The Gap between Lifetime Fertility Intentions and Completed Fertility in Europe and the United States: A Cohort Approach

Eva Beaujouan, Vienna Institute of Demography
Caroline Berghammer, WIC/VID/OEAW/University of Vienna

We study the aggregate gap between intended and actual fertility in 20 countries in Europe and the United States, adopting a cohort approach. We compare the mean intended number of children in the early life-course with the completed or almost completed fertility in the same cohorts. We do the same for the share of women intending to be childless. In addition, we analyse the aggregate intentions-fertility gap among women with different educational attainment. Our exploration is informed by the cognitive-social model developed by Bachrach and Morgan (2013).

The analysis of intentions is based on the Fertility and Family Surveys (FFS) (except for the Netherlands and Great Britain) and entails lifetime fertility intentions stated at age 25-29 of women born between 1960 and 1974. In order to compare those with their completed number of children, we use fertility estimates at the end of the reproductive life for the same cohorts. Completed cohort fertility and childlessness indicators were reconstructed from the Human Fertility Database or from data by national statistical offices.

Our paper takes a step forward with respect to earlier works by applying a uniform research design for studying a large number of countries. Single country studies have provided in-depth analyses, but their results cannot be directly compared because they considered different cohorts, measured fertility intentions at different ages and relied on different measures. Also, we adopt an internally consistent and methodologically more rigorous approach than most previous studies that used the difference between future lifetime intentions and period total fertility rate to compute the fertility gap.

The results reveal distinct regional patterns with regard to the completed fertility-intentions gap, most apparent for the childlessness gap. In addition, the gap is the largest among highly educated women in most studied countries and its educational gradient also varies by region.

Presented in Session 1164: Fertility