New Trend Alert: Three Children Are The New Two, Didn’t You Know?

We’re not completely out the recession yet, but that doesn’t mean some families are finding innovative ways to display their affluence — like having a third kid.

Recently, I was with one of my mommies holding her infant son in a park when she commented on a surprising trend that she’s noticed in our neighborhood. She told me that several of her married friends have recently decided on having a third baby after having two children close together in age. As she riffled through snack cups looking for Sophie in her diaper bag, she told me that many of these families are hoping to make a certain statement with this third birth, specifically with regards to their finances.

I blinked nervously, as I often do when mothers confide information in me that I wonder if I should know.

“Three children are the new two,” she said as her son grabbed my earring. “It’s a status symbol to say that you can support and raise three children in this economy.”

The birth rate has dropped eight percent since the recession in 2007, with the average mother now having two children in her lifetime. That number has declined since the 1960s when the average mother had three to four children.

While we can certainly attribute women’s increased presence in academia and the workforce to that decline, the recession has also caused parents to seriously consider the financial realities in raising a larger family.

A Pew Research Center survey in 2009 reported that 14% of people in their “prime childbearing years” decided not to have a child due to the recession. The 2010 Census discovered that America’s population growth is now at its lowest level in seven decades, growing only 9.7% over the past 10 years (down from 13.2% from 1990 to 2000).  The growth of the population is now the lowest it’s been since the Great Depression (7.3%).

With increasing costs in college tuition, childcare, and even diapers, it’s not really shocking that 46% of Americans find two children ideal. Yet, in the same study, 26% of Americans say that they find three children ideal, echoing the observations of my friend.

Twenty-six percent of Americans are the only ones, at present, who can probably afford the $286,050 price tag on a child until he or she is 18 — and that doesn’t even include college tuition. According to the Department of Agriculture, the average American family spends $11,700 a year on a child under 18. That quickly changes to $21,600 a year once the child comes of age. Meanwhile, in New York City, where my friend and I live, the average family spends $16,250 a year on childcare alone for a newborn.

Consider then those who choose a designer purse or dining in fancy restaurants to mark their financial success. Unless you’re raising your third baby in New York City, you can’t really say that you’ve made it.



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