How Many Youngsters Do or Did You Hope to Have?

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Source: Izzy Park / Unsplash

As part of the Only Child Project, a research study I led, I asked only children and parents of only children how many children they thought they wanted or wanted. Most, but not all, say two or more.

The idea of ​​the nuclear family with two or three children has burned itself into society’s belief system. But the 2020 census underscores what is really happening: one-child families outweigh two- and three-child families, and have been for several decades.

Families with one child under the age of 18 predominate in two-child households; The same applies if you only look at families with children under the age of 6. It is noteworthy that the number of parents with some college or university degrees continues to show an upward trend. This suggests that women are staying in school longer, getting married later, and waiting to start their families.

Consequently, the women in the Only Child Project were at least 30 years old, and some were significantly older at birth. How many I’ve spoken to Kathleen* 41, says she might have had another child if she got married earlier. “My biological clock is running down; I didn’t expect to get married at 37 and have a baby so late at 39. We’re done. I am concerned about the risk of pregnancy complications in old age. “

Meredith and Doug are 39; everyone has three siblings and good relationships with them. If you ask them about having children, they say, “You would think that because we have siblings we’d like to do it again, but we don’t. We concentrate on our career “- she is an oncologist, he is a biochemist -” and want to buy a second home. “” If we have one, “says Meredith emphatically,” it will be one. “

When sibling relationships are positive, reconciling the one-child decision can be difficult. In contrast to Meredith, Fredda, 42, says: “I always wanted two children because of my relationship with my sister – one that I may have idealized since she died in her early twenties. For me there were many reasons. “

Women today have career opportunities that they did not have in the 1950s and 60s, in line with their self-imposed goals. Accordingly, many women like Meredith and Fredda weigh up how the birth of one or more children could affect their careers. Fredda wants more in her life than raising children at home. “When my husband and I turned 40, our son was 7 years old and became more independent. We realized that we were about to get our lives back. We were satisfied and wanted the freedoms you lose when starting over with a baby. Our decision was underpinned by the harrowing time I had after my long maternity leave. Unlike the United States, my country has a full year of paid maternity leave.

“When I came back I was pushed aside; It was a career break and I had to find another job in a new company. I knew from experience that if I took maternity leave again to have a second child, I would basically be replaced. Shorting out my career was hurtful, and a tiny voice in my head said, don’t do it again. I heard.”

More than half of millennial women “think they will find it harder to get ahead in their careers if and when they have children,” according to the Pew Research Center.

Most of the time, women in their twenties, whether single or partner, don’t think about their fertility. You focus on getting ahead professionally and financially supporting a family. The 30 and early 40s and those in the family planning phase also choose one. Richard and Elena, together for 18 years, decided it was time to have a baby. She is 38 and Richard is 39 – older by previous generations to raise a family. They all agree on how many children to have: “It has been a long way to get us to have a child. We definitely only have one thing – we are both only children. “

Juliet was 43 when she gave birth to her son and explains another common “choice” for having a baby – the cost of infertility treatments. “When I was younger I thought two was my number … as I got older I was worried about my fertility,” she says. “It took two expensive rounds of IVF to have a baby, and of course they weren’t insured. We were fortunate enough to have a viable embryo and then fortunate to have a healthy child. We agreed to stop. We have decided not to challenge fate any more. “

The pandemic is changing minds.

The pandemic dropped a veil of uncertainty and caused people to rethink the birth rate and the number of children. The pandemic is likely to have a long, if not permanent, negative impact on the birth rate. Amid the long lockdown, Joe Pinsker, who regularly writes about families for The Atlantic, said, “… in times of heightened insecurity, people are less likely to have children. And the future is doubly uncertain right now: Potential parents are likely to be concerned about their future health (and that of their children) and their future finances. ”

The pandemic has only put child parents and would-be parents on high alert, as the latest contributions to parenting councils show. Comment by comment, sound the alarm:

  • “When my husband just mentioned having a second baby, I returned to birth control.”
  • The parent of a 2 year old wrote, “This pandemic and the money convinced me to quit with one.”
  • The mother of a 3 year old added: “Too many strangers. I have friends who tell me life is going to be good and I’ll miss it when I don’t have another child. I’m not sure. I think we should give priority to the child we have. “

Rebecca, 36, is young enough to have more children, has a 2-year-old daughter, and admits she had long debates with herself and her husband. “We thought we wanted several kids, three or four,” she told me. “When we thought we might have a second, the pandemic started. We both worked in jobs with shaky security. That brought us short and made us think that this is not a good time to have another child. “

No matter how many children men and women want, a large number of them are now prioritizing their education or careers and want to secure their place in the world of work before having babies or more babies. “We are witnessing probably the fastest change in family structure in human history,” writes David Brooks in The Atlantic. “The causes are economic, cultural and institutional at the same time.”

With the high cost of raising children and pressures on working parents, and amid a pandemic that only continues to challenge norms, it’s understandable why many parents – including those who originally expected to have multiple children – are Adopt child family.

*The names of the study participants were changed to protect their identity.

Copyright @ 2021 by Susan Newman, Ph.D.

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