Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Attitudes toward Childbearing among Young Parents

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Attitudes toward Childbearing among Young Parents

Article excerpt

Grounded in both cultural and rational choice theories of fertility, this article examines the positive and negative attitudes of young parents toward their own childbearing and childrearing experiences. With data from a subsample of 412 White and African American respondents, our analyses show marked differences in the combinations of variables that predict attitudes of childbearing rewards and regrets. Respondents who find childbearing most rewarding are disproportionately White, female, married, and have positive feelings about their first pregnancies. Those holding regretful childbearing attitudes, in contrast, are disproportionately Black, materialistic, have three or more children, and express negative feelings about their first pregnancies. Thus, race and retrospections concerning experiences of first pregnancy significantly predict both rewards and regrets. The findings are interpreted within the context of cultural ambivalence and competing wants regarding the meaning of children to parents in contemporary society.

Key Words: childbearing, gender, race, unwanted pregnancy, value of children.

STEVEN P. SWINFORD Montana State University*

In an effort to identify the mechanisms underlying differences and changes in fertility behavior, the satisfactions and costs associated with childbearing have been extensively researched since the late 1960s and early 1970s. Relevant research in this tradition has concentrated, for example, on the motivations for having children (Friedman, Hechter, & Kanazawa, 1994; Hoffman & Manis, 1979; Hoffman, Thornton, & Manis, 1978; Rabin & Greene, 1968), perceived advantages (or satisfactions) and disadvantages (or costs, both economic and noneconomic) of having children ( Espenshade, 1977; Fawcett, 1983; Neal, Groat, & Wicks, 1989), and ways in which the mix between instrumental and noninstrumental motives for children may vary between rural and urban communities or developing and developed societies (Bulatao, 1986). Thus, current low levels of fertility in the United States and other industrial societies often have been examined by reference to an increased ambivalence toward childbearing as shifts in the perceived costs and satisfactions of childbearing have occurred (e.g., Davis, 1987; Preston, 1987). The focus of these examinations, however, has almost invariably remained on the motivations for having children. In contrast, in this article we approach the valuation of children from a fundamentally different perspective, viz., the attitudes (both positive and negative) of young parents toward their own children and childbearing experiences. Hence our concern is not with the motivations for having children, but rather with the structure of attitudinal reactions to children already born.

Although it seems undeniable that historical shifts in the motivations for having children have occurred, very little is known about the differential attitudes of parents regarding their own childbearing. There is little reason to expect that all segments of an increasingly heterogeneous society would respond to parenthood with the same mix of sentiments. For instance, might the perceived rewards and regrets of parenthood vary by race or gender? And might not the broader, societal meanings of childbearing be selectively filtered to parents by contextual differences such as marital status or the circumstances of pregnancy and birth? Similarly, we might expect attitudes toward one's own children to be tempered by the relative strength of materialistic values and goals that compete with childrearing responsibilities. We examine both positive and negative attitudes held by young parents toward their own children and childbearing experiences. Specifically, these attitudinal outcomes are analyzed within the context of three clusters of predictor variables: demographic (age, race, and gender), competing wants (education and materialism), and the marital/fertility context (marital status, number of children, age at parenthood, and wantedness of the firstbirth pregnancy). …

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