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close this bookExploding the Hunger Myths - High School Curriculum (FF, 1987, 173 p.)
close this folderLesson 3: Are there too many people?
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentActivity 1: What is overpopulation?
View the documentActivity 2: Why do people have children?

Activity 2: Why do people have children?

Students will use discussion and role playing to discover how parents from three different countries feel about having children. The activity attempts to approach a delicate subject in a matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental manner.


· To understand why people have different family-size needs
· To develop interviewing and questioning skills
· To use role play to present another person's point of view


· Student handouts:

Rural Family in India
Rural Family in Mexico
Urban Family in the United States
Talking about Families


One hour


Participation in role play/discussion, written or oral answers to study questions


family planning, rupee


1. Discuss the notion of planning a family. Ask students to describe reasons parents might choose to have many or few children. You might want to divide these into personal, economic, religious, and cultural reasons. Listing these separate categories on the board is helpful.

2. Divide the class into three groups of approximately equal size. Each group will represent one of the three families described in the student handouts. Distribute handouts accordingly.

3. Ask each group to read its role description sheet. You may wish to assign the readings as homework.

4. Have each group prepare to role-play their family's viewpoint about having children, using the questions at the bottom of their role descriptions. Each should decide on its spokespersons and how to divide up the presentation.

5. In setting up the role play, the students may wish to develop characters for other family members.

6. During the role-play discussion, students should be situated so that they can observe each other and participate.

7. Let each group explain its point of view about having children.

8. Using the handout Talking about Families, student volunteers (or the teacher) should lead discussion among the groups. The interviewing students can take the role of journalists. The answering students should remember to keep in character.

9. Afterwards, discuss the families' viewpoints. You may wish to ask if any conclusions can be drawn regarding the reasons people have children. How do those reasons relate to other factors in peoples' lives, such as caring for the elderly or needing children as workers?

What suggestions can the students make regarding each of these families? Are their suggestions realistic given the family's situation? For example, students may suggest that Maria's family have no more children. Why might this be difficult for that family? Might some families need more children? How might family planning when applied without an understanding of the social and economic role of children be harmful to those it is designed to assist? What would happen to the Indian family if the parents had been forced to have fewer children? Can the students envision successful programs designed and run by the people directly affected? Would a strong family planning program end poverty and hunger for these families? What else would help end hunger?

10. As a final summary of this lesson, refer back to the assumption that hunger exists because there are too many people to feed. Ask students to give their reactions. How have their assumptions changed? Does the assumption lead us to any conclusions that could be harmful to other people? Remember the Mexican and Indian families. Would having fewer children end the food problems of Veradhran Ramnad and Maria?



· MADRE (organization)
· Message from the Village (book), by Perdita Huston
· Needless Hunger: Voices from a Bangladesh Village (book), by Betsy Hartmann and James Boyce
· Third World Women Speak Out (book), by Perdita Huston


In daily conversation, students can counter false assumptions or misstatements about population and hunger with the facts. Students can also write articles on population and hunger for their school paper. Topics could include the occurrence of hunger in a sparsely populated country or why people have children.


Students can call attention to false assumptions in news reports, periodicals, or advertising by writing a letter to the broadcasting station, publishing agency, or company.

Have students write a group letter or circulate a petition for even more impact. Make sure the petition is short and clear so that people signing will understand it. Camilla Taylor, a fifteen-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio, circulated a peace petition on her own and gathered 81,000 signatures. She planned to take the petition to the next U.S.-U.S.S.R. summit.


Students can volunteer for local groups working for health and nutrition education. These organizations often need volunteers for jobs ranging from office work to working in clinics to helping teachers. Contact your local public health office to learn of local programs and organizations.

· Community Nutrition Institute (organization)
· Center for Science in the Public Interest (organization)

Rural family in India

Veradhran Ramnad, the father of four daughters, lives in the district of Tamil Nadu, India.

"If I did not have my four daughters, I wonder what would have happened to us by now. They are saviors that God has sent to look after us. Soon my eldest daughter, who is ten, will be earning two rupees a month cleaning a house for a wealthier family. By next year my second daughter, who is eight, will be earning money also. If we had sons, we could earn much more since they can do harder labor; but it is nice to have healthy daughters. They look after the young children and make it possible for my wife to work. Soon the younger ones can work too.

