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Half of all U.S. women say they want to have a child, according to recently released government data. And the ideal number of children? Two.
Between 2013 and 2015, half of nearly 6,000 women age 15 to 44 said they plan to have children, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, considered the federal gold standard for surveys about family planning in the United States. That’s a significant bump from 2002 when 46 percent of women surveyed said they’d like to have kids.
By 2015, women said their average ideal number of children was two, or more specifically 2.2 children, a subtle but statistically significant dip since 2002 when it was 2.3 children, said Jill Daugherty, a demographer who co-authored the study for the National Center for Health Statistics.
During the last decade, that number remained relatively stable, according to Elizabeth Wildsmith, a family demographer who studies reproductive health and family formation for Child Trends.
But if you look back to 1973 when the survey began and women said they wanted three kids, that number represents “a real decline,” she said.
“Those shifts reflect availability of birth control, women’s participation in the labor force and increased costs of raising kids,” Wildsmith said.
Among women who haven’t given birth, one out of five said they do not ever plan to have children, and roughly half of all first-time mothers said an only child was enough for them. Daugherty said those findings surprised her.
Surveying people about family planning is tricky. People’s preferences evolve for a host of reasons, and what they said one year may change the next.
And here’s why that’s important: The degree to which these surveys accurately reflect women’s desire to have or not have a family can help lawmakers craft policies that mean the nation’s future needs, Wildsmith said.
“Societally, i don’t think we’ve done a good job,” she said. “But I think planning it is increasingly important. It matters in terms of children’s outcomes, women’s outcomes and how it lines up with their educational and career trajectory.”
Laura Santhanam is the Health Reporter and Coordinating Producer for Polling for the PBS NewsHour, where she has also worked as the Data Producer. Follow @LauraSanthanam
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