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More people prefer not to have children

In this new study, scholars show that the ideal number of children has decreased among recent generations in Finland, with more people wanting to remain childless.

Source: Ron Lach / Pexels

Fertility declines in the 2010s in the Nordic countries, and especially in Finland, were steep and highly unexpected. Finland is known for its generous family-friendly policies, high gender equity, and high female labour market involvement – factors that are considered important for higher fertility rates. These declines demonstrated that existing theories and approaches are not sufficient to explain the current fertility dynamics. Therefore, new explanations are needed.

In a new study, Golovina, K., Nitsche, N., Berg, V., Miettinen, A., Rotkirch, A. and Jokela, M. investigated whether the ideal number of children has changed among the recent generations. They did not examine whether this relates to actual fertility rates, but studying changes in fertility ideals per se is important since they can be an important predictor of childbearing behavior and serve as an indicator of some broader cultural changes.

For this study, they used data from the Finnish Family Barometer surveys from 2007 to 2018 for men and women from the 1970-74, 1975-79, 1980-84, 1985-89, and 1990-94 birth cohorts. They compared participants’ personal ideal number of children (i.e., the number of children they wish to have over their lifetime) across birth cohorts at the same age. They also examined how they are related to socio-economic factors.

The main finding of the study was that people from more recent birth cohorts had a lower ideal number of children compared to people from earlier cohorts. This was mainly due to more people desiring to remain childless among people born after 1985. For example, 25% of men aged 25 and born in 1985–1989 reported zero as their ideal number of children compared to 4% of men aged 25 and born in 1975–1979. The corresponding percentages for women were 22% and 2%. The authors also found that socio-economic factors (such as education, income, and employment status) do not play a major role in the differences in the ideal number of children across birth cohorts.

Overall, results point to a shift in attitudes toward childbearing and family life in Finland: more and more people prefer not having children at a young age. A question this study left unexamined is whether this more widespread desire to remain childless at a young age will continue later in life for these people born after 1985. Finally, although not directly examined, it is possible that broader cultural changes within the Finnish society are behind such a sharp increase in childfree ideals. This, in turn, might be one of the causes driving the decline in actual birth rates in Finland.



Additional Information


Kateryna Golovina and Natalie Nitsche

Authors of Original Article


Golovina, K., Nitsche, N., Berg, V., Miettinen, A., Rotkirch, A. & Jokela, M. (2023). Birth cohort changes in fertility ideals: Evidence from repeated cross-sectional surveys in Finland. European Sociological Review.