the end, there are choices we can make to simplify and lower our expectation that life should always be a peach.

A final philosophical question. Why does our culture always seem to talk about and emphasize the cost of raising children, and not discuss the benefits? Children are a wonderful gift from God, (or a least we used to think so). Today they are more often described as a burden, as a cost center. We did not used to think of children in this way. In the not so distant past (60-70 years ago and prior) large families were desirable, children were valued, pregnancy and birth were called the “blessed event.” Scripture says, May your wife be like a fruitful vine within your house, Your children like olive plants around your table (Ps 128:3). Today, the birthrate has plummeted and children are more often seen as something to contracept, (God forbid) abort, and generally to be tolerated in only small numbers.

Some will say, “But Father, it costs so much today.” That is debatable, but I still think that the real reason is that what we value most has changed; our priorities and preferences have shifted. They have shifted away from life and family, to things and creature comforts. There are many complexities that may also factor in, but in the end, an awful lot comes down to what we really value and want.  It is not so much the economy that has changed, it is we who have changed.

As always, I write, not to have the last word, but to begin a discussion. Please add to this, indicate necessary distinctions, and feel free to differ or say “yes, but.”

This video shows just a few ways to cut costs, of course many other things could be added: hand-me-downs, smaller houses, fewer amenities, smarter shopping using coupons, less shopping, don’t need every upgrade, etc. So much of what we call essential is not absolutely so, or is at least not necessary all the time.

60 Responses

  1. Scotty Ellis says:

    I do have to pretty much disagree with your assessment of the situation. This is not to say that there aren’t people – poor people, even – who spend their money on unnecessary luxuries and then have none to spend on what they really need. I knew a couple who were paying for expensive cable and lots of online subscription games who could barely manage to keep food on the table (and sometimes didn’t!). And don’t get me started on some of the poor people I’ve seen wearing expensive tennis shoes who went home hungry! It happens. But I think that it’s a different issue than the issue of rising costs. As far as I can tell, the idea that the actual cost of raising a kid has increased dramatically is quite sound: the recession hasn’t just been a minor bump, it has resulted in a domino effect of increasing prices for just about every relevant consumer good, especially fuel.

    Increased fuel prices means increased prices everywhere. As the cost of energy has increased, the cost of food has increased. And the figures seem to back up the article.

    I just spooled through the CPI database at http://www.bls.gov/cpi/data.htm. Selecting average price data and limiting to food, I see price increases in line with 40%; not to mention the overall CPI. Gasoline has increased more than 100%.

    As an uninsured American with a family and children, I can tell you that the answer to many problems cannot be found in an emergency room. Luckily, we are currently covered under a government insurance program which takes care of most of the children’s needs, but my wife and I still must pay for a number of our own services out of pocket. A few clinics will give discounts to the uninsured, so shopping around can be helpful. But many uninsured still don’t qualify for certain sorts of government aid, while others either are unaware they can be helped or have any number of social pressures to not apply.

    As for the cost of child care, I think that in an age in which many of the working poor must juggle multiple minimum wage part time jobs without benefits just to try to pay the bills it is a little callous to suggest the answer is simply dropping the second wage earner – especially considering how many single parents there are out there trying their best to make do with our without child support from the absent individual(s) who helped put those children in existence.

    One thing I can completely back you up on: there are a lot of non-necessities that people pour money into. Faster internet. Eating out instead of cooking at home. Buying new instead of passing down, buying used, or even bartering within community. Insisting on the latest technology. People look at me like I’m crazy when I say I don’t have cable or satellite!

    But I don’t think it helps to obscure the real increase in prices. And I feel like the hidden subtext here is: “look, it’s not that expensive! You can’t really get away with justifying not having kids for financial reasons.”

    • Imagine there being a subtext on a blog. I would prefer to state the sub-text that raising a child doesn’t have to be as expensive as the modern age, CNN and USDA say and that there are wider lifestyle issues involved in all this as well that a simple number doesn’t cover. Scotty I have come to know you as Mr “sed contra” in that you seem to disagree with just about everything, you are free to do so, but at some point you do make me smile.

      • Scotty Ellis says:

        The Summa wouldn’t have been what it was without its sed contra!

        Really, though, I’ve become more of an Abelard (which has its obnoxious side, to be sure…I believe I remember a story about Abelard having to make a daring escape from a French monastery because lectured the monks that their patron saint really never existed). But I think I give everyone a fair shakedown.

    • Irene says:

      Msgr.,

      First, I just want to say how glad I am to have heard about your blog on Catholic Answers. I’ve really enjoyed how substantial the posts are.

      In this case, I do agree that as a whole, society’s values in regard to raising children are off target. However, I agree with Scotty that there seems to be a subtext here. I see your reply to him about what that subtext would actually be, but you did write:

      Some will say, “But Father, it costs so much today.” That is debatable, but I still think that the real reason is that what we value most has changed; our priorities and preferences have shifted. They have shifted away from life and family, to things and creature comforts.