Rural family in India

"When Indian parents die, it is the custom to divide up the land they owned among their children. The division of land among our daughters doesn't worry us, however; we don't have any land.

"The government's family planning workers do not understand our point of view about our daughters. After all the hard work my family does, we can only save one rupee per day [about 8 cents] after we have bought our food. This one rupee has to be saved for clothing, for illness, and for other needs of the family. When my daughters are able to work, they can add to this savings.

"And the family planning workers don't understand that I have had seven children but only four have survived. And I do not know how long these four will survive. There is so little help for us when we are sick.

"If I did not have my children, life would be more difficult for us. What happens when my wife becomes older and cannot work? Who will look after her? The family planning workers are not going to help her then. Our children are important members of this family by age seven. If we do not have elder children the mother has to stay at home to look after the young ones, and this reduces the family income. By the time they are twelve years old, the children are earning one-third of our family's income - which is enough to feed the young ones.

- Adapted from "The Experts,. (New York: New Internationalist Publications, 1971), poster


1. How many children does Veradhran want? Why?
2. How do children contribute to the family's livelihood?
3. Where do the elderly live, and how are they supported in old age?

Rural family in Mexico

Maria Louisa Is a forty-year-old mother of seven children who lives in a small village in Mexico. The village has undergone great change since Maria and her husband were married. When they were first married, farming was done by hand on their own small farms. Now most of the farms are large and use machines and irrigation. Small farms were bought by richer farmers, and small farmers had to become laborers on the large farms to earn a living. Maria's family has only a house and small garden. Maria's husband works on the big farm; but there isn't enough work there for her children, and even her husband only works part of the year.

Rural family in Mexico

"If I could go back and choose the number of my children, I would only have one or two. Look at me, I look so old. That is because we work so hard with all these children. And there isn't enough food for all of us. I don't need more children. We would need more land if we had more mouths to feed.

"Once it was, but it is not important any more, to have children to help with the work in the fields and in the house. Now, the more children you have, the more work you have.

"I am going to teach my daughters about family planning. I am going to tell them so that they will have a choice of what to do, of how many children to have. Three children is the most they should have. Even four is all right. But no more than four, for sure. Times have changed. We can't have ten children any more. There is no work for them.

"But the men say terrible things about women who want birth control. Some say the only reason you want it is so that you can go with other men."

- Adapted from "The Experts,. (New York: New Internationalist Publications, 1971), poster


1. How many children does Maria want? Why?
2. How has the role of children changed since Maria and her husband were married?
3. Do mothers and fathers in a family ever feel different about the number of children they want? Why?

Urban family in the United States

Rose is a working mother living in Chicago, Illinois.

"I think two kids are enough for one family to have. Good grief, I can hardly keep the two we have in clothing. Bills just seem to get worse every year. I shudder to think about how we're going to send them to college. Scholarship funds are getting cut every year. I wish Jim and Mary weren't so close in age; they will be starting college about two years apart if they go at all. But right now, just buying clothes is a problem. The kids are growing fast, and I can hardly keep up. Not only that, they want everything they see advertised or the latest fad at school.

"When I'm at work, I worry about the kids. Daycare was expensive; now they're both in public school. And now I worry about them during the time between when school gets out and I get home from work.

Urban family in the United States

"With kids, your social life is shot. I remember after the first baby, it got more difficult to get together with friends. Dan and I haven't had more than one or two evenings alone in a year.

"Already we're thinking about retirement. We've both got pension plans at work, and if everything goes well we'll do all right when we retire. The kids will probably take off and move away.

"Boy, I've sounded negative. Actually I really love the kids. It's just with any more of them, our finances would really be pushed to the limit and I'd be worn to a frazzle. The kids would really get the short end of the stick then. That's why we decided to have only two."

- From an interview by Sonja Williams, Urbana, 111., 1985


1. How many children does Rose want? Why?
2. Do her children contribute to the family's livelihood?
3. How are the elderly supported in their old age?


1. Who are you? What is your position in the family?
2. How many people are in your family?
3. Where does your family live?
4. What do members of your family do for a living?
5. How many children do you have? Do you want more children?
6. What are some problems in caring for your family?
7. How does your society care for aged persons?
8. What changes has your family seen in family life during your lifetime?
9. How do different family members feel about family size?
10. How do you think society affects the size of families?