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Hagewen, Kellie J. & Morgan, S. Philip (2005). Intended and Ideal Family Size in the United States, 1970–2002. Population and Development Review, 31(3), 507-527. PMCID: PMC2849141


Cross-nationally, observed fertility is well below mean levels of reported ideal family size and also usually well below survey respondents' fertility desires and intentions. The United States is an exception. In this article we: (1) discuss the importance of fertility ideals and intentions for understanding observed fertility levels, (2) propose a model that can account for variable attitude-behavior consistency, and (3) use this model as a framework to examine trends in American women's fertility ideals, intentions, and actual fertility. Our study uses data from the General Social Surveys and the Current Population Surveys. We ask whether preferences and intentions for moderate family sizes have eroded with time. The answer is remarkably clear: the dominant American ideals and intentions are for two or three children, and these preferences have persisted across the last three decades. The unusual aggregate correspondence between fertility intentions and behavior in the United States is explained by an apparent offsetting of factors that increase/decrease fertility relative to intentions.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Population and Development Review


Hagewen, Kellie J.
Morgan, S. Philip