I’ve seen article after article posted on how big families are vilified in public, looked down on, and referenced for being outside the norm. The often quoted stat of 2.3 kids gets thrown around as evidence that the US has changed and that times are more unfriendly to larger families than the past.
But is this actually true?
It’s not. It’s a mixed bag. It’s sort of true, but with a lot of caveats. It’s complicated.
This is what I have discovered about that odd 2.3 ratio – it doesn’t mean what people think it means. But around this number is actually the survival ratio for humanity to survive and multiply. Many historians believe that far from this stat being new, it is the norm over history – mother, child and infant mortality simply used to be much, much higher.
Breaking down the statistic for today means that there is a large number of households – whether those are singles or couples that never have children – with zero kids. There is also a large number of households with only one child. Though two is cited as the average, the number of households with just two children is not statistically greater than those who prefer larger families.
Larger families balance out the smaller ones leading to the 2.3 overall stat. For example, for every family with no children there is another family out there that has five to make up the difference in the 2.3 ratio. Currently 47.6 women between 15 to 44 do not have children. This drops in the thirties to 28.9, but still there is a percentage of women (19 percent) who will not have children. Of this 19 percent, half are childless by choice while the other half are because of circumstances and infertility (4 and 5 percent).
It is true that modern society is not convenient or accommodating to larger families. But this is likely less because of any animosity towards them and more because society generally caters to the needs of the majority, rather than the minority. The percentage of the US population that is under 18 has gone from 36% in 1960 to 24% today. This fall however seems to be mostly due to increased longevity. As lifespans increase, the percentage of adults increase by an overall margin. From 1900 until today, lifespans have increased from 41 years as an average to currently 79 years, nearly doubling lifespans and with this increasing the percentages of people alive who are adults.
As the number of adults has increased, the accommodations for children who by default are a smaller percentage of the overall population has decreased over time – this is not intentional per se, it is simply a result of capitalism catering to the majority of possible buyers. With this capitulation comes price hikes for the smaller number of buyers – the number of families who need a sixteen passenger van for example is far smaller than the number of single car drivers who would need a sedan. This is simple supply and demand, but can be frustrating for anyone who needs the larger vehicle.
Stats say that three children is the point at which families cross the tipping point to the most difficult adjustment is the third child. This makes sense on many levels – not much is designed with families of 5 and beyond in mind. The financial burden of moving beyond the second child is a difficult one to navigate. Average family houses are designed with 3 bedrooms, cars are designed for four people – in general that third child ends up costing as much if not more than the first in terms of investment with less time available for the parents to focus on them.
It isn’t surprising then that many parents stop at two or three, with three leaning toward the “larger” end of the scale.