April 19, 2009

Baby Booms: As Seen on TV?

author_karen By Karen Sternheimer

Babies and children are everywhere in the media world these days. From news coverage of the California octuplets and TLC unscripted television shows like Jon and Kate plus Eight, Table for Twelve, and Eighteen and Counting it seems like there are more people having super-sized families. Oprah recently featured the families of the Yearning for Zion polygamist sect and their multiple children. I started to wonder why there is so much focus on large families on shows like these.

A few questions came to mind:

  1. Are we experiencing a new baby boom?
  2. Are large families becoming more popular?
  3. Are women having more multiple births (three or more babies per pregnancy)?

Let’s look at the data available to see if we can find answers.

  1. Are we experiencing a new baby boom?

Thanks to the growth of social institutions, we can be fairly certain that most babies born in the United States will be accounted for. If they are not born in a hospital they are still likely to be given a social security number, so we can get a pretty good count of how many babies are born each year. In 2007, the most recent year for which we have data, the birth rate did rise slightly from 2006-- 1 percent to be exact. This was the largest number of births registered in one year in the United States.

If you take a look at the graph below you can best see this reflected in the top line, which represents the actual number of births, which is now even higher than the number during the postwar baby boom years.

Source: National Vital Statistics Reports, 2009

But before we get too carried away, look at the line below, which represents the birth rate per 1,000 women aged 15-44. A rate is a measure that takes into account the population size; since the population has grown we would expect more babies born simply because there are more people to have them. The birth rate tells us a slightly different story from the raw number above. It is far lower than the birth rate during the mid-twentieth century baby boom years, and is actually somewhat flat by comparison.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average number of children per American woman decreased from 7.0 to 3.5 between 1800 and 1900. That rate declined until the baby boom after World War II (which you can clearly see in the middle of the graph below) and fell sharply in the years after. Since the mid-1970s that average has hovered below 2.0, down to an all-time low of 1.81 in several years (most recently 2007). In 2008 that number rose slightly to 1.86, but in no way does this change indicate another baby boom, at least not yet.

We can also look to see if women are having more children on average. Below is a graph that highlights the rise during the baby boom, which declined sharply after and has stayed relatively flat since. As you can see, women had an average of more than 3.5 children during the height of the baby boom years (yes, statisticians know there is no such thing as a half a person).


Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1999

  1. Are large families becoming more popular?

The data above can also help us answer the second question; the size of families has not grown in recent years, and if anything, households have fewer people now than in the past. Still, in 2006, more than 18,500 women gave birth to their eighth child or beyond. While this might seem like an incredible number of people having such big families, taking the population as a whole into account this means that only 3 in 10,000 births are to these super-sized families. The 2006 data are very similar to the 2005 numbers and the rate of 3 in 10,000 is identical. It might well be that large families get their own reality shows because they are such an anomaly.

  1. Are women having more multiple births?

The birth of octuplets to Nadya Suleman sparked controversy about the problems associated with having so many babies at once. Multiple births, particularly carrying three or more babies in a pregnancy, can introduce serious health risks to both the mother and children. Stories about people desperate to bear children using new fertility technologies might suggest that this is a new and growing problem.

The graph below shows the tremendous increase in multiple births between the late 1980s and mid 1990s, as fertility technologies became more available. Also, a growing number of women now have children later in life; such women are more likely to need these fertility technologies and, even if they don’t, the likelihood of having “natural” multiples increases due to changes in an older woman’s cycle.


Source: National Vital Statistics System, 2009

The rate of multiples actually peaked in the late 1990s; the graphs above and below detail how they have actually been declining: by 16 percent since the peak in 1998. While in 1990 there were just 13 quintuplet or higher births, in 2004 there were 86 children in this category, declining to 68 in 2005. This decline is echoed in the graph below, too.


