Fewer Kids + Smaller House = Greener Planet

Multiple factors go into people’s choices about having kids, but for some millennials, housing and their carbon footprint are part of the thought process.

For Julie Navitka, owner of the Successfully Sustainable blog, the ideal family size is two – herself and her partner.

“I’m childfree by choice, which may not be the most popular or common opinion,” Navitka, a 39-year-old millennial from Winnipeg who currently lives nomadically in South America. “Being childfree allows you to experience life differently–not better, just different.”

Fewer Kids + Smaller House = Greener Planet

Although Navitka recognizes that having children can be rewarding in some ways, she believes that people who choose to live a life of adventure and travel or even to live in peace and quiet often choose a life without children to accomplish this.

Attitudes about household size evolve. Centuries ago, families were larger to provide additional workers around the house and farm, as well as to compensate for higher death rates among children. In more recent decades, the ideal family was often perceived to be two parents and two or three children, often with a large house to accommodate the family.

Today, as more people embrace minimalism, want to reduce their carbon footprint or to live comfortably in a smaller space, the aspiration for a larger family appears to be shrinking.

In a recent survey, Green Builder’s COGNITION Smart Data market insights found that, even if cost is not a factor, 30.36% of millennials said that their ideal family is just two people–themselves and a partner. That compares to 23.8% who want two parents with one child, and just 16.06% who want two or more children. The next most popular choice for that age cohort: two partners and a pet, at 15.94%.

Gen Zers have a slightly higher preference for two parents with one child (28.81%), followed by about equal numbers who either want two partners with a dog (16.95%), or prefer two parents and two or three or children (16.95%).

The generation that most prefers to live alone is the “traditionalists,” the generation born between 1927 and 1945, with 15.29% choosing that option. Among people in that generation, the top choice is to live with a partner and a pet (24.71%). Similarly, Baby Boomers top choice (27.66%) was to live with a partner and a dog, followed by just with a partner (21.63%). For Gen Xers, the top choice by far was to live with a partner (57.80%)–no pets and no kids.

For Casi McDaniel, a millennial-age administrative services coordinator at the University of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, the ideal family includes two parents and one child–with maybe a pet or two. McDaniel and her partner decided to stop at one child for several reasons, including the cost of living.

“Children need our attention and love, and while having a full-time job is time consuming, our children still need our emotional availability as their parent,” McDaniel says. “Too often children are growing up without the proper love and care and it’s creating a vicious cycle of unstable adults. I know I can give my child what he needs because I’m not spread too thin between work and other children.”

In addition, McDaniel points out that there are 114,000 children in foster care in the United States waiting to be adopted.

“Why do I need to create more children if there are already so many dreaming of a family of their own?” she says. “If I decide later down the road that I can provide another child what they need, we will adopt.”

Smaller Family = Smaller House

Housing preferences for millennials include a focus on a low long-term cost of homeownership, which includes energy efficiency, resilience and a healthy home instead of the lowest possible upfront cost, according to Green Builder Media’s COGNITION Smart Data. Solar power, such as Jinko’s panels and storage system, are considered a bragging right among millennials because they reduce their carbon footprint, decrease energy bills and increase self-sufficiency, according to the survey data.

While there’s a lot more to the choice of how large your household should be than just the size of your home, it’s much easier to shrink your square footage with fewer residents. The first home Navitka owned with her former partner was 1,500 square feet, which she says was excessive for just one person after they broke up. She then bought a 650-square-foot home, which was perfect for her and still worked well when a new partner moved in with her.

“As minimalists who believe that excess is wasteful, we actually thought the home could be smaller as there was space in the second bedroom that was rarely used,” Navitka says. “A smaller home means many things–less cleaning, smaller heating and cooling bills, less furniture, and less stuff to take care of.”

For millennials, the ideal home size is 800 to 1,500 square feet, according to Green Builder’s most recent COGNITION Smart Data survey. Nearly half (45%) of millennials in the survey prefer three bedrooms, followed by 22% who want two bedrooms and just 18% who want four bedrooms.

“My ideal home size is a little under 1,400 square feet because anything bigger is just too much for two people,” says Lauren Witwicki, a 40-year-old millennial from Albuquerque. “My ideal family size is two. I’ve never had a desire for kids, even less so with everything that is going on in this country.”

For McDaniel, who says she used to dream of living in a big house, the ideal home size now is 1,200 to 1,500 square feet with room for privacy and yet close enough to feel like a family that lives in the same house.

“When I bought my first house, it was 1,000 square feet with one bedroom and one bathroom, and it was stressful,” McDaniel says. “We didn't have much storage, a garage, or a place to host events. Now, we live in a 1,400 square foot house, and it has ample storage, a covered deck, a large yard, two bathrooms, and a garage. I was so excited to have all this space when we first moved in. But after a year passed, I realized I was keeping more things I didn't need or use, and that there was so much more cleaning to do.”

For Jeremy Grant, Winston-Salem- based founder and CEO of Knocked Up Money , a personal finance blog for parents and parents-to-be, a larger house with 2,000 to 2,400 square feet is ideal since it provides a fourth bedroom to use as a home office.

“My ideal family size is one or two children max,” says Grant, 33. “My daughter is amazing, but raising children is not easy–and so expensive. Especially when factoring in childcare and food - she’s on an all-organic diet–it can easily cost $17,000 per year.”

For many millennials a combination of financial pressure, concern for their environmental impact and lifestyle choices drive the decision for a smaller family, along with the preference for a home with a more compact footprint.