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These Factors May Be Affecting Fertility Projections

Attitudes and environments that equate to the current statistics of children per family.

May 26, 2020
Anita Parrott

The existence of the nuclear family with 2.5 children and a picket fence is one that most people are familiar with. In a study done in 2017, experts evaluated the number of children per family and determined the various reasons for the outcome of the study. Whether it’s the age of the couple or their ideal family structure, these factors have proven to make substantial changes to the look of family demographics over time. In fact, as of 2019 in the United States, the average number of children per household was 1.93 whereas the average in 1965 was 2.44 children. This change in the number of children could be caused by many different factors, some of which will be explained here.

In this article we’re going to delve into:

  • Dynamic Reproductive Climate
  • Desired Number of Children vs. Expected
  • Economic Conditions
  • Readiness or Lack Thereof
  • Family Attitudes
  • Are We Nearing a Norm of Having Fewer Kids?
A father takes a nap with his child sleeping on his chest.
Pregnancies don’t always follow along with a strict plan. Fertility projections are a picture of the reality of children per family and include families that intended to have three children as well as those who didn’t intend to. 

Dynamic Reproductive Climate

Reproduction statistics change almost constantly

To find results for fertility projections requires a series of surveys gathering information from families on the number of children they want to have. Most of these surveys would be more accurate or better suited for the assessment of a country’s reproductive climate if they, instead, asked families how many children they were planning to have. Because many factors play into the number of children that a family can have, asking about their planned number of children yields more accurate results. 

However, this question isn’t an end all/be all for influences on the number of kids a family has. The planned number for kids itself in many cases can be linked to the social norm, or the families’ tradition and expectation for the number of kids. To gauge the number of expected children it’s important to divide the families into smaller demographics such as age to better understand what the statistics mean.

Desired Number of Children vs. Expected

A couple may not have as many kids as anticipated

When assessing the surveyed number of desired children in comparison to the number of children a family is expected, the numbers are often different. This difference happens as a result of external factors in the family that influence the desire and ability for having various numbers of offspring. The desired number of children is typically higher than the number of expected children. For example, a couple may want to have five children, but they are more likely to only end up having two or three depending on their age, where they live, or other demographic factors. 

Over the past five years, Russia saw the number of desired and expected get closer to one another as couples were starting to desire a smaller number of children. The desire to have a two-child family is one that is increasingly popular in the results of fertility projections.  In 1976, 40% of women in the U.S. of ages 40-44 had had four or more children, while 41% of women in the same age range had two children. There has also been a three percent increase in the desire for having three or more children over the past decade. 

Economic Conditions

Income could play a large role in family size

One factor that has had a particular effect on the number of desired children in a family is their economic conditions. Lower-income families may decide on planning to have a smaller number of children to make sure that they can provide their children with the best quality of life that they can. On the other side of that same coin, higher-income families may be more likely to plan for having more children because of their financial standing. 

There is also an increased number of families that put off having children until they’re into their 30s because they were unable to afford to have children any earlier. This in itself decreases the number of children that the family can have because women may not have enough time left for them to have more births. Having children is a big investment, and some couples have trouble supporting themselves let alone adding a few additions.

Readiness or Lack Thereof

Do couples feel capable of raising multiple children?

For many couples, the number of children they have is greatly affected by how ready they feel. It’s common to feel unsure or hesitant about having children. At times this could be because they want to live for themselves, or that they fear how difficult raising a child can be. Many mothers also fear the struggles of childcare and the birth itself, which can be extremely emotionally and physically taxing. 

For some people, career may be their main focus at the time and if they’re being honest with themselves they aren’t ready to devote themselves to the needs of a child. There is also a sense of guilt in older couples that they won’t be able to spend as much time with their children as they would’ve liked to. 

Family Attitudes

What amount of kids is actually best for the family?

Each family is different, with its own unique values, configurations, and problems. In some cases, families may put off having a child because the family isn’t ready. In others, some women feel as though their partner isn’t mature enough for having children yet. Couples are also seeing a change in attitudes from the generation before them. Grandparents are more likely now to want to enjoy their retirement instead of offering support to their grandchildren. 

More reasons that families are putting off childbirth include (from most to least common):

  1. A lack of financial means 
  2. A need for a higher paying job
  3. Constraints placed on housing
  4. A desire to live for themselves
  5. A partner’s absence
  6. Difficulties in the combination of childcare and work
  7. Spouse’s desire to postpone childbirth
A smiling mother lifts her daughter up with her knees as they play together.
There are also many reasons for wanting to have more children. Some couples would enjoy having a big family because they grew up around many siblings. “The more the merrier” isn’t lost on today’s myriad of families. 

Are We Nearing a Norm of Having Fewer Kids?

Could the world be filled with only-children soon?

Fertility projections are made based upon feedback from tens of thousands of families, in countries all over the world. While there has been a decline in children per household in places like the United States and Russia, that’s not to say that the norm will continue to decline. Societies are influenced by their culture, and culture is ever-changing. Fertility projections may portray a depiction of the average number of children per household, they don’t necessarily dictate the future of what these numbers will be.


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