Skip to main content

Why Have Children in the 21st Century? Biological Predisposition, Social Coercion, Rational Choice

Abstract

This review examines arguments and evidence pertaining to the question: why have children in settings where the net economic costs of children are clearly substantial? Thereview is organized around three themes: biologicalpredispositions, environment (social coercion) and rationalchoice. Specifically, we explore the argument that evolution hasproduced sets of genes that predispose persons to childbearing bymaking sex and parenthood pleasurable. We review sociologicalarguments regarding the pronatalism/antinatalism of societalinstitutions. Finally, we discuss arguments that stress therationality of childbearing decisions by appealing to biologicalpredispositions and the economic and non-economic values ofchildren. The authors speculate that while a modern socialstructure and rationale supportive of childbearing could beconstructed, such changes are not inevitable and may be difficultin the face of competing interests. Moreover, future social andtechnological change could alter the context of childbearingsubstantially. This uncertainty complicates policyrecommendations.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Astone, N. M., Nathanson, C. A., Schoen, R. and Kim, Y. J., 1999. 'Family demography, social theory, and investment in social capital', Population and Development Review 25: 1–32.

    Google Scholar 

  • Angier, N., 1999. Woman: An Intimate Geography. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

    Google Scholar 

  • Banks, J. A., 1954. Prosperity and Parenthood: A Study of Family Planning Among the Victorian Middle Classes. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

    Google Scholar 

  • Becker, G., 1960. “An Economic Analysis of Fertility” in Demographic and Economic Change in Developed Countries, Universities-National Bureau Conference Series 11. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Becker, G., 1981. A Treatise on the Family. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Becker, G. and Lewis, H. G., 1973. 'On the interaction between the quantity and quality of children', Journal of Political Economy 81: S279–S288.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blake, J., 1968. 'Are babies consumer durables? A critique of the economic theory of reproductive motivation', Population Studies 22: 103–150.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blake, J., 1972. 'Coercive pronatalism and American population policy', in R. Parke and C. F. Westoff (eds), Aspects of Population Growth Policy, Vol. 6 of The Commission on Population Growth and the American Future Research Reports. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 81–109.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blake, J., 1979. 'Is zero preferred? American attitudes toward childlessness in the 1970s', Journal of Marriage and the Family 41: 245–265.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blake, J., 1981. 'The only child in America: prejudice versus performance', Population and Development Review 7: 43–57.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blake, J., 1994. 'Judith Blake on fertility control and the problem of voluntarism', Population and Development Review 20: 167–177.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blau, D. M. and Robins, P. K., 1989. 'Fertility, employment, and child-care costs', Demography 26: 287–299.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bongaarts, J. and Feeney, G., 1998. 'On the quantum and tempo of fertility', Population and Development Review 25: 271–291.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bulatao, R. A., 1981. 'Values and disvalues of children in successive childbearing decisions', Demography 18: 1–25.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coleman, J. S., 1988. 'social capital in the creation of human capital', American Journal of Sociology 94(suppl.): S95–S120.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coleman, J. S., 1990. Foundations of Social Theory. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Davis, K., 1967. 'Population policy: will current programs succeed?', Science 158: 730–739.

    Google Scholar 

  • Davis, K., 1987. 'Low fertility in evolutionary perspective', Population and Development Review S12: S48–S68.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dawkins, R., 1976. The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ehrenreich, B. and English, D., 1978. For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts’ Advice to Women. Anchor Books, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Esping-Anderson, G., 1999. Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Friedman, D., Hechter, M. and Kanazawa, S., 1994. 'A theory of the value of children', Demography 31: 375–401.

    Google Scholar 

  • Geronimus, A. T., 1996. 'What teen mothers know', Human Nature 7(4): 323–352.

    Google Scholar 

  • Giddens, A., 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Golini, A., 1998. 'How low can fertility be? An empirical investigation', Population and Development Review 24: 59–74.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goldscheider, F. K. and Waite, L. J., 1991. New Families, No Families? University of California Press, Berkeley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hardin, G., 1968. 'The tragedy of the commons', Science 162: 1243–1248.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hammel, E. A., 1990. 'A theory of culture for demography', Population and Development Review 16: 455–485.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hrdy, S. B., 1999. Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants and Natural Selection. Pantheon, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ishii-Kuntz, M. and Seccombe, K., 1989. 'The impact of children upon social support networks throughout the lifecourse', Journal of Marriage and the Family 51: 777–790.

