Meeting in Milan

Milan, 26/27 May 2008

This 1.5 day workshop was the

first scientific meeting of the REPRO consortium. The aim was to discuss the Theory
of Planned Behavior
(TPB) and its application in fertility
research in detail, as preparation for the analyses that will be conducted in
the work packages that deal specifically with ‘micro’ level human
decision-making about childbearing and the link between ‘macro’ level
conditions and micro level decisions. The workshop benefited in particular from
the contributions of Icek Ajzen, the
author of the TPB, the social psychological theory of human behaviour on which
the micro-level modelling and some macro-micro modelling in REPRO will be

The meeting was held at Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics, Bocconi University
The meeting was opened by
Francesco Billari, Director of Dondena and Jane Klobas, Scientific Coordinator
of REPRO work package 3, who invited Icek Ajzen to present his theory and
discuss its application to reproductive decision-making.

Icek Ajzen drew attention to several
important aspects of the TPB, including its focus on understanding how people form an intention to do
something, and on the relationship
between having an intention and following through on it
. There was
considerable discussion of ‘unrealistic optimism’, the situation in which a
person forms an intention that they cannot follow through.

Francesco Billari and Icek Ajzen

Apart from a short session dedicated to REPRO administrative matters, the rest of the workshop consisted of a series of brief presentations from REPRO researchers followed by a discussion of the issues raised in the presentations. The main presentations and issues addressed were:

  • Jane Klobas provided details of how each of the factors associated with forming childbearing intentions as described by the TPB has been measured in the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS), the main data set that will be used in WP3. The researchers, guided by Ajzen, considered if ‘having a child’ is a behaviour or an objective that can be achieved by performing one or more of several different behaviours (including adopting a child). The factors associated with predicting the intention to ‘have a child’ are different to those associated with predicting intentions for other, more specific behaviours.
  • Aart Liefbroer from NIDI presented two models – that of Miller/Pasta and that of Bongaarts – that seek specifically to explain the formation of childbearing intentions. (These models differ from the TPB, which aims to provide a general explanation of motivations for human behaviour or “why people do what they do” and to which we have adapted our work.) The subsequent discussion highlighted the following key issues: Firstly, different factors are likely to affect decisions to have a first child or to have a second or subsequent child. The second issue was associated with how to study the influence of ‘external’ factors such as the number of children the decision-maker currently has, but also other individual and societal level factors, on the formation of fertility intentions. Ajzen explained that, in his view and as represented by the TPB, such factors affect intentions only indirectly, by influencing attitudes, perceived social pressures and perceptions of ability to perform the behaviour of interest. Ajzen further noted that errors in measuring these three factors can give the impression that the intention is not well explained.
  • Zsolt Spéder of DRI presented the results of research on the relationship between birth intentions and subsequently having a child based on data gathered from the GGS over two different periods in Hungary. He concluded that people with higher education have greater ability to realise their intentions and that the middle group in the labour market is the most fragile one and has lower realisation of childbearing intentions. There was much discussion following this presentation and several researchers offered suggestions for building on this initial analysis.
  • Aart Liefbroer then presented several different ways in which themacro-micro link’ that is central to the REPRO project could be modelled around the TPB. He illustrated these different approaches by proposing three alternative hypotheses about how national differences might affect the formation of childbearing intentions. The subsequent discussion considered, in detail, the different approaches to macro-micro modelling and resulted in the identification of several ‘macro’ factors that should be included in this part of the project, particularly when the goal of REPRO to contribute to policy-making is considered.
  • Jane Klobas presented the results of research conducted by Alessandro Rosina, whose REPRO research will focus on fertility decision-making by couples. Rosina’s work is based on Italian data that can be used to identify when a male and female partner agree or disagree about the decision to have a child. This presentation highlighted an important aspect of the TPB, namely that it is designed to study how individuals make decisions about their own behaviour. From the perspective of the TPB, a partner’s point of view might influence all three of the factors that affect the formation of intention (attitudes, perceived social pressures and perceptions of the ability to have a child).
  • Laura Bernardi of MPIDR described how a large number of interviews obtained from women in six European countries will be used to gain additional insights into the development of childbearing intentions and the relationship between intention and behaviour. The analysis will be guided by the factors included in the TPB. In the discussion, the workshop participants identified a number of issues, including regional differences, which might be contained in the interview data.
  • In the last session, Dimiter Philipov of the VID outlined his research on the potential effect of competing intentions (such as the intention to go to university) on childbearing intentions. Philipov and Ajzen exchanged ideas about how competing intentions influence decision-making. Ajzen noted that they are likely to have a stronger effect when the intention to perform the behaviour that we want to predict is relatively weak. With this comment, he reminded the researchers that the strength or certainty of an intention is an important indicator of future behaviour.


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