By Ross Gittins
For everybody who is aware economics is necessary yet does not really understand why, Gittinomics is the crucial, plain-speaking, pleasing and hugely suitable advisor to the economics of our daily lives.
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But the work of the psychologists and economists studying happiness confirms what most of us already know, that work plays a very important part in our happiness and that a lot of our happiness actually comes from the work we do. ), our friendships and our feelings about the purpose and value of our lives. So work turns out to be both a means to an end (as the economists assume) and an end in itself (as the economists don’t assume). Work has intrinsic benefits; it’s good for its own sake. We seem to be animals that are built to work, and without work—even the much-reduced amount of work that an 80-year-old grandmother in an extended household might find to ‘make herself useful’—we have trouble being happy.
Each additional child reduces her earnings by a further $4500 a year until the child reaches 16. Since the average mother has almost two children, her lifetime earnings are reduced by about $250 000. If you put that on the basis of what all mothers lose in any year, it works out at about $37 billion a year—which is on top of the $37 billion a year that all families spend on their kids. But that’s just the money parents give up. Next comes the time they give up. The Bureau of Statistics’ survey of time use in 1992 shows that, between them, couples who have children spend about 140 minutes a day in direct child care as their main activity.
Whereas the direct cost of kids increases as they get older, the indirect cost decreases. As the kids get a bit older, it’s easier for mothers to return to paid work or to switch from part-time to full-time. And both parents will have advanced in their careers by the time their kids get into their teens. This means that, for middle-class two-income families, their time of greatest financial pressure is when their kids are very young. By the time the kids are older and costing a lot more, there’ll be a lot more money about.