The cost of raising kids

Recently CNN announced that the cost of raising kids has increased 40% in the last ten years. But if you look closely, the increase is largely because the cost of child care has gone up. This week’s Economist shows that on average, childcare is consuming 68% of the second parent’s income.

As a kid who was put into daycare in the early 70s, I have a clear view of why the cost of child care has gone up: It totally sucked when it started.

My mom was one of the first women to go to work during the reign of feminism. The photo here is what she looked like at home. But this is what she looked like at the Fortune 100 company that offered her a job: she had to bring a note to work saying that her husband gave her permission to take a full-time job.

While my mom was working as a COBOL programmer (she hit paydirt with Y2K drama , but that came later) my younger brother and I were at a daycare center that, in hindsight, specialized in children whose mother had died and whose father did not remarry fast enough to get someone to take care of them.

I am not going to delve into how bad the care was, both emotionally and physically, but my brother and I can’t even talk about the experience without feeling physical effects, like back pain or neck pain.

So it’s no surprise to me that child care costs have increased. We ask more of child care facilities today, and, of course, there are more regulations. We know that for kids from birth to three, it’s very clear that there should be a single caregiver  so if you can’t do that, buying one, in your home, is expensive.

I think the cost is going to go through the roof, though, when people stop using school as child care. Ten years from now, when homeschooling is ubiquitous, that 40% increase in child care costs will seem like a bargain.

11 replies
  1. christy
    christy says:

    Penelope, you look quite a bit like your mom. In a good way.

    This post’s content brought me to a full stop. We’ve made the choice that my partner is staying with our little one full-time for now. That little one is now 10 mos old, and that full-time is wearing on her.

    She got a break for a week, when she had a show going up (she’s a costume designer), but we’ve had conversations recently about how wearing taking care of L all the time is on her.

    I do what I can, but work a lot. Too much, actually.

    But then reading this, I realize that even if we did day care (which I think is a bad idea for children of L’s age), we wouldn’t gain much financially (particularly factoring in how much a costume designer *doesn’t* make).

    The gains to be had by there being a primary caregiver who is a parent (regardless of gender) wins out over netting 22% of income from a second FT worker in the family.

    I know your point was about homeschooling, but the cost of child care is, imo, much higher than just the dollars involved.

    • Mark K
      Mark K says:

      “Homeschooling may be the fastest growing form of education in the U.S.,[12] rivaled only by charter schools.[13] The 74 percent increase in homeschooling since 1999 alone suggests continued future growth.”

      That’s just one example. I have not seen any indication that the growth in homeschooling has hit a plateau. Some studies show it doubling every five years.

      That growth was in a context of considerable social hostility to homeschooling – something that has been diminishing rapidly. As it becomes more acceptable to homeschool, I would say it is reasonable to assume more people will make that choice, not fewer.

      Will it become ubiquitous? Present, appearing or found everywhere? Isn’t it already?

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Oh, I love this link. Thanks, Mark. You know what will be ubiquitous? My use of this link on blog posts going forward :)


      • redrock
        redrock says:

        The Heritage foundation is a very conservative foundation with a clear agenda in favour of homeschooling for the preservation of traditional values. A large percentage of homeschooling increase appears to be for religious reasons, which is still the largest segment of homeschooling families. I don’t think one can extrapolate to the average family in the manner you are suggesting.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          I did a lot of investigating about the source, actually. To see where they get their data from. Just because they are conservative and have an agenda doesn’t mean their data is wrong.

          I mean, I think I’m liberal with an agenda, and I hope people think there’s decent data here even though I have an agenda.

          Anyway, there are a bunch of sources (USA Today, NYT) that show that the percentage of people who homeschool for religious reasons is not the majority of homsechoolers.


          • Steven Davis
            Steven Davis says:

            Penelope –

            I think any estimates of wide use of homeschooling is limited by your own argument that Public Schools are State Funded Day Care that happen to provide some level of education.

            I say this as I’m reading your blog as part of my serious investigation of home schooling for my 5 month old daughter.

            Lazy, Cheap, and Stupid are my three measures for making guesses about human behavior (my field is computer security, so I’m a serious student of my fellow person – hey, I wrote a book ;) ) with Lazy and Cheap accounting for most decision “shortcuts”. Public School feeds Lazy and Cheap very well (and sometimes Stupid too).

            The time and effort (and money either directly or in terms of time and effort) required to do a good job at home schooling / unschooling are pretty daunting compared to dropping your kid off at the local school.

            This may be reduced by online tools, but even better by local networks to help parents be more efficient and effective… but the ease of public or private schools is likely to remain dominant just as most people are going to continue to be employees and not entrepreneurs.

            After all, isn’t the homeschooling rage really a function of the rapidly rising costs of private schools after public schools started declining in quality?

            Keep on writing and challenging us all!

            All my best,


  2. Jennifer Soodek
    Jennifer Soodek says:

    Wow Penelope, sounds like you had a horrific child care experience. As the founder and owner of a child care center I understand how vital our role as caregivers is. I make it my responsibility to make sure that all of the children in my center are cared for by loving and nurturing people.

    While your experience was awful, I would hope you might recognize that there are many people (like me) who have provided many children with a safe and loving environment, a place where they can learn and grow. A place where they are hugged and loved everyday. A place where parents feel their children are comforted when they cry, who are fed when they are hungry, who have someone to play with, talk to, sing with, dance with, build blocks with, finger paint with shaving cream, make friends and have fun.
    It may not always be perfect, but nothing really is, is it?

  3. DL
    DL says:

    Love your picture. I love old, family pictures because they do so much to tell who we are, what makes us what we are. And, yes, you look a like your mom, who is very pretty.

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