Social demographics and family size

by DaniGirl on May 24, 2006 · 19 comments

in Uncategorized

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about three.

For the most part, our lives are designed for families of two kids or less. Ever tried to fit three car seats, or even two car seats and an extra bum, in the back seat of your sedan? Fitting five people around your INGO dining table from Ikea is a bit of a trick. Out of approximately 90 homes for sale in Barrhaven right now on the Grapevine network, only three have four bedrooms and one of those is already sold. (No, we’re not in the market. I was just curious.)

That doesn’t even begin to cover off the worries of daycare x 3, and swimming lessons x 3, and Christmas x 3, and college education x 3, and the fact that the inmates would finally outnumber the wardens in the asylum.

In 2003, the Canadian fertility rate was a meagre 1.53 children per woman. At that rate, we aren’t even making enough babies to keep the population steady, let alone coming close to the kind of environment we were in during the 1960s, where the ratio of workers to seniors was more than 10 employed people for every retiree. Americans are a little more fecund than us, producing just over 2 kids per woman.

There was an interesting analysis of all this in the Citizen a couple of weeks ago. Columnist Peter Robb observed (sorry, subscriber only link – try the free syndication here) that in the United States, it’s socially conservative families that tend to have more children, further tipping the demographic balance in the US toward social conservativism. He quotes author Phillip Longman as saying the next generation is unlikely to rebel against the social conservative heirarchy like the baby boomers did, instead returning to a “benign patriarchal system… that rewards women and men for having more children.” He calls this slow death of the liberal state “the revenge of the empty cradle”.

Robb quotes Longman on some other interesting statistics: in the so-called red states that voted for George Bush, the fertility rate is 12 per cent higher than the blue states that supported John Kerry, and while in Seattle there are 45 per cent more dogs than children, in Salt Lake City there are 19 per cent more kids than dogs.

In a 2002 Statistics Canada comparison between American and Canadian fertility rates, I found this interesting analysis:

…Canadian women use more effective contraceptive methods than American women. For example, in Canada, among women aged 15 to 19 who use contraceptives, 86% use a pharmaceutical method, primarily the pill, and 14% use a natural or barrier method, mainly the condom. In the United States, only 58% use the pill, and 42% use a barrier. (And further), in Canada, the public health care system provides universal and free access to medical services; in the United States, such services can be costly.

I know I’m all over the place here. I had an idea of where I was going when I started, but I kept finding these interesting little digressions that now seem to have overtaken my original idea. I’ve even edited out my big rant about how Canadian social policies don’t support larger families. I’ll try to clean it up and post it another day.

But even on the micro-level of the family, without considering the greater social implications, what are your thoughts on family size? How many kids did you think you’d have, and how has fate, fortune and the intervening years changed or reinforced that plan?

(Edited to add: argh! Not only did I edit myself, but Blogger edited half what was left of this post for me. Sorry to those of you who tried to make sense of the original posting. I’ve tried to clean it up but I don’t have time to re-write it. Sigh…)

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Renee May 24, 2006 at 3:00 pm

Did you know that if you have 3 kids, you’re expected to get 2 hotel rooms?! WTF? Like I can afford that with 3 kids.
I planned on two, thought I was finished when I had the two girls, but am happy I was wrong.

2 Sarah May 24, 2006 at 3:07 pm

We decided early on in our relationship that we would have two kids. We’re sticking with it. I know that part of it is that my husband and I both come from families with two children so it seems “normal” to us. But I have enough trouble keeping track of the two of them… plus kids are expensive!
A lot of my friends have three kids, and I have no problem with that, but two is enough for me.

3 Sugarmama May 24, 2006 at 4:23 pm

We’re a US family planning to have our 3rd child in the near future. Just doing our part to tip the scale to the left. I keep telling all our liberal friends that their belief in minimizing population growth in order to minimize the strain on global resources is butting heads with all those conservatives having big ol’ broods. It’s a tough choice.

4 Susan May 24, 2006 at 4:29 pm

I never had a # of kids in my head: we have one child now, and I’m ambivalent about the fact that we’re likely to have only one. I like a lot of things about being a family of three–it’s very easy to get around as a trio–but I enjoy parenting so much that sometimes I wish I could do it again. It’s a tough subject for me to make peace with.

