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A cavity in generosity: Survey finds the Tooth Fairy was mean in 2017, despite the improving economy

Tooth Fairy index
Ktaylorg | Getty Images

It looks like the Tooth Fairy was strapped for cash in 2017.

The average payout for a child's tooth dropped from $4.66 to $4.13, a decrease of 11%, according to an annual survey by Delta Dental, which asked 1,007 parents of 6- to 12-year-olds about Tooth Fairy spending habits. The poll was conducted in mid-December.

Kids in Western states were the favorites of the Tooth Fairy with the average child receiving $4.85 a tooth ($6.76 for the first tooth). That was followed by the Northeast at $4.35 ($6.45) and the South giving $4.12 ($5.68). Children in the Midwest received the lowest average amount at $3.44 ($4.37). Those losing their first tooth averaged $5.70 nationally (down 2 cents from the previous year).

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Delta Dental claims its Tooth Fairy Survey (now in its 14th year) has generally been an indicator of how the national economy is doing, but 2017 was an exception. Delta Dental said the Standard & Poor's 500 index, an indicator of the economy overall, rose at an 18% pace in 2017 while Tooth Fairy average payments fell 11% during the same period. The S&P 500 and the Tooth Fairy index have risen and fallen in relative unison 11 out of the past 14 years.

Perhaps the tooth survey is an indicator of future economic performance. A National Association for Business and Economics survey showed most interviewees — out of 211 economists — believe that while recent tax legislation can be good in the short term, positive long-term effects will be much harder to sustain.

Of parents surveyed, 17% said the Tooth Fairy's visit helped teach their child the value of money. But it's a hit-or-miss lesson as 50% said their kids save the money, 49% said their kids spend it, and about 1% loan the money out or donate it.

Other survey findings:

  • 84% of the nation's households with children got a visit from the Tooth Fairy.
  • 73% of children still believe in the Tooth Fairy.
  • 14% of households where the Tooth Fairy didn't visit said affordability was a factor or that it put an unnecessary financial strain on the budget.
  • 46% reported that how much a child received was determined by "how much cash is on hand."
  • 11% felt guilty that the Tooth Fairy couldn't leave more.