Economics, Babes, and a Bedside Ethos

The August 2006 issue of 'Christianity Today' just hit the newsstands. In it there is an article by Leslie Leyland Fields entitled 'The Case for Kids: A defense of the large family by a six-time breeder.'' (Unfortunately, as of this moment this article is not yet available on the web.)

Towards the end of her article she takes up the child-bearing and child-rearing issue that I fear rules in the hearts of many a Christian married-couple, keeping them from having children more than once, yet, or at all. And what is the issue? The cost of children. Economics. The author of the article writes, "It no longer makes economic sense to have a child at all. Books, articles, and internet calculators coolly estimate the financial liability of raising a child to adulthood and arrive at staggering figures, ranging from $700,000 to $1.5 million per child. By these calculations, Americans should stop having children altogether." (And might I add that by these calculations the childless seminarian and his wife need not pretend that the seminary studies are what pose the insurmountable economic hurdle to the Lord's blessing of children within their marriage. More honestly, in the face of the dollars sited above, it would seem that the chosen career path would pose a more real and perennial economic threat. But, I digress.)

The author continues:

Even after considering the cost of education, a typical child in the U.S. consumes 28 percent less than the typical working-age adult, while elders consume 27 percent more, mostly in health-related expenses. How do we order and feed such a top-heavy, resource-consuming society of elders – a demographic of which most who read this article are a part? Who will produce the goods needed to keep the nation’s engines and industries running? When our self-reliance wears out, when our self-authenticated minds and our spirituality unfettered and independent souls grow dim with age, who will feed and sustain us? Who will wheel us into surgery, deliver our packages, grow our food, research and formulate the medications that enable us to live longer and better? In an overburdened medical system, who will decide whether or not our lives still have value when our medical costs outweigh our economic worth? (Italics added) In all of this, we will depend on the actions and judgments of other peoples’ children.

We, as a Christian community, have already heard the first gasps, even our own, as we learn of the not-uncommon-university-lectured-ethos and the real-life-instances that ‘pull-the-plug’ on ‘one of the least of these’ because ‘medical costs outweigh… economic worth’. Yet seldom is the self-reflection (Leslie Leyland Fields excluded) that would lead the same gasping Christian community to take a step back and see such an ethos and such instances as the paradoxical progeny of their own children who were never born. And why weren’t they born? Because the cost of such children was deemed too great an economic hurdle – this from a generation of would be parents entitled to cable tv, cell-phones, dsl, foreign travel, a health club membership, and automobiles hardly the jalopies their grandparents started out with – a generation of which I am chief of sinners.

I am looking forward to your comments, thoughts, and discussion.


Sarah said...

We won't be in an industrial culture forever.

On a separate note... my SIL has no employee benefits for her family, so they buy private insurance for $1200 per month. That was my entire monthly salary two years ago. It isn't that children are that expensive, it is that our system is totally screwed up.

Caspar said...

Martin Luther on this very issue:

"Although it is very easy to marry a wife, it is very difficult to support her along with the children and the household. Accordingly, no one notices this faith of Jacob. Indeed, many hate fertility in a wife for the sole reason that the offspring must be supported and brought up. For this is what they commonly say: “Why should I marry a wife when I am a pauper and a beggar? I would rather bear the burden of poverty alone and not load myself with misery and want.” But this blame is unjustly fastened on marriage and fruitfulness. Indeed, you are indicting your unbelief by distrusting God’s goodness, and you are bringing greater misery upon yourself by disparaging God’s blessing. For if you had trust in God’s grace and promises, you would undoubtedly be supported. But because you do not hope in the Lord, you will never prosper.

[Luther's works, vol. 5: Lectures on Genesis, page 332]

Devona said...

We have a lot of people in our neighborhood (non-christians, but it still relates) that have bought houses and are either young married couples or co-habitating. One of those couples has become friends with us, and the another is becoming so. Neither of them are intending to have any children any time soon and instead have gotten dogs.

we have both children and dogs, and I'll tell you the most visable financial burden on our family has been the dog, and it's not because he requires more money. It's because he's a frivilous expense. He is totally expendable and our kids are indespensable and ultimately rewarding.

The one couple we are friends with said to me once, "I wish I could afford to stay home all day," and I thought, well, you guys have got to be making at least twice as our family is since you have two salaries. You bought your house 5 years ago when the market was cheaper so I know your mortgage is less. Where is all your money going?

We have cell phones, a car payment (albeit a very modest one), high speed internet, and we have an expensive coffee and organic food habit. The only corners we cut are with no cable TV, my gardening and cloth diapering. Oh and we don't use formula. I honestly don't see where people think that children are so expensive.

Maybe they're talking about teenagers and I'm about 10 years away from a rude awakening.

Anonymous said...

I always take exception to articles that expound on the cost of raising children and come up with those astronomical figures. I've been a SAHM for 13+ years. We've done without a lot in those years in order to keep me home--no cable, no cell phones, older cars we could pay cash for (I now have a newer car and we have a payment for the first time in 15 years, but we don't have a mortgage, because we scrimped to pay that off), eating at home with foods made from scratch, very few vacations and those close to home, hand-me-down clothes for the kids, etc. Not only do we not feel deprived, we are amazed at how much we've been able to have on seemingly little.

BUT, we homeschool, so our dc don't know that they are supposed to need $120 tennis shoes, and $50 jeans, etc.

I've also never seen it in law anywhere that a parent owes each of their dc a full-ride to the 4-yr college of their choice. Through CLEP exams, community college, distance learning, scholarships, grants, loans, and (gasp) the child working to earn some of his own tuition, college can be had much cheaper (and in much less time) than traditional brick and mortar schooling.

It's typically the same reaction I get when people tell me I'm "lucky" to get to stay home, and that they "have" to work. No, I'm not lucky, my husband and I work really hard to make that happen because it's important to us. If your house, 2 new cars, cable/dish, eating out 3x a week, etc, etc, etc are more important, then that's your choice. (Please note--I realize there ARE wives who have to work because of certain situations--my rant is not directed at them). But like Devonna, I see couples whose husband makes 2 or even 3 times what my husband makes, who are struggling to make ends meet.

I have a dear friend whose response to "children are expensive", is "no lifestyles are expensive".


Anonymous said...

Oh, and just wanted to add that we have no health insurance provided (dh is self employed), so spend over $1000/qtr for a major medical policy with a $5000 deductible, and pay out of pocket for all of our medical care--so yeah, I understand about that huge expense too.


Whey Lay said...

Great Luther referance Casper. Many times we Christians will insist during the abortion debate that children are blessings from God, then turn around and deny those blessings as God would give them to us. The "cost of children" mantra in our society is only one more incarnation of the post modern, materialism that more than any other is our national spirit. Even the most faithful seminary students and clergy can fall to it, since it plays on our fears of not being able to providing for another, and an innocent child at that, this is far more frightening than only worrying about ones self.
Many fear that children will take away money that could be used for retirement. I'm familiar with this one because our families have used it. "If you keep having kids how will you be able to retire?" Would anyone concievable not have more children, only to be able to golf or fish more or move to a retirement center, that seems like a very poor trade indeed.
Rather than thinking about the cost of children, ask yourself what is the value of children? If you have a child, would you trade them for any amount of money? No, probably not even for all the money in the world. I honestly don't know what the total cost of my children are, but I know what their value is. Each one is worth more to me than all the treasure in the world, and God has entrusted me with six such treasures, I am surely blessed.

Caspar said...
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