Is The World Designed for 4 People?

A colleague of mine mentioned something recently that I thought was fascinating: Along with his wife, they are only planning to have two kids, partly because the world is “designed” for 4-member families.

What an interesting way to look at how we design things, I thought, and what “normal” means in the world today. Have we self-imposed a limit on what it means to have a comfortably sized family?

In considering some of these scenarios, I’ll keep things simple and assume a two-parent family.


My friend started me off a good example—passenger cars. The standard “family sedan” is large enough to comfortably seat two adults and two children—you would be hard-pressed to fit a fifth person between two car seats or booster chairs.

Upgrading to an SUV only nets extra seats in some cases—the largest models claim to seat nine, but six more realistically, and typically command top dollar for the privilege.


Traveling with one child between the two of us has already been a challenge, though we’re getting better at it. Traveling with two kids means that each adult is responsible for a child, or means one person is taking care of the “traveling” bit while the other handles two kids.

Tack on a third child and things get interesting—someone is taking on at least two, and sometimes three, children under their care. In a busy airport, bus, or plane, multiple cranky kids can be a recipe for disaster.


The most common configuration of a home in our area is a 2-bedroom or, at best, a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house. Even if you should be so lucky to score four bedrooms, consider the typical use of such a configuration.

Mom and Dad take bedroom number one. By the time they’re teenagers (at the latest), Child 1 and Child 2 each take a room, and the last bedroom is converted into the obligatory office or a storage room to hold all the “stuff” you’ve been buying through the years.


My wife pointed out another downfall of larger families (she was part of a 2+3).

Most packaged deals—whether it’s yearly tickets to attractions like Universal Orlando, discounts for shows, movie passes, or the more “modern” Groupon, come in sets of two or four (or have controlled maximums that impose four as the limit).

Your Take

Does life really get harder when you get to five?

How big was your family growing up? How big is your current or planned family? Have you observed the “rule of four” play itself out in your life? Share your thoughts in the comments.

12 thoughts on “Is The World Designed for 4 People?

  1. I agree with the article. My husband and I took our two & three year olddaughters swimming, and quickly realized that each of us had to have one-on-one contact with one child at ALL times since they are so young. This prompted the question, “What would we have done had we had the our more young children?” We simple would not have been able to carefully watch allog the children at once. Just a thought!

  2. Awesome post. We have two kids and I’m fine with stopping now, though my wife has thrown around the idea of having one more. My argument is that if we have one more, we’re outnumbered! At least with even numbers we have a fighting chance 🙂

    1. Funny! It didn’t even occur to me to think of it that way, but you’re absolutely right.

    1. I would have to say that in the U.S., that’s probably the case. Still, where does that leave 4+ families? We’re so willing to accommodate all other fringes of society, but this one seems tough.

  3. I’m the oldest of four children (so family of six), and it was always a headache with hotels. Two-bed hotel rooms can easily work for a family of four (especially when the kids are little or if the kids are same gender). When the four of us kids ranged from 1-10 it was difficult to figure out to do. Cots? Camp beds on the floor? My parents didn’t want to put a couple of us in a different room at that point, so we either had to find places with two rooms attached or a suite. Those options worked okay, but they were certainly more expensive!

    Also, a lot of tables at restaurants are configured as 4-tops. We usually have to wait longer for a table. Even when there are only 5 of us going to dinner they awkwardly try to move a chair to the end of a table.

  4. Wow, I’d never thought about it that way, but your friend raises a good point. I grew up in a family of four– Mom, Dad, my brother, and myself– and now that I think back on it, almost everything was designed for four. The house was a three bedroom, three bath (Mom and Dad in one, brother and I in our own); the cars were always built nicely for the four of us (plus the back for the dogs, of course), and even our kitchen table comfortably sat four. What I think is going to be interesting is the changing “normal” family in America. I mean, these days there are more and more single parents, there are couples with just one child, couples with five, and couples who aren’t Mom and Dad, but maybe Dad and Dad or Mom and Mom. Will the rule of four adjust as the American family changes? I think it will. I think as a whole, we are embracing and *loving* families of all shapes and sizes these days. I mean, just look at what’s on TV! (Modern Family, Jon and Kate, etc…) Interesting post, Wojo. Thank you!

  5. We have 3 kids and, of course, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We all fit just fine in our very cool (right) mini-van. The boys actually like sharing a room in our 3-bedroom house. It’s chaotic sometimes, but we know families with a lot more kids and they’re smiling through the chaos, so we can, too.

  6. Interesting concept. Never thought of it that way. The oldest of 4 boys (family of 6), we always had to “bunk bed it” in normal apartments / homes. Minivans were the 6 person car choice of my parents. It will be interesting to see how the econcomic uncertainty and strain along with other societal shifts is causing a down turn in birth rates. (not too many people can afford 5 kids anymore). Personally speaking, I hope to have 2 one day so maybe I do fit the by design model!!

  7. I guess I missed this post first time around, but it is totally true, at least in the US. I was just browsing hotel deals for maybe a quick weekend get-a-way and even those deals are for 2 adults and 2 children. I am from a family of six (2 + 4) and my parents were lucky enough to split that 4 evenly in 2 boys and 2 girls, so we shared bedrooms when necessary. We had station wagons as cars when growing up which was wonderful, and sometimes I’m sad they don’t make them any more! My husband and I have 1 child so far and already are discussing the need for a different car by the time #2 comes along. I think that people could still afford more than 2 kids, the perceived increase in expense of raising kids is actually from the advances in technology – my siblings and I did not have a TV in our bedroom (2 in house, one in living room one in parents room), Xbox, Wii, (though we did have a nintendo) cell phone, ipad, computer (1 shared in house), ipod/mp3, and thereby have to have new of most of these items every 1-2 years, plus new games for gaming system. I know most kids today would read that and think we had deprived childhoods, but really we had a lot of games, books, friends, travel/vacations, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 🙂 Maybe if we can control the number of these luxuries we indulge in, then we can have a few more. (Are you sure you want an Xbox? Wouldn’t you rather have a baby brother?)

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