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Uncertainty in fertility intentions in Britain 1979-2007: how real are reproductive goals?

3rd March 2011 3pm, University of Southampton 58/1023

Máire Ní Bhrolcháin and Eva Beaujouan, University of Southampton

Our study is a follow-up to our recent finding (with Ann Berrington), published in Population Studies no. 141, Autumn 2010, that a substantial minority of women are uncertain in their fertility intentions. We show that the GHS is not unique in this respect, but that substantial levels of uncertainty have been reported in a wide range of comparable surveys in other countries, over several decades. A range of evidence including instability in intentions, inconsistency between intentions and fertility outcomes, and qualitative studies of pregnancy intentions adds to the picture of appreciable ambiguity in reproductive attitudes. We suggest that uncertainty is reasonable, both in principle and on statistical grounds. The prevalence of uncertainty raises questions both about the nature and measurement of fertility intentions, and about standard assumptions regarding fertility decision-making.