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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Fig. 1 in the appendix shows ideal family size reports by five-year birth cohorts using Malawi DHS data from 1992, 2000, 2004, and 2010. Overall, there is little change within birth cohorts over this period, although there is a slight decrease between 1992 and 2000 and a slight increase between 2000 and 2010.

  2. 2.

    Tsogolo la Thanzi is a research project designed by Jenny Trinitapoli and Sara Yeatman, and funded by Grant R01 HD058366 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Details are available online (http://projects.pop.psu.edu/tlt).

  3. 3.

    The evidence for panel conditioning is most clear in studies with surveys spaced less than one month apart. The evidence for surveys spaced between one month and one year is more mixed (Warren and Halpern-Manners 2012).

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Acknowledgements

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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Correspondence to Sara Yeatman.

Appendix

Appendix

Fig. 1
figure1

Ideal family size by five-year cohorts, Malawi Demographic and Health Surveys, 1992, 2000, 2004, and 2010

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Yeatman, S., Sennott, C. & Culpepper, S. Young Women’s Dynamic Family Size Preferences in the Context of Transitioning Fertility. Demography 50, 1715–1737 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-013-0214-4

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Keywords

  • Fertility
  • Family size preferences
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Malawi