, Volume 50, Issue 5, pp 1715–1737 | Cite as

Young Women’s Dynamic Family Size Preferences in the Context of Transitioning Fertility

  • Sara YeatmanEmail author
  • Christie Sennott
  • Steven Culpepper


Dynamic theories of family size preferences posit that they are not a fixed and stable goal but rather are akin to a moving target that changes within individuals over time. Nonetheless, in high-fertility contexts, changes in family size preferences tend to be attributed to low construct validity and measurement error instead of genuine revisions in preferences. To address the appropriateness of this incongruity, the present study examines evidence for the sequential model of fertility among a sample of young Malawian women living in a context of transitioning fertility. Using eight waves of closely spaced data and fixed-effects models, we find that these women frequently change their reported family size preferences and that these changes are often associated with changes in their relationship and reproductive circumstances. The predictability of change gives credence to the argument that ideal family size is a meaningful construct, even in this higher-fertility setting. Changes are not equally predictable across all women, however, and gamma regression results demonstrate that women for whom reproduction is a more distant goal change their fertility preferences in less-predictable ways.


Fertility Family size preferences Sub-Saharan Africa Malawi 



This study was supported by two grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: R01 HD058366 and R03 HD067099. We are indebted to Jenny Trinitapoli, Stefanie Mollborn, Margaret Frye, Rob Warren, colloquium participants at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Behavioral Science, and Demography’s reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article; any errors are our own. This research was made possible by the efforts of the Tsogolo la Thanzi fieldwork team, headed by Abdallah Chilungo, Sydney Lungu, and Hazel Namadingo.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara Yeatman
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Christie Sennott
    • 3
  • Steven Culpepper
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Health and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Behavioral ScienceUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA
  3. 3.Department of Sociology and Institute of Behavioral ScienceUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA
  4. 4.Department of StatisticsUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

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