You can’t really put a price on a child’s love and happiness, but the government is trying anyway.
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual report on the estimated costs of raising a child to adulthood. The 2008 estimate for a middle-income family clocks in at $221,190. (Read the AP story here.)
Before you wonder why the government is in the child-care expenditure business, here’s why the figures are important:
Issued by USDA each year since 1960, the report is a valuable resource to courts and state governments in determining child support guidelines and foster care payments. For the year 2008, annual child-rearing expenses for a middle-income, two-parent family ranges from $11,610 to $13,480, depending on the age of the child.
For the typical family in Oklahoma, the costs are slightly lower than the total estimates, most likely reflecting our lower costs of living. To raise a child to age 17, the USDA estimates that families in our region will spend between $149,610 to $346,320, depending on family income.
Here’s what the USDA estimates a typical family will spend their money on during the first 17 years:
The numbers also differ by income level. This chart shows that the highest-income families spend more than twice as much as the lowest-income families on child-rearing expenses:
In a somewhat understated aside, the report notes that it excludes expenses after age 17, with the largest being college or university education:
The expenditures also exclude costs made on children after age 17. One of the largest of these expenses is the cost of a college education. The College Board (2009) estimated that in 2008-2009, annual average (enrollment-weighted) tuition and fees were $6,585 at 4-year public colleges (in-State tuition) and $25,143 at 4-year private (nonprofit) colleges; annual room and board was $7,748 at 4-year public colleges and $8,989 at 4-year private colleges. For 2-year colleges in 2008-2009, annual average tuition and fees were $2,402 at public colleges.
Of course, the naked economics of quantifying a child’s life is alternately alarming and distasteful. So I’ll leave you with a few links to some recent psychological studies of how much children enrich their parents’ lives.
This report from a pair of British psychologists looks at the pleasures and rewards of time spent on daily activities:
In terms of pleasure, the results confirmed earlier findings, suggesting that we spend an awful lot of time doing things we don’t find pleasurable, including “work” and “shopping”. Out of 18 key activities, “time with children” and “sex” both came in around mid-table, far below “outdoor activities” and “watching TV”. However, consideration of the ratings for “reward” (as opposed to pleasure) told a rather different story, with “work” now the top scorer, and “time with children” not far behind.
Meanwhile, this report attempts to explain why children bring happiness even though everyone knows being a parent is hard work:
It is, on the other hand, much more likely that we as parents will end up spending a large chunk of our time attending to the very core process of child care such as ‘Am I going to be able to pick up David from his school in time?’ or ‘How do I stop Sarah from crying?’ Most of these negative experiences are a lot less salient than the positive experiences we have with our kids, which is probably why we tend not to think about them when prompted with a question of whether or not children bring us happiness. Nevertheless, it is these small but more frequent negative experiences, rather than the less frequent but meaningful experiences, that take up most of our attention in a day. It should therefore come to no surprise to us that these negative experiences that come with parenthood will show up much more often in our subjective experiences, including happiness and life satisfaction, than activities that are, although rewarding, relatively rare.
Written by Paul Monies