Skip to main content

Parental time restrictions and the cost of children: insights from a survey among mothers


An important aspect when analyzing economic inequality between households with children is time. At given monetary incomes, the material well-being of families may be very different depending on how much time parents have at their disposal. In this paper, we provide estimates of the subjectively perceived cost of children depending on the extent of parental time restrictions. Building on a study by Koulovatianos, Schröder and Schmidt (J. Bus. Econ. Stat. 27:42–51, 2009) that introduces a novel way of using subjective income evaluation data for such estimations, we conduct a refined version of the underlying survey, focusing on young women with children in Germany. Our study confirms that the perceived monetary cost of children is substantial and increases with parental nonmarket time restrictions. The experienced loss in material living standards associated with supplying time to the labor market is sizeable for families with children.


  1. Apps, P., Rees, R.: Household production, full consumption and the costs of children. Labour Econ. 8(6), 621–648 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bertrand, M., Mullainathan, S.: Do people mean what they say? Implications for subjective survey data. American Economic Review. 91(2), 67–72 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Biewen, M., Juhasz, A.: Direct estimation of equivalence scales and more evidence on Independence of base. Oxf. Bull. Econ. Stat. 79(5), 875–905 (2017)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bittman, M., Goodin, R.E.: An equivalence scale for time. Soc. Indic. Res. 52(3), 291–311 (2000)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bollinger, C., Nicoletti, C. and Pudney, S.: Two Can Live as Cheaply as One... But Three’s a Crowd. Discussion Papers in Economics, No. 12/23, The University of York (2012)

  6. Bradbury, B.: Family size equivalence scales and survey evaluations of income and well-being. Journal of Social Policy. 18, 383–408 (1989)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bradbury, B.: Time and the cost of children. Rev. Income Wealth. 54(3), 305–323 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Bundesagentur für Arbeit: Analyse der Grundsicherung für Arbeitsuchende. Juli 2013. Nürnberg: Bundesagentur für Arbeit (2013)

  9. Coulter, F.A., Cowell, F.A., Jenkins, S.P.: Differences in needs and assessment of income distributions. Bulletin of Economic Research. 44(2), 77–124 (1992)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Cutler, D.M., Katz, L.F.: Rising inequality? Changes in the distribution of income and consumption in the 1980s. Am. Econ. Rev. 82, 546–551 (1992)

    Google Scholar 

  11. Ekert-Jaffé, O., Grossbard, S.: Time cost of children as parents' foregone leisure. Math. Popul. Stud. 22(2), 80–100 (2015)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Folbre, N., Murray-Close, M., and Suh, J.: Equivalence scales for extended income in the US. Review of Economics of the Household, 1–39 (2017)

  13. Frey, B.S., Stutzer, A.: What can economists learn from happiness research? J. Econ. Lit. 40(2), 402–435 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gardes, F., Starzec, C.: A restatement of equivalence scales using time and monetary expenditures combined with individual prices. Rev. Income Wealth. 64(4), 961–979 (2018)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Garner, T.I., de Vos, K.: Income sufficiency v. poverty Results from the United States and The Netherlands. Journal of Population Economics. 8(2), 117–134 (1995)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Goedhart, T., Halberstadt, V., Kapteyn, A., and Van Praag, B.: The poverty line: concept and measurement. Journal of Human Resources, 503–520 (1977)

  17. Gustafsson, B., Kjulin, U.: Time use in child care and housework and the total cost of children. J. Popul. Econ. 7(3), 287–306 (1994)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Kahneman, D., Krueger, A.B., Schkade, D., Schwarz, N., Stone, A.A.: Would you be happier if you were richer? A focusing illusion. Science. 312(5782), 1908–1910 (2006)

    Google Scholar 

  19. Kapteyn, A., Van Praag, B.: A new approach to the construction of family equivalence scales. Eur. Econ. Rev. 7(4), 313–335 (1976)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Koulovatianos, C., Schröder, C., Schmidt, U.: On the income dependence of equivalence scales. J. Public Econ. 89(5), 967–996 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Koulovatianos, C., Schröder, C., Schmidt, U.: Nonmarket household time and the cost of children. J. Bus. Econ. Stat. 27(1), 42–51 (2009)

  22. Nelson, J.A.: Household equivalence scales: theory versus policy? J. Labor Econ. 11(3), 471–493 (1993)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. OECD: What are equivalence scales?, available at (2005)

  24. Pahl, J.: Family finances, individualisation, spending patterns and access to credit. Journal of Socio-Economics. 37(2), 577–591 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Pollak, R.A., Wales, T.J.: Welfare comparisons and equivalence scales. Am. Econ. Rev. 69(2), 216–221 (1979)

    Google Scholar 

  26. Rojas, M.: A subjective well-being equivalence scale for Mexico: estimation and poverty and income-distribution implications. Oxf. Dev. Stud. 35(3), 273–293 (2007)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Schwarze, J.: Using panel data on income satisfaction to estimate equivalence scale elasticity. Rev. Income Wealth. 49(3), 359–372 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Van den Bosch, K., Callan, T., Estivill, J., Hausman, P., Jeandidier, B., Muffels, R., Yfantopoulos, J.: A comparison of poverty in seven European countries and regions using subjective and relative measures. J. Popul. Econ. 6(3), 235–259 (1993)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Van Praag, B.: The welfare function of income in Belgium: an empirical investigation. Eur. Econ. Rev. 2(3), 337–369 (1971)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Van Praag, B.M.S., Ferrer-i-Carbonell, A.: Happiness Quantified: a Satisfaction Calculus Approach. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2004)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  31. Van Praag, B., Van der Sar, N.L.: Household cost functions and equivalence scales. J. Hum. Resour. 23(2), 193–210 (1988)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Van Praag, B.M., Warnaar, M.F.: The cost of children and the use of demographic variables in consumer demand. Handb. Popul. Fam. Econ. 1, 241–273 (1997)

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


Open access funding provided by Projekt DEAL.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Melanie Borah.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material


(DOCX 64 kb)

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Borah, M., Knabe, A. & Pahlke, K. Parental time restrictions and the cost of children: insights from a survey among mothers. J Econ Inequal 19, 73–95 (2021).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Child cost
  • Equivalence scales
  • Full-time employment
  • Subjective income evaluations