While there are torrents of reliable information on the price of education, healthcare and other essential costs of raising a child, the expected bill for childcare is much hazier. American families make use of a wide variety of arrangements, from full-time caregivers to group daycare, public programs and helpful relatives. The ultimate cost of raising a child can seem as unpredictable as the children themselves.
Fortunately, the Census Bureau has conducted a decades-long study called the “Survey of Income and Program Participation” that polls a large, nationally representative pool of households about their arrangements and finances for childcare and a variety of other topics. While comparatively obscure in the pantheon of Census products, the SIPP can give us a detailed national picture of how much families spend and on which types of resources they rely.
The calculator below uses data from the recently released fourth wave of the 2014 SIPP, conducted from January to December of 2016, to give you a picture of where your expenses fall compared to an estimate of all American families with at least one child age 5 or younger, of all income levels.
As you’ll see, the cost of childcare greatly resembles the lopsided distribution of wealth in America, with the bottom 10% of families paying around $200 a month or less and the top 10% spending nearly $2,400 a month for any number of children age 5 and under. The median cost of childcare across all scenarios in 2016 was $780 a month.
As one would expect, those values decrease for scenarios involving just one child and go up for those with two or more children, with median costs of $650 and $1,082 respectively.
While there was an insufficient sample-size to study state-by-state variation, as some advocacy groups report, the real range of costs is most likely a product of income and overall demographic trends such as the average number of children in a family. The calculations also do not include households that have no reported cost of childcare thanks to support from relatives, whether it’s a parent themselves, an older sibling, or one of the most under-acknowledged sources of affordable childcare—the parents’ parents, also known as grandparents.
The 492,776 observations from the 2014 SUPP, Wave 4, were arranged into households weighted by the primary householder. Monthly costs are projections based on the average weekly reported costs for all children in a family unit. To independently check the accuracy of the calculations, TIME compared its weighted estimates from the SIPP for such figures as the total number of households or median family income to other sources of these data points and found close agreement.
Acknowledgements: Rasheed Malik, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress who has also extensively studied childcare costs, generously lent his expertise in navigating the SIPP structure. Malik did not review the final findings or the exact formulas for this interactive.