Women's fertility in late modernity

Rosalind Berkowitz King, University of Pennsylvania


Demographic theorists have difficulty accounting for why women in late modern developed societies continue to have children. I add sociological perspectives drawn from several other bodies of theory—Giddens' theory of self-identity in late modernity, life course theory, feminist theories of reproduction and the body, evolutionary psychology—to current demographic perspectives to illuminate features of late modern fertility that have not been considered in traditional demography. First, I use vital statistics data in time series and decomposition techniques to show the influence of changes in the age distribution, prevalence of childlessness, and parity distribution of births over time on changes in the first birth ratio. Second, I use the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth and event history analysis to compare the influences of age and marriage on the transition to first birth. Third, I use the same survey data to demonstrate an association between fecundity status and anxiety. The results of these analyses show that late modern fertility is dominated by increasing childlessness and an increase in the proportion of births that are first births, although both first birth rates and higher order birth rates have decreased. First births may be viewed as surrounded by more uncertainty than higher order births, and thus late modern fertility is weighted more toward uncertain fertility than has been true in the past. Additionally, the evidence suggests that women who wait for marriage progress more quickly to childbearing if they are older at marriage, reflecting less certainty of time available for childbearing. Finally, women who are uncertain about their childbearing ability—represented by self-knowledge of difficulty conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term—are also significantly more likely to experience generalized anxiety disorder. In sum, the uncertainties surrounding childbearing in the late modern period should be taken into account in theorizing about continued fertility in contemporary developed nations.

Subject Area

Demographics|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

King, Rosalind Berkowitz, "Women's fertility in late modernity" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9965507.