You can’t spend your way out of the stress of being a parent.
But three economists tried to figure out how much money it would take to offset the cost of that stress, with a particular focus on "time stress" -- the anxiety that arises when you feel like there aren't enough hours in the day or week or month or year to handle your life.
That kind of stress costs around $66,000 per kid, according to a working paper from three economists released this month and first reported by FiveThirtyEight.
“It’s a huge amount of money. The equivalent of one year’s household income,” Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at Royal Holloway, University of London who co-authored the paper, told The Huffington Post.
The U.S. government each year estimates the cost of raising a kid in terms of housing, food and education: $304,480 for a child born in 2013, according to the most recent estimate. Other economists have looked at the cost of all the extra time adults spend parenting, but the researchers of this study say it's the first time anyone's ever tried to quantify the psychological burden of parenting.
As a parent, I do wonder: Is this even enough?
Anyway, Hamermesh and his coauthors from the University of Melbourne looked at survey data from parents and nonparents in Australia and Germany. Each country surveys a panel of households over years, asking how stressed they are about their time and their money, among other questions. Hamermesh said the U.S. didn’t have the necessary data, so they could not look at parents here.
After a new baby is born, the time stress of new mothers goes way, way up, the researchers found. Fathers see some uptick, too, but only about one-third of what the mothers experience.
Even when the father does a lot of the parenting work at home, the mother's stress does not dissipate. The researchers found it remained elevated for the first three to four years of the child's life. (They didn't have access to data after that.)
Time stress went up no matter if it was someone’s first or second or third child. And stress went up even more for mothers of new babies who already had toddlers at home. (Yep yep yep, says any parent who's had a baby and a toddler at the same time.) Financial stress went up as well, but not as much as the time stress increased.
Oh, and more terrifying: The economists found that a mother’s time stress NEVER returns to the level it was before she has kids.
Take a moment with that.
The economists then used statistical modeling to see how much money it would take to reduce the mother's financial stress by the same amount her time stress had gone up. The $66,000 estimate came from looking at Australian data; the number for German mothers is a little lower at $55,000.
Hamermesh emphasized that this was a speculative exercise and his cost estimate is just that -- an estimate. But bottom line, he said, we’re talking about a lot of money.
So should we be lobbying for a parent bonus through work or through the government? Hamermesh laughed about that question. That "ain’t gonna happen," he said.
So parents ... just take comfort in all the intangible joys and satisfactions raising kids brings, and make sure to meditate or exercise or seek some kind of help. You're in for a long ride!