Concepts and Operationalisation of Reproductive Decisions
Implementation in Austria, Germany and Switzerland

Dimiter Philipov, Laura Bernardi


Recently the difference between actual and hypothetical fertility (fertility gap) has served as an indication to enforce family policies with the purpose to increase births. This paper examines the relevance of hypothetical fertility measured with fertility ideals and intentions, to the estimation of the gap. Based on a literature review we discuss the meaning of these concepts and their operationalisation with empirical observations in three German-speaking countries (Austria, Germany, and Switzerland). Although the concept of societal ideal fertility is ambiguous it can be useful for understanding reproductive decisions when measured scrupulously. Operationalisation of short-term and long-term fertility intentions is discussed, along with their realisation. Analyses of intentions should rest on a theoretical background, such as the Miller-Pasta framework and the socio-psychological theory of planned behaviour. The latter is implemented in Austria and Germany using GGS data. The paper concludes that the fertility gap can be misleading both because the indicator of actual fertility as well as indicators of intended fertility can be imprecise. Useful policy-relevant information can be received by a specific form of the gap, when realisation of individual short-term intentions is considered.


Reproductive decision-making; Ideal number of children; Fertility intentions; Theory of planned behaviour; Fertility gap

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