Money for nothing

Published 14 February 2012 16:07, Updated 16 February 2012 05:21

+font -font print

I was tossing up whether to go serious or funny in this week’s blog and while my five-year-old’s question about what computers we had in the ‘olden days’ got some serious contemplation, a late night chat with a friend nailed it for me.

You see my friend is contemplating returning to work – but has two kids under five – and has just realised what it is all going to cost her.

So I’m afraid serious wins the day.

While I am the Generation X equivalent of a teenage mum – that is to say, I had my kids in my 20s – most of my peers have waited until their 30s to have kids and are suddenly being confronted by the cost and challenge of childcare. For many it means returning to work for a pittance once they’ve covered one or two pre-schoolers and that’s if they even get a place as waiting lists for under two-year-olds in many suburbs are longer than human gestation.

All of which adds a whole new meaning to the term family planning.

Quite literally, Generation X parents are working for no or very little financial gain because the cost of two kids in childcare more or less equates to their after-tax income. Since the deregulation of the chilcare industry, which happened in the mid-’90s, a massive chasm has opened up between the cost and quality of childcare available. But there’s also been a hollowing out of the 30-something workforce as parents crunch the numbers and realise that in many cases they are better off financially if they just stay home.

The real challenge, however, comes for parents who can’t afford to stay out of the workforce for five or six years, lest they slide down the already slippery corporate ladder and find themselves relegated to a bit part when they were once heading for a leading role.

On the other side of this is the fact that late-blooming Generation X parents often have spent 15 or 20 years in the workforce before they have kids and have built much of their social and emotional life around their careers. In some cases we are what we do and there’s nothing wrong with that because we happen to get a lot of our self-worth from doing what we do well.

In a recent article “Holding the baby” published in BRW, February 2, Georgina Dent pointed to the economic disincentives faced by women returning to the workforce following the birth of children, so I won’t bother refreshing the numbers here except to point out that even after the government subsidy is taken into account, two pre-schoolers in full-time care will put you back $33K a year – which eats a serious hole in any income.

So it is that we return to the workforce and work for less than we did when we left uni bright eyed and bushy tailed because, while the costs of childcare is high, the potential cost to our careers is greater still and that’s before we even begin talking about self-worth.

The upshot is, if you happen to be a baby boomer, with a mostly paid off mortgage and a semi-decent super account, and you happen to invite a Generation X parent out for dinner, the least you can do is pick up the tab and/or offer a kid friendly location so they’re not also saddled with the cost of night time babysitters on top of a restaurant meal.

Oh – and my eight-year-old’s response to her brother was funnier than the question.

“Don’t be silly,” she retorted. “In the olden days they didn’t have computers so mummy had to write with feathers.”

Do you agree? Write and tell me your views.

Harness the power of knowledge - become a subscriber to access 20 years of BRW’s archives.

Comments