      I’m sure it’s unintentional, but it sounds like you’re saying “If your values were in the right place, it wouldn’t really be so expensive raising children.” or “just check your priorities, then paying for a large family will be so much easier”. I’d like to assert that YES, Father, it does cost very much today, even IF one values life and family over luxuries and creature comforts. Skipping vacations, no cable tv, cheap food, modest housing, etc are not things we do to make it easy, they are things we MUST do, just to make it doable. In other words, the CNN article may not be completely correct in every aspect regarding the cost of children, but please don’t then conclude that having a large family is not so expensive after all. It’s very expensive. It takes a lot of sacrifice.

      I don’t believe you meant to say it was a walk in the park, but perhaps a caveat in your article, or another original post, about how many families must work very hard to live out their faith, would have been in order. I felt hurt and misunderstood by your quote above, but maybe I’m just overly sensitive from taking care of 6 children by myself 22 hours a day while my husband works long hours. Why am I in this situation? Because I AM trying to live out my vocation well, not because my values are misplaced.

      As far as medical costs……I wholeheartedly agree with you that the “system” is such that many services are overpriced, but there’s not much a family can do about that in order to bring their own costs down. The system needs a deep, long term fix as you said. Families are pretty much stuck paying the higher prices for now. And medical bills are an area where more people doesn’t mean cheaper per person. My own example, a round of strep throat for 7 people: $25 copayment per person, plus about $20 per person toward deductible for throat swabs, plus an average of $10 per person for antibiotic. Then another round of strep for 6 a few weeks later. That’s over $700 in 5 weeks for just little old strep throat. (And that doesn’t count the extras like Tylenol, yogurt, etc). But unnecessary? Untreated strep throat could develop into scarlet fever. It’s not just the catastrophic health costs that are expensive. Everyday things are very expensive too when you’re taking care of that many people. What are we supposed to do? Let their eardrums burst, their teeth rot, their allergies to medications go undiagnosed so we can save money?

      It’s even expensive to be involved in church. We homeschool, so I registered my kids for CCD. $30 per child. For a paperback workbook, a volunteer teacher, and use of a church building for 3 hours a month. REALLY?! And last year, I wasn’t that impressed with what my child had learned. Collecting money from each family, multiplied by how many families, multiplied by how many parishes…..it seems the Church also believes children are expensive.

      I guess my point is, saying that children are not that expensive is easier to say than demonstrate. Just please be careful that you don’t appear to accuse someone of having wrong priorities if they experience raising children as being very expensive. There are many out here who make many hard decisions in order to follow Church teaching and because we love and value the life of each and every child.

      • Well, of course the purpose of the blog is to start a discussion. Hence you will note my final line. You will also note that I am pulling in the other direction from an article that makes are rather unlikely change that the cost of raising a child has risen over 40% in just ten years. Other readers have also noted the significant unlikelihood of that and questioned the application of some of the numbers. They also note the likely undercurrent of the original article which seems down on larger families. Finally, I am commenting on the culture, not your individual case or that of another. Its a big picture commentary, not a global condemnation of every family that struggles.

  2. Nick says:

    Greed is a terrible sin.

  3. jj says:

    I am going to try to remain objective about this artile but i am so full of emotion when I read such data and the comments. First of all I am sure this data is based on a married 2 income mainstream family. If that is true then your comments on human habits and behavior I accept. However, in several minority and different cultural communities this data does not address the basic lifestyles or the human behavior of these communities. Single mothers with 3 or more children, divored women, children being raised by relatives on fixed incomes and the different scenarios are endless. The point is there is no fixed formula to really assess a lot of information that is ‘unreported’. 55% of African American children between the age of 18 and 25 are unemployed and still living with their parents but are not included in the data. I could talk about several other factors but it’s late and I’ not good at texting. My final point is that all scenarios need careful attention to spending habits but the most vunerable children

    • OK, well I guess we’ll await further reflection from you when late gives way to day.

    • Brandy says:

      You haven’t said anything that disproves this article’s argument. The choices being made are influencing the cost, even and maybe especially in the case of the single mother. The choice to have sex outside of marriage makes parenting an extremely costly proposition. Women who choose to divorce instead of working it out also increase their income burdens, as it is always more costly to raise a child alone than with another parent both emotionally, physically, and financially.

  4. John says:

    Msgr.,

    A disembodied statistic like, “the average cost of raising a child”, doesn’t tell you very much, even if it were true.

    To illustrate my point: I looked it up, and it turns out that the average price of a new car in 2011 is $29,817. But, so what? Does that “average cost” bear any direct relation to the cost I’ll pay for my car? Are there not plenty of vehicles I could buy that suit my individual needs for a whole lot less? And, in any case, should that figure affect whether or not owning a car is right for me? Cars are expensive. Don’t get me wrong! But expensive relative to what? For most people, owning a car is a necessity just to get to work, to shop etc.

    So, the proper question isn’t whether or not something is “expensive”. But rather, is it “worth it”?

    As a devoted father of six, and loving husband of one, there’s no question that children are worth it. After all, they are God’s children first. How much more “worth it” can you get? And, yes, my wife and I have found that they’re cheaper by the half dozen too!

    Greetings from Ethiopia,

    John

  5. Marc Aupiais says:

    2 million rand per child! Wow! Now that is expensive! How is it we in Africa manage to do without winning the lottery? Wow! No wonder you have such trade and debt deficits! 2 million Rand! Per child! Do you gold coat them?

