Family Facts How large were their families?

American families in the 1700s typically were large. Both husband and wife worked the farm and large numbers of children were needed to maintain agrarian productivity. At the time, roughly 36% of families consisted of 7 or more persons.

The Industrial Revolution saw workers begin to migrate to urban areas, separating work from home for the first time. Children became economic burdens rather than contributors. And by 1900, just 20% of families were that large.

In the 1930s, the Great Depression triggered a further drop in the birthrate so that barely 11% of families consisted of 7 or more persons.

(Clockwise from top) Descendants of George Shank & Mary Lilly; Family of Richard Walden & Mary Baker; Children of James Lilly & Margaret Lynch.

Since World War II the birthrate in the U.S. has gone up and down in response to the economy and social trends, but overall it has continued in a downward slide.

By 2000, the old idea of a nuclear family was largely obsolete. With large numbers of single-parent households, retired couples, gay couples adopting children and women either having fewer children or delaying childbirth, just 1.4% of families consisted of 7 or more persons.

The table above shows the top-10 largest families in our database. Nine families had their beginnings in the 19th century, and the largest was Daniel Ritts and Louisa Hoffman with 14 children.


Cover photo:

  • John Alexander and Henrietta Jane McDonell family portrait.


  • “A Brief History: The American Family” by Josh Sanburn.
  • “U.S. Households by Size” at
Created By
William Koss

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