Academic journal article Population

Fertility Intentions and Obstacles to Their Realization in France and Italy

Academic journal article Population

Fertility Intentions and Obstacles to Their Realization in France and Italy

Article excerpt

In modern societies, effective contraception is now widely available, enabling couples to decide how many children they wish to have, and when to have them. Fertility choices and preferences are thus a key factor in the study of family behaviours (Ongaro, 1982; Palomba, 1991; De Sandre et al., 1997; Borra et al., 1999; Sorvillo and Marsili, 1999; Goldstein et al., 2004; Testa and Grilli, 2006; Mills et al., 2008; Régnier-Loilier and Solaz, 2010). Transposed to the field of fertility, Ajzen's "theory of planned behaviours" (1991) posits that intentions are antecedents of behaviour. Intentions themselves depend on the individual's situation (conjugal or financial, etc.: Mazuy, 2009; Régnier-Loilier and Vignoli, 2009), and on the more general context (political climate, for example), both of which evolve over the person's childbearing years (Monnier, 1987; Régnier-Loilier, 2006).

A classic distinction is made between "positive" intentions (the desire to have a/another child in the future), and "negative" intentions (the wish to remain childless or have no further children). Few studies to date have focused on the link between intentions and realization, mainly due to the lack of suitable data, although several longitudinal surveys have been conducted in recent years. Converging results have been obtained, showing that negative intentions are a very good indicator of future behaviours, while positive intentions, although still a good predictor, systematically overestimate observed fertility (Westoff and Ryder, 1977; Monnier, 1987; Schoen et al., 1999; Symeonidou, 2000; Noack and Østby, 2002; Toulemon and Testa, 2005; Meggiolaro, 2009; Rinesi, 2009). Bongaarts (2001) pinpoints certain factors that may cause couples to revise their fertility plans upward, such as a previous unplanned birth, the death of a child, or the desire to have a child of a particular sex. Conversely, reasons such as delayed entry into childbearing, fecundity problems or activities that compete with fertility plans, may have the opposite effect. According to Bongaarts, these last three factors are most frequent in developed countries, explaining why expected family size is generally overestimated in these regions of the world.

Despite a relative convergence of fertility models in Europe, large contrasts between countries still persist. Some countries, such as Germany, Spain, Portugal and Italy, have very low fertility rates (between 1.3 and 1.5 children per woman), while others, such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland and France, still have near-replacement levels of between 1.9 and 2.0 children per woman (Pison, 2011). While the political context specific to each country explains a part of the differences observed (Thévenon and Gauthier, 2010), little is known about the way in which fertility decisions are taken at individual level and, in particular, whether couples' characteristics affect the realization of fertility intentions in the same way in different contexts.

A comparison between France and Italy is worthwhile for two reasons. The first is theoretical. The two countries are close neighbours, with relatively similar profiles in terms of fertility intentions (Régnier-Loilier and Vignoli, 2009), but with contrasting fertility models (2 children per woman in France, versus 1.4 in Italy) and different institutional contexts, characterized by more generous social and family welfare policies and more extensive childcare provision in France than in Italy. This comparison will also shed light on the situations which, at couple level, hinder the realization of positive fertility intentions in a given context. The second reason is pragmatic. To compare fertility intentions and their subsequent realization, comparable sets of longitudinal data are needed for the countries concerned. The Generations and Gender Surveys (GGS) provide such information for the first time (Appendix), but for a few countries only. While 17 countries took part in the first wave of the GGS, the second wave is not yet completed in some countries, and the data are not yet available in others. …

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