As anyone with children well knows, raising a child is expensive. What is surprising, however, is just how expensive it truly is. ABC News reports that the US Department of Agriculture has released a report that quantifies the cost of raising a child —from birth to age 18—and the resulting figure is staggering: $234,900.
This is an alarming figure—all the more so because it has risen 3.5 percent in the past year alone. Although some of this increase has been driven by inflation, the main culprits are increasing costs in child care, education, food and especially healthcare, where costs have doubled since 1960.
And this is only the number for basic expenses. College expenses—the biggest single expense associated with children—has not been taken into account. With the average cost of a four-year college coming in at over $100,000 for public schools and nearly $200,000 for private schools, the total cost of raising a child and putting it through college may be something closer to $500,000—half a million. The “average” American family with two children is looking at spending a cool million dollars on their children before they reach adulthood.
Clearly, something has to give. Raising children is one of the most fundamental and rewarding experiences of life, and it should not be necessary to be a millionaire to take part in it. And it is not only individuals who will suffer: Europe and Japan’s well-known demographic crises are partially driven by an unwillingness of married adults to have children, and while America has not yet quite reached this point, it is easy to imagine prospective parents already struggling to make a living choosing to forgo children when they take a look at the bill. There are some European traditions worth emulating, but it’s birth rate is certainly not one of them.
What numbers like these tell us is that our society is profoundly dysfunctional. We have organized ourselves so poorly that the most basic and fundamental thing a human society must do — produce the next generation and prepare it for adulthood — is becoming harder and harder with each passing year.
One way to think more intelligently about social policy: how do we make it easier and cheaper for people to have and raise families? This is going to be partly about the restructuring of higher ed and the school system more broadly, partly about restructuring the concept of work so that parents can more easily and effectively mix child rearing and employment, and partly about more general reforms in fields like housing and health care.
But the war against the young is increasingly making it harder for young couples to start families and to bring them up. America needs to be a great place for families; if we lose that, we lose just about everything.