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A Conjoint Survey Experiment on Childbearing Preferences in the United States (WP-24-08)

Julia Behrman, Emily Marshall, and Florian Keusch

To better understand the relative weight given by American women to childbearing preferences in contemporary family life, as well as the factors that influence childbearing preferences, Behrman, Marshall, and Keusch conduct an online conjoint survey experiment on a nationally representative sample of 1,785 American women (ages 18–35). In the experiment, respondents view two family scenarios, each comprising randomly varied attributes related to: (1) number of children, (2) extent of sharing of housework and childcare, (3) time intensity of career, (4) existence of family policies, (5) financial stability, and (6) partnership status. Contrary to the researchers’ hypothesis predicting that the two-child family would be given high priority, findings provide evidence that a two-child norm may not be as robust as conventional surveys suggest. They find strong evidence that preferred number of children significantly differed by financial stability and marital status in ways consistent with theories that emphasize the importance of financial instability and the symbolic importance of marriage for fertility preferences, and they find some evidence for theories supporting the importance of gender equity to fertility preferences. Their discussion contextualizes these results as part of a broader discussion of whether there has been a de-institutionalization of childbearing in the contemporary U.S.

Julia Behrman, Assistant Professor of Sociology and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Emily Marshall, Associate Professor of Sociology and Public Health, Franklin & Marshall College

Florian Keusch, Professor of Social Data Science and Methodology, Department of Sociology, University of Mannheim

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