The Real Deal on DINKs and Money

By now, most people have heard of the term “DINKs,” or “double income no kids.” The term started to be more commonly used about a decade ago. When it comes to the “income” part, couples with no kids don’t have all the expenses that come with raising kids, so they should have more disposable cash, right? Take a closer look…

In interviewing over 100 couples for Families of Two and having now talked to thousands more childfree men and women, I have found that the childfree come from all socioeconomic walks of life and income levels, and many would not describe themselves as having a lot of disposable income.

The U.S. Census  has data that relates to this. A “Fertility of American women 2008” report released in 2010 indicates that of women ages 40-44 with an annual family income of $20,000-$29,999, 21% are childless. For the same age range, with annual family income of $30,000-$49,999, 21% are childless. And the percentage of women ages 40-44 with an annual family income of $100,000 or more who are childless is just shy of 14% percent.

Like other “childless” data put out by the Census, we can’t be sure from these data if “childless” necessarily means “childfree.” However, they suggest that when you don’t have children it does not automatically mean you have more income, thus more discretionary income.

What have I seen on the ground? The socioeconomic status of DINKs seems to fall into a kind of normal distribution—a small percentage of them are on one end of the continuum and fit the myth of the affluent DINK. At the other end, there is a small percentage that fall on the lower socioeconomic end.  The rest—they’re somewhere in between on the normal distribution continuum—in that big category called the middle class, from upper middle to lower.

From perusing some childfree sites, one might be left with the perception that DINKs are mostly the ones on the higher end–those who can afford the boats and the exotic travel.  It’s just not the case. Even “dual income” is not always accurate; sometimes the couple has the lifestyle where one partner does not work outside the home.

So when you see the term DINK, don’t assume it means “well-off.”

And when it comes to parents and not who have disposable income, I say the differences rest in consumer behavior. When they can afford it, people with kids and without just buy different stuff!

What have you seen out there regarding socioeconomic status of the childfree?

18 thoughts on “The Real Deal on DINKs and Money

  1. I think it also depends on where you live and the cost of living there. Someone who lives in a city like Chicago, New York or anywhere in California is going to be spending more on general living expenses than someone who lives where I do.

  2. I’ve never been a fan of the acronym “DINK.” Personally, I’ve always felt that it is a label to imply that childfree people are selfish and materialistic, we never have financial problems, and that we could care less about people just because we don’t want kids. Of course, that’s just my opinion and how I see things, but I’m sure many childfree people would agree. It’s no surprise to me that the research proves a similar distribution of income in childfree households in comparison to households with kids. I’ve personally seen those who are childfree and define themselves as “working class” and I’ve also met childfree persons and couples who would be defined as “well off.” I think financial freedom and wealth is really all down to how you spend and save like you mentioned in this post. It should be no surprise that a dual income childfree couple who have careers that aren’t very lucrative (like my field, teaching) won’t have as much disposable income as a childfree couple who are both lawyers or doctors for example.

    But with that said, I’m happy that the only college education I will ever have to pay for was my own!

  3. Thank you for sharing this information. The DINK stereotype doesn’t bother me so much except when it is used to support squeezing nonparents for more taxes to subsidize parents (“You have all of this extra money that you don’t need, so you should pay for my daycare services, etc.”).

    I will readily admit to having more disposable income than the parents I know, but it has more to do with the financial choices I have made (besides, my household lives on 1.5 incomes, not two). I went to less expensive universities with scholarships/assistantships so that I graduated with no student loan debt, we share one 12-year-old car, we buy clothes at thrift stores, we shop at bargain retailers. This is why we can afford things like vacations and home repairs.

    Having conversed with many other childfree folk, I have seen the same thing you described, Laura — that many of them have their own necessary expenses and are not swimming in money. I imagine the DINK stereotype must be very frustrating for them.

    1. Manos and I.Am.Free get to it in a nutshell I think when they say in so many words it may be less about whether you have kids or not and more about the financial choices people make~

  4. I agree with I.Am.Free. I don’t mind the acronym. (In fact, I’m prepared to take any label you throw at me and transform it into a badge of honor. You’re calling me selfish? That’s the best you can do? Okay, I’m selfish. What else you got?)

    What bothers me is that the branding carries the connotation that I have a lot of disposable income to throw around. It suggests that we have more money than we really should because we have TWO incomes and ZERO children. The assumption seems to be that both numbers are WRONG somehow. Says who?

    1. Scott–like your thinking– operative words being “more money than we really should..having extra income with kids carries no negative connotation but the same without kids somehow does! ~L

  5. My husband and I have no problem with the DINK label – in fact, like Scott said, we wear it with pride!

    That being said, we have a household income well above the average for Canada, for Ontario, and for our city. We also have a lot of debt, so much of our income goes to paying that off (we are young and not long out of post-secondary school, and not long in our high income bracket). So any judgments of our income/spending/discretionary cash/savings/etc. do come across as biased and unfounded, as we are working hard to save and reduce our debt load as well as enjoy ourselves.

