Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


Couples' Fertility Intentions: Measurement, Correlates, and Implications for Parent and Child Well-Being

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Karen Benjamin Guzzo (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Susan Brown (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Wendy Manning (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kei Nomaguchi (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Daniel Wiegmann (Other)


Unintended childbearing has emerged as a major social problem in the United States. In response, a wealth of research has emerged spanning topics ranging from union formation and dissolution to parenting, and maternal and child well-being. Although the field has taken great strides in advancing research on retrospective reports of unintended childbearing—usually focusing on its correlates and implications—the majority of this research focuses on mothers’ perspectives, largely ignoring fathers and couples. Drawing on a family systems framework, I assert fertility intentions should be modeled as a couple-level construct, as mothers’ and fathers’ intentions are likely enmeshed into joint, couple intentions to provide a more nuanced understanding of unintended childbearing that acknowledges both parents’ intentions. Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), I conducted three sets of analyses that make notable contributions to current research on unintended fertility. The first assesses the validity of mothers’ proxy reports of fathers’ intentions, weighing the costs and benefits of incorporating men’s perspectives, and it considers what sociodemographic characteristics are associated with couples’ intentions (i.e. both intended; only mother intended; only father intended; and neither intended). Next, I consider the linkages between couples’ unintended childbearing and parents’ mental and physical health – examining gender differences (or similarities) and considering changes in the linkage between couples’ intentions and well-being over time. Finally, I examine the effects of couples’ intentions on child well-being partitioning out direct and indirect effects via parental well-being, investment and the co-parental relationship dynamic. Results from all three chapters demonstrate consideration of couples’ intentions provides a more nuanced understanding of unintended childbearing and its linkages with well-being. Key findings are situated around implications for both practice and research.