Source: National Vital Statistics System, 2009

So looking at the data we can conclude that there isn’t exactly a new baby boom, but instead a large demographic group, the children of the baby boom generation, are in their childbearing years now. Average family size isn’t growing either. And yes, women are more likely to have triplets or larger pregnancies now than in 1990 and before, but this rate is on the decline.

What other sociological reasons can you think of to explain the baby boom on TV?


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I think your post is very interesting. It is a question as to why there are much larger families now days. It would make sense that all the children from the baby boom era are now in their child bearing years and having kids of their own. Good post.

It does seem like a lot more people are having multiple births, especially celebrities. I love kids, but I don't see why anyone would want to have more than two kids at the same time! It would take up a lot of money that you probably don't have, and a lot of time!

Hi! I really enjoyed reading your article. In my Sociology class right now, I am reading about population and urbanization. Your article helped me learn more about trends in the population of the U.S. Thanks for all of the information!

I think that there are so many shows on TV about large families because there are actually few large families and it is something that the average sized family isnt use to seeing. I personally find it amazing to a certain extent (18 kids and counting? disgusting!) because I feel that my husband and I are scraping by on a more than decent salary (for being college students) with a baby on the way. I wonder what they struggle through, what jobs they have, are both parents working, etc. And I think that it is the same questions that others ask themselves we are just to shy to ask these large families and having them on a show allows us to peer into their lives. People look at others and we see a reflection of ourselves. Maybe these shows make some of us want a big family and it may make others not want to be like them.

I think this was a really good post about the baby boomers and babies today. Most baby boomers are in the years of having children even at an older age. This explains why there are many larger families and just babies being born in general. In my Sociology class we are learning about population and urbanization trends. By reading this blog, I have a better understanding of population growth and trend.

This is a great article.It makes sense that all the children from the baby boom era are now in their child bearing years and having their own kids. Data shows that we arn't in a baby boom age,also mothers are more likley to have triplets and larger amount of babies than before.

It is definitely interesting to think about why some families are having so many children. It makes sense that the children from the last baby boom are now having their own kids...this would lead to more children, depending on how many kids they have each. In my sociology class, we are learning about population and this post really went in depth and helped me understand the concept better. Thanks!

I think big families are becoming pretty typical. I mean, almost all of my friends at the high school come from families of at least four or more children, three at the least. I know hardly any single children. I hate to say it, but I think big families are just becoming the "in" thing to do and that celebreties are definitely pushing it, and people are following. I mean, look at Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Even though half of those kids aren't biologically theirs, what's going on? How many do they have??

I think that it is crazy that it seems like so many more kids are being born, but really it's the same if not declining. In my sociology class we were just talking about baby boomers. Also we are talking about population. We are talking about how death rates aren't as high as they used to be. Maybe that is one of the factors making it seem like we have more people. The fact that our current people, are lasting a lot longer than was expected. Also I think maybe the reason that it seems like we have more kids is because the poverty rate has gone up, and teenage pregnancies numbers have increased. Rather than there being more kids, there are more unwanted kids. I could see how that would make it seem as if more kids are being born.

When I first was enlightened to the shows like "Kate plus Eight" and "Eighteen and Counting", I really felt concerned. I am almost afraid now that any young want-to-be mother will have their vision of family skewed.

Personally, I think having so many kids is such a vain thing to do. Why would a couple have so many kids when there are kids all over the world suffering without a family? Why bring in more kids when there are some really in need of a home and family. Of course, this is just my opinion.

Your post has made many good points. The gerneration of the last babyboom are having children. Because there are so many of them it appears as if there is another baby boom when truely it is just a lot of people having one, two, or three children. I never realized that the generation of the baby boom having children would impact our society as much as it did. So many people having so many kids at one time can add up quickly.

I think it does look like another baby boom. I do agree there are many multiple families and many people having children. I don't know if there will be another boom, but if the baby boomer's are now all having children I would think that would make the amount of new children being born to be doubled. The baby boomer's now having baby's I think will effect the population greatly and could just continue the boom.

