Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Current Projects

Project Title:

Explaining spatial patterns of fertility in Scotland

Project Number:



Annemarie Ernsten (CPC, University of St Andrews)
Elspeth Graham (CPC, University of St Andrews)
Zhiqiang Feng (SLS-DSU, University of St Andrews)

Start Date:

23 August 2013


In previous research using the Scottish Social Attitude Survey I found that expectations about future parenthood are strongly associated with housing tenure and shared social attitudes towards family formation. Childless people living in social housing tend to be less likely to expect having children in future than childless people who are owner occupiers or private renters. Especially interesting is that the (relatively dated) literature suggests that people in social housing tend to have more children, than the owner occupiers and private renters (Murphy and Sullivan 1985).

This study examines housing and family formation in Scotland. Research done by Boyle, Graham and Feng (2007), showed that urban fertility in Scotland displays a clear spatial pattern, which has tended to become more pronounced over time.  Partly these patterns are related to the socio-economic composition of the population living in small local areas, but there is also some unexplained variance. Housing could be one of the reasons for this unexplained variance. Housing choices are influenced by opportunity and constraint. However, within that framework, location is likely an additional influence. For example, families tend to live in more spacious houses than childless people and the stock of such houses itself has a spatial patterning, as does the cost of housing. The housing market is also segmented by tenure into owner-occupied, privately rented and social housing sectors. Houses in the city center are generally in the first two of these sectors and are typically more expensive but less spacious than suburban houses. Social housing tends to cluster in particular areas of the city, with large peripheral estates on the urban edge.

Fertility geographies have received relatively little attention from researchers despite emerging evidence that the timing of family formation varies spatially. Researchers, who do attend to spatial variations in fertility, do so mostly by means of including the housing market in their research. However, they also tend to examine relationships using a simplified geography. For example, Mulder and Billari (2010) compare European housing regimes and Total Fertility Rates (TFRs) within Europe. They find a clear distinction between countries by their TFRs according to the ease of entry into the housing market. Most other research projects were either conducted some time ago, or focus on countries with a rather different housing regime to that of the UK, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, the United States, or the Scandinavian countries. My study will therefore both extend and update this previous work.

In my research I aim to demonstrate that understandings of family formation need to be placed in a socio-spatial framework that recognizes both shared social values and the local context in which people live.

Using data from the SLS I wish to elaborate on the links between fertility, partnership and housing tenure that I found in previous research. The SLS data will allow me to examine actual fertility (instead of expected future fertility), which will enable me to investigate the associations between individual characteristics, household characteristics, area characteristics and fertility outcomes.

  • I expect that the availability of specific types of housing in an area could contribute to the explanation for geographical differences in fertility, and I want to test this hypothesis.
  • Also people that consider having children, or are having a family, tend to be partnered and house ownership and relationship status seems to be linked. Therefore I expect differences between the actual fertility and the housing situation based on relationship status.
  • Furthermore, couples planning to have a child may move to areas perceived as child-friendly, while childless people could be attracted to other areas by neighborhood features associated with child-free life styles like the proximity of theatres and bars.
  • Lastly people in their early childbearing ages might have to prioritize either starting a family or buying a proper family house.


Beer, Andrew & Debbie Faulkner. 2011. Housing Transitions Through the Life Course. Aspirations, Needs and Policy. Policy Press.

Boyle, Paul J., Elspeth Graham & Zhiqiang Feng. 2007. Contextualising demography: the significance of local clusters of fertility in Scotland. Rostock: Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.

Kulu, Hill & Paul J. Boyle (2009) High Fertility in City Suburbs: Compositional or Contextual Effects? European Journal of Population/Revue européenne de Démographie, 25, 157-174.

Lauster, Nathanael T. (2010) Housing and the Proper Performance of American Motherhood, 1940-2005. Housing Studies, 25, 543-557.

Mulder, Clara H. & Francesco C. Billari (2010) Homeownership Regimes and Low Fertility. Housing Studies, 25, 527-541.

Murphy, Mike J. & Oriel Sullivan (1985) Housing tenure and family formation in contemporary Britain. European Sociological Review, 1, 230.

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