Is It Cheaper to Raise Boys or Girls?

Kids are expensive, no two ways about it. They must be fed, clothed, educated, cared for, entertained -- the list is endless. In 2013, the average price of raising a child until the age of 18, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hit $241,080 -- and that's without the cost of college. But this is also only the average; some kids cost more and some cost less. We wondered if gender has any effect.

Interviews with parents whose children range in age from toddler to adult produced obvious and thought-provoking answers. The simplistic: Yes, boys probably eat more than girls and girls surely cost more to clothe and accessorize. The complicated: Parenting style affects outlays, as do shopping habits; we may be programmed to buy more "cute" girls' clothing, but maybe there are more options for girls; and so on.

To streamline our analysis we focused on five categories pertinent to the cost of raising a boy versus the cost of raising a girl. Based on the comments we collected, augmented by additional research, we concluded that there is no clear answer. Every child is different, every parent is different, and gender just doesn't seem to matter. For every factor that seemed to make boys more expensive to raise, there's a counterpart for girls, and vice versa.

Clothing.

The parents we interviewed generally agreed that girls are the costliest to clothe. Cheryl Groff, from Delaware, Ohio, raised two girls and one boy, all now over 21. She said her girls craved the latest fashions in clothing, jewelry, and shoes for school and special events as opposed to her "low maintenance" son. Other respondents also noted that with girls, you usually don't buy just the outfit -- matching tights, jewelry, and hair bows wind up in the cart, as well.

Consider a summer wardrobe for toddlers. A cotton dress or jumper sells for about $12 at stores like Target. Let's say we buy 10 dresses for a total of $120. We'll need two coordinating cardigan sweaters for $10 each and three headbands at another $5 each. We'll add three pairs of shoes -- flip-flops, dress sandals, and tennis shoes -- totaling about $40. (If your daughter is anything like mine, she wants multiple pairs of each style.) We're now at $195 for the basics. When girls are still very young, they won't ask for jewelry or nail polish, but once they do those items can easily boost the bottom line by another $20, bringing our total to $215.

For a boy of the same age we'd buy 10 t-shirts and knit shorts at $5 each, for an outlay of $100. We also need one sweatshirt, costing about $15, and a pair of long pants, for another $10. For his feet we'll go with flip-flops and tennis shoes, totaling about $30. All together our boy's summer clothing adds up to $155.

Bottom line: The girl's clothing basket cost $60 more than the boy's. Season after season, this amounts to a lot of dough.

Education.

The cost of education-related expenses for boys versus girls was deemed gender-irrelevant. Whether the schooling involves daycare, preschool, elementary school, middle school, or high school, girls and boys have similar needs: school supplies, backpacks, and books. Missy Weiler, of Columbus, Ohio, raised two boys and two girls and said one child's college education may have cost more than another, but that reflected the school rather than the gender. College scholarships and grants are available to female and male students alike based on academics, athletics, talents, race, and so on.

Food.

The majority of parents we surveyed mentioned food as the one realm in which boys are definitely more costly to raise than girls. Dawn Barkley of Dublin, Ohio, mother to four girls, says boys may cost more to feed on a daily basis, although her daughters certainly pack it in at times.

One study conducted in Canada validates our respondents' hunches that boys eat more than girls, especially as they get older. The study suggests that it costs at least $5,000 more to feed a boy to age 19 than a girl. And this figure doesn't even account for snacks or eating out, which surely bumps up the expense. And once kids reach teenage years, you aren't just feeding your own, but their friends, as well. Suddenly there are five teenage boys' stomachs to fill rather than one.

Extracurricular activities/hobbies.

As with some other categories, extracurricular activities and hobbies get more expensive as children age, regardless of gender. The Huffington Post wrote about one woman who spent more than $2,500 so her son could participate in his high school crew team. She spent another $2,000 a year so he could play on an elite baseball team. With many communities having started "pay to play" for extracurricular activities, it matters little whether the athlete is a boy or a girl.

Several of our interviewees argued that boys participate in more costly activities and hobbies, which evens out the added clothing-related costs that accrue to girls. Stereotypically, boys are known to be interested in cars and motorcycles that undoubtedly are expensive. Even if girls enroll in dance classes, music lessons, or an elite sports team, the cost is likely to be far cheaper than these oversized mechanical toys. (Have you checked insurance rates lately?)

Miscellaneous.

We can't ignore the long-standing tradition that the girl's family pays for the wedding, which by itself may trump any assertions that girls are cheaper to raise than boys. Other stereotypically girl-related expenses, such as trips to the hair salon and purchases of beauty products, mount quickly and go a long ways towards balancing the score between boys and girls.