Large Families in a Context of Lowest-Low Fertility: What Do We Know about Them?

Maria Castiglioni, University of Padova
Fausta Ongaro, University of Padova
Franco Bonarini, University of Padova

The long-lasting fertility decline and the lowest-low fertility level have strongly affected family size in Italy. From 1961 to 2011, the average number of individuals per household moved from 3.6 to 2.4, and the proportion of households with 6 members or more from 14.4% to 1.4%. Consequently, a question arises: what are the conditions to build a large family (4 or more children) – a very special minority – in a context of lowest-low fertility? Literature is scarce, and sample surveys are not appropriate to study this topic, because of the low number of cases. Accessing to individual micro-data of the 2011 Italian census, we are interested in analyzing some structural characteristics of large families which could shed light on the factors that are on the basis of their formation. What are the roles of income/social class or female education? Are there still cultural bases? The traditional fertility differences among Italian regions have recently disappeared, but what about numerous families? Could some family changes related to SDT have any effect on the formation of such families? In what extent large families of foreign population – that in the last decade have registered a significant increase – are differently characterized from native population? Results from logistic models conducted separately on native and foreign residents suggest that large families, although a minority, find room in contexts which are more heterogeneous than we could think, especially among autochthonous inhabitants.

Introduction

Large families (especially minors living in large families) are often associated to poverty. Actually, women in the lowest social statuses, experiencing more likely more traditional family roles and less confidence with modern contraceptive methods, are more likely to have higher fertility rates than the others. More controversial is, however, the relationship between fertility and social status of families. On the one hand, there is some empirical support to a negative relationship between them; on the other hand, other studies have suggested a J association between fertility and social status, claiming that high fertility is on the one side related to poverty and on the other side with families with higher economic resources. Large families are, in fact, little known. Their relative rarity makes difficult to rely on adequate sample sizes that allow in-depth empirical analyses of their characteristics or of the processes that are at the origin of their formation. We do not know, for example, whether, beside the economic factors, other circumstances may explain the formation of large families or whether the role of such factors may depend on the cultural context of the population.

This study aims to shed light at least on some of these points, by exploring the structural characteristics of the families with 4 or more children in a context characterized by very low fertility. What is the role played by family income/social class and female education in such a context? Are there other relevant factors associated with large families? Could some family changes related to SDT have any effect on the formation or the composition of such families? Are there still cultural bases? The traditional fertility differences among Italian regions have recently disappeared, but what about numerous families? In what extent large families of foreign population – that in the last decade have registered a significant increase – are differently characterized from native population?

Data and methods

To answer these questions, we use individual micro-data from the 2011 Italian census. Census provides cross-sectional data on individuals and households not highly detailed. However, it offers a sufficient high number of cases to study relatively rare phenomena like families with 4 or more children, even at a detailed level. Thus, we isolated families with children according to the number of children and described them according to some relevant characteristics: age of parents, socio-economic (education, type of work/inactivity condition) characteristics of the parent(s), type of partnership, place of residence, citizenship. In particular, using a series of logistic models, we analysed the determinants of large families (vs small families) for couples with the woman aged 40-44. The analyses were conducted separately for native and foreign couples at a national level.

Preliminary results

In 2011 large families are just over 150,000 and represent 1,4% of the families with children. The vast majority is represented by couple, and indeed single-parent large families are almost 10%. With respect to the 2001 census large families decreased. In that time they were just over 200,000, equal to roughly 1,8% of families with children. With respect to 2001, large families change even their composition: in 2001 more than 90% couples with 4 or more children were represented by couples whose components were both Italian and less than 5% by couples whose components were both foreign; ten years after, the percentages became respectively almost 75 and 20%.

Results from logistic models show that, among Italian couples, large families are more likely to be formed if the male is without a job or in a relatively high social position. This supports a J association between economic status and family size. However, families with self-employee men show a higher propensity to have more children than those with paid employee men, thus suggesting that other determinants could influence the couple’s fertility choices. Low education of women is related to larger families. Repartnering seems to have a role in increasing the large families: cohabiting and especially married couples in which at least one component had a previous marriage have a higher propensity toward a large family. Finally, even after controlling for socio-demographic characteristics of couples, the geographical area and the municipality size of residence have significant effects, suggesting a role of the context in determining the propensity towards a large family.

For foreign population the same determinants seem to play a different role.

Presented in Session 1100: Families and Households