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Intention and Uncertainty at Later Stages of Childbearing: The United States 1965 and 1970


Morgan, S. Philip (1981). Intention and Uncertainty at Later Stages of Childbearing: The United States 1965 and 1970. Demography, 18(3), 267-285.


While births may be dichotomous, fertility intentions are not inherently so. Intentions are predictions about the future and, as such, are couched in considerable uncertainty. Ignoring this uncertainty hides much of what could be learned from data on fertility intentions. This paper presents a model which allows analysis of the full range of intentions. After selecting a sample of women in the later stage of childbearing (e.g., those who intend fewer than two additional children) from the 1965 and 1970 National Fertility Studies, it is shown that: (1) substantial portions of women at this stage of the reproductive life cycle were indeed uncertain of their parity-specific intention; (2) this certainty, like more firm intentions, varies by age and parity as the model predicts; and (3) there were significant shifts in the level of certainty between 1965 and 1970. Specifically, while intentions for third, fourth, and fifth births declined, more women "didn't know" if they intended to have another child or not. Among those not intending another child, more seemed uncertain of this intention in 1970 than did comparable women in 1965. In contrast, those intending another child seemed more certain. These changes in intention and uncertainty indicate that the observed decline in intended parity was tentative. Post-1970 evidence suggests that this tentative decline has become an unequivocal one.


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Morgan, S. Philip