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

Print this page  Facebook  Twitter


Date received:04 Mar 2018
Date published:13 Sep 2018
Word count:6930
Keywords:fertility desires, fertility intentions, United States of America


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

Colleen Ray - University of Nebraska–Lincoln, United States of America [Email]
Sela Harcey - University of Nebraska–Lincoln, United States of America [Email]
Arthur Greil - Alfred University, United States of America [Email]
Stacy Tiemeyer - University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, United States of America [Email]
Julia McQuillan - University of Nebraska–Lincoln, United States of America [Email]

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

» White-Hispanic differences in meeting lifetime fertility intentions in the U.S.
Volume 30 - Article 43    | Keywords: fertility intentions, United States of America

» Patterns of contraceptive use among Mexican-origin women
Volume 28 - Article 41    | Keywords: fertility intentions, United States of America

» Female sterilization in the life course: Understanding trends and differentials in early sterilization
Volume 47 - Article 18    | Keywords: United States of America

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

» Measuring US fertility using administrative data from the Census Bureau
Volume 47 - Article 2    | Keywords: United States of America