European Journal of Population

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 33–57 | Cite as

Family Systems and Fertility Intentions: Exploring the Pathways of Influence

  • Bastian MönkediekEmail author
  • Hilde Bras


Family systems, as normative frameworks in which family processes unfold, are believed to exert a major influence on fertility. While a number of studies have addressed family system effects on family size and the timing of births, the question of how family systems influence fertility intentions has remained largely unexplored. Because fertility intentions are often not realized, studying the pathways through which these intentions are framed warrants further attention. Addressing this research gap, this paper explores the pathways of influence between family systems and people’s intentions to start or to extend their family in the framework of the theory of planned Behaviour. We use a path analysis to analyse data from the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) on fertility intentions of 28,988 individuals from nine European countries that considerably vary in family systems. Regional indicators of family systems were constructed on the basis the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) and incorporated in the analytical sample. The results demonstrate an important link between family systems and fertility intentions. Family systems frame people’s intentions by influencing their attitudes towards children and their ideas about existing norms regarding fertility. This influence works partly through affecting household size and partly through influencing people’s ideas about the requirements for having children. Family system effects vary between intentions to start and to extend a family. While nearness to kin decreased positive attitudes towards having children of childless respondents, having kin nearby had the opposite effect for those that were already parents.


Family systems Fertility Fertility intentions Europe Pathways Theory of planned behaviour 



The study was supported by a VIDI Innovational Research Grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) to Prof. Dr. H. Bras, for the research project, entitled ‘The Power of the Family: Family Influences on Long-Term Fertility Decline in Europe, 1850–2010’ (contract Grant Number 452-10-013). This paper uses data from SHARE Wave 5 release 1.0.0, as of 31 March 2015 (doi:  10.6103/SHARE.w5.100) or SHARE Wave 4 release 1.1.1, as of 28 March 2013 (doi:  10.6103/SHARE.w4.111) or SHARE Waves 1 and 2 release 2.6.0, as of 29 November 2013 (doi:  10.6103/SHARE.w1.260 and  10.6103/SHARE.w2.260) or SHARELIFE release 1.0.0, as of 24 November 2010 (doi:  10.6103/SHARE.w3.100). The SHARE data collection has been primarily funded by the European Commission through the 5th Framework Programme (Project QLK6-CT-2001-00360 in the thematic programme Quality of Life), through the 6th Framework Programme (Projects SHARE-I3, RII-CT-2006-062193, COMPARE, CIT5- CT-2005-028857, and SHARELIFE, CIT4-CT-2006-028812) and through the 7th Framework Programme (SHARE-PREP, No. 211909, SHARE-LEAP, No. 227822 and SHARE M4, No. 261982). Additional funding from the U.S. National Institute on Aging (U01 AG09740-13S2, P01 AG005842, P01 AG08291, P30 AG12815, R21 AG025169, Y1-AG-4553-01, IAG BSR06-11 and OGHA 04-064) and the German Ministry of Education and Research as well as from various national sources is gratefully acknowledged (see for a full list of funding institutions). We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. These helped us a lot in improving our paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ajzen, I., & Klobas, J. (2013). Fertility intentions: An approach based on the theory of planned behavior. Demographic Research, 29, 203–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baizan, P. (2001). Transition to adulthood in Spain. In M. Corijn & E. Klijzing (Eds.), Transition to adulthood in Europe (pp. 279–312). Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Balbo, N. (2012). Family, friends and fertility. Ph.D. Dissertation. Ridderkerk: Ridderprint.Google Scholar
  5. Balbo, N., Billari, F. C., & Mills, M. (2013). Fertility in advanced societies: A review of research. European Journal of Population, 29, 1–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beaujouan, E. (2013). Counting how many children people want: The influence of questions filters and pre-codes. Demográfia, 56(5), 35–61.Google Scholar
  7. Becker, G. S., & Lewis, H. G. (1974). Interaction between quantity and quality of children. In T. W. Schultz (Ed.), Economics of the family: Marriage, children, and human (pp. 81–90). UMI.Google Scholar
  8. Belsky, J., & Rovine, M. (1984). Social-network contact, family support, and the transition to parenthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 46(2), 455–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Billari, F. C., Castiglioni, M., Castro Martin, T., Michielin, F., & Ongaro, F. (2002). Household and union formation in Mediterranean fashion: Italy and Spain. In E. Klijzing & M. Corijn (Eds.), Dynamics of fertility and partnership in Europe: insights and lessons from comparative research (Vol. 2, pp. 17–41). New York, Geneva: United Nations.Google Scholar
  10. Birg, H. (1992). Differentielle Reproduktion aus der Sicht der biographischen Theorie der Fertilität. In E. Voland (Ed.), Fortpflanzung: Natur und Kultur im Wechselspiel (pp. 189–215). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  11. Blossfeld, H. P., & Huinink, J. (1991). Human capital investments or norms of role transition? How women’s schooling and career affect the process of family formation. American Journal of Sociology, 97(1), 143–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Börsch-Supan, A., Brandt, M., Hunkler, C., Kneip, T., Korbmacher, J., Malter, F., et al. (2013). Data resource profile: The survey of health, ageing and retirement in Europe (SHARE). International Journal of Epidemiology. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyt088.Google Scholar
