I was talking to an old friend who got a vasectomy. I was surprised at first, but he told me the costs and circumstances of raising a kid in America and I guess it makes sense to nip that in the bud. Easily hundreds of thousands of dollars to do, effectively, another full-time job. When did children become a luxury good?
The ‘middle-income’ cost of raising a child in the United States are estimated at $310,000. And that’s before factoring in education. My friend told me private schools can cost $20,000 a year. So add $240,000 if you aspire towards ‘upper-mid’. Then another $250,000 (at least) to launch that child into ‘upper-class’ status through the higher education. Then assume that a lot of this is debt, and you’re easily looking at a million dollars to reproduce. And this isn’t even factoring in lacrosse and internships and all the other bullshit you need to signal wealth to college admissions boards. Might as well buy a Lambo and run over your nuts.
One assumption under this calculation is that you want not just survival but status for your child. Because there’s a big difference between sperm motility and class mobility. Most people can have a child, many can feed and clothe one, but getting them through what America calls a ‘meritocracy’ actually requires huge amounts of money. Their education system is a reputation laundry for the rich and a path to debt-peonage for everyone else (with a heavy amount of colonized children paying exorbitant tribute). Class is literally washed through classes. Inheritances are laundered through institutes. This creates the illusion of ‘earning it’ when in fact it’s bought and paid for through the nose.
As I said, though, college is theoretically optional. You could actually just give the child that much money and they might be better off. Furthermore, these ‘children’ are technically adults by then, they’re certainly considered old enough to sign away the rest of their lives to debt peonage. But that’s not how we think of children. The modern idea of ‘raising’ a child extends to higher educating them, often well into their 20s or longer. And this is really just to be ‘mid’. To be true upper-class would mean spending on multiple masters, internships, investing in their failed businesses, buying cameras, instruments, supporting drug habits, and whatever else it takes a child to find themselves these days. In practice, the sticker price of an education is just table stakes.
For a child to even get a seat at the table, they have to compete against other children who have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars before taking their SATs. Then, if they somehow make it through college on some scholarship, they have to compete against children who can take internships or unlivable salaries to get the actually good jobs in government or whatever. And remember we’re talking about children here. Even within individualistic culture, these are not considered ‘rational’ agents with much agency. The agent is really families, ie a caste system. Americans think they don’t have a caste/class system, but the invisible hand of ‘the market’ has evolved one anyways.
I won’t get into why parents want this trajectory for their children. Not all do. If you don’t have money in the first place, it’s actually better to just put the money in an FD or go to trade school. But culturally, educating your children is still seen as a goal, and if you’re planning to have children, you do think about it. I mean, I didn’t, but I didn’t plan on having children. And aspiring to status doesn’t mean you agree with the system, it’s just that higher status animals usually get better food, more safety, and better reproductive chances. So it’s understandable why humans think this way.
Even if you want to buck the trend and reject the entire hierarchy now hidden behind higher education, you’re still looking at $300,000. Which is still a metric shit-tonne of money. If you just invest that money in the stock market at a rate of $16,666 per year for 18 years, you’ll end up with nearly a million dollars (given a 10% annualized return). If you spend that much on a kid what do you get? A visit on holidays? To die alone in a retirement home? In most cases your child will be a student debt peon, paying off their student loans before they ever get to supporting you. And filial piety isn’t even a cultural value. This theoretical child probably won’t even want to have grandkids, for the same reasons you’re deciding not to have them.
Capitalist society also demands that parents effectively work another full-time job while also working to pay for the privilege. In order to have kids you have to spend time away from them and, if you’re successful, they go even further away. What is the point of this even?
Children do take time, but the idea that this had to be just the parent's time is an extremely modern one. I live in Sri Lanka and my children are raised by 10 people regularly with literally 30 people on the bench. My children are raised by an entire football team, plus coaching staff, and even the crowd helps (Sri Lankans will just take your baby, in a kind way). Americans will put two or even one parent out there and ask why they can’t meet their goals. It’s actually impossible. Parenting is a team sport, and it’s not tennis.
I’ve lived in both a two-parent and, briefly, one-parent household in the UK (an American colony) and it’s just not physically possible. Once I was alone and had to get medicine for two sick children, while having two sick children. How do I do this? How do single-mothers do anything? How do households where two parents are working do anything? These are all very difficult questions which are just dumped on individuals because the culture doesn’t give a fuck about children. There’s in fact more money in developing an app for mildly mitigating this suffering rather than solving the root cause, which is that a marketplace is a terrible place to raise children.
I think of the opening of the movie Perfume where a fishmonger gives birth to a baby, cuts the cord and just throws him on the rubbish heap. She is then is arrested and executed for endangering him. But what was she supposed to do? The kid was born into bad circumstance, which is a cultural problem. But this culture doesn’t even acknowledge that it exists, it just calls itself ‘freedom’ and then punishes people mercilessly for its own failings. And people internalize this and feel terrible, not realizing that you can’t win a team sport like parenting with just your dick in your hands.
It really does take a village but capitalism fucking hates villages. Instead, all of this stuff you used to get from your community for free becomes paid services called ‘childcare’. Now some private equity fucker can salivate at some numbers going up while ignoring his own children. Privatized parenting is actually massively more inefficient and expensive than just being social animals, but mammalian caring is not measured under capitalism so it’s considered worthless. A bunch of creatures too miserable to reproduce makes the reproduction rate of capital increase, and that’s (literally) all that counts.
OK, But Fuck It
And yet people have kids anyways. Because we’re animals and we — to a large degree — just have this deep need which a few centuries of capitalism cannot obliterate. It’s deeply encoded in us to love and want children. No, not everybody, but most of us. As much as vulgar economists pretend that we’re rational actors, we’re obviously not. Very few people spreadsheet out the costs of actually raising a child. They just spread the sheets and kids happen. You think ‘uh, it’s going to be expensive’ and do it anyways, never really adding it all up. That ‘average cost of raising a child’ figure is some abstract calculation done by a think tank, it doesn’t come from a condom packet. Most people just don’t think about it.
Modern life is completely stacked against us and people get by on a mix of hope, debt, luck, and sheer cussedness. As sex idol Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, “life finds a way.” Most people have kids despite the circumstances, and God bless ’em, because the culture sure won’t. Children are objectively wonderful. I mean, just look at them. As I’ve written at length, they give life to you as much as you give it to them. They’re delightful. “The truth is that children already provide that which makes life worth living. Someone to share it with. This is the most important thing in the world, and everything else is just things.”
Children Are Good, Not Goods
Children are good, not luxury goods. It shouldn’t cost hundreds of thousands to reproduce them because they’re actually a ‘public good’, if you want to put common sense into vulgar economics terms. Every ‘market’, every ‘economy’, every abstraction that these vapid economists worship started off in someone’s nut sack or uterine tract. Cutting human reproduction off eventually kills the golden goose they idolize so much. And I’m pretty sure eventually is now.
I don’t mean to single out my friend's vasectomy, it was obviously a personal choice for many reasons. It just got me thinking. I, mercifully, left the West and have two children and no idea how I’m going to pay for anything but it’s not my problem (alone). I’m sure we’ll figure something out. What I can’t figure out is the Western concept of family, perhaps because they don’t really have one. Family is at best a luxury good that the rich can sustain by paying other people to do it, or some shameful burden that keeps you from working enough to keep the aforementioned people rich. This seems like a terrible way to live, which is perhaps why people are not bringing new life into it. Why would you? For a culture obsessed with abortion, the culture itself is the biggest abortifacient in the world.