More on family size: In previous posts, I presented evidence that, contrary to the traditional views, kids don't really make people happier. This finding was based on self-reports. Another way of approaching the question is to see what people say the ideal number of children is after they have had the experience of raising kids. The culture encourages parenting, but perhaps the reality is disappointing, which leads people to decide a lower number is ideal.
So, I show below the most popular answer (the modal response) to the question about ideal family size by the number of kids the person actually has (General Social Survey, N = 31,052):
Most popular answer of ideal family size by actual number of children (percent in the modal category given in parentheses):
Has no children
Ideal 2 (54.3%)
Has one child
Ideal 2 (56.5%)
Has two children
Ideal 2 (65.5%)
Has three children
Ideal 3 (26.4%)
Has four children
Ideal 2 (40.7%)
Has five children
Ideal 2 (36.6%)
Has six children
Ideal 2 (34.9%)
Has seven children
Ideal 2 (26.8%)
Has eight or more children
Ideal 4 (26.4%)
First, the experience of having one child does not seem to convince most people that one is enough: they are just as likely as non-parents to give two as the ideal number.
Where we do see a discrepancy between the actual and ideal number of kids is among large families--i.e., those with four or more. Except for the group with eight kids or more, the most popular ideal size is two.
There are probably some parents who didn't personally want so many kids, but had them because of things like not being careful, religious beliefs, or going along with a spouse. Another important explanation might be that parents wanted one boy and one girl, and had more than two trying to accomplish that goal.
Having a large number of kids does not make them choose the same number as the ideal. While it is true that they give 4, 5, 6 or 7 more often as an ideal than those with fewer kids (results not shown) 2 is the most popular choice for them.
So, there is a general tendency to see 2 kids as being most desirable. This might have to do with the desire to have one boy and one girl and suggests that nowadays people have kids for the experience and the meaning associated with it.
Regardless of the actual family size, fewer than 2% of those who had experienced a child decided that having no kids is the way to go (results not shown) so there is little evidence here of regret over having kids.
The only indication of regret I see is the substantial number of parents of large families giving an ideal number that is less than what they have. The second thoughts seem to be over big families, which is not too surprising given that they are a lot of work, they are a big financial drain, and contemporary society won't admire you for it--they look at you like a freak show.
I agree with Michael Corleone that children are your only wealth, but I'm afraid I am in the minority view.
By the way, a reader raised the question of why conservatives want to encourage large families, when this leads to greater urbanism and consequently liberalism. To be precise, large families tend to increase the population (urbanism is a bit different) but my analyses of the World Values Survey found that populous China and India are conservative in important ways. Nevertheless, I would concede some truth to the point, but to make my position clear, when I advocate large families, I am speaking to the kinds of people who read my blog. The U.S. and the world have plenty of people, but what they don't have is enough smart people. America and the developed world, but the developing world even more, would benefit if mean IQs (and other traits) were shifted up.