By Lynette Summerill
Some women have always known how many children they will have. For others, the answer isn’t as clear. Some couples debate whether to add to their family for years, while others know with unfettered certainty when their family is complete.
Is there a magic number when it comes to family size?
That’s a question Gallup has been asking couples since 1936. It may come as no surprise that the ideal family size has changed over the years. Until 1967, more Americans preferred a larger family, with three or more children. As social and economic pressures changed, so did the average couple’s desire to limit the number of children.
Starting in 1970, a clear majority of Americans (58 percent) have been saying that having two children is best, according to the most recent Gallup polling.
However, experts say that whatever the size of your family, the decision is a highly personal one. For Coral Edwards of American Fork, Utah having a large family just made sense. Edwards has six kids ranging in age from 18 to 6. Lori Swanson of Carlsbad, California, has said that she initially wanted six, but two kids, a boy and a girl, have turned out to be plenty.
In a 2011 HealthyWomen survey that looked at contraception and family size, 55 percent of women said that they experienced the emotional feeling of satisfaction once they made the decision they were done having children. And 58 percent said that permanent birth control offered them peace of mind about being protected from a unplanned pregnancy and a greater sense of freedom about when and where they can have sex.
Emotional feelings aside, practical concerns such as space, finances, health, career goals, emotional stability and age can be strong motivators for couples when deciding on their family size.
“Those factors helped my husband and I make the decision rather than some mystical feeling of 'doneness'," Swanson said. "For us, limiting the size of our family was clearly the right choice."
The cost of raising a child from birth to age 17 has surged 25 percent over the last 10 years, due largely to the rising cost of groceries and medical care, according to the US Department of Agriculture , which tracks annual expenditures by families on their children.
The USDA found in its most recent report that middle-income two-parent families of a child born in 2011 can expect to spend about $234,900 ($295,560 if projected inflation costs are factored in) for food, shelter and other necessities over the next 17 years.
With four teenagers (all with voracious appetites) in the house, the Edwards spend $1,200 or more each month at the grocery store and a single casual lunch at a restaurant -- a rare splurge -- nets a $100 tab. They must maintain a large six-bedroom house and more automobiles and wardrobe changes than the average-sized family, and that’s before you factor in college, insurance, savings, medical care, vacations and extracurricular activities.
“After our sixth child was born we just knew our family was complete,” said Edwards, a stay-at-home mom who manages competing school and activity schedules and personal needs. Though the budget can be stretched tightly at times, Edwards says it's all worth it. “Having a large family may not be for everyone, but it works for us.”
Reviewed on April 10, 2013
by Maryann Gromisch, RN
Edited by Jody Smith
Personal interviews: Coral Edwards, Lori Swanson
Gallup Poll. Children
Priceless and Pricey: The Cost of Raising a Child. Dr. Mark Lino, Economist, USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. 6 July 2012.
USDA ‘Cost of Raising a Child’ calculator
HealthyWomen. “New Survey Explores Women’s Contraception decisions when they are done having children. Press release.