  6. Oh, and one more thing that this reminded me of:

    Regarding the comment above about “squeezing nonparents for more taxes to subsidize parents,” I will say this: I am a socialist at heart – I think that public services should be just that – public! I think that health care and education and daycare and support for seniors, homeless, and people who can’t care for themselves are very important. For example, when I see my property tax bill and I see how much of my money goes to local public schools, I don’t get upset – and I know I am in the minority of CF in that opinion! I have no problems with my tax dollars going to all the public services that are out there – in fact, I am in in the minority again in feeling like my lifestyle/income could accommodate a tax increase to better support social services!

    So here I am supporting my taxes going to programs and services for all, and things like the proposed (in Canada) income-splitting tax subsidy come along. The gist of the program is that couples with hugely different incomes can split their combined income between them so that the higher earner is in a lower tax bracket. It won’t amount to a huge savings, but any savings is great, right? (This subsidy would apply to my husband and I.) Well, turns out only FAMILIES are eligible, and their definition of FAMILY is married or common-law couples WITH CHILDREN.

    Excluded again.

    1. Liz, boy that “income splitting tax subsidy” only for people with kids is essentially like a tax credit when you have kids, not when you don’t…another example of rewarding reproduction and “kids come first” mentality so at work~

  7. Most childfree couples I know are getting by financially like couples with children. The difference comes in their attitude. I have spoken with many childfree couples locally and I always walk away thinking that they all seem pretty satisfied with life and seem to have a positive outlook overall. I do know many couples with children who also have a good outlook on life but they always seem quick to judge or “tease” my husband and I on our choice of lifestyle. So with them being quick to judge, I assume there is a feeling of dissatisfaction with their choice. Or is that they just can’t imagine why I would not want their lifestyle?

    Are we more satisfied because we knew we had a choice of lifestyle and chose what was right for us instead of following the flock? I do agree on the part though, that we also have a choice to spend our money on other things that may make those with children jealous. Why not take a trip if we don’t have to pay for a child to go to college?

    1. Marcia~well said….I imagine that parents more often that they would like to admit think about “what if” I had not had children–and childfree couples can put those feelings front and center. Easier to judge than face feelings of regret~L

  8. I completely agree that it comes down to consumer behavior, Laura. It’s basic logic: when you have more people in your household, specifically non-wage earners (98% of kids under age 14 and in the past few years a sizeable # of teenagers who are old enough to work) whatever money is made has to be stretched farther than it would be in a family of 2 wage earning adults.

    I plan to hold on to this info and pass it along to the next parent I meet who insists that every working adult without kids must go home and swim through vaults of money like Scrooge McDuck (LOL). We’re doing the same thing they’re doing, supporting our lifestyle as best we can on what we’ve earned. Besides, in most cases I think the money issue is just a cover for the REAL poverty in some parents’ lives – poverty of personal freedom, energy, and time.

    1. mtuni, Well said– that we all try to support our “lifestyle” –and that can mean living under, at or beyond one’s means. And the money issue with parents can also have to do with all that needs to go into keepin up with the jones’ as they say…the right pre school, classes, stuff and more stuff the kids “need” to have!

  9. That is true Mtuni, and yes I agree what exactly is it that a child really needs as opposed to manufactured needs.

    How can anyone assume that a childfree person isnt giving a portion of their money to a charity they believe in or outlaying money or personal expenses as a volunteer worker.

    Its a ridiculous assumption yet I find myself sometimes feeling bad cos I can afford holidays that my siblings cant or in laws… I almost feel as though I am not supposed to talk about anything i have. But then I think why not I have earned it and I am no less deserving than they are.

    I happily spend on my nieces and nephews but I still get a feeling that its somehow not good enough! I guess that’s my own problem though.

    Yes I would also say that the Childfree are actually more careful of our financial choices too as we know that we have to provide for our own retirement, most of our medical expense and knowing we have far less tax deductions and general social support. I think we are in general more financially aware perhaps?

  10. My husband and I are lucky enough to have well paying careers. We started dating in college a few months after 9/11, so the majority of our adult lives have been lived under the cloud of this miserable economy. We’ve made it a point to pretty much live off just my husband’s income, and my income goes into the savings account. As people have noted, there won’t be any kids to rely on when we are older (not that I’d want to put that burden on them anyway). We have a modest, 1500 sq ft home (plenty for us and the kitties), 2 reliable, but affordable cars (I freaking love my Yaris) which are both paid for, and I suppose our one super indulgence is that we do like to travel and take at least one international vacation each year.

    So, if my life is considered lavish because I’m debt free (not including mortgage), have a savings account, and get to actually take a vacation every year, I think that’s more a reflection on the state of society than on my lifestyle.

  11. Middle class folk are educated enough to, shall we say, know how to control themselves. And yet, middle class folks are way too worried about money to risk 500K – 1M (that’s right, that’s the actual cost per head to “do it right” these days) on someone who may turn their back on you the moment they are independent. Or, maybe even worse, they never achieve independence after all that. Conclusion- you have to be a 1%er to procreate with abandon.

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