What’s great about our new apartment is that we can have a fourth there,” a limber late-thirtysomething mommy pushing a double stroller said to her friend, another anorexic Gucci-clad-mommy-of-the-universe type.
“I love our fourth; he is my little angel,” she said, looking down into her $800 stroller. A mushy, not altogether unattractive toddler looked up at her.
In richest Manhattan, an alarming trend has risen from the primordial ooze that is hedge-fund money. This trend is flooding the chic nursery schools, clogging the fashionable secondary schools and sending many a billionaire from a sports car into a giant gas-guzzling Denali. 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). 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 Hermès 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.
Then there’s clothing (the de rigueur Princess coat from Marie Chantal costs $304), children’s haircuts (the John Frieda of kids’ haircuts, Cozy’s Kuts, costs about $40 with tip), private school (topping out at $26,000 a year), tuition at Tony Ballet Academy East ($2,650 per semester) and tutoring (anywhere upward of $50 an hour)—and let’s not forget birthday parties ($895 for the least expensive Kidville N.Y. party). And that’s before trust-fund contributions. What, your kid doesn’t have a trust fund?
“More than three children is just showing off,” my socialite friend said. Months later, she was pregnant with her fourth child. This got me thinking about the worst possible explanation for this mini baby boom among the rich. Are people just having four or five children because they can? Because they feel that it shows their wealth and status? In a world where the young rich use their $13,000 Birkin bags as diaper bags, one has to wonder.
After all, two children can live comfortably in a six-room apartment (or even, gasp, a two-bedroom apartment), but four children—well, they’re going to need a five-bedroom apartment (a 10), and that’s going to run you upward of $5 million. And that’s for something on a side street. Even if you put two children in each room, you’re still going to need three bedrooms (or a seven), and there is no sizeable seven-room apartment in Manhattan for less than $2.3 million.
Another reason that people are having so many children is everybody’s favorite baby-making activity, in-vitro fertilization. Earlier this year Dr. Wapner, the director of maternal and fetal medicine at Columbia, told The New York Times: “The incidence of twins since 1980 has increased by 50 percent and triplets by 400 percent.” Wow, that’s a lot of preschool spots.
But I believe (subscribing to the maxim that the rich are just like us, but with more money) that there is more to this boomlet than just showing off. Perhaps they are trying to keep their numbers up so their kids don’t have to venture to Second Avenue for a play date. Perhaps the loneliness and isolation of wealth in the face of global suffering is causing the baby blitz.
Maybe we should look to Hollywood to bridge the gap between helping the needy and having five children. A certain shrinking violet called Madonna has done something remarkable with her ability to procreate chicly with an eye toward global poverty. Yes, adoption is a good way to acquire all those status kiddies while still being able to help the poor. But how are you going to get all those orphans into your Hybrid Prius?