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The Middle Child Is Slowly Disappearing, New Research Finds

While most parents want three or more kids, they just aren't having them.

MSteinberger Flickr

Not since the late 1990s have so many parents wanted to have three or more children, according to a Fact Tank report published recently by the Pew Research Center. Forty-one percent of US adults believe that three-or-more kids represent the ideal family size, compared to 42 percent in 1997. But for all the wanting, the study finds that those parents simply aren’t having more children. In fact, most American parents are still having one or two children on average ⏤ and middle kids are continuing to disappear.

The preference for three children started to wear off after the baby boomers and declined well into the late 80s when it hit an all-time low ⏤ just 28 percent of parents wanted three or more children in 1989. By 2016, only 38 percent of mothers at the end of their childbearing years reported having three or more children. Compared to 1976, when only 35 percent of mothers at this stage in life reported having only one or two children. Moreover, by the end of 1976, around 40 percent of moms in their late forties reported having four or more children.

One interesting trend the report uncovered was that education was no longer a predictor of family size. It used to be that the more educated a woman got, the less likely she was to have more children. That has changed in the last two decades. Today, highly educated women are actually the only group that are having more than the average number of kids.