The Economics of Parenting

The Economics of Parenting

The Economics of Parenting

There are plenty of different perspectives about the best way to raise children. Some believe hovering helps children get ahead. Others think less supervision encourages children to figure things out for themselves. Some believe extracurricular activities are vital. Others - not so much.

The list could continue, but safety and access to enriching environments are major issues.

A Pew Research Center survey of 1,807 U.S. parents with children younger than 18 finds huge differences in parenting based on income. Financial instability can limit lower-income children’s access to a safe environment. It also affects the availability of enrichment activities that affluent parents may take for granted. Here are the facts.

  • Higher-income parents are nearly twice as likely to rate their neighborhood as an “excellent” or “very good” place to raise kids.

  • One-third of parents with annual family incomes less than $30,000 say that their neighborhood is only a “fair” or “poor” place to raise kids.

  • Lower-income parents are more likely to have concerns about their children being victims of violence. At least half of those with family incomes less than $30,000 worry that their kids might be kidnapped or get physically attacked.

  • About half of lower-income parents worry their children might be shot at some point, more than double the share among higher-income parents.

The survey also showed that:

  • Lower-income parents of school-age children face more challenges finding affordable, high-quality after-school activities and programs than higher-income parents.

  • About half families who make less than $30,000 annually say these programs are hard to find in their community, compared with 29 percent of those with incomes of $75,000 or higher.

  • Far more children of higher-income parents engage in sports or organizations such as Scouts or take lessons in music, dance or art.

  • 84 percent of high-income parents say their children participated in sports in the 12 months before the survey, compared to 59 percent among lower-income parents.

Concerns about teen pregnancy and legal trouble are also more prevalent among lower-income parents.

  • Half of lower-income parents worry that their child or one of their children will get pregnant or get a girl pregnant as a teen, compared with 43 percent of higher-income parents.

  • By 2-to-1 margin, more lower-income say they worry that their children will get in legal trouble at some point.

Regardless of income, at least half of all parents worry that their children might be bullied or struggle with anxiety or depression someday. For those with annual family incomes of $75,000 or higher, these concerns trump all others tested in the survey.

Researchers believe the dramatic changes in family living arrangements have contributed to the growing share of children living at the economic margins. In 2014, 62 percent of children younger than 18 lived with two married parents – a historic low, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. census data. The share of U.S. kids living with only one parent stood at 26 percent in 2014. Also, households with two unmarried parents have risen steadily in recent years.

These patterns differ sharply across racial and ethnic groups.

  • Large majorities of white (72 percent) and Asian-American (82 percent) children live with two married parents, as do 55 percent of Hispanic children.

  • Only 31 percent of black children have two married parents, while more than half (54 percent) live in a single-parent household.

The economic outcomes for these types of families vary dramatically.

  • In 2014, 31 percent of children in single-parent households lived below the poverty line, as did 21 percent of children living with unmarried parents.

  • Only 1 in 10 children living with two married parents were in this circumstance. In fact, more than half (57 percent) of married-parent households had incomes at least 200 percent above the poverty line.

  • Just 21 percent of those in single-parent households had incomes at least 200 percent above the poverty line.

There are clearly many variables that promote the safety and well-being of children. The harder question is: How can we improve the quality of life for all children?