5 Undercover Angel May 24, 2006 at 4:58 pm

I live in Canada also. I always figured that I would have a large family. I was one of 4 children, my father was one of 10 children, and my mother was one of 3 children. I loved the big Christmas’s when everyone came home when I was a kid.
As fate would have it, I currently have 4 children, aged 6, 8, 11 and 13. Additionally, my spouse and I are trying to get custody of his child and his step -child right now and chances are really good since CAS has recently removed the children from the custody of their mother.
Given the statistics that Canadian women have 1.5 children and the fact that at that rate the population can’t grow – I figure that with my four chidlren I’ve given 2.5 women a break!

6 Sara May 24, 2006 at 5:18 pm

Your house size comment led my thoughts in a different direction, actually.
We’re buying a 3-bedroom house right now. The 2nd bedroom is the same size as the master bedroom; the only difference is the smaller closet. My husband looked into it and said, “yeah, that’s the double.” The house was built in 1956 and designed for more than 2 children; but it was expected children would share rooms as a matter of course.
I grew up in a very Catholic town, and most of my friends were part of families of 3 or more. Very few houses had more than 3 bedrooms — there was just “the girls room” and “the boys room,” and then sometimes the oldest would get the right to wall off a little corner of the otherwise-unfinished basement to get a private room.
So – did the expectation that every child needs their own room happen after family size started to decline, or did family size decline *because* room sharing came to be seen as a hardship or a sign of poverty?

7 nancy May 24, 2006 at 5:44 pm

Hmmm….gotta think about this one.

8 dean dad May 24, 2006 at 5:53 pm

You’re definitely on to something. Most of the lefty/liberal/blue state friends of mine from college or grad school don’t have kids. Most of The Wife’s Irish Catholic Republican family has lots.
I think part of it correlates with age of first marriage. As that goes up among the grad-school set, the number of kids goes down, whether by choice or by ticks of the clock.
We have two now, and I’m content to stop there. It would physically pain me to have to get an SUV to haul around three car seats. I remember three kids piling into a VW bug back in the 70’s. No more.

9 Beanie Baby May 24, 2006 at 6:22 pm

(Token Environmentalist Plug): Of course, the world can’t support an infinitely growing population. It just can’t. A declining growth rate strikes me, on a global level, as just fine. Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” had a good section on population growth where he showed that, if the current global growth pattern continues, by 2276 we’ll have 10 people per square yard. Clearly we can’t grow forever. (I’ll be reviewing that book on the other blog over the next week, likely, if you’re interested in hearing more.)
Anyway. The above doesn’t really matter on a personal level, because it’s the averages that count. The US is the only industrialized nation where the birth rate is still greater than replacement level (which is scary in its own way), so obviously the occasional family of three, four, ten or more isn’t doing any harm. I’m not personally swayed by the “breed ’em out” arguments of propogating in order to manufacture good lefty warriors, because I don’t think it works that way in the long run. We all came from pagans, if you look back far enough; how many of us are pagans now?
Personally, as a very young child I wanted four. I thought that way if some of them were fighting, there would still be someone they could play with. Later on I wanted none (diabetes), then I thought maybe one, then three, now I think I’ve settled on two. But who knows?

10 Chantal May 24, 2006 at 7:34 pm

Beyond knowing we wanted 3 but less than 7, we settled on either 4 or 6. I was big on the numbers being even for the exact reason you start with. Life is geared toward even numbers.
It seems that 3 is too big for the “small family” lifestyle. Meaning a sedan or wagon, 3 bedroom house, small table etc… But it’s too small for the “large family” lifestyle. Meaning minivan (or in our case, Suburban), larger home and more space.
Being a social liberal, having four kids has meant compromising some of my own views. I’ve had to upgrade to a bigger home and vehicle, meaning more oil and gas. I’ve tried to compensate by growing a lot of our own food, using less electricity in the house, moving to a rural area etc… Perhaps a feable attempt, but I’m trying.
I can see no other reason for having four kids than we love doing it. I grew up in a small, not very close family of three. I love the noise, the laughing and the fighting. I like that my husband, who was an only child, loves to play with our kids in the field. It’s expensive and hard, but very rewarding so far.

