By Dave Anderson:
A single kid is expensive. Two kids can get really expensive fast. The biggest expense is day care. And unless both parents are working at jobs where they are making more than the average weekly wage at each job, having the lower paid parent staying home is probably a break even proposition at worse over the short run. Ann Kim wisely, raises this basic point at 10 Miles Squared:
But treating women�s work as an issue for culture and values misses the boat in a big way. Not only is it elitist, it denies the underlying economic realities of many women�s lives....
For many women, however, the �choice� to work at home or at an office is not one that�s dictated by values but by brutal economics.
Many women can�t afford to stay at home, given the realities of today�s middle-class expectations. But many women also can�t afford to go to work, given the high costs of child care and other factors.
The only problem I have with the excerpted segment is I would like to replace women with "parent(s)" as child-raising is becoming more of a shared gender role although women still contribute more time and energy on average to child rearing then men.
My wife and I have a three year old daughter, Elise.
She is amazing and makes me laugh every day as she tries to figure out the world around her by applying a bewildering array of tacit and formal rules to new situations such as deciding to sing "Happy Birthday" when she saw her Easter basket. The Easter basket had presents and candy. Birthdays are the days that she gets both presents and candy. Birthdays require singing, loudly and enthusiastically, therefore, singing "Happy Birthday" was, in her mind, an appropriate response to her environment.
She is also in daycare full time as both of us work full time. Our day care is a middle-priced one for Pittsburgh, and it costs us slightly less than one of our four paychecks per month to keep her in daycare full time.
We are also expecting a son this summer.
The combined day care bill will be slightly less than two of the four pay checks per month that we earn until Elise makes it to kindergarten. We can swing it as we have been preparing for that day for the past two years by rapidly paying down a lot of debt and smoothing out cash flow cycles, but it is going to be tough. We have also considered whether or not it makes sense for me to stay home for a couple of years as I earn slightly less than my wife but have better opportunities for part-time, casual, and temporary contract work. The break-even point is within a couple hundred dollars per month over the short run but the strongest argument for a dual-income, dual daycare family is the long run. I have been out of work before and I know the gaps in my employment history have already taken a whack to current and future wage potential. Another two year gap plateaus my career at a low level for a very long time.
Kids are expensive and often the work/stay at home decision is overwhelmingly an economic decision not a personal lifestyle choice. And this is the decision matrix for a dual income, overly educated professional household. If we made close to median income, the decisions that are currently tough but present long term acceptable outcomes are off the table with two kids. Either one parent is working full time and the other stays home with some part time outside work at the cost of significantly impairing their long term earnings prospect OR the post-daycare income is near poverty level. At that point, there are no good choices.