Population Matters

Why family size varies

Why family size varies

Our new briefing examines the factors that influence family sizeThe main factors which influence disparity in family size in England and Wales are societal views on parenthood, gender relations, government policy, stereotypes about only children, the cost of raising children, social class/deprivation and mother’s country of birth.

This is the conclusion of Population Matters’ latest briefing paper, which examines family size in England and Wales and the reasons why family size differs.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 82 per cent of women who have completed their families in England and Wales have children, the majority have two or more, women are now as likely to be childless as to have three children, and one in every ten women has four or more children.

The briefing paper finds that culture and societal views on the importance of parenthood, including cultural views from parents’ countries of birth, seem to be the key drivers which encourage families to have children. Government failure to provide adequate family planning and SRE also plays an important role in why only one in five women in England and Wales do not have children, as this leads to unintended pregnancies, which make up one in six of all pregnancies in England and Wales.

Remarkably persistent negative stereotypes about the harmful effects of being an only child are an important reason why so many parents have more than one child. Religion and culture also tend to encourage people to have as many children as they can afford. However, considering the currently-staggering costs of raising children, which can now be over a quarter of million pounds, this is unlikely to be more than two children for most families. Government policy on child benefit affects how affordable children are, and thus also affects family size.

More women are pursuing higher education and entering the labour forceGender relations are another key factor in women’s decisions about how many children to have. Improving gender equality in England and Wales means that more women are pursuing higher education and entering the labour force, which means they are increasingly delaying childbirth, or indeed forgoing having children altogether, which leads to smaller families.

Overall, the total fertility rate in England and Wales has been falling, and continues to do so, driven by changing gender relations, perceptions on parenthood and, to a lesser extent, cost. More people are choosing to be childfree or to have only one child, and the number of people with larger families of three or more children is in decline.

Despite this, population in the UK as a whole is still increasing and is expected to rise by approximately 12 million people by 2050. In order to reduce this population growth, society must address the outlined factors that encourage people to have large families.

Follow us