In Some Circles, Four Kids Is the New Standard The newest status symbol for the nation's most affluent families is fast becoming a big brood of kids. In the past 10 years, the number of high-end earners who are having three or more kids has shot up 30 percent. They call it "competitive birthing."

In Some Circles, Four Kids Is the New Standard

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Forget the Bugaboo strollers or the Burberry onesie(ph). The newest way that the nations' poshest moms are keeping up with the Jones' is by having more babies than the Jones'.

In certain circles, a big family is now the hottest fashion trend. Even as the nations' over-all birthrate is declining, in the world of the wealthy, four has become the new two.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH: Annette Madden-Kline(ph) never imagined this would be her. After she married and had the two kids she'd always wanted, she thought she was done. But when she and her husband moved to Darien, Connecticut, the wealthy suburb outside New York, she started to feel like two wasn't enough.

Ms. ANNETTE MADDEN-KLINE (Resident, Darien, Connecticut): When everyone you see has got, you know, the baby on the hip (unintelligible), did feel like I was a little short.

SMITH: Eventually, Klein went for number three. But it wasn't long before she was once again overcome with what she calls that baby loft.

Ms. KLEIN: I was bike riding at 6 a.m. with a friend, she said, I'm pregnant with number four. And I was, like, I'm so jealous of you. And sure enough, within the month, we're biking again, I'm like, Guess what? I'm pregnant with number four, too.

(Soundbite of children talking)

Unidentified Child: Hey.

Ms. KLEIN: Guys, what's going on?

SMITH: Look around her swim club and you see gaggles of kids everywhere. Three pack a picnic table here, four in swimsuits huddle with mom over there. As moms Ellen Kirby(ph) and Sandy Savage(ph) say, baby number four has become the new must-have accessory.

Ms. ELLEN KIRBY (Resident, Darien, Connecticut): Now, it's back in fashion again.

Ms. SANDY SAVAGE (Resident, Darien, Connecticut): It's not uncommon now to even see people having five kids. I mean, it just keeps going.

SMITH: In fact, Census data shows the number of higher-income families having three or more kids has shot up nearly 30 percent in the last 10 years.

Mr. PETER FRANCESE (Demographic Analyst, Ogilvy & Mather): It's an unprecedented jump and completely counter to a hundred years of history.

SMITH: Demographic analyst Peter Francese says, in the past, it's always been poor and uneducated families who had lots of kids, not the country-club crowd.

Mr. FRANCESE: But what's fascinating is today it's the exact opposite. In fact, it is possibly the ultimate luxury in America today to have three or more kids.

Mr. FRANCESE: But what's fascinating is today, it's the exact opposite. In fact, it is possibly the ultimate luxury in America today to have three or more kids.

SMITH: Indeed, it's a tiny sliver of the population who are unfazed by soaring college tuitions, the high price of housing, plus all the camps, clothes and costly nannies. So the few who are having a big family are also making a big statement.

Ms. JILL KARGMAN (Author, "Momzillas"): You just know that they have to be making serious, serious money and when I talk to people who, you know, happily rub their belly and say, yeah, it's our fourth, you know, you know that it's a definite status symbol in its weird way.

SMITH: Jill Kargman, a soon-to-be mother of three from New York's Upper East Side, wrote the book "Momzillas." She says it's a certain type of over-achieving, successful women who are going from career climbing to what she calls competitive birthing.

Ms. KARGMAN: It's that Newtonian law of energy where all of that drive doesn't just cease to exist. The second you quit your job it gets channeled into the children. So there's this mentality of I'm going to stay at home but I'm going to do it the best. And I'm going to be super mom.

Ms. MADDEN-KLINE: It's sort of cynical and no one would ever admit it, but I think there's a little bit of that.

SMITH: Back at the pool, Annette Madden-Kline and her friend, Cynthia Gory(ph), a mother of three, say they definitely feel the pressure.

Ms. MADDEN-KLINE: I think it's because we are compelled to be successful and to be achievers and if you are an Ivy League graduate, who's always balanced all of the things in your life and done it well, you don't decide to be a mom and have one kid. You're going to be with, in a big way, full stop, three or four kids.

SMITH: If nothing else so it gets you a lot more recognition for a notoriously thankless job, says Kline.

Ms. MADDEN-KLINE: It was like you do kind of pat yourself on the back when people compliment you, oh, my gosh, look at all these kids and they're so well behaved. You know, you're kind of proud of that because I'm not working. This is what I do.

SMITH: In fact, a lot of women say having a lot of kids makes them more comfortable with their decision to quit work to be a stay-at-home mom.

Linda Ramsen(ph) worked as an attorney before she had her four children.

Ms. LINDA RAMSEN (Former Lawyer; Mother of four): I know to some extent I feel more validated saying, you know, I'm a mother of four. You know, of course, I'm not working right now. What are you thinking? I mean, look at how - look at what I have around me? You know, how I could possibly do anything else? This is a full-time job. I just cannot get…

(Soundbite of baby talking)

Ms. RUMSON: Honey, do you want to say hi?

Unidentified Child: Hi.

Ms. RUMSON: Hi. Do you want come in, Lucy?

SMITH: Ramsen is taking her two-year-old Lucy to a apply for next year to the Wellesley Nursery School in the Hills in a tawny(ph) suburb outside Boston. Because schools give preference to siblings and there are so many more siblings, it's harder now to get in.

Ms. VIRGINIA SMITH (School Director, Wellesley Nursery School in the Hills ): The family of four, a family of three. Oh, she just had her fourth.

SMITH: There's a lot - about half (unintelligible)?

Ms. SMITH: Three or more, correct.

SMITH: The school's director, Virginia Smith, says she thinks moms in communities like this are having more kids because they can with a lot more help and a lot less stress.

Ms. SMITH: The moms come to school and all dressed and looking fabulous. And they still go to the gym, still have time to do whatever they need to do, you know. Life is good. And it's fun.

SMITH: But Smith says she does worry that some moms may be getting too much help.

Ms. SMITH: They're hiring, you know, the consultants to do the potty training, to teach them to ride the two-wheelers, to teach them to tie their shoes. It's like if the kids get head lice, the nitpicker comes and picks the head lice out. I mean, is it okay? I don't know.

Unidentified Child #2: Mama.

Ms. MADDEN-KLINE: I know. I know you want to go to the big boy pool. One more minute, okay?

SMITH: Back at the swim club, Annette Madden-Kline steers her four-year-old to the playground and leaves the baby with a sitter.

Ms. KLINE: I'll be back later. Bye, sweetie. I'm sorry, I don't want you take you because you'll going to get so tired(ph). Okay. Bye.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

SMITH: It's one of the downsides of having a big brood, Kline concedes. It takes an impossible amount of time, as well as energy and, of course, money. A five-bedroom house in the suburbs, a million-something. A family car that seats six or more, about 40 grand. Swim, tennis and piano lessons for four, $15,000 a year. But a noisy, crowded house with four happy, healthy kids, and no time to breathe, priceless.

Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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