The Average Size of a Family

Acadian - Grand PreI was a member of a small family. Or at least that is what I believed while growing up. My parents had eleven offspring, but that number was less than the seventeen in my father’s family.

In my mid-teens, I realized most of my friends came from families with an average of three children. Nowadays, this average is 1.6 in Canada, according to the Fertility Rates World Wide on the Pregnant Pause website. We have similar rates with Australia (1.8) and United Kingdom (1.7). Italy, Bulgaria, Romania and Spain tie for the lowest average at 1.2 children per family. Yemen has the highest average at 7.6.

Large families were the norm before the 1950’s. On average, families produced anywhere from five to ten children. There were several reasons why parents produced large numbers of kids. Besides natural birth control (which was a hit or miss), there was nothing available to stop conception. In some cases, women conceived until they were too old to do so.Babies

Before modern conveniences, labour in the workplace was intense. Children became the work force in factories and mines and on the farm. They were easily trained to sew, knit, tend to the garden, haul wood and water and many other tasks.

Unfortunately, life wasn’t easy and dangers lurked in the workplace, at home and in the air. Many children didn’t live to adulthood because of accidents, diseases and poor nutrition; epidemics could and did wipe-out entire families. By having several children, it was more likely someone would survive to take over the homestead and care for the aging parents.

Understanding Parish Birth Records” by Leslie Albrecht Huber found on the Understanding Your Ancestors website gives insight to parish records and family sizes. Birth patterns can help with family tree research. Huber suggests you should expect “to find a child born every couple of years” and to expect “wider gaps as the woman gets older and her fertility declines.”

Huber writes, “If the couple stops having children when the mother is relatively young (before forty), check to see if one of the parents died or if the family moved.” This is not to say that a woman gives birth every second year from the age of 20 to 50, but indicates that this is the time to look for births.

Contrary to what we were led to believe, not all girls married in their early teens. In many cultures, they didn’t marry until after the age of 25. One way to learn the family sizes for a particular area at a given time is to look at the census records.

There are exceptions to the rules. The unnamed first wife of Feodor Vassilyev (1707-1782) is the exception to every rule. A peasant from Shuya, 150 miles east of Moscow, this woman set the record for most children ever born with 69. Between 1725 and 1756, she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. Miraculously, 67 of 69 children born survived infancy.

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