In my last post, I mentioned that the lack of children might be a signal that society isn’t looking forward to the future. There are a few problems with this, mainly that as societies become richer they naturally have more children. This inclination isn’t because people aren’t focused on the future, but because wealthier societies have children that are more likely to survive they don’t need to have that many. On top of that, each child requires greater investment in education so in an advanced society increased investment in fewer children looks like a better strategy than less investment in more children. With birth control, families are able to make that choice. So less children per household wouldn’t be a signal of a hyper-present oriented society, but less children overall would still be suggestive. If less people have children then the pleas to “think of the children” will be more likely to fall of deaf ears. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau is helpful in digging deeper into these questions.
As mentioned above, the people per household and family have shrunk over time.
Looking at the breakdown of household sizes, this gradual decrease is due to the disappearance of large families and the emergence of the single person household.
In order to determine whether the one person households have been increasing purely due to an aging population, the breakdown in one person households by gender is informative. If the trend is age driven, single female households should be increasing at a rate much higher than single male households due to the greater female life expectancy. This is not actually the case, so the increase in single person households is likely preference driven.
The preference for single households increases the nonfamily households as a percent of total households.
Non-family households have increased even faster than the percent of one person households. This may be due to an increased preference of cohabitation over marriage or due to a rising economic necessity for people to have roommates.
It isn’t just nonfamily households that are saving money on rent, a larger percentage of married households than before do not have their own household. These households are most likely living in the house of one of their parents. In bad economic times, this trend is likely to continue.
Even though household sizes have remained relatively constant, families with young children have also decreased as a percent of the total. This is due to both to the aging of the population as well as a decrease in the propensity of the average couple to have children.
Overall, it does look like the decrease in children in our society is due both the decrease in family size and the increasing prevalence of one person households. The decrease in family size may be a reallocation of investment, but the decision not to have children is more likely to be both a cause and a symptom of present oriented behavior.