One and Only

A journalist—and only child—investigates the choice to have just one kid

What We Can, And Can't, Afford

Can we pony up for another kid?

Every couple of years, Mark Lino, a number-cruncher at the Department of Agriculture, adds up what it costs to raise a kid through high school. And every year those numbers increase. When I called him up recently to see if the recession had scaled back spending on children since his 2008 tabulations, he told me that the only area in which the numbers rolled back were in the cost of transportation. Families may be travelling less, but what they're spending on their kids has gone up, despite the fact that unemployment has spiked since he added up figures from two years ago. Lino discovered it now costs for middle income earners an average of $286,050 to get a kid to his or her eighteenth birthday. In the higher income brackets, that number swells up to $475,680.

Meanwhile at a hearing on Capitol Hill on the State of the American Child, economist and child welfare experts testified that the situation is "abysmal" for our kids. The U.S. currently has the highest poverty rate for children among the world's industrialized nations: one in five lives below the poverty line (which many people agree is already drawn too high). One in seven American children has an unemployed parent. And Senator Chris Dodd projected that because of unemployment an additional five million children could be driven into poverty before the recession ends. One in four children currently uses food stamps, he said, and half of all kids will use them at some point during their childhood.

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And yet, common thinking persists that we need to have more kids for the welfare of our children, that they will be disadvantaged without siblings, despite any research substantiating that notion. I certainly do not mean to suggest that rich people should have all the children they want, while the increasing number of poor people should curb their fertility. I just think it's time that we reassess why we're having more kids. If it's for the good of the children we already have, and not simply because we want more of them, it's time to apply a new calculus to our thinking.

Lauren Sandler is the author of a new book about the freedom of having an only child, and the fulfillment of being one.

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