Fraser Institute study ignores real costs of child rearing

By Alan Viau

We all know that raising kids costs money. But exactly how much is a hot topic because it is the basis for many of our societal principles and policies.

Photo credit: BC Gov Photos

Once you’ve made the decision to have children, you know that you will be forking out the dough to keep them fed and clothed. You also want to make sure that they are active and well cared for so that they can grow up healthy. Most parents want the best for their children and will go to great lengths towards this goal.

Since we all need to budget for our children’s needs, it is useful to know what is considered the annual cost of raising a child. Governments are also interested in studies about child-raising expenditures because these findings allow them to set policies and to address such issues as child poverty levels and childcare. From both points of view, the new Fraser Institute study called The Cost of Raising Children is cause for alarm.

The prevailing consensus is that the cost of raising a child in Canada is in the range of $10,000 to $15,000 per year.  The Fraser Institute paper charges that this is an extreme exaggeration. It claims the basic requirements for the healthy development of a child can be sufficiently met with an annual outlay of $3,000 to $4,500. These costs could be even lower, it suggests, if parents plant home gardens, sew and knit the family’s clothing, use coupons, take advantage of sales and do their own household repair and maintenance work.

But let’s dig a little deeper into these assumptions. The study did not incorporate daycare as a cost component. It claims daycare is NOT an issue. The report states, “In 2009, for middle income (earning $75,000-$125,000), younger (aged 25 to 44) couples with one child, half (51 percent) had zero expenditures on childcare. If we consider all couple families with one child (all ages and all income levels), 80 percent had zero spending on childcare. And if we look at all lone-parent families with one child, 87 percent spent $0 on childcare.”

That’s zero spending on childcare when (according to their numbers) 77 percent of families have two people working! That seems totally nonsensical.

The other major issue I have with this study is that it seemed to focus a lot of the expenditure data on the 0-to-12 age group. I argue that raising a child should include expenses through the end of high school; that means through age 18. We all know that with teens, clothing and food costs soar. When my last child left the house, our food bill was cut in half!

Finally, the right-wing agenda of the Fraser Institute is plainly evidenced in its conclusion. It claims the current consensus on child-raising costs is  “associated with left-liberal and social democratic positions, is part of a redistributionist perspective and it would be naive to ignore the influence it has on public policy. A high cost of children is consistent with this agenda.” 

A lower cost of raising children would enable a right-wing agenda. If you say it costs less to raise a child then you’ve changed the income bar that defines child poverty and the need for affordable daycare. It says, “Hey parents, you can afford to pay for those extra music or sports activities.” In reality, these development activities are costly and are no longer readily available in school.

I am very concerned about the possibility the Fraser Institute study could get traction. It could jeopardize social programs that make a real difference for countless families. Since right-wing governments seems to like the Fraser Institute — and the institute is contriving unrealistic parameters that ignore the real costs of child rearing — programs and tax credits that support families are at risk. And that’s scary for the future of our families.


*Note: Views expressed by bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of Ottawa Family Living.



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