I read your article and I really liked it Ithink its interesting that we go up and down they way we do. I was wondering if you ever think we will level off or become somewhat stable. Because it seems it goes up and down due to events and things that happen relating to the time period such as world war two. But also if you think that the age structure might cause some societies to colapse.

This article talks about the possible recent baby boom that's taking place in the United States. Statistics from 2007 show that there is one happening, just not as severe as the baby boom that occurred after WWII ended. Studies show that in fact women are having more babies and more babies at one time.

Shows like that of "John and Kate Plus 8" are perfect examples of what's going on. Also there's the example of the California Octomom who just recently gave birth to 8 babies at once.

I think its insane that these crazy multiple births are happening. But for the couples that its happening to, I wish the best for them and hope they're in the right kind of situation where the babies will be cared for correctly and they can afford it!

After reading that article it made me wonder if there is ever going to be a need for child limitations like the one child limit in china. BEcause of all the children and the population growing more resources will be needed and as of right now we are already stretched for resources. Do you think it will ever come to something like that.

This article was very interesting, especially in the context of Jon & Kate Plus 8 and the Octomom. It definitely makes sense that the Baby Boomer's children are now of child-bearing age. I wonder when the next official "baby boom" will be? Sometime in our lifetimes? Will it be larger than the post-war Baby Boom?

Zeth Soltis

Baby Booms: As seen on tv?

This article talks about the possible recent baby boom that's taking place in the United States. Statistics from 2007 show that there is one happening, just not as severe as the baby boom that occurred after WWII ended. Studies show that in fact women are having more babies and more babies at one time.

Woah I heard on the news that the new baby boom is bigger than the post war boom. And that more women are having multipul births. This might be good for the economy, people are going to have to spend alot more money with kids. And this might and should make people to get jobs now that they gwill have to provide for them also.

I think that the reason more families have been having more babies, and 'going public' is because of all the attention the first families to do this are getting. Jon and Kate from Jon & Kate + 8 get a lot of money because of their show, and even more publicity. Families see this, and they too hope to make money this way. Another reason there may be more babies is because girls are getting pregnant at younger ages, and adults are also getting pregnant. Therefore more woman and girls are having babies than before.

Very interesting! This shows the typical precautions of statistics. It may seem at first glance that we are having more and more children, but in the context of population size we really are slightly declining. Another interesting point would be to examine the lifestyles and futures of children born in the super-sized families compared to more traditional sized ones.

Hey! I thought your article was pretty amazing. It's really interesting how the numbers of births can shift so much during a seemingly short time span. We're learning about these kinds of things in my sociology class, and this helped to understand. Thanks!

I know it is so uncommon to see a family with more then three children, whereas when my parents were young they had like ten brothers and sisters.

I'm learning about population now in my sociology so the facts about the changes are interesting. It really is strange to see fimilies with so many children now. Before having big families were the norm. Now they aren't needed for things like working on the farm and the survival rate of babies has increased too. It's amazing that we have changed our veiws and the way our families work so much.

In a way it does seem like there is a baby boom, only because more women are having multiple babies than before. When my parents were kids it was pretty normal for everyone to have big families, and now it's not as common but it still happens. I don't think people are having big families for attention, i think they are having big families because they want them. Sometimes big families tend to be closer than smaller families because you need to help out more.

I think the reason for television shows with such big families being so popular is because we never see that as much anymore. We don't have as big as families as we used to. I think people like the more modern smaller families than before. Both my mom and dad have pretty huge families, while my family only consists of me and my brother. Maybe the change is good because of the whole over populating thing that's going on. :)

great post and commenting. interesting how the numbers of births can shift so much during a seemingly short time span.

I think the reason for all these TV shows featuring big families has nothing to do with the fact that people are having bigger and bigger families, I think its the opposite. People don't want to see and learn about what they already have, they want to hear about what they don't have. Most people have small families, therefore already know what that like. Having TV shows about such large families is more interesting to the average family because they've never experienced that.

