Families were important to all men, regardless of social class. In the upper classes, it was imperative for a man to have an heir so he could pass on his title and lands. If a man was not part of the nobility, he was only eligible to hold a position of civic responsibility or be considered the legal head of household if he was married. Children were also important to peasants, since they could assist with the labor at a young age, and the male children could carry on the family name. Tradesmen could also pass their trade down to their sons.
For the upper classes, marriages were generally arranged so that it would be advantageous to both families. More often than not, neither the bride nor the groom had a choice in it. The marriages would be arranged when the bride and groom were still children, and their families were often friends or neighbors. The wife was expected to come with a dowry, or marriage portion, and became her husband’s property after the wedding. Love rarely factored into these marriages at all.
The lower classes had a little more say in who they could marry, and could marry for love. However, men generally considered that their wives (and subsequent children) would help them with the labor, rear the children, and possibly have a side industry. Lower class women also came with small dowries, or none at all, so this was taken into consideration as well.
Many children were expected, due to the high infant mortality rates, in order to ensure that there would be an heir. Sons were desired above all, even in peasant families. The eldest son was generally the heir, but sometimes circumstances would lead to lands and titles being passed on to daughters. Regardless, the marriage portion for the daughters was always taken into account.