Skip to main content

Missing the Target? Correspondence of Fertility Intentions and Behavior in the U.S.

Abstract

Building on a framework suggested by Bongaarts (2001)and using data from the 1979 National LongitudinalSurvey of Youth, we describe the correspondencebetween intended family size and observed fertilityfor the 1957 to 1961 birth cohorts of U.S. women andmen. Over an 18-year period (1982–2000), we showthat while aggregate intentions are quite stable,discrepancies are very common at the individual level.Women and men were more likely to err in predictingnumber of additional births in the period 1982–2000 thanto hit their target number. A very strong predictor of over-and underachieving fertility is initial intended parity. Thosewho intended more than two children tended to have fewerchildren than intended, while those who intended fewer thantwo children tended to have more children than intended. Inaddition and consistent with life course arguments, thoseunmarried in 1982, childless in 1982, and (for women) stillin school in 1982 were most likely to underachieve their 2000intended parity (i.e., have fewer children than intended). Weconclude by reflecting on how the circumstances that allowdiscrepancies between intentions and behavior to almost``balance'' in the U.S. may cumulate differently elsewhere toproduce much lower fertility.

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

References

  • Abma, J., Chandra, A., Mosher, W. & Peterson, L. (1997), Fertility, family planning and women's health: New data from the 1995 national survey of family growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Statistics Series 23(19).

  • Blake, J. (1979), Is zero preferred? American attitudes toward childlessness in the 1970s. Journal of Marriage and the Family 41: 245–257.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blake, J. (1981), The only child in America: Prejudice versus performance, Population and Development Review 7: 43–54.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bongaarts, J. (2001), Fertility and reproductive preferences in post-transitional societies, pp. 260–281 in R.A. Bulatao & J.B. Casterline (eds.), Global fertility transition. New York: Population Council.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bongaarts, J. (2002), The end of the fertility transition in the developed world, Population and Development Review 28(3): 419–443.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bongaarts, J. & Feeney, G. (1998), On the quantum and tempo of fertility, Population and Development Review 24: 271–291.

    Google Scholar 

  • Campbell, A.A. (1968), The role of family planning in the reduction of poverty, Journal of Marriage and Family 30: 236–245.

    Google Scholar 

  • Furstenberg, F.F., Jr., Gunn, J.B. and Morgan, S.P. (1987), Adolescent mothers in later life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gerson, K. (1985), Hard choices: How women decide about work, career and motherhood. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hausman, J. & McFadden, D. (1984), Specification tests for the multinomial logit model, Econometrica 52(5): 1219–1240.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hewlett, S.A. (2002), Creating a life. New York: Talk Miramax Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Korn, E.L. & Graubard, B.I. (1990), Simultaneous testing of regression coefficients with complex survey data: Use of Bonferroni t statistics, American Statistician 44(4): 270–276.

    Google Scholar 

  • Long, J.S. & Freese, J. (2001), Models for nominal outcomes, pp. 171–219 in Regression models for categorical dependent variables using STATA. College Station, TX: Stata Corporation.

    Google Scholar 

  • McMahon, M. (1995), Engendering motherhood. New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Morgan, S.P. (2001), Should fertility intentions inform fertility forecasts? Proceedings of U.S. Census Bureau Conference: The Direction of Fertility in the United States. Washington, D.C: U.S. Census Bureau.

    Google Scholar 

  • Morgan, S.P. & Rindfuss, R.R. (1999), Re-examining the link of early childbearing to marriage and to subsequent fertility, Demography 36: 59–75.

    Google Scholar 

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

    Google Scholar 

  • O'Connell, M. & Rogers, C.C. (1983), Assessing cohort birth expectations data from the current population survey, 1971–1981, Demography 20: 369–384.

    Google Scholar 

  • Peterson, L.S. (1995) Birth expectations of women in the United States: 1973–1989. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Statistics Series 23(17).

  • Pollard, M.S. & Morgan, S.P. (2002), Emerging parental gender indifference, American Sociological Review 67(4): 600–613.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rindfuss, R. R., Morgan, S.P. & Swicegood, C.G. (1988), First births in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Skinner, C.J. (1989), Introduction to part A, pp. 23–58 in C.J. Skinner, D. Holt, & T.M.F. Smith (ed.), Analysis of complex Surveys. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stata Corp. (1999), Stata statistical software: Release 6.0. College Station, TX: Stata Corporation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walker, J.R. (2001), Adolescents expectations on birth outcomes: A comparison of the 1979 and 1997 NLS cohorts, pp. 201–229 in R.T. Michael (ed.), Social awakenings: Adolescents' behavior as adulthood approaches. New York: Russell Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Westoff, C.F. & Ryder, N.B. (1977), The predictive validity of reproductive intentions, Demography 14: 431–453.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wolf, N. (2002), Misconceptions: Truth, lies and the unexpected on the journey to motherhood. New York: Doubleday.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zagorsky, J.L. & White, L. (1999), NLSY79 user's guide 1999 Columbus, OH: U.S. Department of Labor by Center for Human Resource Research.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Quesnel-Vallée, A., Morgan, S.P. Missing the Target? Correspondence of Fertility Intentions and Behavior in the U.S.. Population Research and Policy Review 22, 497–525 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:POPU.0000021074.33415.c1

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/B:POPU.0000021074.33415.c1

Keywords

  • Economic Policy
  • Strong Predictor
  • Family Size
  • Birth Cohort
  • Lower Fertility