Abstract

The value of national sample survey data relating to birth expectations for projecting births is reassessed in the light of data limitations pointed out by Ryder and Westoff among others and of the methods of projection used by the United States Bureau of the Census. The annual level of fertility under the cohort-fertility projection method depends on the assumptions regarding completed fertility, about which the available survey data are fairly informative, and on the assumptions regarding the timing of births, about which the survey data tell us very little. Test calculations suggest that Ryder and Westoff have overstated the significance of timing relative to completed family size for the level of future births. We believe that the fall in the annual total fertility rate in the first half of the sixties is to be explained only in part by a general delay in childbearing; a moderate to substantial decrease in completed family size has also occurred. Analysis of the latest set of fertility projections of the Census Bureau also suggests that the assumptions about completed fertility are a much more important determinant of the level of future births than timing, both in the short and long term. Although the available expectations data cannot help in predicting short-term annual changes in fertility, they appear useful for making long-term projections of annual fertility. Expansion of the size, frequency, and content of the sample surveys and incorporation of parity and birth interval into the projection method may improve projections.

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