The Economics of Large Families

In a recent WSJ article, Jonathan Last writes the following:

In 1800 the American fertility rate was 7.04 for whites and 7.90 for blacks. Over the years, the fertility rate tended inexorably downward. Today the average American woman has only 2.09 children. In 1800, the Duggars would have been odd. Bu today's standards, they seem positively freakish.

Last goes on to explain the reasons for the demise of large families in America: baby survival rates (in 1850 more than one in five children died in infancy), effective birth control, abortion, and delayed childbirth. But, writes Last, "a big part of the story is economics."

For one thing, social security and Medicare replace the burden children have in caring for their parents -- financially speaking -- later in life. In other words, people don't need a score of children to ensure their economic well-being when they're old. Second, taxes. Did you know that in 1955, the median American family paid only 17.3% of its income in taxes? Today the median two-income family pays 40.9%! In other words, "while the government started taking more of a family's money, the expense of raising a child shot to the moon," writes Last.

He goes on to write about the cost of child care and college -- to which I say, Stay home and save on child care, then -- and don't send your kids to expensive schools. Which, I might add, is precisely how large families make it work. Mothers in these families stay home, and these parents don't expect to spend 60K per child for college. Their children do things the old-fashioned way: They work their way through school, get a scholarship, or go local.

In other words, Last's argument about economics is certainly a good one. But I would add that the reason most large families are able to make it work (unless they're extremely wealthy) is because they simply live differently than most modern parents.

When was the last time you watched an episode of 19 Kids and Counting when the children were dressed in designer clothing and the food wasn't generic brand?

3 Responses to “The Economics of Large Families”:

  1. shevrae says:

    As someone who is planning a larger family (baby #4 on the way, and probably not the last), I can tell you we do live differently. I imagine as more children come along, we will pare down some of the "luxuries" we currently have - like eating out a couple of times a week. But for us, it's a small sacrifice to make.

  2. Susanb says:

    As a working mom of 6 with one on the way my family thrives on less than $40,000 a year. Dad stays at home with the kids. It is all about priorities. My household uses less resources than a lot of families I know that have only one child. My goal is to provide memories instead of "things" for my children. Check out my blog. :)

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