DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2311847121 ISSN: 0027-8424

Family ideals in an era of low fertility

Arnstein Aassve, Alícia Adserà, Paul Y. Chang, Letizia Mencarini, Hyunjoon Park, Chen Peng, Samuel Plach, James M. Raymo, Senhu Wang, Wei-Jun Jean Yeung
  • Multidisciplinary

Taking stock of individuals’ perceived family ideals is particularly important in the current moment given unprecedented fertility declines and the diversification of households in advanced industrial societies. Study participants in urban China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the United States, Italy, Spain, and Norway were asked to evaluate vignettes describing families whose characteristics vary on ten dimensions. In contrast to previous studies that focused on a single dimension, such as fertility ideals or gender roles, this holistic vignette approach identifies the relative importance of each dimension. Multilevel regression analysis reveals both expected and unexpected findings. Parenthood remains a positive ideal, but the number of children does not matter once other family dimensions are considered, a potentially important finding in light of conventional wisdom regarding the two-children ideal. When evaluating families with at least one child, respondents tend to positively evaluate more traditional arrangements, including valuing marriage relative to cohabitation and, particularly, divorce. Also, in addition to financial resources, good communication between immediate and extended family members, as well as maintaining respect in the larger community, are highly salient attributes of an ideal family. Notwithstanding some important cross-national differences, egalitarian gender roles and avoiding work–family conflict are also valued positively. Overall, even as the study reveals some notable variations between societies, respondents across countries identify similar components of an ideal family.

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