Life transitions and women’s desired number of children: the impact of motherhood, relationships and employment

Melissa Johnstone*, J. Lucke, B. Hewitt

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    To better understand the gap between women’s childbearing aspirations and actual levels of childbearing, this paper investigates the importance of employment, relationship and motherhood transitions for predicting women’s desired number of children. Women born in 1973–78 participating in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health were asked, at three-time points over six years, how many children they would like to have by the age of 35 years. Women who delayed childbearing, did not marry or enter a cohabiting relationship aspired to fewer children, whilst those who married aspired to more children. Notably, the two-way interactions demonstrated that for women without children, and for women who had had their first child between waves, shifting from secure work to being out of the labour force was associated with desiring fewer children. This finding supports the argument that policies which promote women’s attachment to the workforce enable women to more effectively pursue their aspirations for both motherhood and careers. The findings make a new contribution to the field by indicating that life transitions are more important predictors of desired number of children than background and demographic factors that have long been associated with, and used as explanations for, women’s childbearing.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)616-635
    Number of pages20
    JournalCommunity, Work and Family
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2021


    • aspirations
    • casual employment
    • childbearing
    • motherhood
    • relationships
    • women’s workforce participation


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