A new poll from Gallup found that the preference that US adults have for family size is beginning to shift. For the last 50 years the majority of Americans have considered two children to be ideal, but now a growing number – the highest since 1973 – of adults of childbearing age consider three children to be ideal. While the ideal number of children is rising, however, the actual birth rate remains low compared to that of the 70s.
When asked if they preferred smaller or larger families, responses were divided, with a slight 44% plurality of Americans preferring smaller families of two children, with only 3% believing one child is best, for a total of 47% in favor of small families.
The portion of those who would like to have three children or more is not far behind, with 45% stating that three children is the ideal. Furthermore, 12% responded that four children is the ideal, and 2% felt that five or more children is the ideal number. Only 2% expressed that they did not have any desire to have children.
The report noted that the American penchant for smaller families (two children or fewer) has only developed in the last 50 years. Between 1967 and 1971 the preference for larger families fell from 70% to 52%. This trend towards smaller families continued until the late 90s, when the split was about 48% to 42% in favor of smaller families. The 2000s and early 2010s saw the gap widen again, but the most recent 2023 poll places these preferences at nearly even rates.
Regardless of the number of children Americans wish to have, the overwhelming majority of them (about 90%) responded that they desire to have children. Of those who said they wanted children, 69% reported already having children and 21% said they did not have kids, but wished that they did.
While the desire to have children is strong in Americans, the reality of having children does not match the ideal. Birth rates have continued to decline since the Great Recession, leading to a current birth rate of 1.64 births per woman. Thirty-one percent of US adults report that they have not had any children, while 14% have had one child, 28% have had two, 15% have had three, 7% have had four and 5% have had five or more.