About 55% of American women 40 and over have 1 or 2 children.

Given biology, this percentage is much the same for American women 35-39 as well.  About 20% have exactly three and a bit under 8% have exactly 4.  Hispanic women have three at noticeably higher rates than other ethnic groups, which has kept the percentage of women having 3 pretty stable over the last couple of decades.

The numbers were a little lower 15 and 20 years ago, but not by much.

Adding all that up, over 80% of women have 1-4 children in their lifetimes.  Nearly all the rest do not have kids at all. About 3% have five or six.  More than six is, statistically speaking, a rounding error.

Sometimes you hear that “80 or 85% of all women reproduce”.  Well, yeah, but in practice, this is what that means as far as actual children born.

On a related note, Scandinavian birthrates are mostly below replacement and they are only as close to it as they are because of social and government pressure to get women over 35 to have a marginal extra child.  The Scandinavian model of family formation is to have one child in your early 30s, and occasionally a second in your mid or late 30s.  It’s really a disastrous approach long-term for reasons I’ll leave as an exercise.

The American model is much more diverse, but tends towards closely spacing births and having as many as you can handle mostly alone, which appears to max out around 3 or 4.  But because child spacing varies so much among Americans having kids, it’s difficult for people who had three kids five years apart over two marriages to understand the travails of someone having three kids in three years in one marriage.  Or having one kid out of wedlock in one’s early 20s and then two more in marriage ten years later.

It’s interesting that for several decades now women have been starting their families in their 30s in America more and more often and trying to have as many as they can then, but they can’t outrun biology, so the overall TFR doesn’t shift much.

 

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39 thoughts on “About 55% of American women 40 and over have 1 or 2 children.”

  1. But because child spacing varies so much among Americans having kids, it’s difficult for people who had three kids five years apart over two marriages to understand the travails of someone having three kids in three years in one marriage.

    I feel what you’re saying there. It’s not the same even as (I know a few couples like this) having 3 kids 3 years apart in one marriage.

    Thing is, even though the strategy is bad for trying to have a large brood, you have to give these 3-year-old brides credit for even making the attempt to have more than 2 kids in the first place.

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  2. Glad there aren’t 3 year olds out there having babies… More seriously, I would think that even starting at 30-32 a woman with normal fertility and in good health should be able to have 3 children 3 years apart in the same marriage fairly easily. Obviously anecdotes=/= data but that’s actually pretty common in my family. My two are 26 months apart and I now realize my mom and grandmother were not crazy when they said a 3 year gap is nice 😉 Next time…

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      1. OK, I don’t quite know how you got that from my post? What I was trying to say is that *based on purely anecdotal evidence* I know a heck of a lot of women who managed to have three babies, with a three year gap each time, starting in their early 30s (so, say, at 30-33-36 or 32-35-38) and that if you can’t start having children until 30ish you might actually not need to freak out and go for very close spacing. I am certainly not arguing that putting off having children until your 30s if you reasonably have the option of doing otherwise is a fabulous idea. (For the record, I got married at 21 and had children at 23 and 25.)

        I am also definitely not saying that having closely spaced babies is a fabulous idea at any age. As I said, mine are 26 months apart, and I find that exhausting and draining in many ways despite being youngish. With regard to the sleep deprivation thing, I am living it and certainly not oblivious. My first did not sleep through the night until 20 months, when I was pregnant with his sister, and she has slept through the night exactly once at 16 months (weeks ago, and I was sick at the time). They are both extremely high energy, active, spirited children so I could really use the sleep, too… Disclaimer: any lack of clarity in my posts is due to pure sleep deprivation at this point.

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        1. This sounds familiar even though I had mine older than you did. I think about this sometimes, that if I’d had mine younger, my body would have just had even more good health to give them during pregnancy so they’d be even more vigorous, not less. Which isn’t to say having them young is bad, it’s Just Better, but if your body is one of those that gives everything to baby first, that’s going to happen whether you’re young or old and at least starting young you have many more years to recover when they’re bigger. So congratulations!

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      2. I’m responding to this “I would think that even starting at 30-32 a woman with normal fertility and in good health should be able to have 3 children 3 years apart in the same marriage fairly easily.”

        The only time “fairly easily” closely spacing children happens is in your late teens/early 20s. Afterwards you are biologically too old for it and it’s hard.

