Financial Concerns Big Reason Young Adults Having Fewer or Zero Kids, NYT Survey Finds

It's not that most Americans don't desire children.

By Liberty McArtor Published on July 6, 2018

Why is U.S. fertility declining? That’s what Morning Consult for The New York Times tried to find out with a survey Thursday.

The survey included 1,858 men and women between the ages of 20 and 45. Reasons for fewer children vary. But concerns about money and personal goals play a large part.

Many Still Want Kids — They Just Aren’t Having Them

It’s not that most Americans don’t want children. A 2013 Gallup poll found that most adults hope to have kids if they don’t already. And apparently, many hope for a lot. Or at least they tell pollsters that.

A new Gallup poll found Friday that 41 percent of Americas say three or more kids is the “ideal family size.” As the report states, that’s “the highest Gallup has seen on this measure since 1997.”

Fifty percent of Americans say one or two children is ideal, the poll found. So the average ideal family size for Americans is 2.7 kids. But adults aren’t having that many.

“About a quarter of the respondents who had children or planned to said they had fewer or expected to have fewer than they wanted,” the Times reports of its survey respondents. Why the disparity?

These respondents largely blame finances. Sixty-four percent said child care is too expensive. Nearly 50 percent said they are worried about the economy. Other reasons for having fewer children than desired included not enough or no paid family leave (39 and 38 percent). Concerns about climate change and population growth were also significant (33 and 27 percent). Another reason was finding a partner too late in life (34 percent).

Leisure Time Biggest Concern For Those Who Don’t Plan on Kids

And what about those who don’t plan on having any kids, ever? The biggest reason (36 percent) cited in the survey was a desire for leisure time. The next biggest reason (34 percent) was lack of a partner.

Finances were still a significant theme, however. Thirty-one percent said they couldn’t afford childcare. Other money reasons included worrying about the economy (23 percent), having too much student debt (13 percent), and not being able to afford college (11 percent).

It’s obvious from Gallup and the Times that Americans still want kids. But they may be delaying, having fewer than desired or forgoing altogether thanks, in large part, to finances.

Financially speaking, it’s still tough for many young adults. The Times reports that the current generation will likely earn less than their parents. In previous generations, it was normal for young adults to end up making more than their parents. Millennials are also burdened with record amounts of student debt.

“Wages are not growing in proportion to the cost of living, and with student loans on top of that, it’s just really hard to get your financial footing — even if you’ve gone to college, work in a corporate job and have dual incomes,” 29-year-old David Carlson told the Times.

Delayed Motherhood and Working Women

And that’s one reason many couples delay childbearing. But delaying contributes to lower fertility rates. A woman’s fertility declines dramatically in her 30s.

Philip Cohen, a sociologist who spoke with the Times, said women’s changing circumstances also play a big factor in declining fertility. “There is no getting around the fact that the relationship between gender equality and fertility is very strong,” he said. “There are no high-fertility countries that are gender equal.”

Economist Lyman Stone looked into the relationship between gender equality, fertility and pro-family policies last year for Institute for Family Studies. Some claim that while more gender equality initially leads to a fertility decrease, it eventually causes greater fertility. Studying several developed nations that have “pro-natalist” policies, he found that the real issue is more complex.

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Pro-natalist policies, like financial incentives, do boost short-run fertility. But “this could just be a timing shift,” Stone warns. “Maybe people have kids earlier but don’t increase total childbearing.”

That leaves Americans with more questions. It’s obvious from Gallup and the Times that Americans still at least claim to want kids. But they may be delaying, having fewer than desired or forgoing altogether thanks, in large part, to finances. (It’s worth noting that according to some indicators, fertility may not be declining as much government numbers state.)

“Our politicians have critically underestimated the scale of the fertility collapse in the United States,” Stone wrote last September, “along with the price tag they’ll face if they want to fix it using financial incentives.”

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  • tz1

    Their (great) grandparents during the great depression raised 5 children and they complain? The problem is pride, avaraice, gluttony, sloth, envy, lust, and wrath. They claim children are the greatest value but won’t sacrifice to have even one.
    See Humanae Vitae for the prophecies which have come true.

    • Dave

      A harsh sweeping judgment on an entire group of people most of whom he never even met

      • tz1

        I’ve met a sample of statistically sufficient size to make a very informed judgment, particulary as I’ve also met their grandparents.

        I can’t meet “an entire group of people”, but I can judge the group. I can meet individuals and judge them as individuals, particularly when they disavow the evil attributes of their group.