  6. Jim Schaaf says:

    Msgr.,

    Please note that an average annual inflation rate of 2.37% compounds to 26.4% in 10 years. While this does not equal 40% it is getting much closer.

  7. freddy says:

    These sorts of statistics always make me smile, although a little sadly, because they seem to be nothing more than a scare tactic. Can you imagine a couple saying, “Oh, kids cost about 200k now, better not have another one till we can cover that cost!” or, “Congratulations on your new baby, guess you won’t be buying that boat you wanted!”

    My husband and I are raising our seven children they way most parents do: day by day, without counting the cost. We’re very blessed. My husband has a good job and I stay home; we have a big house and a few acres. But the children share bedrooms, we only have one car, and boy scout campouts are our “vacations.” We wear hand-me-downs and shop sales and eat leftovers. And we know how well off we are compared to others, so try to save a little to help out.

    The benefits of children are all the things you can’t put a price on: love, cuddles, humor, joy, activity, wonder, learning, fun, care, comfort, and the chance to see the world in a new way, every day.

  8. Katarina says:

    You make many valid points father – about all of us wanting more and more material goods
    However where i come from – two incomes are a necessity – not for extras but because no social
    security systems exsist and help organizations are overwhelmed – so people often join the workforce
    with both parents and children to look after so two incomes are not a luxury

  9. Sarah M says:

    I take this as part of what seems to be a pervasive anti-child campaign. Children are a burden, they seem to tell us, whether they are your own and cost you a quarter of a million or someone else’s and take away tax dollars by being hungry and needing an education. It is similar to the elderly being referred to as medicare users or social security drawers, more or less blaming them for draining the economy. Ridiculous. Perhaps the USDA (which has dabbled in population control in the past) thinks this is a good way to keep the 2.1 child status in the US. Thanks Msgr!

  10. Christina says:

    I think the “bottle breakdown” image is quite interesting. While health care is obviously a big concern here, look at where it ranks: 8%… compared to transportation at 14% and HOUSING at 31%?! My husband and I are graduate students in Boston, raising two little ones on meager grad student stipends and our housing costs take about 50% of our monthly income (it would be MUCH greater if we didn’t live in student housing). But it would still amount to about 45% of costs if we didn’t have ANY kids. So… what exactly are these people counting under “housing” expenses specifically for children? I’m with John: disembodied stats don’t mean all that much, but they sure make you wonder a lot.

  11. Dave says:

    I think where the methodology goes wrong is on the “Housing” piece. I think it is demonstrably false that each addtional child causes an average of $70,000 in housing increases. Maybe that is the case for the first two children. Obviously, though, as a family has more than two children, economies of scale start to be introduced.

    I still don’t know how it went up 40% in 10 years…although food, education, transportation and health care probably did go up by AT LEAST 40% as an aggregate. It’s true that wages have risen though, too.

  12. dianne says:

    Dear Msgr Pope, You say that uninsured people’s health care needs do get taken care of. This is not true, which I know from personal experience. Also, Insured people often have to pay a large deductible. Now as to the expenses of working mothers. There are more than just transportation. A mother is much more likely to take the family to a fast food place after working hard all day, rather than cooking at home. This can really add up. Also, the fact that mothers don’t cook nearly as much anymore is contributing to the obesity epidemic. It is really sad that our society has become so materialistic. Such simple pleasures as a walk to the playground, a trip to the zoo, or a camping trip are both less expensive and more fulfilling than expensive toys, clothes or electronic gagets.

    • All fair enough, my point is that the poor are not wholly lacking in medical care. It is surely true they will have less access to preventative care etc. But my larger point is that all of us as Americans have hyperinflated medical costs by insisting that insurance pay for everything. We do not do this with homeowner insurance, car insurance etc. We use that for catastrophic care. With all the 3rd party payer systems in place, we do not have a real world economy influencing the medical profession or its prices. In the last 10 years Insurance has begun to clamp down on excessive costs and insist that hospitals and doctors start charging realistic prices, but it is a long road back. Meanwhile too, we “consumers” of medical things have to overcome our inelastic demand for services and see medical care just a little more realistically.

  13. Quaerens says:

    So two of the tips in the video are: (1) combine your phone, internet, and TV services to save a bundle “without sacrificing …entertainment” and (2) plug all of your fancy ‘phantom power’ electronics into a power strip and turn them all off when not in use. Oh, first world problems.

    No wonder our commenting friends from outside the country have to ask if we coat our kids in gold. My husband and I have two little boys (in that child-care range of age) and manage to live off of my single income while hubby is in school… and still afford day care three days a week. We have “only” one TV, two computers, an iPad, and two cell phones instead of a home phone. The boys share a room in our apartment and we have a guest bedroom, and we use Netflix and an HDTV antennae to pick up the local channels and football games. We have one minivan. We manage to air condition all the rooms in our apartment and buy our children toys and clothes. We buy food in bulk and don’t eat out much – say, once a week at a fast food joint for lunch, and once a month at a sit-down restaurant for a date night or family night.

    And we’re happy. And can’t wait to have more children once hubby finishes his degree this year, if that’s what the Lord wants.

