Ambivalence about children in the family building process in Sweden

Eva Bernhardt, Stockholm University
Fran Goldscheider, University of Maryland

Research on the effects of attitudes towards children and subsequent childbearing has focused on relatively simple measures, but as in studies of intergenerational relationships, ambivalence may characterize the attitudes of young adults when they consider decisions related to parenthood. Many may have both strong positive feelings, such as about children confirming adult status, and strong negative feelings, given the great costs of children, both in time and money. In Sweden, the primary costs of children are temporal, because of generous paid parental leave, subsidized child care, and child allowances. Nevertheless, Sweden has shared in the growth of norms of intensive parenting, greatly increasing the time costs of children. We examine the effects on fertility (first and second births) of ambivalent attitudes towards children. Preliminary results show that those who hold positive attitudes about the value of children in their lives, transition earlier to parenthood, especially if this is combined with less concern about the time costs to their freedom. But even the 'ambivalent', i.e. those who combine positive expectations with great concern about restricted personal freedom, make the transition to parenthood almost as quickly. We hypothesize that 'ambivalence' (mixed feelings about becoming a parent) as reported after the transition to parenthood has a greater negative impact on continued childbearing (second births).

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Presented in Session 80: Realisation of fertility intentions

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