On the Structural Value of Children and Its Implication on Intended Fertility in Bulgaria

By Bühler, Christoph | Demographic Research, January-June 2008 | Go to article overview

On the Structural Value of Children and Its Implication on Intended Fertility in Bulgaria


Bühler, Christoph, Demographic Research


Abstract

Personal networks are receiving increasing recognition as structural determinants of fertility. However, the network perspective also helps to explain personal motivations for having children. Using theories of interpersonal exchange, social capital, and the value of children, it is argued in this article that children can substantively improve their parents' social networks. Individuals perceive this potential advantageous development as a structural benefit and consider this value in their reproductive decisions. This argument is empirically explored with data from Bulgaria, collected in 2002. The results document the presence of structural evaluations among subjectively perceived child-related benefits. Moreover, structural evaluations matter for the reproductive decision-making of Bulgarian citizens. Women's fertility intentions are supported by the prospect that a child will bring their parents and relatives closer or will improve their security at old age. Males' intentions are closely associated with the expectation that a child will provide support when they are old.

1. Introduction

The assessment of fertility as an outcome of purposeful decision-making has become a widely used model of individual reproduction. One initial position of this concept is that individuals decide and act because of their perceptions of the current situation and their expectations of the future (Turchi 1975). These perceptions and expectations can be integrated into theories of decision-making by representing them as subjective fertility related costs and benefits (Hollerbach 1983, Bulatao and Arnold 1977). Consequently, individuals decide to have a first or another child when they assume that the expected benefits provided by the child outweigh its expected costs to a maximum or satisfying extent (Fawcett 1978, Townes et al. 1977).

Various socioeconomic and psychological approaches address the particular costs and benefits of having children and show their significance for reproductive intentions and behavior. The theory of the Value of Children, however, aims to consider all positive and negative incentives that matter in fertility-related decision-making (Fawcett 1978). Although the theory has its roots in psychology, it incorporates a broad variety of economic, social, and cultural dimensions. It, therefore, offers an integrative view of the motivational determinants of fertility, considering both the personality of the individual actor and the structures of the social environment (Nauck 2005, Hoffman and Hoffman 1973). By placing particular emphasis on values, i.e., the benefits individuals expect to receive from a child, the theory makes a substantial contribution to the understanding of the processes of declining fertility and to explanations of why people in modern societies still want to have children (Nauck 2007, Hoffman 1987, Hoffman and Manis 1979, Arnold et al. 1975).

A central aspect of the values supplied by children is the fact that they emerge from interpersonal relationships. Parents receive joy, satisfaction, support, or old age security because of their direct relationships with their children. Moreover, children change their parents' relationships with relatives or other members of the social environment. This may improve their parents' social status or simplify their access to supportive resources. However, the relational character of child-induced benefits does not only specify the structural preconditions of the value of children. It also helps in understanding individuals' motivations for having a first or another child. These rest, among other things, on the expectation that children alter their parents' social networks in an advantageous way. People are aware of these benefits and they may purposefully intend to be provided with them through the birth of a child.

The article specifies and discusses in its first part the theoretical foundations of child-related structural evaluations by bringing together the theories of the Value of Children, social networks, and social capital.

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