When Do Fertility Expectations Predict Fertility?

Heather M. Rackin, Louisiana State University
Christine A. Bachrach, University of Maryland
S. Philip Morgan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This paper grounds its analysis in novel theory (Bachrach and Morgan 2013) that suggests that responses to questions about fertility intentions and expectations may reflect distinct phenomena at distinct points in the life course. The theory suggests that women form ‘true’ intentions when their circumstances make the issue of childbearing salient and urgent enough to draw the cognitive resources needed to make a conscious plan. We use data from the NLSY79 that measures expectations throughout the life course to measure when fertility expectations are most predictive of final parity. We find that as women experience life course transitions that confer statuses normatively associated with childbearing – such as marriage, completion of education, and parenthood– their reported intentions are much better predictors of their fertility than women who have not passed through these life course milestones. We believe this has important implications for both the measurement and conceptualization of fertility intentions.

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Presented in Session 82: Fertility Intentions: Measurement and Meaning