Illinois couple welcomes 100th grandchild. Where do big families fit?

Leo and Ruth Zanger of Quincy, Ill., have 12 children, 53 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild, for a total of 100 grandchildren.

Phil Carlson/The Quincy Herald-Whig via AP/file
In this April 2015 photo, Leo and Ruth Zanger sit with their 100th grandchild, Jaxton Zanger, in Leo's real estate office in Quincy, Ill.

How would you remember everyone's names if you had 100 grandchildren?

Ask Leo and Ruth Zanger of Quincy, Ill., who recently welcomed their 100th grandchild. Yes, 100th. 

Grandson Austin Zanger and his wife, Ashleigh, welcomed their son Jaxton on April 8th. He is Leo and Ruth's 46th great-grandchild and 100th grandchild.

Leo and Ruth have been married for 59 years and had 12 children of their own. The youngest, Joe, was already an uncle 10 times over when he was born in 1984, according to a report by the Quincy Herald-Whig.

Today, Ruth and Leo have 53 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. A large number for any family, but Ruth Zanger told the Quincy Herald-Whig, "There's always room for one more." 

Maybe. But not all of today's parents share Zanger's attitude. According to a May 2015 study done by the Pew Research Center, four in ten mothers between the ages of 40 and 44 had four or more children in 1976. But by 2014, 41% of mothers the same ages had only two children.

Ruth Zanger may have fit the mold in 1976. But times have changed – although Zanger's children have been less quick to adopt the social trends of their era. 

Ruth and Leo have 12 children and 53 grandchildren. If you do the math that's about four children a piece for each of their children. This makes them part of the 14% minority that have 4+ children in 2014, according to the study

A Census Bureau graph analyzing trends from 1940 to 2014 shows that the number of people in a married household was on a steady decline from the 1960s to the 1980s, going from an average of about 3.75 people to around 3.25 people. 

And yet recently high-profile families like that of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt – who have six children – have created media buzz around the idea of a return to a larger family. "Is four the new two?" asks a recent Slate article, while a piece in Forbes wonders if more children and larger families have become status symbols. 

Not likely, says Zenchao Qian, a sociology professor at Ohio State University of a return to the larger family. If anything, fluctuations in family size result from natural movements in population. He reasons that the majority of large families today are first-generation immigrant families, but that as these families grow deeper roots in the US, they will strive to fit "the norm of the American family" and gravitate toward lower birth rates.

Qian says that in America today, family size is determined by the "desire" of the parents. American couples now make decisions based on a desire to have a child, an option that wasn't available in earlier years when birth control was non-existent. Qian says that he doesn't think recent "faux trends" toward larger families are permanent.

The Baby Center published an article about family size that looked at how large families operate and why mothers decide to have a lot of children.

The most powerful motivation, pediatrician JoAnn Rohyans of Columbus, Ohio, told the Baby Center, crosses generational and class lines. What unites her big-family patients, she says, is that, "They just really enjoy their kids and think that two is not enough."

Austin Zanger, father of the 100th grandchild, expounds on this message. 

"We're all really close.... There's always a lot of interaction. We spend a lot of time with each other."

And as for remembering names? Not a problem, according to what Ruth Zanger told the Quincy Herald-Whig. "All the grandkids know us." 

[Editor's note: The original summary misidentified the number of great-grandchildren.]

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