“Too Poor to Have Kids”

I came across this article in the Huffington Post, but if you don’t have time to read the article in its entirety here is the Modern Wife recap:

  • The article asserts that “young Americans are just too poor to have kids”
  • Population growth is at its all-time slowest growth rate since the Great Depression, and the birth rate has been falling since the housing bubble burst in 2007
  • Average wage of college-educated 23 to 29 year olds plunged 9% in the last decade
  • Three in 10 of these young adults are choosing to move back in with their parents rather than beginning their own households and families
  • For the first time in U.S. history, unmarried households outnumber married couples
  • Economic growth is expected to continue to be sluggish because the labor force is growing at a slower rate. Population growth is the key driver for consumer spending, housing demand, and household formation

Bottom line is, according to this article: poor economy is propelling many of us millennials to delay or opt out of having our own families.

So what exactly is going on here fellow Generation Y’ers? Are we really too poor, too down and out, too financially strapped to venture out and begin our own households? The more I considered this article the more convinced I became that the economy is just a small little piece of the “millennials aren’t reproducing” pie. We need a generational attitude shift.

I’m going to take you back to early1960 when a young couple decided to get married. Having emigrated to Canada with their respective families as children in 1950, they left behind a war-ravaged European country that had no jobs, little food, and scarce opportunities. With little more than the clothes on their backs and a few pieces of luggage, their families made the long passage across an ocean landing  on the east coast at Halifax. From there, a long train ride took them into southern Ontario. These large double-digit families rented small farmhouses built for six and worked on other Canadian farmers’ fields to make a living. Everyone, fathers, mothers, teenagers and young children pitched in.

The Dutch farming community of southern Ontario was fairly close-knit and that’s how this young couple met and fell in love. Barely past their teenage years, they got married and started their own household in much the same manner their parents did: renting and working on other people’s farms. Up until the day they got married, that young man gave his paycheque to his parents. The couple soon welcomed their first child and were thrown into parenthood in living conditions that involved outdoor bathroom facilities.

Year by year and four children later, they worked their tails off and gradually carved out a nice living for themselves. He went to night school and became a technician at a booming car plant and she became a self-employed cleaner when she wasn’t raising children. Fifty-two years later, they are retired and live in the third home they’ve owned, spend their winters in Florida, and play golf in the summer. These people were my grandparents, and they kick butt.

Considering their story, and thousands of other stories from grandparents just like them, the “we are too poor to have children” dilemma just doesn’t add up in this millennial’s mind. Are we actually too poor to have children? No. We think we are. And there’s a lot of other self-interests we want to pursue before we have them. The economy is a just handy excuse to use when you need to keep a grandchild-craving in-law at bay.

We were raised in a culture that promotes the pursuit of personal ambition. We were raised thinking things like televisions, video-games, cell phones, and iPods ranked right up there with water, food, and shelter on the list of life’s essentials. Have a family before you own your home? Shocking! Move out of mom and dad’s place before you have your own high def TV? Oh the humanity! Get married before I’m a senior manager and have a pension set? Stop! You’re killing me! These thoughts cause heart palpitations to millennials.

How can a generation who was raised with everything, be motivated to start out with less than their parents? Though our grandparents and parents had every best intention at heart in wanting to give us more than they had as children, something has become lost on us. Something to do with hard work, sweat, tears, patience, making something out of nothing, and a willingness to roll up our sleeves has become lost on the millennial generation. We want success, we want wealth, and we want it now. Children, families, and “settling down” have to take a backseat until we feel we have it all together.

Of course I am generalizing, of course there are exceptions. But take a good hard look at the 20-somethings in your life and I think you will find some truth to what I’m saying. Is it wrong to pursue a career? Is it wrong to want it all together before we start our own households and have children? Maybe not. But let’s call it for what it is.

No, we are not too poor to have children. My grandparents were too poor to have children, my parents didn’t “have it all” to have children, but they had children anyway.

Thoughts welcomed. Was I too harsh on my generation? Are we too poor to have kids?


39 thoughts on ““Too Poor to Have Kids”

  1. I love this post!! Things are so different these days….why do we feel we NEED to have the newest and best everything? We would all be perfectly fine without all the luxuries we’re used to having. I have said more than once that I wish I was raising my kids in the 80’s….things were so different. So much less in the way of electronics…you go outside and play…things were different….Of course we’re not too poor to have kids – people just choose to spend their money on other things these days!

