The cost of children
"The cost of children" - overview and summary
Categories of expenditure on children
Results from the "Small Fortunes" research
Results from the Family Budget Unit
Results from "The Costs of Children and the Welfare State"
Results from "Measuring the Cost of Children: Estimates for Britain"
Results from "1999-2000 Family Expenditure Survey"
Results from "Pregnancy & birth" magazine, March 2001
What the government is prepared to pay for children in benefits & tax credits
The "cost of children" references
The cost of children in other nations
A related topic - sharing the wealth of the parents
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Blog archive & site history
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Results from the "Small Fortunes" research

"The first report of findings from a unique nationally representative survey of British children is now available". (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, referring to Small Fortunes)

"One recent study ...". (CSA Reform Green Paper, referring to Small Fortunes)

"See Middleton et al (1997) Small Fortunes: spending on children, childhood poverty and parental sacrifice". (CSA Reform White Paper, referring to Small Fortunes)

"... Small Fortunes survey which is extremely valuable for us ...". (Mr Archy Kirkwood, Chair of the Social Security Select Committee, to Sue Middleton)

There are good reasons to draw upon this research here, both because of its nature, and because of the respect it has with policy makers.

Quick summary of "Small Fortunes"

The Small Fortunes research is probably the most credible research available in the UK into the cost of bringing up children. Sue Middleton and colleagues, from the Centre for Research in Social Policy, Loughborough University, have been pursuing a particular "survey methodology" for years, and she is a regular contributor of evidence to government policy. This is the only research cited in both the CSA reform Green and White Papers.

Small Fortunes identified an average expenditure (during 1995) at about £57 per week (of which 10% came from people other than the parents and some came from Child Benefit). This is for regular expenditure, and also is for easily identified costs. It is a good starting point for identifying the money needed per week for bringing up a child. It doesn't include one-offs or less tangible contributions to a child's well-being such as a better house, better car to travel in, etc. So it doesn't identify the extra money involved when the parents are wealthy, and doesn't help show how to go about helping children share in the wealth of their parents (if at all).

Identifying the implications for child support

It would be useful to have a simple answer to the question "what does it cost to support a child?" This could be put into a formula, or taken into account in court, and people might then accept the results.

In fact, there isn't a simple answer, and never will be. Different people spend different amounts, because of personal preferences, circumstances, different characteristics of the child (age, intelligence, etc), and many other reasons. It isn't what even clear what the question is. Is it: "what does it cost to keep a child alive?"; "what do people actually spend on their children?"; "what should be people spend on their children?". (And "in what circumstances?")

Even if there were a single answer, there isn't agreement about how this should be used for child support purposes. Is it: "each parent should pay half"; "parents should pay in proportion of their income"; "parents should pay according to full consideration of their circumstances, including income & expenses"; "it is none of your business how parents split this between them"?

There will never be an amount or a formula which all will agree on. Typically everyone will object to it, and propose "corrections" or alternatives which (by pure coincidence) would make themselves better off! This is the one consistent pattern in reform proposals - parents with care & non-resident parents both try to make themselves better off.

"How much do children cost?"

But ... without consulting Sue Middleton, I'm going to give some numbers, which take liberties with the Small Fortunes research. This derivation uses published inflation figures from the years concerned to bring the Small Fortunes value up to date, and uses her figure of 17% reduction for a subsequent child.

First child Subsequent children
Typical spend Less Child Benefit Typical spend Less Child Benefit
about £67 pw about £52 pw about £56 pw about £46 pw

In spite of the impossibility of giving a reliable single answer to the question "what does it cost to support a child?", here are typical values, which will be used on this web site:

in 2001, the typical regular spend on a first child is about £52 per week plus Child Benefit

in 2001, the typical regular spend on a subsequent child is about £46 per week plus Child Benefit

(It is pointless to quibble over pennies).

Example of use

Here is an example of how these values can be used:

An NRP with low housing costs and gross income of about £450 per week, hence perhaps a net income of about £330 per week, under the current scheme will pay nearly £100 per week however many children there are.

  • if there is just 1 child, this is much more than the regular spending of both parents in an intact family on 1 child (£52 per week)
  • if there are 2 children, this is about the same as the the regular spending of both parents in an intact family on 2 children (£98 per week)
  • if there are 3 children, this is much less than the the regular spending of both parents in an intact family on 3 children (£144 per week)

The most common number of children is 1, followed by 2, followed by 3. In the most common case, such an NRP is paying much more than both parents would typically contribute to their child in an intact family. What the parent with care is contributing is a separate question. Children in a wealthy family are better off than this.

References

[1] Small Fortunes: Spending on children, childhood poverty and parental sacrifice.
Sue Middleton, Karl Ashworth and Ian Braithwaite
Published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
ISBN 1 85935 032 1

[2] Sue Middleton
Evidence to the Social Security Select Committee in November 2000
"... Small Fortunes survey which is extremely valuable for us ...". (Mr Archy Kirkwood, Chair of the Social Security Select Committee).
"The average a second child in a family has spent on it is something like 17 per cent less than an only child". (Sue Middleton).

[3] Based on price increases from:
House of Commons Research Paper 99/20
23 February 1999
Inflation: the Value of the Pound 1750-1998
1996 2.4%, 1997 3.1%, 1998 3.4% - then assume 2.7% afterwards.

"Dear GOD, My brother told me about being born but it doesn't sound right. They're just kidding, aren't they?"

Page last updated: 7 July, 2004 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003