Dyadic Fertility Decisions in a Life Course Perspective
This paper focuses on how couples arrive at joint decisions with regard to fertility behaviour. We build upon previous work on decision rules that couples might apply as heuristics in order to arrive at joint action in cases in which partners’ fertility preferences differ. Previous research found either stronger effects of women's desires or symmetrical effects of both spouses’ desires and net benefits associated with (further) children on proceptive behaviour. The latter finding is in line with the notion of household utility maximisation, in which both partners’ preferences enter into a joint utility function with equal weight. On the other hand, some evidence indicates that one partner can exercise a ‘veto’ if he or she anticipates individual utility losses from a further child (due to opportunity costs arising in other life domains). We now enhance previous research by applying a life-course perspective. Our analysis makes use of variation in initial conditions due to previous births: couples decide on fertility in different situations as they find themselves in different life course stages and have had certain experiences. Parity-specific differences affect not only fertility outcomes but also the decision-making process itself. Our findings show that the decision to have a first child is made jointly, and each partner may exercise a veto. On the other hand, women appear to dominate decisions on higher parity births, not per se, but because they are (still) the ones more affected by the concomitant housework.