black couple

Few would argue that America isn’t a capitalist society. Therefore, I guess it was only a matter of time before we began assessing the impact of choosing to have or not have children through an economic viewpoint. Back in the day, it was easy to justify why having more children made sense. As an agriculturally based society, more children meant more hands to till the land or help around the house. If you were fortunate, you might escape the hardships of the farm to pursue work in the city. However, in many cases, you were still expected to send money back to help the nuclear family. Thus, regardless if they stayed on the land or left, it only made sense to have as many children as you could possibly create.

This is no longer the case. In fact, from a purely economic standpoint, many can persuasively argue that having children in 2013 is one of the worst (or at least not best) financial decision a single person can make. For the record, the odds are not much better for married couples. TIME Magazine wrote such an assessment for their recent cover story, The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children. If you have a subscription to TIME, you can read the full story by clicking here. If you’re cheap like most of us, with or without kids, then you can simply read a similarly themed story by TIME that I’ve highlighted below.

Source: TIME Magazine

Source: TIME Magazine

The Economic Reason for Having Just One Child

One recent night, my daughter Dahlia and I popped out for pizza, and while we were chatting over our slices, CBS Evening News came on the television suspended over the counter. We sat transfixed by a segment on a massive number of homeless families that have settled in a makeshift community in the California desert. Dahlia chewed thoughtfully as she watched a father tell the reporter about how he had worn a tie to work until six months ago, when he lost everything and had no choice but to move there with his three kids. Then she shifted her eyes to me and asked, “Mama, that won’t be us because there’s only one of me instead of three?”

She’s on to something. According to the USDA, a child born in 2011 will cost an average of $234,900 to raise to age 18. If your household income is over $100,000, you can raise that number to about $390,000. Yes, there are some savings after the first child — you don’t have to buy another high chair! — but it’s not as though you get a huge volume discount on subsequent offspring. There are also opportunity costs of a mother’s loss of income from parental leave, scaling back hours or dropping out of the workforce entirely. No wonder, according to the USDA, two-parent households with two children devote over one-third of their income to their kids. Add it all up and there’s a strong economic case for stopping at one child.

And yet the world will tell you — from grandmothers to sitcoms to strangers in the supermarket — that money shouldn’t be a factor in deciding to have more children. If you express concern about how much children cost, then you’ve clearly got your priorities wrong. You’ll make it work, they tell you. Don’t be selfish. (I wrote about this and other stereotypes of parents with singletons in a cover story for TIME.)

There’s a popular theory of economics that contends that there’s really no difference between deciding to raise a child and making any other investment.

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Not Having Kids Is Selfish

At least that’s what people tell me. You see, I’m 30 years old. In Internet years, I’m elderly. According to a 2012 survey, I officially turned “old” 2 whole years ago. To some degree, I literally feel like I’m too old to have kids. That ship came, docked, threw a party, then sailed away, while I stayed on land enjoying relative irresponsibility and I made the choice – with God’s help – not to become a parent despite many offers and opportunities. It feels strange to imagine a world where I’ll post photos of my child learning to walk across the living room on Instagram, while many of my friends in the same age group will be posting pictures of their children walking across stage at their High School graduation. I can’t help but wonder if they got it right, and I got it wrong. Should I have had children earlier, even if it would have been more difficult, so I can benefit from having an older child at this age? On the eve of my 31st birthday, I’m no closer to having a baby as I was on the eve of my 18th birthday.

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Since High School, roughly every girlfriend I have ever had has expressed interest in wanting to have my kid(s). I always found this strange. I remember one woman in particular. We were in a serious relationship, lived together, and did plan to marry one day. However, we were ridiculously broke. Very broke, like a few paychecks from poor, broke; Ramen noodles and sliced hot dogs broke. Despite our economic woes and check-to-check living standards, all my girlfriend at the time could think about (or so it seemed to me) was when we were going to have children. We had very different views on the subject.

I didn’t want to bring a child in the world until I felt (admittedly arbitrarily, since I didn’t know how much income we would need to make me feel “ready”) I could afford to take care of and provide for our yet unborn child. She, on the other hand, loved me. That was all the justification she needed. Further, in her opinion. the fact that I didn’t want to have a child with her at that exact moment was not a testament to my hesitancy due to our barely lower-income status. No, my not wanting to have a child with her, in her mind, was an indictment of our relationship. To her, it meant I saw no future and/or I did not love her as much as she loved me. Why else – besides, you know, the honest reason I gave her – would I not want to impregnate her as soon as humanely possible if I really loved her and wanted to be with her forever?

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I share this story, because I’ve noticed it’s not unique. When it comes to child-bearing, my male-friends tend to take an economic assessment of their current affairs rather than an emotional one. My female-friends tend to take an emotional assessment of their current affairs rather than an economic one. In other words, most of my male-friends prefer not to have kids until they can afford them, regardless of their relationship status; whereas, most of my female-friends prefer to have kids dependent on their relationship status, regardless of if they can “afford” them.

More and More Opt out of Parenting

In a world of infinite resources, this discussion would be irrelevant. However, most of us have finite resources. Given the choice, both men and women are choosing to have less or no children until they are financially stable. Due to myriad factors, it takes each subsequent generation longer and longer to financially establish themselves in this country. This has resulted in a declining birth rate and marriages that occur later in life, or not at all. Similar to college, many young people are beginning to evaluate what was once a an assumed next-step in life through a cost-benefit analysis: is the cost of raising children compared to the benefit of having children still worth it? Are children something you can objectively quantify or is the return from parenting one of those “priceless” categories that we can never accurately measure? These are the questions an increasing amount of childless people are asking themselves. Over time, we’ll learn how our and future generations answered that question.

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Is your financial situation a major factor in your choice to have zero, one, or more children? What must occur in your life before you feel “ready” to have kids? Is choosing not to have kids a selfish decision? Have you felt pressured by your family or society to have one or more kids?