    I think, in a way, this comes down to trust. Let’s spend more time discerning His will for our lives than we do planning our own finances, and we’ll find that – IF we are doing what He wants – the rest will work itself out. Or not. According to His will. St. John Bosco cared for hundreds of boys without a source of income outside of donations he begged, and several times the baker would threaten to stop supplying his bread until his debt was paid, just as a donation for the very amount would show up in his office. On the other hand, Bl. Louis Martin was wealthy but thought that he should live a childless marriage in accord with God’s will. When he and his wife discerned that they should, indeed, have children, they had five girls for whom they were able to provide all of life’s luxuries. Interestingly, all five of their girls ended up becoming religious and forsaking the wealth of the world because their parents instilled holiness in them. Do we trust God to take care of everything when He makes it clear what His will is?

  14. Bender says:

    These numbers do appear to be highly suspect.

    For instance, it is rather clear that there is some double counting going on here, such as for housing and transportation, which a couple must pay for whether they have kids or not. Nearly $31,000 to transport a child? It costs that much on gas to school and practice for sports?

    To get an accurate measure, we must first determine what is the cost of living for a childless couple over an 18-year period?

  15. Peter says:

    I agree with scott here and have many disagreements with this article, however I would caution you to advise people to have some family triage at home. We know so much more about symptoms and disease, to ignore something and not ask a doctor when you can is great for minor illnesses, but to ignore something that might be minor that could result in the discovery of something major is priceless. How many cancer diagnoses have been discovered from patients who sought medical advice for something they considered minor?

    I’m not going to debate healthcare here, I agree with you that its out of control, but not because the average family is taking their sick child because they know they are covered, even though it is minor.

  16. Richard A says:

    The first obvious problem with this is “average”. There is an absolute minimum amount that parents can spend raising their children – $0 – but there is no absolute maximum that rich parents can spend on their (usually very few) children. It would be more helpful to put these rates in terms of median amounts, rather than averages.

    • Yes, I am not sure exactly what they are “averaging” here. It is actual reported spending or is it computed spending based on the usual things needed to live. I suspect it is the last, but it is not clear.

  17. Thomas says:

    Wages have not always gone up with inflation: http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/income_wealth/cb11-157.html .

    In particular, male incomes are lower than they were in 1973. See also: http://www.npr.org/2011/09/17/140554967/median-male-workers-income-lower-than-in-1973 .

    With two parents working to make ends meet, there are a lot of added expenses, such as child care, transportation, etc.

    Parochial and private schools are much more expensive than they were – by much more than 40%.

    Health care is better, but more expensive. Increased health insurance contributions by employers is balanced by almost no pensions. Parents consequently need to save more.

    There are a host of other problems. I agree with the thrust of the article. Contraception is a mortal sin, and it is sinfult to use NFP without grave reason. But it is much harder to have a decent family life than it used to be.

  18. Richard A says:

    The next obvious problem, as noted above, is “Housing”. The only way to come up with a child’s housing expense is to take the total expense for the household and divide it evenly among the members of the household, allocating the same share to each. Which is manifestly dishonest; it’s not like the first child caused the family’s expected housing expenses to increase by $70,000. Similar problems can no doubt be seen in the transportation expense. There might be some extra driving the family does because of the child, but the cost of owing cars isn’t that much greater if there are three or four in them instead of two. Clothing expenses undoubtedly become less as second and third same-sex children are born.

  19. Tapestry says:

    I don’t know why housing would be in the mix, you can be single or just a married couple with
    a large home that would take more than 50% of your income without kids. Housing everyone
    needs we all either own(through the bank) or lease or rent.

    When we had 4 kids and living on 11K a year in the military, I was a stay at home Mom, with
    one car that dropped off the kids and then went to the grocery store to save on gas(all in one trip).
    Tried to do all my shopping on base because off base was very expensive to us.
    We bought the kids clothes from the thrift store; their grandparents would buy them new shoes and
    pajamas. Each child had 2 toys, the girls had a Fisher Price farm house that kept them amused indoors
    and out, rain and shine. We had a tv set but it was an antennae and was rarely watched. We played
    box games and went to the park in the summer. Summer vacations maybe every 5 years if we could
    swing it otherwise it was trips to the library and joining the summer reading programs.
    We rarely had fast food but we knew how to barbeque.
    You learn to compromise, you learn to budget, you learn what you can live with out its possible to live
    on a lot less.

  20. TeaPot562 says:

    Children of the same gender can share a bedroom – sometimes three in a room. Another commenter remarked on hand-me-down clothing for younger children of the same gender. One has to be careful about planning meals for larger families to minimize food waste – if some food most children dislike, don’t buy it.
    Surely children’s books for learning-to-read kids don’t have to be purchased for each child.
    When you go on outings, pair up oldest child and youngest child, second oldest and second youngest, etc. This used to work for us!
    Just a couple of thoughts. (Oldest of eight, but born in 1933.)
    TeaPot562

  21. Jay Everett says:

    The cost of raising children has increased by 40% ? I say nonsense to this assumption. The cost of everything has gone up but so have salaries. When you compare these two stats you will find that its a ratio based on the income of the parent (parents) to the actual cost of the needs of a child growing up. The key word here is needs. The child or children, has basic needs which can be managed by most households today. On the other hand some parents purchase far to many things that the child does not require. Using processed foods (formula, baby food etc.) are not required and do represent high costs. Unfortunately many young mothers and fathers have been allowed to grow up without any training along these lines. They were taught in school how to have and enjoy sex but were not schooled in the family life which is the backbone of America. How sad this is……..

