A 2017 Department of Agriculture (USDA) study revealed it would cost approximately $233,610 to raise a baby to the age of 18.
The study breaks down costs by category, including: housing, childcare and education, transportation, healthcare, clothing, food, and “other” expenses. Rounding up or down to the nearing thousand, the breakdown was as follows:
Everything Else: $16,000
The same study said that the estimated average total cost can vary by up to an additional $107,000 depending on where you live. Yes, not the high end- the estimated AVERAGE.
What the $233K number doesn’t reflect, of course, is the hidden costs and sacrifices parents make in lost income by switching to less demanding jobs, declining promotions, or even withdrawing from the workforce, temporarily or permanently.
It would be nice to think that those hidden costs are borne by each parent equally, but they’re just not.
The above chart, taken from a Danish study on children and gender inequality (described in detail below), shows the earnings impact of children on men vs women.
The Motherhood Tax
It’s no secret that moms face a constellation of challenges, often requiring logistical hurdle jumping and almost superhuman emotional fortitude. Mothers disproportionately shoulder the financial, physical and emotional burden of raising children because they are almost always the primary caregiver. This role is reinforced by cultural stereotypes, societal expectations, and our own biases.
This is often referred to as the Motherhood Tax. It’s generally used to describe the financial penalty women face for having children. It includes being passed over for a promotion to being perceived as less competent in the workplace. For women, having a child is single handedly the largest financial risk they can take in their lifetime.
Crazier yet is that the Motherhood Tax also affects women who don’t have children, simply because they may someday have children, go on maternity leave, and possibly be less productive than their male counterparts.
A Danish study on Children and Inequality published in 2018 found that the MOtherhood Tax, which it refers to as child penalty, increased from about 40% in 1980 to about 80% in 2013.
Where is the Village
A fellow blogger said it best in a post back in 2016:
Though this injustice is affecting everyone — men, women, and children alike — mothers not only feel its burden more than most, but we also feel disproportionately responsible for alleviating its pervasive and deeply damaging symptoms, which is adding hugely to the weight of the world we’re already wired to carry.
The Mental Load
Even when moms share the duties of working and raising children with their partners, moms tend to bear far more of the mental load of household and family responsibility than dads. In addition to working and raising their children, they’re also keeping rack of everything from play dates to carpools to snack days to camp registration to dress up days and everything in between.
All three of my children attended Bright Horizons daycare center in Cranberry, PA for some period of time before starting at their Montessori School. The year that my oldest was enrolled there, the parent company – Bright Horizons Family Solutions- championed a survey that found working moms are twice as likely as working dads to manage the household and three times more likely to take charge of their children’s schedules. The survey, entitled Modern Family Index 2017, called it the mind share versus the time share equation- “the requirement on women not just to be parents and caretakers, but also unofficial keepers of where the entire family needs to be and when, and perpetual guardians against anything falling through the cracks.”
It also found that working moms have been gaining ground as breadwinners, despite the fact that the Motherhood Tax singularly affects moms.
All of this to say we haven’t even jumped into some of the other things going against moms – the lack of parental leave, nursing moms’ privacy and rights generally, the lack of subsidized childcare, the costs of prenatal care and giving birth, and the significant decision about returning to work after having a child.
A survey published by the New York Times in 2018 showed that, since 1985, no more than 2 percent of female high school seniors planned to be “homemakers,” even though almost all of them planned to be mothers. Yet, data shows consistently between 15-18% of women end up staying home with their children for some or all of their working years.
There very clearly seems to be a gap between women’s expectations (and the expectations placed on them by society) and the realities of workplace culture, public policy and having a family.
And what about the costs of childcare? Or the lack of access to quality childcare? Childcare has risen to be one of the most expensive costs that a family has to deal with. I know the above graphic indicated $47K as the average cost of childcare through age 18, but I live in southwestern PA and full time childcare for an infant is approximately $15,000 per year. Children generally need full time care from infancy through Kindergarten, which is age 5-6, depending on your state. In PA, which can’t be on the top end of cost across the nation- I’d guess it’s somewhere in the middle- that means that the cost of childcare is $75,000 for the first five years of life. Kindergarten is usually only half day here in PA, which means that you will need to supplement that sixth year with half day care. We’re talking a significant expense over the first years of life, and that isn’t even counting an occasional babysitter so you could do anything other than be home every single night.
At the end of last year, I wrote a blog post called “Who Says You Can’t have it All?” And I answered my own question by saying that EVERYONE says you can’t have it all. The Modern Family Index survey indicated that women’s DON’T have it all, women have to DO IT all. And isn’t that the truth?
GEnerations of young women have been told they can do anything they aspire to do, including having a career and children, but the fact of the matter is- it is darn hard. Having both at the same time is almost impossible.
Nonetheless, we celebrate and applaud women who have managed to, who are trying to, and those giving voices to the struggle women are facing here.
The Benefits of a Working Mom
While there have been many studies that talk about the benefits of moms staying at home with their children, I also know lots of moms from my own personal experience that think their children are better off because they work. I’ve talked about my own thoughts on why I’m a better mom because I work in a previous blog post as well.
One thing that I know for sure is that my kids are going to see my regularly demonstrating grit and resilience as I try to find a way to keep all the plates spinning for our family and manage my career. I know that they will see the challenges that I face in finding that balance and in the successes and failures that I will inevitably experience. I hope that they will see the passion that I have for my work and observe my enjoyment of having something that simultaneously excites and challenges me.
Of course, that is not to say that working is better than staying home, just that it is and has been for me. And you know, there’s that whole thing about being a single mom that doesn’t really give much option, but that’s not why I work to begin with so not really a factor in my equation.
When I was pregnant with my first, I can’t tell you how many people told me some iteration of “Don’t blink- it will be gone in no time.”
That really should be the first thing that is said to you at every prenatal appointment, the first line in every pregnancy book, and on a flashing neon sign given to you at your baby shower so you can never forget it.
As a working parent, I am always tired. I am so tempted each day when I get home to start loading the dishwasher, making lunches, and getting dinner ready. But my little people just want mom to play with them for a few minutes after school before we dive into the things we “have to do” to get ready for the next day. And each night as we’re going through bedtime routine I can’t tell you how often I’m tempted to skip a few pages of the 6345th book we’re reading just to get it over with so I can relax with a glass of wine. But gosh, I look at their little faces and they just love that time we have before bed each night.
I know one night I’ll sit there and read them a book or sing a song for the last time, and neither of us will realize it’s the last time.
Whatever the cost of having children is, and regardless of how unfair and unrealistic and sometimes impossible it makes life, I’d pay it time and time again. That doesn’t mean we should have to moms, but gosh- I know you all agree with me.
Have a wonderful weekend friends, from my little family to yours…