Taking stock: parents’ reasons for and against having a third child

Ann Evans, Claire Barbato, Eleanor Bettini, Edith Gray, Rebecca Kippen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


In developed countries with below-replacement fertility, the proportion of people who have at least three children make a substantial difference to the aggregate level of fertility. This study, based on 40 in-depth interviews with Australian parents of two children, analyses what factors influence the decision to have a third child. Using a grounded theory method of qualitative analysis, the study finds that parents who have decided to stop at two children are more able to articulate their reasons than are parents who are considering having a third child. The reasons for stopping include age and health; work and finances; and the capacity to parent another child. The weighing up of multiple factors is evidence of parents taking stock of personal and financial resources when making complex family formation decisions. The reasons for having a third child are expressed with far less elaboration and are more guarded and personal. We conclude that there is less shared or familiar language for articulating the value of family relationships. The contemporary context is one in which parents are attempting to manage risks related to having children, including the personal and financial implications of time out of the workforce. This study finds a persistent story of limited resources among parents of two children. Policies aimed at increasing fertility need to address this perception of limited resources through direct measures like affordable childcare and more generally through greater government and community support for families.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-454
Number of pages18
JournalCommunity, Work & Family
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Australia
  • Family formation
  • Fertility decisions
  • Population policies

Cite this