Population Research and Policy Review 20: 423–440, 2001.
© 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Bargaining over family size:
The determinants of fertility in Brazil
EMILY KLAWON & JILL TIEFENTHALER
Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, USA
Abstract. Understanding how households make fertility decisions is important to implement-
ing effective policy to slow population growth. Most empirical studies of this decision are
based on household models in which men and women are assumed to act as if they have
the same preferences for the number of children. However, if men and women have different
preferences regarding fertility and are more likely to assert their own preferences as their
bargaining power in the household increases, policies to lower fertility rates may be more
effectively targeted toward one spouse or the other. In this paper, we test the relevance of the
single preferences model by investigating whether men and women’s nonwage incomes have
the same effects on the number of children in the household. We ﬁnd that while increases in
both the man and woman’s nonwage income lower the number of children in the household, an
equivalent increase in the woman’s income has a signiﬁcantly stronger effect than the man’s. In
addition, we ﬁnd that increases in women’s nonwage transfer income have the strongest effects
on the fertility decisions of women with low levels of education. The most important policy
implication of our results is that policies aimed at increasing the incomes of the least-educated
women will be the most effective in lowering fertility rates.
Keywords: Fertility, Household bargaining, Unitary model
One of the most important decisions made by couples is the fertility decision.
Household decisions about fertility determine family size which inﬂuences
the household demand for goods, the production of household goods, and the
supply of labor to the market. Family size affects the allocation of resources
within the household. Individuals’ decisions about the number of children
also determine the size of future generations of workers and consumers,
therefore, affecting an economy’s development.
The empirical literature on fertility indicates that a couple’s preferred fam-
ily size is strongly related to a variety of socioeconomic factors. These include
income, education, assets, employment, religion, and age at marriage. Most
studies of household fertility decisions are based on Becker’s (1981) model
where all members in a family act to maximize one single household utility
function. Using this model implies that either the man and woman prefer the
same number of children or the woman follows her husband’s preferences on