, Volume 22, Issue 5-6, pp 497-525

Missing the Target? Correspondence of Fertility Intentions and Behavior in the U.S.

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Abstract

Building on a framework suggested by Bongaarts (2001)and using data from the 1979 National LongitudinalSurvey of Youth, we describe the correspondencebetween intended family size and observed fertilityfor the 1957 to 1961 birth cohorts of U.S. women andmen. Over an 18-year period (1982–2000), we showthat while aggregate intentions are quite stable,discrepancies are very common at the individual level.Women and men were more likely to err in predictingnumber of additional births in the period 1982–2000 thanto hit their target number. A very strong predictor of over-and underachieving fertility is initial intended parity. Thosewho intended more than two children tended to have fewerchildren than intended, while those who intended fewer thantwo children tended to have more children than intended. Inaddition and consistent with life course arguments, thoseunmarried in 1982, childless in 1982, and (for women) stillin school in 1982 were most likely to underachieve their 2000intended parity (i.e., have fewer children than intended). Weconclude by reflecting on how the circumstances that allowdiscrepancies between intentions and behavior to almost``balance'' in the U.S. may cumulate differently elsewhere toproduce much lower fertility.