  2. Loving your post – making me think. I have to agree my dad’s parents were really poor and had multiple children, multiple generations and boarders living with them to make ends meet. My parents had children and gave us what we needed not what we wanted; it was a good growing up. Thanks for sharing and Have a Great Day:)

  3. My dad always said that if we planned on having kids, there would be no babies. The element of surprise can change our steadfast plans in an instant. Now, my two pregnancies were planned, but I figured there’d never be a “perfect” time financially to have kids, so just go for it with some basics taken care of. Degrees, a house, a job. Then I lost my job, but it turned out to be a good thing b/c I qualified for Medicaid.

    Have you seen Idiocracy? Great, hilarious movie. If all the smart people waited, the dumb-dumbs would be the dominant species. What are people waiting for? We always make things work if we have to.

  4. This is very true! I have to remind myself of this often because I complain about my tiny house and how I don’t want to raise children in it, yet I so easily forget that I was raised in much smaller conditions. But there’s a dark side to this too. The people who really are poor seem to have LOTS of babies and they really CAN’T afford to take care of them without help from the government! Jells hit the nail on the head. The movie “Idiocracy” says it all. Our generations NEEDS to procreate simply to balance out the ratio of rich to poor…LOL (ok, only half serious here…or am I?)

    Fingers crossed this millennial can get to procreatin’ here soon! 🙂

  5. Thank you, finally someone who has hit the nail on the head. It kills me when people say they have to get their mortage paid before they have kids or they need to save for that car before they can think about becoming pregnant. My husband and I raised four kids on one income. I wanted to be at home for my kids. We gratefully accepted hand-me downs from family and friends, we don’t go out to restaurants except for maybe once or twice a year. We cook at home and we have family over to share in our dinners, we don’t have the most up-to-date house but it is clean and comfortable, and my kids didn’t get the latest and greatest in gadgets. The only reason two of my kids have cell phones is because they have a job to pay for it. We refused to buy cell phones unless they could pay for it themselves even though every single one of their friends had them when they were twelve. I could go on and on….I better stop. Great post, glad to know someone else thinks like my household.

  6. Cheryl, it’s a good thing your Dad and I didn’t wait until we could “afford” kids – you wouldn’t exist! We still can’t afford kids (haha) but don’t regret a moment of our family life! You and your brother and sisters are our greatest blessings.

    • I was going to say exactly this, Judy!
      I don’t think many people can ever really afford to have kids. There is ALWAYS something to spend your money on.
      Great post, Cheryl!

  7. Totally agree with you! People just want the things their parents have (and more) with out working for them and seem surprised when they don’t get them automatically after college…and they want to have “stuff” more then kids. It’s really sad. The stuff is just stuff.

  8. Wow. What a great post! Sometimes you find a way to write/explain a problem that is swirling around in my head – I come here and read something you’ve written and it all makes sense. This is very true, I think so many people in our generation (including this girl!) are afraid to take a leap and do something scary like have children without feeling financially stable, or having their career on track, or knowing what their 5 year plan is. More and more I am starting to realize (and trying really hard to embrace) the fact that life always changes and at the end of the day things will never be ‘perfect’. You just have to muster the guts and courage to do what really makes you happy, even if there is no plan, even if you do think you are crazy. It is so important to call it like it is – we are only fooling ourselves if we don’t.

  9. Love! My husband and I were actually shocked to find that we have been spending less money each month than we did before we had her. We were never very materalistic people anyway, but a lot of it I think has been time management. There are so many ways we can get forced to spend money because we didn’t plan out our day well enough to avoid a purchase.

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  11. I think you nailed it. I think too many young people want to move out and start a life at the same economic level they had with their parents. They aren’t willing to sacrifice a nice lifestyle to build their own.

    We were very poor when we married 22 years ago. Struggling isn’t a bad thing. It helped us bond. It helped us define ourselves independent of our parents. It helped us know we could do hard things.

    It just seems like today’s kids are too pampered. They just aren’t willing to do without. It’s sad.

  12. Oh, what a wise woman you are! You are so right in that you don’t have to have “everything in place” to start your family. My hubs and I are in our 40’s and due to the recession, we have had to start over. We are on the right track, but it will take a while to build up the income again (hubs in school for a mid life career change) It’s not like we can trade in our kids until we get our finances back in order. Hopefully the Gen y’s will learn to roll with a little less. Great blog!

