There's an odd phenomenon being reported in tony enclaves across the country: highly educated, highly compensated couples popping out four or more children--happily and by choice. In Loudoun County, a suburb of Washington, four-packs of siblings rule the playgrounds. In New York City, real estate agents tell of families buying two or three adjacent apartments to create giant spaces for their giant broods. Oradell, N.J., is home to so many sprawling clans that residents call it Fouradell. In a suburb of Chicago, the sibling boomlet is called the Wheaton Four.
There are two ways to look at this - 1) These families actually have found the true value of children. 2) These families have run out of other accessories to buy and figure that having a bunch of kids squeezed in with the four SUV's and the 6,000 square foot house is a good idea.
I'll go with number one as I have never met any of these families. What does strike me as odd about the story is that the families don't actually seem to function in reality. When you can afford a six bedroom house I guess you don't have to.
For Laura Bennett, 44, and Peter Shelton, 62, raising five young boys in Manhattan requires a daily battle plan. (Bennett also has a daughter, 19, from a previous marriage, who does not live with them.) A babysitter arrives early at the family's loft-style apartment to help manage the morning scrum. Then Shelton, an architect, and Bennett, a clothing designer whose career was launched on the Bravo reality show Project Runway, hit their offices, although she usually leaves hers around 3 p.m. After school, it takes one or both parents plus two sitters to get all the kids--Peik, 12; Truman, 9; Pierson, 6; Larson, 4; and Finn, 1--to and from their various activities. And it's all hands on deck until the boys are tucked into beds lined side by side in a room Bennett likens to military barracks.
Now, we've got seven kids and have never had a single babysitter there to help everyone get ready in the morning or to help in the evening. Then again, we don't both work outside the home.
The next thing that gets brought up is the scary $500,000 price tag for raising a kid.
Raising a passel of kids is an enormous financial undertaking even for the affluent. An oft quoted 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that families earning at least $70,200 a year spent $269,520 raising one child--and that's just until the age of 17. Tack on four years of college, and you're looking at a nearly half-million-dollar tab for each, or almost $3 million for six. "If you sit down and write out the numbers, nobody would have children," scoffs Jen Reid, 37, a stay-at-home mom in Berwyn, Pa. "You would scare yourself out of it every single time." She and her husband Charlie, 43, apparently don't scare easily; they've produced Charlie, 10; Lizzie, 8; Michael, 7; twins Mary Grace and Marta, 5--and Baby No. 6, due in February. Charlie's work as a real estate lawyer covers expenses, but "we spend what we make," says Jen.
What I have never been able to understand about this is that rich families usually have fewer kids and the less well off have more. Somehow the less well off manage to raise their children without getting anywhere close to this price tag. I went and read through the document where the scary price tag is found and realized that this figure makes several assumptions:
- Each child needs all new clothes. There are no hand-me-downs.
- All babies are bottle-fed.
- Instead of calculating how much more it costs for housing and transportation when adding a child, the survey seems to just divide up an average rent and car payment among the family members. The survey actually admits that this is true because there isn't data available to do an actual calculation based on the increased cost for children.
- All babies are in daycare.
- Children between the ages of 0 and 5 require over $1700 a year for "Miscellaneous expenses includ(ing) personal care items, entertainment, and reading materials."
The most disturbing thing about this flawed report is that "Results of this study should be of use in developing State child support guidelines and foster care payments as well as in family educational programs." Did you catch that? States are basing child care payments and foster care allotments on data that is seriously flawed.
For example, if you rent a two-bedroom apartment for $1000 a month before you have any children and then have two children, your rent doesn't change because of the kids but this survey assumes that the children are alloted $250 each a month in rent expenses.
The same is true of a car. If you don't have any children you probably still have a vehicle that will hold at least two car seats. When the two kids are born the government assumes that those kids now cost you half of that car payment even though the payment HASN'T CHANGED.
To put this survey to the test, I will provide an example with our family. We fall into the lower end of the middle category of income earners in the survey. Based on the survey formula, we should be spending $58,027.20 - an amount greater than we actually make per year - on our kids.
This breaks down to:
- $8262 on food (we actually spend under $6000 a year on groceries for all of us and that includes diapers for two kids)
- $7561 on transportation for the kids (Gas costs us about $250 a month and we don't have any car payments so that puts us at about $3000 a year for all of us.)
- $2263 on clothing which is supposed to include diapers (If we spend over $200 on clothes for the kids a year I would be surprised. Hand-me-downs are great.)
- $9224 on child care and education (We homeschool so there is no daycare and our total curriculum costs are about $400 per year including school supplies)
- $5936 on "Miscellaneous expenses include personal care items, entertainment, and reading materials." I have no idea what people are actually spending money on here but $5936 will buy a heck of a lot of books and movie tickets.
- $20,620 on housing. The numbers they use only take into account rent, mortgage interest and mortgage insurance. The actual mortgage principal payments aren't used in this calculation. Since we have had the same house since the time we had one child, the actual cost per child is going down but this survey says that our cost is actually increasing even though our mortgage payments are actually lower than when we moved in because of better interest rates.
In fact, the only place where the numbers come close is in health insurance. I realize that different parts of the country have different costs of living but if our expenses are less for SEVEN kids than the average for TWO kids computed by the government, doesn't it seem like the government has some serious problems with its numbers?
Back to the article. Here is a quote to get all you not-so-rich folk angry.
"For most people, two is enough because there are so many other competing ways to spend your time and money. People prefer to have fewer kids and invest more in them. My guess is the wealthy are having more because they enjoy children, and they have the time and resources to raise them well. They don't have to make those trade-offs."
Isn't it nice to know that because you don't have lots of money you can't raise your kids well? The funny thing is that this brilliant observation is countered in the next paragraph by one of the moms.
Bennett doesn't sweat the small stuff, like missing a kindergarten stage debut. "A lot of mothers are frantic because they don't want to miss a thing," she says. "I get to do everything six times. And you know, those musical revues can get a little old."
Wait, I thought that because the wealthy had the resources, such as three babysitters a day, they had the time to go to all their kids' stuff. Maybe I didn't catch the subtleties in the article.
The best quote, and one I hope is true for most of these families, comes at the very end.
So why do it? Why, in this day and age, would any American adult--rich or not--have so many kids? Because they love them. Because professional achievement and money are something, but, asks Kellie Weiss, 37, a mother of five in Oradell, "What does it mean without family?"
H/T New Advent