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  3. Totally anecdotal–my buddy was telling me about a friend of hers who spent 5 years trying to have a first child (ultimately with IVF), had two “freebies” after that and is now pregnant with a third “freebie” for a total of four children.

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    1. That is not that uncommon. Endometriosis can clear up during/after pregnancy so if it was causing infertility or subfertility and then you get pregnant once, you can have a surprise baby or two after that. The same might be true of other infertility-causing stuff as well, I’m not sure (source: warnings from my ob gyn).

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  4. How do you factor the menfolk in to these equations? I have two kids … I would have liked three, but DH told me that he was planning to have two kids (and the name of his firstborn male child) a long, long time before we got married – and he stuck to those resolutions.

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    1. Exactly. Talking like it’s perfectly easy to have 3 between 32 and 36 or whatever completely ignores what the man might think about it. Maybe he’d like to actually have a wife and a life and not spend the last years before middle age deep in the trenches. Or maybe he needs to… you know… work.

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      1. You Know Who said:

        “Exactly. Talking like it’s perfectly easy to have 3 between 32 and 36 or whatever completely ignores what the man might think about it. Maybe he’d like to actually have a wife and a life and not spend the last years before middle age deep in the trenches. Or maybe he needs to… you know… work.”

        That’s SELFISH.

        Or so I’ve been told.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. There are plenty of people who don’t think it’s “easy” to have kids in their 30’s, but husbands often want to wait until then.

        Life isn’t perfect. I’m sitting here reading all of your comments wishing I could’ve had children in my 20’s, but my body wasn’t letting me have that. I’m in my 30’s now and my body is finally starting to act more “normal.”

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  5. It’s impossible to have talk about this stuff if people constantly derail what should be a conversation about general truth with details about their personal situations. Some people are infertile. Some people can’t have kids until 35. Some people can’t homeschool. Some people can’t not homeschool. But that stuff is not necessarily relevant to a discussion of what a sane life plan looks like.

    I think one of the basic purposes of this blog is to host discussion not only about what kind of family structures and childrearing practices could give rise to a real conservative reaction in the US, but also to discuss how the real homeschooling/conservative counterculture situation on the ground is actively destructive of such reaction by failing to be realistic about family life. Best practice, human norm, whatever you want to call it, is marriage in the early 20s and childbearing a natural consequence thereupon. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to do that, it means that any counterculture where the expressed ideal OR the actual norm is anything else has big problems.

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    1. You Know Who said:

      “I think one of the basic purposes of this blog is to host discussion not only about what kind of family structures and childrearing practices could give rise to a real conservative reaction in the US, but also to discuss how the real homeschooling/conservative counterculture situation on the ground is actively destructive of such reaction by failing to be realistic about family life. Best practice, human norm, whatever you want to call it, is marriage in the early 20s and childbearing a natural consequence thereupon. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to do that, it means that any counterculture where the expressed ideal OR the actual norm is anything else has big problems.”

      1. The “exceptions” to that “best practice” add up to an awful lot of people.

      Also, until they meet the right person, it’s too early to get married.

      2. If the median US groom is getting married now at 29, it’s really hard to see how you get that number down to “early 20s” for men (assuming a single income and economic independence from grandma and grandpa). I suspect that mid-20s is much more doable.

      https://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/MS-2.pdf

      3. There’s a lot of mental illness that pops up in the late teens/early 20s. Hence, marriage in the mid-20s is safer in that respect–a mid-20-something is much more what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

      4. The early 20s aren’t necessarily the historic norm–it’s bumped up and down according to social and economic conditions.

      5. The economic conditions are very unfavorable for married family formation in the early/mid-20s, but even so, I think there is a lot that we as parents can do to clear the way for early (or earlier) marriage and childbearing:

      –discourage debt and minimize student borrowing
      –provide a solid personal finance education
      –provide realistic career advice
      –encourage savings
      –be financially generous in ways that are calculated to improve the lives of children and grandchildren, not just increase consumption
      –be generous with time in assisting young families while respecting their dignity and independence (a tough row to hoe)

      6. Education, jobs and active involvement in the community are excellent ways for young people to meet good prospects for marriage.

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    2. I second what AmyP says.

      It’s impossible to have talk about this stuff if people constantly derail what should be a conversation about general truth with details about their personal situations.

