CORVALLIS - Is anyone really surprised that it costs a lot to raise a child? Or that it is getting more expensive?

According to estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a middle- income family (making $34,400 to $57,900 a year before taxes) in the urban West will spend $161,580 to raise a child born in 1996 to age 18.

The estimates are contained in "Expenditures on Children by Families," a report issued annually by the USDA.

The report provides estimates of expenditures on children from birth through age 17 for different geographic regions of the United States, urban and rural areas, and averages for the entire country, according to Alice Mills Morrow, Oregon State University Extension family resource specialist.

Child-raising costs in the urban West are higher than the rest of the country primarily because housing is more expensive. Thus, the average cost in the United States for a middle income family to raise a child born in 1996 to age 18 totaled an estimated $149,820.


The estimates include direct spending for housing, food, transportation, clothing, health care, child care and education, and miscellaneous expenses. They do not include costs related to pregnancy and childbirth or the indirect cost of lost earnings and career opportunities when one or both parents take time away from work to care for their children.

"Given the rising cost of a college education, it's important to note that these estimates only apply to costs from birth through age 18," Morrow said. "The cost of paying for college or for setting aside money for college through the years is not included in these estimates."

According to the USDA, expenditure estimates on children by husband-wife families do not apply to single-parent families - a group that is increasing every year. The USDA prepared separate estimates for these households.

The estimates show that a single parent family with an income less than $34,700 before taxes will spend $104,400 to raise a child born in 1996 to age 18. The two-parent counterpart will spend $110,040.

The difference in spending between single- and two-parent families is attributed to differences in income, according to Morrow.

"The average income for single-parent families in the survey was $14,500 compared with $21,600 for husband-wife families," she said. "So single-parent families spend a much larger percentage of their income on their children."

Because the USDA estimates are based on averages, they are not useful in predicting what a particular family will spend. However, they do illustrate useful trends. For instance, the cost of raising a child increases as a child gets older, a signal for parents to continually find ways to add to their income.

"That's probably not good news for parents who are shocked at the cost of day care for their pre-school children," Morrow said. "Unfortunately, the savings in child care as youngsters grow older is more than offset by increases in other expense categories."

The USDA estimates are put to a variety of uses. Divorce attorneys and mediators employ them to provide a reality check for parents who think child support guidelines are unrealistic.

The estimates are also useful in estate planning to evaluate financial needs in the event of a parent's sudden death. And teachers use the estimates to help students understand the financial changes that accompany parenthood.

To receive a copy of the 1996 estimates of raising a child, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Morrow at OSU, 161 Milam Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331-5106.

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Alice Mills Morrow, 541-737-1013