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Demography Roundup #4
The U.S. poverty rate spikes + new stats on Americans' desired family size and maiden name trends.
#1: The U.S. poverty rate spikes after two years of decline.
The poverty rate soared last year as the last of pandemic relief programs ended, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The share of Americans in poverty rose from 7.8% in 2021 to 12.4% in 2022, the largest annual increase on record. Child poverty more than doubled, rising +7.2 percentage points to 12.4%.
These figures are according to the supplemental poverty measure, which takes into account cash and noncash benefits and living expenses. The official poverty rate considers cash income only and was 11.5%, not statistically different from 2021. (For more information on how these two measures differ, see “Did Poverty Decrease in 2020?”)
Keep in mind that both measures of poverty in 2022, supplemental and official, remain low relative to recent post-GFC norm. Both are lower, for example, than in any year from 2009 to 2018.
The sharp increase in child poverty was largely attributed to the end of the expanded federal child tax credit, initiated during the pandemic, which distributed to families as much as $300 per child in monthly cash payments. Efforts to extend it have been unsuccessful, although both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are still trying. (See “Last-Ditch Effort to Save Expanded Child Tax Credit.”) The end of benefits also led the post-tax Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, to increase +3.2% after falling during the pandemic.
The Census Bureau also reported that the share of Americans without health insurance at any point in 2022 ticked down from 8.3% to 7.9%. But this figure, too, is expected to revert to pre-pandemic norms, because it was partly driven by a continuous enrollment requirement for Medicaid that was enacted in March 2020 and also recently ended.
#2: Americans want more kids.
Since 1972, NORC’s General Social Survey has asked Americans how many children they think is ideal for a family to have. In 2022, the ideal number came in at 2.55 kids. That’s a +4.94% YoY rise and signals a return to pre-pandemic responses (see the graph below). It also marks the largest recorded difference between the number of desired kids and the actual total fertility rate, -0.89 children.
Perversely, ideal family size and actual TFR don’t seem very correlated over the long term. For example, while the former declined only gradually during the 1970s, the TFR plunged abruptly (creating baby-bust Gen Xers). Much of this ‘70s-era birth decline was a cohort period effect. Early-marrying Silent Generation parents were becoming empty-nesters at a young age, while young Boomers were keeping their lives on hold and marrying later—none of which reflected a radical rethinking of how many kids parents should have, only in the timing of when you have them. By the late 1980s, Boomers finally did start having lots of children, and that inaugurated the great “Millennial plateau” in fertility that lasted almost until the GFC.
And then behold: During the mid-1990s, just when U.S. TFR was holding itself up at or near the replacement rate, ideal family size sagged to 2.4, the lowest value ever measured. And since the GFC? TFR entered a long slide, just as ideal family size started rising again. Then came the pandemic. NORC did not measure ideal family size in 2019 or 2020. In 2021, when it did, the number had fallen to 2.42. But now in 2022, it’s back up again.
In its survey, NORC asks Americans to name the specific number of children they consider ideal. The most popular answer has always been two kids (2022: 53.3%). Because very few people ever say zero or one kid, most of the decline (and rise) in ideal family size over the postwar era has been due to changes in the share of respondents saying they want three or more children. In the 1990s, 35.9% of Americans thought the ideal family size was three plus. In the 2000s, that share grew to 40.1%. And from the 2010s to today, that share grew to 42.1%.
We have often discussed the growing gap between ideal family size and actual fertility since the GFC. (See “Births Keep Falling, But Americans Still Want the Same Number of Kids” and “Are Most Childless Adults Childless by Choice?”) The drivers are primarily socioeconomic: inability to find a suitable partner, disappointing economic well-being, and uncertainty about our country’s future. It’s not that young adults don’t want families with kids. It’s rather that they feel they aren’t prepared for it, can’t afford it, don’t dare risk it, can’t find a reliable partner—or all of the above.
Last year, we looked at the NORC survey and thought that maybe people were starting to downsize their family aspirations. This year, we learn, well, maybe not: Americans still idealize that 2.5-child family, even if a growing number are unsure how they will ever start one themselves.
#3: The vast majority of American women still say “I do” to taking their spouse’s name.
In a new Pew Research Center survey, fully 79% of U.S. women in opposite-sex marriages say that they took their spouse’s last name when they got married. Another 14% kept their last names, and 5% hyphenated their names. Less than 1% said they did something different like create a new last name.
However, taking a spouse’s last name is less common among younger women. Twenty percent of 18- to 34-year-old married women kept their name, compared to 9% of those age 50 and older. Women who keep their names are also more likely to be highly educated, identify as a liberal Democrat, and to be Hispanic.
With people increasingly getting married later and more women pursuing obtaining postgraduate degrees, one might assume that the share of married women keeping their names has risen steadily over time. But this isn’t the case. Instead, it has fluctuated over the years. One 2015 survey estimated that about 17% of U.S. women who married for the first time in the 1970s kept their names, which slipped to 14% in the 1980s and began to rise again in the 1990s.
Pew also asked women who have never been married whether they would change their last name if they got married. The answers were mixed: 33% say they would take their spouse's last name, 23% would keep their last name, 17% would hyphenate both names, and 24% aren't sure. To be sure, it’s far different to answer this question hypothetically than it is to face it in reality. The decision to keep or change one’s name is not necessarily reflective of political attitudes. It can come down to practical considerations like what your would-be spouse’s last name is.
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