Volume 30 - Article 45 | Pages 1293–1326 Article has associated letter

A life-course approach to fertility

By Johannes Huinink, Martin Kohli

Print this page  Facebook  Twitter


Date received:04 Mar 2013
Date published:25 Apr 2014
Word count:8828
Keywords:fertility, life course analysis, theory
Weblink:You will find all publications in this Special Collection “Theoretical Foundations of the Analysis of Fertility” at http://www.demographic-research.org/special/16/


Background: The life-course approach as a methodological framework for the empirical analysis of longitudinal individual-level data has fundamentally changed the agenda of demographic research. However, these methodological innovations have not been paralleled by a similarly successful theoretical integration in the life-course field.

Objective: We aim to show that the life course is an indispensable framework for demographic research. Social forces, both structural and cultural, are articulated in the life-course dimension, and the individuals who act under their influence conceive of their actions in life-course terms. Thus, theories of fertility need to be set in these terms as well.

Results: In substantive terms, the life-course approach promises to integrate the extra- and intra-individual levels of relevant processes in a system of interdependent dynamics that unfolds over time; to conceptualize fertility and family formation as part of a multidimensional process of welfare production which requires complex decisions on the proper allocation of time and resources to the different life domains; to examine how cultural scripts and institutional programs shape and interact with intentions and preferences; and to highlight the impact of the past and anticipation of the future as a framework for the number, timing and spacing of births. In methodological terms, the life-course approach requires a shift in the efforts to identify complex causal mechanisms in empirical research.

Conclusions: Even though the life-course approach still lacks the status of a systematic theory, several hypotheses can already be drawn from it, which extend the scope of fertility research, and demonstrate it to be an indispensable framework for studying fertility decisions.

Author's Affiliation

Johannes Huinink - Universität Bremen, Germany [Email]
Martin Kohli - European University Institute, Italy [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» Introduction to the special collection on spatial mobility, family dynamics, and gender relations
Volume 41 - Article 21

» Running out of time? Understanding the consequences of the biological clock for the dynamics of fertility intentions and union formation
Volume 40 - Article 1

» Explaining fertility: The potential for integrative approaches: Introduction to the Special Collection "Theoretical Foundations of the Analysis of Fertility"
Volume 33 - Article 4

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

» Patterns of spatial proximity and the timing and spacing of bearing children
Volume 42 - Article 16    | Keywords: fertility, life course analysis

» Family histories and the demography of grandparenthood
Volume 39 - Article 42    | Keywords: fertility, life course analysis

» The fertility of recent migrants to England and Wales
Volume 34 - Article 36    | Keywords: fertility, life course analysis

» The implications of marital instability for a woman’s fertility: Empirical evidence from Italy
Volume 23 - Article 34    | Keywords: fertility, life course analysis

» The transition to early fatherhood: National estimates based on multiple surveys
Volume 18 - Article 12    | Keywords: fertility, life course analysis