The findings of this review study extend knowledge about factors affecting childbearing intentions and indicate that childbearing decision-making is a multifactorial issue governed by biological, psychological, financial, and social factors.
Childbearing intentions are not always voluntary and are often influenced by actual and perceived circumstances (63). Intention to give birth to a first child varies by some key elements such as age and civil status. First-birth intentions are closely related to the wish of establishing a family and more influenced by normative pressure than the economic situation. Second-birth and higher birth orders are also governed by age but often influenced by various circumstances (41).
As one grows older, his/her time left for childbearing decreases. However, the biological limits known for women's social constraints apply to both men and women in childbearing decision-making (37).
Education can simultaneously impress economic and cultural effect mechanisms. A variety of lifestyles and cultural resources are tied up with education (35, 37).
Higher education level is positively associated with higher fertility intention. It could be due to a lack of resources among those with lower education (12, 45), as well as higher advantageous positions among high level educated ones (40, 41).
Nevertheless, the education level of couples affects short-term fertility intention in the opposite direction, which means lower educated couples actualize their intentions sooner. Perhaps, they cannot cope with the student-parent roles or they may want more time to reach a sustainable economic status after finishing school and before starting a family (35, 45).
Education increases women’s power in the couple childbearing decision-making (48). The analysis, based on the 2006 and 2011 EB (Eurobarometer) data, revealed that unlike developing countries, in Europe the highly educated women have higher fertility intentions. In countries where there are more opportunities for women to reach high levels of education, other structural circumstances affecting fertility are also available; e.g., life satisfaction, sense of well-being, and levels of trust. Besides, policies can successfully combine work and family life for highly educated women in these countries. Undoubtedly, the marriage market has also an important role in this regard. As highly educated women have more opportunities to marry and have a better-educated partner, they can plan to have larger families (42).
Childbirth requires access to financial resources (15, 25, 43, 44, 45). Job stability plays an important role in childbearing decision-making (25, 28, 35).
There is an indirect effect of satisfaction with job security on childbearing intention. More satisfaction with job security may lead to fewer conflicts in the couple relationship. Hence, it may lead the satisfaction within a partnership and a higher intention to have a first child (40).
Improved women employment condition means more options and resources to achieve fertility goals. Besides, strong involvement in the labor market with high income in women can compete with raising children (28).
Although non-working women have enough time to raise children, lack of personal investments in non-working women, it may let them enjoy less fortunate conditions and also receive less support from their partner and family and institutions. As a result, it may limit their intentions to have a child (32). Female atypical workers also have less intention to have children, because they cannot enjoy any parental benefits such as sick leave and other childbirth privileges. Therefore, pregnancy means discontinuing their work and financial problems as a result (47).
Employed women have stronger decision power in childbearing (48). Women’s employment and income have significant effects on childbearing intentions in different societies (26). In Sweden, Denmark, and Hungary, countries with efficient work-family policies, working women have a stronger tendency to have a/another child than working women in countries with weaker policy support. Women with low education in countries with weaker work-family combination policies, such as Germany, Netherlands, UK, Poland, and Finland, prefer to use their spare time by raising children (10).
Religion and family make up a large proportion of shaping personal identity. Higher fertility intention among religious people is related to family beliefs and values, including schemas about the importance of marriage and parenthood, and gender roles in families. Fertility differentials are a part of a widespread association between religiosity and family behavior (49).
The psychological value of children, such as providing comfort during old age, is associated with higher intentions to have a second child among stay-at-home mothers. Non-working mothers may be more dependent on their children for emotional support during their elderly years compared with employed women and even fathers. The labor force participation of women may provide an alternative source of satisfaction, achievement, and stimulation, which can decrease the psychological advantages of children (52).
Individualism can affect second child intentions among women. Nowadays, women believe that more children cannot increase their social esteem enough to take charge of raising a child. Among women, health concerns can seriously affect second child intentions, as they believe poor health threatens childbirth and may compromise the health of both mother and child (41).
It is noteworthy that the mode of the first delivery is associated with subsequent childbearing intentions. Women whose first delivery is by cesarean delivery (CD) are less likely to have large families. Women with difficulty in conceiving or delivering are more exposed to a CD. Therefore, they intend to have fewer children. Also, the risk for CD increases with age while the likelihood of subsequent childbirth decreases with age (53).
Happiness has different effects on childbearing intentions. Women’s happiness seems to matter more for second child decision making. Women with a low level of happiness might not have a positive experience with the first child while women with a high level of happiness may not want to change the positive status they live; so both prefer to limit their childbearing intentions (54). Also, optimistic people who are most satisfied with their life course and their prospects are more likely to realize their fertility intentions (37).
Types of occupancy have a significant effect on fertility intentions. No need to mention, a couple who owns the house in which they live feel more secure about housing conditions than a couple living in tenured houses. In countries with no government regulation in the house renting market, the couples face a difficult housing regime (34, 55).
Living in single-family houses is highly associated with higher intention to have a first child compared with living in apartments. This result may be due to the impossibility of expanding an apartment space or living in crowded apartments; however, the exact reasons are unclear (29, 55).
Partnership stability is an important factor in the transition to parenthood for both men and women. So, single men and women have less tendency to have a child; however, differences between legally married couples and co-habitant couples depend on the norms of each society.
Gender role attitudes have an important effect on how men and women view parenthood.
In the US and Sweden, traditional men are more likely to have a child (56, 59). Traditional men are more likely to partner with traditional women. Women’s admiration for the benefits of parenthood may be strongly related to the couple’s fertility decision. In comparison, egalitarian men might prefer to partner with egalitarian women who are considerably less fascinated by the benefits of motherhood. Thus, it is the dominant attitude that determines the transition to parenthood (59). Most women prefer men who share in the responsibilities of the household (56). Accordingly, man’s participation in home chores increases women’s intention to have a second child (15, 58). Egalitarian women need the support of egalitarian men in the household task to work outside the home. In this case, they are more likely to want more children (56). Although traditional women have high personal fertility ideals, they plan to have a lower number of children (51, 59).
