Volume 39 - Article 16 | Pages 459–486  

Stability and change in personal fertility ideals among U.S. women in heterosexual relationships

By Colleen Ray, Sela Harcey, Arthur Greil, Stacy Tiemeyer, Julia McQuillan


Background: Demographers typically ask about societal, not personal, fertility ideals. Societal ideals are probably more stable than personal ideals. Assessing whether personal fertility ideals are as stable as societal ideals could inform models of population fertility change and models of well-being associated with fertility outcomes.

Methods: We use the two-wave National Survey of Fertility Barriers (NSFB) to model stability and change in fertility ideals among 879 women in heterosexual couples that persisted for both waves.

Results: Personal fertility ideals are stable for most (69%) women, but roughly one-third adjust their ideal number between waves. Of the women who changed their personal fertility ideal, approximately half increase and half decrease their personal fertility ideal over time. Multinomial logistic regression indicates that women with a higher fertility ideal at Wave 1 had higher odds of increasing and lower odds of decreasing their fertility ideal by Wave 2. Higher education was associated with lower likelihood of increasing fertility ideals. In addition, full-time employment at the initial interview was associated with higher likelihood of decreasing fertility ideals.

Conclusions: Individual characteristics, attitudes, life course, and social cues are associated with changes in personal fertility ideals. More characteristics were associated with decreases than increases in personal fertility ideals.

Contribution: By demonstrating that many women change personal fertility ideals over three years, the current study advances understanding of variations in fertility experiences. Importantly, these findings can also inform policies and interventions designed to support child and maternal health.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Infertility and fertility intentions, desires, and outcomes among US women
Volume 35 - Article 39

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

Pathways and obstacles to parenthood among women in same-sex couples in Spain
Volume 50 - Article 35    | Keywords: assisted reproduction, family, fertility desires, LGBTQ, parenthood, same-sex couples

The COVID-19 pandemic and fertility responses: TFR simulation analysis using parity progressions in South Korea
Volume 49 - Article 32    | Keywords: COVID-19, fertility intentions, marriage intentions, simulation

Early life exposure to cigarette smoking and adult and old-age male mortality: Evidence from linked US full-count census and mortality data
Volume 49 - Article 25    | Keywords: linked census and mortality data, linked census data, smoking, United States of America

Female sterilization in the life course: Understanding trends and differentials in early sterilization
Volume 47 - Article 18    | Keywords: contraception, female sterilization, fertility, inequality, reproduction, sterilization regret, United States of America

Berkeley Unified Numident Mortality Database: Public administrative records for individual-level mortality research
Volume 47 - Article 5    | Keywords: administrative data, mortality, statistical methodology, United States of America