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“Sticking Up For Siblings”

Should we have another? In a time of ever-rising childcare and housing costs, one major factor considered by parents when answering this question is how much will a new brother or sister cost? According to a bunch of economists crunching numbers for the IRD in 2009, it was estimated to be around $238,000 to raise a child from birth to eighteen-years old. A jaw-dropping, wallet-grasping figure if ever there was one, described by one commentator as a “contraceptive force.” But should it be?

Firstly, we may need to reconsider such figures. The IRD figure was for an average family, but for a low income family, they estimated around $147,000. A recent report by the Canadian-based Fraser Institute suggests that figures derived in this way seriously exaggerate the real outlays for parents. Using a different measurement technique based on budget standards, they conclude that it is more likely to be around $63,000 per child. 

So while the numbers differ depending which method you use, what both the economists and the Fraser Institute can agree on is that the more kids you have, the cheaper they become. For example, the economists estimated that the costs associated with raising a second child for an average household was around 69% of the first, a third child 52% of the first, and a fourth even less at 44%. They put this down to a phenomenon called “economies of scale”– in this case think hand-me-down clothes and toys, shared power and water costs, and family discounts at amusement parks.

UK journalist and father-of-six Colin Brazier, writing for the think tank Civitas has gone into bat for siblings too—driven by a concern that too many parents are afraid to have more than one child thanks to the scary headline-grabbing figures in the media. In his report, Sticking up for Siblings, he claims that having another child not only has economic benefits thanks to the economies of scale, but makes social sense too, suggesting that kids with siblings are more likely to be healthier and happier than those without. While careful to note that single children can of course be brilliant too, based on research from international data sets he argues that siblings are less likely to develop the “epidemics” of modern childhood like allergies, obesity or depression, but also interestingly, more likely to be “well-rounded” with stronger soft skills and emotional intelligence. 

All this is to say that prudent parents, wanting the best for their children and asking the “should we have another?” question, shouldn’t be frightened by headline numbers. If Brazier and the Fraser Institute are right, it won’t be as expensive as you think, and may even have benefits you’ve never considered.

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