The birth rate in the United States has shown an overall decline over recent decades. People are choosing to have fewer children, having children later in life and increasingly deciding to remain child free. There are multiple factors contributing to this trend, including access to reproductive healthcare (limited to a much smaller number of states since the fall of Roe) and increasing educational and career opportunities for women.
More and more, Millennials say that they’re choosing not to have kids because they can’t afford it. A Newsweek poll of 1,500 adults from April 2023 that asked, “If the cost of living was lower, would you consider having a child?” found that 30% of respondents overall answered yes. Among respondents ages 18-34, that jumped to over 50%.
A number of Millennials have expressed their hesitations about having children on TikTok, with some citing the US Department of Agriculture estimate that the cost of raising a child born in 2015 would be $233,610 over the first 17 years.
In response, one 22-year-old TikToker (who does not have children) posted a rebuttal of these claims, explaining that, in her view, families paying for childcare were choosing to “prioritise” their careers, as opposed to having one parent stay home to care for the children. If Millennials simply choose instead to prioritise having children, she insinuates, they could do so. She gives the example of her own family. She states her father chose to “grow” his salary in order to support her mother and the 11 children she stayed out of the workforce to raise.
Her video, which she took down and then made public again, has gone viral and the commenters have spared her no mercy in their criticism. Yet the overall tone of her claim ― that parents could afford children if only they put in a little more effort ― is not uncommon.
But it’s unfair to compare the financial situation of Millennials to that of previous generations. While the cost of housing has risen precipitously, salaries have not gone up in sync — and most of us don’t live in fairyland gardens where we can water our salaries and watch them grow.
“Most of us don’t live in fairyland gardens where we can water our salaries and watch them grow.”
In 2023, the median price of purchasing a home in the US was $412,000, or 5.5 times the 2022 median household income of $74,580. In 1980, the median price of a home was $47,200, which was only 2.2 times the 1980 median household income of $21,020. Millennials aren’t imagining things. Their salaries don’t stretch half as far.
In addition, the soaring cost of higher education means that many are shouldering crushing student loan debt. Americans owe a total of $1.75 trillion in student loans, an average of $28,950 per borrower. This debt makes it difficult to save for a down payment on a home, or whether unpaid leave from work to care for a new child. (The US has long been an outlier among developed nations in offering zero weeks of paid parental leave.)
Then there is the cost of childcare itself. While it’s true that a number of people, usually women, leave the workforce to care for children because the cost of childcare totals as much, or more, than their salaries, there are also reasons people keep a job beyond the arithmetic of a pay cheque. Some people work in order to maintain health coverage for their families. The consequences of leaving the workforce aren’t limited to the present: workers lose out on seniority, pensions and social security earnings when they take time away.
But it’s not unusual for a parent’s salary to be decimated by childcare costs. The Department of Health and Human Services established 7% of family income as the benchmark for affordable childcare. Yet, according to Care.com’s 2024 Cost of Care Report, families are spending an average of 24% of their income on childcare. Sixty percent of families are spending 20% or more.
Here at HuffPost, we have been highlighting some of these families’ stories in our series Banking On Childcare. By sharing their childcare expenses and their struggles, these parents paint a portrait of the complicated, and at times heartbreaking, decisions families are forced to make in order to provide for their children.
Here are some of the things they have said about their kids, their jobs and their priorities:
“I’m still paying student loans, and that’s $350 a month. My car payment’s $400. We’re told, ‘Go to school, go to college, you’ll be fine.’ And I’m going to be paying my loans until I’m 52, I think it works out to. So I’m not giving my kids a chance — I can’t save anything for them, to help them not be in this position. And that’s what really breaks my heart. In addition to [that], I feel like I’m just missing their whole lives because I’m too busy trying to survive and work a million jobs.” — Ashley P., Pennsylvania (Read full story: ‘When You Subtract What I Pay For Child Care, I’m Only Making $10 An Hour’)
“To go from two pretty decent incomes to literally cutting our income in half was hard. We tried to mentally justify it with, ‘Oh, but look how much we’re saving on day care’ and all of this, but at the end of the day, you’re still at a loss.” — Rachael Gomez, Texas (Read her story: My Family Of Five Lives On $90,000 A Year And ‘It’s A Struggle’)
“I literally worked seven days a week. I took extra assignments at school, I would do aromatherapy [sales], anything that I could find to supplement my primary income. Anything where I was able to work online, I would do that, so that I would have the income but not have to be concerned about paying for additional childcare.” — Sherrie Bain, California (Read her story: I’m A Single Mother With A Ph.D., And ‘I Literally Worked Seven Days A Week’ To Make Ends Meet)
“When you’re planning to have children, you’re aware of the need to create a college fund, like everybody talks about. You need to plan for college when you’re having kids, but you have 18 years to generate that fund. No one ever warns you about the cost of early childcare. And if you’re lucky, you have three months to plan for that, maybe nine months if you’re really on top of it. Nobody talks about it, but your hands are tied. You’re gonna quit your job, or you’re gonna have to pay.” — Deanna Conley, Rhode Island (Read her story: ‘Everyone Talks About This Village, But There Really Isn’t A Village’: The Reality Of Child Care)
“I need these [subsidized childcare] funds to always be there in order to have the ability to work and to thrive for my family and for myself. This is what would help me and other families a lot: That the funds are always there, that they don’t make it too complicated for us to apply in order to thrive, in order to triumph. Because for a lot of women, a lot of single mothers, it’s very difficult to get ahead.” — Luz Quevedo, Oregon (Read her story: How I Make State-Funded Child Care Work As A Single Mom)
“I’d definitely like to get [my 3-year-old] into something more full-time next year, but I just don’t know how feasible it would be. If I did get a full-time job and put him in full-time preschool, then we would probably not qualify [for subsidized care] and so I would just be paying for childcare. It wouldn’t make any sense. I don’t even think we’d break even, to be honest.” — Michelle Dewalt, Washington (Read her story: I Work As A Part-Time Nanny So I Can Care For My Own Children)
“There has to be some level of understanding. We can’t expect people to work all this time, but then at the same time, not be flexible. I can’t tell you how many employers I’ve had in the past that were like, ‘Your child is sick? Well, why don’t you just give your child Tylenol and still come in.’” — Ida Rodriguez, Massachusetts (Read her story: What I Spend On Child Care As A Mom Who Makes Under $30,000 A Year)
″We’re kind of at a crossroads where one of us is probably going to have to leave our job because of the current situation and how unaffordable it’s becoming. And so we’re looking at, do we choose to lose health insurance? Or do we lose a big chunk of our income?” — Lucie Benevise, Virginia (Read her story: I Make $22 An Hour In Roanoke, Virginia. This Is What I Spend On Childcare)