Re-Conceptualizing Measurement of Fertility Preferences: Evidence from the US

Childbearing in the United States has been characterized by a “2-child norm” in recent history, though there is some evidence of that changing amidst falling fertility. This study investigates when and why American women adjust fertility preferences downwards, with particular attention to the role of work and family constraints. Although fertility preferences have long been integrated into European debates on gender, work, and family, they have been surprisingly underrepresented in the US scholarship. In empirical analyses, we conduct a forced pair conjoint survey experiment with 424 Black and White women (ages 18-35). In the experiment, respondents view two family scenarios comprised of several different randomly varied attributes related to: (1) financial stability; (2) time-intensity of career; (3) extent of sharing of housework and childcare; (4) number of children; and (5) existence of family policies. Contrary to our hypothesis predicting an endurance of a 2-child norm, findings provide preliminary evidence of an increased acceptance of a 1-child norm, and a weakening of a 2-child norm. We find mixed evidence on the extent to which fertility preferences are elastic and responsive to competing work and family demands. Finally, we find no evidence of significant differences in fertility preferences by respondent race.