Trends in Family Size in the U.S.

Have you seen a lot of large families lately?  If you feel like family sizes are on the rise, you may be watching too much TV.  Celebrities do tend to have large families, but in general, trends in family size in the U.S. remains the same.  Two children per family is still the “norm,” but large families are still very common too. Approximately 34% of women have two children and 28% of women have three or more children.  But that hasn’t always been the case.

In the 1950s, family sizes were substantially larger. As the baby boom took off, families with three or four children were quite common.  According to a Gallup poll, in 1957 the average ideal number of children per family was 3.6.  For the past 25 years, the average number has been around 2.6.  Sociologists expect the trend will remain the same in the U.S.

Trends in Family Size in the U.S. But what about all those families with three or more kids you see at the park, schools and grocery stores?  Well, the mother of those children looks a lot different than she did in the 50s.  Today’s mom of 3+ kids tends to be a professional and wealthier than her 1950’s stay-at-home mom counterpart.  Historically, “older” women in their child-bearing years would have less children.  Now even those who postpone children well into their 30s after their careers are established still may choose larger family sizes.

There are several potential reasons for this shift.  Having more children requires more money.  And there are more wealthier families now, in part due to women having high-powered jobs.  A dual income makes a big difference in family planning.

Some families plan to have many children for religious reasons.  Others find out how much they love children once they have their own.  After the first one or two kids, they feel they are not done and decide to have more.  Family size trends also vary regionally.  So in some ways, family sizes may be “contagious.”

The debate remains whether large families breed large families.  Some people who grew up with many siblings choose the same for their own families, while others want to offer their children a different, more individualized experience.  The opposite is also true.  Only children sometimes want to have large families after longing for siblings in their own youth.

There are certainly pros and cons to large families.  Studies have shown greater social skills from an early age in children from larger families.  The theory is that the children always have playmates and learn how to get along with others starting in infancy at home.  They also have to take more responsibility in the home, for themselves and for each other.  Conversely, academics may suffer in larger families as parents don’t have the time and resources to spend on each child’s education.  This also may be a reflection of socio-economic status in low-income larger families.

The trend in U.S. family size has held steady for years.  Whether you’re in it for one child or seven, family planning is a personal decision.  But no matter the size, families are as strong, happy and loving as you make them.

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