On Mother’s Day this year, Americans are expected to shell out a lot more to celebrate their moms due to rapidly rising prices. They will willingly do so because spending extra on flowers, cards, and meals is a marginal cost to express gratitude to the most important women in their lives.
However, runaway inflation is eroding household budgets. Inflation has hiked the costs of motherhood and everything associated with raising children. At some point, women and their partners will ask whether they can afford to have children. As falling fertility rates indicate, many likely believe that the answer is no.
The inflation rate is currently 8.5%—a level not seen since 1981, which predates both Millennials and Generation Z. A recent National Retail Federation survey finds that consumers plan to spend an average of $245.76 on Mother’s Day—12.8% or $25 more than last year—likely due to increased prices on occasion-related expenses. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, prices on flowers and indoor plants are +5.8%, cakes and cupcakes +8.4%, and jewelry +2.8%. A sit-down meal will cost 8% more as well.
These Mother’s Day price increases pale in comparison to the sticker shock moms face at the grocery store. Independent Women’s Forum tracks rising costs on common shopping cart items that women purchase such as milk, cereal, and bread.
But there is so much more to raising children. Babies are expensive: formula is +8% in March from a year prior, baby food +10.8%, and diapers and baby clothes +13%. Kids’ shoes rose 11%, and boys’ and girls’ apparel are up 4.4% and 5%, respectively.
Parents are also spending 4.4% more to keep kids preoccupied with toys, games, and hobbies. Educational costs are rising–though not as fast: daycare and childcare costs +3.6% and K-12 fees and tuition +2.3%.
Children need a place to rest their heads at night. Yet, shelter costs are soaring. January’s average asking rent is up 15.2% and home prices in December were up 18.8% from the year prior. Shelter costs are the biggest household expenses but can be a source of long-term wealth and economic stability which makes it all the more important for more young people to get into the housing market. The problem is that many are priced out of the market.
Rising costs due to stubbornly high inflation—which the Biden administration promised was “transitory” or “temporary” last spring—is another compounding factor to the postponement of motherhood.
In 2020, before inflation started to rise, the top reason childless Millennials gave for postponing parenthood was the expense. Women make decisions about childbearing based on economic stability. Inflation is robbing them of purchasing power by reducing their real wages (which have fallen by 2.7%), thereby reducing financial stability and heightening uncertainty over the future.
Millennials, the oldest of whom just turned 41, are in their prime working and child-bearing years. Yet, even prior to the pandemic, they had not reached generational milestones of homeownership and parenthood as their parents had.
As of 2018, 55% of Millennial women had given birth to a child (19 million), lagging behind 62% of Gen X and 64% of Boomer women who were mothers at this age. Millennials approach family life uncharacteristically different from their predecessors. At least there was time for this generation to catch up as those younger in the cohort enter parenthood.
Then COVID-19 hit. Some 17% of childless Millennials said they would further delay having kids because of COVID-19, and an astonishing 15% said they are less interested in having children at all.
Given the quick rebound of the labor market which propelled wages higher and led to more generous benefits and work flexibility, young women should feel more confident about their earnings potential, career-growth opportunity, and work-life balance to pursue motherhood. However, student loan debt compounds the bruising impacts of inflation and COVID-19.
Millennials carry the third-highest student debt load of all three adult generations. More Millennials (14.8 million) have student loan debt than their peers in any other generation. Research indicates that not all debt impacts fertility the same. Consumer and home mortgages are precursors to parenthood while student loan debt delays fertility.
In 2022, we have a tempest of headwinds blowing against women causing them to delay and even forgo motherhood.
The White House and liberals in Congress don’t have answers to out-of-control inflation despite economists’ view that President Biden’s American Rescue Plan fueled it. Instead, they want to triple down with trillions of dollars more in inflationary spending through new entitlement programs, massive corporate subsidies, and student-loan cancellation. Maybe we should address cheeky thank you cards to the White House for making Mother’s Day more expensive.
The bigger issue is how to convince young women that motherhood is worth the costs despite the price. The joy, excitement, and hope of bringing life into the world and creating a legacy are compelling reasons to start. They should know that some decisions in life are not arrived at by a simple cost-benefit analysis. Motherhood is one of them.