Müller, Maximilian, Joan Hamory, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, Edward Miguel. (2022) “The illusion of stable fertility preferences”, Population Studies, 76(2): 169-189, doi: 10.1080/00324728.2022.2057577.
Fertility preferences have long played a key role in models of fertility differentials and change. We examine the stability of preferences over time using rich panel data on Kenyan women’s fertility desires, expectations, actual fertility, and recall of desires in three waves over a nine-year period, when respondents were in their 20s. We find that although desired fertility is quite unstable, most women perceive their desires to be stable. Under hypothetical future scenarios, few expect their desired fertility to increase over time but, in fact, such increases in fertility desires are common. Moreover, when asked to recall past desires, most respondents report previously wanting exactly as many children as they desire today. These patterns of bias are consistent with the emerging view that fertility desires are contextual, emotionally laden, and structured by identity.