Noni Mausa: Who Should Have Children? Or, If You Have To Ask, You Can’t Afford Them

This one was by Noni Mausa….

A topic often raised, but seldom examined closely on this list, is the wisdom or foolishness of marrying and/or having children when ones income is low.

“People shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford them,” is the typical line. And superficially this makes perfect sense. To give an extreme example, you can’t raise 12 kids in a tent. Well, not legally.

One regular commenter, Lafayette, made a valiant attempt in the comments to codify the resources a man should accumulate before setting sail on the trackless ocean of parenthood. I wish I could find it, it was sometime in 2007.

So here is my attempt to lay out the prudent financial predicates for reasonable child-rearing–

1. A household income greater than the poverty line for that size of family.
2. In addition, income above that level sufficient to buy health insurance for that size of family.
3. Income dedicated to a life insurance policy for the family breadwinners.
4. Savings sufficient to pay all ordinary expenses for at least a year, including maintenance of the health insurance, in case of illness or job loss.
5. In addition, factor in a savings account strictly for the post secondary education of each child in the family.

So, using these practical, modest numbers, what percentage of Americans should not have children?

$16,000 to $26,000 for a family of one to four children respectively is the poverty line listed by the Census Bureau. Statistics peg US households below this line at 12.4%.

However, that number does not include the other prudent expenses I listed – savings, insurance, and an education fund for the kids. Would it be fair to guess that those costs would nearly double the original number?

If so, that’s a household income of $32,000 to raise one child, up to $52,000 for a couple with four children.

How many people have that sort of income? To try to get a handle on this, here’s a handy chart showing median family income by family size for selected states. (Data from this table.)

Does this indicate to you as to me that a sizeable fraction, as much as half, of low income Americans would not be able to “prudently” bear and raise children, by the “can’t afford children” standard? And this is in the absence of unusual pressures on the family – health costs, job loss, etc.

If this is true — if it is simply not prudent for a large fraction of Americans to bear and raise children, (that’s the employed people, remember, not the unemployed ones) – are we okay with that? Childrearing is not a personal hobby like model airplanes, but a necessary part of nation building, If full time work still pays too little for healthy adults to raise children, can we suspect there is an imbalance somewhere?

There is, I realize, a LOT of slack and slippage in these numbers. Still, perhaps it gives us a starting place for engaging the “can’t afford” comments with numbers and their demographic implications.

This one is by Noni Mausa.

Cactus here…

I’d like to add a few thoughts, if I may. Call it personal observations. The Ex-GF is 37, I’m 38, we’ve been married a bit more than a year, and we’re wondering whether we can afford to have children, and right now, the answer is no. Last year, my income alone was above the 4 person family median for a California (we live in Los Angeles), but we still are very concerned. This despite the fact that we’re frugal people and we’ve got a reasonable amount of money (equal to a few years of my income) socked away. See, that’s more than most people have, but it isn’t much of a margin for error.

And its clear a margin for error is needed. As a consultant, my income moves up and down, and right now work is very slow. And it looks like it will be slow for a while. Also, the Ex-GF is looking for a new job. So I wonder… if I were to die, will there be enough for the Ex-GF to survive through ups and downs, let alone the Ex-GF and some kids? I suspect the answer is no. And one thing I know for certain… if something were to happen to me but I lingered on for a long time, there wouldn’t.

Now, had we met and gotten married in the mid or late 90s, I have no doubts we’d have tried to have kids within the year. The future looked bright. And there was something out there that looked like a safety net, just in case things went downhill.

I notice a preoccupation among some on the right about demographic trends, and whether the populations of Europe and the US are breeding quickly fast enough to replace themselves or whether the West will be simply be swamped by the progeny of the Third World. Well, guess what. If they want Americans to feel secure enough to have kids, they can support policies that lead to faster growth and more secure safety nets. Because from where I’m standing, these people are doing nothing more than exacerbating the problem, and they deserve a big part of the blame for the world turning out the way they fear it might. (And someone should also tell them that incomes and abortions are negatively correlated.)

Minor edits made to my portion of this post.