If you’re thinking you’re going to be a one-and-done family — as in, the parent of a single child — you may be part of a growing trend of smaller families, new research suggests. Many parents aren’t planning for any more future children, a new survey from the Pew Research Center finds. When asked why, people cited everything from simply not wanting kids to financial and medical reasons, the survey found.
The survey polled almost 4,000 US adults younger than 50, in a mix of both parents and non-parents. They asked both parents of existing kids and non-parents what their plans were regarding children, why that was, and compared results to a similar survey done in 2018.
For people with kids already, 54% said they were “not at all likely” to have more kids, and a further 20% said they were “not too likely” to have more kids. This is slightly up, though about the same, from 51% and 20% three years ago. About 25% of parents said they were “very” or “somewhat” likely to have kids again.
Sixty-three percent of parents who were unlikely to have more kids said they didn’t simply didn’t want more, up from 57% who said the same in 2018. Parents unlikely to have more kids cited simply not wanting more children. Among parents who gave other reasons, 29% cited their age, 23% said medical reasons, 14% blamed finances, and 11% said it was because they already had kids. Perhaps surprisingly, only 4% of parents with other reasons blamed the state of the world.*
Older and younger parents also noted different reasons for not wanting more kids. Age is the obvious one – 41% of parents in their forties who were unlikely to have more kids cited age as a reason, compared to 5% of younger parents.
But — not shocking to younger parents who are struggling to make ends meet against flattened wages, student debt, soaring costs of child care, and more, — parents aged 18-39 who were unlikely to have more kids were also more likely than older parents to blame financial problems (26% vs 8%).
(Among non-parents, 55% said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to have kids in the future but 44% were either “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to have children in the future, the survey found. This number is up from a combined 37% who reported being unlikely to have kids in 2018.)
Kids are expensive, after all. In many states, the cost of child care can be as expensive as tuition at four-year public colleges. And that’s just cost: throughout the pandemic, child care centers have shuttered and left many parents without any reliable child care options at all, keeping them out of the workforce and perhaps changing their calculus for what it means to have another kid. In other words, the research could indicate the financial difficulties of raising kids in America today, especially for younger generations with far less of the country’s wealth.
For many younger parents, adding another mouth to feed (plus more medical bills, school supplies, and potential college tuition to pay for) might not feel so feasible. These findings also come on the heels of a birth rate decline as people across the country, and the world, are having fewer kids during the pandemic. In other words, the potential fertility bust that has been happening since the Great Recession is still trudging forward — for better or for worse.
Add an expanded, and much-needed, federal universal pre-k program and an affordable child care program and some of the reasons why parents might choose to limit the size of their families could be alleviated, But these policies aren’t set in stone forever — and barring further support, parents can expect raising (or starting) a family in America to remain difficult for the foreseeable future.
And beyond that, there’s just the number of parents who are happy with the size of their families as they have them, as the largest portion of parents just said they didn’t want any more kids. That’s as good a reason as any. Family planning does rock.
At the end of the day, there’s no policy ‘silver bullet’ that will suddenly make people want to have more kids. Instead, policymakers should take note of the declining birth rate and the growing number of adults who are done having kids or don’t want to have any, and help working adults have more freedom to choose whether or not they want to have kids without having finances be a barrier.
*Update: The post has been corrected to show that the percentages of parents who listed reasons other than simply not wanting more children reflected the percentage of parents with other reasons, not the percentage of all parents who were unlikely to have more children.