Irish families getting smaller





The hunt for the comrade to a single shoe in a mountain of shoes. The calls, shouted to be heard above the din, of “Are you decent?” The buddy system. The comfort of knowing that no matter where you went, everyone knew at least one of your older brothers or sisters, and so in a way, knew you, too.

The large Irish-American family, once the norm, is now the exception, a turnaround brought into sharp relief this week with the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy and the retrospective look at the Kennedy clan. Joseph Kennedy’s nine children rose to heights unknown to most of their Irish-American peers, but in noisy homes and apartments in Irish neighborhoods in New York, Boston and Chicago, there was something familiar in those Kennedy family photographs...

... Numbers chronicling the shrinking of the Irish-American family are hard to come by. The census counted ancestry differently before 1980, said Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College. But it has been well documented that American families in general have become smaller over the years.

“From about 1900, the Irish-American family pattern mirrored the American middle-class standard of family size,” said Marion R. Casey, an assistant professor of Irish-American studies at New York University.

The smaller Irish-American family has been attributed to many factors, but the one most often cited is a decline in willingness to defer to the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. “The church’s guidance on all kinds of things, including family planning, doesn’t carry the weight it used to carry,” said Terry Golway, a writer who teaches American history at Kean University in New Jersey.

In New York, the migration of the Irish middle class from the city to the suburbs contributed to the decline of the double-digit family, he said. “Their world was not defined by the parish as it once was, when they lived in the Bronx,” Professor Golway said. “They moved to the suburbs, where it really was a melting pot. Not everybody on your block was Irish anymore.”

For many families, size comes down to simple economics. Tony O’Hara, 49, of Park Slope in Brooklyn, is one of seven children and married a woman from a family of the same size. But they have just one child, a 13-year-old boy. There was never any thought of having a big family, he said.



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