Three essays on racial-ethnic variation in fertility in the United States, with a focus on Hispanics

Caroline Sten, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation examines three factors that potentially contribute to racial-ethnic differences in fertility levels: the evolution of intended and achieved parity, the social value of children, and unintended pregnancy In the first essay I examine differences between Whites and Hispanics in the process of meeting intentions over the life course using panel data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort. I find that although Hispanics come closer to achieving early-life parity intentions in the aggregate, they are slightly less likely to meet their intentions at the individual level. Hispanics have higher parity than Whites because they are more likely to overshoot desired parity, less likely to undershoot desired parity, and their desired parity is slightly higher. In the second essay, I analyze how attitudes towards childbearing differ between native born Hispanics, foreign born Hispanics, and Whites. This paper contributes to the discussion of the role of familism in explaining Hispanic family patterns using data from the 2002 and 2006–08 NSFG. I find little support for the idea that familism undergirds ethnic differentials in fertility between native Hispanics and Whites. However, there are some differences in the perceived value of children between foreign born Hispanics and Whites, particularly among men, and these differences could contribute to fertility differentials between the two groups. In the third essay I find that Hispanic women—particularly immigrants—report being happier about unintended pregnancies compared with White and Black women and examine possible explanations for this difference. I find that stronger social support among Hispanics—particularly the interaction between being a Hispanic immigrant and being very religious—explains the difference in happiness between Hispanics and Whites. Greater preconception ambivalence about becoming pregnant also partially explains why Hispanic women are happier about unintended pregnancies, while lower opportunity costs to not explain differences in happiness. In addition, I demonstrate that for Hispanic immigrant women in particular, pregnancy happiness plays an important role in mediating the relationship between unintended pregnancy and low birth weight.

Subject Area

Hispanic American studies|Demography

Recommended Citation

Sten, Caroline, "Three essays on racial-ethnic variation in fertility in the United States, with a focus on Hispanics" (2011). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3475896.