The cost of raising a child is terrifyingly expensive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported the average middle-income couple can now expect to spend approximately $241,080 raising a child born last year to age 18. In some parts of the country, that’s more than the cost of a house. And, by the way, that number doesn’t include the cost of sending the child to college.
Considering 57 percent of Americans have less than $25,000 in total household savings or investments, choosing to forgo having children might actually be an intelligent financial move. And it seems like plenty of Americans agree, because the number of childless couples has begun to grow in recent years.
Cost of Children Too Great for Some Couples
Lauren Sandler’s recent Time article, “Having it All Without Having Children,” finds Americans are increasingly choosing to remain childless in order to save money for other goals.
In fact, Sandler writes that the current birthrate in the United States is the lowest ever recorded; about one in five American women never give birth, versus one in 10 in the 1970s. However, this trend had been evident well before the last recession hit.
For instance, according to another Time piece, birthrates fell significantly during the Great Depression, as well as during the stagnation experienced in the 1970s. Mark Mather, a demographer for the Population Reference Bureau, told the magazine, “Fertility rates drop in periods of economic stress.”
Weighing the Cost of Children
“Making the decision to have a child gets so emotional for so many people,” explained Diane Polnow, author of Baby Debate: Everything You Need to Consider Before Becoming a Parent. “You’ve got to make it a logical and a financial decision as much as it is an emotional one.”
Often, when couples think about having children, they consider only what they want and how great it would be for them to be parents. “I’m trying to get people to think about what kind of life they would give their child,” Polnow said. “Think about the child first and not necessarily what you want.”
Polnow noted another major problem: Most parents only plan for the baby stage, forgetting that some day they’ll eventually have a two-year-old, and then a four-year-old and then a teenager. Parents must be prepared financially for at least 18 years out, which, in truth, few are.
“How is it that people can logically afford to have a child if 76 percent of our country is living paycheck-to-paycheck?” Polnow asked. “People go and try to get qualified for a home to get a loan, and if they don’t have the money, they can’t get a house … so what would happen if we started making people qualify financially to have children?”
There would likely be a lot fewer children.
Is the Choice to Not Have Kids Selfish?
The idea that having children and being a parent is what we all should strive for is deeply engrained in American culture, leading many to label those who choose to remain childless as selfish.
And perhaps they truly are — but putting your own needs and desires first is not necessarily a bad thing. Kristina of DINKS Finance (Dual Income No Kids) agreed. “I think that the decision not to have children for financial reasons is selfish,” she said. “But then again, aren’t all personal choices selfish?”
Kristina explained that the decision not to have children is a personal choice, based on the lifestyle she wants to have. Whether it’s having the time to grab drinks with friends after work, flexibility to eat cereal for dinner or money to travel three times a year, the benefits of not having kids allow for that freedom.
“I don’t feel guilty about my decision not to have kids because I have no obligation to repopulate the world,” Kristina argued. “However, now that I am getting older, I am starting to wonder if I will eventually regret my decision not to have kids … I don’t want to wake up in 15 years and regret my decision to remain childless. Besides — why am I saving all my money if I have no one to share it with?”
Having children and growing a family is a goal millions of couples strive for, and an admirable one at that. However, couples who don’t feel they have the money to adequately support a child, or who would rather put their money toward a more comfortable lifestyle or retirement savings, need to seriously consider the option of remaining childless.
As Polnow concluded, “Parenthood is not a given, it’s a choice. To me, the most selfish thing is to bring a child into this life who is unwanted, unplanned and is with parents who aren’t ready to be parents.”