FÁTIMA JUÁREZ and SILVIA LLERA
One of the challenges currently facing researchers is the need to identify and interpret the patterns underlying the reproductive strategies of families, especially those adopted during the fertility transition. If the family life cycle is viewed as a dynamic process that interacts with demographic aspects of the family, it may be studied in a number of stages. First, it is important to understand the type of transition that is occurring in Latin American fertility, and the particular characteristics of, and changes in, the family formation process in different countries of the region. Secondly, this knowledge of reproductive behaviour should be related to the intermediate mechanisms (proximate determinants of fertility, also known as intermediate variables), and their interaction with the process of social change should be analysed.
This chapter deals with the first of these stages, attempting to spell out similarities and dissimilarities in the fertility transition to small families that is occurring in a number of Latin American countries. In the first part of this research, the family building process is studied, taking into detailed account how couples move through the different reproductive stages of their lives: from marriage to first birth, from first to second birth, and so on. New demographic techniques and the data from fertility surveys now permit studies of this nature, using truncated birth histories as a starting-point. A description of the dynamics of the family formation process can be seen as a study of the family life cycle, whose various stages are the points at which the course of a woman's reproductive life, the family, and society all intersect.
In the last part of the analysis, the overall relationship between certain socio- demographic variables and family formation patterns is shown.
The results of the analysis are presented in the following order: a brief description of changes in general levels of fertility in Latin America is given in the first section; the next section contains details of variations in the family formation process over the past ten years among several countries of the region; then a general overview of family patterns in 1986-7 (inter-country analysis) is given; and finally, evidence is presented on certain variables that intervene in the process of change.