Stepfamilies and Childbearing Desires in Europe

Thomson, Elizabeth
Working paper no. 2003-09


Increases in union stability and non-union childbearing during the latter half of the 20th century produced substantial increases in the prevalence of stepfamilies, most of which are formed during the partners’ childbearing years. Recent analyses of stepfamily fertility in a limited number of European countries and the United States demonstrated that, net of a couple’s combined number of children (hers, his and theirs), birth risks are elevated when the child will be the couple’s first or second. These patterns have been interpreted in terms of the unique values of first and second shared children that overcome the costs of rearing larger numbers of children in stepfamilies. Inferences about motives based on births assume that all births are wanted or that stepfamily couples are no more or less likely to have unwanted births than are couples without stepchildren. Analyses presented in this paper show that the patterns of stepfamily birth risks are replicated in stepfamily desires for another child, providing stronger support for motivational explanations of childbearing patterns in stepfamilies. Particularly strong evidence is found for the commitment value of a first shared child.