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close this bookThe Family and Family Size (FAO)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAims/objectives
View the documentBasic concepts
View the documentActivity no. 1 - What do you think of that?
View the documentActivity no. 2 - What would you decide in this situation?
View the documentActivity no. 3 - Small family/large family
View the documentActivity no. 4 - Learning from an expert



Before using this guide, please read the notes in the introduction booklet.

All of the material in this module has been carefully thought out and tested with youth groups in a number of countries. It contains material which is thought to be important and appropriate for young people to know. However, because every group is different, it is not possible to produce a booklet which is perfect for everyone, so it is important to remember that this booklet is intended as a guide for the leader.

This means that it is up to you the leader to use this material as you see fit You may wish to adapt some of the group activities to make them more appropriate to your group.

Some of the material you may not wish to present yourself - perhaps because you do not feel technically competent or because you find it embarrassing or awkward to discuss certain matters with the youth group. In these cases you may wish to ask a local expert in that subject to address your youth group. For example, an agricultural extension officer for the agriculture projects, a small business advisor for income generating activities or a health worker for the health and nutrition aspects. Use of a resource person like this does not make your role as the group leader any less important, but they can add interest and authority to the subjects taught.

The modules may be used in any order, but the modules with the same colour cover are best used together since they cover one general area

First edition was published and field tested in 1988 and 1989 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Project INT/88/P98 "Integration of Population Education into Programmes for Rural Youth in Low-Income Countries" with funding from the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA).

This revision was published in 1990 and is based on field test findings from the first edition.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official view of FAO. The designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of FAO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

Original Concept and Text: W.I. Lindley & S.A. Dembner
This Revision: J.F. Cook
Original Illustrations: Teresa CedeR>This Revision: Pandora Money


By participating in the activities of this module, it is intended that group members will:

· Understand what a family unit is and that there are different types of families.

· Be able to identify and analyse social, economic and educational factors that influence decisions about family size.

· Understand that parents have choices and responsibilities regarding family size.

Basic concepts

· A family is made up of people related by blood, marriage or law (formal or social).

· There are different kinds of families including nuclear and extended families, which may be monogamous, polygamous or one-parent.

· Each family member has roles and responsibilities. Together the parents are responsible for providing the needs (physical, emotional and social) of their children.

· When young people can identify and analyse factors which influence family size, they will be able to make rational decisions about family size and the effect on standards of living.

· The possibility of adequately meeting children's needs - nutrition, education, recreation, affection, - increases when parents make informed decisions about family size and child spacing.

Activity no. 1 - What do you think of that?

A series of statements to provoke discussion on family roles and responsibilities, and decisions regarding family size.

What do you think of that?



Note: If the group member cannot read, the leader can read the statement for them, but the member should still give his or her opinion about the statement.

· The leader writes each of the statements on pages 12 and 13 on a separate card or piece of paper and passes one out to each of the group members.

· A group member reads the statement on his or her card out loud and gives an opinion about the statement. Other participants either support or disagree with the participant's opinion.

· When the discussion is concluded, the leader summarizes the main point.

· The activity continues with another participant reading his or her statement.


So that group members will be able to:

· Recognize that stereotyped roles and responsibilities for family members may reduce personal and family development.

· Understand the factors which need to be considered when making decisions about family size and child spacing.

· Express their own opinions and listen to those of others.



· Cards or pieces of paper.
· The background information and statements on the following pages.
· Participation and respect.

Some background information for the group leader

What do we mean by a family?

A family is made up of people related by blood, marriage or law (formal or social). Examples of family members related by blood are brothers and sisters, parents and their children. Family members related by marriage include, not only husband and wife, but also the husband's and wife's relatives. For example, if a woman's husband has a brother, he is her brother-in-law. There also can be family members who are not related by blood or marriage. For example, a child may be adopted, that is, raised by people other than his natural parents. Sometimes adoptions are done by a legal procedure and sometimes they are just an agreement between two families. In both cases, the adopted child becomes a member of his or her new family.

