Desired and Achieved Fertility: Results from a Register Based Follow-up

Örjan Hemström, Statistics Sweden

Statistics Sweden investigates regularly the fertility intentions in the population. Generally, fertility intentions relate to actual child bearing, however, this association has not been investigated regarding its use in population projections. In this study, we investigated whether fertility intentions could be used to support assumptions on childbearing in population projections.

We carried out a register-based follow-up of respondents to a questionnaire survey (n=3579, women 20–­40 years old, and men 20–44 years old) conducted in the spring of 2009 regarding fertility intentions. The follow-up included all births to respondents in the period from 2009 to 2015. We used interaction analyses to describe the association between baseline fertility intentions and actual childbearing by various socio-demographic variables.

Of the women who had one or two children and wanted additional children within six years, 86 percent and 79 percent had at least one child, respectively. Among the men, the share was 79 percent and 78 percent, respectively. The share of those who had children was lower by less certain childbearing intentions. Few obvious results, besides age and parity, show any one group as being systematically more or less inclined to have children during follow-up. However, the group that had attained a post-secondary education of at least three years had a higher propensity to have children than those with an upper secondary education; this applied equally to those with one or two children.

The present follow-up provides an opportunity to use fertility intentions in population projections. However, the results are limited to relatively short-term use, which depended on the question to identify fertility intention. More structural measurement of fertility intentions could be used as an indicator to identify short-term fertility changes in the population.


Extended abstract

In this report, we carry out a register-based follow-up of respondents to a questionnaire survey conducted in the spring of 2009, regarding attitudes to having children. The report provides an analysis of the actual births in the period of 2009–2015 for the respondents to the questionnaire. The primary aim was to investigate whether fertility intentions in the near future could be used to support fertility assumptions in population projections. Population projections are an important presumption for social planning in among other things public state activities in need of data on population size and composition.Four out of ten had children

Of the 3 600 people who responded to the questionnaire in the spring of 2009, approximately four out of ten had at least one child before 2015. A somewhat higher proportion of women than men had at least one more child; 48 percent compared with 38 percent. The tendency to have children within six years varied by age; it was highest for people aged 31–35 and lowest for people aged 40–48. Depending on the number of children the respondents already had, the tendency to have at least one more child was highest for those who were pregnant with their first child and those who already had one child. This result is consistent with the fact that two is the most common number of children in Sweden.Eight out of ten of those who wanted children had them

The attitude to future childbearing was measured with the question “Do you believe you will have more children within the next 5–6 years?” The possible answers – “Yes”, “Maybe”, Probably not” and “Not” – were analysed in relation to actual childbearing, using regression analyses, both for people who had one child and for those who had two children at the time of the survey. Of the women who had one or two children and wanted additional children within six years, eight out of ten had at least one more child – 86 percent and 79 percent, respectively. Among the men, the share was nearly as high – 79 percent and 78 percent, respectively. The share of those who had children was lower among those who responded “Maybe”, considerably lower among those who responded “Probably not” and lowest among those who responded “No”.Few clear differences between demographic and social groups

The report compares the tendency to have more children in several different demographic and social groups. Few obvious results, except age, show any one group as being systematically more or less inclined to have children within a six-year period, regardless of the number of children at the beginning of the follow-up. However, the group that had attained a post-secondary education of at least three years had a higher propensity to have children than those with an upper secondary education; this applied equally to those with one or two children.Support for population projections – several uncertainty factors

Are questions regarding the attitude to future childbearing of any use for population projections? The results show several uncertainty factors that should be considered in the assumptions regarding childbearing that could possibly be used. Approximately a third of the parents who were 21–28 years old and had two children in 2009 and who did not believe they would have more children within six years, actually had at least one more child before 2015.

Some of those who believed they would have more children never realised this desire to have more children. This may be due to a number of factors that change over time. The questionnaire included questions on different obstacles to childbearing, including a hesitant partner or a home that was too small.

Relatively many did not express a strong opinion on childbearing in the near future; it could be said that they were hesitant. The present follow-up, however, provides an opportunity to use the results regarding the percentages that are “likely” to have children even if they respond “Maybe” or “Maybe not” when asked if they consider having children in the next couple of years.

The results are derived from a questionnaire with a relatively high margin of uncertainty. In the report, this is expressed as a confidence interval. The results also show that the percentage who did have children among those who had none before was higher among those who responded to the questionnaire than in the total population having no children before the follow-up. This entails a risk that the survey somewhat overestimates the number of children born compared with the entire population.

Presented in Session 1232: Sexual and Reproductive Behaviour