My daughter and her family recently entered a new phase of life: home ownership. She is a stay-at-home married mom with three adorable children (I am biased!). Her husband worked for a period after finishing his undergraduate degree, then spent five years completing his Ph.D. They rented homes until recently. They finally took the plunge into home ownership after my son-in-law was comfortably settled into his post-graduate school employment. Saving money for a home down payment while raising three young children is a daunting task, even more so with a single wage earner.
I reminisced as I learned about their search for an affordable home in a good neighborhood with excellent public schools. Home prices rose significantly during the pandemic under record low interest rates and more people working from home. Now that interest rates have substantially climbed, housing demand declined which stabilized property prices. Unfortunately, mortgage payments rose as interest rates climbed. Interest rates stifled first-time home buyers. It is always difficult to purchase your first home.
They purchased a 60-year-old home that needed upgrading. New wooden floors and painting greatly improved the interior but required additional capital. I listened to their list of projects: kitchen remodeling, window coverings, and upgraded interior lighting. Remodeling will take time and resources to complete while raising three children on a single salary.
My mother raised four children and did not work until her youngest child was in school. My parents bought their first home when I was 11 years old, about the same age of my daughter’s first born. During my childhood, married mothers normally did not work and there were limited childcare options. Women stayed home while men worked. This changed during my teenage years. My university engineering class had 11% women, a record enrolment. This year, my technical university enrolled 33% women. I expect that most of these women, upon graduation, will seek employment in some capacity rather than stay home to raise children. More men are opting to be the primary caregiver to children while the other spouse works. This trend is more balanced and practical.
Times change, but the harsh reality of child rearing economics still remains. I raised my two children in a home where both parents worked full-time. Finding good childcare was a constant problem and expensive. Parenting while working full-time was bone-weary exhausting. Our few weeks of vacation were reserved for staying home with sick children, doctor visits, and attending school functions. We did have more funds than single earner families, though. We were able to pay off our mortgage faster and save for the children’s higher education. The downside was less rest and children time. Life is full of choices that must be managed. Looking back, I still wonder if I made the right family choices.
There are many estudies that show the economic cost to women who choose to have children, whether they return to work shortly after giving birth or leave their jobs to stay home with their children. It is an economic reality that employed women take an economic hit which is appropriately named the Motherhood Penalty. In a Financial Timesarticle by Soumaya Keynes (Motherhood is full of surprises — the economic ones sting the most, September 7, 2023), quotes a Swedish study that shows the Motherhood Penalty. The major reason for the pay gap is that women who have children don’t get promoted as much as men within the same company. Promotions result in higher wages. During their child-bearing years, women get promoted less than men. Around the age of 45 when child-bearing ceases, the gap closes.
Bearing children does come with economic consequences. Yet, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s when my parents were having children, this was less of a factor, as most women did not work while raising children. Couples married younger and had larger families. Medical expenses, housing, food, energy, and education were less expensive. My family did not take vacations until I was older and rarely traveled outside the radius of our city until my mother worked. My mother hung our clothes outside to dry as we did not own a dryer. Our sole news source was a radio until I was in elementary school. My parents owned an old car that did not have air conditioning — in south Texas! Life was simpler then and needs were more basic.
Today, many couples put off having children until their thirties when they are more financially established. Couples balance careers and children. I understand this balancing act as the thought of having more than two children frightened me even though I was raised in a family with four children. Economics was a factor in family planning.
Scripture does not discuss the economic cost of having children. In fact, there is little in Scripture about children. In Biblical times, children were considered a blessing and legacy. However, childhood was a time for obedience. As my British friends would say, “children are to be seen and not heard.” In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus encountered children and defied the cultural norms when his disciples tried to prevent parents from bringing children to him. “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14)
As Christians approach this Christmas season, we are reminded of the birth of a child who would become our Savior. We feel the joy in the blessedness of a child born two centuries ago when children economics were not a part of life. These holy scenes are countered by the endless commercials that remind us of the economics of the holiday season. May we all lean towards the blessedness of children this Christmas.