GAs Having Children and Talking about Having Children

In comments on Steve Evans’s recent post at BCC on how birth rates might be increased in accordance with GAs’ counsel to have more children, the question was briefly raised of how many children GAs themselves have. One commenter pointed to a post at By Study and Faith where Jared had found that younger members of the Quorum of the 12 have fewer children on average than do older members.

In this post, I will try to expand a little on Jared’s study by looking at FP/Q12 members over a longer period of time, as well as by trying to look at the link between GAs having lots of children and GAs encouraging Church members to have lots of children more explicit.

FP/Q12 Number of Children Across Time

I began by expanding Jared’s list of FP/Q12 members back in time to see if there was a clearer trend. I wanted to get as much data as possible, but I didn’t want to go far enough to get into years of polygamy, where the number of children a man had might be strongly affected by how many wives he had. I chose my dataset to be all FP/Q12 members called since 1920. I got the list of members from, and the numbers of children for each man from Grandpa Bill’s General Authority Pages. Grandpa Bill did fail me for three men, who I looked up on Family Search. (My sister Elbereth will be so proud!)

Here’s a graph showing the number of children each FP/Q12 member had, organized by calling date. (A graph by birthdate–not shown–looks very much the same.) I added a best-fit line (in green) and a 10-year moving average (in red).

number of children by calling date fp q12 called since 1920

Wow! I was totally expecting to find obviously declining birth rates here. The US birth rate fell by about in half during this time period, and even though the Mormon birth rate has been higher, I thought it had still declined. But from both the linear trend (very slightly negative) and the moving average, it appears that there’s no trend over time for FP/Q12 members.

Regarding Jared’s original finding that newer FP/Q12 members had fewer children, it’s possible that this is just a chance finding that happens when you pull 15 data points out and analyze them. Or perhaps it’s a real trend, but the trend has only begun. I guess only time will tell.

Conference Talks on Having Children

I also thought it would be interesting to look at whether there is a trend in how often the importance of having children is discussed in Conference. I looked for Conference talks that brought up this issue given between 1971 and 2013. If a talk met either of the following two criteria, I counted it as mentioning the topic:

Here’s a graph showing the number of talks each year meeting either or both of the above criteria. I added a 10-year moving average (in orange).

conference talks on multiply and replenish since 1971

Like with the previous graph, it really doesn’t look like there’s much of a trend. There’s a bump around the introduction of the Proclamation on the Family in the mid-1990s, and there’s maybe a decline from a higher level in the 1970s, but this might just be a random wiggle.

Also like the previous graph, I was expecting to see more change. It would make sense for the rate to go down over time as reproduction maybe becomes less of an emphasis in the Church. Or it would make sense for the rate to go up as Church members start having fewer kids and GAs’ try to counteract the trend. But a flat trend with a few bumps isn’t at all what I was expecting.

GAs Having Children and Talking about Having Children

Going back to the discussion on Steve’s post, it looks like it was being suggested that FP/Q12 members who have more children might talk about the importance of having kids more. So I decided to look at this question too.

For each current member of the FP and Q12, I counted up how many talks he has given in Conference that meet one or both of the criteria in the previous section for having brought up having children. Then I looked at how long each man has served to get a rate of number of talks per decade he gives that address this topic. (I originally used number of talks per year, but the resulting fractional rates are harder to wrap my head around.) I then compared this rate for each man to how many children he has.

Here is a graph showing the result. The graph is a scatterplot, in case you’ve come across such things before. Each man is represented by a single point on the plot. The horizontal distance from the left side of the plot to the point tells how many children the man has. The vertical distance from the bottom of the plot to the point tells how many talks per decade he has given on having children. For example, toward the upper right hand corner is Elder Nelson’s point. It is 10 units from the left side of the plot because he has 10 children. It is 2 units up from the bottom of the plot because he has given 2 talks per decade on having children.

fp q12 conference talks on multiply and replenish by number of children

We finally have something interesting to talk about! It looks clear that the more children a man has, the more likely he is to talk about the importance of having children in Conference. (The Pearson correlation between the variables is 0.48. This is on a scale from -1 [perfect negative relationship] to 1 [perfect positive relationship].) Also striking is the variability in how often different members talk about having children. Seven of the 15 have never talked about it in Conference at all, while others bring it up as often as 10% of their talks (2/decade=1/10 for a non-FP member).