  22. Shalimamma says:

    Wow, great article! I think the whole ‘children are expensive’ is equivalent to global warming (hoax). People are TOLD they are expensive because of our anti-life society. But in reality? We are extremely wealthy in our county, even if we are considered lower class. My hubby and I have been in almost all income brackets, and now are at one of our lowest, and we have the most kids ever (7 with #8 on the way.). And guess what… God ALWAYS provides. This is what people are missing. Sure, if I look at our huge health insurance deductible and our gas guzzling vans and our smaller (than we had before) home and our one income which doesn’t even meet a true living wage, I would say OH MY GOSH! How are we alive? And here we are, bellies full, healthy, educated, and sheltered, with a small farm and dairy to boot. We do accounting…. And if we were to try to tackle forensic accounting for the last four years, we would not be able to come up with a logical math answer. Or it would be DARK RED. The thing is, there is such a think as ‘God’s accounting.’. When you are generous and open to life, He can’t be outdone, so He will provide. Of course we know that if we were in a situation where we truly couldn’t feed kids, that would be a different issue. But we don’t need all the bells and whistles our society would like us to think we need. Kids are cheap… But we are among the wealthiest, because you can’t put a price on a baby smile or a child’s hug. Blessings from the Masters family

    • Tom T says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with your comment. I`ll go you one better, I can almost assure you, that is what is behind the whole CNN report. Lets face it, they and most of the other main stream media are nothing more than spin artists. They don`t employ journalists anymore, they employ people who promote left wing liberal ideals such as
      global warming, politically correct textbooks, population control and the like. As the oldest of 16 children and with
      five grown of my own and now with 20 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild, I also learned that what you say is
      true, He won`t be outdone, He will provide. God Bless you and your family. Pax

  23. Andrew Wolfe says:

    Monsignor Pope, I’m sorry but it’s pretty uncharitable to lay everything at the feet of ‘parents unable to say no.’

    Jim Schaaf’s correction to your math – 26% versus 2.37% – pretty much takes the overall figure into CNN’s 40% range. There are two other factors worth noting:

    First, no, salaries HAVE NOT gone up. My 2011 salary is about 8% higher than my 2001 salary, and I earned a Master’s Degree for my job in the interim. That leaves me 18% in the hole.

    Second, inflation calculations are low-balled due to the inclusion of luxuries in the calculation. My 2006 computer cost me less than half of my 2001 computer. My monthly parish-school tuition for two kids couldn’t buy a 25″ analog TV in 2001, now I could be getting a full digital 50″ HDTV every month. These electronic luxuries have deflated in cost, and when these are added to “consumer price index” they make inflation artificially LOWER.

    Note also our parish school is one of the lucky ones that is growing and keeping tuitions low!

    In 2001 we were comfortable raising 7 kids with one income.

    In 2011 we are struggling with two full-time jobs and three part-time – and two of our kids are grown and independent!

    Perhaps this is largely because we live near Boston. There are many places more affordable than this. And if your brother isn’t experiencing this, well, God bless him.

    God has blessed us with our children, and I know I could do better with our money. But in Boston, and probably most other East Coast urban areas, the 40% figure seems quite accurate.

    • It is also unfair to say that I am “laying everything at the feet of parents unable to say no.” That is not a fair assessment of my article. Also, when does 26% = 40% ? My own math would have put the 10 year rate at 23.7% not that far from 26% I concede the compounded rate addition and accept the 26% figure, but 26 still does not equal 40

  24. Max says:

    Father,

    The primary reason that costs have been rising is that the Dollar has been completely fiat since 1971 (40 years). If you google “money supply graph” you will find your answer rather quickly: http://media.artdiamondblog.com/images2/MoneySupplyGraph2009-08-12.gif

    The printing of money has devalued the purchasing power of the dollar drastically over the last 40 years. Catholic author Thomas Woods (How the Catholic Church Created Western Civilization) mentions other serious problems in our monetary system in his book “Meltdown”.

    This short two minute video explains the inherent flaws of a total fiat system: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hx16a72j__8&feature=player_embedded

    God bless

  25. Robert Hanten says:

    Msgr. Pope:

    I don’t know where to start or leave off. John Williams writes a newsletter called Shadow Government Statistics. He uses the pre-Clinton CPI calculations. His numbers show inflation at a much higher rate that the “official” rates. See: http://www.shadowstats.com/alternate_data/inflation-charts Also, see this article on John Williams’ work. Mr. Williams, using the inflation calculation methodology in place before 1980, he shows the annual inflation rate in February of 2011 was 9.6% http://www.cnbc.com/id/42551209/Inflation_Actually_Near_10_Using_Older_Measure Lastly, Google “Hedontic Deflators” This are statistical ruses used by the Department of Labor to reduce the inflation rate. I think the 40% number might actually be low!

