Stability and change in personal fertility ideals among US women in heterosexual relationships

Colleen M. Ray, Sela R. Harcey, Arthur L. Greil, Stacy Tiemeyer, Julia McQuillan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


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. CONTRIBUTIONS 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-486
Number of pages28
JournalDemographic Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography


Dive into the research topics of 'Stability and change in personal fertility ideals among US women in heterosexual relationships'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this