births in the middle ages

Greetings all. For my new saga i am preparing a population of 1000 people that will be totally isolated from other communities. I've already, using a simplified version of the ars aging rules, created a method of seeing how long each individual will live.

What i now need is a method of determining births, and how many of those births die in childhood (pre 16).

I have no idea about medieval families. Can anyone tell me how often your average medieval family had a child, what the average rate of death for young 'uns was or how big families typically were?

Also, what age did women generally stop having kids?

If anyone has anything interesting related to any of this i'd love to hear it.



I've actually run a saga where such thing mattered, out rule was that a fertile, sexually active woman became pregnant on a stress roll of 3+, with a botch indicating a problem pregnancy.

Other random thoughts...

Infant mortality was quite high, though IIRC, if you survived the first year you would likely grow to adulthood, baring community wide illness. Never worked out mechanics for that.

I think family size would depend on wealth and status. However, a noble family would typically seek to have multiple sons to ensure someone survived to inherit, with deaths most frequently occurring in combat. Peasant families would try to be large enough to have enough people to work the land but small enough so inheritance conflicts didn't become a serious issue.

A fertile woman can have a kid once a year, every year, until menopause (estimate between 16-50... yeah, we have 12 year old going through puberty today that a mix of good nutrition and bovine growth hormone). However, folklore (with supporting fact) says that a breastfeeding woman will not become pregnant. Also various forms of contraceptives existed and were used.

Probably not as clear as you'd like, but maybe there's something helpful in there.

Here's the answer to the larger question I think you may be asking: a town doesn't grow unless it has the food to support that extra population.

In medieval Europe, unlike today, most of the land is forest. That means that "expanding a field" is more than just plowing - it's chopping trees, pulling roots (fun), digging up ever last stone larger then a fist - and then breaking sod for the first time, and weeding endlessly as the forest desperately tries to reclaim its own for about the first decade.

Most towns were relatively stagnant in growth - or, at least, they did not grow simply because people were having sex and getting pregnant.

So, if you want the town to grow, give it more land, and it will grow, and faster than mere birthrate, because outsiders will drift in as well (if the lords and law allow) - and if not, then it could stay a town of several hundred for centuries.

More than fun, its dangerous as heck. Guaranteed not to be a favourite pasttime.

Surviving first year means decent chances to live a long life, surviving childhood overall means good chances for a long life ( 60-90 years ).
Random accidents is the big killer outside of childhood.

Its not breastfeeding alone, a woman will usually not become pregnant within a year after giving birth AND for the same reason its also less common to have another pregnancy the second year after birth as well. (dont ask me for the exact numbers though, its my cousin thats the nurse, not me)

Half of the children died before reaching adulthood. People may get some illness and die anytime.
Cities were unhealthy locations and without settlers their inhabitants oftern decreased. The living condition modifier in the rulebook is right.

Some years ago I found some note from my ancestors. They lived with a century before. They had about twelve children and only 2-4 of them survived childhood. The rest died at various ages. Even my father had 2 brothers who died as children. Those were hard times.

You may calculate with 0,2% increase per year on the average after accidents, diseases, lesser plagues, famines, wars etc.

While it is true that towns don't grow because of bonking alone, it is also true that during the 13th century in much of Europe the population of most towns increased dramatically.

Whether and why this happens in Mythic Europe is something that will vary from saga to saga, I imagine.

Absolutely true - but the premise of the question here seemed to be that birthrates = population increase, which is what I was addressing. (Tho' maybe I was reading something in to it.)

I'm no Historical Sociologist, but I believe the reason so many were growing was that technology and wealth were increasing, allowing rulers to invest in expanding their farmland and agricultural base, which in turn allowed for that population ("cheap labor") increase, which in turn fed the cycle again.

Iirc, it was during this general period that much of the forested land in Europe and England vanished, or noticeably began to.

Thats exceptionally bad! 19th century you mean?
Reading statistics here i would first of all not expect any average family to have 12 children at all( 3-6 was the common, 7 or 8 far from rare), and 2nd i would certainly expect more than half to survive childhood(3/4 more likely), only exception being in extreme times, like the horrible years that spawned the 2 large Swedish waves of emigration to USA in the 19th century...
Think 2 meters of snow in JULY in the middle of the country and you have a clue why there was "trouble".

I have no idea about the 'average' family size.
The info the half died was in my history book. It is quite reasonable before the vaccinations.

The 13th century was the last part of the medieval warm period in which the European population doubled. Simply there was enough food.
The first strong sing of its end was the great famine in Northern Europe in 1315-17.

Ascadi & Nemeskeri (1970)* report that 20% of children who had survived the first year of their life (which itself had a 25% mortality) died before age 20.

*History of Human Life Span and Mortality. Akademiai Kiado, Budapest.

Hope this helps,


So roughly speaking, half the children made it to adulthood. of those that died, half died in their first year of life and the others along the way for several reasons. Nice to know :slight_smile: