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The Heretofore of the Large Family System, Part 1/3

Updated on November 23, 2013

The WHYs, HOWs, And WHATs Of The Large Family System

Part 1 of 3 of this hub is in response to the request WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF HAVING A LARGE FAMILY by esteemed sister hubber cardisa.

There are varied definitions as to what is a large family. According to the sociological definition, a large family is defined by 5 or more children in the same family. Even then there is disagreement on the issue at hand. Some contend that 5 children are not classified as a large family but a medium sized while others contend that 5 children are what one would call a medium large family. However, I am going to apply the working definition of a large family which will be classified as 6 or more children.


The large family was highly advantageous in a more rural, preurbanized, and agrarian era. Parents produced a large number of children as they were deemed necessary to help them effectiely farm, manage, and work the land. More children per household per had a lot of children which were quite necessary to help them effective farm, manage, and work the land. More children guaranteed more profits as the more people worked the land, the greater the economic returns would be. Yes, children were viewed as contributing assets to the familial socioeconomic whole.

The large family was also a social care network for family members. In more rural, preurbanized, and agrarian times, there was not a wide social care network as it is today. There were very few social institutions available to care for ailing famly members whether it was sick children, orphans, widows, widowers, ailing/aged parents, and/or disabled relatives.

The large family served this purpose. Having a lot of children was viewed as an inbuilt social security system by parents and/or other older relatives. Life expectancy was shorter than it is currently. It was not uncommon for children to die in childhood. People had a lot of children to ensure that at least some children would be alive in adulthood to provide care for them in their old age of if they became infirmed and/or disabled before old age.

Large families also provided financial and emotional support to singles relatives, particularly single female relatives. Large families ensured that single relatives, especially single female relatives, would not be left bereft and/or destitute. In more rural, preurbanized, and agrarian times, with few exceptions, there was an unwritten expectation that women were to be married. There were few avenues which single women could earn a decent living. If a woman was unmarried, she was in the care of her family. Large families provided single woman a caring network both financially and emotionally.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was increasing urbanization. People left rural areas and began to migrate to urban areas. There was also massive immigration from European countries. While space in rural areas were immense, it was quite the opposite in urban areas. Unless one was socioeconomically affluent and/or wealthier, space was at its premium. It was not unusual for a group of people to live in a limited amount of space.

Whereas children were viewed as assets in more rural, preurbanized, and agrarian societies, they tended to be viewed as a socioeconomic liability as socieites become more urbanized and modern. In rural, preurbanized, and agrarian societies, more children equaled more profits as those children were contributing members as they worked the land. in urban societies, children contributed less so the more children, the more parental expenditures needed to socioeconomically support them. The rate of poverty increased in urban areas as parents had more children than they could reasonably support.

It was not unusual for many couples to have at least 7 children with quite a few having 10-20 children. The rate of poverty increased in urban areas as parents were having more children than they could afford. Fathers wondered how they were going to support their ever growing families. Many men were so overwhelmed at the prospect of supporting their large families that many of them deserted and/or abandoned their families.

This resulted in their wives and children becoming wards of charities. If the wives and children were not supported by charities, they often beg and/or resorted to less reputable ways to earn a living. Many oldest/older children were also sent to work in order to supplement their families' income. It was not unusual for children in these urban environments to be working as young as 10 years old.

Large families also strained marital relatonships by placing undue socioeconomic stress on the father. In addition to that, it caused extreme psychological, emotional, and mental stress on the mother. These factors often led to domestic and child abuse. There were instances of abandoned and/or throwaway children as their parents either became too overwhelmed to care for them or they just could no longer afford to support their ever increasing family.

Abandoned and/or throwaway children often lived on the streets and/or in deserted areas. Such children were often left to their own devices, fending for themselves. Some begged while others joined gangs and/or became involved in more nefarious/criminal activities in order to survive.

The increasing levels of large families in urban areas was a cause for alarm. People wanted to find a workable solution for this social problem. The large family which was fine in rural, preurbanized, agrarian, and less modern societies became increasingly problematic as societies become more modern and urbanized. In rural, agrarian societies, there was space in which to raise a large family whereas in urban cities, there was little space to do so


Birth control before the early 20th century, at least among the lower socioeconomic classes, were either unheard of and/or rudimentary at best. The only women who had access and/or knowledge of birth control methods were usually wealtheir, more educated, more sexually progressive, and/or women in the health and/or medical specialities i.e. herbalists, nurses, doctors, midwives, and/or other practictioners.

In addition to the fact that there was little or no access to birth control information before the advent of the early 20th century, there were strong moral and religious prohibitions against the use of birth control. It was taught at the time that birth control was an unnatural practice. The societal inculcation was that good married women should view sex as a marital duty to her husband and that the ultimate purpose of sex was for procreation. In essence, women were just to grin and bear it regarding sex. There was a message that sex for pleasure was sinful and evil.

The issue of increasing large families in urban areas caused the usual social problems as delineated above. In addition to those factors, many women's health were irreparably damaged as a result of excessive childbirths. Margaret Sanger, a nurse, saw the importance of family planning and reducing family size with the purpose of creating a better family life for all involved, especially the children.

With that goal in mind, Margaret Sanger began to educate women, especially poorer women, about the benefits using birth control. From first hand experience interfacing with such women, how difficult it was for them to adequately take care of their large families and provide them with the individualized attention they need. She knew how detrimental large families in terms of the quality of care given to the children of such families. She wanted women to be in control of their reproductive destiny.

