Are Individuals’ Desired Family Sizes Stable? Evidence from West German Panel Data

La taille de famille désirée est-elle stable? Analyse de données de panel en Allemagne de l’Ouest
  • Frank HeilandEmail author
  • Alexia Prskawetz
  • Warren C. Sanderson


Using West German panel data constructed from the 1988 and 1994/1995 wave of the DJI Familiensurvey, we analyze the stability and determinants of individuals’ total desired fertility. We find considerable variation of total desired fertility across respondents and across interviews. In particular, up to 50% of individuals report a different total desired fertility across survey waves. Multivariate analysis confirms the importance of background factors including growing up with both parents, having more siblings, and being Catholic for preference formation. Consistent with the idea that life course experiences provide new information regarding the expected costs and benefits of different family sizes, the influence of background factors on total desired fertility is strong early in life and weakens as subsequent life course experiences, including childbearing, take effect. Accounting for unobserved individual heterogeneity, we estimate that an additional child may increase the total desired fertility of women with children by 0.14 children, less than what conventional estimates from cross-sectional data would have suggested.


Fertility preferences Total desired fertility Wanted family size West Germany Panel data 


Sur la base du panel de données d’Allemagne de l’Ouest constitué à partir des vagues de 1988 et 1994/95 de l’Enquête Famille “DJI Familiensurvey”, nous analysons la stabilité et les déterminants de la fécondité totale désirée par les individus. Une variation considérable de la fécondité totale désirée apparaît entre individus et entre interviews. En particulier, jusqu’à 50% des individus déclarent une fécondité totale désirée différente d’une vague d’enquête à l’autre. L’analyse multivariée confirme l’importance des facteurs de contexte pour la formation des préférences en la matière, y compris le fait d’avoir grandi avec ses deux parents, d’avoir plus de frères et soeurs ou d’être de religion Catholique. En accord avec l’idée que les expériences vécues apportent des informations nouvelles par rapport au coûts et bénéfices de différentes tailles de famille, l’influence des facteurs de contexte sur la fécondité totale désirée est forte au début de la vie, et s’affaiblit au fur et à mesure des expériences, y compris de la procréation. En prenant en compte l’hétérogénéité individuelle non observée, nous estimons qu’un enfant de plus pourrait élever la fécondité totale désirée par les femmes ayant déjà des enfants de 0.14 enfant, un résultat en deçà de ce que laisseraient supposer les estimations conventionnelles basées sur des données transversales.


Préférences en matière de fécondité Fécondité totale désirée Taille de famille désirée Allemagne de l’Ouest Données de panel 



We are very grateful to two anonymous referees for valuable comments and suggestions. We would also like to thank participants of the session on Mismatches between Fertility Intentions and Behavior: Causes and Consequences at the 2007 Meetings of the Population Association of America and seminar participants at the Vienna Institute of Demography. This research was (partly) financed by the European Commission under the RTN Grant project No. HPRNCT-000234-2002. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Commission. Heiland is indebted to the Vienna Institute of Demography for their hospitality while parts of this project were in progress.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frank Heiland
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alexia Prskawetz
    • 2
  • Warren C. Sanderson
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Economics, Center for Demography and Population HealthFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.Vienna Institute of DemographyViennaAustria
  3. 3.International Institute of Applied System AnalysisLaxenburgAustria
  4. 4.Department of EconomicsState University of New York at Stony BrookStony BrookUSA
  5. 5.Department of HistoryState University of New York at Stony BrookStony BrookUSA

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