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Mark Dolliver's Takes: Lovely Kids

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If children aren't actually going out of style, it's easy to see why one might think they are: The size of the typical family has been shrinking, and people spend more of their lifetimes in kid-free households (due to marrying later and living longer). Still, a Gallup poll finds few adults view a child-free family as ideal, and there's a large constituency favoring large families.

Overall, 1 percent of adults think the ideal number of kids for a family to have is no kids at all. More surprisingly, given the number of only children one sees these days, just 3 percent think one child is ideal. Fifty-two percent said the ideal is two kids, 25 percent said it's three kids and 9 percent said it's four or more. (The rest had no opinion.) The answers averaged out to an ideal of 2.5 kids. As you can see from the chart here, adults under age 35—i.e., the ones most in a position to do something about it—have an above-average propensity to favor big families.

Along with a preference about the number of kids, many adults have a gender preference. If they could have just one child, 37 percent would opt for a boy and 28 percent for a girl, with the rest declining to state a preference. Women are almost evenly split between those who'd prefer a girl (35 percent) and those who'd pick a boy (31 percent). But men would much rather have a boy than a girl (45 percent vs. 21 percent).

Some say the ideal child is one who has grown up and left the parental abode. A Yankelovich poll asked empty nesters about changes in their lives since their last child left home. Fifty-four percent said they "enjoy life more," and 44 percent reported "a significant decrease in my stress level." If they feel the house is too quiet, they can emulate the 27 percent who compensated for the departure of their offspring by getting a pet.