The announcement of Kate Middleton's pregnancy last week was joyous for the Windsor family and royal-watchers alike. But all the fuss around the story hides an uncomfortable truth: For many of us whose family jewels aren't the Crown Jewels, having an heir is getting unaffordably expensive, and in large numbers, folks feeling the pinch are simply putting it off.
In the New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat explained that the waning economy in the U.S. has factored in a drop in procreation stateside.
"American fertility plunged with the stock market in 2008, and it hasn't recovered," he wrote. "American fertility plummeted during the Great Depression, and more recent downturns have produced modest dips as well."
People who saw their net-worths slashed in the housing bust or who have struggled during lengthy periods of unemployment are generally not champing at the bit in their quest to have children.
The Pew Research Center released data late last month that U.S. birthrates were the lowest ever recorded in 2011 -- just 63 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age.
The reasons are clear: The cost of bringing up children has become exorbitant -- even before you consider the rising costs of college tuition. The Department of Agriculture, which has a calculator for estimating the expense of child-rearing, says the cost of parenthood averages $234,900 for one child. According to the calculations, as DailyFinance has reported, a Midwestern family with an annual household income in the $57,400 to $99,390 range, and a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, will spend $578,050 on both by the time the first one reaches college.
Compared with 1960, the 2011 costs associated with raising a child bumped up to 8 percent from 4 percent for health care and from 2 percent to 18 percent for child-care with more dual-income families requiring babysitters.
These hefty expenses represent another example of the middle class squeeze: The top echelon can handle the financial demands, the lowest gets some government assistance, but those in the middle will either try to scrape by to afford kids or not have them at all.
And the ramifications of the latter choice are potentially grave for the country: A new generation means fresh innovation, entrepreneurial flair, a labor force and taxpayers.
We're not that worried about how Will and Kate will manage it: It's slightly easier to handle child-rearing when you have a royal governess on staff, and when your child's great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, has holdings worth roughly $11.2 billion.