July 25, 2014

Study: Wanting Things (Kids?) Makes Us Happier Than Having Them

theofficebabyThis article, Study: Wanting Things Makes Us Happier Than Having Them,

does not mention children specifically, but… should it?

Is the modern desire for children, like our want for other new, shiny things, a result of relentless marketing?

 

The most defensible, obvious answer to both of the questions above is “No”.  Biology, instinct, and the innate need to survive and thrive fuel our animalistic drive to procreate. Hormones propel us to copulate and populate, so chow can one lay the blame for overpopulation at the feet of media and advertising?

 

For starters, in developed countries at least, children no longer have utility beyond fulfilling the (selfish) desires of parents. As many others have reminded us (as in the first story on the following link) children are no longer needed to work the farm or otherwise help support modern families. While children were once a valuable asset, they now appear exclusively on the debit side of a family balance sheet. They are expensive, and the return on capital is not something that can be measured with a calculator. (Nor should it, I promise all the detached, cold calculus leads to something resembling a point.)

 

So how do we modern, western humans place a value on having babies and raising families? Well, this is where one might reflect on what we see in commercials or hear from celebrities. What about the endless celebration of babies on movie and TV, starting with Disney movies? Which life events are repeatedly, FOREVER, packed with the most drama, joy and possibility? How many babies do you think are born to TV characters every year during sweeps week? More importantly, WHY?

 

Money?

 

Babies are big, big business. Since the value of children can no longer be calculated, corporations are compelled to fill us with fantasies of a perfect life dependent upon, or punctuated by, a perfect child. The messages we constantly hear and see tell us that babies are priceless, and they make us happy. So, am I imagining things, or is this possibly the western worlds most effective marketing scheme?

 

Since babies are priceless, there is no ceiling on the amount of money that can/should be spent on them. If you do not spend every earned and borrowed penny on them, you are depriving them, and probably guilty of bad parenting. Your kids probably won’t succeed because you didn’t buy them every possible toy, tool and opportunity. No one is allowed to openly disagree. Parents, especially celebrities, must constantly and publicly repeat the same vague platitudes like “It’s amazing!” or “It’s all about the baby.” or “It gives my life meaning.” If you have 1 child, their birthday better be the best day of your life. (Meaning that it was all down hill from there?) If you have 2, it better be a tie!

 

Biology does not account for these things, does it? So what does? Marketing? Brilliant marketing?

This item is priceless + it is virtually guaranteed by your neighbors and celebrities to make you happy + fear + guilt + insecurity = ?

 

What do you think?

 

The links in the text above provide more links to related stories. And here is one about an actor swimming upstream:

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(Child)Free Money #2: How much $ can I save by not having babies?

In (Child)Free Money #1: Can I afford to have kids?, we introduced the USDA’s “Cost of Raising a Child Calculator” and noted the high cost of having kids.

A middle income family, defined as a married couple with two children and a before-tax income averaging $79,940, spent approximately $13,050 per year on each child for their first 18 years of life.

Assuming the $13,050 as a starting point (spending varies and depends on household income), parents spend $234,900 per child just to get them out of High School.

So, congratulations, by choosing to remain childfree. Instead of having 2.1 kids like the average U.S. family, you saved about $470,000, and that is just the beginning.

That number assumes that there is no inflation or that wages keep pace with child-rearing and living expenses. It does not account for higher education, the boomerang babies, lost wages or productivity or unmeasurable costs of added stress and inadequate sleep.

It also doesn’t account for lost savings. The cost to parents is not only what they spend, but the lost opportunity to invest that money.

If instead of spending $13,050/child annually, you invest that money the end of each year to age 18, you will earn $107,000 in interest and save nearly $343,000 by not having just 1 baby.

If you invest $26,100/year instead of having 2 kids you will save $685,000 – before college!

