Unless We Look More Closely at Women in the Global Labor Force, We See Only the Tip of the Iceberg.

What Do Kids Cost Us?

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jun 24, 2012    •    626 Views

Telling us that, “Women Still Can’t Have it All,” Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter explains why she left her position as policy planning director for the State Department. In addition to her 24/7 job in Washington DC, she was a mother, a wife, and a weekend commuter to her Princeton NJ home. Nearing the 2-year mark when she would have lost tenure, she decided to return to Princeton to full time teaching, writing and speaking engagements. In her Atlantic article she says she was most concerned that she had not been the parent her adolescent son needed. In an excellent 6 page discussion, she says that for women to come even close to “having it all,” society has to change.

And that is where I started thinking about opportunity cost–the next best alternative that a decision requires you to sacrifice.

Here is how I got there:

I read the Slaughter article after contemplating a new US Department of Agriculture report that said the cost of parenting children up to the age of 17 is close to $300,000 for a middle income 2 parent family. Discussing the USDA report, the WSJ’s “numbers guy” added that the cost approaches $900,000 when you go to age 22. And yes, he does say that even then the expense is higher because forgone income and other hidden costs are not included.

At that point, I started to suspect that we were only looking at the tip of the cost iceberg. Yes, we all have the same categories of child-related dollar costs: housing, education, caregiving, food, health care, transportation, clothing.

But then, person specific opportunity cost takes over. For each of us, the parenting decision involves an array of career and personal choices. Each requires many sacrificed alternatives that may or may not have presented tough choices.

I wonder whether the changes Dr. Slaughter proposes will just take us to a new set of opportunity costs. How can we judge where the lowest cost for society and for different women lies, especially when the benefits–such as the maternal satisfaction, the happiness, maybe the old age care–differ for each of us?

Instead of talking about “having it all,” maybe we mean “having it more.” Because of opportunity cost, nobody ever “has it all.” Children will always be “expensive.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter explains her parenting costs and concerns in an Atlantic article that started a debate described by the NY Times. For the quantifiable costs of parenting, here are the USDA report and the WSJ article.


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