, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 101–124 | Cite as

The Quality of Male Fertility Data in Major U.S. Surveys

  • Kara JoynerEmail author
  • H. Elizabeth Peters
  • Kathryn Hynes
  • Asia Sikora
  • Jamie Rubenstein Taber
  • Michael S. Rendall


Researchers continue to question fathers’ willingness to report their biological children in surveys and the ability of surveys to adequately represent fathers. To address these concerns, this study evaluates the quality of men’s fertility data in the 1979 and 1997 cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79 and NLSY97) and in the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). Comparing fertility rates in each survey with population rates based on data from Vital Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, we document how the incomplete reporting of births in different surveys varies according to men’s characteristics, including their age, race, marital status, and birth cohort. In addition, we use Monte Carlo simulations based on the NSFG data to demonstrate how birth underreporting biases associations between early parenthood and its antecedents. We find that in the NSFG, roughly four out of five early births were reported; but in the NLSY79 and NLSY97, almost nine-tenths of early births were reported. In all three surveys, incomplete reporting was especially pronounced for nonmarital births. Our results suggest that the quality of male fertility data is strongly linked to survey design and that it has implications for models of early male fertility.


Early fatherhood Male fertility Data quality 



This research has been funded by grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P01HD045610 and R01HD043472). The Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University and the Population Research Center at The RAND Corporation, which also receive core funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, have also supported this research (R24HD050959-01 and R24HD050906, respectively). The authors are indebted to Child Trends for creating the male fertility data from the NLSY79, in addition to Sue Eshleman and Felicia Yang DeLeone for programming help. We also appreciate the comments of participants at the Initiative in Population Research Seminar Series at The Ohio State University and the ongoing feedback from investigators and advisors of the Transition to Fatherhood program project. We would also like to thank Robert Strawderman for statistical advice and Lesley Wadsworth for copy-editing help.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kara Joyner
    • 1
    Email author
  • H. Elizabeth Peters
    • 2
    • 7
  • Kathryn Hynes
    • 3
  • Asia Sikora
    • 4
  • Jamie Rubenstein Taber
    • 5
  • Michael S. Rendall
    • 6
    • 8
  1. 1.Department of SociologyBowling Green State UniversityBowling GreenUSA
  2. 2.Center on Labor, Human Services, & Population, Urban InstituteWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Human Development and Family StudiesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.Health Promotion, Social & Behavioral HealthUniversity of Nebraska Medical CenterOmahaUSA
  5. 5.Department of EconomicsCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  6. 6.Department of SociologyUniversity of Maryland, College ParkUSA
  7. 7.Department of Policy Analysis & ManagementCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  8. 8.RAND CorporationSanta MonicaUSA

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