  13. This is a very interesting perspective. I’d have to agree with you that for the most part, we are not as a generation “too poor” to have kids, and that if we are, so was every generation before us.

    Of course, I’d argue that they were too poor to have kids as well, but they did.

    I argue all the time that I’m too poor to have kids (which is my code for simply not wanting any for completely unrelated reasons), and I usually win that argument because I’m on public assistance. But there are lots of couples and even single women in housing projects and homeless shelters having kids, so what makes me so damn special, right?

    The fact that I don’t want any.

    Let’s call it like it is, shall we?

    BTW, happy SITS day!

  14. I am on the tail end of Gen X and beginning of Gen Y (or the Millenials as it’s called). I was born in 1980 and pushing 32. I see what you are referring to and it makes so much sense.

    Our priorities have shifted greatly. In our grandparents’ days they didn’t work to earn a new gadget. They worked to survive. Everything else was the cherry on top. They made do with what they had and they appreciated it. If they got a nice vacation or a new car, it was loved and enjoyed with respect.

    Today, we are a disposable society. When the latest iPhone comes out, we discard the old one even if we’ve only had it for 3 months. There is no hanging on to something for the sake of getting its value. Marriages are treated the same way. Argue with your spouse? Divorce. Things aren’t peachy keen every waking moment? Divorce. It’s a bit disgusting really but I wonder how we can change our perspectives, if we can at all.

    You are definitely on to something with this post and I admire your insight on this. I’ll be following you now. Stopping by from SITS.

  15. I was born in the 60’s. I got married at 19 and didn’t have my first child until I was 27. (I did have a miscarriage at 26). I had to listen to all the “when are you going to have kids?” But after being married for 5 years, I was only 23. And no, when we did finally have kids, we didn’t have a lot of money. We wanted to enjoy being married and having fun before we added kids. And I don’t think that was selfish of us. I think in the end it made us better parents.

    Happy SITS Day!!

  16. I agree with this post and most of the commenters!! There is a good point that lots of people who really, truly can’t afford it, are having child after child, and it does take a toll on the children and society…

  17. I think you’re right. I disagree with the notion that “we’re too poor to have kids.” I just think our priorities are different. Our forefathers busted their butts to provide for their family. I can only speak for my family. I’m one of hour. My family and I moved from Jamaica to the US. I was always brought up to get an education and then start a family. We struggled and my mom wanted better for us.

    I’m glad I’ve been able to achieve that, I got married not too long after college. My hubby and I decided to wait to have our first child. Since becoming parent, we want to spend as much time with her as possible. We feel that having another soon after would take time away from enjoying her. It’s just a preference. I’d rather hold off on having a truck load of kids because of personal preference, not because we’re poor. I think people should be careful decisions about starting a family. It’s a commitment. Kids are a blessing. Once they’re here,, they’re here, Nice post. Happy sits day!

  18. Happy SITS day and bravo for starting a great conversation. I am not a generation y’er. I am 49 with two teenagers. You never know what is going to happen and what kind of financial situation you will need to raise kids. If you are smart and hard-working there is always a way. Decide to have kids because you want them, not because you can afford them. JMO 🙂 Good for you for shouting out your side of the story.

  19. I think you’re absolutely right. Many of the reasons people had kids in the past have changed. Children today, for example, are generally not expected to do anything but add to the household expense. And people seem to be a whole lot more focused on themselves and if there’s one thing a child requires, it’s your attention. So, personally, I think that if someone decides to not have kids or to delay having kids, it’s all good. On the other hand, there’s a reason why our bodies are at their child bearing peak while we’re younger… and that’s a whole other topic! Maybe you’ll cover it another time? 😀

  20. Exactly! We’re to darn busy on the internet/ watching television/ instantly gratifying to have children. We are basically selfish. And too bombarded by technology. I only had my daughter at 32 and wish I’d had her earlier because she’s exceedingly heavy now that I’m in my later 30s. Apparently, according to my sister who started this baby thing at 24, they are a lot lighter when you are a lot younger.
    Physics… who knew!

