©Wellcome Library, London

Swiss peasant family with 15 children

Idealised representations of family life amongst the poor depicted a large brood of rosy children. In reality, the nuclear family of north-western Europe was small, perhaps no more than 4-5 children, because women often did not marry until their mid-20s. In certain cities, however, the rate of illegitimacy was very high. In 1772, about 40% of children born in Paris were placed in foundling homes. In southern and eastern Europe, most women were married by the age of 20, and married couples simply joined a larger household. The number of children born to these couples was probably twice that of the north-west.

From a calendar, Der hinkende Mercurius, 1783.

Source: Edouard Lombard. Der medizinische inhalt der schweizerischen volkskalender. Zurich, 1925.