    Google Scholar 

  • Joshi, H., 1998. 'The opportunity costs of childbearing: more than mothers’ business', Journal of Population Economics 11: 161–183.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan, H., Hill, K., Lancaster, J. and Hurtado, M., 2000a. 'A theory of human life history evolution: diet, intelligence and longevity', Evolutionary Anthropology (forthcoming).

  • Kaplan, H., Hill, K., Hurtado, M. and Lancaster, J., 2000b. 'The embodied capital theory of human evolution', in P. Ellison (ed), Reproductive Ecology and Human Evolution (forthcoming).

  • Kertzer, D. I. 1993. Sacrificed for Honor. Beacon, Boston.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lee, R. and Miller, T., 1990. 'Population policy and externalities to childbearing', The Annals 510: 17–32.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lesthaeghe, R. and Surkyn, J., 1988. 'Cultural dynamics and economic theories of ferility change', Population and Development Review 14(1): 1–45.

    Google Scholar 

  • McDonald, P., 2000. 'Gender equity, social institutions, and the future of fertility', Journal of Population Research 17: (forthcoming).

  • Mincer, J., 1963. 'Market prices, opportunity costs, and income effects', in C. Christ et al. (eds), Measurement in Economics: Studies in Mathematical Economics and Econometrics in Memory of Yehuda Grunfeld. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

    Google Scholar 

  • McMahon, M., 1995. Engendering Motherhood. Guilford Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Monnier, A., 1999. 'The demographic situation of Europe and the developed countries overseas: an annual report', Population: An English Selection 11: 221–251.

    Google Scholar 

  • Namboodiri, N. K., 1972. 'some observations on the economic framework for fertility analysis', Population Studies 26: 185–206.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ni Bhrolchain, M., 1992. 'Period paramount? A critique of the cohort approach to fertility', Population and Development Review 18: 599–629.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pinker, S., 1997. 'Against nature', Discover 18(10): 92–95.

    Google Scholar 

  • Potts, M., 1997. 'sex and the birth rate', Population and Development Review 23: 1–39.

    Google Scholar 

  • Preston, S., 1987. 'Changing values and falling birth rates', Population and Development Review S12: S176–S195.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rindfuss, R. R., 1991. 'The young adult years: diversity, structural change and fertility', Demography 28: 493–512.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rindfuss, R. R., Benjamin, K. and Morgan, S. P., 2000. 'The changing institutional context of low fertility', Paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the Population Association of America, March 22–25, Los Angeles.

  • Rindfuss, R. R. and Brewster, K. L., 1996. 'Childrearing and fertility', in J. B. Casterline, R. D. Lee and K. A. Foote (eds), Fertility in the United States. Population Council, New York, 258–289.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rindfuss, R. R., Morgan, S. P. and Swicegood, G., 1988. First Births in America: Changes in the Timing of Parenthood. University of California Press, Berkeley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rossi, A. S., 1984. 'Gender and parenthood', American Sociological Review 49(1): 1–19.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ryder, N. B., 1980. 'Where do babies come from?', in H. M. Blalock (ed), Sociological Theory and Research. Free Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sapolsky, R., 1997. 'A gene for nothing', Discover 18(10): 40–46.

    Google Scholar 

  • Scheper-Hughes, N., 1992. Death Without Weeping. University of California Press, Berkeley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schoen, R., Kim, Y. J., Nathanson, C. A., Fields, J. and Astone, N. A., 1997. 'Why do American's want children?', Population and Development Review 23: 333–357.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stack, C. B., 1974. All Our Kin. Harper Torchbooks, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Turchi, B. A., 1975. The Demand for Children: The Economics of Fertility in the United States. Ballinger, Cambridge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Westoff, C. F. and Ryder, N. B., 1977. The Contraceptive Revolution. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Williams, L. B. and London, K. A., 1994. 'Changes in the planning status of births to ever-married U.S. women, 1982–1988', Family Planning Perspectives 26: 121–124.

    Google Scholar 

  • Willis, R., 1973. 'A new approach to the economic theory of fertility behaviour', Journal of Political Economy 81: S14–S64.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, C., 1999. 'Evolutionary theory and historical fertility change', Population and Development Review 25: 531–541.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, E., 1975. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wright, R., 1994. The Moral Animal. Vintage, New York.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to S. Philip Morgan.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Morgan, S.P., King, R.B. Why Have Children in the 21st Century? Biological Predisposition, Social Coercion, Rational Choice. European Journal of Population 17, 3–20 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1010784028474

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1010784028474

Keywords

  • 21st Century
  • Public Finance
  • Economic Cost
  • Rational Choice
  • Modern Socialstructure