    While I acknowledge that Americans have some pretty daft spending habits, I can tell you as a father of six that has been paying Catholic school tuition for twenty-five years and living on a single income, that costs have gone up considerably. As a self employed man, I can tell you I will spent almost $20,000 for health insurance and health care this year. The CPI numbers are rigged, Father, so the premise of your article is flawed.

    Over the last 10 years, people had used debt to keep their materialist lifestyle up in light of stagnant wages, but this has come to an end, which is part of the reason we have a depression. By the way, without deficit spending by the federal government, GDP would be down around 6% which is depression territory. Deficit spending by the Federal government is about 10% of GDP and government spending is included in GDP numbers. Without the Federal government’s deficit spending, GDP growth would be negative.

    In terms of your comments on wages, you were wrong there, too. Wages for men have fallen to 1974 levels on an inflation adjusted basis. Household income has gone nowhere even though women have come into the workforce.

    For a very good overall report on financial pressures on American families and back-up for my wage growth claim, please see the Grandfather Economic Report’s report on family income: http://grandfather-economic-report.com/family.htm

    When I look at that report and what has been happening to families, I don’t think it is helpful to wag a finger at families, especially families that have taken Humanae Vitae seriously, for being materialistic. Nor is it helpful to to hear about farm families that live on next to nothing. If they have a farm, they have capital which is precisely most young families lack, and farm families do not count as income the food they take off the farm to provide for themselves. This is tax-free income with no FICA tax or income tax. Since only a small percentage of Americans own farms, this is simply an apples to oranges comparison.

    • You generalize too much when you speak of wagging fingers at families. What this article is about is our overall set of values as a culture and whether this report of a 40% increase is accurate or is the subtext of another set of values contrary to the appreciation of life.

  26. Robert Hanten says:

    If I may, here is another article to read on economic pressures being felt by families: http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/09/26/saving-the-rich-losing-the-economy/

  27. mdepie says:

    In spite of what they are saying about the cost of kids, until the efforts of the current administration at destroying the American economy, the overall standard of living was going up. This is largely the result of a market based economy. For example in the US 79% of poor people have cable TV and a DVD player. 80% have a cell phone and an associated wireless connection. Interestingly I had none of these things growing up and would not have regarded myself as poor, and my children have all of them. As the economist Branko Milanovic has written about, the least wealthy 5% of people in the US have a standard of living better than 60% of the rest of the world. This is not the result of us having “too much wealth”, as poor countries would have even less wealth if we stopped consuming things. It does not benefit workers in Southeast Asia for Americans to purchase less and thereby import less. I am not sure living more simply is in itself really in anyone’s interest. What really helps poor people and lifts them out of poverty is economic growth.

    For the economy to grow however what you do need is people… lots of them. First of all they are consumers, this is not a bad thing, a country with few consumers is a country with lots of poor people. Second of all they are a form of intellectual capitol. we have cell phones and computers and anti-cancer drugs because we have a relatively large number of people thinking up these things than more depressed regions. At least historically. For most of history there were more people in Europe than Africa. Some places that are quite densely populated like Israel at 809 people per sq mile have a significantly higher standard of living than say Somalia at 37 people/ sq mile. Moreover all of the popular social welfare schemes in the West like social security are premised on lots of young people working and paying taxes in support of a smaller number of the aged or infirm Because of the current situation where we have stopped breeding, these systems are in a state of collapse.
    All of this has been written about by economists such as the late Julian Simon. One imagines if one was demonic and hated humans one would popularize an anti human overpopulation lie and have them contracept themselves into economic and social chaos, something like Greece is doing, and England is on its way ( see the London riots..) Of course there are other factors that cause national poverty in places like Africa etc ( no rule of law, corrupt governments, etc.. but overpopulation is not one of them)

    The bottom line is as individuals we should recognize the Church and most recently Pope Paul VI were right about children. They are a blessing and not having them is wrong, and contraception is evil. Secondly To the extent we are stressing families economically we need to have a child friendly tax system. If the deduction for a child reflected the value it had in 1950, it would be about 10,000 per child not the paltry 3500 it is now… I would be interested to see if the “social justice” crowd at the USCCB raises this as an issue… don’t hold your breath. They are clueless as to what the real problem is.

    • I agree with much of what you have said, especially about the demographics issues. What I do find problematic is your tone on two points. The USCCB comment does not need references to the Social Justice “crowd” or accusations that they are clueless. Secondly while I am not a supporter of many aspects of the current administration, I am not sure it is fair to lay the current economy fully at their feet. The market crashed and the real estate bubble burst in Sept 2008 and Pres Bush along with congress passed a large bailout bill that month. The economic crisis played a large role in the election campaign that fall. I agree the current policies have surely not helped. As a Catholic your are free and encouraged to have political views, but on a blog of this nature, I think it is good to remember that people from a wide variety of political views read and unnecessary provocations are good to avoid.

      • mdepie says:

        Msgr Pope:
        Point well taken, as your the owner. But… I would make note of 2 things: One minor and one pretty serious.

        First the relatively minor..

