Intended and realized fertility: France and Italy compared

Higher fertility in France than Italy

Within Europe, France and Italy stand virtually opposed in terms of fertility: women in France have 2 children on average, as against 1.4 in Italy. The difference is explained in part by the fact that women in Italy have their first child at a later age. By age 25, 42% of women in France born between 1960 and 1969 have already had their first child, as against 35% in Italy.


Desire to have at least two children

Intended fertility in the two countries is different. In France, 43% of couples of childbearing age desire to have two children and 41% want three or more, whereas in Italy the predominant desire is for two children (60%). But despite this difference, the symbolic reference of a family with at least two children persists in both countries; few women desire no children or only one child, including in Italy where increasing numbers of women are having only one child in their childbearing years.

Fertility intentions less frequently realized in Italy

For a recent survey of the two countries (Generations and Gender Survey), the same persons were questioned twice. The first time, they were asked if they intended to have a child "in the next three years." Respondents’ intentions were then compared with their answers the second time, when they were asked whether they had actually had a child in the following three years (Figure).

In general, "negative" fertility intentions are strongly predictive of behaviour: only 6% of persons in France stating they did not want children (response "No") had had a child and only 2% in Italy. Conversely, "positive" intentions tend to overestimate behaviour: only two-thirds of respondents who firmly intended to have a child (response "Yes") actually did.

But above and beyond these resemblances between countries, one specificity can be identified. The proportion of couples who did have a child is systematically higher in France, regardless of expressed intention. In particular, 32% of people in France who were uncertain (response "No, probably not") did have a child, as against 9% in Italy. Uncertain respondents’ attitude toward the future seems more flexible in France than in Italy, and this may be due to a contextual difference: family policy is more developed in France, namely when it comes to helping couples fit together work and family life.

Sources: Generations and Gender Survey. France : Ined-Insee, Erfi-GGS, 2005-2008 ; Italie : Istat-FSS-GGS, 2003-2007 [ERFI Survey Website]
Contact : Arnaud Régnier-Loilier
Online : December 2011