Although holding a traditional gender role attitude is positively related to childbearing, they show a little difference in practice (40, 59). In comparison, egalitarian men are more likely to partner and remain partnered (59). It seems that they are more attractive to their partners as they share more equally with them. Having less conflict with their wives leads to a happier marital relationship and may encourage these couples to plan to have a child (56). On the other hand, it seems that men with more traditional views are more concerned about the cost of parenthood than egalitarian ones but they express more desire to have a child (59).
Male participation in the household task is more important than in childcare in most societies (15, 56, 58, 59), probably due to the following reasons. First, childcare, in general, can be viewed as more pleasant and fulfilling than housework. Thus, in some societies, it is common that youngest children attend kindergarten so most of the parents’ childcare is done in the evenings and at the weekends. A very important issue in this regard is the people’s perceptions about what is fair and satisfactory, which may be more important than the actual division (39, 48, 59). Increasing female labor force participation in developed countries around the world was initially associated with a decline in fertility rate. However, the negative relationship between women’s labor force participation and childbearing has turned positive since the 1990s, because of men’s more involvement in family tasks. Gender inequality and the difficulty of combining work and family are possible explanations for this (12, 59).
Countries with high national-level gender equality also need household-level equity and equality to see an increase in fertility (40, 59, 64).
In zero parity, couple agreement or disagreement has the same outcome. As childlessness is not a norm in most countries, under the pressure of the society they will experience a birth almost as often as the same (65). The possibility for an additional child is associated with couples’ desire. As parenthood is more related to women’s lives, it seems that the female partner’s opinion plays an essential role in childbirth decision-making (59, 61). When a man wants to have a child but his wife does not, he prefers to express negative or uncertain childbearing intention. It indicates that women have a stronger influence on short-term childbearing intentions (59). Stein (2014) introduced a fertility decision-making model in which the male partner has the greatest influence on childbearing decisions but it is the female partner who exerts veto power in the couple’s final decision. It is undeniable that the man’s active involvement in childcare duties turns disagreement more toward childbearing in higher parities (65).
Although a state of satisfactory partnerships is required to have a child (33), both highly positive and highly negative interactions between couples have a significant negative influence on the rates of the first and subsequent births. A great deal of satisfaction means partners are happy with their current family situation so having another child may threaten their satisfactory condition. Unsatisfactory relationships between couples disturb a suitable pre-condition for child-rearing. Thus, they may imagine an additional child may face their life with a new challenge. Nevertheless, effective aspects of relationship quality and their mechanisms are still unknown (31).
Individual behaviors are noticeably connected to the context in which they belong (32). It seems that participation in social groups makes a sense of security, protection, and trust in the future, which provides a proper opportunity for childbearing (37).
Social pressure has more influence on personal goals formation (25, 36). Parents are the main part of the communication network (25, 44).
Childless couples are influenced by network partners and their family size. Unlike one-child peers, peers with two or more children have a negative influence on the intentions of childless couples.
This behavior largely depends on the characteristics and ability of individuals to communicate experiences and information (44). Influential communication networks show reproductive planning and decision-making in Italy and Germany (25, 61). However, further empirical insights from different countries are needed to describe fertility-related interpersonal influence because of the variety of social and cultural contexts (44). Kuhnt (2016) mentions that those perceived social pressure to have a child are the most likely to have positive fertility intentions and vice versa. Therefore, it seems that the meaning of social pressure has not yet been fully clarified. This may reflect the willingness of individuals to comply with norms. Future research should then be conducted to provide a better understanding of what social pressure means and how it is related to fertility decisions.
Women receive more parental help with their first child than with their later children. It suggests that first-time mothers are more in need of help. Women at parity zero and one are more likely to have a/another child while they are living with or near parents (in-law). Besides, it is more common among women whose husbands either work relatively long hours or have relatively low educational attainment. Social network support may reduce the high physical/psychological and economic costs of childrearing (62).
As grandparents are often more available to support their adult children in household tasks and child care, the inadequacy of welfare may lead working mothers to be more dependent on their parents’ support (25). Family responsibility and household care still fall on women’s shoulders. So, when kindergarten coverage is low and crowded and private kindergartens costs are high, the solution to the almost total absence of institutional help is intergenerational support (15).
Although strong extended family ties are expected to encourage higher levels of fertility, the generation of middle-aged adults (so-called, “sandwich generation”) may face concurrent commitment to support elderly parents and dependent children (66). Therefore, they may limit their family size to limit their support obligations (11).
In another way, couples from large families have experiences of having probable problems related to a large number of siblings. Also, their parents may evaluate their own high fertility experiences negatively, leading them to limit their fertility intentions (44).
In developed societies, higher-order births are likely to be more responsive to policy and environmental changes compared with the first births (23).
Formal help for childcare increases childbearing intention among women with one child (15, 32, 35, 67, 68, 69). It frees mothers from childcare responsibilities during this time (69, 70, 71) and reduces the financial burden of children (32). It seems that the availability of care centers and the quality of services provided are important factors to encourage mothers to fulfill their childbearing intentions (41). Workplace support influences women’s childbearing intentions. Labor market policies are expected to change the labor market so that both women and men can maintain their employment and income, even with young children (32, 43).
The baby bonus also can rise childbearing intention among women especially with financial problems (26).
A context that allows women to feel assured about the future and has the least unease may allow them to fulfill childbirth intentions (36).