Needing a child to be fulfilled? The relevance of social norms around childbearing desires in collective orientations and individual meanings




behavioral expectations, relationality, parenthood, subjective meaning, neoliberal demands, fulfilled life, collective orientations


Objective: This study examines collective orientations and individual meanings regarding a fulfilled life with the aim of answering the questions of which social norms around childbearing become relevant in the biographical fertility decisions of women and men, and how they do so.

Background: While the normative expectations of social networks have been found to be highly relevant for individuals who are in the process of deciding for or against childbearing, the findings are inconsistent and fragmented. This study contributes to the knowledge on this topic by examining social norms as normative and empirical expectations.

Method: In a qualitative approach, data from five focus groups (n=22) were triangulated with biographical interviews (n=9) with women and men of different ages and different family statuses across Austria. The in-depth analysis facilitated the reconstruction of collective orientations around childbearing desires and individual meanings.

Results: The desire for childbearing was identified as a gendered social norm, both in collective orientations and individuals’ meanings, long before and after fertility decisions were made. Strong relationalities to social norms around gendered responsibilities for (expectant) parents also shaped individual desires, particularly women’s.

Conclusion: The relationalities of childbearing desires and persistent gendered parenting norms entail gendered challenges. They are related to individual self-optimization and self-responsibility, and have the potential to hamper childbearing decisions.


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How to Cite

Schmidt, E.-M. (2024). Needing a child to be fulfilled? The relevance of social norms around childbearing desires in collective orientations and individual meanings. Journal of Family Research, 36, 5–24.