Choosing to remain childless? A comparative study of fertility intentions among women and men in Italy and Britain

Francesca Fiori, University of St Andrews
Francesca Rinesi, Istituto Nazionale di Statistica (ISTAT)
Elspeth Graham, University of St Andrews

Since the 1970s several European countries have experienced an increase in the levels of childlessness. This may partly be a consequence of women progressively delaying procreation to later ages and the corresponding decrease in fecundity, and partly attributable to greater social acceptance of individual preferences for alternative, child-free life choices. This paper contributes to the understanding of recent increases in childlessness in two countries – Italy and Britain - with contrasting fertility and welfare regimes by focusing on intended reproductive behaviour. It identifies the micro-factors associated with the intention to remain childless among British and Italian women and men. Three main themes are addressed: (1) gender differences; (2) lifestyle geographies; and (3) national differences. The analyses use data from Famiglia, Soggetti Sociali e Condizioni dell’infanzia (ISTAT, 2009 edition) for Italy, and Understanding Society (2009-2010) for Britain. Our selected sub-samples are of childless respondents aged 20-40 living with partners. Multivariate models predicting intended childlessness are fitted separately for the two countries, and by gender. Descriptive analyses show a lower propensity towards childlessness - but a marked delay in union formation and childbearing - in Italy compared to Britain. Results from the models indicate the existence of gender differences in the socio-economic factors associated with intended childlessness, but not generally in demographic factors such as age or union type. Findings on life-style geographies associated with intended childless are less conclusive, and subject to the challenge of defining comparable geographies within the two data sets. Most importantly, the analyses confirm that intended childlessness is subject to distinct influences in the two countries. In Italy only demographic factors seem to matter; in contrast, socio-economic variables play a significant additional role in Britain. The paper concludes by drawing out the implications of these results for understanding contemporary fertility levels in both countries.

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Presented in Session 88: Childlessness