A Bringer of New Things

Musings on personal growth, books, motherhood, writing, and more.

Pondering: Large Families vs. Small Families


The Question

I’ve been thinking about the respective advantages and disadvantages of large and small families. Are kids healthier, happier, and in general better off in small families or big families? 

This was the question I was asking. I’m now under the impression that there are so many factors involved in a person’s health and happiness that this question is mostly irrelevant.

It’s especially irrelevant, I believe, in families where basic needs are unmet or where there is parent-caused or other family-wide trauma; these tragedies throw everything off and make all family size psychology moot.

The question may also be morally suspect, according to my good friend, who believes that it’s wrong to willfully create more need in the world (i.e., have more children) when there’s so much unmet need (i.e., homeless children) already.

Nevertheless, the question remains interesting to me; so, as far as it may be a useful topic, here are my findings.

Toward an Answer

Studies show that children from smaller families tend to have higher IQ’s and educational achievements than children from larger families. With fewer children, parents can devote more attention, time, and resources to each child’s education and development.

But if I had to choose between kids with high IQs and kids with great social/emotional skills, I think I would choose the social skills. And the consensus on social skills favors large families. This makes sense to me, because: 

1. With several siblings, children receive more feedback from peers about the way they act, and they have more opportunities to interact with peers in general than children in smaller families do. Here’s a lovely personal essay about the value of having many siblings.

2. While children in large families have fewer parental resources than children in smaller families do, this may not be automatically a negative thing…

– Parents of large families do not have as much time and energy to hover, smother, demand perfection from, be enmeshed or codependent with, or make passive aggressive demands from their children as parents of smaller families do.
Later update: Since I originally wrote this post several years ago, my thinking on this point has changed. I now believe that harmful parental enmeshment with children can happen no matter how large a family is; it happens anytime a parent uses a child to try to meet emotional needs that he/she should be getting met from other adults.

– Children with many siblings and with fewer resources to go around learn not only interpersonal skills but also, I would think, bigger interpersonal concepts such as personal responsibility, the necessity of sharing, the value of things owned and earned, the value of work, resourcefulness, thriftiness, and awareness of others’ needs and desires. It would be a tall order to expect any child of a large family to reach adulthood having mastered all of these skills, though; and, again, there are many more factors to account for.

3. Emotions are likely to be more out in the open in large families, because in order to get what you want, you have to express it, which is an essential life skill. However, perhaps this point is more speculative than actually true: according to JRank Psychology Encyclopedia, children in large families tend to take on specific roles in order to stand out; such roles may trump the acquisition of assertiveness.

All things being equal, I would choose to have a large family, but that’s probably because I come from a small one and envy people who have tons of siblings. For example, I always loved watching (reruns of) The Brady Bunch. But oh, that life were as simple as a sitcom!

Ultimately, I think the question of large families vs. small families is interesting, but not critical, in light of bigger issues.

(Later update–an example of a bigger issue, since I’ve had children of my own: When deciding whether to give birth to, adopt, or foster any child, it seems clear to me that the number-one question one should ask ought to be this: Do I have adequate resources in every area–money, time, physical health, emotional/mental/social health, safe environment, childcare help, etc.–to responsibly care for this child?)

This study did introduce me to a cool new scholarly term, though, and a faster way to say “number of siblings”: “sibship size.”


6 comments on “Pondering: Large Families vs. Small Families

  1. judygurfein
    July 3, 2014

    This is an interesting article! It’s hard to tell what effect different factors have on children – we can only do the best with what we have. But your question is thought-provoking 🙂


    • Sarrah J. Woods
      July 6, 2014

      I’m glad you liked this; thanks for reading and commenting! Have a great day.


  2. carlisdm
    October 22, 2014

    Interesting article! and I think you´re right in many points, growing as a single child, I always was the nerd shy kid. And shyness was a huge obstacle in my life until a couple of years ago, when the opportunity to go abroad and explore for myself, gave me the security to overcome my shyness.
    But at the same time, I feel lucky, because I was able to receive many advantages that I coudn´t had gotten if I had grown with many syblings, and in that way it made me who am I.
    So I don´t know, I think I would go for the magic number, 2 kids, that way you don´t deprive them from economical advantages but you also don´t raise a lonely shy kid. … just a thought…
    Thanks for following my blog!!!


    • Sarrah J. Woods
      October 22, 2014

      Well, hello! Thanks for reading and commenting. I look forward to reading your blog more when I can.

      I’m glad to hear what you say about the advantages you received being an only child, despite the shyness you felt. It’s interesting to think about how our lives would have been different had we had more or fewer siblings.

      That’s wonderful that you got to go abroad and it opened up your life and confidence like that!


  3. Maria Morales
    December 28, 2014

    I come from a large family (we are five siblings), and I can’t tell you how shy I am. In fact, I’ve known a bunch of single child when I was young and, if there is one thing that caught my attention about them is how bold and assertive they all were…

    I still can’t see what genuine advantages large families get over smaller ones.
    It seems to me that the so called ‘advantages’ of L.F. are no more than small family parents failing to parenting their one child, not providing him with his basic needs (someone above mentioned something about it), like opportunity to social development, which could make L.F. standing out in this aspect.
    The point is, it’s easy to assume L.F. kids have better social skills just because they live in a large group. However, the quality of this association is not necessarily optimal or healthy. Once again it goes down to parents guidance; in both cases it always goes down to parents guidance and their capacity to fulfill their child(ren) basic needs.

    Even regards to sharing, I see it as a myth that LF kids are more skilled in this matter. Without proper parents guidance, they will end up resembling the society they live in. Kids will be constantly competing (if not fighting) to each other in order to get stuff, parents attention, or the biggest portion of the cake! :).

    On the other hand, a SF kid will not have problem sharing with complete strangers because that’s what he is used to do since he was a baby: reached to strangers and shared his toys with him.
    SF kids are usually not shy and, like any kid, they enjoy playing with other kids, and in the process learn sharing with strangers. Once again, under proper parent guidance, because without it, all kids are just the same.


    • Sarrah J. Woods
      December 29, 2014

      You make some excellent points! Thank you for commenting! That’s really interesting to think of shyness as being more a trait of large-family kids than small-family ones. And I think you are absolutely right that it all comes down to the quality of the parenting–that matters far more than family size.


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