One reason I can think of for the rising frequency of shows with large families, at leas initially, was the spectacle. People were just not used to seeing large families like the Goslins, especially not in such an uncut manner. Now, with so many of these shows on the air, some of the fascination has wore off, but the intriguing difference of these families is still a huge selling point.

I find this very interesting because it seems like there's so many bigger families in real life and in the media. However, there's not increase or decrease in the birth rate. But maybe there will be another baby boom in the near future.

Interesting post. I really thought that the birth rate would be higher. And it does seem like people are having more multiple births. I've seen it a lot lately with celebrites.

This is a very interesting post. Fertility rates are among some of the things I'm studying right now and it's amazing me that we might be going through another baby boom era with all the births and births of mulitples. I really think it has something to do with more people seeking fertility treatments. It just makes me wonder why more and more people are having problems getting pregnant that they need these treatments. I mean I know it's not their fault but is it genetic or something? I think thats the main reason why the fertility rates go up. I also think it's correct to say that fertility rates and the mortality rates for infants is increased and decreased by racial and economical issues.

I think that the population is growing yes but not every family is willing to have big families. Since there are so many diseases and the economy is bad people are afraid to have a big family. Also when a woman has a child they are facing a great chance of seeing death because anything can go wrong. So no there is no bay boom occuring some families just desire to have more children than others. An oddly enough it is true some women are having babies in there forties or later now.

It is interesting to see the recent baby boom that is being portrayed on television. I feel that you make a lot of valid as well as interesting points that I never took into consideration. The result of this baby boom is a mass pouplaiton growth. The expenses behind this population growth have been reason to fund more causes such as the urbanization of neighborhoods.

I do think that we are expriencing another baby boom and the media is only helping that with shows about birth and pregnancy. This is causing the population to increase. I do not think, however, that women are having more multiple births at least not any more than normal.

I think that we could possible be in another baby boom because more people are choosing to have larger families. I think that the tv shows about it add to this because people want to be like those they see on television.

This article helped me understand the actual rate of births in the US. The US was thought to be in another little baby boom but in reality, we aren't. People are having the same number of births, and may be having more babies later in life. To explain the baby boom on tv, I think that maybe people want to advertise that they have 18 kids or had 8 kids at a time, but actually they are the outlier. Most families have 2-3 kids.

Very interesting topic however with the population rising and more and more people being born do you think this will cause a problem for future generations? If the population grows and grows there may be limited resources in the future. I also find it strange that more families are larger like back in the day families some good examples of this would be the Dougers and like you mentioned Kate plus 8.

It's crazy how many more births there are now. It seems like people just keep having more and more kids. A lot of the kids aren't very far apart either. I would think it would drive me nuts to have more than one baby around.

It does make sense that babyboomers kids are in their childbearing years, cause I am one of them. I have 3 beautiful children, and if I had easy pregnancy's and was financial well off, I think we might consider having one more. I think that the fascination with these TV shows might be just because it is rare to see such big families, and women especially wonder how these other women manage it all. I see how other people look at the large family's at mass, I would never judge on the way other families choose their way of life, its very intresting, I know I wonder on Sunday's " How does she do it,or the Dad must make really good money" But these kids are usually behaved very well in mass, they all take care of one another. I think Life is a beautiful gift. And we could learn alot from big families. Patience, Humility, Kindness, etc...

(1) In a large family, the younger siblings can have low-esteem and harbor feelings of being overlooked by the parents. It is hard for the parents to divide their attention between so many individuals. Lack of finances, education and proper healthcare.
(2) These are some reasons why the changing demographics of families in the U.S might lead to large families.
a. Some women put their careers ahead of child bearing so have children late. In so doing they go for multiples via In-Vitro.
b. It attracts a lot of attention, in order words it makes one popular. Unload 10 kids out of a 15 passenger van and see how many publicity you will get.
c. Other make money out of it; Television deals for reality shows, even a lot of tax credits.

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