Will You Buy Your Baby a House Someday?
You might if you were Italian.
Everyone knows how expensive it is to raise a baby these days. (And if you aren’t familiar with the terrifying stats, the good people at MSN Money summed it up recently: “the typical middle-income family will spend $235,000 raising a child to age 17.”) Pair that with an economy in an ongoing slump and economic experts say the cost is just too high for many would-be parents around the world. Birth rates are slowing down in many countries, including many in Europe and the US.
This was true of our experience in Italy. We lived in Rome for the last four years and during that time we noticed that most families only had one baby. Having three (especially three under the age of four) made us a bit of a neighborhood oddity/curiosity/memorable band of ex-pats with a giant UppaBaby blue double stroller. As we learned, Italians often have only one child and that child is doted on from birth through adulthood.
Clothes are purchased at department stores, not Target. Dolce and Gabbana onesies? Not unheard of. My friend who still lives in Rome just told me yesterday about her three year old daughter’s nonni (grandfather) taking the girl on a shopping trip for a “princess dress” only to come home with a $200 number from Christian Dior. If this is how it’s done, no wonder siblings are such a rarity.
But it doesn’t end there. Our landlords were a lovely retired couple who rented us an apartment they’d bought and restored themselves back in the 70s. And when I say themselves I mean, they paid for it. Which bears mentioning because it’s not always so. They rented their 3-bedroom, 2-terrace apartment to us because they lived across town in a bigger, even nicer apartment they’d inherited from the wife’s parents. Separately, the same couple bought their adult daughter a smaller apartment in another part of town and were in the throes of furnishing it when we met them. (They still had the Ikea catalog handy and loaned it to us.)
Our closest Italian friends in Rome were the ones who now have an expensive princess dress. Giuseppe is Italian, his wife Molly is an American. They live together in an apartment annexed from his parents’ home, the very same and very large apartment that the husband grew up in. When the couple decided to move to Rome, two rooms were retrofitted to become a two-bedroom apartment for their family which now includes two adults and two small children. It’s not necessarily fancy but certainly nice and new—and it’s rent-free.
When I asked Giuseppe whether it’s common for Italians to give their children home, he said absolutely. “Real estate is how the majority of Italians hold their wealth and investments. They pass that along to their children.” He thought the majority of Italians do it this way. But that’s not necessarily what makes raising a child so expensive, or so rare in Italy. That’s a more complicated answer, but according to The New York Times many childless Italians say it’s simply too expensive to have a baby.
This fall, we moved to North Carolina where we won’t be buying homes for the kids any time soon. But we are saving for college. Since that’s free in Italy and in the US it’s expected to cost more than $200,000 by the time these rascals register for their first classes, I think everything might have just about evened out.
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