        I dont recall saying President Bush was great on the economy.. Economic policy is frequently confused with partisan politics because the parties ostensibly operate out of different theoretical economic frameworks, Democrats being liberal and Republicans being conservative. In fact while the Democrats are reliably liberal the Republicans are not reliably conservative. For a very good discussion of this, Angelo Codelvilla has written a perceptive essay about, called “The Ruling Class” .you and many of your readers may be familar with it. If not, it is worth reading. I think it is pretty easy to show that liberal economic policies fail and conservative ones are better. This is not about politics it is about objective data. But as its not the focus of your blog I will move on

        The more important issue is probably social justice and the USCCB. Perhaps my tone was a bit too glib. Unfortunately It remains necessary to point the damage that some at the USCCB do under the banner of promoting social justice. If you look at the Democrats( lets call it like it is) They as a political party relentlessly defend abortion on demand, Never has a Republican adminsitration tried to mandate Catholic institutions fund contraception, as Obama is doing. Moreover Bush limited Embryonic stem cell research funding, Obama expanded it. Republicans in general limit abortion while Democrats expand the abortion license. Again the Republicans are not always reliably pro-life, there is always Olympia Snowe etc.. but the Democrats are relibly Pro-abortion even when they claim otherwise. ( Sen ator Robert Casey voted against defunding planned Parenthood for example. As the parties stand there is no doubt the pro-life cause is aided when the Republicans are in power, this is just a fact. It has prompted Ramesh Ponnuru to write a book that describes this in detail ( The Party of Death) and Cardinal Raymond Burke, has echoed this theme. That said given that Catholics regard abortion as an “unpeakable crime”, quoting Vatican II, it is suprising that Catholics in general will vote for pro-abortion democrats over the relatively more pro-life Republican frequently. Usually the pro-abortion democrat gets about 50% of the Catholic vote. This is a far greater percentage of votes then pro-abortion party gets compared to what our Evangelical Bretheren give them. How to explain this?

        Some of the answer might lie in that The voter guidelines and statements put out by the USCCB, often suggesting, (perhaps not explicitly, but in tone and emphasis,) that the Pro life policies of the Republicans must be weighed against the “pro social justice policies” of the Democrats, ie that the Democrats are better on social justice issues. Indeed some Catholics have explicitly made this argument (see here for example http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/18/AR2008101801665.html) The fact that there are those at the USCCB who take this approach is amply demonstrated by the fact that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development which is run under the auspices of the USCCB has been over the years funding a variety of groups which espouse left wing “social justice” politics including promotion of abortion.. So apparently promotion of.. what did Vatican II call it… oh yes “unspeakable crime” wa not a barrier to funding these groups. This has been well documented, see here http://www.lifenews.com/2010/02/02/nat-5954/ and see here http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/theologian-consultant-named-for-catholic-campaign-for-human-development/ . It is phenomenal that this would occur. The idea that Catholic who donated money to the CCHD had their donations funnelled to pro-abortion groups under the rubric of furthering “social justice” can be described by a variety of terms, with “clueless” being one of the more charitable.

        This is ironic since IAs I hinted at the “social justice” policies favored by this group, crowd , or whatever one might choose to call them, are arguably not favorable to the poor, they harm the poor, and in fact they got ther man in the Oval office and the number of “poor people” ( like those on food stamps” have gone up” I think a pretty easy case can be made that those deeply concerned about “social justice” need not feel compelled to choose between politicans who will help the poor but throw unborn children under the bus, in fact the liberal economic policies favored by the social justice group do not work, and there are conservative pro-family policies ( like increasing the tax deduction for Children and using it to offset all taxes)

        We are beyond the point where all Catholics can have their political views.. One party reliably and predictably advocates what John Paui II called “murder” in Evangelium Vitate and another Party at least most of the time, seeks to limit , or at least not further expand this “unspeakable crime”, in this setting It is hard to imagine why there is a much of a choice. The fact that some see it otherwise , is why we continue to have the problem we do
        Ok I have had my say.. Will cease and desist at this point…

  28. KHoward says:

    Dear Sir,

    To add to your discussion, I have an excerpt here from a Wikipedia entry on Elizabeth Warren. Please note that the book they are discussing was written in 2003:

    “In addition to writing more than 100 scholarly articles and six academic books, Warren has written several best-selling books…
    Warren is the co-author (with [her daughter] Tyagi) of The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke (Basic, 2003) (ISBN 978-0-465-09090-7). Warren and Tyagi point out that a fully employed worker today earns less inflation-adjusted income than a fully employed worker did 30 years ago. To increase their income, families have sent a second parent into the workforce. Although families spend less today on clothing, appliances, and other consumption, the costs of core expenses like mortgages, health care, transportation, child care, and taxes have increased dramatically. The result is that, even with two income earners, families no longer save and have incurred greater and greater debt.
    In an article in The New York Times, Jeff Madrick said of Warren’s book:
    “ The upshot is that two-income families often have even less income left over today than did an equivalent single-income family 30 years ago, even when they make almost twice as much. And they go deeper in debt. The authors find that it is not the free-spending young or the incapacitated elderly who are declaring bankruptcy so much as families with children. … their main thesis is undeniable. Typical families often cannot afford the high-quality education, health care and neighborhoods required to be middle class today. More clearly than anyone else, I think, Ms. Warren and Ms. Tyagi have shown how little attention the nation and our government have paid to the way Americans really live.[17] ”
    In an article in Time magazine by Maryanna Murray Buechner, “Parent Trap” (subtitled “Want to go bust? Have a kid. Educate same. Why the middle class never had it so bad”), Buechner said of Warren’s book:
    “ For families looking for ways to cope, Warren and Tyagi mainly offer palliatives: Buy a cheaper house. Squirrel away a six-month cash cushion. Yeah, right. But they also know that there are no easy solutions. Readers who are already committed to a house and parenthood will find little to mitigate the deflating sense that they have nowhere to go but down.[18] ”
    In 2005, Dr. David Himmelstein and Warren published a study on bankruptcy and medical bills,[19] which claimed that half of all families filing for bankruptcy did so in the aftermath of a serious medical problem. The finding was particularly noteworthy because 75% of those who fit that description had medical insurance.[20] This study was widely cited in academic studies and policy debates, though some have questioned the study’s methods and offered alternative interpretations of the data.[21]”

