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Gender Gaps in Completed Fertility


  • Field, Erica
  • Tertilt, Michèle
  • Molitor, Vera


The most commonly used measure of reproductive behavior is the total fertility rate (TFR), which is a measure of the number of children born per woman. However, almost no work exists measuring the fertility behavior of men. In this paper we use survey data from several recent waves of the Demographic and Health Surveys in six developing countries in which men and women were each asked about their reproductive histories. We document a number of interesting differences in fertility outcomes of men and women. First, while one might have thought that average rates for men and women must coincide, we find that this is not the case. Comparing completed fertility by birth cohorts, we find that on average men have more children than women in four out of the six countries we consider. The gaps are large ? reaching up to 4.6 children in Burkina Faso for the 1944-48 birth cohort. We show that positive gaps are possible when populations are growing and men father children with younger women. Such a situation often coincides with polygyny, i.e. men having children with more than one woman. Indeed we find that the size of the fertility gap is positively related to the degree of polygyny in the country. Second, we find a higher variance in fertility rates for men than for women. In other words, women are more similar to each other in reproductive behavior than men are to one another. Third, we find that differences in the desire to have children can largely be explained by differences in realized fertility. This implies that differences in fertility preferences often emphasized in the literature do not necessarily need to cause conflict, as men and women can realize their fertility individually. Finally, we find that for men, the demographic transition started earlier and was steeper than for women. These novel facts are useful when building theories of fertility choice.

Suggested Citation

  • Field, Erica & Tertilt, Michèle & Molitor, Vera, 2015. "Gender Gaps in Completed Fertility," CEPR Discussion Papers 10355, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:10355

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    7. repec:cai:popine:popu_p1998_10n2_0318 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Fabian Kindermann & Matthias Doepke, 2014. "Bargaining over Babies," 2014 Meeting Papers 670, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    9. Nava Ashraf & Erica Field & Jean Lee, 2014. "Household Bargaining and Excess Fertility: An Experimental Study in Zambia," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(7), pages 2210-2237, July.
    10. Amy Ratcliffe & Allan Hill & David Harrington & Gijs Walraven, 2002. "Reporting of fertility events by men and women in rural Gambia," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 39(3), pages 573-586, August.
    11. Kunze, Astrid, 2014. "Are all of the good men fathers? The effect of having children on earnings," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 11/2014, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
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    1. Céline Zipfel, 2022. "The demand side of Africa's demographic transition: desired fertility, wealth, and jobs," STICERD - Economic Organisation and Public Policy Discussion Papers Series 71, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
    2. Yao Yao, 2022. "Fertility and HIV Risk in Africa," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 45, pages 109-133, July.
    3. Pauline Rossi, 2019. "Strategic Choices in Polygamous Households: Theory and Evidence from Senegal," The Review of Economic Studies, Review of Economic Studies Ltd, vol. 86(3), pages 1332-1370.
    4. D’Exelle, Ben & Lépine, Aurélia & Bakyono, Richard & Tapsoba, Ludovic D.G., 2023. "Fertility and polygyny: Experimental evidence from Burkina Faso," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 164(C).
    5. Abebe HAILEMARIAM, 2024. "Income and differential fertility: evidence from oil price shocks," JODE - Journal of Demographic Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 90(1), pages 31-54, March.
    6. Yao, Yao, 2016. "Fertility and HIV risk in Africa," Working Paper Series 19501, Victoria University of Wellington, School of Economics and Finance.
    7. Klaus Prettner & Holger Strulik, 2017. "Gender equity and the escape from poverty," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(1), pages 55-74.
    8. Bruno Schoumaker, 2017. "Measuring male fertility rates in developing countries with Demographic and Health Surveys: An assessment of three methods," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 36(28), pages 803-850.
    9. Christian Dudel & Sebastian Klüsener, 2019. "New opportunities for comparative male fertility research: insights from a new data resource based on high-quality birth registers," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2019-023, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
    10. Astrid Kunze, 2020. "The effect of children on male earnings and inequality," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 18(3), pages 683-710, September.
    11. Dudel, Christian & Klüsener, Sebastian, 2019. "New opportunities for comparative male fertility research: Insights from a new data resource based on high-quality birth registers," SocArXiv 8kqws, Center for Open Science.
    12. Ashira Menashe-Oren & David A. Sánchez-Páez, 2023. "Male Fertility and Internal Migration in Rural and Urban Sub-Saharan Africa," European Journal of Population, Springer;European Association for Population Studies, vol. 39(1), pages 1-40, December.
    13. Kevin Williams, 2023. "Does trade shape educational decisions? The role of initial schooling," Economic Change and Restructuring, Springer, vol. 56(5), pages 3631-3663, October.
    14. Christian Dudel & Sebastian Klüsener, 2021. "Male–Female Fertility Differentials Across 17 High-Income Countries: Insights From A New Data Resource," European Journal of Population, Springer;European Association for Population Studies, vol. 37(2), pages 417-441, April.
    15. McCarthy, Aine Seitz, 2019. "Intimate partner violence and family planning decisions: Experimental evidence from rural Tanzania," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 156-174.

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    More about this item


    Fertility; Gender; Polygyny;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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