Nadia Taha wrote an excellent essay recently in the “Your Money” section of the The New York Times. She is in her late 20s, and she and her husband are like many couples – they want to buy a house, have savings, and comfortable retirement years. They’ve decided they don’t want children. Why? They see it as the “single decision” that can best help them…
…achieve their long-term financial goals. To Nadia, “opting out of parenthood isn’t such a fanatical financial move. In fact, it’s “rather prudent.”
She and her husband are not a rarity in their generation. I talk with more and more childfree 20 Somethings these days, and like Hope Reese says in her (not so positive) review the new book, Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?, “a large number of my late 20-something friends feel confident that they don’t want children at all.”
Nadia did what too many would-be parents do not do – take real clear look at what this experience is going to cost. She couldn’t “fathom how anyone could enter into <parenthood> without a number of some sort in mind,” so she came up with an estimate herself based on some solid factors, including housing, child care, insurance, public university and tuitions. Her conclusion: She and her husband would probably spend over $1.7 million in today’s dollars.
She makes an insightful point on the “benefit” side of her cost-benefit analysis – The dollar cost is easier to come up with than trying to evaluate the benefits of having children, as they are ones “you simply cannot know or understand unless you experience them firsthand.”
One thing for sure for that kind of money, you have to really want it. Nadia is like so many childfree couples I have interviewed when they get to the bottom of their decision not to have children – a lack of emotional desire, or in this case, financial concerns and high priority on financial security outweigh the desire to become a parent.
As Nadia articulates if for herself, “some people have a profound emotional desire to have children. But I don’t. Young as we are, it would take a pretty big financial, practical and emotional shift for that to change.”
In addition to Nadia’s generation, financial considerations also enter into why we see growing numbers of GenXers not having children. Yet there is the pronatalist assumption that having children is the road to true adult maturity. It just isn’t the case. What the truth? Whether you have children or not, really giving serious consideration to the financial aspects of having children reflects adult maturity. And having children when you can’t afford them or aren’t prepared and willing to do what it takes to afford them reflects immaturity.
But when it comes to what we’re “supposed” to do in life, the power of pronatalism pervades. Nadia went to women to experts in personal finance and parenting as part of learning the “the knowable and unknowable advantages and disadvantages of having children,” and what was she told – by experts? She was “assured that a cost-benefit analysis was neither necessary nor helpful, and that one day I would feel the urge to procreate, and so I would.”
Thank goodness for others she talked to – neighbors, friends and co-workers — who, when she mentioned she was writing an article about the parenthood decision, “more than a few of them cut me off to say just three words: Good for you.”
Now that’s a response that makes me want to think when it comes to societal acceptance of the childfree choice, maybe we’re getting somewhere – with 20 Somethings potentially carrying an ever growing torch.