As any parent can attest, kids are expensive. They take up space (increasing the cost of housing), eat everything in your kitchen (increasing the grocery bill), never remember to turn off lights (increasing the cost of utilities), and find dozens of other ways to drain your banking account. From birth to high school graduation, the average cost to raise a kid is $241,080.
The high cost is often proffered as an explanation for why families today are much smaller than in the past. But as Bryan Caplan explains having kids was never a paying venture:
One popular story about the decline in family size over the last two centuries goes like this: Back in the old days, having kids paid. Children started working when they were quite young, and provided for their parents in their old age. Then industrialization and/or the welfare state came along and changed everything. Young children ceased to contribute much economically to their families, and once Social Security, Medicare, and so on were in place, people stopped supporting their aging parents.
It turns out that this story is only half true. Yes, in the modern era, people give little financial assistance to their elders; even in late adulthood, old-to-young transfers remain larger than young-to-old transfers. The flaw in the story is the assumption that things used to be different. In an eye-opening 1996 JEL piece, Ted Bergstrom summarizes evidence showing that even in pre-modern societies, kids did not pay.
Caplan also adds this intriguing question, “If parents in 1850 were willing to support five or six kids with a negative financial return, why aren’t we?”