The birth rate in the United States is now the lowest since the 1920s, when they began keeping this statistic. Experts are worried about the dire consequences of negative population growth, which is already occurring in parts of Europe and Asia. In many rural areas of America, it is causing schools to close, depressing real estate prices and affecting public services. Some municipalities are even giving away free land in order to attract young couples to the area. One obvious reason couples are having fewer children or skipping it entirely is because of the high cost. It is now estimated to cost $235,000 to raise a child to age 18.
How Times have Changed
Whenever I wanted something expensive as a child, I was quickly told, “We can’t afford it.” This wasn’t something that I could argue with, because it was an honest and accurate answer. There was no whining, begging or tantrums. We accepted the reality of a family of seven, living on a single income. It was more important for us to eat and have a roof over our heads, than to get a new baseball glove. Now days, parents are too ashamed and embarrassed to admit when they can’t afford something. And, they feel guilty about depriving their children of the smallest item or experience. So, they often go into debt in order to provide the things their income won’t allow. When I was a kid, parents didn’t feel obligated to entertain us or to buy us things they couldn’t afford. My allowance barely bought a couple of candy bars and my clothes came out of Sears catalog. We washed cars, mowed lawns or got paper routes to earn our own money.
Children are a Choice
When we started our own family, we chose to stop at two children. Mrs. Prosper and I are both younger children from very large families and we both wanted to give more time, attention and resources to fewer children. Having a son and a daughter made the decision easy. Little did we know or care that it takes 2.1 children per couple in order to sustain the population. Two kids was enough and three would have been one too many.
For most parents, the cost of raising a child doesn’t end when they turn 18. Children are staying at home longer and expecting more support as young adults. It’s very common for parents to be paying most of the expenses for their kids well into their twenties, whether they are working or not. Parents who help their children attend college are facing huge tuition costs. Others are helping to raise their grandchildren. It never seems to end.
The Trade Off
Millions of couples are skipping children altogether. They have nice cars and go out to dinner often, without hiring a baby-sitter. They have nice houses and furnishings, which don’t get destroyed by curious children with sticky fingers. They get to sleep in on weekends and go away on vacations. From a time and money standpoint, remaining childless is definitely the way to go.
The trade off comes from all of the little things childless couples miss out on. They will never drop their kids off at school or coach their sports teams. They will never recognize their children’s cry from a half mile away or see their own face smiling back at them. There are no kids to celebrate birthdays and holidays with. They have no one to carry their name and legacy. They will have no one to look after them in their old age.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that having children is priceless. The cost, hassles and sleepless nights are weighed against thousands of small moments of pleasure. As with anything priceless, be prepared to pay a lot more than you expect.
“I take a very practical view of raising children. I put a sign in each of their rooms: Checkout Time is 18 years.”
Erma Bombeck – Humor Columnist
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