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13. März 2013

SOEP Brown Bag Seminar

What can survey question ordering experiments tell us about fertility decision making?


13. März 2013
12:30 - 13:30


DIW Berlin im Quartier 110
Room 3.3.002A
Mohrenstraße 58
10117 Berlin


Paul Mathews (ISER, University of Essex)
Objective: In surveys, preceding questions can influence respondents' answers to later questions. As an individual's opinions toward their own fertility are highly dependent upon their circumstances, we test whether prior questions might influence the reporting of fertility preferences.

Methods: We use three experiments which manipulate the ordering of questions to examine the priming effects of preceding questions. The first two experiments test the effects on childbearing intentions of preceding questions on mortality and morbidity, using an internet survey given to students (n=872 and n=2365) at UK higher education institutions. The third experiment tests for an effect on childbearing intentions of preceding questions on close friends and family using participants (n=409) from the Innovation Panel of the UK Household Longitudinal Study, a broadly representative survey of the UK population.

Results: The first two experiments shows that for males, but not females, fertility preferences are significantly higher for individuals primed with questions on mortality and morbidity compared to the control group. The third experiment shows that unmarried participants significantly increase their expectation of having a child after questions on close friends and family compared to controls.

Conclusions: We conclude that fertility preferences are responsive to subtle primes, such as preceding questions. This needs to be taken into account when comparing across surveys. These experiments also highlight the uncertainty of fertility attitudes and thus the plasticity of fertility decision making.