What’s rarer than an orchid in the Mall or a nightingale at Heathrow? We regularly campaign to protect and save plants, endangered birds and unique buildings, but one institution is fast disappearing from modern society – the big family. The average unit remains stuck at just under two children – and shows little sign of increasing. The young no longer spawn unwanted babies, thanks to the morning after pill and better sex education, making gym slip mums a thing of the past. Modern women are work orientated, having their first baby later and one in five over forty are childless. Just fifty years ago, though, big families were commonplace – and more than a hundred and fifty years ago they were the norm. Queen Victoria’s life has just been turned into highly popular ITV drama, but her huge family (nine children, the first born when she was 21, 40 grandchildren, and 37 great-grandchildren) would be regarded as rather peculiar in modern Britain. Many people would probably wonder – does this mother belong to a religious sect? Is she super-rich or an immigrant from a culture of extended families, where both grannies live within the house and look after the children? Why did she choose to put her body through all that breeding? In the (predominately white) first world, the big family is often viewed with suspicion. This week attention was drawn to a family in Luton who have turned down the offer of a council house with FIVE bedrooms for their eight children. We do not know the details of their circumstances, but the parents originally came from Cameroon and settled in France. He is a trainee mental health nurse studying and working part-time for the NHS, and as an EU citizen is entitled to claim housing benefits. Mr Sube is entitled to reject the home made available by his local council, but I very much doubt he will be offered anything larger. It is the size of his family that has attracted negative comment – and it’s interesting to examine why. In the last couple of years, the number of families with more than four children has started to rise in the UK, to one of the highest levels in the EU – analysts put the increase down to immigration and the overall number of children remains small. The average British family still consists of one or at best two kids, with the cost of childcare and housing given as the main reasons. Big families are popular with the very rich and the pretty poor – a large brood is an acceptable (and even revered) way of displaying your affluence – with David Beckham and Jamie Oliver each fathering four and five kids respectively. High profile women like Angelina Jolie and Madonna both opted to adopt and enlarge their families to reinforce their credentials as “earth mothers”. One female city fund manager has nine kids – and (obviously) the money to pay for the help and a luxurious mansion. That’s far from the norm – although two thirds of British parents say they cannot afford to have a second baby, when you consider the conditions in which their grandparents grew up, this is surprising. Are people limiting their families because they are brainwashed into giving their children a bedroom of their own, and far more space than kids got fifty years ago? Most of my contemporaries grew up sharing bedrooms with siblings until they were teenagers or left home. These days, parents want the best for their children, and that is understandable. But perhaps they are guilty of feather-bedding their offspring. Surveys show that the happiest families are those with three or four children, not those with single siblings with their own bedroom and loads of gadgets. Mr Sube and his family are probably very content – and (with an ageing population and low birth rate) those kids will be an essential part of the UK’s work force in the coming years. The Tories might want to limit benefits to people with just two kids, but that’s not exactly a cause worth fighting, more a crowd-pleasing statement of intent which will produce meagre financial gains. The truth is our economy needs large families.