Will Inflationary Tooth Fairy Payments Ever Be Stopped?

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According to surveys and anecdotal evidence, there has been a significant rise in generosity at the high end of the Tooth Fairy payout scale. Instances of kids receiving $5, $10, even $20 per tooth appear to be increasing, and as more kids come home from school and tell their parents about the big bucks being shelled out in other households, the Tooth Fairy is bound to become less stingy in more and more homes.

A new survey from Visa has it that the Tooth Fairy is paying an average of $3 per tooth this year. That’s a 15% increase over the 2011 average of $2.60.

Interestingly, the 2011 average was a downer for kids, coming after the average hit $3 in 2010, according to the Visa survey that year. There is also another Tooth Fairy survey that indicated the 2011 average payment was a mere $2.10, down 17% from the year before.

So is the amount kids are getting from the Tooth Fairy rising or dropping? Suffice it to say that these probably aren’t the most scientific of surveys. I know, I know, it’s shocking to hear that a poll concerning a figment of familial imagination may not be based on hard science. But that’s the way it is.

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What do seem to be on the rise are instances of kids getting hefty payouts—$20 or more—at least for that first tooth to fall out. In the new Visa survey, 8% of kids reportedly get more than $5 per tooth, up from 3% last year. This past spring, a story on “Tooth Fairy Economics” by the Boston Globe highlighted the trend of children receiving $5, $10, sometimes even $20 per tooth, sometimes on top of Lego Minifigures, charms for bracelets, and other gifts left under pillows.

Why has the Tooth Fairy—or at least the Tooth Fairy in a certain segment of the population—gotten so generous all of a sudden? The Globe explains that it’s a natural escalation of consumer behavior, in which, like it or not, parents are forced into an arms race competing with what the Tooth Fairy dishes out in other households:

Some parents feel pressure to give an amount equal to their child’s peers, if not a gift as well. It’s keeping up with the Fairy Joneses.

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Because no parent wants their kid to feel slighted by the Tooth Fairy, many families feel like they have to up the ante in terms of per-tooth expenditures. Either that or your kid gets mocked at recess for finding a measly quarter under his pillow, indicating that his teeth just aren’t as valuable as those of his classmates.

Visa is using the announcement of its latest survey results as an opportunity to also introduce a new app and calculator on Facebook in order “to help parents answer the perennial question of how much their children should receive from the Tooth Fairy.” The services factor in “demographics such as gender, age, home state, income and education levels” so that parents are keeping up with the appropriate Joneses.

According to one financial expert cited in a USA Today story, what Visa’s free new app is likely to do is push Tooth Fairy payments higher and higher:

“The app would be a driver of tooth inflation, not a tracker,” says Charles Green, CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates, a management consultant. “I would predict a psychological bidding game.”

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After all, what parent would want their child to be below average in any way?

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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