11 Jennifer May 24, 2006 at 11:24 pm

I live in terror of getting pregnant for a third time. All my friends with kids over age two who intended to just have 2, now have three… It seems like the third is nearly always accidental!
I don’t want a third because I like to sleep. Also, my daughter would be a TERRIBLE middle child. Also, we’d have to sell our car, because it won’t fit three car seats. We would have to get a minivan or sport ute — nothing else fits three car seats. Also, the kids sleep in the same room now, and the study is for me (I work from home); if we had a third, I’d lose the study. Conceivably the older two could sleep in bunkbeds and the baby in a crib, all in the same room; but it seems a bit much. Also, we’re just now getting our finances back on track. If I had to stop working for a third, or put a third in daycare, we’d have to sell this house because the mortgage would be too much for us…
By the way. In the US, insurance hardly ever pays for the pill. It costs me about $30/month. I am always silently calculating how much that costs per! Are condoms more cost-effective?

12 Tina May 25, 2006 at 12:17 am

What a meaty post you have written. And the comments are every bit as thought provoking. I especially appreciate what Sara stated about how our expectations have changed, especially in terms of lifestyle. I need to think some more on this.

13 APL May 25, 2006 at 1:35 am

Hmmm… I never wanted to have any, until I meant my husband and thought, “Hey, maybe with him, I could try the parenting thing.” So I agreed that we’d have one, and see what happened from there. (He always wanted 2 or 3.) Well, our one was such a good one, we decided to have another, so we are. But I have to draw the line at two, mostly because I’d be terrified to be outnumbered. (Jennifer’s comment above is giving me chills.) I’m a fan of man-to-man defense.

14 APL May 25, 2006 at 1:36 am

Erm, that would be “met” my husband. Clearly, I need more sleep.

15 Danigirl May 25, 2006 at 1:11 pm

APL, you reminded me of a great comment I heard from a woman I met at a kid’s birthday party once. She had a 2, 4 and 6 year old, and I was asking her if three were really so much harder than two. She said it meant moving from a man-to-man defense to a zone defense, but once they got over that the game was still good.
Renee, two hotel rooms? And what, you’re supposed to put the kids in their own room? Hey wait, why is that a bad idea???
Jennifer, even your health insurance doesn’t pay for the pill? Wow, that surprises me!
Thanks all for your insight! You are all brilliant, as usual, and you bring such an interesting array of perspectives. Mwah, kisses for everyone!
xo Dani

16 moe May 25, 2006 at 4:18 pm

My husband is from a family of 6. his mom allready has 20 grandkids with one more due in November and one son hasn’t even started a family yet. Yeah, we’re aiming for world domination.

17 twinmomplusone May 26, 2006 at 5:18 am

Started off not thinking I’d ever want kids (career woman attitude and all), then had one, skipped the experience of having two, went straight to 3! That’s exactly what my hubby said when the twins arrived: we are now zone defense!! Adults outnumbered!!
Most people I know who went from 2 to 3 found the transition much easier than from 1 to 2 for instance. I guess by the 3rd you “know” what to do.
And yes society is geared to the “perfect” family of four: vacation packages, hotel rooms (law doesn’t allow more than 4 people per room…even toddlers, we’ve had to get 2 rooms in the past and bickered till we got the second room for at least half price), museum entrances (package for family of four only, 5th kid has to pay exorbitant price), going to restaurant: how’d you sit 5 around a square table comfortably? or 2 on one side of a booth and 3 squished together on the other side, etc., etc.

18 cooper May 26, 2006 at 1:59 pm

Hi Dani, this is such a great post. I am proud to say I have borne four kids into the world and I hope and pray they have open, curious (liberal) minds. Right wing extremists cannot take over the world! Egads! Open minded people unite – and reproduce (and recycle, conserve)! šŸ™‚
BTW, dear friend, we are back on the blogging wagon as of yesterday! Yippeee! Our project is so awesome, it just takes forever and ever to build. Soon!

19 Naomi May 26, 2006 at 9:34 pm

A very interesting post.
I am an only child. My whole life, I always said I’d have none, or two. I didn’t like the experience of being an only child, and didn’t want to put any of my children through that.
Well, I currently have one, and am expecting my second in October. I’m terrified, as I just don’t get the whole concept of siblings.
But, to be honest, as I think about it, I’ve started to consider three. I’ve always wanted to adopt (we even considered adoption before we had our son), and now my husband seems to be on the bandwagon, too.
So we’re thinking that if we have another boy, we might go the distance and adopt a Chinese girl.
But who knows what will happen. Demographics is a crazy thing (Like all those Chinese men coming of age and having nobody to marry), and often people neglect them.
Thanks for a thought provoking post!

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