Ms. Sanger's battle to educate women regarding the dissemination of birth control informatoin was an arduous one. Religious authorities were adamantly against any dissemination of birth control knowledge. It was those authorities' belief that children were preordained and there should be no "interference" in that regard. Some religious authorities further portended that if women used birth control, it would lead to "illegitimate" and "unnatural" sexual acts.

Not only religious authorities but many men believed that women were not to have any type of voice regarding sexual matters. These men asserted that women were preordained to be the subordinate and submissive sex. They strongly contended that the use of birth control would make women more dominant, therefore less feminine.

Despite massive oppostion, Ms. Sanger nevertheless began to establish birth control clinics and to continue educating women regarding the importance of birth control. As more women use birth control, family size gradually became smaller. In congruence with that, women obtained more freedoms i.e. the right to vote and more jobs were available to them. In the 1920s, women had freedoms, economic, social, and sexual that they did not have previously.

Even though birth control made some significant inroads in society, many people continued to have large families. There were many reasons for this. Many people believed that more children in a family would prove their authenticity as parents. Many lower socioeconomic income people simply did not have access to birth control, particularly in rural areas. Still others staunchly contended that sex should only be for procreation and to use any type of preventives is unnatural.


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    • gmwilliams profile imageAUTHOR

      Grace Marguerite Williams 

      6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Thank you for your response, it is greatly appreciated..

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      6 years ago from New Jersey

      I was so interested in your thread I wanted to read your hubs on this topic. My Mother was half Irish, and they didn't believe in birth control (although I only have one sibling, a brother, so suspect she figured "to hell with the church). You bring up the good point that people died younger, and so did many young women who had to bear a child a year, or every 10 months. You can see graveyards with poor young women who died at 24, and the graves of 6 or 7 babies next to them. It's so sad. Even without birth control, I don't understand how a man who loved a woman could put her through that physical strain. The politics of this last U.S. election had me enraged, because the men saying such stupid things seemed to have no realization of how much a woman has to change her lifestyle to carry one child. My M in Law, the 1 out of 9, always was "sick." That's how she got attention. She also held in her emotions so much, that I truly believe she gave herself cancer. She lived to be 76. But she favored my husband over her daughter, and they still don't speak. We used to get together just for Christmas, and my sis in law would give extravangant gifts to everyone else's kids, and give my son, her only nephew, a cheap trinket. I got tired of the games and don't bother with them. But you've done a great study here.

    • tussin profile image

      I'M BANNED Y'ALL!!!!!!!!!! 

      6 years ago from Behind You

      The most notable large broods --Duggars, Octomom, and Gosselins -- are all different and shouldn't all be lumped into the category of irresponsible. The Duggars may be religious nuts, but they support themselves. The Gosselins had an accident but they support themselves through reality TV attention whoring. Octomom is crazy and cannot support herself.

      The large broods are very very rare, too infrequent to have an impact on population growth. Even counting the hyperbreeders, couples with children in the US have 1.86 children on average. If you factor in the childless/childfree, it's 0.90 per couple. Most people don't even *know* any hyperbreeders. While it's detrimental to the children, it's not really a cause for alarm.

    • gmwilliams profile imageAUTHOR

      Grace Marguerite Williams 

      6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Express10, for the life of me I cannot comprehend this either. There are people who are in love with the idea of having a large family. They idealize how bucolic and wonderful "family size" will be. They equate family life with large families.

      However, when the actual situation arises, the situation becomes quite harrowing at best. Parents cannot adequately raise such a large number of children. Oldest/older children oftentimes MUST raise the younger siblings i.e. the oldest/older children become parentified, having no childhoods and/or adolescence of their own.

      Also, the mother's body is irreparably damaged from having so many children. Large families are totally uncalled for today with contraception and a wide social network. Children can have rewarding companionships from friendships. Siblings are not really necessary for companionships at all.

      Yes, there is a correlation between large families and poverty. An overwhelming of large families are either poor to impoverished. Many large families receive outside help, if not, they would socioeconomically go under. This is totally ridiculous.

      1-3 children are quite adequate, thank you. Children in these families have individualized parental attention, have socioeconomic and educational opportunities. As you know, the large family is one of my pet peeves. I believe that children should have individualized parental attention, exposure to the finer things of life, educational access, and to grow up in an affluent socioeconomic environment. Small families guarantee this, the large family definitely -DOES NOT!

    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 

      6 years ago from East Coast

      Well done. I will never understand why so many people cling to having children that they often cannot afford. Further, with each child, the woman's bones are stressed and worn away. I've seen photos of this from a woman's pelvis (in a medical class) who had 9 children. Ms. Duggar's pelvis is probably paper thin right now.

    • gmwilliams profile imageAUTHOR

      Grace Marguerite Williams 

      6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Quite welcome indeed. In the postmodern era with advanced contraception and a very wide social network, there is really no need for large families at all!

    • Aley Martin profile image

      Alice Lee Martin 

      6 years ago from Sumner, Washington,USA

      well worded and explained. I know the reasoning behind the larger families in the past, but know many people are probably clueless. And of those families, we know many died early from illnesses not yet curable or treatable. Now, we have no excuse. I look at the 19 or 120 Duggar family and am reminded only of rabbits reproducing ad infinitum. Sure, are trying to live their religious beliefs, but it seems unfair to the children to have to compete for the love and attention of their parents. My mother had 3, my mother-in law 4, except they were twins so ended up with 5. These ladies came from large families of 9 or 10, but both realized that procreating when they did not have enough money or energy to do so was self defeating. Thanks for this look at the subject and for coming by and looking at mine too!


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