Family Systems and Fertility Intentions: Exploring the Pathways of Influence

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In weak family countries, such as France or Finland, it is more and more common to leave home before or at the time of having a first job (Corijn 2001, p. 137). In Finland, this is supported by a system of housing allowance (Forsberg 2005, pp. 264–265).

  2. 2.

    Compare also Steelman et al. (2002, p. 248ff), Dalla-Zuanna (2007), Becker and Lewis (1974), and Simon (1955) for a more detailed discussion.

  3. 3.

    Apart from positive experiences, these can be reduced uncertainty over the future life course and increased marital solidarity (Friedman et al. 1994, p. 394).

  4. 4.

    Estonia and the Netherlands were excluded, because the country samples did not include all the variables needed for the analysis.

  5. 5.

    As is evident from Table 2 for France and Hungary, the items charting perceived behavioural control were not included in the questionnaire.

  6. 6.

    For the full list of items, see the GGS questionnaire: http://www.ggp-i.org/sites/default/files/questionnaires/GGP_QuestW1Full.pdf (access date: 18.08.16).

  7. 7.

    The exact wording of the question was: “Although you may feel that the decision to have a/another child is yours (and your partner’s/spouse’s) alone, it is likely that others have opinions about what you should do. I’m going to read out some statements about what other people might think about you having a/another child during the next three years. Please tell me to what extent you agree or disagree with these statements, choosing your answer from the card.” (Source: http://www.ggp-i.org/sites/default/files/questionnaires/GGP_QuestW1Full.pdf, access date: 18.08.16).

  8. 8.

    In Italy, respondents were asked about their opinions about the expectations of their parents concerning respondent’s fertility using separate items, while their opinions about expectations of other relatives were not charted (Alpha for Italy: 0.876).

  9. 9.

    The exact phrasing introducing the items was: “How much control do you feel you will have over the following areas of your life in the next three years?” (Source: http://www.ggp-i.org/sites/default/files/questionnaires/GGP_QuestW1Full.pdf, access date: 18.08.16).

  10. 10.

    The exact phrasing of the question introducing the response items was: “How much would the decision on whether to have or not to have a/another child during the next three years depend on the following?” (Source: http://www.ggp-i.org/sites/default/files/questionnaires/GGP_QuestW1Full.pdf, access date: 18.08.16).

  11. 11.

    The first wave of SHARE was conducted in 2004/2005 in eleven European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland) and Israel. The second, conducted in 2006/2007, and the fourth wave, conducted in 2010/2012, added the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Slovenia to the survey. The third wave was not included due to a different set-up.

  12. 12.

    We only included the anchor persons in SHARE, not their spouses.

  13. 13.

    In this context, the paper utilized the information on respondents’ co-residential relationships, relationships with their parents (if alive), relationships with their children (if existent) and relationships with up to three persons to whom respondents provided or from whom respondents received any kind of support within the last twelve months.

  14. 14.

    NUTS levels divide the European Union into areas of relativ comparable population size. Source http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/nuts/principles-and-characteristics (access date: 18.01.17).

  15. 15.

    GDP is measured in Purchasing Power Standard (PPS), per capita. Source: http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=nama_r_e2gdp&lang=en (19.03.15).

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Acknowledgements

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 www.share-project.org 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.

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This paper uses data from the Generations and Gender Program (GGP). For more information on the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS), see http://www.ggp-i.org/.

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Mönkediek, B., Bras, H. Family Systems and Fertility Intentions: Exploring the Pathways of Influence. Eur J Population 34, 33–57 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-017-9418-4

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Keywords

  • Family systems
  • Fertility
  • Fertility intentions
  • Europe
  • Pathways
  • Theory of planned behaviour