Fewer children than she wanted: updating plans, or failing to realise ambitions?

Publication type

Conference Paper


British Society for Population Studies Annual Conference


Publication date

September 9, 2009


If women are interviewed around the start of their childbearing years and asked how many children they want, these aspirations are consistently higher than the number of children they eventually go on to have. The degree to which women’s aspirations outstrip their realised fertility differs between countries and between different groups of women, but in developed countries this is a robust finding. What is not clear is whether this “under-achievement” occurs because women are constrained (by work, economic circumstances or other factors) into having fewer children than they want, or whether it occurs because women update their aspirations over their childbearing years. Distinguishing between these two scenarios is important because they have very different implications in terms of social policy. We address this question using 15 waves of the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), looking at the degree to which women amend their childbearing aspirations over the course of their lives, and the determinants of their original aspirations, changes in aspirations, and realised fertility.

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