Is The Perfect Family Size Really 3 Kids?

Here’s a question for you, “How many children would you like to have?”

This question was asked by Rick and Jan Hess to a group of singles in a survey they gave to four evangelical churches (Berean, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Evangelical Free, and General Conference Baptist) and one Bible College. 

The average answer?  3.2  (note that four out of five choices were for two, three, or four children) 

From my unscientific observations I would say the belief that three kids is best (if not too many) is fairly widespread. Considering the average family size is 3.1 in America, I would say my unscientific observations aren’t far off.

Back to the Hess’s survey:

  • How many hoped to get married?  98%
  • How many planned using birth control?  92% 

Ironically, in the 8% who didn’t plan on using birth control, the average number of children desired was only 2.5.

So, who would be missing from the halls of history if everyone in the past decided only to have 3 children?

This is random, but let’s start with classical musicians:

  • Bach (8th born)
  • Mozart (born last of 7)
  • Aaron Copland (last of 5)
  • Robert Schumann (last of 5)
  • Richard Wagner (last of 9, though I don’t care for his music)
  • Edvard Grieg (4th of 5)
  • William Steinway – yes, the Steinway (7th of 7)

Other well known composers came from large families.  For instance, Franz Hayden was one of seventeen and Franz Schubert was one of fourteen. 

Let’s turn a corner and look at American presidents. 

Who would you say was the greatest president?  I vote for George Washington.  Well, if Washington’s parents had stopped having children after 3, (as the majority of Christian’s in America aspire) there would have been no George Washington!  Because he was born 5th of 10.  We would also be missing 11 other presidents…

Some like to say the greater the number of children in a family, and the shorter the spacing between them, the less the children’s intellectual capacity.  Well, it is instructive to note that 3/4’s of American Presidents have come from families with more than 3 children, and many from much more. 

For instance, James Madison came from a family of 12 kids, Ulysses S. Grant from a family of 6 kids, Dwight Eisenhower from 7, Kennedy from 9, and Monroe, Adams, Buren, Johnson, Nixon, Bush, and myself from families of 5 children.

Turning another corner, what influential Christians would be missing?

  • Augustine (born 4th of 4) 
  • Dietrich Bonhoffer (born 8th of 8 )
  • Oswald Chambers (born 4th of 9 )
  • Jonathan Edwards (born 11th of 11)
  • Charles Finney (born 7th)
  • Dwight L. Moody (6th of 8 )
  • Andrew Murray (at least 4th)
  • Nate Saint (7th of 8 )
  • Corrie Ten Boom (born 5th)
  • Cameron Townsend (born at least 5th)

And I find the folowing two most incredible:

So Charles birth is pretty amazing!  And Charles’s work is equally astounding: Did you know he wrote over 9,000 poems? Many became hymns, including:

  • Rejoice, the Lord is King
  • Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
  • And Can it Be
  • Christ the Lord is Risen Today
  • Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

In the Old Testament there is a story about a shepherd boy who slew a giant named Goliath, became King of Israel, wrote the book of Psalms, was in the lineage of Jesus, and was promised to have one of his descendants reigning on a throne for all eternity.  Of course I’m talking about none other than King David, who was a youngest born and eighth child.  If Jesse has stopped at seven sons, how would history be different?  At the very least, we would be missing most the Psalms. 

Wrapping up, let me point out that Jesus Christ came from a large family:

“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?  Isn’t His mother’s name Mary, and aren’t His brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?  Aren’t all his sisters with us?”  (Matthew 13:55-56)

From these verses, it can be inferred Mary & Joseph had at least seven children.  Perhaps this isn’t surprising though… isn’t seven the number of perfection?  Of course, let’s not forget that in a spiritual sense Jesus has the largest family: He was the firstborn among many brothers, of whom I am one, along with all believers.

I don’t have a point to this post.  I just find these facts interesting and challenging to the status quo of birth control and the perfect family size of two/three children we take for granted.  Heck, nowadays it’s not uncommon for married couples to have zero children.

I wonder though, who will not be around 100 years from now because of our beliefs that small family sizes are ideal?  The pragmatic philosophy of today cheerfully dismisses this line of musing with, “Who cares?  We won’t be around to see or care.” What do you think?

Material from this post was taken from A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ by Rick and Jan Hess.