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The cost of children

The costs start before birth, in extra doctor’s visits (and anti-emetics) for the mom-to-be. They spike during the hospital stay and remain high through the diaper-and-baby-food stages, the ever-larger clothing, the field trip money, and eventually college. Kids are expensive; the cost of a child born this year and raised in the Midwest: $183,510, not including college, according to this calculator. And they give an extremely poor interest rate. Financially speaking, having children makes no sense. So why do people do it?

Common wisdom is that children make you happy. But psychological research indicates that’s not true; as described in this Newsweek article, childless couples have the same amount of emotional wellbeing as people with children and tend to be more satisfied with their marriages. Children offer companionship, but so do spouses and pets. Children, in fact, seem to come with no other rewards and some serious drawbacks: the sacrifice of time and self-identity, the additional responsibility, and especially the pricetag.

With that said, however, most people have or plan to have children, even though they can’t specifically say way. This Plain Dealer article describes the attempts of semester after semester of college students to figure out why people should want to have children. They fail. But chances are, most of them went on to have children. I plan to have children, even though I know my life would in some ways be richer (literally and metaphorically) without them. Why?

Since there’s no rational reason to have children, the answer lies in the irrational: in our biological roots. It’s likely that having children is an instinct buried so deep that we don’t recognize it as an instinct, the way we automatically look toward sharp movement or loud noises, but we obey it anyway. Part of the definition of natural selection is that traits that enhance an organism’s chance of passing on its genes tend to spread in a population. What trait would enhance those chances more than the tendency to want to have children? By definition, a species that didn’t have urges towards procreation would shortly be wiped out. Humans have spread out over the globe not just because of our tools and our intelligence, but also because of our population.

It is a fact that the best decision, financially speaking, is not to have children. But that’s not what most of us will do. And that’s a good thing. It’s healthy for us to want things other than riches, healthy to know that there are important things in life other than money.

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3 Responses to “The cost of children”

  1. David says:

    The cost of raising a kid from 0 to 18 years is about 200k for a person who is frugal. But the REAL cost is not 200k because instead of spending $600 a month on the kid, you could have taken that same money and invested it in good stocks at 12 percent a year for 18 years. After 18 years you would have over $400k. Don’t take my word for for it, check it out yourself, with this cool investing calculator

    I don’t know about you but if i were given a choice between $400 grand and a kid then i would pick the kid. I would take 200k to buy a house and never have to pay a dime in rent for the rest of my life.

  2. David says:

    oops i just read my comment, i meant to pick the $400 grand not the kid

  3. Ivan says:

    LOL – By the numbers, yes – $400 grand is better than having kids 🙂 But having kids are indeed a luxury for many that can’t be substituted by anything.

    Costly, yes, but most would say having kids are priceless.

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