Re: The ideal number of kids in a family: Four (at a minimum)

Written by Olivia Nater | Published: May 6, 2024

The Washington Post recently ran a bizarre op-ed arguing that large families are better. We expressed our disagreement with a letter to the editor but it wasn’t published, so we are featuring it below.

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Dear Editor,

Timothy Carney makes some valid points regarding intensive parenting and how micromanaging kids’ lives is not necessarily in their best interests. However, Mr. Carney’s claim that larger families are better and happier does not hold up to the many studies (and the comments section) that show the opposite. Parental exhaustion is just one of many reasons people are choosing to have small families. When raising a child in this country costs on average over $300,000, ensuring a good quality of life for a large brood is really only feasible for those with little to no financial constraints.

Not to mention that due to biological factors and social expectations, mothers are almost always burdened with the majority of parenting labor. While being a stay-at-home mom is admirable, most women nowadays have career aspirations that are not compatible with the demands of raising a large family. Low birth rates are mainly driven by women gaining more choices over their bodies and lives, which is a hugely positive development.

Most importantly, our population of 8 billion and counting has already breached the majority of planetary boundaries, as evidenced by our rapidly escalating environmental crises. The trend towards small family sizes in high-consuming countries like the U.S. and across the Global North is absolutely essential for a chance at averting ecosystem collapse and ensuring a more sustainable future. If all 8 billion people in the world lived like the average U.S. citizen, we would need more than five Earths to meet everyone’s resource demands without destroying the environment.

The notion of an “ideal family size” is problematic because everyone’s circumstances and reproductive desires are unique, but it’s blatantly clear that infinite population growth is not feasible on our finite planet. Zero population growth requires an average global fertility rate of no more than 2.1 births per woman. Small families are good for people and the planet.


Olivia Nater
Communications Manager
Population Connection