Of course this analysis is like Jared’s that I linked to at the beginning of this post. It uses only a small number of records, so it might be showing just a chance relationship that would vanish if studied more thoroughly. I do suspect that there is something real going on here, though. It would make sense for FP/Q12 members to talk more about commandments that meant more to them personally, and that they felt they might have done well at fulfilling.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on any of the results or on the topic more generally.


  1. Fascinating, Ziff! What I find interesting about the first graph is that there are quite a few GAs clustered around the 2 to 4 range, but those who have 4 or more children appear to be more spread out. So while those with more children are pulling the mean up, about half of the GAs in the graph have 4 or less children. I was always a bit surprised when I found out that top GAs in the church had relatively small families as many of the families in my ward growing up had 6 or more kids. I heard strong messages growing up that members shouldn’t use birth control and should have as many children as they could so it often didn’t make sense to me that so many GAs seemed to have “small” families. But the last graph does seem to shed some light on the situation. Those who are emphasizing commandments about having more children are those who have more children themselves, while those who have small families just don’t talk about family planning as much.

  2. There are lots of medical school families in my ward, so I often hear people complaining about the scheduling of those in training. Although there have been reforms in recent years to cap the number of hours residents can spend in the hospital, I have heard the idea of doctors’ resistance to these reforms likened to a dysfunctional family: I suffered through crazy training and you (younger ones) should have to, too. Sometimes I wonder if people with big families feel the same way: I did this because that was my interpretation of the commandments, how dare you define replenishing as a simple doubling of your number!

    I would much rather hear talks about quality parenting than quantity. I am one of 10 kids and I think my parents are fabulous; I also think I did not have the same closeness and attention from them that my 3 kids will get from me. Some of my siblings interpret that lack of closeness and attention as a lack of love–I don’t agree, but I understand their feelings. Who cares how many kids you have if you are not an available parent? Certainly not the kids themselves.

  3. I agree that the most striking point of the graphs for me is that the people with “big” families are the outliers. 2-4 kids is definitly where most of the GAs live. That interests me.

  4. Sometimes I wonder if people with big families feel the same way: I did this because that was my interpretation of the commandments, how dare you define replenishing as a simple doubling of your number!

    This strikes me a perfect example of escalation of commitment.

  5. Your Linear Trend in GA children went from slightly below 6 to slightly below 4. Doesn’t that suggest a 20-30% drop?

    Also, if you grouped this into 20 year chunks, wouldn’t you end up with a more telling trend, especially considering that your standard deviation would be radically declining.

    Also worth noting, no GA had no children or even just one child.

  6. That’s a good point, Matt. I’ve probably undersold the change over time in the first graph. It’s about 1/10th of a child per decade decline, and R squared = .01. So it’s not giant, but it’s probably not quite zero. 🙂

    ESO and Katya, I think that’s a really interesting point. I think it’s probably far more general than choosing how many children to have. It seems like people who have made sacrifices to follow a commandment are often frustrated with people who have taken a less hard-line stance and so have in some sense “gotten off easier.” I’m thinking of like Sabbath day observance. “How dare someone have more fun on Sunday when I’ve given up so much to make sure I’m within the hedge about the law?” for example.

    And good point, Beatrice and Matt. It’s interesting that there are so many in that narrow 2 to 4 range that’s past zero or one, but certainly not big by historical Mormon norms.

  7. Can you do this for the women in leadership? I noticed that the current RS presidency has 25 children between the three of them (6, 6, 13) and in light of this I’d wonder whether that’s just a strange blip right now or part of a larger trend.

  8. Good question, Petra. I looked up the General RS presidents before writing this post but ended up not including them. I’ll see how hard it would be to expand to counselors and other presidencies made up of women.

  9. Great extension of my analysis. Including historical data makes it more informative in that there doesn’t seem to be a decline over time in the number of children. However, what’s interesting is that 3 children is the mode (what it is for the current 15 apostles). In fact, the distribution of children is almost bimodal (2 and 3). That’s likely what’s reducing the time effect. Also, does that mean that someone with 2-3 children is more likely to be called as an apostle?

    If you haven’t already check out my analysis of the current group of 1st quorum of 70:

    70s would be a much larger sample size to look at over time, if anyone is bored…

  10. Just read through the comments – probably should have done that before commenting.

    Great comments with people already pointing out the number having 2-3 children.

    Maybe instead of year of calling look at year of birth and number of children. I found hints of a relationship between age and number of children but being able to have a larger sample size could elucidate things. I’d be happy to run the analyses if you don’t mind sending me your data.

