Abstract

Dynamic theories of family size preferences posit that they are not a fixed and stable goal but rather are akin to a moving target that changes within individuals over time. Nonetheless, in high-fertility contexts, changes in family size preferences tend to be attributed to low construct validity and measurement error instead of genuine revisions in preferences. To address the appropriateness of this incongruity, the present study examines evidence for the sequential model of fertility among a sample of young Malawian women living in a context of transitioning fertility. Using eight waves of closely spaced data and fixed-effects models, we find that these women frequently change their reported family size preferences and that these changes are often associated with changes in their relationship and reproductive circumstances. The predictability of change gives credence to the argument that ideal family size is a meaningful construct, even in this higher-fertility setting. Changes are not equally predictable across all women, however, and gamma regression results demonstrate that women for whom reproduction is a more distant goal change their fertility preferences in less-predictable ways.

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