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When Are Children from Large Families Disadvantaged? Evidence from Cross-National Analyses

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Using data from Demographic and Health Surveys for 16 less developed countries, this paper examines the impact of family size on children's physical growth. To explore the conditions under which children in large families are disadvantaged compared with those from smaller families, results from country-specific regressions of children's height-for-age on family size are interpreted in light of a variety of socio-economic indicators. This exercise suggests that the effect of family size on children's well-being depends on the extent to which parents - rather than the extended family or state - bear the cost of rearing children, and on the level of economic development. With the emphasis on privatization and reduction in state support for food, health care, and education, parents are becoming increasingly responsible for the welfare of their children. If this trend is accompanied by increasing nuclearization of the family, there will be very few sources of support left for large families. Thus, the burden of high fertility is more likely to be felt directly by parents and, as a result, by their children. Although this pressure may lead to a decline in fertility over the long run, in the short run it is likely to increase the vulnerability of children in large families.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology University of Maryland

Publication date: July 1, 1995

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