Kids have always been expensive, but insecure housing and jobs markets have made becoming a parent more financially challenging than ever, writes Arwa Mahdawi
Forget Rolexes, designer handbags or fancy holidays the ultimate status symbol these days is a child. Or, more accurately, a bunch of children. (What is the collective noun for children? An ingratitude? A cacophony? An expense?) It seems to have become de rigueur for the rich and famous to have an enormous number of offspring. Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Boris Johnson are all part of the Five Kids Club, for example. Madonna has six. Kim Kardashian recently announced a fourth, called Psalm, which she had via a surrogate. Unusual names are another status symbol, of course: if you can name your kids after fruit, cardinal directions or religious verse without worrying they will be beaten up at school, then you are truly rock-star rich.
Anyway, I have been thinking about kids (and the cost thereof) a lot recently, because I am now at the age where my biological clock is ticking so loudly that even the neighbours can hear it. It is incredible how much unsolicited advice about your reproductive choices you get from random strangers when you are a woman in your 30s. Even if you are not particularly desperate to procreate, people keep telling you that you should be that you had better hurry up and have children before it is too late and your value as a woman goes up in smoke.
The more I think about the practicalities of having children, the more I am amazed that anyone in the US who isnt a Kardashian can afford it. Kids cost a fortune everywhere, of course, but they are particularly pricey in the US, where I live, which is the most expensive place in the world to give birth. The Kafkaesque healthcare system means that it is hard to say how much a typical delivery costs, but one study in 2013 estimated a routine vaginal birth at $32,093 (about 20,000 at the time). In other words, a bog-standard birth in the US costs more than delivering a royal baby. If you are unlucky enough to have complications, your bill will quickly reach an eye-watering figure. Last year, for example, the Guardian reported on a family who were charged $877,000 for the care of their premature triplets. Even if you have great health insurance, a complicated birth can quickly drive you into debt.
Once you have had the kid, things only get more difficult. The US is the only developed country in the world without paid parental leave, while the costs of childcare are astronomical although Britain gives it a run for its money in the latter regard. Then you have to factor in living somewhere with more than one bedroom when many housing markets are unaffordable. On top of all that, there is the fact that employment is growing more precarious as companies replace full-time employees with contractors.
Kids have always been expensive that is not news but I am not sure they have ever felt quite so out of reach for people in the middle class. It is no wonder that people are having fewer kids than they would like: children have become a luxury that many of us can no longer afford. While that may be good news for the climate, it is a grim indictment of our society.
Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist
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