The Fertility Transition in Latin America

By José Miguel Guzmán; Susheela Singh et al. | Go to book overview

13 Reproductive Intentions and Fertility in Latin America

CHARLES F. WESTOFF and LORENZO MORENO

Recent research has substantiated the importance of reproductive preferences in the determination of fertility ( Westoff 1990). In this chapter we analyse reproductive preferences at three levels. The first objective is to examine family-size norms and to determine whether there has been any change in the number of children considered ideal in various Latin American populations. We then focus on the extent of unwanted fertility, from which we can deduce the level of fertility that would prevail if all births were wanted. Finally, we turn our attention to the reproductive intentions of the women of these populations, offer some fertility forecasts based on these intentions, and review trends and differentials in these preferences over recent years. This analysis is supported (in Appendix 13.1) with a summary of a methodological evaluation of the validity of survey data on intentions, since some demographers are sceptical of their predictive utility.

All the estimates in these analyses are based on data collected in the DHS and WFS projects. Data for the eight Latin American countries in the first phase of the DHS are included along with five WFS countries for time trend comparisons.


Family Size Norms

A question was included in both survey projects on what has been labelled 'desired number of children' in WFS or 'ideal number of children, in the DHS. The basic formulation of this question is: 'If you could choose exactly the number of children to have in your whole life, how many would that be?' The purpose of this question is to assess the fertility norms in different populations rather than reproductive intentions. The differences in the countries are revealing (Table 13.1). The two countries with the lowest level of ideal family size are Bolivia and Peru. Bolivia, in particular, is an anomaly in that it has, next to Guatemala, the highest actual fertility of any of these countries. Guatemala, on the other hand, shows the highest ideal, quite consistent with the highest observed fertility. Brazil and Colombia have low values on this measure of fertility norms; they are virtually indistinguishable at every parity. Ecuador and Mexico also show very similar patterns but at a slightly higher level than Brazil and Colombia, while the Dominican Republic shows a higher level of ideal family size than any country in the group except Guatemala.

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