Academic journal article Demographic Research

White-Hispanic Differences in Meeting Lifetime Fertility Intentions in the U.S

Academic journal article Demographic Research

White-Hispanic Differences in Meeting Lifetime Fertility Intentions in the U.S

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Differences in fertility rates across ethnic groups in the U.S. are well documented, with Hispanic women bearing more children than non-Hispanic White and Black women, but the reasons for these differences remain unclear (Bean and Tienda 1987; Martin et al. 2009). The country's Hispanic population is growing dramatically and most of this growth currently comes from fertility rather than migration (Pew 2011). Understanding racial-ethnic differences in fertility is important for understanding American fertility more broadly, since race-ethnicity is one of the primary axes along which fertility behaviors vary. It was recently announced that births to non-White women now exceed births to White women for the first time (United States Census Bureau 2012). The presence of higher fertility subgroups - particularly Hispanics - is one reason cited for the fact that the U.S. is able to maintain replacement-level fertility while other developed countries fall short (Kohler et al. 2006; Preston and Hartnett 2010). Here, I focus on non-Hispanic Whites (hereafter "Whites") and Hispanics specifically and explore whether differences in fertility levels across groups reflect the preferences of individuals in those groups. I also show how ethnic differences in fertility levels can be explained by differences in fertility intentions and the likelihood of meeting those intentions.

Higher fertility among Hispanics could be a reflection of higher fertility intentions. It is commonly assumed that Hispanics have a preference for larger families, and this assumption is frequently applied when socioeconomic factors fail to fully explain ethnic differences in family-related behaviors. While some research shows stronger familistic orientation among Hispanics (Oropesa and Gorman 2000; Trent and South 1992; Sabogal et al. 1987), there is a lack of research examining how fertility preferences correspond with outcomes, for Hispanics compared with other groups. On the other hand, there is reason to believe that higher fertility among Hispanics is driven by unwanted births rather than wanted ones. Prior research has demonstrated that unintended pregnancy is more common among Hispanic women, compared with Whites, which could be responsible for higher overall fertility. Because of social and economic disadvantages, Hispanics may face more obstacles to achieving their childbearing goals. It is an open question whether ethnic differences in fertility levels are the result of differing preferences or whether some groups are systematically disadvantaged in trying to carry out their childbearing intentions.

The ability to meet intentions is important from a well-being perspective. One component of meeting childbearing intentions - unintended pregnancy - is acknowledged as part of Healthy People 2020 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2010). This policy document cites the reduction of unintended pregnancy as a U.S. public health goal, due to the fact that unintended pregnancy is associated with poorer health outcomes for children and health risks and psychological distress for parents (Sable and Wilkinson 2000; Singh et al. 2003; Barber and East 2011; Baydar et al. 1997a; Baydar et al.; 1997b; Brown and Eisenberg 1995; Maximova and Quesnel- Vallée. 2009). There has been relatively little research on the prevalence and consequences of the converse situation - unmet desire for children - but in cases where the individual continues to want children, infertility has been linked with a variety of negative outcomes, including stress and poorer marital quality (Andrews et al. 1991; Greil, Slauson-Blevins, and McQuillan 2010).

In this paper I focus on "fertility intentions" (or "intended parity") expressed in early life (meaning the total number of children that young women and men say they eventually want to have) and the likelihood of ultimately meeting these intentions. Fertility intentions are considered the key determinant of fertility in low fertility settings where the means of controlling fertility are accessible (Barber 2001; Bongaarts 2001, 1992; Rindfuss, Morgan, and Swicegood 1988; Schoen et al. …

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