American parents might be agonizing over their kids' piano lessons, soccer games, and SAT scores, but it's hiding a deeper anxiety

Michael H/GettyAmerican parents are determined to make sure their kids are better off than them.
  • American parents today are spending more time, effort, and money raising their kids than previous generations, according to a New York Times story.
  • They’re motivated by ensuring their children are better off – or at least not worse off – financially than they are.
  • Those born in the 1980s are at the greatest risk of becoming a “lost generation” for wealth accumulation, according to an earlier report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Most parents today share at least one common goal: They want to give their kid a better life than they had.

Part of that is ensuring their children end up better off financially, and it’s led to a new brand of “intensive parenting” in America, according to a recent story in the New York Times.

“Over just a couple of generations, parents have greatly increased the amount of time, attention, and money they put into raising children. Mothers who juggle jobs outside the home spend just as much time tending their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s,” wrote Times reporter Claire Cain Miller.

“For parents, giving children the best start in life has come to mean doing everything they can to ensure that their children can climb to a higher class, or at least not fall out of the one they were born into,” she wrote.

The average cost of a raising a child to age 18 today tops $US230,000, according to a Merrill Lynch report. But the spending doesn’t stop there – the bank also found that 79% of parents continue to provide financial support to their adult children, contributing to an estimated $US500 billion annually.

A survey by The New York Times published earlier this year revealed finances are a main reason why people aren’t having kids or are having fewer kids than they considered ideal, reported Business Insider’s Shana Lebowitz.


Read more:
Young people today are having fewer babies than older generations because kids are just too expensive

Social scientists who spoke to the Times said the ubiquity of “intensive parenting” boils down to the fact that the American Dream – the idea that upward mobility is available to anyone – is becoming harder to grasp.

“For the first time, it’s as likely as not that American children will be less prosperous than their parents,” Cain Miller wrote. Parents feel they need to invest as much as they can into their kids’ education and extracurriculars to set them up for success. But for those who don’t have the means to do so, it leads to heightened anxiety.

‘Intensive parenting’ is now the most popular way to raise kids, regardless of income, education, or race

Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who studies families and inequality, told the Times: “As the gap between rich and poor increases, the cost of screwing up increases.” Parents are fearful about not doing enough to give their kid an advantage in life, he added.

“Intensive parenting” has been a staple of white, upper-middle-class households in the US since the 1990s, Cain Miller wrote – think: quality time, expensive music lessons, club sports, private school, and tutors.


Read more:
It takes $US1.7 million to get your kid into an elite college, according to rich people

Patrick Ishizuka, a postdoctoral fellow studying gender and inequality at Cornell, surveyed a group of 3,642 American parents about parenting and found that regardless of their education, income, or race, parents said “the most hands-on and expensive choices were best,” Cain Miller wrote.

“Intensive parenting has really become the dominant cultural model for how children should be raised,” Ishizuka told the Times.

There’s also an element of competition, or “keeping up with the Joneses” that entices parents to spend more money on their kids. According to the Merrill Lynch report, costs for food, clothing, technology, entertainment, school, transportation, sports, and other activities, typically increase as children grow older, but they’re often higher than they should be – 69% of parents surveyed admitted to feeling pressured to give their children what their peers have.

Americans born in the 1980s have seen first-hand the demise of upward mobility thanks to the Great Recession, Business Insider’s Hillary Hoffower previously reported. Those older millennials are at the greatest risk of becoming a “lost generation” for wealth accumulation, according to a report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis earlier this year.

Read the full New York Times story ยป

NOW WATCH: Money & Markets videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.