Saturday, April 21, 2012

Consider Three: New Evidence from Young Adult Families.

Mark Regnerus reports some early results of his survey of young adults, 18 - 39.

I was drawn to this portrait of the number of children in each family.  These data are on full brothers and sisters.

Only children: 21%
Two-child family: 34%
Three-child family: 24%
Four-child family: < 10%
Five-child family: < 5%

Thus, most families don't have enough children to replace the population (replacement level is, on average, 2.1 children per woman).  When you consider the people in the parental generation (older than these respondents) who had no children, they balance out those who had four or more kids.  The average educated mother has two children, which is a widely known norm.  What is less well known is that poor, unschooled, teen mothers also have, on average, two children.

Sociologists have known for some time that the population of this country is in danger of declining, as it is likely to do in all other industrialized countries. Many of my students feel freed by this news, as they want to have more than two children but were afraid that was irresponsible.  They had been taught the old story of a "population explosion" that their parents were taught.  The idea that they can have more is liberating.

The threshold for a stable population, I believe, is between two children as a norm, and three.  People like my students are the very kind most likely to be able to create stable families - educated, persistent young people who are no longer teenagers.

America would be better off if the norm for stable families was three children, rather than two.

As I have long urged my students, when thinking about family size, consider three.


Thomas said...

Replacement fertility is 2.1

gruntled said...

That is an average for the entire population. The proportion with no children or one is rising, so other women need to have three, as a norm, to achieve replacement levels.

Diane M said...

I think you might be biased on this one!

My take on this is that the ideal family size is how many kids you want to have.

I don't think most people are having fewer kids because they want to help the world's population. For educated women, marrying later and having kids later are probably the key. Wanting to be able to continue in your career or have it later on may also pay a role. For uneducated women, I suspect that lack of money and the related lack of a husband are key.

So if you want more kids, I think we need pro-natalist policies like the GI bill where a married couple could afford to go to college and have kids. Also changes in careers and the workplace so that women can take time off or work part-time. Then you may just need changes in social attitudes about when to marry.