When I was in grad school I had a professor in business law who raised a provocative question, ‘If a child dies is it an economic loss or gain?’ The question was raised in the context of wrongful death suits – should parents be compensated if they lose a child? My initial reaction was visceral and appalled – how could you possibly put a price on a child’s life? I don’t think many people are going to argue with the incredible emotional wealth that our children provide, but the more time I spend working on water safety and drowning prevention issues, the more I believe that we need to look at the hard economic reasons why water safety and drowning prevention should be a global priority at the highest levels of government, and not just a worry for individual parents.
Let’s look at the math – and excuse my back-of-the-envelope calculations since the numbers vary by agency and it’s hard to find hard numbers for any country. Estimates on how much it costs to raise a child range from $250,000 and up, not including college, which generally results in higher future wages. There are around 4 million children born in the U.S. each year, which makes an investment with a lot of zeros (I think $1 quadrillion). But, when these children reach adulthood, most of them will start paying back the investment by being wage-earning, tax-paying, contributing members of society. They will pay to raise the next generation. They will pay to support the older generation. They are, at the most basic level, the core investment that generates our economy.
What happens when a child dies? In the U.S. over 1,500 children die from drowning every year. For every child that dies, 4-5 children almost drown and many of these children require significant ongoing care and may never become economically contributing members of society. So let’s say that, very roughly, the U.S. loses an investment in raising these children of $750 million each year (6000 kids/year at 1/2 the total investment since they die before 18). And what about the lost future earnings for this investment? And the lost earnings of parents/caregivers who may have to reduce their workload to care for a permanently damaged child. Magnify that number significantly.
Now extrapolate that problem out to every developed country because drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in every developed country. Add in the fact that the International Life Saving Federation estimates that over 97% of drowning accidents happen in less-developed countries. Even with my rough, conservative calculations, I think that a compelling argument can be made that every country should put water safety and drowning prevention on their economic agenda as an urgent matter of economic security.
Some of the ‘hard’ numbers I could find:
One estimate puts the total annual lifetime cost of drowning for children under 14 at $6.8 billion per year.
Near-drowning has the highest average lifetime cost of any injury – $40,071 for each incident.
U.S. coastal drownings alone are estimated to cost $273 million/year.
Near drownings cost the California state government $5.4 million/year.
If anyone has any other ‘hard’ numbers, please forward them, I’m looking for as much data as possible. Thanks!