Beyond the scary Christmas list: the full parenting price tag
The parenting price tag has soared to about $220,000 per child. If you think the kids' Christmas list is hefty, there's no end in sight to the add-ons Americans can think of in the cultivation of kids.
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With both parents working in many families now, parents tend to spend the time they do have with their kids doing things together. Some of that time, though, is spent driving children to activities or watching them participate in those activities.Skip to next paragraph
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"The Rug Rat Race" found that college-educated mothers spend an average of nine hours more a week with their children now than they did in the late 1980s. For less-educated mothers, that increase is four hours a week. Time expended on children also increased among fathers, says Ms. Ramey.
Research by Ramey and her coauthors – which relied on time diaries kept by parents – suggests that time spent actively engaged with children by the entire adult population in 2008 was equal to almost 20 percent of time spent working.
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Given how expensive it is to raise a child, it would make sense for families to be having fewer, especially during a recession. Indeed, historically, hard economic times correspond to a dip in fertility rates. And a Pew Research Center survey last year found that 14 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds said they postponed having a child because of the recession. A Guttmacher Institute study in 2009 found that 44 percent of women wanted to either reduce or delay childbearing because of the economy.
"Ultimately, I think the decision to have a child is very complicated, and although money is part of it, fertility goes up and down regardless of economic conditions or the fact that the cost of raising a child has been increasing," says Jennifer Manlove, a senior research scientist at Child Trends, a research organization focused on children and families.
Yet the fact remains: Even as families shrink, the amount spent on children increases. That might be a result of having more to spend, says Ramey. Despite the current recession, average incomes have actually gone up in real dollars since the 1960s, she says, especially in households where both parents work.
"My husband and I have much higher incomes than our parents did and we are ridiculous with the credit cards. We just got our daughter a car for $14,000," says Ramey. When her son was younger and took flute lessons, she bought him a $1,500 silver flute because "he was really good"; when their daughter showed an aptitude for photography, they bought her a Nikon D90 camera for $900. "It's kind of scary," she says, "the way you think if everyone else is doing something for their kids, you have to do it, too."
Yet Ramey also came to the realization that in the long run, all the spending she was doing might not benefit her kids as much as she thought. "One day my husband said to me, 'I know you're competitive, but these other mothers are competing to see who can spoil their child the most, and that's one competition you don't want to win.' And he was right," she says. "I didn't."