What “Perfect” Family Research Leaves Out: Families of Two

Bryan Caplan, author of Selfish Reasons to Have Kids, may think that because parenting can be easier than you think so you shouldn’t hesitate to keep having more kids, but…

..is more  necessarily better when it comes to creating the “perfect” family? I’d say no, and so would findings from a recent study of over 2100 families.

The British parenting website, Bounty, took a close look at the lives of families with different combinations of children, and asked the parents to “rank their children’s behavior within the family unit based on a string of categories including ease of care, compatibility and overall behavior.”  Here is what they found:

Best to “Worst” combinations of children:

1. Two girls, 2. One boy and one girl, 3. Two boys, 4. Three girls, 5. Three boys, 6. Four boys, 7. Two girls and one boy, 8. Two boys and one girl, 9. Three boys and one girl, 10. Three girls and one boy, 11. Two boys and two girls, and 12. Four girls.

One thing I see in this list — if you want kids, stop at two. This is also a decision that helps the world at large.  If every woman had 2 kids the population would be maintained.   According to the Bounty research, at this number you can have a “perfect” family (or close), and replace yourself, which is an environmentally mindful thing to do. It not only benefits the planet and all who are already here, it benefits your kids that are already here.

But it’s not that simple. Other research indicates that having two girls does not result in the perfect family — instead it is more likely that the family will end up with a divorce. Anneli Rufus, an author and journalist, recently accumulated a list of warning signs for divorce. Among them: If you have two sons, you have a 36.9 percent chance of getting a divorce. Couples with two daughters have a likelihood of 43.1 percent.  So much for the two daughter perfect family. Step children can also tend to lead to higher divorce rates. I wonder if that means it would be worse if the two step-kids were girls?

Rufus also reports that childless marriages often in divorce — 66% of divorced couples in the US are childless. I would wager the key word there  child”less” – wouldn’t you? They want them and can’t  have them, or one wants and the other does not. I’ve been tracking the childfree for over 10 years now, and see many, many happily married childfree couples out there.

Another question I am left with: Where in the research are the only children?  Is it still “assumed” it isn’t good to have just one?  That’s old news and a myth. But the real question is when examining what constitutes the happy, perfect “family,” why aren’t families of two included?  We’re included in research that looks at who’s happier, those with kids and those without, but I have not seen a study that includes examining differences between families with no children, one, two, three, four etc. across kid gender, have you?

Even if we did, I tend to land here–that there are so many factors that go into being happy, we can’t separate out kids as “the” determining factor. It sure seems like it depends on the people, the personalities, the parenting, the couple’s individual baggage and whether they deal with it or not and a host of other things.  As the saying goes, maybe the perfect family is in the “eyes of the beholder.”  It is different for each person and for each family. So why try and force it into finding “the”  one way?

When Families of Two came out, talking about childfree couples in this context was new, yet surprisingly, was not shunned.  And there continues to be growing acceptance that we are indeed a family.  If that continues, maybe we’ll see “family” research conducted to reflect this acceptance.

6 thoughts on “What “Perfect” Family Research Leaves Out: Families of Two

  1. Thanks for another thoughtful post, Laura!

    I read the rankings list three times looking for only children, checking to make sure I hadn’t missed it! Crazy that the study completely discounted the concept of having only one kid, let alone none. My husband is an only child, and we had always said that *IF* we had decided to have children, we would only have one.

    Regardless, I am finding myself in a constant state of mild offense that my husband and I are not considered a family in society’s eyes…. and I get over that by being happy!

    1. Liz–thanks for writing–yes amazing they did not include only children, and love your attitude about society not seeing childfree couples as a family! ~L

  2. I had not seen that statistic about the childless couple divorce rate. I would hazard a guess that it’s a correlation without a cause. Maybe for a lot of couples, the relationship problems they have keep them from agreeing to have children together. Those same reasons could be reasons they get divorced. Being divorced and childless could stem from a common problem, not that being childfree hurts marriages.

    Also, I’m guessing divorce is more common among newly-married people, which would include couples who didn’t even have time to get pregnant before they divorced. (Britney Spears’ first marriage, which lasted 3 days, was a childless marriage ending in divorce.)

    My point is, the 66% may not be as bad as it looks for the childfree spouses.(You know, assuming divorce is a bad thing….)

  3. I tend to agree with Scott. In both Canada and the US the childfree (people who state that they do not want children) are only 7% of the population. This means that the majority of childless married couples did not intend to be that way. Perhaps the marriage fell apart before the children the couple intended to have were conceived.

  4. Re the Child-less divorce statistics – I have read quite a bit (from different sources) about the strain infertility places on a relationship.
    It can come from blame/guilt, differences in deciding how far to go pursue parenthood, financial costs and mental health crises when it fails or if it succeeds but life is not what was expected.
    I know a close couple who were friends of mine who went through al this but split when she finally got pregnant, the thing that kept them together was the trying, once that was gone they just seem to be different people.

  5. I will say that a “family” does not have to have children. But children should also be accepted in the world by families that have no children. Those couples that decide not to have children should not expect the rest of the world to bend to their choices and should also not become intolerant of children or those families with children! The latest trend of “No Kids Allowed” is just that – intolerance and it is bred by the, so-called selfish that have no children because they just simply don’t want to share the experience of a child LEARNING. Some with kids may be in support of the No Kids Allowed but that is also ignorant and speaks to the intolerance of PARENTING. Why are kids being targeted and not poor parental choices? Why punish children when they are BEING KIDS?

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