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The average US household has been shrinking for the last century

Mom and son
Posted at 3:19 PM, Jan 31, 2023

Having kids is a big decision for many families and data shows the average household size in the United States is declining. It has been for more than a century.

According to data from the US Census Bureau, the average household size has been on a consistent decline, from nearly five people in the late 1800s to 3.67 in 1960, to 3.13 in 2022.

Part of the decline is due to goals. By now, you might know that families are waiting longer to have kids due to career focus and changing lifestyles. Married couples are also less intimate than in previous generations. According to research by the University of California Berkeley, millennials report having fewer sexual encounters on average than the two generations before them. And millennials are not the only cohort facing a decline—from the late 1990s to 2014, sex for all adults dropped from 62 to 54 times a year on average. The research showed a decline in sex, mainly among white, middle-aged, married couples.

We are recovering from a pandemic— when families decided they did not want to bring kids into that world.

“There’s been this decline in what they call the corporate family, which is a family that is designed around economic production within the household,” said Amanda Stevenson, a demographer at the University of Colorado Population Center.

Back in the day, families would gather resources through offspring. The more kids you had, the more hands you had on deck. Over time, that idea evolved into family businesses like farming or a mom-and-pop shop with generations of kin running the show.

Since World War II, though, Stevenson points out that changed as kids started forging their own paths, and the idea of offspring went from a survival tool to a choice.

“The emergence of the wage economy with the industrialization of the United States changed the ways that people could get the things that they need to sustain their lives, and that was probably a far bigger driver than any change in people’s desires,” said Stevenson.

According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, the average cost of raising a child through the age of 18 is $310,000. The numbers draw from a 2017 estimation from the USDA but account for inflation.