      That’s the reality of many people these days. In fact, it’s been a reality throughout history where people’s behaviors have changed based on economic, health, or societal phenomenon. One historically cited example is the age of marriage was always increased when employment was difficult. It’s happened before, and it’s happening again. This entirely changes the ideas of the structure of a “traditional” family.

      The problem we’ve had in the last 50+ years has been the artificial surplus of wealth, which has contributed to many of the economic problems young people experience today. People forget how much economic conditions can alter people’s behavior. It compels people to have smaller families, wait until they’re older, wait several years between children, etc.

      The general truth these days is for the current generation, and possibly for the next one, that American women aren’t going to have more children until structures are in place to contend with the problematic economic and societal structures making it difficult to support children.

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  6. Going back to this from You Know Who:

    “Best practice, human norm, whatever you want to call it, is marriage in the early 20s and childbearing a natural consequence thereupon. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to do that, it means that any counterculture where the expressed ideal OR the actual norm is anything else has big problems.”

    The unfortunate fact is that (marriage and childbearing aside), it is taking longer and longer to get adult children financially independent and out of the nest. Older parents can expect to find themselves with single adult children on the family dole well into the adult children’s mid-20s–under those circumstances, marriage and childbearing that starts on average in the late 20s is a foregone conclusion. Under current circumstances, adult children who marry and have children in their early 20s (or even early mid-20s) will be doing so under the grandparents’ roof.

    When this comes up, there tends to be a lot of happy talk about the joys of multigenerational living, but for most of middle class America, that is not a workable option:

    –in ethnic communities where the multigenerational home is not the traditional norm, it reeks of failure
    –it’s hard to produce a functional young marriage when there are so many spectators on the scene
    –the “visiting team” often feels weird and outgunned living with in-laws
    –even in ethnic communities where it is the norm, it often comes bundled with a lot of dysfunction
    –a lot of people would rather live single and independently or single with parents rather than married, parenting, and under their parents’ or in-laws’ roof (and for very good reason)
    –if the nuclear family is already good-sized, there are only so many of the adult children that can bring in a spouse and start raising a family before the house starts bursting at the seams and violating fire code
    –the standard open-plan US single family home is not set up for happy multigenerational living (it’s a Panopticon set up for monitoring minor kids, not for providing privacy and independence to related adults)

    So, the question is, how to get 20-somethings on their feet faster? Because having early 20-somethings marry and start having children immediately under current circumstances is bound to lead to a lot of stress, misery and failed marriages. Not a very good witness, that.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/09/us/09beliefs.html?_r=0

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    1. I must admit I have my questions about the home issue…pre-modern homes were even more of a panopticon, with almost no real privacy or sound insulation. Privacy and independence might be a bit of a problem, rather than a solution.

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      1. Anymouse said:

        “I must admit I have my questions about the home issue…pre-modern homes were even more of a panopticon, with almost no real privacy or sound insulation. Privacy and independence might be a bit of a problem, rather than a solution.”

        I don’t know specifically about how pre-modern people felt about their homes (although there would probably be a sense of security in sleeping in a common room for mutual protection where there were dangerous animals or human marauders), but I do know for a fact that late 20th century Russians that lived under those conditions hated them. The Russians might have homes where mom and dad got to sleep in the living room on a sofabed that got folded up during the day, or share a single room with a preschooler (with maybe a strategically arranged piece of furniture to form separate areas), or newlyweds might have to share a room with grandma, and they didn’t like it at all. And this being Russia, it’s not as if previous generations had been used to something better in the not-so-distant peasant past–in the 1930s and 1940s the norm was the communal apartment, where each family would get a single room and then share a single kitchen, toilet and bathroom with several other families. There is a basic human need for at least a little privacy, even though the amount needed varies a lot from culture to culture.

        Another data point is late 19th century/early 20th century US homes. The big ones are enormous and built like rabbit warrens, with small rooms everywhere. The first thing the contemporary DINK or nuclear-family renovator does with one of those is to start ripping out walls and creating a big, airy common rooms, but presumably there was some functionality to the old style when it was built–not just being able to control heating costs, but also being able to create a home where several generations, guests, boarders (if any) and servants could all live under one roof without getting too much on each others nerves.

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        1. Sorry to necropost, but this is an interesting comment and relevant to the above:
          https://bonald.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/the-scandal-of-the-idea-of-venial-sin/#comment-21160
          “growing up as a peasant farmer in Europe, my grandmother lived in a small cabin with 11 other people; they divided the boys’ and girls’ sleeping areas with a large curtain, but otherwise had no real privacy. Back then, having one’s own bedroom was virtually unheard of for any children but the very wealthiest.”

