“Who Have the Big Families?” (January 5, 1925)

General George Washington in military uniform and William Lee in a red turban and red-trimmed jacket

In this editorial, published January 5, 1925, in the Richmond News Leader, its editor Douglas Southall Freeman builds an argument for eugenics based on the 1923 census birth rates by profession. Eugenics is a pseudo-science of white superiority. He makes groundless claims about the intelligence of “outdoor workers” and implies that their birth rates should be reduced.


To have a large family, get outdoor employment in some trade where the pay is poor or work irregular.

To be the father of few children, have a regular, indoor and well-paid occupation.

At least, these seem the plain inferences from the very remarkable figures the vital statistics division of the census bureau has compiled from the birth certificates of 1923.

Taking the records in which the age of the father is given as between 40 and 49, the bureau considers that it has data on what might be termed “finished families,” for it reasons that comparatively few children are born into households when the father is past 50. In every case where the age of the male parent was given on the baby’s birth certificate as within the forties, his vocation was noted and the results tabulated. Fortunately, distinction was made between fathers aged 40 to 45, inclusive, and those aged 45 to 49. In what follows only this latter sub-group is considered, because obviously the likelihood is greater that the reported number of children is all that will be born.

The average family, with the wage-earner between 45 and 50, consists of a husband, a wife and 5.5 children. An average of one child will have been lost in each such family, for the average number born to each woman whose husband is within this age-group, is 6.4. But the extremes that make up this average are very far apart. The miner’s wife has 8 children—now the largest brood of any vocation—while the wife of the actor, the architect, the artist, the chemist, the dentist, the photographer or the doctor will not average 3.5.

In almost every classification, the children of the outdoor worker are more numerous than those of men who work under a roof. The only exceptions of consequence are clergymen, whose families are the families are the largest among professional men, soldiers who often are not married, and certain classes of poorly-paid personal workers.

Where employment is regular, the number of children is smaller than when it is intermittent, even though the irregular worker follows a trade with a remunerative per diem scale. The coal miner already has been mentioned. The bricklayer is the father of 6.8 children and the engraver of 4.9. The carpenter has 6.2, the printer 4.6.

The poorer the pay, other things being even, the more the mouths to feed—in accordance with the traditional law of population. Stated more accurately, the fact would seem to be that the more ignorant the parents, the more children they are apt to bring into the world. The day laborer, with 7.2 children, rivals the miner. So do farm hands and bootblacks.

Combine these three conditions—uncertainty of employment, work in the open, the mastery of no profitable trade—and the stork seems to nest in the house. A given number of day laborers in 1923 had more than twice as many children as the same number of professional men.

And yet there remain people who say the teaching of birth control is sinful!

APA Citation:
Leader, Richmond News. “Who Have the Big Families?” (January 5, 1925). (2021, December 09). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Leader, Richmond News. "“Who Have the Big Families?” (January 5, 1925)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (09 Dec. 2021). Web. 18 May. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 09
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