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Session Overview
RN13_01b_P: Family Planning and Fertility I
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Bettina Isengard, University of Zurich
Session Chair: Ana Cristina Romea Martínez, Universidad de Zaragoza
Location: PD.2.33
PANTEION University of Social & Political Sciences 136 Syggrou Avenue 17671 Athens, Greece Building: D, Level: 2.

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“These things don’t happen quickly”: A study of women’s expectations and experiences of conception in Scotland

Emily Ross

University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

This paper explores women’s perceptions of their ability to conceive, in the context of contemporary debates surrounding the notion of delayed childbearing. The research is taken from a study of women’s experiences of a first-time pregnancy in Scotland. Drawing on data from qualitative interviews conducted during the first trimester of gestation, I present fifteen women’s retrospective accounts of their attempts to conceive. I demonstrate the pervasiveness of discourses of ‘advancing maternal age’, heard throughout the UK and across Europe more widely, and the impact of these on subjective perceptions of individual fertility.

I show that in the context of contemporary framings of conception as a difficult task for women nearing their mid-thirties, participants in this study anticipated that becoming pregnant would require effort or labour. Successful conception was seen to necessitate physical and emotional work from women, including newfound attention to their corporeality, the use of self-monitoring technologies, and experiential and statistical information-seeking. I draw on the sociology of emotions to explore how contemporary depictions of fertility impacted upon participants’ intimate relationships, and, in the face of uncertainties and doubt with regards their ability to conceive, also led interviewees to engage with particular strategies of emotion management.

The paper documents experiences of the medicalisation and technologisation of the ‘pre-pregnancy’ period, and the impact of this on participants’ expectations for a successful conception. This work has implications for sociological discussions of reproductive citizenship, hope and expectation, and adds to literature documenting the management of uncertainty in everyday life.

Unpursued desires to have children and hazarding unwanted pregnancies – How to explain inconsistent generative behaviour?

Jasmin Passet-Wittig, Detlev Lueck

Federal Institute for Population Research, Germany

Analyses of data from the German pairfam study reveal that a considerable share of respondents reports a generative behaviour that, at least at first sight, seems inconsistent. Within the sixth panel wave, for example, 10.2% of those respondents who declared that they and their partner had tried to become pregnant during the last year, at the same time stated that they had been using contraception during the last three months. Among those who reported that they had not tried to become pregnant 22.8% stated that they nevertheless hadn’t been using contraceptives. This paper examines presumed inconsistencies in generative behaviour using pairfam data from seven panel waves. Unpursued desires to have children and risking pregnancy are the two most prevalent forms. We discuss how these particular response patterns may be explained, referring to social-psychological theory, couple dynamics, critical life course events, socio-cultural and structural differentials, personality traits and methodological issues. Assumptions are tested using longitudinal multivariate analyses. The sample is restricted to people in a relationship. Preliminary findings support two obvious expectations that having a same-sex partner as well as perceiving oneself or ones partner as infertile are strong predictors for seemingly inconsistent behaviour. Findings also suggest that disagreement between the partners’ family planning plays a role. Respondents of the oldest cohort, lower educated people, parents and people who live as a couple only for a short time are, in comparison, more likely to behave seemingly inconsistently.

Childfree and childless identities in a post-socialist context in a qualitative research perspective

Hana Hašková

Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic

Permanent childlessness among women was unusually low in the former Eastern Bloc. In the 1990s the total fertility rates fell in the region, and the age of women at first birth started to increase. Some experts emphasised the influence of cultural and value changes on such demographic developments; others emphasised structural and institutional changes. The emphasis placed on the impact of changing values on the postponement of childbearing implied an increase in the length of the childfree period in young adults´ lives while the emphasis placed on the impact of socio-economic problems implied delaying of parenthood and increased childlessness forced by external conditions. The problem is that the concept of the postponement of childbearing, defined at the macro-level of demographic indicators by a decrease in fertility among younger age groups and an increase in the mean age at first birth, lacks a clear definition of processes at the micro-level of individual experience. I addressed this issue by exploring the experiences of 68 Czech men and women of at least 30 years of age who (so far) were neither biological nor foster parents. I explored their experience of childlessness, whether it was perceived temporary or permanent. Based on the qualitative analysis of the 68 problem-centred interviews, I propose a typology of childlessness. It highlights the existence of several distinct processes explaining a variety of experience of childlessness when the postponement of childbearing is identified at the level of demographic indicators. It also shows how structures and values are intertwined in individual experience, and allows for theorising the difference in the postponement of childbearing between those who grew up before and after 1989 in the Czech Republic.

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