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A crib mobile with the elements all separated and out-of-reach from each other: baby & money being on either side of the couple
Kiersten Essenpreis for Money

Millennials have been (unfairly) mocked as the generation uninterested in conventional adult life. They’ve been criticized for being slow to adopt everything from marriage to homeownership, so it’s no surprise that people in their 20s and 30s in the U.S. are also having fewer kids than ever.

The number of new births dropped by 4% in 2020, according to data released last month. Some experts attributed the decline to the pandemic, which brought higher rates of depression and a general malaise about the future, making couples uninterested in sex and worried about...well, everything.

Yet America’s birth rate was falling long before the pandemic arrived. In fact, 2020 was the sixth straight year of fewer new babies in the U.S. Americans’ reasons for putting off children — or not having them at all — are complicated. But there’s growing recognition of the role that money plays. Nearly 3 in 5 millennials without children say they don’t have any because kids are just too expensive.

As child care has become increasingly pricey and the post-pandemic economic recovery has been unevenly distributed, is it possible that having kids is becoming a privilege that’s financially out of reach for many?

It’s increasingly expensive to raise a child in the U.S.

Having a kid is pricey, and it starts right when the baby is born. Labor costs on average are more than $4,500 per childbirth, even if you’re insured, and the price of maternity and newborn surgeries has risen by 60% over the past decade, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Then comes child care, which is expensive in the U.S. almost no matter where you live. While some states provide free pre-K, there’s no federal initiative to provide free or affordable care for kids ages 0 to 3. That cost ends up falling on parents, who data show are struggling to keep up.