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Rich Litter: Is a Big Family the New Luxury Item?

There's a baby boom among the rich and fabulous, and Amy Alkon wants to know whether it represents a new family values trend, or if a brood is simply the latest chic fashion accessory.

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Amy Alkon

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November 26, 2007 - 12:30 am

It seems the rich are pumping out children (almost) like it’s 1899. Yes, the latest conspicuous consumption is conspicuous reproduction – uber-rich women giving birth to the beginnings of a softball team: three, four, five, even six, children.

Hey, what’s the biggie if they can afford it? Well, the question is, can the rest of us?

There’s something in this that stinks of what I call “show brats”: children as the latest fashion accessory. Less well-to-do people have them, too — they just have fewer of them, and are less apt, simply by virtue of income, to pass their children’s rearing off on “the staff.”

Molly Jong-Fast writes of the latest baby boom in the New York Observer:

Yes, the hot accessory of 2007 is children-but not just one or two. It seems that fashionable women in Manhattan just can’t stop popping them out. Jessica Seinfeld, Jennifer Creel and Nancy Jerecki have three. Brook De Campo just had her fourth. Marie Chantal and her sister, Pia Getty, have four. Tory Burch has six (from different marriages-even better). Ron Perelman has six (also from different marriages). Even Donald Trump, hardly on the cutting edge of fashion, has five.

Why are rich, fabulous people having so many children? The answer is complicated. One of the reasons is because, quite frankly, children are fun (I say this as the mother of one).

Sorry, I don’t think the rich are having children because they are “fun.” And come on, are they? For the most part? Jong-Fast continues:

And children are even more fun when you have a huge $20 million townhouse filled with staff who get up with the kids in the middle of the night. Increased prosperity equals more children.

The other reason is because children last a lot longer than Jay Mendel minks and Herme¬ès Birkins. From Sandy Weill (and his hospital) to Donald Trump (and his giant buildings with his giant name emblazoned on them in giant bronze letters), or Nina Griscom’s shop or Tory Burch’s clothing line, today’s rich are obsessed with the idea of immortality in whatever shape that might take (bigger apartments, bigger cars, bigger summer houses, bigger private jets, pay-for-play philanthropy). As the English aristocracy has known for centuries, children are our only real way of perpetuating our names.

For the last 40 years, women who had children in their 30′s and 40′s were considered members of the ruling class-yuppies. These women were part of power couples with two incomes and two BMW’s to match.

But more recently, many women in the ruling class stopped having jobs altogether. They just hop right out of school and into the maternity ward: Do not pass go, do not collect even one paycheck. And these women who never worked can start popping them out in their 20′s, which means that normal women can’t possibly catch up. Maybe in that way, these young never-working baby-poppers are really asserting their power against a world filled with Ivy-educated egg freezers.

Some illustrious folks grew up in big families. Our first president, George Washington, was one of at least six children; Thomas Jefferson was one of 10 children; and Marie Antoinette was one of 16 children. But life was different back then: Children were farmhands, smallpox and the bubonic plague wiped out four kids at a time, and life was cheaper. Kids didn’t need to have a Montessori pink tower from Kid-O-NY to the tune of $140; back then, kids just played out in the piles of cow-dung with rusty nails and corn husks.

Indeed, infant-mortality rates for the rich are microscopic. But the cost of raising these children is not. By far the largest expense for the young rich is nannies. High-end baby nurses now run in the neighborhood of $200 a day, and generally their employment tends to run from six weeks to a year. That’s $73,000 for a year of baby nursing.

Multiply that by four for four kids and that’s $292,000, which means you’re going to have to clear a total of $500,000 before taxes just to afford babyhood. An even larger expense is room and board: Where are you going to put up that baby nurse? A maid’s room (which measures on average seven by 10 feet) is going to add between $100,000 and $700,000 to the cost of your apartment, maybe more. Of course, most nannies don’t like to live in, so often perks must be offered-everything from being driven home after work by the chauffeur to 401(k) contributions.

Something tells me we’d all be better off if these women had gone for the Jay Mindel furs and Hermes handbags.

Amy Alkon is a syndicated advice columnist in over 100 newspapers, blogging daily at advicegoddess.com.

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