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Davis Journal

CYCLOPS: Family sizes are getting smaller for a reason

Jun 24, 2021 02:50PM ● By Bryan Gray

Family sizes are getting smaller for a reason

The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author. 

At a grocery store last week, an elderly woman standing in back of me in the check-out line placed an elaborately decorated pastry cake on the conveyor belt. “You must be having a party,” I said.

“It’s my husband’s birthday,” she replied.  Beaming she added, “He’s a husband and a father and a grandfather and a great-grandfather – and we’ve got a huge number of people coming over to celebrate.”

“Well, I hope you have room,” I said.

“Thank goodness they won’t all be coming at the same time,” she laughed.  “We have six children, 34 grandchildren, and at least 28 great-grandchildren.”

I congratulated her, and I also know this history of large families is coming to an end.  In order for a society to keep a stable population, families must have at least two children.  The nation is now 20% under that “replacement” population rate and Utah is some 5% under that rate as well.  Births have been falling for almost a decade.  The number of babies born in Utah has dropped about 20% in the past 10 years; the average family size for Utah members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has declined by 25% in some 30 years.

As a demographer summed up in a Salt Lake Tribune article this month, young married couples used to say “we’ll figure it out” as to how many children they wanted and how to pay for them.  Today, a typical couple wants to “get things in order” before having children.

The reasons are varied and generally obvious.  There are now more females in college than men, and women are seeking careers outside of being a homemaker.  Couples are getting married at an older age; in urban areas it’s most common for a woman to marry when she is 26, meaning she’ll probably have fewer children than if she had married at 22. The teen pregnancy rate in Utah has dropped dramatically, down some 80% in less than 25 years. An at-times unstable economy also contributes; the federal government estimates the average cost of bringing up a child from birth to age 18 is more than $225,000 – and that doesn’t include college fees and tuition.  

Some people will claim a lower family size is simply a sign of selfishness; after all, they’ll say, their children “got by OK” through prudent spending. However, society today has more demands on children. When I was in elementary school, the only after-school or summer program was church arts and crafts and Little League baseball.  Today, girls and boys are enticed into music, gymnastics, dance, softball, basketball, volleyball, soccer, “comp” and recreation leagues, and a host of other specific programs from choir to drama to art lessons.

It gets expensive. And it’s hard to tell your son that he will be the only child on the block without an electric scooter or a visit to Disneyland.

Smaller family sizes will have consequences, some negative and some positive.  It will mean an older workforce, more reliance on immigration to fill needed jobs, decreased education budgets, less impact on resources and climate change, significant differences in buying patterns, and diminished payments to the Social Security fund.  

And there will be more people at an AARP rally than at the PTA fundraiser!