The family is the basic social unit.

The extended family

The nuclear family means just the parents and children. The extended family includes uncles and aunts, cousins, and grandparents.

What are the different kinds of families?

The basic family unit is made up of a mother and father and their children. This is called a nuclear family. When used in this way, nuclear doesn't mean anything to do with nuclear energy or atomic bombs; it simply means the basic core or nucleas of a family group.

Often, however, more people than just the nuclear family share a household. The unit may include grandparents, aunts and uncles and their children, etc. This kind of family is called an extended family. In many places in Africa, the extended family is the most common type of family unit.

Families can also be classified by the relationship between the father and mother. One kind of family is one in which each man has only one wife - these are called monogamous families. In some societies, men sometimes have more than one wife - these are called polygamous families.

In some societies, having more than one wife is not permitted by law. In these societies, if a man marries more than one woman, he is considered a criminal and called a bigamist.

There are also societies in which a woman may have more than one husband, but these are very rare.

In some cases, a family may be headed by only one parent. This can occur if one of the parents dies, or if the mother and father are both alive but decide not to live together. These are called one-parent families. In most cases, a single-parent family consists of a mother and her children.

What are the roles and responsibilities of family members?

In all types of families, each member of the family has a certain role and various responsibilities, defined both by law and by custom. At one time, the roles of family members were very rigidly defined. In most cases, the father was responsible for providing food, shelter and money for the family, and also made all of the important decisions. The father often took very little interest at all in the children, especially when they were very young.

The mother was usually responsible for raising the children, preparing the food and keeping the household in order. Often the mother was not allowed to participate in family decision making. Even decisions which directly concerned her, for example, whether to have children or not, were made by the husband.

Children and the father

Children were expected to obey their parents, and all of their elders, without question. They had jobs to do which were strictly defined by sex. For example, girls helped in the household and gathered wood, while the boys tended the cattle. Children had no voice at all in family decisions. Today, however, these rigid definitions of roles within the family based on sex are changing rapidly in many areas.

People are beginning to understand that we all have equal capabilities and therefore should have equal rights. In more and more families, husbands and wives make important family decisions together, and social and work responsibilities are less rigidly defined. Fathers take an active interest in their children and share in giving them the love and affection they need. In many areas, women do a great deal of the field work as well as looking after the home and children. Women are increasingly being recognized today for the contributions they make to the family, both in the home and as income generators. Children and young people are beginning to be included in family decision making and boys and girls are treated as equals, as they should be.

Of course, not everyone understands or accepts these new roles and responsibilities based on respect and equality. It will take hard work and patience and understanding by everyone, especially youth and young adults, to build better families in the future.

Statements for Activity No. 1

Old people are just a burden and it is a disadvantage to have them in the household.

It's OK to treat an adopted child differently than your real brother or sister.

The opinions of all members of the family should be taken into account.

The only authority in the family is the father.

Children should help with household chores.

The more children, the less the work will be for each one.

Children should receive love, attention and care from their mother, but not from their father.

Husbands should help with the chores in the household.

Big families are happy families.

A loving wife is quiet and never argues with her husband.

Boys should be treated sternly so that they grow up to be real men.

Women who don't have children are not fulfilling their role in life.

If there are only girls in the family, the parents should keep having children until they have a son.

And any others the group may add

Activity no. 2 - What would you decide in this situation?

An activity designed to stimulate discussion of alternative choices.

What would you decide in this situation?



Note: As you will see, there are fewer pictures of alternatives given for the second and third situations than for the first This does not mean, however, that there are any less alternatives. The idea is that as the activity goes on, the group members will be able to identify the alternatives themselves, without having to see pictures of them. Group members should come up with at least six alternatives for each situation. Because, of course, in life we have to work out the alternatives for ourselves.

· The group leader explains to the participants that the activity concerns looking at choices and alternatives.

