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Is Fertility Behavior in Our Genes? Findings from a Danish Twin Study


  • Hans‐Peter Kohler
  • Joseph L. Rodgers
  • Kaare Christensen


This article investigates the fertility of Danish twins born during the periods 1870–1910 and 1953–64 in order to pursue two central questions for understanding human reproduction: Do genetic dispositions influence fertility and fertility‐related behavior? Does the relevance of the “nature versus nurture” debate shift over time or with demographic regimes? The authors find that genetic influences on fertility exist, but that their relative magnitude and pattern are contingent on gender and on the socioeconomic environment experienced by cohorts. Among females born in 1880–90 and after 1955, about 30–50 percent of the variance in fertility is due to genetic influences; these influences are substantially smaller for earlier and for interim birth cohorts. Male fertility is generally subject to smaller genetic and larger shared‐environment effects than female fertility. Because genetic effects are most prevalent in situations with deliberately controlled fertility and relatively egalitarian socioeconomic opportunities, the authors propose that the genetic dispositions affect primarily fertility behavior and motivations for having children. Analyses of fertility motivations, measured by age of first attempt to have a child, support this interpretation.

Suggested Citation

  • Hans‐Peter Kohler & Joseph L. Rodgers & Kaare Christensen, 1999. "Is Fertility Behavior in Our Genes? Findings from a Danish Twin Study," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 25(2), pages 253-288, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:popdev:v:25:y:1999:i:2:p:253-288
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.1999.00253.x

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