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

Research Studies

Between Winter 2021 and Summer 2022, two different research studies were commissioned by the Scottish Government in order to gather insights about the attitudes and factors that have an influence on people's decision-making when planning to have a family. The first, a quantitative survey, was carried out over November and December 2021, when 1,144 adults living in Scotland were asked about their ideal and expected family size. Secondly a qualitative study consisting of focus groups and in-depth interviews was commissioned in March 2022 and focused, similarly to the quantitative study, on ideal and expected family size, and the enablers and barriers that prevent people from having their ideal family size.

The studies were commissioned as there was limited Scotland-level evidence available on attitudes towards ideal family size. Prior to these projects the most recent source available on ideal family size was a fertility module commissioned in the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSAS) of 2005. A nationally representative sample of child-bearing age (N=781) were asked about their ideals and expectations with regard to childbearing. Respondents said that their average ideal family size in Scotland was 2.48 children. In practice the average number of children reported by respondents at the time asked was 1.24, while the TFR in Scotland in 2005 was 1.62.[3] While it is not possible to make robust direct comparisons between 2005 and 2021 data, the data can help to contextualise the recent findings within this report.

The general objective of both studies was therefore to strengthen the evidence base with updated and reliable data in order to explore the attitudes around having children in Scotland. This mixed-methods approach provides a snapshot of the trends in public attitudes and aims to further our understanding of the low fertility rates that Scotland has been experiencing for decades.

Specific objectives of the research were to:

  • Investigate general attitudes around having children in Scotland and their drivers;
  • Explore views on the barriers that people may face when planning to have children;
  • Explore enablers at the country, societal and family-level to enable people to reach their ideal family size;
  • Explore participants' views on their ideal family size, and how this relates to the size of family that they either expect to have or already have;
  • Explore how attitudes towards recent trends, such as climate change, delayed parenthood, and Covid-19, relate to decisions to having children; and
  • Explore attitudes to and reasons for not having children.

Detailed analysis of the findings of the quantitative study, and methodology used is provided in Annex A, and a report of the focus groups and interviews (qualitative study) is in Annex B.

With regard to this study, both the quantitative and qualitative research is based on self-reported aspirations, expectations and ideals. Participants underreporting behaviours or opinions that they believe are socially unacceptable or undesirable, represents a social desirability bias that could be present when self-reporting. Also, temporal aspirations and self-reported expectations can change over time and can also be affected by current events, applying a layer of pessimism or optimism that can affect results. Individuals can and will change their mind in regards to life planning decisions, so it is important to bear in mind that this study shows, by design, only a snapshot at a specific point in time.



Back to top