Recent years have witnessed a resurgence in the interest in family size intentions and ideals in developed societies, partially stemming from the idea that realized fertility in these societies is lower than intended fertility. This paper addresses the question of the stability of family size intentions. Based on Heckhausen’s life-span theory of control, it is hypothesized that young adults’ family size intentions are likely to change as a result of their experiences in the family and occupational life domains. To study this issue, data are used from a Dutch panel survey in which respondents are questioned on their family size
intentions six times over the course of 18 years. The results show that family size
intentions are not stable, but are adjusted as people age. On average, the adjustment
is downward, but some people do not adjust their intentions or even adjust them upwards. Much of this difference in age patterns can be explained by changes in the partner, educational, and occupational careers of young adults. Not finding a suitable partner and pursuing a career—for women—are important factors. But also the timing of the fertility career itself is of major importance. If respondents postpone having children until their thirties, they are much more likely to adjust their intentions downwards than if they start their childbearing career earlier.
Keywords: fertility intentions; family size intentions; stability of intentions; life-course perspective; panel survey