Singletons

The world of only children

Being Practical about Having Babies

Is the US becoming a one-child nation?

Early in the recession, I asked: Will the birth rate drop as it has in the past as a result of the country being in financial disarray? Or, is being practical about having babies going to be ignored?” Now, we appear to have a partial answer.

According to a report by the Pew Research Center, the United States birth rate has dropped to a record low “led by a plunge in births to immigrant women since the onset of the Great Recession.” The changing patterns of Latino immigrants — who had long kept America’s birth rate higher than in many other developed countries — are affecting our national family-size trends. The drops are significant: Between 2007 and 2010, the U.S. birth fell 8 percent; among foreign-born women, 14 percent and 23 percent for Mexican immigrant women.

A look at La Clinica del Pueblo, a local clinic in Washington, D.C., helps to explain why Latino women aren’t having as many children as they were before the recession. Factors tied to recession woes and the reality that many immigrants have low-wage jobs and minimal benefits have resulted in more contraception use among Latino women. Their growing financial awareness and the tendency for Latino women to plan for the future has changed their childbearing habits. One clinic doctor said she had a patient in the last year who put her baby up for adoption — a very rare occurrence in that community, she said.

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We’ve seen that the economy has had a distinct effect on family size in general. Without Latinos and other immigrant women who now put off starting and adding to their families for financial reasons, will we be more like the UK where over 45 percent of British families have one child? 

A New “Traditional” Family?

Worldwide, singleton families are becoming the new norm. Only-child families have become more common in India, Italy, France and Germany. England is already referred to as a one-child nation. Many other countries — Japan, Canada, Portugal, Spain, for instance — have extremely low birth rates with a third or more of families having one child. 

In 2009, the Hindustan Times reported that Indian families are getting smaller. A year later, the World Population Prospects predicted that India would have a projected population increase of 467 million by 2050 (the largest worldwide). However, “A shift in attitude is taking place [in India] and the number of people having one child is on the increase,” says Shireen Jejeebhoy, senior associate, the Population Council. 

Today, most people who live in developed countries do a reality check before adding another child to their family, especially in the current economic environment. Perhaps that explains the Time Magazine article, “What Sells in a Recession: Canned Goods and Condoms.” It notes a 10.2 percent increase in sales of condoms and female contraception items. The cost per item was higher, too, suggesting “that consumers are willing to pay higher prices today to prevent crib expenses tomorrow.”

The bigger question is: Will the trend toward one-child families outlive the recession? 

For more on this trend, see: Is having babies recession-proof?, Children Are Big Ticket Items, and  Behind the Smaller Family Trend.

Resources:

Friedman, Howard Steven. "10 Countries With the Largest Projected Population Growth: American Exceptionalism." The Huffington Post. 31 Jan. 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/howard-steven-friedman/population-growth-worldwide_b_1245202.html

Gregory, Sean. "What Sells in a Recession: Canned Goods and Condoms." Time.com. 11 Mar. 2009. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1889177,00.html

Khanna, Parul. "Why Are Indian Families Shrinking?" Hindustan Times, 31 Oct. 2009. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Entertainment/SexAndRelationships/Why-are-Indian-families-shrinking/Article1-471292.aspx

Livingston, Gretchen, and Cohn, D’Vera. www.pewsocialtrends.org. Pew Research Center, 29 Nov. 2012 “U.S. Birth Rate Falls to a Record Low; Decline Is Greatest Among Immigrants.” http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/11/29/u-s-birth-rate-falls-to-a-record-low-decline-is-greatest-among-immigrants/#overview

Ludden, Jennifer. "In Wake Of Recession, Immigrant Births Plunge." NPR.org. 29 Nov. 2012. http://www.npr.org/2012/11/29/166179310/in-wake-of-recession-immigrant-births-plunge?ft=3

Susan Newman, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her latest book is The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide.

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