Americans: 2.5 Children Is "Ideal" Family Size

by Joseph Carroll

Roughly one in three say ideal family size include three or more children

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The issue of family dynamics is hot in the news this week, with the release of a new study that shows evidence that the eldest child in a family tends to have a slightly higher (by about three points) I.Q. than younger siblings. The report did not include research evidence that directly addressed the implications of the total number of children in a household. But, that issue has been one Gallup has been asking about for more than 70 years.

A recent Gallup poll asked Americans what they think is "the ideal number of children for a family to have" and found Americans, on average, believe that 2.5 children are ideal. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe smaller -- two children or fewer -- are ideal, while about a third prefer larger families. Americans' views about the ideal family size are little changed over the past 10 years, although prior to the 1970s, Americans were much more likely to prefer larger families. Religion is related to views about the ideal number of children, with those who have no religious affiliation and those who rarely or never attend religious services more likely to favor smaller families. Catholics are little different from the overall population in their views of ideal family size. Similarly, there is little difference between men and women in views of the ideal family size.

Overall Results

The June 11-14, 2007 poll finds that Americans, on average, believe the ideal number of children for a family to have these days is 2.5. This includes 56% of Americans who think it is best to have a small family of one, two, or no children and 34% who think it is ideal to have a larger family of three or more children. Nine percent have no opinion.

Americans' views about the ideal number of children for a family to have changed substantially since Gallup first started tracking this measure in 1936. From 1936 until 1967, most Americans preferred a large family, consisting of three or more children. Over those four decades, the percentage preferring three or more children ranged between 61% and 77%.

Then, when Gallup next asked about ideal family size in 1973, opinions had shifted and Americans were divided as to whether smaller families (two children or fewer) or larger families (three or more children) were ideal. In the years that followed, Americans grew to favor smaller rather than larger families, with as many as 66% favoring smaller family units in 1986. Since 1997, just over half of Americans (between 50% and 56%) said a smaller family was ideal.

The average number of children that Americans believe is ideal has not shown much change since 1974, fluctuating between 2.4 and 2.8. Prior to that, this average was higher, between 3.3 and 3.6.

Religious Attitudes and Family Size

Views about the ideal family size vary significantly by religious preference and church attendance.

Roughly the same percentages of Protestants (56%) and Catholics (54%) say a smaller family is ideal, while about one-third of each group says a larger family is ideal. Those with no religious affiliation are much more likely to say a smaller family is ideal, with 70% preferring two children or fewer and 21% preferring three or more children.

Protestants and Catholics have been fairly consistent in their views on the ideal family size in recent years, but in the past, Catholics have been more likely than Protestants to prefer larger families. In 1977, for instance, 56% of Protestants preferred between zero and two children, while 33% preferred three or more. For Catholics, 42% said two children or fewer were ideal, and 46% said three or more children were.

The current poll also shows that Americans who attend church services on a weekly or almost weekly basis are roughly divided in their views of the ideal family size, with 47% saying two children or fewer is ideal and 41% saying three or more is ideal. A solid majority of those who attend church services less often say they think the ideal number of children is between zero and two.

Age and Gender Views

Today, Americans under age 35 appear to have a preference for larger families. Forty-four percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 say that a family of three or more children is ideal, compared with 29% of those aged 35 to 54, and 33% of those 55 and older.

 

Ideal Family Size by Age, June 11-14, 2007

 

18-34

35-54

55+

 

%

%

%

Smaller families

48

61

56

Zero

1

2

2

One

1

5

2

Two

46

54

52

       

Larger families

44

29

33

Three

34

21

22

Four

8

5

9

Five or more

2

3

2

       

No opinion

7

10

11

Men and women show no difference in their views of the ideal number of children for a family. Fifty-eight percent of men and 57% of women prefer two or fewer children, while about one-third of each group prefers three or more children.

 

Ideal Family Size by Gender, June 11-14, 2007

 

Men

Women

 

%

%

Smaller families

58

57

Zero

1

2

One

4

3

Two

53

52

     

Larger families

33

35

Three

24

27

Four

6

7

Five or more

3

1

     

No opinion

10

9

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 11-14, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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