  13. Burch, T. K. (1979). Household and family demography: A bibliographic essay. Population Index, 45(2), 173–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Burch, T. K., & Gendell, M. (1970). Extended family structure and fertility: Some conceptual and methodological issues. Journal of Marriage and Family, 32(2), 227–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Burgess, E. W. (1931). Family tradition and personality. In K. Young (Ed.), Social attitudes (pp. 188–207). New York, NY: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
  16. Cameron, A. C., & Miller, D. L. (2011). Robust inference with clustered data. In A. Ullah & D. E. A. Giles (Eds.), Handbook of empirical economics and finance (pp. 1–28). Boca Raton, FL: Chapman and Hall.Google Scholar
  17. Cameron, A. C., & Miller, D. L. (2015). A practitioner’s guide to cluster-robust inference. Journal of Human Resources, 50(2), 317–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Castiglioni, M., Hărăguş, M., Faludi, C., & Hărăguş, P. T. (2016). Is the family system in Romania similar to those of southern European countries? Comparative Population Studies, 40(5), 57–85.Google Scholar
  19. Chen, F. (2006). The impact of family structure on fertility. In D. L. Poston, C. F. Lee, C. F. Chang, S. L. McKibben, & C. S. Walther (Eds.), Fertility, family planning, and population policy in China (pp. 53–64). London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Corijn, M. (2001). Transition to adulthood in France. In M. Corijn & E. Klijzing (Eds.), Transition to adulthood in Europe (pp. 131–151). Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dalla-Zuanna, G. (2004). The banquet of Aeolus. A familistic interpretation of Italy’s lowest low fertility. In G. Dalla-Zuanna & G. A. Micheli (Eds.), Strong family and low fertility: A paradox? (pp. 105–125). Alphen: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dalla-Zuanna, G. (2007). Social mobility and fertility. Demographic Research, 17(15), 441–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dalla-Zuanna, G., & Micheli, G. A. (2004). Introduction: New perspectives in interpreting contemporary family and reproductive behaviour of Mediterranean Europe. In G. Dalla-Zuanna & G. A. Micheli (Eds.), Strong family and low fertility: A paradox? (pp. 7–21). Alphen: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  24. Das Gupta, M. (1997). Kinship systems and demographic processes. In D.I. Kertzer & T. Fricke (Eds.), Anthropological demography: Toward a new synthesis (pp. 36–52–184). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  25. Das Gupta, M. (1999). Lifeboat versus corporate ethic: Social and demographic implications of stem and joint families. Social Science and Medicine, 49, 173–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Davis, K. (1955). Institutional patterns favoring high fertility in underdeveloped areas. Eugenics Quarterly, 2, 33–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. De Vos, S., & Palloni, A. (1989). Formal models and methods for the analysis of kinship and household organization. Population Index, 55(2), 174–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Dribe, M., & Scalone, F. (2014). Social class and net fertility before, during, and after the demographic transition: A micro-level analysis of Sweden 1880–1970. Demographic Research, 30, 429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Duranton, G. A., Rodriguez-Pose, A., & Sandall, R. (2009). Family types and the persistence of regional disparities in Europe. Journal of Economic Geography, 85(1), 23–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Dykstra, P. A., & Fokkema, T. (2011). Relationships between parents and their adult children: a West European typology of late-life families. Ageing and Society, 31, 545–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Dyson, T., & Moore, M. (1983). On kinship structure, female autonomy, and demographic behavior in India. Population and Development Review, 9(1), 35–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Esping-Andersen, G. (1999). Social foundations of postindustrial economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Forsberg, H. (2005). Finland’s families. In B. N. Adams & J. Trost (Eds.), Handbook of world families (pp. 262–282). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Friedman, D., Hechter, M., & Kanazawa, S. (1994). A Theory of the value of children. Demography, 31(3), 375–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Garson, G. D. (2008). Path analysis from statnotes: Topics in multivariate analysis. Retrieved 9(05), 2009.Google Scholar
  36. Gauthier, H., & Hatzius, J. (1997). Family benefits and fertility: An econometric analysis. Population Studies, 51(3), 295–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ghodsee, K., & Bernardi, L. (2012). Starting a family at your parents’ house: Multigenerational households and below replacement fertility in urban Bulgaria. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 43(3), 439–459.Google Scholar
