Attitudes to family formation in Scotland

This report summarises the findings of two research studies commissioned externally by the Ministerial Population Taskforce on attitudes to family formation and ideal family size in Scotland. It includes the full report of the qualitative research exploring barriers and enablers of ideal family size

Annex 6 - Topic Guide

Another version was also used it followed all of the prompts below but was framed for those with no children

Introductions (5 mins)

  • Welcome to the session.
  • Introduction by moderator to group and explanation of Market Research Society Code of Conduct (i.e., researchers will respect the rights, wellbeing, opinions of research participants, and findings will be presented to our client impartially).
  • We are conducting this research on behalf of the Scottish Government as part of its Population Programme. The aim of the research is to understand people's views on having children, their ideal family sizes and whether these views change over time. Whatever your views and experiences may be, there are no right or wrong answers and we really appreciate you sharing those with us today.
  • Completely confidential – whatever you say will only be used for the purposes of the research project.
  • Anonymous – names are not attached. We pull all findings together and report it back on a group basis.
  • Zoom – the discussion will be recorded, so we don't have to take notes. It will only be used for the purposes of this research project.
  • Explanation of rules of engagement of discussion - take part
    • not a test
    • no right or wrong answers
    • just interested in your own views
    • REASSURE: only share what you are comfortable sharing
  • Reiterate GDPR rules if required: Withdraw at any time, only share what you are comfortable with

Respondent introductions and warm up (10 mins)

Introduction to respondents:


Where are you currently living?

Who lives with you at home? (Number and age of children)

General views (10 mins)

Overall, how important do you think having children is to society at large?

  • (P) Continuing the population
  • (P) what about things like having a range of ages and diversity across the population as a whole
  • (P) Future work forces/support for older generations in old age etc.
  • (P) Different generations working together
  • Any negatives for society at large?
  • (P) Over population
  • (P) Climate emergency issues

And how important do you think it is to people individually?

  • Does our society value families? In what way if yes what way if no?

How important are these things to you as a group?

  • Probe on reasons for importance/lack of importance
  • (P) Creating legacy/passing on family names and values/creating unit with partner
  • (P) Experience of having and raising children/giving and receiving unconditional love/want to nurture and shape a life
  • (P) Like children or babies
  • (P) Desire to recreate positive family experiences/create a different family dynamic to that experienced personally
  • (P) Influenced by partners' desire for children/parents wishing to be grandparents
  • (P) Other social pressures/expectations

To what extent do you see being a parent as part of your identity?

Deciding to have children (15-20 mins)

What factors do you think influence people to plan to have children?

  • How important were these factors for you personally?

Do you think people's views on having children change over time?

  • Why/why not?
  • Probe on reasons for any changes
  • (P) External factors? (partners' wishes/peers having children/becoming more financially stable etc.)
  • (P) Internal factors? (changes in feelings/'body clock')

Is that something you have experienced?

  • When did feelings/views about having children change?

What are the key concerns if any, that you think people have prior to having children?

  • (P) Concerns about finances/housing/childcare
  • (P) Concerns about career
  • (P) Concerns about identity
  • (P) Concerns about aptitude as a parent
  • (P) Concerns about impact on relationships – partner, family, friends

Was this different for your first and then subsequent children?

[If not mentioned spontaneously] What were your key concerns?

  • (P) What was of most concern?
  • (P) What overcame those concerns?

To what extent did you discuss plans to have children with a partner/partners?

  • Did their views change how you felt about having children?
  • Did your views change how they felt about having children?

To what extent, if any, did cultural or faith driven beliefs influence you decision(s)?

Barriers and enablers (30 mins)

Do you plan to have more children?

  • Why/why not?

Has the number of children you planned to have changed over time?

  • Why/why not?

How many children would you have in an ideal world?

  • What makes that the ideal number?

Probe on differences between ideal and likely/expected family size: why the difference?

What is putting/would put you off having more children?

  • (P) Concerns about finances/housing
  • (P) Concerns about childcare
  • (P) Concerns about career
  • (P) Concerns about impact on relationships – other children, partner, family, friends
  • (P) Negative experiences/impacts experienced in having or raising current family
  • (P) Concerns about the future
  • (P) Happy with current family size

Ask those who cited finance as a concern:

  • What if you had a sudden windfall of money, how would that impact on your thinking?

What could make it easier for you to consider having more children? Who could help and how?

  • (P) Financial support/information (benefits / budgeting info / free activities/transport/other for children)
  • (P) Support with housing
  • (P) Support with childcare
  • (P) Family planning support / support during pregnancy / parenting support
  • (P) Workplace changes (maternity/paternity policies / Flexible working & WFH policies etc.)

What is the one thing you think would make the most difference to people in allowing them to have the number of children they would ideally want to have?

Trends and attitudes (10-15 mins)

How do you think attitudes towards having children have changed in recent times?

  • Have these changes been for better/worse? In what ways?
  • Is it more acceptable to not have children now or not? Why/why not? Is that a good or bad thing?
  • How do you see things going in the future?

Do you think the factors affecting decision-making have changed?

  • Probe in turn on
    • climate change/over replacing
    • Covid-19
    • delayed parenthood

If not discussed spontaneously during group: have any of these factors affected your decisions to have/have more/avoid having children?

Building a better future (10 mins)

[Okay in summary and on the back of everything we have been chatting about let's talk about a better future:]

What would a world look like where it's easier for people to have the number of children they would like?

  • What would be different?
  • How could people be supported to have their ideal number of children?

To end

Anything else that has not been discussed on this topic that you would like to mention?

Thank and Close



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