I think a lot of people who have kids, and particularly those who are in the vicinity of conservatives have heard some variation on this theme from older folks. The exact amount varies, but it’s usually 30-50k. I took the midpoint for this post.
Anyway, here’s a little chart of what 40k in 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000 would be in current-year dollars.
||Annual Household Income in Dollars
||What It’s Worth In 2018 Dollars
I didn’t go back further because most people who say this were raising kids to college ages in the mid-70s to mid-90s.
Feel free to copy-paste this chart in any discussion of costs to raise kids. Calculator used is here and I lowballed a little.
Hedonic substitution in economics is buying ground beef instead of steak, or the Pinto instead of the Lambourghini. People also engage in hedonic substitution. It’s a hallmark of the conservative worldview.
Living in low quality housing, with one car in a car-centric society, eating a meatless or low protein diet, and yet all the while asserting that you’re middle class. Homeschooling is often another hedonic substitution. One hour once a week “co-op” is suddenly equivalent to 15k/kid/year private classical school and will definitely give you the same results.
It’s about telling people who have to substitute cheaper versions that they aren’t substituting at all but instead getting something for nothing because they’re just so smart and middle class. And also not distinguishing between the people who can choose something else and thus aren’t operating on such tight margins. The oft-cited (and mostly historical rather than current) statistics of children homeschooled by mere high school graduate mothers leave out how many of their fathers were engineers and STEM types.
While the median household income for married couples with under-18 kids is about six figures and has been even adjusted for inflation for decades, it’s still a median and a bunch of married folks with kids will end up on the low half of that median. And instead of them being respectably poor or working class, they’re instead endlessly encouraged to engage in elaborate substitutes that cannot give the same result or benefit, but which would be superior if they weren’t being used as substitutes for something more expensive in time and/or money.
This approach also lets the higher-earning households avoid awkward social obligations and relationship building that used to be present even in individualist America out of a combination of ingrained habit and necessity.
There are plenty more, but they all boil down to “Cheaping out is better because it makes me feel better about not having moneys.”
Needless to say, this is not as compelling an argument as people think. I don’t think people who make these arguments about cheapness being superior parenting are conscious of the implication, but I can assure them, that’s what average people are thinking. They are thinking “defensive about being POOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRRRR”. They are not thinking such people (disproportionately conservatives) are brilliant geniuses for not spending money on their beloved children.
A while back I looked up food stamp data and found that (proxied) conservative families were avoiding meat so they could avoid food stamp use, while non-conservative families were getting food stamps so they could have meat regularly. Yeah, people don’t think you’re superior or better or wiser for avoiding access to high-quality protein out of ego-defense issues. Tangentially, the lethargy that low protein causes probably makes having a larger family easier in fairly obvious ways, but that’s just a side effect.
It’s a way for SWPLs to copy the ecology of urban poor blacks with their complex networks of favors that make it very hard to get up and out (i.e. leave the ghetto and achieve the markers of whitish middle class consumption-based success) without losing their precious status points that are what they trade in preferentially to icky, icky money.
It’s also about creeping proletarianization, in which the destruction of capital and franklin-level business ownership by regulation and cronyism are glossed over by “barter economies” and “sharing systems” that are supposed to make up for the reduced resource access and economic decline.