    In from SITS

  21. Great post. I had a girl tell me I shouldn’t have a kid until I have $10,000 in savings. Why? When did raising kids become so commercialized? It doesn’t need to be expensive to raise kids. They don’t need brand new clothes, especially when they’re going to outgrow it in a couple months. I’m big on breastfeeding and using cloth diapers. We have saved a ton of money not having to pay $20+ a week in formula and $15+ a week in diapers. Most of my son’s toys were bought on craigslist or at second hand stores. He’s still happiest playing outside, digging in the dirt. I will delay getting him a gaming system for as long as I possibly can.

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  23. I think your missing the point, who wants to live the life of immigrant field works be them Dutch or Mexican? Make their kids work and toil, the parents work and toil where’s the joie de vie? If that’s how life’s going to be whats the point? Vacation in Florida? Haha what when their at deaths doorstep? That’s the reward a few years of rest before you kick the bucket? No thanks I don’t know about you but if that’s the life my parents would have me live I’d rather not be born. Why make your children suffer? Or you

  24. I think we need to rethink our thoughts about family and having children. What is the impact if we don’t have families? Europe is now post-Christian and post-family. I think Europe is in a mess without a future generation of children rising into society which will come to fruition in a few decades. Their countries could be facing such a decline they could lose their culture, and identity and the end of some ethnic backgrounds will fade to virtual genocide. Families are the basic building blocks of a society. Without our children we will be depleted as a society. We will be facing a different kind of poverty without children and enriched when we have and cherish our children.

  25. I know you meant well, but this makes me so angry. I desperately want to have a family of my own with my husband. Job loss and having to support a sick parent have left us scraping by and miserable. I will probably have fertility problems like my older sisters, and adopting is expensive, too. Have you priced IVF lately? I look at my friends’ baby shower lists and am horrified by how much basic, reasonable things cost. (I don’t befriend divas, so these are normal women) Is everybody just like 50 thousand or more in debt, or are their children eating air? I’ve crunched the numbers and it looks so hopeless. I know money is not everything, and that giving children too much can ruin their character, but the opposite is true, too. I work with a group of at-risk kids through my church, and a lot of them come from decent families who are just dirt-poor immigrants. These are the kids whose parents can’t afford tutoring or any extracurricular enrichment. These are the kids whose parents are too busy working 14-hour shifts to spend crucial time with them. These are the kids who grow up hating school and drop out. These are the kids that get lured in by gangs when their futures seem hopeless. I may not be as poor as they are, but we’re going into debt just to keep all the bills paid, and we cut out all frills last year. (Internet connection was necessary for my job, but the company’s getting sold so I only have 2 months left.) We want to raise healthy, happy, productive members of society, and we can’t do that when we don’t know how we are going to keep ourselves fed. It is wrong to create life without any thought to how that life will be nurtured. My heart is broken because I want so badly to be a mother, and my poor husband would make such a good father. How dare you assume every millenial couple not having kids must be selfish. Some of us just don’t want to put our kids through the deprivations we dealt with, back when the economy was much more hopeful than it is today.

  26. Shamefully judgmental! You lump a whole generation of people together and attempt to discredit their choices by comparing their experiences to those of a prior generation vis a vis your grandparents. While their story may nicely convey the value of hardwork, it is nothing more than an anecdote. There were people that were too poor to responsibly have children then and the same is true now. Your grandparents’ bootstrapping has little to do with it.

  27. I needed this article, my now husband was laid off the day we got approved for our house and three months before our wedding, we managed to get the house and paid for our wedding, but being on one income because I still don’t have a large clientele with massage, it pays our bills but its tight, we want kids badly and my husband wants a career change in time which requires six months training and next to no money coming in. I have a new found inspiration and determination to make this work… heres to a pregnancy in a few months… I was dying to talk to my mom and grandmother but I really want this to be a huge surprise for them.

  28. I have a friend that put a post on Facebook saluting everyone from our graduating high school class that hasn’t settled down yet and had kids. At the time I celebrated with the other singles, but moms were furious because they value their kids over everything. I secretly was envious and since then have conceived. I am under the scrutiny of a lifetime right now because I don’t have a back up plan (they really mean to say fund). However the dollar isn’t stable at all. I would rather have a stable healthy family. These people, my family, would rather me have a duvet and a cable plan with wifi. Basically their materialism has led them to a disgusting place. They threw insults at my unborn child (who is not hurting them in anyway). We are in a warm home with balanced meals, clothes, shoes, socks, soap, hot water, and we happen to have cable c:

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