Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Why Do Americans Want Children?

June 30, 1997
Population Council
Do Americans see children from an economic perspective, like consumer durables, or are they perceived as invaluable social assets, like "threads from which the tapestry of life is woven?"

Do Americans see children from an economic perspective, like consumer durables, or are they perceived as invaluable social assets, like "threads from which the tapestry of life is woven?" An article in the June issue of the Population Council's Population and Development Review explores the reasons why people in low-fertility societies such as the United States continue to have children despite the high economic costs of raising them. According to Robert Schoen and his colleagues, childbearing is purposive behavior that creates and reinforces the most important and most enduring social bonds.

Related Articles

The authors used data from the 1987-88 National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) to examine childbearing intentions and assess the value placed on children in low fertility societies. They analyzed feedback from roughly 13,000 respondents, aged 16-39, who were asked to rank the importance of social and economic priorities, such as "giving my parents grandchildren," "having someone to care for me when I am old," "having someone to love," "being able to make major purchases," and "being able to buy a home." Respondents were also asked whether they agreed with statements such as "It?s better for someone to have a child than to go through life childless," or if they felt "uncertainty about my ability to support a child."

The authors concluded that children bring a host of benefits beyond economic advantage. "While the economic value of children to their families has disappeared, their value as a social resource has persisted," the authors say. "Having children is an important way in which people create social capital for themselves." Children create social capital by establishing new relations among persons (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends) that are then available to parents as resources that they can use to achieve their interests.

Schoen and colleagues add a new perspective to classic demographic theories of fertility that emphasize the economic costs and benefits of childbearing. The classic "wealth flows" theory maintains that high fertility has been economically advantageous to most families over most of human history because children created "wealth" that flowed up from the younger to the older generation. Children were seen as resources who contribute to the family economy and support their aging parents. With the shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy, the economic benefits of children virtually disappear, while their costs--in terms of education and other expenditures--increase dramatically.

According to the wealth flows theory, fertility decline in the US is the result of those decreasing benefits and increasing costs. But the theory fails to provide a rationale for why fertility does not continue to fall. "In short, there is no explanation for why Americans still want children," the authors say. The social resource value of children emerges as a powerful predictor of fertility intentions.

Attitudes toward childlessness significantly influence fertility intentions among respondents who had no children. For white childless men and women, married and unmarried, there is a direct relationship between the intention to have a child and the statement that "It's better for a person to have a child then to go through life childless."

Intended childlessness is still uncommon, the researchers found. "Among unmarried white women, both a low value on the social resource factor and a high value on career concerns are needed before our model predicts an intention to remain childless," they say. "Stopping at one child is also relatively infrequent and is almost always associated with a low value on the social resource variable. In contrast, most persons with two or more children do not intend to have any more."

Robert Schoen, Young J. Kim, and Constance A. Nathanson are Professors, Department of Population Dynamics, Johns Hopkins University. Nan Marie Astone is an Associate Professor and Jason Fields is a doctoral candidate.

For a copy of this article or subscription information on Population and Development Review, call 212/339-0514 or fax 212/755-6052. For further information, contact Christina Horzepa, 212/339-0520, or Sandra Waldman, 212/339-0525.

The Population Council, an international, nonprofit organization established in 1952, seeks to improve the reproductive health and wellbeing of current and future generations around the world and to help achieve a humane, equitable, and sustainable balance between people and resources. The Council analyzes population issues and trends; conducts biomedical research to develop new contraceptives; works with public and private agencies to improve the quality and outreach of family planning and reproductive health services; helps governments to influence demographic behavior; communicates the results of research in the population field to appropriate audiences; and helps build research capacities in developing countries.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Population Council. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Cite This Page:

Population Council. "Why Do Americans Want Children?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 June 1997. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/06/970630000458.htm>.
Population Council. (1997, June 30). Why Do Americans Want Children?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/06/970630000458.htm
Population Council. "Why Do Americans Want Children?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/06/970630000458.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This

More From ScienceDaily

More Science News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Arctic Warming Twice As Fast As Rest Of Planet

Arctic Warming Twice As Fast As Rest Of Planet

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, thanks in part to something called feedback. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How 2014 Shaped The Future Of The Internet

How 2014 Shaped The Future Of The Internet

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) It has been a long, busy year for Net Neutrality. The stage is set for an expected landmark FCC decision sometime in 2015. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.


Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News


Free Subscriptions

Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile

Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?

Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins