clock menu more-arrow no yes

The $245,000 price tag for raising an American child, in 5 charts

Your baby sister is getting that shovel someday, young lady.
Your baby sister is getting that shovel someday, young lady.
Shutterstock

Having children is one of the most fundamental financial events in the life of the typical American family. According to a report the USDA released in August, it costs $245,340 on average for a middle-income family to raise a child from its 2013 birth to age 18. The report, which the department releases annually, is full of all sorts of striking facts about how much it costs to raise children in the US these days. Below are five charts that illustrate how much Americans spend on raising their kids, and why.

1) Child care and education are way more expensive than they used to be

That total spending on childrearing has increased substantially over the years, even accounting for inflation. In 1960, it cost just under $200,000 total (in 2013 dollars) to raise a child through age 17 (specifically, the younger child in a two-parent household). Today, it's more than $245,000, a nearly 25 percent bump.

Cost of childrearing

USDA

But the growth in that cost hasn't been uniform, as Vox pointed out earlier this year. Housing and transportation still make up roughly the same amount of the household budget as they did half a century ago, and food and clothing are less expensive. Health care, meanwhile, has doubled as a share of spending, and child care and education spending have grown ninefold.

Importantly, however, this does not include spending on college, nor does it include government programs' spending on children.

2) Single parents spend more on their kids

Single vs 2 parent families

USDA

Wait, what? Clearly, the single parents represented above spend around $12,000 less over the course of 18 years than husband-wife families.

But when you consider how much of their income they're spending, many single parents are shelling out a bigger share of their paychecks on their kids. Averaged out over 18 years, the single parent family from the above chart spends around $9,100 annually on a child, while that two-parent family spends just over $9,800. But average income for the single-parent family is $27,290, compared to $39,360 for the husband-wife family. That means the single-parent family is spending around one-third of its income on this child, while the husband-wife family is spending around one-quarter.

However, single-parent families are by far more likely to earn less than $61,530. Fully 85 percent of single-parent families are below this threshold, compared to 33 percent of husband-wife families.

3) The more kids you have, the less expensive each one is

Spending per child

The average husband-wife family's annual spending on one child is anywhere from $16,000 to $19,000, depending on that child's age. But that doesn't mean it will cost $35,000 to have two or over $50,000 to have three. For all sorts of reasons — hand-me-downs, you can transport more than one kid at a time — each additional kid costs less to raise. Above is an example for three hypothetical families, all of them two-parent and middle-income. Though having more kids clearly costs more, the spending per kid falls from $16,000 to below $11,000.

4) It's generally cheapest to raise kids in the South, as well as any rural area

Spending on kids by region

USDA

By far it's cheaper to raise kids in the South or Midwest than the West or Northeast. And rural areas are by far the cheapest. While it costs around $17,810 annually for a Northeastern middle-income family to parent a 15-to-17-year-old, the cost is just $11,750 for a rural family. However, this doesn't take into account cost of living adjustments. It's often far cheaper to buy a home or rent an apartment in a rural area than in a city, but wages are also often lower in rural areas.

5) The richest families spend a lot more on their kids

USDA

Many of these examples have been for "middle-income" households, but of course many US households are not middle-income. Lower-income US households will spend an estimated nearly $177,000 on raising a child up to age 18, while an upper-income household will spend nearly $408,000. Where does all that extra money go? Upper-income families spend more in every area, but the differences are particularly striking in child care. An upper-income family will spend $95,550 on child care and education for that child, $70,000 more than the lower-income family will spend.

Correction. This article originally accidentally said it cost nearly $200,000 annually to raise a child in 1960. It's nearly $200,000 total.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.