Will You Be a New Traditional Family?

Families once stigmatized begin to dominate.

Posted Nov 02, 2015

David Amsler/Flickr
Source: David Amsler/Flickr

When I asked the mother of a two-year-old and an eight-week-old what influenced her decision to have a second child, her response was “I wanted to give my child a sibling and all my friends seemed to be having second children. It was the pressure, I think,” she concluded. She was surprised by the sweeping increases in one-child families—a family size once stigmatized. 

The rise in the number of one-child families in England has population experts predicting that 50 percent of U.K. families will have one child within the next five to seven years. The Seattle Times reports that “Nearly 47 percent of households with children are one-child families.” Are other U.S. cities and states close behind? 

A few years ago, England, like China, was already labeled “A One-Child Nation.” English, American, Canadian, Indian, German and Italian couples, among others in developed countries, have been making the decision to have only one child in increasing numbers. 

Recent census analysis from the Pew Research Center shows that in the U.S., the trend of smaller families continues to grow. The study suggests that “one-child families have gained ground." An estimated 20 percent of women at the end of their childbearing years have an only child, a number that has more than doubled since the '70s and '80s. And in major metropolitan cities like New York, that number goes up to 30 percent or higher.

Will You be a New Traditional Family?

To those of us who have been studying only children for decades, the predictions for England are not a surprise. When the original edition of Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only (1990, 2001) was released, I titled the first chapter “The New Traditional Family.” Twenty plus years ago, childbearing patterns were obvious. The number of only children has moved steadily upward ever since. Yet, the trend was rarely discussed.

Now the media pays more attention to the phenomenon as developed countries worry about the potential economic fallout of smaller families. Diminishing birth rates and only children make headlines. Stories surrounding the drop in Japan’s birthrate reveal the alarm: “Japan's Population Declined In 2014 As Births Fell To A New Low.”

China, notorious for its one-child policy, loosened restrictions several times in recent years and officially this week according to the BBC. Few parents, especially those living in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and other large cities, are taking advantage and having a second child. One reason cited in The Financial Times: “The revised policy affects many parents in large urban centres, where the cost of bearing an extra child, in terms of both time and money, has become prohibitive.”

In reference to having a second child, an official from Shanghai’s Family Planning Commission said, “The high cost of raising children and women's fear of an abrupt halt to their career development are the major reasons behind the unusually small number of applications.”

In England, as in the U.S., childcare costs keep mounting. The Centre of Economic and Business Research noted that childcare outlay increased 70 percent since 2013. Mothers who would like to work can’t because of the because of the often prohibitive expense of babysitting and childcare. In terms of other British childrearing expenses such as food, education, toys, and holidays, the only decline has been the amount of money spent on clothing.

These are some of very reasons that couples in other countries state for choosing to be one-child families and the reasons why we will continue to see the marked growth in only child families.

A Distinct Trend

When the population ages and workforces shrink, serious economic concerns arise. However, for couples deciding family size, an aging population, reduced workforces and a nation's economy do not seem to weigh heavily in the equation. More pressing are issues around how many children they can afford and how they want to live their lives.

Is there universal acceptance of the only child? Hardly. The dissenters hang on to old myths and stereotypes, judge the choices other people make, and believe their way is best—even in the face of the mounting popularity of the single-child family.    

As the number of only children grows, perhaps lingering only-child stigmas will disappear and the shame and guilt some parents feel about not giving their child a sibling will dissipate to the point of nonexistence. Will you be what appears to be the next New Traditional Family?

Related: Mothers With One Child Are Happiest ; Children Are Big Ticket Items; The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide; One Child: The New Traditional Family?

Resources:

Bachelor, Lisa. “Cost of raising a child has risen by £2,000 in the past year.” The Guardian, January 22, 2015. 

BBC News. “China to end one-child policy.” October 29, 2015. 

Calamur, K. (2015, January 1). "Japan's Population Declined In 2014 As Births Fell To A New Low."

China Daily/Asia News Network. “Shanghai couples urged to have more children." January 28, 2015. 

Hunt, K. (2015, January 13). "Two kids? Thanks but no say some Chinese." CNN.com. 

Kelleher, Susan. “The only child: Perceptions don’t have much to do with reality.” The Seattle Times, September 24, 2015. 

The Sustainable Demographic Dividend. (n.d.). http://sustaindemographicdividend.org/articles/the-empty-cradle

Waldmeir, Patti. "Fewer Chinese than expected apply to have second child.” Financial Times, January 12, 2015. 

Copyright @ 2015 by Susan Newman

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