Here we go again. Yet another report has been circulating recently that claims it costs a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child to age 18. And this, the report ominously warns, does not even count the crushing cost of college!
This type of article comes along regularly, and we have commented on them before. But this one is particularly annoying because it comes from the United States Department of Agriculture, giving the impression that it is governmental, official and can’t be challenged.
But it has to be challenged. The assumptions made in what a family must spend on a child are way off. The report is also potentially dangerous and damaging to the institution of families since it could scare potential parents and stop many couples from having children they are actually fully capable of supporting and raising.
Bottom line: Estimates like this are a myth, and they discourage parents.
So let's debunk the myth. Of the quarter-million dollars the Department of Agriculture says it costs to raise a child to age 18, 30 percent -- or nearly $75,000 -- is for housing, probably based on the assumption that couples will have to add a bedroom on to their home for each child, or buy a bigger house with an extra bedroom. This usually does not happen in families, particularly with a second, third or fourth child.
Another 18 percent of the estimate, close to $50,000, is for child care and education, which certainly is not that much for most families who use child care minimally and do not send their children to private schools. And another 16 percent, more than $35,000, is for food. While it certainly costs money to feed a child, most families simply stretch the food they are already buying a little further.
So at least 64 percent of the total estimate is questionable. We believe these estimates are illogical, obnoxious and even a bit insulting to the intelligence and resourcefulness of parents. Most annoying of all, these estimates assume that teenagers can’t do any work or earn any money at all themselves.
We are offended and exasperated by these reports and estimates -- and it seems like a new one comes out a couple of times every year. Why does it bother us? Because it is the very kind of thinking that causes young couples to decide not to have children, or to delay having a child until they are much older and have much more money. And in doing so, it robs potential mid- to late-20s couples of what we call the “magnificent struggle.”
Sometimes we can't help but wonder if there is some great conspiracy out there trying to get everyone to avoid commitment, avoid responsibility, keep all options open, avoid marriage and delay or eliminate children.
Or maybe it is just stupidity and selfishness.
Whatever it is, it is well served by the regular release of yet another report assuring us that we really can’t afford to have children.
(Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or at valuesparenting.com, and follow Linda’s blog at eyrealm.blogspot.com.)