MPIDR Working Paper

Two theoretical interpretations of the dissonance between fertility intentions and behaviour

Micheli, G. A., Bernardi, L.
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2003-009, 55 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (February 2003)
Open Access


In the paper we outline two possible theoretical interpretations for the inconsistency often observed between fertility intentions and fertility behaviour. We draw on socio-psychological models of human behaviour which emphasise the role of normative-affective factors on decision-making processes. The first interpretation is based on the observation that family and fertility choices are gradually shifting from a zone where behaviour is normative regulated to a zone of normative indifference, where mere rational decision-making based on cost-benefit considerations is at work. The dissonance between fertility choices and declared intentions depends on the fact that the former are based on rational considerations, while the latter are still constrained by a normative familistic philosophy. The second interpretation assumes the existence of an interposing mechanism in the sequence expectations-behaviour. These mechanisms, as anxiety and avoidance dispositions, filter the passage from individual value orientations in the affective sphere to their actual behaviour. We base our argument on two sets of information. First, we use a survey which allows us to construct empirical indicators of psychological dispositions connected to expectations related to family and fertility behaviours (Abacus 1996, Italy). Second, we analyse 54 non-structured interviews conducted in Northern Italy, which give a detailed picture of the hypothesised mechanisms and suggest new directions for research.
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.