As Loudoun Grows, So Do Its Families
Sunday, May 21, 2006
On a bright Thursday afternoon in the planned community of South Riding, parents lounged at the edges of a field watching Little Leaguers. Nancy Caruso had one kid at bat, twins in a stroller and another running around someplace. Katie Hall bounced her fourth on her hip -- "I could always have another one!" she said -- and Diane Nielsen belted out, "Good job, Peter!" to one of her three.
Amid coolers and balls and emptied bags of chips on the damp, green grass, Lisa Adams screamed, "Run it in, baby!" to her fourth while Chris Hoyt stood up, shaded his eyes and searched an adjacent playground full of tottering, bouncing children.
"I'll be in trouble if I don't bring home at least two," he joked. He also has four children, a number he described as "not out of the ordinary here."
If suburbia has always been for child rearing, to enter the quaint and shaded 10-year-old neighborhood off Route 50 is to find the fertile epicenter of a county with one of the highest birthrates in the nation. Loudoun County rivals parts of suburban Utah, where the Mormon faith encourages large families, and areas such as Hidalgo, Tex., and Manassas Park, where large numbers of recent immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries account for the growth.
After decades of decline, birthrates in the United States, unlike those of most industrialized nations, have in recent years begun to tick up slightly, driven largely by immigration and to a lesser degree by people, including immigrants, who have followed the building boom into such counties as Loudoun and have produced, it seems, a mini baby boom of their own.
They are for the most part middle-class professionals and stay-at-home moms, people including Catholics and Mormons who might have had large families wherever they wound up living, and others who had one or two, moved out to Loudoun and then decided to have another one, or two, or three.
The average fertility rate in the nation peaked at 3.71 in the late 1950s, bottomed out at 1.79 in the '70s and has inched up to 2.04, according to United Nations estimates.
In recent years, Loudoun's child population has grown by 31 percent to nearly 60,000, faster than any metropolitan county in the nation. Between 2000 and 2004, the county of about 242,000 residents added 14,000 children younger than 15, according to an analysis by William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.
For various reasons, people have sought out places such as Ashburn and Lansdowne and South Riding, where the proliferation of children has transformed rituals such as the annual Easter egg hunt into events of epic proportions. This year, 14,000 eggs were scattered across a field. The change has spawned dinner co-ops and baby-sitting co-ops and support groups such as Stroller Moms and Share Parenting, and more generally, it has created a place whose central, even communal, purpose is raising children.
"We talked about this," said Katie Hall's husband, David, who works for AOL while she stays home. "You start wondering whether, because South Riding is so family-oriented, you moved there because that's what you want, that you're like those people? Or whether, once you're there, you end up being like those people. It's a chicken and egg question. . . . Maybe we were inclined to have more kids because we live here."
The Halls moved several years ago from a townhouse without a yard into a four-bedroom home with plenty of grass. They had two kids when they came, then had two more, not exactly by design but more because it somehow felt right, they said.
"It's not so much a number as the way the family feels in the house," said David Hall, noting that on his block, at least five houses have four kids each and several have three.