    • James

      So more selfish people should have children?

      What could possibly go wrong?

      • James, one of the most effective ways to rid human beings of a good portion of their selfishness is to have children. So in fact a very lot can go right! I highly recommend an excellent book by George Gilder called “Men and Marriage.” Gilder persuasively lays out the case that women and family are the most important factor in civilizing the inherent aggressiveness of men. We see what happens when the welfare state steps in for men in certain communities. It isn’t pretty for the women, the men, or the communities.

        • James

          You’re far more optimistic than I.

        • Jesus-in-the-City

          Amen to that!

      • tz1

        The most selfish are the 2nd generation on welfare that get pregnant, then do it again and again.
        I’d rather selfish but responsible people have as many children as possible than people who are selfless with OTHER people’s money and have a half dozen on the Taxpayer’s million dimes.

        • James

          Is childbearing only for the wealthy, then?

          • tz1

            Childbearing was for even the lower middle class, and those who did things like live with their parents and were extremely frugal so could still afford it.
            The workers were Blue Collar, and the income from one man could provide so the mother could stay home and raise 4 or 5 kids easily – the blue collar benefits would cover the entire family.
            Then we had inflation, NAFTA, WTO, etc. where the Democrats abandoned the Unions and blue collar workers so it required TWO incomes to make ends meet (driving down wages), with the media pushing materialism, and medical care shooting up to make it all but unaffordable.

            But ask yourself, how do those in countries with less than $500/month incomes manage to have 5 or more children (well, maybe not all survive).

          • James

            So is anyone supporting blue collar workers anymore?

          • tz1

            Trump. Tariffs to return blue collar jobs, removing the nonsense Obamacare rules to make Healthcare affordable, and tax cuts to encourage growth.

          • James

            Tariffs are projected to cost my state thousands of jobs as manufacturers move production overseas to avoid retaliatory tariffs against the United States.

          • tz1

            Somehow those “retalitory tariffs” won’t affect the countries that impose them and impoverish them?

            The costs won’t be evenly distributed, but I’d rather have more factories here, even and especially NEW factories, or reopened, than maintain the sickly do the minimalist to avoid the last death throe of the small town.

            Why when NAFTA/WTO is imposed, NO ONE, which I assume includes you, cared one whit about the Shumpertarian “creative destruction”, because you got the created wealth and thousands of workers suffered the destruction, but when trying to rebalance things to something more fair and normal you are horrified at even one job loss? See Bastiat – you are screeching about the FEW VISIBLE jobs which MIGHT be lost while ignoring the MANY INVISIBLE jobs that already have been lost and are likely to return.

          • James

            Well, the NEW factories HERE are the ones that are not being build.

            Locally, textile mills were closed while auto plants (and support facilities) opened. What was gained was a lot better than what was lost.

          • James

            BMW was building cars in South Carolina for the world. Now that world production will likely go to China instead. They are Germans and Americans and Chinese are equally foreign to them.

            How is this “winning” for America?

      • Jesus-in-the-City

        The goal would be that through childbearing and rearing, the work of loving and training children into godliness would gradually wear away at otherwise selfish, hard hearts. The process of childbearing, I believe, much like marriage, is one that BRINGS maturity and sanctification (again, when done submitting unto the Lord). That’s probably a good reason why, in the flesh and their own understanding, modern people are naturally put off from it and why God calls it a good thing.

        • Amen to that, too!

        • James

          Except far more often, selfish parents simply raise their children badly.

  • Lisa

    My parents had 10 kids.
    My siblings and I averaged 2-3 each.
    Finances definitely played a factor in our decision making.
    Our parents had a bias against using contraception because of their Catholic faith and they considered kids a gift from God. Lucky for me they were religious because I was one of the youngest and wouldn’t be here if they had today’s mindset! Phew!

  • Trilemma

    Over the last 40 to 50 years, the price of everything has gone up ten fold. Wages have not kept up. If they had, minimum wage would be about $20.00 an hour. The life style that a single income family used have now takes two incomes. So yes, money is a real concern for young adults today.

  • Drj

    By God’s grace. My wife and I have successfully raised 5 children into very responsible, productive, God honoring adults. 1 of our 5 is totally disabled. All I will say is this Palsms 37:25. This old testament verse will calm any God honoring couple who wants to start a family regardless of the economy. My wife and I are witnesses after 33yrs of marriage to God’s magnificent faithfulness.

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