Academic journal article Population

Influence of Own Sibship Size on the Number of Children Desired at Various Times of Life: The Case of France

Academic journal article Population

Influence of Own Sibship Size on the Number of Children Desired at Various Times of Life: The Case of France

Article excerpt

The family model of two or three children is a widespread ideal in contemporary France, and corresponds fairly well to observed reproductive behaviour. However, variations do exist, in particular between the sexes. Women report a higher ideal number of children than men: 2.7 compared with 2.5 (Toulemon and Leridon, 1999). Furthermore, the ideal number of children is much smaller than the size of the respondents' own families, for a number of reasons'". Representations of the ideal family and fertility preferences are seldom fixed. They change as people age and as the family is formed. Longitudinal data have revealed a discrepancy between the number of children initially envisaged and completed fertility - usually in a downward direction - "since each child is a new project, decided in the conditions prevailing at the time it was formulated, i.e. in the short term" (Monnier, 1987). The factors behind the redefinition of the desired number of children may be of various sorts: marriage break-up or widowhood, problems conceiving, unemployment, etc. (Toulemon and Testa, 2005). The experience of parenthood(2) and the changes in a couple's daily life caused by the arrival of a child also modify fertility plans.

Alongside these changes in plans over the life course, earlier research in France by Guy Desplanques (1987), following on from that of JeanClaude Deville (1979), demonstrated a positive correlation between own sibship size and completed fertility: on average, the more brothers and sisters people have, the more children they have. Despite the reservations that greeted these findings(3), a degree of "inherited" reproductive behaviour has been observed. Similar work has been done in other countries, all leading to comparable results (Anderton et al., 1987; Johnson and Freymeyer, 1989; Kahn and Anderson, 1992; Murphy and Knudsen, 2002)(4). In addition to intergenerational transmission of behaviour, it has also been shown that the preferences expressed by children could be explained by their parents' behaviour (Duncan et al., 1965; Stolzenberg and Waite, 1977; Toulemon, 1987) and by their parents' preferences, i.e. the family size they considered ideal (Thornton, 1980), preferences regarding their own children's family size (Axinn et al., 1994). Without questioning the influence of genetic factors often advanced to account for the intergenerational transmission of reproductive behaviour (such as Rogers and Doughty, 2000), the fact that one's own sibship size also influences one's preferences argues for an interpretation in terms of socialization. Most of the research in this area shows that the preferences expressed by parents influence their children's preferences. For example, for a given sibship size, a child whose parents openly admit that they would have preferred to have fewer children may wish to have a smaller family than a child whose parents say they would have preferred to have more (Westoff and Potvin, 1967; Gecas and Seff, 1990). The influence of family background may operate indirectly by the passive internalization of parents' expressed values, or more directly as a result of pressure (Peterson and Rollins, 1987).

These findings add a new dimension to the purely rationalistic and individualistic approach to fertility. It is not that people do not control or choose their fertility, but that fertility too is affected by a degree of determinism and social reproduction influenced by the family circle. Although opportunities for social positioning and identity strategies vary according to social group and sex, and may account for some of the discrepancies observed in fertility rates by socio-occupational category (Kellerhals et al., 1982; Régnier-Loilier, 2002), is it possible to reject an interpretation in terms of the influence of socialization on the transmission of preferences and concepts of the family? In other words, what influence does one's experience in childhood have on the way one envisages one's own fertility? …

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