Desire for additional children

Desire for additional children

Desire for additional children

The number or percent of women (or men) of reproductive age who want to have a (another) child or, conversely, who do not want to have (additional) children

Data Requirement:

Numbers or percent of respondents reporting that a child or additional children are/are not desired

Population-based surveys or facility-based data

This indicator is widely used in surveys to identify both: (1) women (or men) with a demand for (additional) children and (2) those who do not desire (additional) children and thus have an apparent need/demand for fertility limitation. Non-pregnant women married or in union are asked, “Would you like to have a (another) child or would you prefer not to have any (more) children?” Women who are pregnant (or uncertain of their status) at the time of the survey are asked, “After the child you are expecting, would you like to have another child or would you prefer not to have any more children?” On the basis of responses to these questions, evaluators may divide respondents into two categories: those desiring (additional) children and those desiring to not have children or terminate childbearing, with women (or men) in the latter category considered as having a “demand for family planning.”

Researchers and evaluators may also combine responses to this type of question with information on current fecundity and contraceptive use to assess the level of unmet need for family planning. Comparable information may sometimes be available from service statistics of clinic-based family planning programs. Questions similar to those included in the DHS or other similar population-based surveys are often asked of (at minimum) new clients in order to determine the appropriateness of different contraceptive methods in relation to reproductive intentions: that is, methods appropriate for limiting versus spacing.

Concerns persist as to the validity of survey questions of this type in predicting actual fertility behavior, with several studies finding evidence of strong aggregate-level associations between expressed desires for additional children on the one hand and patterns of current contraceptive use and current and future fertility on the other (for example, Gibby & Luke, 2019; Machiyama et al., 2019; Yeatman, Trinitapoli and Garver, 2020). A systematic review of longitudinal data from 28 countries found inconsistent results (Cleland et al. 2019).

Some of the methodological issues potentially affecting validity include:

  • The unknown temporal sequence between intentions and behaviors, making it difficult to accurately capture the dynamic nature of individuals’ reproductive intentions (Ahinkorah et al., 2020).
  • The reduction of the concept of reproductive desires into a simple yes/no survey question, which can oversimplify individuals’ thoughts and feelings and result in expressions of ambivalence (Makarentseva et al., 2021).
  • The potential influence of social desirability bias (Wesley et al., 2023).
  • Structural inequities, particularly those related to gender and age, which may significantly limit reproductive self-determination, especially among young women, resulting in a gap between desired and actual childbearing (Gómez et al., 2021).


Ahinkorah BO, Seidu AA, Armah-Ansah EK, Budu E, Ameyaw EK, Agbaglo E, & Yaya S. 2020. “Drivers of desire for more children among childbearing women in sub-Saharan Africa: Implications for fertility control.” BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 20(1), 778.

Cleland J, Machiyama K, & Casterline JB. 2019. “Fertility preferences and subsequent childbearing in Africa and Asia: A synthesis of evidence from longitudinal studies in 28 populations.” Population Studies, 74, 1–21.

Gibby AL, & Luke N. 2019. “Exploring multiple dimensions of young women’s fertility preferences in Malawi.” Maternal and Child Health Journal, 23, 1508–1515.

Gómez AM, Arteaga S, & Freihart B. 2021. “If Things Were Different in My Life: Structural Inequity and Pregnancy Desires in Emerging Adulthood.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, 50(6), 2447–2458.

Machiyama K, Mumah JN, Mutua M, & Cleland J. 2019. “Childbearing desires and behaviour: A prospective assessment in Nairobi slums.” BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 19, 100 10.1186/s12884-019-2245-3

Makarentseva AO, Galieva N I, & Rogozin DM. 2021. “Desire (not) to have children in the population surveys.” Monitoring Obshchestvennogo Mneniya: Ekonomicheskie i Sotsial’nye Peremeny, 492–515.

Wesley Y, Ekeh A, Anuforo PO, Wesley Y, Ekeh A, & Anuforo PO. 2023. “Correlates of desire for children among women.” Global Journal of Fertility and Research, 8(1), 014–022.

Yeatman S, Trinitapoli J, Garver S. 2020. “The Enduring Case for Fertility Desires.” Demography. Dec;57(6):2047-2056. doi: 10.1007/s13524-020-00921-4. PMID: 33001419; PMCID: PMC7736480.