Trends in childlessness Summary and guidelines for future projects

4 Number of children born

There is a pronounced trend towards larger variation in the number of children born. Although the proportion of women with one child is increasing (Table 1), it is still very common that Norwegian women with one child proceed to number two. Around 80 per cent of all mothers with one child still have another child (Figure 6). Among 35-year-olds the proportion of one-child mothers was lowest for the 1940 cohort (11.3 per cent) and highest for women born in 1963 (16.9 per cent) (Table 1). Postponement of first childbirth will lead to postponement of second childbirth. An increasing proportion of women entering motherhood in their early thirties will lead to an increasing proportion giving birth to their second child after the age of 35. The increasing proportion of one-child mothers must be seen in connection with postponement of first childbirth, and the fact that biological fecundity probably is declining with increasing age.

    Figure 6:
    Proportion childless, proportion of those with at least one child who proceeded to number two, and proportion of those with at least two children who proceeded to number three. Measured at cohort level at ages 35 and 40

The most recent developments indicate a new trend towards an increased proportion with three or more children. However, almost half of the women born in 1935 had three or more children, and it is unlikely that we will reach this level again. For women born between 1935 and 1950 we observe a decreasing proportion of women having three or more children to around 30 per cent for women born in 1950, measured by age 40 (Table 1).

The proportion of women with at least two children that carried on to number three is shown in Figure 6. Measured at age 40 we find a proportion of around 60 per cent of those with at least two children in the oldest cohorts who also had at least one more child. For women born around 1950 this proportion had declined to around 40 per cent, while there was a slight but consistent increase in the proportion for the younger cohorts. By looking at women of age 35 we can follow the development for women born until 1963. Among mothers with two children, born in 1953, 36.6 per cent had had their third child. For women born ten years later this proportion increased to 41.3 per cent.

To sum up, we can say that among mothers with two children there is an increasing trend towards having another child among younger cohorts, but simultaneously, the proportion who had three or more children among all women in each cohort is relative stable. This shows that there is no general trend among Norwegian women towards having many children, although this is the case for some groups, i.e. we are seeing increasing diversification.


Trends in childlessness Summary and guidelines for future projects

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New fertility trends in Norway
Trude Lappegård
© 2000 Max-Planck-Gesellschaft ISSN 1435-9871