Happy families, high fertility?: childbearing choices in the context of family and partner relationships

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD thesis


Having a child is one of the most influential events people experience over their life course. Nowadays this event tends to be a matter of choice. This dissertation provides new insights into the childbearing choices and behaviour of Dutch couples by applying a ‘linked lives’ perspective and combining different data sources and methods. Whereas previous fertility research is largely limited to the effects of individual characteristics, usually women's, this study examines the ways in which childbearing behaviour is embedded in family and partner relationships. An empirical study on the influence of the family of origin on fertility behaviour shows that on top of the intergenerational transmission of fertility patterns and the effects of the socio-economic status of the parental family, the nature of childhood family relationships is important for explaining age at first birth and final number of children. Experiencing parental conflict during youth leads to postponement of the first child and having fewer children. People who had frequent contacts within the larger kin network when they were growing up, have their children at a younger age than people who had less frequent family contacts. These findings are based on the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study (NKPS), a large scale survey that is representative for the Dutch population. The NKPS and the Panel Study of Social Integration in the Netherlands (PSIN) – a survey among young adults – are used to study the effects of partner relationship quality on fertility. Findings indicate that people who perceive the quality of their relationship as reasonably good have the highest likelihood of having a first or an additional child in the 3 or 4 years after they reported on their relationship. Yet, very high levels of positive partner interaction and relationship satisfaction do not form an extra stimulus to have (more) children. People in relationships of medium level quality do not only have higher birth rates than people in low quality relationships, but also than people in relationships of very high quality. The latter might consider having a(nother) child as a threat for their happiness. These quantitative studies are supplemented with in-depth interviews with 33 couples in order to gain more insight into their decision-making processes regarding having a first child. Couples who had their first child at a young age are compared with couples who had their first child relatively late. Against a background of individualization theories, which emphasize the importance of life style choices and negotiating partnerships in modern societies, the decision process preceding the crucial choice of having a first child seems to be surprisingly implicit. Both partners’ consent is considered to be very important, but the decision-making does not typically involve much thought, reflection, long term planning or discussion, not even when couples postpone parenthood or have conflicting child wishes. The interviews also show that people who are career oriented or want to enjoy their freedom, do not always deliberately postpone parenthood because of such factors. Sometimes, having children just does not cross their minds until they are ready for it. Keywords social science; demography; childbearing/fertility (timing and quantum); relationship quality; partner relationship; family relationships; intergenerational transmission; couple decision-making; panel survey; qualitative study
Original languageUndefined
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Knijn, T.C.M., Promotor, External person
  • Liefbroer, A.C. (Aat), Promotor
  • Hagendoorn, A.J.M.W., Promotor, External person
Award date25 Sept 2009
Place of PublicationUtrecht
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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