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Actually, I came not just to talk but to catch a cab to meet with this couple I know. No kids, and they don't plan on any. So this is a gift, finding guys for whom family is one of life's Great Imperatives.

I jump into the cab of Herzi's friend Ahmed and head off towards Point Loma.

Ahmed's 31. He has three children.

I ask, "How many more would you like to have?"

"Whatever God gives me."

"Does it depend on how rich you are?"

"No. It doesn't depend on how much you earn. It depends on what God wills. Exactly."

"Is contraception allowed?"

"No. That's against the religion. And 100 percent of us are Muslim."

His wife's name is Armina.

"Is she happy to have children?"

"Yes, of course. Yes."

What strikes me, as we bounce along Rosecrans, heading for Lytton, is how most of what Ahmed and Herzi are saying would resonate with Barbara de La Torre, a woman I talked to the other day, an Anglo married to a Latino. A friend had put us in contact. De La Torre is an example of "at least one Anglo who's having a big family." She and her husband Dave live in a 1300-square-foot home in Vista with eight kids, ranging from 19 down to 11 months.

"Why so many kids?" I asked.

"We're Catholic, and our marriage vows included being open to having children," she said. "That's part of our faith, and we thought, as the children came, that the joy and blessings of each child confirmed to us the wisdom and the reasoning the Catholic church had in putting that in the marriage vows."

"Didn't you wish for fewer children and more time for a career, for yourself?"

"Oh, no," Barbara said. "Never. I don't regret any, and I would wish we had even more. I have spoken to many people, and many say, 'I wish I had more children' -- and by the time they're saying this, they're past the age where they could -- but I've never heard anyone say, 'I've had too many.' "

Isn't stretching the dollar always a strain?

"Amazingly, God gives us just enough to get by. My husband's a land surveyor. Depending on the economy, his work goes up and down -- and it seemed like every time work got real slow, and we didn't know when the next paycheck was coming...we would get pregnant. And then, as soon as we got pregnant -- I'm not kidding -- every single time, something broke through. He got a job. I would love to go back and document how many times [this happened]. It was just amazing. I'm an RN. And I worked all the way up to the sixth child. I'd work a 12-hour night shift once a week. I did it either a Friday or a Saturday night so we didn't have to have babysitting. And then with Johnny, the sixth, I stopped. I love being an RN. It's in my blood. But I much prefer being a full-time mom."

How hard is it running a large family?

"When I had two kids, that was a lot harder than having lots of kids. Lots of kids is easier. Because they play with each other, and they keep each other busy, and they learn a lot of things, like working together, sharing, cooperation, these types of things that help build the character. I'm 47. I call [11-month-old] Sara 'my little miracle.' The pregnancies are just a little bit harder now. I had medical problems this time, but everything turned out fine."

Why do you think there's such a drop in births, and family size, today?

"I think a lot of it has to do with today's society. It's very materialistic. In order for people to get all the things that society tells them they need, it requires a lot of money. And that in turn requires couples to think that they have to restrict the number of children in order to have the big huge house and all the amenities and all the expensive things out there. And I think that all the joys and blessings that come from large families are not put out in society, in television, on radio. It shows only families that are small. People think that's normal and that's how it should be. I don't think people are shown how wonderful large families can be."

I mention Cheaper by the Dozen, the 1950 classic with Myrna Loy (taking Barbara's role) and Clifton Webb (being Dave) and the 2003 remake with Bonnie Hunt and Steve Martin. Or 1968's Yours, Mine, and Ours, with Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, and its 2005 remake. These are big-family movies that give you a -- perhaps temporary -- yearning to do what Barbara's living.

"Have you seen them?" I ask.

"No," she says. "I haven't had time."

If God is a big factor in determining some families' size and outlook, demographers say it is earthly issues, and the idea of "modernity," that impact fertility most. "Modernity [has] had a lot to do with the place of women, right?" Schafer says. "If you look at societies that still have fairly high fertility, the place of women in these societies isn't that great. For example: in Moslem countries there's still a pretty high fertility rate. And the woman's role in those societies is still pretty circumspect. If a society is more egalitarian between genders, then you see a lower fertility rate."

And, it may sound obvious, Schafer says, but people tend to have more children where medicine is less sophisticated, where the children might die. And, he says, you see it also in agrarian societies, where children are actually essential, useful, both when they're growing up, as free labor on the farm, and when they're grown, as a means of support. "It's about the 'intergenerational transfer of wealth,' " Schafer says. "It used to be that you had a lot of kids, and after, say, the age of ten, they could start providing wealth for the family, to the mother and father, so there was a transfer of wealth to the adults. Nowadays, I [know] people who have kids who are well into their 20s and these people are still supporting their children. [Here] you just keep giving kids more and more money, and the length [of time] they stay at home is starting to increase."

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