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Are babies a luxury item?
The above poses an interesting question, so as per usual, I want to talk about it. First, the responses to that tweet about babies becoming a luxury item are fascinating. You should definitely read through them. Second, as demonstrated by some of the responses, I’m aware this is definitely a controversial topic and there’s a lot of nuance, especially when it comes to different socio-economic, cultural and geographic differences, but as with all these essays, this is a conversation starter and I want to hear all perspectives and lived experiences. Before we go any further, to be clear, I don’t think actually having or caring for a baby is “a luxury item.” This is simply a question about the seemingly unobtainable financial costs of having a child.
On a personal level, if I were to have a child right now, it would feel like an expensive “luxury item” to me. Simply put, unless I drastically changed my way of living and made pretty huge sacrifices I would go into debt pretty quickly. To break it down, if I were to have a child tomorrow, there is literally no way my boyfriend or I could collectively afford a nanny, and both sets of our parents live on different continents. So beyond parental leave, that would mean that one of us would likely have to stop working to look after the baby, or we would have to move away from the U.S. to where we have family members that could help us. Thankfully, I live in a state where I still have the luxury of choice, to make the right decision for my body, life and financial reality. And to be quite honest, at the core of it all, I think I’m far too selfish to want to make any sacrifices like this just yet (or maybe ever!). And maybe that’s okay!
Zooming out, there’s a lot of macro trends at play that can give us an indication of how others might feel. Census data suggests that the U.S. population is declining quicker than initially predicted. Historically, there has been talk (and data!) on lower socio-economic families having more children, but now we’re starting to see the reverse, and as someone replied to the Twitter thread above: “Three kids is a flex.”
There’s a number of reasons for this. Importantly, fertility rates are rapidly declining and people are waiting longer to have children (and having less children when they do). Affordable childcare is also basically non-existent. At the same time, there’s also an increasing destigmatization around choosing to be child-free. So I don’t think it’s hard to see how a conversation about babies feeling like a luxury item could be feeding into the stats around people waiting longer, perhaps till they have more “financial security.”
A few questions came up for me when diving into this topic. Are we wanting too much for ourselves to want to sacrifice any of it for a child? Is it ok to want a lot for ourselves? Is our generation just asking questions about affordability that other generations haven’t? Is the plight of modern parenting (aka helicopter parenting) too overwhelming? Do governments need to be providing more incentives to have babies? If our generation can’t afford a house, how could we afford a baby? Are we just hesitating to have children for the wrong reasons? Is the cost of living actually way more expensive than it was for our parents generation? There’s a lot here and for most of these questions, I don’t know the answer. That’s where you come in!
I’ve always been very passionate about the need for governments to “incentivize” motherhood, perhaps more so after seeing the stark difference in government-funded parental leave upon moving to the U.S. from the UK in my early twenties. There have been small-scale programs launched in various countries around the world that demonstrate the impact of incentivizing parenthood that are pretty interesting models to look at. But I also think “incentives” go beyond mandating parental leave — it extends to the cost of childcare and schooling. In New York where I live, it costs on average $20,000+ p/year for a part-time nanny (many even pay upwards of $100k p/year for full-time help). Before you say it, I also totally hear the argument of “you just make it work” and perhaps when I get to that stage, I will.
But I’m still curious about the reality of it all. We know mothers typically sacrifice way more to “just make it work.” The data has told us time and time again about the difference in free-time between a mother vs. father in heteronormative relationships. There’s even a study on how these couples have more children when the father does more household work! A lot of the messaging around parenting, especially mothering, is about sacrifice. So I guess I’m questioning if we’re overwhelmed by the thought of all these so-called “sacrifices” and whether the thought (vs. the reality) is hindering our desire to have children? Are we maybe super deluded by the pitch of “having it all”?
I want to know what you think…do babies feel like an unaffordable “luxury” to you? Did you always want kids but decide against them because you can’t afford it? If you thought you couldn’t afford them and “just made it work”— how did you do it? Is it okay if we don’t know what we’re ready or willing to make sacrifices on, out of fear of losing a part of ourselves? I’d love to talk it out, you can join the conversation, here.
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What we’re reading…
Why are our cities built for 6ft tall men? (The Guardian)
A world without men (The Cut)
Till next week,