This is the second piece in a series that will examine the impact of a potential baby dearth in America. The recession is pushing the birth rate down, women are waiting longer to have children and the cost of raising a child is skyrocketing. Fewer babies means fewer young people to support an aging population , threatening already-strained social programs. Has America’s baby bubble burst?
Meet Mrs. Hoffman’s dream family: three children, each two years apart, two girls and a boy. She’d work from home in their three bedroom home in a quaint New Jersey suburb, her husband commuting to New York City. She’d have it all — the house, the husband, the fulfilling career, and a bustling household of children playing tag in the manicured front yard. It’s the iconic vision of the American dream. But last year, Hoffman’s dream evaporated. After much deliberation, the Hoffmann’s decided they couldn’t afford a third child. They could barely afford the two they already had.
Whether it’s hospital costs, diapers, day care, or the ever increasing cost of a college education, children are expensive, and getting more so. Due to the recession, couples are starting to consider the financial realities having a family — for many, that means downsizing or skipping out on baby-making altogether.
Three Strikes Against Children
The birth rate has dropped over 8 percent since 2007. Women are having an average of 2.01 children over their lifetime, below the population replacement rate of 2.10 (a number that was holding steady before the recession). If the downtrend continues, it could create a small workforce supporting a large aging population with less revenue for expensive tax-funded social programs seniors depend on.
In addition to the rising costs of children, women are marrying later and waiting longer to have children, lowering their chances of conceiving, and facing staggering fertility treatment costs when they get there. With all these forces compounding, it’s possible the birth rate will continue to fall even after the economy recovers — a shift that has undermined the social systems and economies in many developed countries, including Japan and Italy. Right now, the birth rate in the U.S. appears to be teetering on the edge of a cliff, ready to nosedive at any moment.
How Much Is That Baby in the Window?
In 2009, the Department of Agriculture estimated the total before-college cost of raising a child was $286,050 — about $11,700 per year today, and $21,600 a year by the time they’re 18. With college, the cost nearly doubles, not to mention the costs many parents face during a recession when their college grad shows up at their doorstep expecting to move back in. Housing and child care were two of the biggest expenses, 31 percent and 17 percent respectively, and 50 percent higher for those who live in urban areas. The U.S. is becoming more urbanized every year — 90 percent of the population is expected to live in cities or suburbs by 2050. For a newborn in New York City, the average family spends up to $16,250 per year on child care alone.
Pamela Paul, author of Parenting, Inc., writes, “From the moment the self-pregnancy test confirms the happy news, the sales pitches begin: a shower of catalogs hawking the very best in organic onesies; lavender-scented diaper creams and designer rubber duckies; a never-ending cascade of DVDs and baby classes that promise to make your child smarter, socially adept and bilingual before age three … Time-strapped mothers and fathers are the perfect mark for the mammoth ‘parenting’ industry.”