Work package 5: Fertility intentions and behaviours in context: a comparative qualitative approach

Work package leader

Laura Bernardi
University of Lausanne
Institut des sciences sociales
Bâtiment Vidy
Route de Chavannes 33
1015 Lausanne



The main objective of this work package is to understand the development of individuals’ fertility intentions in relation to their partnership and family orientations, their opportunity structure to realise such intentions and the relations of fertility intentions with other aspects of their life course. We will apply content analyses techniques on narrative data collected in different European countries characterized by very diverse fertility patterns (France, eastern and western Germany, various regions in Italy, Poland and Bulgaria).

Description of work

Task 1. We plan to develop an empirically grounded typology of individual orientations and life course contingencies leading to positive, negative or undefined fertility intentions. To this end we will specifically analyze the subset of interviews carried out with childless men and women, paying special attention to the role of gender relations and of intergenerational relations in shaping fertility intentions in the different cultural and social contexts. For most countries we have data collected from both members of a couple and in the Italian and the Polish samples we interviewed mother-daughter dyads.

Task 2. We will use the data from individuals with children in order to map life course patterns leading to the realisation of fertility intentions in the different national contexts. Despite rationalizations ex post may play some role in retrospective narratives, qualitative data offer many opportunities to control for them by paying attention to contradictions and the construction of arguments in the narrative.

Task 3. We will analyze the narrative data to critically assess the appropriateness of the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) when it is used to compare the determinants of fertility intentions in international perspective. More concretely we will define different ways in which each component of the TPB can be interpreted, propose alternatives to the model if pertinent and confront these results with those derived from the statistical modelling in work package 3.

Task 4. We aim at understanding the role played by couples’ social networks in defining and realising fertility intentions, the way in which age norms about parenthood are enforced or relaxed, how late parenthood is constructed and whether a positive image of a childless life emerges. In the German and French sub-sample we have additional data about relevant others and their reciprocal relations; these data allow for an in-depth exploration of social influence on fertility intentions as well as a description of social networks characteristics).

Our data consists of 452 comparable semi-structured interviews with young men and women of different parities, aged between 20 and 45.  For individuals in these age groups, reproductive choices and their timing are likely to be salient topics. The sampled individuals live in relatively large urban centres where the variation of fertility patterns generally is higher. The sample size is relatively large to guarantee that major variations in the combination of fertility intentions and life course situations are covered in each national context (eastern Germany 43, western Germany 51, France 32, Italy 238, Bulgaria 30 and Poland 48).

We use interpretative content analyses using a systematic thematic-coding approach with the support of the QSR Nvivo software for data handling and data sharing. Data are already collected and available to the research teams in forms of audio files and transcripts in the original language. The interview material explores family representations and orientations in connection with the narrative accounts of individuals union, employment and fertility careers as well as their family history and their current network of relevant others. Each collaborator will analyze his or her country dataset relating fertility intentions/realisations to the following aspects: economic and employment insecurities, gender relations, intergenerational relations, post-materialistic values, social norms on parenthood and child care, social influence within social networks. The interpretation of micro-level specificities at the individual, couple and social networks levels will be linked to the economic, political and sociological literature on the national context and to the outputs of work package 2.


  • Scientific report: typology of individual orientations and life course contingencies leading to positive, negative or undefined fertility intentions and life course configurations fostering or hampering the realisation of such intentions.
  • Scientific report: critical evaluation of the instruments of TPB to predict intentions in relation to reproductive behaviour.
  • Scientific report: variation in social norms and practices of social influences in different family and fertility cultures and specific political economies.