These results assume investment in secure tax-exempt, insured bonds. The investment is virtually riskless. Based on average yields for similar investments over the past 18 years, I assumed an average return of 4.25% for an average investment period of 9 years. Feel free to write if you want more details.

In the next installent we will calculate saving/cost through college graduation. (Hint: ouch!)

 

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(Child)Free Money #1: Can I afford to have kids?

There is ample evidence that household finances affect relationships, stress levels, lifestyles, choices and happiness. Financial security and flexibility are obviously on any list of reasons childfree or childless couples are often happier than parents.

 

So if you are planning to have kids or wrestling with the decision, you might want to consult a calculator or accountant, especially in this uncertain era in which resources are limited, household incomes are stagnant or shrinking, inflation is lurking, and the cost of raising and educating kids has increased rapidly.

 

The USDA’s “Cost of Raising a Child Calculator” is a great place to start. “Cost” is a bit misleading, because the USDA numbers reflect what parents spend on kids before they are 18.

Dr Mark Lino, USDA Economist, explained in an email to WhyNoKids:

“The data we use (the Consumer Expenditure Survey) examines what families are spending. Cost can be a somewhat subjective concept. For example, we look at how much families are spending on children’s clothing. This is a different concept than what it may cost to adequately clothe a child (two pairs of shoes a year, five pairs of pants, etc.).“

 

The USDA site and study are worth a look. But start with this story published July 16:

Priceless and pricey: USDA tallies child-raising costs | Management content from Western Farm Press.

 

Middle income parents of a child born in 2011 can expect to spend about $234,900 ($295,560 if projected inflation costs are factored in*) for food, shelter, and other necessities to raise a child over the next 17 years. Let’s look at the breakdown:

  • A middle income family, defined as a married couple with two children and a before-tax income averaging $79,940, spent approximately $13,050 per year on each child for their first 18 years of life.
  • Expenses averaged about $760 less for younger children from birth to 2 years old, and averaged $1,270 more for teenagers between 15-17 years of age.
  • Teenagers are more expensive because they have higher food costs, as well as higher transportation costs when they start to drive.
  • Housing accounts for the largest expense (30 percent) for a child.  Housing expenses escalate with the need for additional bedrooms and bathrooms. This is followed by child care/education (18 percent) for those with this expense, and food (16 percent).

 

In (Child)Free Money #2, we will calculate how much money couples can save over 18 years by not having children and investing what they would have spent instead.

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Fast Forward

fast type

Image by mightymoss via Flickr

Wednesday already? I keep bumping the fast forward button!

Seems like only yesterday Susan, Amy, Brian and I were bumping along the highway from Costa Rica‘s Papagayo Peninsula to Lake Arenal psyching each other up for windsurfing with crocodiles, slurping up coconut milk from roadside vendors, and brainstorming a blog about our childfree lifestyle choices. Fast forward and we’re entering our 9th month and 107th post. Wow!

Thank you for making it possible. Thank you for reading our posts, commenting, sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and submitting guest posts. You continue to inspire us, and we’re enjoying every minute of it. Even when I bump the fast forward button…

While everything’s zipping past in a blur, there are a couple of quick snippets I want to showcase, sort of a “Wednesday WNK Digest”. First up, Brian nailed it in a recent post about how taboo a topic the childfree choice remains. Though he focused largely on celebs (a category that I’m thoroughly unqualified to address), the following excerpt about gender distinctions is oh-so-spot-on:

when a mother DOES speak out against mothering… she’s entering taboo territory, a place where people overreact and use the word “crazy”… Because these are words that mothers aren’t allowed to speak. “Don’t have kids” or “I wish I didn’t have kids” are somehow heard as “I wish they weren’t alive” or “I hate children”. It seems… From where I stand, men are given much more room.. to vent, admit, complain or translate their desire for silence and freedom and fresh air into advice or comedy… Mothers seem to police themselves, vigilantly. (Celebrities, WiNKs, Taboos and The Childfree Apology)

Another highlight? The clever crew over at The Onion nailed it with ‘This Is The Happiest Day Of My Life,’ Lies Man Holding Baby. Just to tickle your childfree fancy:

Looking out at a sea of expectant faces, new father Dan Rudloff commemorated the birth of his daughter, Elizabeth, by holding the small, vulnerable child in his arms and blurting out a series of lies and half-truths about how happy he was at that moment.

