No matter how minimalist and thrifty you try to be, raising kids ends up being expensive in today’s world. Some potential costs include childcare or school, music classes, sports, birthday parties (your own child’s as well as presents for all the kids in his or her class), even buying a car big enough to lug all those mega car seats around. And of course you have to feed and clothe kids too. And did we mention maybe buying a toy or two? It can definitely add up, with the U.S. government estimating that the average cost to raise a child born in the past few years to be over $240,000. Three economists just added insult to injury with the findings in their working paper in The National Bureau of Economic Research: the stress of parenting a child costs $66,000. Per child! So what exactly is the cost of stress? Basically, it’s the amount of money it would take to offset the stress of having a child and constantly feeling like you are running behind, never getting ahead, and are often overwhelmed and low on free time.
The three economists looked at surveys of parents and non-parents in Australia and Germany that included questions about how stressed they were about time and money. The results were dramatic, even if not all the findings were surprising to those of us in the parenting trenches each and every day. The working paper, which is not yet peer-reviewed, is the first of its kind to try to quantify and measure the price of having a child on stress levels, an admittedly tricky goal. Some of the results included:
- When a new baby is born, mothers’ time stress goes way up and doesn’t come down, even when the father helps with the parenting and even after three or four years (the length of time the researchers had access to).
- If a mother had a new baby as well as a toddler, her stress level went up even more (although time stress increased with each additional child regardless of how many children a mother had).
- Fathers’ time stress goes up as well, but only about a third as much as mothers and it fades through time, unlike mothers.
- According to the working paper’s measures, an increase in a woman’s earnings reduces her stress more than an increase in her husband’s. The husband’s earnings would have to increase by $163,000 to offset the stress cost of having a child (vs. the previously stated $66,000).
While the paper doesn’t claim to measure happiness levels and admittedly was unable to control for certain factors (such as how and if stress changes after four years), it’s quite clear that choosing to have children has significant associated costs. So it’s a very good thing for everyone involved that they are so adorable, loving, and fun to be around.