Are kids worth the cost?

Business Week takes a look at children as just another consumer choice.

Published November 16, 2007 12:45AM (EST)

There's nothing like a business magazine's "special report" on the cost of kids to make you choke on your stale veggie booty. I guess you can't blame Business Week for wanting a piece of the child-free, mommy-warring, education-anxiety festival of journalistic thumbsucking that circumscribes our parenting discourse. After all, it's good fun and so rancorous!

Seriously, Business Week's report on kids went all the business-minded places you might imagine. One article explored tuition-free college. Another offered tips on saving taxes while providing financial assistance to adult children. Still another advised opening your child's IRA while she's still in diapers.

But a lot of the articles questioned the very value of human offspring -- a tone I imagine would have been unthinkable for a mainstream magazine to adopt even 20 years ago. The lead article "Is Raising Kids a Fool's Game?" describes parenting as "fulfilling," but focuses on the "overwhelming" financial burdens of child rearing and the "crimp" that kids put in your leisure time. A blow-by-blow slide show offers a visual display of all the ways kids can cost you money. The Debate Room asks: Are children worth the cost? A story about companies preying on insecure parents by producing ever more elaborate and expensive products and services for children. Weirdly, the reporter included organic baby food and the My Gym chain (the kiddy dance or acrobatics class is hardly a new phenomena) along with French perfume and $500 highchairs as examples of the absurd luxuries now being marketed to parents.

In general, the report extends the metaphor of children as just another menu item in an array of consumer choices. All of which leaves me wondering about the weird status of children in our popular media. Have things changed so much that we must run the numbers before deciding whether to have children? Or does the baby debate just confuse a larger debate about solvable social problems (like national healthcare, free public education, walkable well-designed communities) that make parenting (and getting sick or old) so costly?

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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