    *****

    My own experiences (not as an American, but as a Canadian parent who has no healthcare costs, no car, no television, no cellphone, living in a well-placed but tiny apartment, a university education, a freelance career, and a loving family) have suggested that there are numerous factors in the increase in the costs of children and that some of the suggestions above are petty and mean-spirited.

    People who would like to have children have children (if they are able). Usually the decision to limit the number has a lot to do with Predictability of one’s income not the Actual income, the stability of the marital relationship, the availability of good childcare or a supportive family in the vicinity and one’s capacity to attend to the needs of the children one produces. If the framework is there, then families have more children, if it is not they have fewer.

    Kind Regards, K.Howard.

    • But you see, they are only mean spirited if you take them personally. The fact is there ARE some bad behaviors evident in the modern lifestyle. None of them may apply to you, but then the post isn’t about you personally. The big picture does however indicate that there are lifestyle choices in the equation, culturally.

      Frankly your final paragraphs also illustrate another modern tendency which is to be thin-skinned and to take things too personally. Hence then you resort to calling the comments of others “petty” and “mean-spirited” which is to break your own rule in the very act of announcing it. It is culture that is being analyzed here, not you and your family or your very specific situation.

      • KHoward says:

        Actually, I don’t take the comments personally (although the comments are often reflective of the personal experiences of others, which is where we all begin in our understanding of the world). I’m a) not American, and b) considering that I am NOT actually spending my money on the items that the others criticize, I DON’T feel like the comments are directed to me. But there are many people whom I know who are doing their best and who limit the number of children they have for the reasons I listed and then pour as many financial (and other) resources into those few children as they can. Sure, some of those resources are poorly chosen or fall too far into the realm of materialism. But there seem to be a number of responders here who think that the decision to limit their number of children is based on their desire to provide said children with fancy shoes or electronics, when that decision is generally based on the *stability* of finances and on emotional resources.

        Your concern is actually about why people choose to have any, fewer or more children, right? Considering that the numbers are based on four-person families, it is clear that your brother with a nice big family would not be expected to pay the same amount per child as the statistics report. He would be in a different category, as would single-parent families. But a couple who have chosen to have two children are reported to be spending 40% more on those two children than another couple who, ten years ago, chose to have two children.

        I choose to believe the numbers that for various reasons it is MORE expensive now than it was 10 years ago for people to raise two children. Other people take it as an opportunity to criticize people for not making their children wear hand-me-downs. On behalf of others (not me, because my family does wear hand-me-downs, and I don’t just mean the kids) that seems mean-spirited.

  29. Katherine G ERT says:

    Some of the costs of raising kids can come from expensive sports. I learned a lot from my parents on saving money, however. I rode horses for many years from the time I was 5. Back when I started, horseback riding was a lot cheaper than it is today. But, to save money, I did not take lessons during the winter, when it was very cold and would snow (but I would do barn chores and help out instead), and I became a working student at a few barns and got to ride and train horses for free. I also chose not to show horses, not liking the atmosphere and the expense. In the horse world, there are people that are either very privileged with parents and/or jobs/trust funds that can pay for shows, expensive horses, etc, or you are a working student who is poor and makes money by training horses and people and buying and selling horses.

    Another example is drag racing. My brother did junior dragsters from the time he was 8 years old. To save money, we did not get expensive, fast engines (but rather worked on the one we had to make it faster), and my brother had one car for the entire time he did junior drag racing (some kids go through several cars and several engines). He also put his winning money towards anything fancy he wanted for the car. Despite the fact that both my brother and I were in fairly expensive sports, we learned that money does NOT grow on trees and also how to play in the sport for as little money as possible without compromising safety. I also learned from volunteering and being a working student how to handle many different types of horses, all about different riding sports, and that I did not want to own or lease or rescue a horse until I had a lot of time and money on my hands (I have seen neglect where people just jumped into owning or leasing and it’s sad and unnecessary). I agree with many people on this blog – some things are unnecessary expenses. But if you want to do expensive sports or want/need something pricey, there are ways to lessen the cost.

  30. taggies says:

    Yes, I have to agree with you on perseverance (as I talk about it in my character curriculum) or as you wrote, “persist for the payoff.” Any goal, whether it’s to become a better parent or to learn how to ride a bike, takes promise (a statement of commitment that you will indeed do it), practice, patience, perseverance (never giving up until you reach your goal), and positivity (that good things will happen as long as you keep trying).

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