Baby Bust: Many Americans may be feeling priced out of parenting

  • Nearly two thirds (63%) of Americans, age 18 or older, who don’t have children say they have no plans to have children in the future  
  • 30% of parents say they were reluctant to have children because of the cost of being a parent 
  • 24% of parents say it took them one or more years to financially recover from having a child(ren)

Americans are having fewer children. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by Qualtrics on behalf of Credit Karma, 42% of Americans, age 18 or older, do not currently have children. Of those, two-thirds say they do not wish to have children in the future. The question is, what’s behind America’s baby bust? According to the study, 30% of respondents who are now parents say they were reluctant to have children because of the costs associated with parenting. Factor in the cost of living crisis and rising childcare costs, and it’s possible more Americans could shy away from expanding their families. 

The financial toll of becoming new parents.

Among respondents who have children, nearly a quarter (24%) say it took them one or more years to financially recover after having a child. In this context, recovering financially refers to having the same financial situation as before having a child, including the same level of earnings and savings. Of respondents with children, urbanites’ finances appear to suffer the most. According to the study, parents living in rural or suburban areas were less likely to report their finances had taken a hit after having a child, 30% and 39% respectively, compared to 22% of urbanites. In the same vein, men were more likely than women to say their finances weren’t impacted at all, 37% compared to 28% of women.  

To take parental leave or to not take parental leave? 

Parental leave is not accessible to all, but it can help bridge the financial gap for new parents in addition to providing baby bonding time. According to the study, 57% of parents took parental leave of some kind after having children with most taking less than three months off (41%). Of those who took parental leave, one-third say their company offered packages for maternity and paternity leave with 40% saying they’re satisfied with the packages offered by their company. Although, men were more likely than their female counterparts to report that their company offered parental leave packages, 43% compared to 27% of women. 

However, parental leave is not an option for all new parents, including the 34% of respondents who say they did not take parental leave at all. This trend was more common among men than women, with nearly half (48%) of men reporting they did not take parental leave, compared to 20% of women. Women also were more likely to report not returning to work at all after having children. According to the study, 17% of women didn’t go back to work after having children, while 0% of men shared that experience. What’s more, women may be sacrificing their careers due to the rising cost of childcare. According to the study, 34% of women with school age children say they’ve decided to leave their jobs because the cost of childcare is too expensive. Of parents who did return to work, 34% said they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to return to the same income they earned before having child(ren).

Reductions to pay make it harder for new parents to bounce back financially.

Income reductions are likely fueling financial setbacks for new parents, and it may be worse for women. According to the study, nearly a quarter of women (23%) say they had their pay reduced entirely while on parental leave compared to just 3% of men. This is a problem, especially when you consider that 30% of women say they did not have any money saved prior to going on leave, compared to just 5% of men. On the flip side, one-third of men say their pay remained the same during parental leave, compared to 19% of women. These factors could explain why 57% of women had to rely on their partner’s income due to a reduction in their own income during maternity leave. 

Hello baby, goodbye savings.

Among respondents who had savings prior to going on parental leave, 26% say they used more than half of their savings to cover the reduction in their income during parental leave. What’s more, nearly one-in-five women (18%) who had money saved say they used all of their savings to cover costs while on leave. Beyond dipping into savings, many new parents reported having to borrow money or take on debt to cover costs associated with going on parental leave. Of the 57% of parents who took parental leave, 42% said they had to borrow money or take on debt to pay for things with half saying they took on $2,001 or more in debt. 

This was especially common among younger respondents. According to the study, 63% of parents between the ages of 18 and 34 had to take on debt to cover costs associated with their parental leave whereas 17% of older parents, those aged 55 or above report ever having to take on debt to cover the costs of being a parent.

“It’s expensive to have children and, with rising childcare costs and the rising cost of living impacting everything from groceries and gas to housing and utilities, it’s possible these factors could impact Americans’ decisions to have children,” said Colleen McCreary, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma. “Plus, not all parents have access to parental leave packages, which often serve as a lifeline for new parents. Right now, it’s important for companies to step up to provide employees with better benefits for parental leave and for government agencies to offer additional resources to parents, including guaranteed paid family leave for women.”


This survey was conducted online within the United States by Qualtrics on behalf of Credit Karma from July 7 to July 9, 2022 among 1,045 U.S. adults above the age of 18.