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    2. I’ve read about them before. The problems they seemed to have didn’t appear to be related to the issues we’ve discussed, as much as neither one of them received the proper guidance to be prepared for marriage. Marrying only knowing each other less than a year (email doesn’t count)? Most parents would’ve intervened on that one.

      We cannot be entirely surprised to find out most women aren’t having that many children if they’re delaying marriage due to absent (or subpar) instruction and guidance on marriage. Young people are figuring it out on their own, with or without sin, and by the time they’ve got it many of them are pushing 30.

      But I’m glad Torode’s out of the business of telling people what to do. It reminds me of what Elspeth said on another blog about not setting ourselves up to be teachers. Case in point.

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      1. Maea said:

        “The problems they seemed to have didn’t appear to be related to the issues we’ve discussed”

        I feel like the Torodes are an interesting example, because they did things “right” (from a conventional religious conservative point of view) and it went very poorly for them.

        That suggests that there’s more to having a successful marriage than being young, zealous, idealistic, and eager to have children immediately.

        “Young people are figuring it out on their own, with or without sin, and by the time they’ve got it many of them are pushing 30.”

        Yes. In some cases, I think the root cause of delay in being able to marry is being massively awkward, and a stronger home and community social program would help a lot. (And it’s not just the guys–there are awkward women.) One of the virtues of college is that (if one takes the opportunities offered), it can be a sort of 4-year finishing school, good for filing down rough edges and providing many low-risk opportunities to practice meeting new people.

        “But I’m glad Torode’s out of the business of telling people what to do. It reminds me of what Elspeth said on another blog about not setting ourselves up to be teachers. Case in point.”

        There seems to be an insatiable urge to grab very young people and set them up as teachers before they have had enough experience to be worth learning from. The Torodes were one example and Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) was another and there are many others.

        I suppose part of it is that young adults are way cuter and more passionate than fat middle aged people who have been married a long time and have done a reasonably successful jobs with their marriages and raising their children.

        Elspeth had a very good point, although it’s a somewhat different issue, as the awful self-appointed submissive wife bloggers do have experience with marriage and parenting. Although, come to think of it, an interesting similarity to the other group is that a lot of the submissive wife bloggers are relatively recent converts to their new way of life. A lot of the submissive wives seem to have colorful “conversion” stories of the bad old days just a few years ago when they were unsubmissive and their marriages were terrible.

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        1. They also like to talk up Amish and Amish-like groups as doing it right re: female behavior while being very careful to never put their own daughters into that marriage pool or convert to those types of “submissive wife” communities themselves.

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      2. I think there’s actually a logical contradiction in being a submission blogger, just as there would be a logical contradiction in being a humility blogger. “Hey, look at me! See how humble I am! I’m the humblest person you’ll ever meet, and I can teach you to be humble like me!” I feel like submission blogging runs into the same problem–a really humble/submissive person wouldn’t run a humility/submission blog or spend a lot of time thinking about how humble/submissive they are.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uriah_Heep

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      3. They also like to talk up Amish and Amish-like groups as doing it right re: female behavior while being very careful to never put their own daughters into that marriage pool or convert to those types of “submissive wife” communities themselves.

        Bingo. It’s alt-right/conservative cafeterianism. “Let’s take a little bit of this, and a little bit of that and see how it goes.” Later, they’re surprised it’s not going well.

        Or– and this might be very fringe– there are people who want to remove women from those types of communities– Amish, devout Orthodox and Catholics, homeschooling circles– and mold them into who they desire. Taking a woman from her subculture and hoping they’ll replicate the results from it while expecting submission to a different subculture isn’t how it works. It’s not conducive to family formation at all.

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      4. Maea said:

        “Or– and this might be very fringe– there are people who want to remove women from those types of communities– Amish, devout Orthodox and Catholics, homeschooling circles– and mold them into who they desire.”

        Hint to manosphere guys: women who are willing and eager to leave their subcultures are probably not that submissive or conservative. (Corollary previously discussed on TPC: family-oriented women usually like to stay around THEIR families. Hence, a woman who is willing to live a continent away from her family with you is likely not that family-oriented.)

        I don’t know about the Amish, but there seems to be a biggish internet subculture of ex-Mormon women trying to sample every single previously forbidden fruit.

