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Janie B. Cheaney: The value of a child


WORLD Radio - Janie B. Cheaney: The value of a child

The cost of raising children in America raises good questions about parents’ motives

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NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, February 7th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Up next: how much does it cost to raise a child? WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney says, it depends.

JANIE B. CHEANEY: Our two babies were cheap. We were able to work with both obstetricians on a cash basis, to deliver safely without extreme measures, and to get by with the shortest possible hospital stay. My son was considerate enough to wait until after midnight, thus saving the charge for a whole day. Both babies were a healthy weight, nursed well, and developed no serious health problems throughout infancy and early childhood. We budgeted our household expenses so we could get by on one income and, for many years, one car.

We began home schooling in the primary grades, making heavy use of the public library and saving on curriculum. As the kids got older we allowed one extra-curricular activity at a time for each of them. After graduation our daughter attended College of the Ozarks tuition-free. Our son decided against college and eventually started his own business. After some missteps, they are successful adults: married with children and financially stable.

How much did it cost to raise them? I would say, practically nothing.

That’s not what the U.S. Government would say. A graphic published by the Department of Agriculture in 2017 puts the average cost to raise one child at over $233,000, figuring in food, clothing, housing, healthcare, child care, and education. That’s lower in rural areas, but $193,000 to bring up a country boy or girl still seems high. What’s the reality?

Stephanie H. Murray is currently raising two children in the UK. She can afford a part-time freelance writing career because of public healthcare, cash stipends for parents, and subsidized early education (including full-time preschool at age 4). She believes raising children in the U.S. would be a financial, emotional, and physical strain, and she’s probably right—for two parents working full-time in the urban northeast, making payments on a $500,000 house, with private medical insurance, private schools, and enrichment activities needed to get into the Ivies.

In a recent Atlantic article, Murray cites two other concerns that make parenting in the U.S. too scary: gun violence and “the all-consuming nature of American child-rearing”—that is, the peer pressure of helicopter parents. That pressure, like high-dollar rents, may be more intense in urban areas, but every good parent wants their children to “succeed,” however they define success.

Costs are going up, children do get sick, and it’s increasingly difficult for a young family to get into adequate housing. Even car-seat mandates can make more than two children unaffordable, because a third child doesn’t just mean an extra seat—it means a bigger car. How many would-be parents are looking at the cost-benefit analysis and opting for Caribbean vacations instead?

Federal and state governments could encourage parents with practical help, such as stipends, tax credits, or educational savings funds. But when children are a personal decision rather than a gift of God, raising them often becomes a project to justify that decision. Estimates about the cost of raising children became more popular after Roe v. Wade—is that a coincidence? When did we start talking about what they cost instead of what they’re worth?

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.

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