Extremists on the left (Marxists) and right (supply-siders) believe firmly in the power of economic incentives to change behavior. But the sums involved are generally rather small. According to the CIA, Russia's gross domestic product per capita in 2005 was $10,700, compared with $42,000 in the United States. So giving a Russian $9,200 in cash is like giving an American $36,112. Would that be enough to convince lots of Americans to assume the financial responsibilities associated with an additional child? For most, probably not. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has data on the price of human husbandry. According to the latest estimates, depending on your income, it costs anywhere from $139,110 to $279,450 to raise a child to age 17. And that doesn't include college, or graduate school, or help with the down payment for a starter home. Phillip Longman argues that these are lowball estimates, because they don't account for the forgone wages of a mother. "For a middle-class couple in which the wife works, but takes some time off, I came up with a total per-child cost of $1 million in direct and indirect costs."So how much money would it take to change your mind and cause you to have one more child that you had (or plan to have) on your own? I mean, quite aside from whether you approve of bribing people into parenthood or you worry that the wrong people would take the money and produce the extra kids, how much would it take?
For many, of course, having children has nothing to do with financial calculations. Having children fulfills powerful psychological, human, and religious needs. There are some people whom you wouldn't have to pay anything to have another child. And there are some people who are so entirely satisfied with the two wonderful children they already have—and who, given their age, energy level, and real estate prices in the Northeast—would require a Trump-sized incentive to embark on the adventure of parenthood again.
May 30, 2006
Here's a Slate piece about offering women money to have another child -- which is the approach to the problem of the declining birthrate that Vladimir Putin is taking in Russia. Could it work in the U.S.?