· On the following pages are drawings illustrating a situation requiring a decision (the big drawing) and a series of alternatives (the smaller drawings).

· The group leader describes the situation and then the alternatives, showing the illustrations to the group members as he speaks.

· The participants then discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative.

· Each group member, in turn, says what his or her choice would have been and why.

· The process is repeated with each of the three situations.


So that the group members are able to:

· Recognize that when they are faced with a decision, there are usually several possible alternatives, all of which should be considered carefully.

· See that they have the ability to consider alternatives and make decisions.

· Practice considering alternatives and making decisions.



· The stories and alternatives on pages 23-32.

· The background information on pages 17-22.

· Active group participation.

Some background information for the group leader

Why is it important for young people to develop decision-making skills?

When we are young, we have few responsibilities and most of the decisions that affect our lives are made by others, for example, our parents, relatives, teachers, etc.

However, as we grow older, one of the major steps in growing up is learning how to take responsibility for our own actions and make our own decisions. Just as it is inappropriate for very young children to make major decisions for themselves, it is also inappropriate for young adults to allow others to make their decisions for them. Of course, young people may wish to consult people who have more experience and expertise when preparing to make important decisions. But the basic decision should be their own.

What are some of the things to consider for good decision making?

Timing. Decisions should be made well in advance of the time when action must be taken.

What are the alternatives. Before making a decision, all the possibilities should be considered.

Getting good information. Part of decision making is getting good information. This means talking to people who know more than we do.

Putting the decision into action. Once a decision is made, it is necessary to act on it. Otherwise, things just stay the way they were.

Evaluating the effects of the decision. When a decision has been made and action taken, you should look closely at the results to see if you have achieved what you set out to do. This will let you continue to make decisions and improve even more.

How do people decide how many children to have

Traditionally, people in Africa have wanted to have large families for many sensible reasons.

The first reason is that people did not live as long as they do today. This is called low life expectancy. Because of this, it was important for a woman to have children as early as possible.

The second reason is that many babies died while they were still infants, making it important to have many children so that at least some would survive to become adults. This is called high infant mortality. In some Muslim societies, this is one of the reasons why the naming ceremony does not take place until the baby is 40 days old (although the baby is usually actually named immediately today)

The third reason is because in the past there was very little cost involved in children - there were no formal schooling costs, no hospital and medical expenses and so on. More children just meant more land could be cultivated and work could be shared by more people. Today though, many of these reasons are no longer true.

Modern medicine has meant that people live longer and that fewer babies die. Also there is now competition for land and it is not always possible to simply cultivate more land to feed more people.

So decisions about the number of children in a family today need to be based on a careful analysis of the possibilities for the family and the standard of living they wish to achieve. There is no standard family size that is best for everyone and there can be many good things about growing up in a large family - but what about the opportunities for the children when they become adults? For most families in Africa, a smaller number of children is more likely to result in a better standard of living and better opportunities than a larger number of children.

Decisions about when to have children are very important. Often, people have children immediately after they are married. In fact, many young women get married because they are already pregnant. Young couples may be anxious to have children, but by having children immediately, the husband and wife may give themselves heavy responsibilities before they are ready to meet them. Children born to mothers who are very young (under 18) or over 35 are much more likely to be sickly or to die in childhood. Teenage mothers are also much more at risk of dying in childbirth.

Spacing the birth of children is another way to help ensure healthy happy families. If children are born one after another, the mother has no time to recover her strength between pregnancies. This can result in a household affected by sickness and disease, in which children grow up without the attention and affection they need. By spacing her children, the mother can have more time for herself, her family or to work outside the household, for example, in an agricultural cooperative.

Children playing on the floor

Who decides how many children a family should have and when?

Who decides how many children a family should have and when?

The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them should be discussed and shared by the husband and wife together. Their primary goal should be to ensure that they will be able to meet the basic needs - food, health, affection, education housing - of all of their family.

