Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Social demographics and family size

I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about three.

For the most part, our lives are designed for families of two kids or less. Ever tried to fit three car seats, or even two car seats and an extra bum, in the back seat of your sedan? Fitting five people around your INGO dining table from Ikea is a bit of a trick. Out of approximately 90 homes for sale in Barrhaven right now on the Grapevine network, only three have four bedrooms and one of those is already sold. (No, we're not in the market. I was just curious.)

That doesn't even begin to cover off the worries of daycare x 3, and swimming lessons x 3, and Christmas x 3, and college education x 3, and the fact that the inmates would finally outnumber the wardens in the asylum.

In 2003, the Canadian fertility rate was a meagre 1.53 children per woman. At that rate, we aren't even making enough babies to keep the population steady, let alone coming close to the kind of environment we were in during the 1960s, where the ratio of workers to seniors was more than 10 employed people for every retiree. Americans are a little more fecund than us, producing just over 2 kids per woman.

There was an interesting analysis of all this in the Citizen a couple of weeks ago. Columnist Peter Robb observed (sorry, subscriber only link - try the free syndication here) that in the United States, it's socially conservative families that tend to have more children, further tipping the demographic balance in the US toward social conservativism. He quotes author Phillip Longman as saying the next generation is unlikely to rebel against the social conservative heirarchy like the baby boomers did, instead returning to a "benign patriarchal system... that rewards women and men for having more children." He calls this slow death of the liberal state "the revenge of the empty cradle".

Robb quotes Longman on some other interesting statistics: in the so-called red states that voted for George Bush, the fertility rate is 12 per cent higher than the blue states that supported John Kerry, and while in Seattle there are 45 per cent more dogs than children, in Salt Lake City there are 19 per cent more kids than dogs.

In a 2002 Statistics Canada comparison between American and Canadian fertility rates, I found this interesting analysis:
...Canadian women use more effective contraceptive methods than American women. For example, in Canada, among women aged 15 to 19 who use contraceptives, 86% use a pharmaceutical method, primarily the pill, and 14% use a natural or barrier method, mainly the condom. In the United States, only 58% use the pill, and 42% use a barrier. (And further), in Canada, the public health care system provides universal and free access to medical services; in the United States, such services can be costly.
I know I'm all over the place here. I had an idea of where I was going when I started, but I kept finding these interesting little digressions that now seem to have overtaken my original idea. I've even edited out my big rant about how Canadian social policies don't support larger families. I'll try to clean it up and post it another day.

But even on the micro-level of the family, without considering the greater social implications, what are your thoughts on family size? How many kids did you think you'd have, and how has fate, fortune and the intervening years changed or reinforced that plan?

(Edited to add: argh! Not only did I edit myself, but Blogger edited half what was left of this post for me. Sorry to those of you who tried to make sense of the original posting. I've tried to clean it up but I don't have time to re-write it. Sigh...)