Americans’ general preference for smaller families, which has been the norm for the past 50 years, is shifting as their view of the ideal number of children in a family has crept up to the highest level in 50 years, according to a new Gallup poll. Still, the U.S. birth rate remains low compared with the 1970s, suggesting that personal preferences may not fit actual lived experience.
Gallup found that Americans’ belief that the ideal family size includes three or more children has been rising steadily in recent years, and is up four percentage points from the previous reading in 2018 to its highest point since 1971.
While most adults under 30 have not had any children, the total percentage of young adults who have had children or desire to someday is equal to or nearly as high as adults in older age groups who say the same. Young adults are also more likely than older Americans to say having three or more children is the ideal.
“Thus, the greater risk of the U.S. population shrinking due to a declining birth rate may stem from young adults waiting much longer than prior generations to start having children rather than from a decreased desire to have children altogether,” Gallup observed.
Americans are now evenly divided when it comes to preferring smaller versus larger families. When asked about the ideal number of children for a family, a 44% plurality of U.S. adults think having two is best and 3% say one child is ideal.
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At the same time, 45% of Americans prefer bigger families, including 29% who say having three kids is ideal, 12% who think four is best, and 2% each who prefer having five or six or more children.
Just 2% think the ideal family is childless.
These findings, from Gallup polling conducted this past June and July.