Money and childbearing

I was struck by this post, from LAmom, in which she suggests that financial concerns are causing women to postpone (or forgo) parenting:

"If women who might be both physically and emotionally ready to have children routinely feel like they can’t because of finances, then our society is failing to meet the needs of women and families."

I think LAmom is fairly characterizing the discussion on Feministing that inspired her post, but I wondered how representative those experiences were.  I can’t think of anyone in my personal acquaintance who really wanted to have kids, but waited because of money.  (By contrast, I know a lot of women who wanted to have kids, but didn’t want to be single moms, and weren’t in a relationship that they wanted to bring kids into.)

More broadly, Dave Pollard claims that people worldwide are having fewer children than they want, due to economic constraints.  I’m skeptical about both halves of that statement.

The first part may be true in the sense that the Gallup organization does regular surveys of how big people think the ideal family is, and people in most countries do give higher numbers than the actual birthrate.  But I’m not sure how much thought people put into those answers, and whether they actually mean that many people have significant regrets about not having more kids.

The second part of the claim seems especially weak to me.  Pollard argues that the widespread correlation between women’s education and lower fertility is spurious and that the increased participation of women in the labor force is demand-driven.  In other words, women are working because they have to, and therefore can’t have as many kids as they want.  This seems totally offbase, for several reasons.

  • People overwhelmingly have fewer kids in more affluent countries than in poorer countries.
  • At least in the US, women’s labor force participation is unaffected by husband’s earnings, which makes it very hard for me to accept Pollard’s claim that it’s driven by "economic necessity."
  • Pollard cites a statistic that "over 40% of Americans say they would have more children if they were wealthier."  In reality, however, in the US rich people have — on average — fewer kids than poor people. 

14 Responses to “Money and childbearing”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Kids make you poor. At least, it sure feels that way — especially if you are contemplating having some.
    I wonder if that’s what people mean when they say that economic reasons are keeping them from having more kids. Not that they are too poor to have kids, but that they don’t want to live a lesser lifestyle because they’re saving their money for the kids’ college.

  2. Andrea Says:

    I did.
    I was ready when I was 24, but not financially stable enough until I was 28. Meaning: a stable enough job that I trusted I could come back after mat leave and it wouldn’t disappear, enough money in the bank not to have to worry about the cut in pay, etc. I spent a good two years trying to make a budget that would pay the bills and leave enough left over for a baby.
    I know at least one woman who wants three kids, but is unsure whether she will ever have them because the finances aren’t working out for it.
    This is anecdotal, but it does happen. I myself would probably be having/adopting another child right about now, or trying anyway, if I thought I could swing the cost of two kids in daycare in the GTA at the same time. But at $2000/month, that is roughly equivalent to my take-home salary, and we can’t afford it.

  3. dave s Says:

    Well, here’s a guy who thinks he has too many, and has financial problems…
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4720457.stm
    But, seriously, folks – we were spending $40000 a year having a woman come to our house during the day while our three were too young for day care (that includes Kaiser and Social Security for the nanny, and she had been with us for five years, so we had given her longevity increases). Now we’re down to about $25000, with summer camps for the kids who have reached elementary school, and day care for the youngest, and extended day. And we are throwing money into a pre-savings plan for college, which looms in the distance.
    We are too old to have a fourth, even if we wanted to – but the finances would be daunting. And, yes, we waited a long time to feel we could afford it. So I’m inclined to agree with LAMom, and to think that finance is at war with fecund, at least from my own experience.

  4. landismom Says:

    I think the problem with this debate is that it characterizes the decision to have children in the same terms as the decision to make major purchases. I mean, you could also say that women are not buying Mercedes Benzes, because of financial concerns. When I decided to have children, and decided how many to have, financial concerns were an option. But unlike my decision to not buy (or to buy) a Mercedes, the financial issues involved were not the only issue. There were also concerns about how having a second child would affect our family, our work lives, and what it would be like for our first child to grow up as an only child. It’s easy to look at economic indicators, because their quantifiable, and the other things aren’t, but that doesn’t make them the most important factor.

  5. landismom Says:

    Agh. I meant ‘they’re quantifiable’ of course.

  6. Angry Pregnant Lawyer Says:

    Just from personal experience: one of my best friends and her husband really want to have another child (they have one girl, who is adorable), but they are waiting specifically because of the money issue. Neither makes a whole lot, and they both have consumer debt, although my friend is in a career with decent length-of-service-based wage increases. I think they’re taking a hard look at their finances and realizing how hard it would be to have another kid right now.
    Which is not to say that, if money weren’t a concern, they’d go out and have a mess o’ kids so they could field their own baseball team or anything. :-) But money is their deciding factor right now as to whether they’re ready to have a second child.

  7. Scrivener Says:

    We decided to have our two children without worrying too awfully much about money, though it entered into our conversations each time some. But if it weren’t for conerns about finances, my wife and I would certainly have a third child. We’d be pregnant right now if we weren’t already paying more than $3000/month in tuition for our two daughters and if it wouldn’t destroy her career advancement to take a maternity leave.

  8. jen Says:

    I was unwilling to get married while in college or starting my career. I just didn’t have the time to devote to a big relationship like that. I was probably 26 by the time I started thinking seriously about marrying; it took me until 31 to find & marry a stable guy.
    But even after marrying, we waited to start a family until we had bought our house. The house thing is a big driver in my circle — people believe they’ll never get a house at all if they don’t do it before the kid expenses come raining down.
    And we won’t have a third. I’m too old now; we’d have to get a new car for sure and maybe even a new house; we couldn’t afford private school for a third; we couldn’t afford the additional loss of wages for my SAHD husband.
    On the at-home/daycare side, I’ve noticed that people are having their kids much closer together than they used to. Nanny/stay-home parent/part-time arrangements are very costly, but the cost does not necessarily increase if you have more kids. So you pile all your kids into a compressed time frame, lose your mind for a couple of years, and then pick up the pieces. We certainly did this — 2 kids in 22 months. I wonder if there’s any sort of pattern to it that would help with your analysis, Elizabeth?
    One final comment: if someone asked me, if you were rich would you have more kids? I may say yes to that, and what I would mean is: if I had tons more money I could hire help so I wouldn’t go so bananas. It would have to be LOTS more money, like the full-time salary of a nanny, and a bigger house, blah blah blah. A 10% income increase wouldn’t do it. Whatever that means for this discussion!