  38. Granovetter, M. (2005). The impact of social structure on economic outcomes. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19(1), 33–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Greenwell, L., & Bengtson, V. L. (1997). Geographic distance and contact between middle-aged children and their parents: The effects of social class over 20 years. Journal of Gerontology, 52B(1), S13–S26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Grundy, E., & Henretta, J. C. (2006). Between elderly parents and adult children: A new look at the intergenerational care provided by the sandwich generation. Ageing and Society, 26(5), 707–722.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Guerrero, T. J., & Naldini, M. (1996). Is the south so different? Italian and Spanish families in comparative perspective. South European Society and Politics, 1(3), 42–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hajnal, J. (1982). Two kinds of preindustrial household formation system. Population and Development Review, 8(3), 449–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hank, K. (2007). Proximity and contacts between older parents and their children: A European comparison. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 157–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hareven, T. K. (1994). Aging and generational relations: A historical and life course perspective. Annual Review of Sociology, 20, 437–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Harknett, K., Billari, F. C., & Medalia, C. (2014). Do family support environments influence fertility? Evidence from 20 European countries. European Journal of Population. doi: 10.1007/s10680-013-9308-3.Google Scholar
  46. Heady, P., Gruber, S., & Ou, Z. (2010). Family, kindred and marriage. In P. Heady & M. Kohli (Eds.), Family, kinship and state in contemporary Europe (Vol. 3, pp. 31–70)., Perspectives on theory and policy Frankfurt: Campus.Google Scholar
  47. Heuveline, P., & Timberlake, J. M. (2004). The role of cohabitation in family formation: The United States in comparative perspective. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 1214–1230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Hilgeman, C., & Butts, C. T. (2009). Women’s employment and fertility: A welfare regime paradox. Social Science Research, 38, 103–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Höllinger, F., & Haller, M. (1990). Kinship and social networks in modern societies: A cross-cultural comparison among seven nations. European Sociological Review, 6(2), 103–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Huinink, J. (1995). Warum noch Familie? Zur Attraktivität von Partnerschaft und Elternschaft in unserer Gesellschaft. Frankfurt: Campus Verlag.Google Scholar
  51. Kalmijn, M. (2007). Explaining cross-national differences in marriage, cohabitation, and divorce in Europe, 1990–2000. Population Studies, 61(3), 243–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Keim, S. (2011). Social networks and family formation processes. Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Klein, T. (2003). Die Geburt von Kindern in paarbezogener Perspektive. Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 32(6), 506–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kohler, H. P., Billari, F. C., & Ortega, J. A. (2002). The emergence of lowest-low fertility in Europe during the 1990s. Population and Development Review, 28(4), 641–680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Kok, J. (2009). Family systems as frameworks for understanding variation in extra marital births, Europe 1900–2000. Romanian Journal of Population, Studies Supplement/2009, 13–38.Google Scholar
  56. Kuhnt, A.-K., & Trappe, H. (2015). Channels of social influence on the realization of short-term fertility intentions in Germany. Advances in Life Course Research. doi: 10.1016/j.alcr.2015.10.002.Google Scholar
  57. Laslett, P. (1983). Family and household as work group and kin group: Areas of traditional Europe compared. In R. Wall, P. Laslett, & J. Robin (Eds.), Family forms in historic Europe (pp. 513–564). Cambridge: University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Liefbroer, A. C. (2009). Changes in family size intentions across young adulthood: A life-course perspective. European Journal of Population, 25, 363–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Liefbroer, A. C., Klobas, J. E., Philipov, D., & Ajzen, I. (2015). Reproductive decision-making in a macro- micro perspective: A conceptual framework. In D. Philipov, A. C. Liefbroer, & J. E. Klobas (Eds.), Reproductive decision-making in a macro-micro perspective (pp. 1–16). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  60. Livi-Bacci, M. (2001). Too few children and too much family. Daedalus, 130(3), 139–155.Google Scholar
  61. Lois, D., & Becker, O. A. (2014). Is fertility contagious? using panel data to disentangle mechanisms of social network influences on fertility decisions. Advances in Life Course Research, 21, 123–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Lorimer, F. (1954). Culture and human fertility. Zürich: Unesco.Google Scholar
  63. Micheli, G. A. (2004). Kinship, family and social network: The anthropological embedment of fertility change in Southern Europe. In G. Dalla-Zuanna & G. A. Micheli (Eds.), Strong family and low fertility: A paradox? (pp. 77–104). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  64. Mönkediek, B. (2011). Unsicherheit Familiengründung: Eine empirische Analyse zur Bedeutung von finanziellen Ressourcen für den Kinderwunsch und die Timingintention der ersten Elternschaft (2nd ed.). Osnabrück: Verlag Dirk Koentopp.Google Scholar
