Thursday, February 23, 2006

Why do people have kids?

I was reading an article this morning about the financial considerations of having kids. Basically, it undertakes a cost-benefit analysis and tries to determine whether having children is worth the investment. Now, of course, it would be cold and callous and politically incorrect for them to determine that the cost of having children is not worth it, so after determining that it costs about $200,000 to raise a kid, plus college tuition, plus about $1 million if you choose to be a stay-at-home mom, and then going on to cite research that children aren't really the balm of old age that we think they will be, it tacks on a half-hearted conclusion that intangibles like bouquets of dandelions and cute little voices saying, "I love you, Mommy," somehow make the investment worth it.

Now, I don't want to underestimate the value of those intangibles, but I have a hard time believing that they would even come close to the $1.5 million dollar price tag that they apparently wear. I could pick my own dandelions, or become a nanny and get someone else's kids to love me with their cute little voices.

Is it so hard to imagine that people become parents for some reason that can't be calculated mathematically? Perhaps for a reason that is almost entirely selfless, with the dandelions simply being a perk of the job?

Why do some lawyers work at inner-city clinics instead of big corporate firms? Why do people join the army? Sure, there are benefits to both career choices, but in the end, I think it comes down to something other than a cost-benefit analysis. It has to do with being a part of something bigger than you; investing in the greater good. I guess those things are intangibles, too, but they aren't direct personal benefits.

On the most basic, practical level, society needs people to have kids purely for the propagation of the species. Beyond that, we need dedicated parents to invest in the lives of children so that they will grow up to be productive and valuable members of society.

But that argument doesn't seem to go very far in our individualist culture. Most people, even those who choose to be parents, treat having kids like a purely personal choice. And articles like the one mentioned above only further this mindset by trying to create a self-contained system of child-rearing costs and rewards.

It's because of this mindset that our society does such a poor job of supporting parents. It's why child-free people try to get out of paying school taxes, and why most people (parents included) think of government-sponsored parental support programs as a form of charity, rather than as an investment in the future.

What happened to the old adage, "it takes a village to raise a child"? The underlying assumption of this saying would be that all of society benefits from well-raised children, therefore it is the responsibility of all of society to engage in the raising of children. But this assumption seems to have become as obsolete as actually living in a village.

Just because we live in the city, or in the suburbs, does not mean that we suddenly need to become perfectly independent and self-sufficient. When my single, independent friends retire in luxury, it just might be my kid that performs the open-heart surgery on them that saves their lives. We're all inter-dependent, whether we think we are or not. Maybe it's time we started acting like it.


Sarah said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. Statistically, the more wealthy a country becomes, the less children are born per woman. Europe is an interesting case study on this demographic trend. I'm very curious to know where studies come up with the "average" cost of raising a child. Consider even the discrepancy between the price of a package of Huggies diapers from K-Mart and a box of generic diapers from Sam's club, breast milk or formula, thrift store clothes or Gymboree outfits, homemade babyfood or Gerber Graduates, and on and on it goes. Does this cost include day care, gymnastics, and summer camp? I think that it is appropriate to be wise and even frugal with our money, but these studies often scare people away from having kids (and we're probably the people most able to "afford" them).

Jule Ann said...

Thanks for your comments, Sarah. It's ironic that every other time I've heard that statistic, it's been phrased in reverse, "the poorer the country is, the more children are born per woman." As if to say child-bearing is a terrible side effect of poverty.

To the article's credit, it did break down the cost of raising a child by income level, assuming that parents in a higher tax bracket will make the more expensive parenting choices. I just picked a number in the middle range for my rant.

But really, you could make any choice sound scary if you add up the expenses over 21 years. Deciding to tithe might cost you $100,000 or more over 21 years. Buying a house on a mortgage might cost you $300,000 in interest over 21 years. Even a hobby like scrapbooking might cost $10,000 over 21 years.

Sarah said...

Good point...I'd be interested to see if I put my money where my mouth/treasure is. If I could see a yearly breakdown on how much I spend on clothes, coffee, magazines, gas, tithe, fast food, etc., I wonder how shocked, ashamed, or content I would feel. I have been challenged in the past year to be more intentional about making wiser, more discerning choices about how I spend my money and my time. I certainly can't make perfect choices, but maybe my aim is to make better choices.

Anonymous said...

I've heard several times that france and a few other Westernized European countries such as Germany actually have negative native population growth right now. Japan and China's rate of growth is about the about the same, but in those countries it is intentional...

twilighttreader said...

If I want something to keep me company in my old age, I'll get a parrot. They can live 50+ years, you don't have to send them to college, and you won't get nasty notes from a teacher if you train them to say all sorts of profane and obscene things in public.

Thanks for picking up on the child-free vs. child-less distinction.

Christianlady said...

I personally have children because I feel I am supposed to. It's for something in the future, someone who is supposed to serve God in some way. I also wonder and marvel at the creation God contains in a vessel like me, inside my body. It's all too amazing and thrilling. Each day they grow and change, proving that creation continues on. Then, I keep being their mom day by day because I need to. I need to teach them, I need to raise them, I need to help any way I can make God's creations into the beauty that he wants them to be. They are all marvels, every one of them. Why do people plant flowers? And besides, there is no way they cost that much to raise if you have many. They share, and others give hand me down clothes, and we use the same heat and light. They can get scholarships and work for college education as well. If it were that expensive, my kids would be starving and naked, and they are not. Why have children, because I love them, that's why.