Why Have Children in the 21st Century? Biological Predisposition, Social Coercion, Rational Choice


DOI: 10.1023/A:1010784028474

Cite this article as:
Morgan, S.P. & King, R.B. European Journal of Population (2001) 17: 3. doi:10.1023/A:1010784028474


This review examines arguments and evidence pertaining to the question: why have children in settings where the net economic costs of children are clearly substantial? Thereview is organized around three themes: biologicalpredispositions, environment (social coercion) and rationalchoice. Specifically, we explore the argument that evolution hasproduced sets of genes that predispose persons to childbearing bymaking sex and parenthood pleasurable. We review sociologicalarguments regarding the pronatalism/antinatalism of societalinstitutions. Finally, we discuss arguments that stress therationality of childbearing decisions by appealing to biologicalpredispositions and the economic and non-economic values ofchildren. The authors speculate that while a modern socialstructure and rationale supportive of childbearing could beconstructed, such changes are not inevitable and may be difficultin the face of competing interests. Moreover, future social andtechnological change could alter the context of childbearingsubstantially. This uncertainty complicates policyrecommendations.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology DepartmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA (author for correspondence, E-mail:
  2. 2.Carolina Population CenterUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA