Volume 49 - Article 22 | Pages 565–600  

Advanced or postponed motherhood? Migrants’ and natives’ gap between ideal and actual age at first birth in Spain

By Xiana Bueno, Mariona Lozano, Alícia Adserà


Background: The analysis of migrants’ preferences on the timing of fertility offers insights on how the migration experience and the contextual characteristics at destination might shape migrant women’s expectations and behaviors.

Objective: This paper explores the ideal age at first birth among Spanish and foreign-born women in Spain and its gap in relation to the actual age at first birth among those who are mothers.

Methods: We use the 2018 Spanish Fertility Survey to study respondents’ ideal age at first birth and the gap between ideal and actual age – whether a postponement or an advancement. We analyze the variation of the gap by age at arrival into Spain and the motherhood status at migration, together with contextual and sociodemographic characteristics.

Results: Migrants report an earlier ideal age for having their first child than do natives. Migrants from Africa and Western Europe are more likely to have had children after their ideal age, while on average migrants from Latin America and Eastern Europe became mothers earlier than desired. In addition, both migrants who arrived as children and those who were already mothers on arrival report a negative gap (advancement of motherhood), while adult women who were childless at arrival report a positive gap (postponement of motherhood).

Conclusions: Preferences on the ideal timing of fertility among migrant women display important differences by origin, age at arrival, and motherhood status at migration. We posit that the socialization and adaptation hypotheses explain the gap between ideal and actual age at first birth of child migrants and migrant mothers, while the interruption and adaptation (and perhaps selection) hypotheses are likely behind the fertility gap of adult migrants who become mothers after migration.

Contribution: This study provides new empirical evidence in the underexplored area of migrants’ ideals concerning fertility timing and the gap between ideals and behaviors.

Author's Affiliation

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