  11. The peak in the 10 year average is in the mid to late 1980’s. This could be caused by any number of factors including:
    1. President Kimball’s administration and the immediate follow-up.
    2. Reaction against Roe v. Wade and other social trends in society.
    3. Calling of men who started families during the earlier baby boom.
    4. Some other cause.
    I think that #3 is the most likely, with random chance also in the mix. If #3 is part of the cause, the current decline should be expected to continue for a while.

  12. This is interesting! I don’t have any great insights, but just wanted to say I appreciate you efforts, Ziff.

  13. I’ve recently become aware that most conservative members believe that all GA’s are saying the same thing about every subject. If one GA says large families are better then all GA’s believe it.

    So if they hear the few GA’s who talk about large families, they believe they are all saying that. So they never hear the message that smaller families are OK. So these members submit their will to the belief that large families is what the Lord wants.

    To actually question how many children each GA has would be disobedient.

  14. Don’t forget that many people cannot control the number of children they have. 1 in 4 couples have difficulty having children and 1 in 10 cannot without extraordinary means. Just because a couple does not have children or only has one or two, does not mean that they did not want more.

  15. Geoff A. You know some very strange people. But I wouldn’t apply the broad label “conservatives” to what you have “recently found.” I have known quite a few “liberals” that treat the GAs that same way.

  16. Oh, I definitely agree, wonderdog. I guess I was just thinking that by the time a man is called to the Twelve, he and his wife are done having kids, so whatever the reasons for high or low numbers, they are what they are. So it’s kind of more a question about whether the Twelve who are already in are using number of kids as a criterion. Just from the overview level, it doesn’t appear that they are.

  17. Ziff, something to add for consideration here is at what age did the member of the 12 marry and how old was his wife. That would be the next great factor on how many children they had. Many of the 12 married much later than is often considered the norm in Mormon culture – especially in the early 20th Century. I’m sure there are related reasons concerning a young man gaining sufficient professional experience to support a wife, lengthy missions, and other cultural reasons. But they’re worth calling out because they cause people to step outside their preconceived notions.

  18. Fascinating stuff, Ziff! It looks like Packer and Nelson have a disproportionate impact on the correlation judging from your last figure. If they are excluded, is there really any correlation at all? Perhaps this just goes to show that a couple of relatively idiosyncratic apostles can have an outsized impact on the discourse.

  19. I just cross-posted this to FMH FB page with these comments: VERY interesting, especially to me as I’m in the age range when BC was taught as sinful and I heard plenty of talks about having lots of children. The reality is, that pressure to have many children and not use BC was a HUGE contributor to my divorce from “righteous” LDS X. He also felt I “belonged” to him via the temple sealing ceremony, which also gave him the right to rape me. The early years of our marriage were spent at BYU, so we probably heard more talks about “multiply and replenish” than other might have heard. I strongly feel the church rhetoric during the 29 years we were married contributed to his abuse of me and me buying into it. Now, I hate how I was brow-beaten into having so many children. PLEASE don;t get me wrong – I LOVE my nine kids – all grown but one. My X was took to heart EVERY thing he heard from a GA, SP, etc. about having lots of children, then took that to mean LOTS of sex without BC. For me , these “wise” words very extremely damaging.

  20. The disappearance of the >6 category for the past 23 years seems significant. It was never the majority, but a complete absence makes a difference.

  21. That disappearance at the 23-year mark may have to do with seat belt and child car seat laws a decade or two before that.

    After a certain point in our national history, deciding to have more than 5 or 6 kids means you’re also committing to drive an Astro van, and it takes a very particular or dedicated (or whatever) person to be willing to do that, no matter what your religious ideals.

  22. Hans Rosling, see TED talk– expected to find a strong relationship between religion and the number of children. However, this was not the case. He found the relationship to be stronger with socioeconomic levels and education (particularly of the women.) I wonder how our GAs would map out according to his specifications if there would be a difference in income or if in this case it could be attributed to religious upbringing. I also find it interesting to consider while looking at the first graph that the children these men had when they came into the calling were conceived a decade or two earlier when perhaps more of the preaching on “no birth-control” happened.

    Ziff excellent collection and demonstration of the data! Superb!

  23. Thanks, Hinged. That is really interesting!

    Jared, sorry I’ve taken so long to respond, but I’ve emailed you the data if you want to do more analyses with it.


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