Decisions about family size should not be made on the spur of the moment or be based on emotional reactions. They should be carefully considered over time because they will affect their entire lives.

It is important that young people make these decisions for themselves, based on careful thinking and good information. Of course, they may wish to discuss important decisions with their relatives, other members of the community, or social workers, but they should make their own decisions.

Situation No. 1

James and Theresa are in love with each other. He is studying at the regional training institute and she is in her second year of secondary school. They are trying to decide whether to get married...

James and Theresa


They decide to get married right away and continue their studies later.

They agree to wait until Theresa has completed her schooling before getting married.

The can't make decision and decide to split up.

They decide to wait until James has completed his training and found a good job.

They decide to buy tickets for the national lottery to win enough money to marry and live well.

They decide to keep on seeing each other, and if Theresa gets pregnant to get married.

Situation No. 2

Richard and Ana

Richard and Anna are newlyweds. They have a small house of their own and have been allocated a plot of land by the chief. At the wedding Richard's mother was very happy and said, "It won't be long now until I have a grandchild," but Richard and Anna are thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to wait to have their first child.


Even though they think it would be better if no children came for a year or two, they leave the decision to fate - whenever a child comes that will be OK.

They decide to delay the birth of a child and use traditional birth control methods, but to their surprise Anna becomes pregnant after six months.

Richard decides to please his mother and show his friends that he's a "real man."

After deciding to wait until they are economically and emotionally ready to have a child, they visit the family planning clinic for advice.

Situation No. 3

Joseph and Maggie

Joseph and Maggie are a young couple. They have been married for two and one-half years and have two baby girls. They love their children and would like to have another (they would like a boy) but things are not going very well economically for them right now. They are trying to decide whether to have another baby.


They decide that it is worth the risk of having another child in the hope that it will be a boy.

They decide not to worry about it because "three can live as cheaply as two."

They decide it would be better to wait before having another child and go to the family planning clinic for more information and help.

They decide to have the baby anyway and if they cannot care for it they will get a relative to raise the child.

Activity no. 3 - Small family/large family

Small family/large family

Making a chart as a group activity to promote discussion of factors which influence decisions about family size.



· The group leader sets up a chart with two headings: Factors which contribute to large families and Factors which contribute to small families.

· The group leader puts all of the factors (written on individual slips of paper) into a box or bag.

· Each group member in turn selects one slip of paper, reads the statement (if they cannot read, other group members or the group leader can read the statement) and says whether it should go under the large or small family column and why.

· Other group members agree or disagree.

· The leader writes the statement in the agreed column.

· The activity continues with the other statements and ideas from group members.

· The group then discuss the chart and how it relates to their own community.


So that group members will be able to:

· Identify factors that influence decisions about family size.

· Analyse the advantages and disadvantages of large and small families.

· Understand that a husband and wife can determine the size of the family and that the decision should be carefully considered and not left to chance.

· Develop responsible attitudes towards decision making about family size.



· Some large sheets of paper to make the chart.

· Writing materials.

· The suggested factors given on the next two pages (and any others the group leader may like to add), written onto individual strips of paper (see also the background information on pages 17-22 and 39-44).

· Participation of the group.

Factors leading to a large family size

Many children thought to provide security in old age.

Young age at marriage.

Men think that many children is a sign of their manliness.

Parents continue to have children until they have a son.

Parents get much enjoyment from children.

Women have no say in deciding family size.

Children thought of as cheap labour.

Lack of knowledge about how to control family size.

Lack of access to family planning services.

Sometimes religions teach that it is wrong to control family size.

Factors leading to a small family size

Quality of life for children thought more important than quantity of children.

Boys and girls are equally valued.

Knowledge of how to plan family size.

Later marriage and parenthood.

Religions teach that making good decisions is not going against God's will.

Access to family planning services.

Knowledge that security in old age is more likely from a few healthy well educated children than many poor children

Health of mother and child considered important.