  9. Kai Jones Says:

    If I’d had tons more money–that is, enough to not work and still afford all the good things I wanted for my kids, like music lessons and religious school and sports leagues–I would have had more kids. I had two, which made life both expensive and complicated. If I hadn’t had to work, it would have been easier (or possible!) to manage scheduling for more kids. As it was, getting them to the dentist and the doctor, lessons and team practice and monitoring homework and music practice and buying birthday gifts and shuttling them to birthday parties…it all took up a lot of mental attention, time, and money.

  10. Mieke Says:

    Money has had a huge impact on whether or not we will have a third child. Here in LA the cost of housing and schooling, mostly schooling, is prohibitive. We’ve done the calculations a million times and it just cannot be done without having a huge impact on our lives (we’d need two new cars, a nanny, and have two in preschool- and that’s not factoring in the $18,000 a year per child we’ll have to pay starting in primary school). That’s just too much cash.
    The poor don’t and can’t pay for the things we can, so it’s not as if when they have a third or fourth child they will have to consider the additional cost of summer camp, piano lessons, private tudoring,swim lessons, etc.
    The poor having more children and all the reasons for that, I do think those of us firmly in the middle class have to think long and hard about each child. I was struck by how many of the September 11th widows, well-educated upper middle class mothers, who might actually be simply called RICH, had three and four children. These women were mostly stay at home, MBA/lawyer types, and live in places like Bedford, NY. They had more children than we do becuase they can afford it. It makes ZERO dent when there are multi-millions to have an additional child.
    The other important factor when looking at the poor and, at least here in Los Angeles, the cultures from where they come, you will find that what is important to them more than anything else is family. Their entire culture revolves around it.

  11. Maggie Says:

    All my high school girlfriends back in NYC are around 32 – of the 10 plus, only 2 have kids (2 are still single, the rest are married). Most of them have said that the reason they’re not having kids is the cost of childcare. They can’t afford NOT to work, but they can’t afford the mortgage + childcare on their current salaries. If they don’t have a grandmother nearby to help defray the cost, they’re in a quandry. One friend is actually adopting some school-aged kids, despite being able to have her own. She’s said that she’s glad that it’s so much easier to deal with the childcare problem for older kids than for babies – what with school and all (they’ll go to Catholic school).
    Another friend has just about decided not to have kids, and bought a boat instead. It’s just as expensive, but at least you don’t have to hire someone to watch it all day!

  12. dave s Says:

    There’s a kind of assumption of ‘lost paradise’, that the current situation in the USA is uniquely hostile to family formation, in the post and in some of the comments. And that if we could but think of it, there would be a magic fix. I think that’s wrong: couple-three anecdotes follow.
    Paris has never reproduced itself, or not for hundreds of years. People move there – from the provinces, from the Maghreb – and have too few children to replace themselves. The younger brother of one of my wife’s oldest friends just died, 85. He was adopted, in Kansas, by her family – had been brought out to Kansas on a ‘baby train’ from New York City, with many other children whose parents couldn’t or wouldn’t provide for them. New York ran these trains regularly out to the country, and adopted the kids out to anyone who would take them – in practice heavily to farmers, who worked the kids very hard in the fields and provided for them poorly. Robert Burns reported from one of his trips across the Scottish Highlands that it was not uncommon to find a woman who had borne 20 and had two still living. At this time, I think NONE of the countries in the EU is replacing itself – Italy is down around 1.2 kids/woman, France 1.9, Sweden 1.5, I think. That’s with family allowances, requirements for maternity leave, government provided day care, all the policy instruments one would think would fix things.
    We, I think, kind of assume that the 50s were the rule – that one income would be enough to provide a house with a yard and that you could get started in your 20s. The 50s were enormously unusual in human history. For all but the most wealthy, it was never like that before, and I suspect it may never be like that again. As well (read Women’s Room by French if you want a really nasty view of that time) it was based in part on making it difficult for women to do anything else.
    All this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, or can’t, do things to make things easier for folks who want to form families. But it does suggest that it’s hard.

  13. Elizabeth Says:

    Really interesting comments. Thank you all. It does sound like it’s more common for people to forgo children — especially second or third children — for financial reasons than I had realized.
    I do think Pollard’s hypothesis that the birth rate will increase as the world gets more affluent is totally off-base. Everything I’m hearing says that as you have more money, your *expectations* for what you should be able to provide your children goes up even faster. So, in an odd way, people who make $50k a year can feel financially constrained in a way that people who make $18k a year don’t.
    It’s certainly true that the economic issues play out differently depending on whether you’re paying directly for childcare or paying in the form of foregone wages (e.g. having an at-home parent).
    Mieke, my impression isn’t that the really rich have more kids on average — but I’ve never seen data on that. I think I’ll add it to my list of things I’m trying to track down.

  14. dave.s. Says:

    The newspapers report a spike in vasectomies, from folks who think they can’t afford more kids. In the last depression, birth rates went down 15%. And when I arrived at the kiss-and-drop at my kids’ school with my (usually-bused) kids the woman who opened the door of the car closed it when two had gotten out, it seemed not to have occurred to her that there even could be a third…

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