“Oh my God,” said Rudloff, staring down at the squalling, vernix-covered infant who will depend on him for everything from eating, to bathing, to keeping her head upright. “She’s beautiful.”

Realizing he was now forever tethered to this utterly helpless new life… Rudloff rattled off a series of patently false pleasantries about being overjoyed with his new baby girl. (The Onion)

For overly sensitive readers who sometimes miss humor, farce and send-ups, this is funny. Not snarky. Or cynical. Okay, maybe it’s all three!

Onward. Julie, The Hiking Humanist, took a protracted and reflective look at the term, childfree, in a recent post that’s worth passing along. She explains why the word is necessary descriptor to distinguish those who choose not to have children from those who are unable to have children.

We don’t want to be encouraged to have kids, or pitied for not having them, or seen as lonely or sad, or as selfish and hateful. The word we identify with exists to legitimize our choice, and to be a word for the lifestyle that we’re keen to talk about among ourselves and encourage acceptance of in the public sphere… This word is “childfree.” The word differentiates us from the childless, and from parents. More importantly, the word communicates that the absence of children is a positive thing for us, something we’re happy about and do not wish to be pitied for. (Defending The Word “Childfree”)

Julie’s a little huffy, but many of us have been at one point or another when slighted bingo’ed one time too many.

As a follow-up to Amy’s recent post on “Childfree Getaways” and my post on “Childfree Dining Tips“, I’d like to pass along a few childfree travel suggestions from Child Free Nation:

Here are a couple quick tips for avoiding the diaper set during your getaway:

  • Spring for Luxury
  • Consider a Private Resort
  • Enjoy a Bed and Breakfast
  • Read the Reviews

(Seven Tips for Child Free Travel)

That catches me up a little bit… Of course, I’m liable to bump the fast forward button again before long. Sorry!

PANKs and PUNKs (Professional Aunties and Uncles No Kids)

Image representing SavvyAuntie as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

The number of PANKs (Professional Aunties No Kids) and PUNKs (Professional Uncles No kids) is growing and their influence on children is in the news. The founder of the auntie movement is Melanie Notkin at www.savvyauntie.com. She has an active blog and book that guides child-free aunties on all things kiddie. Notkin is the creator of the term PANK and she also owns the trademark.

From her website:

A few years ago, DINKs was the new segment marketers had their eye on – Dual Income No Kids. PANKs, while focusing specifically on women (married, partnered or single) who have no kids, is a pretty large market in the US. In fact, the 2010 US Census Report: Fertility of American Women states that 47.1  percent of women through age 44 do not have kids (check “All Races” report). And that number has been steadily growing over the last couple of decades. In 1976, only 35 percent were childless.

Notkin gives statistics on the spending potential of the emerging PANK market:

-  According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 50 percent of single women own their own homes. They’re also the fastest-growing segment of new home buyers, second home buyers, car purchasers, new investors, and travelers. (Who hasn’t dreamed of taking the nieces and nephews on their first trip to Disney World?)

-  Twenty-seven percent of American households are headed by women, a fourfold increase since 1950.

-  Of American women who draw annual incomes of $100,000 or more, nearly half don’t have children. In fact, the more a woman earns, the less likely she is to have kids.

That means that these PANKs and PUNKs have money to spend on their nieces and nephews since they don’t have kids of their own.

A November Forbes article Raising Children: The Role of Aunts and Uncles says that many adults in childrens’ lives today are not relatives but close friends that are considered stand in aunts, uncles and godparents.