Some background information for the group leader

What are some of the factors which lead to large family size in Africa?

· Social.

Children are expected to provide security for their parents in their old age.

People get much joy from children, especially when the children are young.

Parents who have only daughters may continue to have children in the hope of having at least one son to inherit the family land, business or name. Some women feel that having many children strengthens the security of a marriage. Some men consider having many children a proof of their manliness.

People may believe that having many children gives them a higher social status.

In some societies, women tend to marry and have children when very young, which means the length of time over which they can bear children is longer.

Women often have little say in deciding family size.

· Economic

Children may he viewed as a source of labour or income on the farm, or in the home or business.

Having more children may not be viewed as being expensive.

· Educational

People may not know that there are ways to control family size.

People may not know where to go for information and assistance with regard to family size and child spacing.

People may not realize the expenses of educating a large family.

· Religion

Different religions teach different ideas about families and family size.

Some people may believe that children come from God and the decision of how many children a couple should have should be left to God.

People may believe that nothing can be done to affect the number of children born because that is already decided by fate or by God.

While some of these reasons were valid in the past, in today's world, many no longer apply.

What are some of the factors that can influence people to have smaller families?

· Social

Fathers become aware that what is important is not the quantity of children they have, but the quality of life they are able to provide for each one.

Husbands and wives discuss their feelings about family size and make decisions that are good for both of them.

With fewer children, the mother has more time for herself and can become a more respected person in the community.

Parents understand that times have changed and that today's families do not need to be large because due to better medical facilities babies do not often die, people live longer lives and there is less land, work and facilities available for each person (as explained earlier on pages 17-22).

With fewer children, parents have more time to give attention and affection to each child.

There is more space in the household for each person.

· Economic

Parents recognize that children should not be viewed as sources of labour or income.

Boys and girls are viewed as equally valuable by the parents.

Parents understand that children are dependent on them for many years before they can begin to make a contribution to household income.

The parents do not have to work so hard to provide for the children. ildren.

· Educational

Parents recognize that children require an adequate education in order to find a good job. Smaller family size gives the mother more chance to take up opportunities for work and education. Parents are aware of the availability of effective, safe means of regulating family size. Parents understand the risks of early motherhood for both mother and child and prefer to postpone the birth of the first child.

· Religion


People recognize that making good choices is not going against the will of God. We do have some control over our lives and we have the freedom to make decisions which will be best for ourselves, our children and our community.

Activity no. 4 - Learning from an expert

Learning from an expert

A visit from the local family planning or planned parenthood worker.



· The group leader arranges in advance for a worker from the local family planning or planned parenthood association to visit the youth group.

· The leader explains to the group members that the family planning worker is there to help give them the information they need to make good decisions regarding family size and family spacing, and to answer any questions they may have.

· The family planning worker makes his or her presentation.

Note: See introductory unit on things to consider when using a resource person.


So that group members will be able to:

· Obtain good information needed to make responsible decisions regarding family size and spacing.

· Obtain information within the context of their group activities.

· Become aware of how to contact the family planning office or worker



· Good organization and coordination between the youth group leader and the family planning worker.

· Willingness to listen and learn on the part of the group members.

Some background information for the group leader

Where can young people get information and assistance to help them put their family size decisions into practice?

Information and assistance regarding family size and child spacing are available from your local family planning unit or council.
It might be appropriate for you, the group leader, to invite the local family planning or planned parenthood worker to come and talk to the members of the youth group and this topic.

Using a resource person like this is a good way to make your youth group activities even more interesting and useful to its members. These resource people can't replace you as the leader. But resource persons can help make your job better and easier too.

Booklets in this Leaders Guide Series:

Population and Agriculture
Population, Employment and Income
Population and the Environment
Population and Nutrition
Population and Health
The Family and Family Size
Human Growth and Development
Responsible Parenthood
How the Population Changes
Community Involvement

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Integration of Population Education into Programmes for Rural Youth INT/88/P9