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Childbearing Biographies as a Method to Examine Diversity and Clustering of Childbearing Experiences: A Research Brief


Due to increasing heterogeneity in if, when, and under what conditions women have children, the timing, spacing, and other demographic aspects of childbearing have drastically changed in the US over the past century. Existing science tends to examine demographic aspects of childbearing separately, creating an incomplete understanding of how childbearing patterns are distributed at the population level. In this research brief, we develop the concept of childbearing biographies to emphasize that multiple childbearing characteristics cluster together. We analyze nationally representative US data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79; N = 4052). Using eight childbearing variables (e.g., age at first birth, number of children, whether unmarried at any birth), we use Mixed-Mode Latent Class Analysis (MM-LCA) and identify five classes, or childbearing biographies: (1) early compressed childbearing, (2) staggered childbearing, (3) extended high-parity childbearing, (4) later childbearing, and (5) married planned childbearing. A childbearing biography approach highlights the increasingly heterogeneous contexts of parenthood today, showing how women with similar characteristics around one aspect of childbearing (e.g., early age at first birth) can also be highly divergent from each other when taking into consideration other childbearing characteristics. In showing this complexity, we highlight that a childbearing biography approach has the potential to shed new light on widening inequality among contemporary midlife women, with implications for aging and population health and well-being.

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This study funded by National Institute on Aging, R01AG069251, Mieke Beth Thomeer and Rin Reczek.

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Correspondence to Mieke Beth Thomeer.

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Thomeer, M.B., Reczek, R. & Stacey, L. Childbearing Biographies as a Method to Examine Diversity and Clustering of Childbearing Experiences: A Research Brief. Popul Res Policy Rev 41, 1405–1415 (2022).

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  • Family background
  • Latent class analysis
  • Motherhood
  • Childbearing
  • Second demographic transition