There is a widespread belief that the reduced fertility in the West is due to "enlightenment" and free choice. A recent study has cast doubt on that confident, liberal assumption.

A recent article in "The Edge"* the magazine of the Economic and Social Research Council  reports on research carried out at the University of Edinburg by Dr Ian Day. (I.Dey@ed.ac.uk).

 

"Scotland is one of many developed countries whose fertility is below the level required to replace their populations [with a birth rate of 1.65 in 2005].. Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews.. set out to learn more about the attitudes to fertility of both men and women of childbearing age in Scotland. Findings suggest that low fertility in Scotland cannot be attributed in a simplistic way to low fertility aspirations. Researchers examined fertility ideals and expectations and found that those studied had 1.24 children on average, well below the 2.48 children they would ideally like to have. On average those in their late 30s and early 40s were half a child short of their ideal. Only seven per cent had voluntary childlessness as an ideal. "The evidence that child bearing aspirations amongst respondents were comfortably above replacement levels suggests that Scotland's below replacement fertility cannot be attributed to lower fertility ideals." explains researcher Dr Ian Dey. "Many people expected to have more children but.. there was a gap between fertility ideals and expectations especially among those who wanted larger families".

In exploring the range of possible reasons for this fertility gap, researchers found that both men and women with higher educational qualifications were more likely to start their families later and were less likely to have larger families than others. They were also most likely to have fewer children than they would like.. other factors.. [included.. the perception of women that work progress would be affected adversely if they had another child]..perceptions of the socio-economic costs of children, financial and work constraints, partnership and partnership status and the number of children friends had".

 

(*Summer 2007, Issue 25, Editor Jacky Clake jacky.clake@esc.ac.uk)