The size of the family has been reducing gradually. The reduction in the number of children has increased the proportion of elderly people in the population. Some places are experiencing a reduction in the size of the population. America is experiencing a reduction in birth rates.
This has increased the proportion of elderly people in the population. However, America has not yet experienced a reduction in the size of the population. Various historical factors contributed to the current situation. This trend started in the late eighteenth century.
In the seventeenth and nineteenth century, more than 90% of the population lived in rural areas. During this period, most households were self-sufficient. Artisans produced items that families could not produce. Artisans made hats, iron implements, men’s clothing, and shoes. Families produced most of the other items that they needed.
“Families made their furniture, dipped their candles, tanned their leather, spun their wool, and manufactured their clothes.”1 This reduced the need to work outside the home. Members of the family had distinctive roles within the home. Fathers and sons worked in the fields to produce food for the family.
On the other hand, mothers and daughters did house chores. These chores included knitting, weaving, cleaning the home, and taking care of dairy and poultry. Families sold the excess produce in the market. Therefore, the family was a cooperative economic enterprise. The expansion of the market-oriented economy in the eighteenth century necessitated members of the family to engage in commercial activities.
Members of the family engaged in various economic activities that helped in improving the family’s economy. Wives and their older children supplemented the family’s budget by spinning yarn, sewing dresses, or setting up a tavern within their home. Therefore, children helped in improving the economy of the family. A large number of children provided a great workforce for household economic activities. Therefore, most families had many children.
During the middle of the nineteenth century, the domestic division of labor started occurring. The society expected middle-class husbands to act as breadwinners of the family. On the other hand, middle-class wives devoted their time to fulfilling housekeeping duties and raising children. This separated the daily lives of men and women. This led to the separation of work and family life.
The displacement of the economic partnership of the family led to various demographic changes. One of the changes was a significant reduction in birth rates. Before the nineteenth century, marriage led to a repeated cycle of pregnancy. Women had their first children a few months after marriage. They continued bearing children in two-year intervals until they reached menopause.
During this period, women gave birth to seven or eight children. Therefore, a woman devoted most of her married life to bearing and raising children. However, this pattern changed gradually in the nineteenth century.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, women had reduced the number of children they were having. Also, there was a significant increase in the interval between pregnancies. Therefore, child rearing became the most time-consuming activity of a woman’s married life.
Due to the changes that occurred in the nineteenth century, there was a significant alteration in families’ attitude. Hence, kids stopped to be treated as economic assets.
This happened because children were no longer productive in household industries. However, children required significant investments in education to prepare them for a respectable career or marriage life. Therefore, families had fewer children. Having a few children ensured that the family had acceptable living standards.
On the other hand, having many children increased the family’s economic burden. Also, significant changes in the relationship between husbands and wives led to a drop in fertility rates. Since husbands worked outside the home, they delegated most of the child-rearing duties to their wives.
Therefore, society viewed wives as vital in the development of children. This increased the enlightenment of women. In its turn, the increased enlightenment led to the drop in fertility rates.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a significant reduction in the scope of the authority of husbands. Also, women started having more rights. Women could own property, earn incomes, enter into legal contracts, or bring lawsuits. In the early nineteenth century, unmarried women who were between the age of 14 and 27 started having unprecedented income-earning opportunities outside their home.
Women started working as schoolteachers or mill girls. “Women achieved leadership positions organizing religious revivals, engaging in missionary work, establishing orphanages, and editing religious publications.”2 These opportunities increased women’s expectations for self-fulfillment. On the other hand, the daily life of wives revolved around domestic duties. This made women change their perception of marriage.
It reduced the number of women who were willing to get married. Also, it increased the expectation that women had on marriage. The increased expectations led to a gradual increase in the rates of divorce. These factors reduced the fertility rate of the population.
Changes in the family setting are the major factors that contributed to the significant decrease in the size of the family. Also, women empowerment and changes in the roles of husbands and wives contributed to the reduction in the size of the family. Women empowerment enabled society to change their perception of women.
Mintz, Steven and Susan Kellogg. A new economy and a new family. Edited by George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.
1 Steven Mintz and Susan Kellogg, A new economy and a new family, ed. George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), 12.
2 Ibid., 127.