Notkin says, “The more aunts and uncles the child has, the more influences a child has,” says Notkin. “If the uncle is a fantastic artist, the child may be inspired by that talent.”

For kids the diversity of influences could be beneficial. Parents who share their kids with aunties and uncles might benefit too. And it fits with the notion that “it takes a village” to raise a child.

Author’s Note:

I’m not really an aunt, but I’m a godmother three times over and consider most of my friends’ kids my nieces and nephews, so that makes me a PANK.  I just finished shopping, wrapping and mailing all their Christmas gifts. I take my role of Auntie Amy very seriously at Christmas time, and put A LOT of thought into finding the exact right gift for each child. (One gift was noisy and I’m sorry for that.) And I hope, hope, hope the kids love them! I find that books are the best gifts and still remember all the books my PANKs and PUNKs and real aunts and uncles gave to me as a child. Hope you will share your favorites.

Hey WNKers (and PANKs and PUNKs) what is your favorite book to give to kids?

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The cost of raising a child climbed 40% over the past decade

CNN

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Read: The cost of raising a child climbed 40% over the past decade – Sep. 21, 2011.

“Forget designer strollers and organic baby formula, just providing a child with the basics has become more than most parents can afford.”

Needless to say, earnings have not kept pace and the fact that it is more difficult to save today, as a result of financial costs, cultural norms and the slow economy, many people simply can;t afford to choose to have a baby. Or, by the time they have saved enough to consider procreating, there are entirely new risks (costs) to consider.

WNK promises to examine the costs, (hard and hidden) of raising children more closely in the near future. In the meantime, check out the article in it’s entirety and the comments below, including my response to the following attack on childfree and childless people:

“People who opt to not have children are a burden on the SS and Medicare systems. They shouldn’t be entitled to these benefit since the taxes we are paying today go to our parents benefits as they paid for theirs before them. I am raising two children to replace my wife and my contributions to the system. What are you non-procreating people contributing to our beloved social systems? Nothing.” (Cont’d)

I have some difficulty with the way these articles classify what people spend, in this story it is “middle-income” families, as “cost”. People certainly raise children for less, so it is misleading I think to classify spending as cost. And someone (possibly me) should seek some clarity about inflation assumptions and other factors that are used to come up with the alleged $226,920 a middle-income family will supposedly spend on raising a child BEFORE paying college tuition. Regardless, the true costs of choosing to have a child, many children, or remaining childfree, deserve to be examined more closely. If you have more questions, comments, contributions or confusion, let us know and we’ll try to address them soon.

Here are a few quick highlights from today’s CNN story:

“From buying groceries to paying for gas, every major expense associated with raising a child has climbed significantly over the past decade, said Mark Lino, a senior economist at the USDA.”

 

“All of this comes at a time when incomes are shrinking and unemployment is near an all-time high. Over the past decade, median household income have fallen 7%, according to a recent report from the Census Bureau.”

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Freakonomics » The Divergence of Fatherhood: Feast or Famine

Freakonomics
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Freakonomics » The Divergence of Fatherhood: Feast or Famine.

Indeed, most fathers (63%) say being a dad is harder today than it was a generation ago.

Many people point to the economy when it’s time to blame something for more childfree families. The Freakonomics folks offer some enlightening statistics about the challenges of fatherhood in our age. Is this a job you want today? Would you accept it if the demands were more like dad’s in the 1960s?

In 1965, married fathers with children younger than age 18 living in their household spent an average of 2.6 hours per week caring for those children. Fathers’ time spent caring for their children rose gradually over the next two decades — to 2.7 hours per week in 1975 and three hours per week in 1985. From 1985 to 2000, the amount of time married fathers spent with their children more than doubled — to 6.5 hours in 2000.

 

Only about one-in-four adults say fathers today are doing a better job as parents than their own fathers did. Roughly one-third (34%) say they are doing a worse job, and 40% say they are doing about the same job.

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