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  7. Come to think of it, the old ranch style configuration with a closed-in kitchen strongly suggests to me that the mid-century mom was not expected to keep tabs on the kids at all times.

    The contemporary open-plan kitchen configuration that is now so popular 1) allows mom to keep close tabs on kids in the living room and 2) means that adults aren’t able to have a private chat in the kitchen and 3) tends to discourage serious cooking.

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    1. Living in ranch style houses, the kitchen window faces outdoors – the children were supposed to play outside, not inside. Usually the back door was off the kitchen as well. This is sometimes hidden since most ranch style houses from the 50s/60s are very small, and have been expanded, so their bones don’t show. You could easily keep an eye on them (but not watch their every sneeze) while you did your chores. You weren’t required to be able to see them every second. I can remember making mudpies outside the kitchen door and playing in my backyard at 4 and 5, by myself, no supervision, but my mom was in the house if I screamed.

      Speaking of reasons women don’t have more kids … and this has been discussed here, but can’t be overstated… the new pressure that women are under to be totally responsible for every breath their children take should be high on the list. You can only stare at so many people before you go insane, and that attitude makes a 5yo almost as much of a burden as a 3yo.

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  8. hearthie said:

    “Living in ranch style houses, the kitchen window faces outdoors – the children were supposed to play outside, not inside.”

    Good point.

    I remember playing a lot by myself outside in the unfenced yard of an old farmhouse at around 3 years old. There was some sort of mysterious gaping hole in the lawn (old septic system?). I’m a really lucky gal to have survived living at that house with that level of supervision…

    “Speaking of reasons women don’t have more kids … and this has been discussed here, but can’t be overstated… the new pressure that women are under to be totally responsible for every breath their children take should be high on the list.”

    Yeah. But see above–little kids today are way safer than they were 30-60 years ago.

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    1. Oh gosh yes. That’s part of why the moms like me who grew up in the 70s and early 80s are so insane about watching the kiddos. But there is a happy medium, which we have neither found nor normalized.

      There is now no sense in which kids are responsible for their own actions – it’s always on mom. I’ve read news articles that made it sound like the mother was at fault for being asleep, at night, when her kids got hurt somehow.

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      1. Let’s talk about the “normalized” stuff a bit, please please please. If we’re going to move towards a sustainable society … we need to have certain standards in common. That, IMO, is the problem with multiculti – not the rainbow of faces, which *I* consider perfectly normal, but the rainbow of behavior standards.

        We have to normalize whatever sort of supervision we honestly think is appropriate – and deal with the consequences. We have to normalize whatever standards of “clean” are appropriate. We have to normalize standards of parental involvement. Etc.

        That’s some of the point of personal example… it says, “I do this, and this is how that worked”. Plus then you have someone you know who does whatever, so it becomes more normal.

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      2. Hearthie said:

        “We have to normalize whatever sort of supervision we honestly think is appropriate – and deal with the consequences. We have to normalize whatever standards of “clean” are appropriate. We have to normalize standards of parental involvement. Etc.

        “That’s some of the point of personal example… it says, “I do this, and this is how that worked”. Plus then you have someone you know who does whatever, so it becomes more normal.”

        Yes.

        TPC, I think this is deserving of a new thread at some point.

        I’ll just add for the moment that one major source of dysfunction in the US is that new mothers are mostly hanging out and learning from other newish mothers either in real life or online. Unfortunately, a lot of the most passionate and committed parents of little children are nuts. Parents of older children are generally much more relaxed about little kid stuff–but they don’t usually spend a lot of time with new mothers. And who listens to their mom anymore about babycare? What does she know about babies?

        So, the blind lead the blind, and this contributes to a lack of reasonable norms.

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      3. So, the blind lead the blind, and this contributes to a lack of reasonable norms.

        It all goes back to the general idea of people setting themselves up as teachers, without the experience and wisdom to back it up. At least, that’s how I’m relating it.

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  9. Maea said:

    “It all goes back to the general idea of people setting themselves up as teachers, without the experience and wisdom to back it up. At least, that’s how I’m relating it.”

    Wow! That does seem to be a recurring theme.

    Another case in point–single people who are experts on dating and don’t want to hear what married people have to say about it.

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    1. Another case in point–single people who are experts on dating and don’t want to hear what married people have to say about it.

      I…shall…not…name…names…!

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