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Should I Have a Kid?

Fertility intentions among native and migrant women in Italy

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Should I Have a Kid?

Previous research on the fertility of migrants in Europe has mostly focused on actual fertility behaviours. Yet inquiry into fertility intentions is limited: existing studies tend to assume that fertility outcomes match with intentions. However, this approach fails to recognise that moving to a country with different cultural, institutional and labour market contexts may affect one’s ability to realise fertility preferences. In a new study, Eleonora Mussino (Stockholm University Demography Unit), Giuseppe Gabrielli (University of Naples Federico II), Livia Elisa Ortensi (University of Bologna) and Salvatore Strozza (University of Naples Federico II) inquire directly into the short-term fertility intentions of migrants compared to natives. They also ask whether demographic and socio-economic factors play different roles in the two groups.

In order to answer these questions, Mussino and colleagues used data on Italian residents from the Social Condition and Integration of Foreign Citizens (SCIF) survey on households with at least one foreign member and from the Italian Gender and Generation Survey (GGS). The two surveys asked the same question: “Do you intend to have a child in the next three years?” In analysing responses, the researchers consider migrant background, age, marital status, existing children, education level, labour market status and homeownership. When looking at migrants alone, they consider country of birth, age at arrival in Italy and time since migration.  

The researchers find that migrant women have both higher positive fertility intentions (i.e. sure they will have a child) and lower negative fertility intentions (i.e. sure they will not have a child) within a 3-year time frame than native women do. These differences are shaped by several interesting patterns among the demographic and socio-economic factors considered. Overall, natives’ fertility intentions are largely related to external constraints, such as young age, the need to achieve one’s educational and professional goals and even home ownership. Migrants, by contrast, are more influenced by the number of children they already have. 

Research has demonstrated the role of labour market status and fertility behaviours among migrant women. However, Mussino and colleagues find no relationship between this factor and positive fertility intentions. Although their labour market status may affect whether migrant women have children, it does not necessarily affect their intention to have children or not. Thus, to understand (and forecast) fertility trends, it is important to know that if economic barriers for migrants were removed, their fertility behaviours might follow patterns closer to their intentions.

The results also suggest that the country in which women spend their early years is essential in shaping ideal fertility, intentions and actual behaviours. The researchers find that fertility intentions among migrant women vary by age at arrival and time since migration. Positive intentions are higher in the short term after migrating, while negative intentions tend to grow with time spent in Italy. The intentions of migrants who arrived at a younger age seem to be more similar to those of natives (i.e. a higher probability of negative fertility intentions), while there are few differences between women who migrated after entering childbearing age. These results thus shed further light on the interplay of various factors shaping migrant women’s childbearing intentions.

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Emily Frank