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Petula Dvorak in the Washington Post this week suggests that fertility is low primarily because women are choosing free life. Thus, as I have been writing about fertility, I have also collected research on childbearing preferences: aside from anecdotes, is there any actual data about what women want with respect to the of kiddos?
There turn out to be a large of surveys asking about fertility preferences, and no matter how creatively it is sliced and diced, no matter what data source is used, women have fewer kids than they say they want, desire, intend, expect, or consider ideal—for themselves or for society on the whole. This question is an example of what fertility-researchers call a general ideal.
That is, the question does not ask respondents what they themselves want. The trend shown by Gallup is pretty clear. The general ideal for childbearing was around 3. In the early s, it hit about 2. What we really want to know, then, is what do potential mothers desire for themselves? Gallup and the GSS responses for reproductive-age women are very close to each other. There are several ways we could treat this response. We could be even more pessimistic and assume that women are extremely hesitant to give an Lady wants real sex Lyman less than their actual of children.
It turns out, at least in the 60s and 70s, personal ideals are still well above actual fertility. Combining it all together, we can see that every single estimate of ideal or desired fertility, including our hardcore minimum estimate from adjusted GSS data, is way above actual fertility. Additionally, the minimum estimate from the GSS ideal fertility Lady wants real sex Lyman greatly undershoots NFS-measured personal ideal childbearing around their overlapping years, suggesting these adjustments are an over-correction.
The same goes for the NLSY data: while personal ideals undershoot general ideals, personal ideals are roughly in line with other sources. That personal ideal may still be biased for various reasons, but the point is that no matter how you cut the data, every source we have reveals that women, on average, desire between two and three.
Across the European Union, personal ideal fertility among women is 2. Even personal ideals may be, well, idealistic. It may be better to ask women a more conditional question: not how many kids they wantbut how many kids they actually expector how many they intend to actually try and have. Several surveys track intentions or expectations. The chart below shows theas I showed for ideals. Many of the same surveys show up. The story they tell is one of a fairly smooth and steady decline in intended or expected fertility from until the s, then basically some stability, and a more precipitous decline recently.
We could also look at women who are finishing their childbearing years, ask how many kids they had, and then look at what ideal or intended fertility was back when they were younger. What this comparison makes clear is that no matter whether you use intended or ideal fertility, women report greater childbearing ambitions than they have achieved or are likely to achieve, and this has been the case for a long time.
While intentions and ideals followed each other fairly closely for a long time, they diverged after Today, we not only see a large gap between intended childbearing and actual childbearing, but also a large gap between desires and intentions! It seems a lot more plausible to suggest that these ideals and intentions have a rational basis. In other words, women are simply settling for less than they want. Longer hours, lower wages, less consistent employment, high childcare costs, poor access to credit, burdensome loans, all-too-few good husband candidates—take your pick of the problem—a growing of women are simply lowering their expectations for their own family lives, even as they continue to believe that something like 2.
That explains the gap between ideal and intended fertility. But what about the gap between ideals or intentions, and actual fertility?
As you can see, current vs. But by the s, they converge and move together. The fertility gap got smaller and smaller through the mids whether you use completed or current fertility rates, or intended or ideal childbearing. But then things began to change. Women beginning their childbearing years in the late s—or Millennial women—experienced lower fertility, and have continued to experience reduced fertility rate to the present day.
Current fertility rates were high in the s thanks to elevated rates among older women, but by the time Millennial women are reaching those older cohorts, even something fertility has begun to stall out. Based on desired fertility, both current and completed fertility shows a gap nearly as large as in the s. But the gap in intentionswhile still negative, is near its lowest ever! That is to say, women who intend to have kids are basically having them at about the same rate as in the s or the late s.
We can even reasonably expect that completed fertility for women turning 15 in the last few years will be close to their intended fertility. By any measure, the very best that can be said is that progress on helping women achieve their fertility intentions has stalled out since the s, while progress on helping women achieve their fertility ideals has actually reversed. The decline in fertility is not due to women wanting fewer .
Nor is it due to abortion: abortion rates are actually declining. It may be partly due to the rising usage of longer-acting contraception, or diminished sexual frequency, or any of social factors.
It might also be due to economic pinches on household budgets. But the truth is, none of those are probably the biggest driver of declining fertility. The decline in fertility is mostly due to declining marriage. Women who get married are overwhelmingly more likely to achieve their childbearing ideals and expectations, both in cross-sectional data and in panel data, as I have shown before. Thus, any debate about fertility has to begin with the question of why marriage is being delayed.
To raise fertility, there are basically just two possible paths forward: increase marriage rates, or go the way of the Nordic countries and increase the non-marital fertility rate. Department of Agriculture, where he forecasts cotton market conditions. He blogs about migration, population dynamics, and regional economics at In a State of Migration.
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IFS on Patreon. The Institute for Family Studies is a c 3 organization. Your donation will be tax-deductible. Highlights Print Post. Category: FertilityWomenFamily Life. Intentions vs. The Fertility Gap While intentions and ideals followed each other fairly closely for a long time, they diverged after We can simplify this chart by taking the differences between these lines.
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How Many Kids Do Women Want?