Thursday, November 27, 2008

Larger Families and Equality

Earlier I posted some words of wisdom regarding discrepancies between income and siblings from the Money Magazine columnists Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz who authored the book Isn't It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check? Dealing with All of the Trickiest Money Problems Between Family and Friends -- from Serial Borrowers to Serious Cheapskates.

The end of the chapter dealing with siblings contained some words of wisdom that I think are important to keep in mind:

"Suppose you'd prefer that your children not end up with financial resources so unequal that they experience the jealousy, resentment, and worries described in
this chapter. What should you do? According to sociologist Dalton Conley, the more children a family has, the more likely there are to be significant income disparities between the siblings as adults. His advice: If you don't want large gaps in income and achievement between your own children when they grow up-and if you want to maximize each child's odds of being successful-don't have more than two kids."

I love sizable families, and the Orthodox world is blessed with large families and limited resources. During these tough economic times, what has been done in the past may no longer be an option. Many parents will feel terrible as it is natural to want to give equally, and I'm sure many parents will be tempted to continue to try to do the same for the sake of equality. I can even think of a family that doesn't want to push their daughter towards a different type of shidduch than the type she has been seeking for many years now, because it would make her different from her siblings.

Families that are just getting started with setting a standard would be wise to listen to my commentor tesyaa's advice from the "Hachnasat Bar Mitzvah Bochur" post which deals with a collection being taken up to make a Bar Mitzvah, complete with extras, for the oldest son of a family that has recently lost their business (the "hachnasat" part of the title was tongue in cheek as there is no mitzvah of making a bar mitzvah affair). Tesyaa writes:

A little different angle. I think the fact that this is "it is there [sic] oldest son" is a good reason to tone down the affair in the first place. I speak from experience, having made my daughter a nice (but not large or ostentatious) bas mitzvah 3 years ago. I did the same for my next daughter this year. I have (b"h) another coming up next Shavuos, and I would like to spend less. But having done one simcha model, so to speak, for her sisters, I'm hesitant to do much less for daughter #3 because I know her feelings will be hurt. If I would have made a cheaper simcha the first time, I wouldn't have this issue.

It is really hard to do different. But, perhaps it is just a reality of larger families. (And now I can return this book to the library. It was a nice easy read).


rosie said...

In many families where there are 2 or more same gender children, the younger one becomes a "hand-me down rose" as a matter of course. It is a myth, for example, that children cannot wear hand-me-down shoes because of the development of the feet. If the shoes still have plenty of wear, they can be passed to the younger sibling. This is true of most families, Jewish or otherwise. It is best, however, when it comes to bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings that a family should not go all out for the first child because they may not be able to do that for subsequent kids. This is especially true of weddings where each child may marry someone of different monetary circumstances. There is also the inevitable subject of which child inherits which of the family valuables. It may not be possible to determine years before death, which articles may have greater value. For example, say a man buys a new car and then writes his will. In his will he leaves the car to his older son, however, when he dies 20 years later, the car is worthless. The younger son, who was willed a piece of art, now has something of great value while the older brother has a clunker.
Kids should be told that it is not always possible to predict in advance, whose wedding or bar mitzvah will be equal to whose.

Anonymous said...

Even though there are good reasons to say no to all sorts of things, it is still difficult. I'm glad I learned my lesson with something relatively inexpensive like a bas mitzvah. There is no way I would let any of my children even apply to a private college. Even if we could somehow manage to send a deserving older child, the precedent we'd be setting with regards to the younger ones -- and the hard feelings we would cause by saying no to them -- would basically be ruinous.

Anonymous said...

I think one can take this too far... While, B"H, I do fine I have a sibling who does much better than I do. Their family lives in a much more expensive neighborhood, drives fancier vehicles, and buys much nicer clother than my family does. But you know what? It was my choice not to go into as lucrative a field as my sibling. Sure I'd like to not worry about money but I'm happy with the choice I made.

Adults need to be adults and we should all remember Pirkei Avos as well...

ProfK said...

Rosie, wills need to be updated on a regular basis. The man with the 20-year old will was at least two wills behind. Major lifestyle/work/health/economic changes signal the need for updating the will. Those who become grandparents may want to leave something to their grandchildren in addition to their children. Our attorney also recommends that items like cars (unless collector items) with a "limited shelf life" not be willed to someone specifically but that they be considered items to be sold and the proceeds distributed equally. He considers a house in this category as well. And before you all yell about the cost of the will, there is a very fine online site where a standard will can be written for only $20. Highly complex wills need the services of an attorney.

Tesyaa, the private college issue isn't about the cost but about the child. Students who have done very well in school, whose marks and test scores are high, who may have a great record of extra curricular activities that show community involvement/arts involvement will find themselves with plenty of scholarship offers to offset the cost of the tuition at a private school. What no parent can guarantee is that all their children will do equally well in school, or be equally motivated to excel in their early years. To hold back a scholar from applying to a fine private college because one of her/his siblings is not equally as fine a scholar may seem "fair" regarding the younger sibling but is unfair regarding the brighter sibling.

It's almost impossible to legislate perfect equality for all your children because there are so many personal factors involved in every decision about spending money. Or as Orwell put it: "All animals are equal; some animals are more equal than others."

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Really, ProfK? A child could get a full scholarship to an Ivy League school (without taking on debt)? Interesting...but I don't think that's the reality.

Dave said...

Oh, it is certainly the reality.

It isn't easy, but it is certainly possible.

For that matter, if you can get into Harvard, if your family income is less than a certain amount (I think it's around $125k right now, but could be mistaken), tuition is waived completely.

Anonymous said...