  65. Mönkediek, B., & Bras, H. (2014). Strong and weak family ties revisited: Reconsidering European family structures from a network perspective. The History of the Family, 19(2), 235–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Mönkediek, B., & Bras, H. (2016). Family systems, social networks and family size of European cohorts born between 1920 and 1960. Economic History of Developing Regions, 31(1), 136–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Možný, I., & Katrňák, T. (2005). The Czech family. In B. Adams & J. Trost (Eds.), Handbook of world families (pp. 235–261). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  68. Nag, M. (1975). Socio-cultural patterns, family cycle and fertility. In United Nations (Ed.), The population debate: Dimensions and perspectives. Papers of the World Population Conference, Bucharest, 1974 (pp. 289–312). Vol. 2. New York, NY: United Nations.Google Scholar
  69. Naldini, M. (2003). The family in the Mediterranian welfare states. London: Frank Cass.Google Scholar
  70. Newson, L. (2009). Cultural versus reproductive success: Why does economic development bring new tradeoffs? American Journal of Human Biology, 21, 464–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Olobatuyi, M. E. (2006). A user’s guide to path analysis. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  72. Ongaro, F. (2001). Transition to adulthood in Italy. In M. Corijn & E. Klijzing (Eds.), Transition to adulthood in Europe (pp. 173–207). Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Oppenheim Mason, K. (2001). Gender and family systems in the fertility transition. Population and Development Review, 27, 160–176.Google Scholar
  74. Régnier-Loilier, A., & Vignoli, D. (2011). Fertility intentions and obstacles to their realization in France and Italy. Population (English Edition), 66(2), 361–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Reher, D. S. (1998). Family ties in western Europe: persistent contrasts. Population and Development Review, 24(2), 203–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Romero, A. J., & Ruiz, M. (2007). Does familism lead to increased parental monitoring? protective factors for coping with risky behaviors. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 16(2), 143–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Rossi, A. S., & Rossi, P. H. (1990). Of human bonding: Parent–child relations across the life course. New York, NY: de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  78. Rotering, P., & Bras, H. (2015). With the help of kin? household composition and reproduction in The Netherlands, 1842–1920. Human Nature, 26(1), 102–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Schoen, R., Astone, N. M., Kim, Y. J., Nathanson, C. A., & Fields, J. M. (1999). Do fertility intentions affect fertility behavior? Journal of Marriage and Family, 61(3), 790–799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Simon, H. A. (1955). A behavioral model of rational choice. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 69(1), 99–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Skinner, G. W. (1997). Family systems and demographic processes. In D. I. Kertzer & T. E. Fricke (Eds.), Anthropological demography. Toward a new synthesis (pp. 53–95). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  82. Skirbekk, V. (2008). Fertility trends by social status. Demographic Research, 18(5), 145–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Spéder, Z., & Kapitány, B. (2009). How are time-dependent childbearing intentions realized? realization, postponement, abandonment, bringing forward. European Journal of Population, 25, 503–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Spéder, Z., & Kapitány, B. (2015). Influences on the link between fertility intentions and behavioural outcomes. In D. Philipov, A. C. Liefbroer, & J. E. Klobas (Eds.), Reproductive decision-making in a macro-micro perspective (pp. 79–112). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  85. Steelman, L. C., Powell, B., Werum, R., & Carter, S. (2002). Reconsidering the effects of sibling configuration: Recent advances and challenges. Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 243–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Therborn, G. (2004). Between sex and power. Family in the world, 1900–2000. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  87. Todd, E. (1990). L’invention de l’Europe [the invention of Europe]. Paris: Seuil.Google Scholar
  88. Turke, P. W. (1989). Evolution and the demand for children. Population and Development Review, 15(1), 61–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. (2005). Generations & gender programme: Survey instruments. New York and Geneva: United Nations.Google Scholar
  90. Veleti, K. (2001). Family structure and its effective influence on fertility. Journal of Human Ecology, 12(5), 387–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Viazzo, P. P., & Zanotelli, F. (2010). Welfare as moral obligation: Changing patterns of family support in Italy and the Mediterranean. In H. Grandits (Ed.), Family, kinship and state in contemporary Europe (Vol. 1, pp. 47–92)., The Century of Welfare: Eight Countries Frankfurt: Campus.Google Scholar
  92. Vignoli, D., Rinesi, F., & Mussino, E. (2013). A home to plan the first child? fertility intentions and housing conditions in Italy. Population, Space and Place, 19, 60–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Vikat, A., Spéder, Z., Beets, G., Billari, F. C., Bühler, C., Désesquelles, A., et al. (2007). Generations and Gender Survey (GGS): Towards a better understanding of relationships and processes in the life course. Demographic Research, 17(14), 389–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Voland, E. (1998). Evolutionary ecology of human reproduction. Annual Review of Anthropology, 27, 347–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of SociologyBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany
  2. 2.Department of Social SciencesWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations