Expert Commentary

USDA report: Expenditures on children by families, 2010

2010 study by USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion on the costs of providing for child-rearing needs, based on a survey of more than 15,000 households.

Update: The USDA’s “Cost of Raising a Child” report has been released for 2011.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues an annual report calculating the costs of raising children to inform both parents and policymakers about the burdens on the average family budget. By calculating the cost of expenses such as food, housing and education, the report provides data that will also shape government policies on such issues as child support and foster care.

Also known as the “Cost of Raising a Child” report, the 2010 document was issued in 2011 by the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. It surveyed 11,800 husband-wife households and 3,350 single-parent households. The report accounted for the fact that child-related spending typically varies by household income level, type of household and according to the age of the child, rising as children get older.

The report’s findings include:

  • For husband-wife households with two children earning less than $57,600 in pre-tax income, annual expenses for a child ranged from $8,480 to $9,630, depending on the child’s age; for households with income between $57,600 and $99,730, expenses ranged from $11,880 to $13,830; and for households making more than $99,730, the figure was $19,770 to $23,690.
  • Households in the lowest income group spent on average 25% of their income on child-related costs; households in the middle-income group spent 16%; and those in the highest group only 12%.
  • For a household in the middle income range with three children ages 12, 13 and 16, the average annual cost of raising them is $31,600. For a single parent in the low-income range, the average annual expenditure for three such children would be $20,470.
  • In the urban Northeast, an upper-income, husband-wife household would spend nearly $27,000 on a child age 15 to 17; a lower-income husband-wife household in the urban Midwest would spend $9,660 spent a child of the same age.
  • Housing costs accounted for the biggest share of budgets for child-rearing, accounting for between 31% and 33% of spending on average.
  • Food costs constituted 18% of spending for families in the lowest income group, the second largest part of their budget. Food was the third-largest expense for families in the middle- and high-income groups, totaling 16% and 12% of the family budget, respectively.
  • By way of historical comparison, spending for children in 1960 on average apportioned 2% for child care and education, 11% for clothing, and 24% for food. In 2010, child-related spending by parents saw 17% of the budget go to child care and education, but only 6% for clothing and 16% for food.
  • Since 1960, average child expenditures for a middle-income, husband-wife family have climbed 22% in real terms.

Keywords: children, consumer affairs, nutrition, parenting, poverty

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