Dave: Not waived completely. You pay 10% of your income, so 12.5K in your example. But if you're making, say, $180K, should you ask for a pay cut? One parent quit working? These choices have lots of ramifications down the road. You might regret those choices later, while there are many fine state universities.

ProfK said...

Dave, you are correct. What Harvard is hoping to do in the very near future is to admit their undergraduates with all of them tuition free. One way to truly pick the cream of the crop.

Anonymous, my response to Tesyaa was in reference to private colleges. I am assuming she would opt for state or city universities, which aren't free. CUNY is around $5000 for the fall and spring term;the state university system is about double that. If a parent can shell out the $5K then it is quite possible to get tuition scholarships and merit scholarships from all kinds of places for the rest of the money. Private college does not automatically translate to "Ivy League." (Think Touro and the like where huge numbers of students are scholarship recipients, many of them needs-based.)However, thanks to their megabucks endowments many of the Ivies have very generous scholarship allotments, so it pays to look into them if your child has done well in high school. But you need to do your research and ask questions because not all schools are as generous as others. Columbia for one of our kids cost us a negligible amount as compared to Stern for one of the others. And check out ALL scholarship sources, not just those that a school gives.

There is also the US government, which has all kinds of strange programs. One program has you paying tuition through college on government loans. The government will forgive those loans at about 1/4 of the outstanding balance per year if you agree to teach in a "hard to place" school area for a few years after graduation. It's not a bad deal even if education is not what you want to do for the rest of your life. Spend four years teaching, make a salary and benefits, and come out with your school loans erased. A friend's child did it this way and says she would recommend it. The child was placed in Harlem which is really no worse than many other areas and after four years was debt free.

Anonymous said...

ProfK, I like the idea of thinking outside the box with the "strange government programs". And yes, I would probably opt for Rutgers (in NJ), which has a fine reputation and also offers full scholarships based on merit. But even if my kid didn't qualify for that, in state tuition is still less than yeshiva high school. Let's say I stopped working and was able to take up the Harvard 10% plan. What about the rest of my younger kids? I sure couldn't count on *everyone* getting into Harvard, and then I'm out of the workforce and still facing education costs. I think my point is that there are many, many things to consider. I have yet to be convinced that private education is worth the astronomical pricetag.

Anonymous said...

You're forgetting Tesyaa that to the rest of the world $180K income puts you squarely in the upper class. And many of those making that salary are also paying private school tuitions so we can't claim that we pay yeshiva tuition and they don't have that expense. I guess where the difference is is that we jews tend to have larger families then our equivalent secular families so we shell out more of our income in tuition over the years.

ProfK said...

The 10% at Harvard isn't carved in stone. As I mentioned, they are trying to get to the point of "zero tuition" and they will work with you. Family size, which Debbie mentioned, is a factor that they look at.

Re Rutgers, a great idea. One of mine went to Douglass at Rutgers, paying out of state tuition, but with scholarships it cost us less than CUNY would have and she got a top flight education. And it sure was easier to get into Colombia from Douglass then it would have been from CUNY.

Leah Goodman said...

Rather than tell your kids where they should and shouldn't apply, you probably should explain to them what kind of budget you have for their education. If they can come up with scholarships or even take student loans, it should be up to them where they choose to go to school.
Be realistic with them now, when they're in high school. Tell them that their grades may not only determine where they get in; they may also determine whether you can afford for them to go there.
And don't forget that college in Israel is about $4K/year.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! Rather than allowing potential discrepancies in future success (financial, shidduch, health, fertility, etc) dictate the number of children we have, shouldn't we educate our children to understand that many choices are individual (what type of profession to enter), and many more are b'yidei Shamayim? There is very little chance, even with two children, that their futures will be comparable in all respects. I appreciate the notion of giving each child a similar "sal zechuyot" -- considering, all the while, that each child may have different material needs.
On the topic: what saddens me, as an Israeli, is how often I hear from friends and acquaintances that finances are the ultimate dictator of family size. Now certainly, there are many valid and important reasons to limit the number of children a family has (or maybe should have). I can't even count, though, the number of times I've heard "we'd love to have another kid, but we can't afford another tuition," coming from solid families with two or three children. This post and subsequent comments just reinforce the sentiment that in order to maximize one's children's future success (college education?), a Jewish parent in America should seriously consider curbing the number of his offspring.
Interestingly, and I believe statistics validate this observation, observant families on this side of the pond are significantly larger. Again, and universally, each couple should think long and hard as to whether they can shoulder the physical and emotional burden of adding another child to the family. It just seems (happily) that here, finances play a much smaller role in that decision.

Anonymous said...

Treating kids equally, does not necessarily mean doing the same with or for each of them. Different children have different needs; if you do the same for each, whatever choice you pick, it will fit some of the kids better than others. You have to do the best you can to treat each child in a way suitable for his or her own needs. And you need to teach your kids to think of themselves and others as individuals with distinct needs. And someone needs to remind some of our community leaders of that as well.

And not all kids will do equally well in all schools. One issue with state schools is that they tend to have large student bodies, of varying degrees of seriousness about their work. Some kids thrive there, but others need an environment where almost all the kids are serious to push themselves hard enough to succeed.

Anonymous said...

Tesyaa, check out Princeton Universities financial age cite. For those making less than 120K everyone qualifies for financial aid and the average grant (no loans at Princeton) is full tuition plus 13% room and board. For those making less than 200K the average grant is 65% of tuition. There's even a note that says families with three or more children or with more than one child in college at a time generally receive larger than average grants. If you live in NJ your child may even be able to live at home saving you more money (NJ transit goes to both New Brunswick - Rutgers - and Princeton).

Anonymous said...

Elitzur and others, thanks for the practical suggestions...the kid is in 10th grade, and it's not too early to research this topic.