How Late Do Women Wait? Expectations of Parenthood and Childlessness across the Reproductive Life Course

Steven P. Martin, New York University

We use longitudinal data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979–2008 to measure women’s fertility expectations across the reproductive life course. We also develop models of what the trajectories of fertility expectations for childless women should look like, if childlessness is the result of delaying childbearing based on “good” and “bad” information, respectively, about age and infertility. Our main methodological advance is to develop indirect techniques to distinguish women who “try” for a child at a given age (or are sexually active with imperfect enough contraceptive use that a birth would be expected) from women who switch to expecting childlessness without ever having actively attempted to get pregnant. We find that prolonged expectation of parenthood among ultimately childless women is the exception rather than the rule; most childless women shift their fertility expectations to expectations of childlessness by their early thirties, even if they never try for a baby.

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Presented in Session 99: Fertility Intentions and Behaviors over the Life Course