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Family Size Preferences in a College Student Sample

Brian H. Bornstein, David K. DiLillo, Hannah Dietrich


Family size preferences and birth rate vary across culture, gender, religion, race/ethnicity, and time; yet little is known about how or when people decide how many children to have. Sociobiology suggests that women should invest more time and effort into the decision than men.


The study’s purpose is to examine family size preferences in a sample of male and female college students.


A sample of childless, college-aged participants (n =394; 58.7% women) completed a survey about their desires concerning procreation (e.g., “How many children do you want to have?” “How committed to that number are you?” “How old were you when you picked this number?”).


Women reported deciding how many children they ideally wanted at a younger age than men, being more committed to that number, and having given it more careful thought. Women also wanted to have their first child at a younger age than men, although men wanted marginally more offspring overall. Participants who used birth control wanted fewer children than those who did not. There were few differences as a function of religion or race/ethnicity.


Family size preferences were consistent with sociobiological predictions, with women knowing how many children they wanted at a younger age than men, being more committed to a specific number, having given the matter more careful thought, and wanting to start childbearing at a younger age. Thus, despite recent cultural and societal changes, biological imperatives still appear to influence decision making about this most fundamental of behaviors.

July 31, 2017

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