Gender Gaps in Completed Fertility

37 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2015

See all articles by Erica Field

Erica Field

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business-Economics Group; Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Vera Molitor

University of Mannheim

Michèle Tertilt

University of Mannheim - Department of Economics

Date Written: January 2015


The most commonly used measure of reproductive behavior is the total fertility rate (TFR), which is a measure of the number of children born per woman. However, almost no work exists measuring the fertility behavior of men. In this paper we use survey data from several recent waves of the Demographic and Health Surveys in six developing countries in which men and women were each asked about their reproductive histories. We document a number of interesting differences in fertility outcomes of men and women. First, while one might have thought that average rates for men and women must coincide, we find that this is not the case. Comparing completed fertility by birth cohorts, we find that on average men have more children than women in four out of the six countries we consider. The gaps are large -- reaching up to 4.6 children in Burkina Faso for the 1944-48 birth cohort. We show that positive gaps are possible when populations are growing and men father children with younger women. Such a situation often coincides with polygyny, i.e. men having children with more than one woman. Indeed we find that the size of the fertility gap is positively related to the degree of polygyny in the country. Second, we find a higher variance in fertility rates for men than for women. In other words, women are more similar to each other in reproductive behavior than men are to one another. Third, we find that differences in the desire to have children can largely be explained by differences in realized fertility. This implies that differences in fertility preferences often emphasized in the literature do not necessarily need to cause conflict, as men and women can realize their fertility individually. Finally, we find that for men, the demographic transition started earlier and was steeper than for women. These novel facts are useful when building theories of fertility choice.

Keywords: fertility, gender, polygyny

JEL Classification: J13, J16

Suggested Citation

Field, Erica and Molitor, Vera and Tertilt, Michèle, Gender Gaps in Completed Fertility (January 2015). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP10355, Available at SSRN:

Erica Field (Contact Author)

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business-Economics Group ( email )

Box 90097
Durham, NC 27708-0097
United States
(919) 660-1857 (Phone)


Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative ( email )

215 Morris St., Suite 300
Durham, NC 27701
United States

Vera Molitor

University of Mannheim ( email )

Universitaetsbibliothek Mannheim
Mannheim, 68131

Michèle Tertilt

University of Mannheim - Department of Economics ( email )

D-68131 Mannheim

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