The Population Level Impacts of Differential Fertility Behavior of Parents of Children with Autism

Kinga Makovi, Alix Winter, Ka-Yuet Liu, Peter Bearman

Sociological Science, August 10, 2015
DOI 10.15195/v2.a19

Drawing on population level data of exceptional quality (including detailed diagnostic information on the autism status of sibling pairs of over 3 million different mothers), this study confirms that stoppage is the average fertility response to a child born with autism, thereby reducing observed concordance in sibling pairs and leading to potentially biased estimation of genetic contributions to autism etiology. Using a counterfactual framework and applying matching techniques we show, however, that this average effect is composed of very different responses to suspicion of autism depending on birth cohort, the character of the disorder (severe versus less severe), the gender of the child, poverty status, and parental education. This study also sheds light on when parents suspect autism. We find that parents’ fertility behavior changes relative to matched controls very early after the birth of a child who will later be diagnosed with autism.
Kinga Makovi: Department of Sociology, Columbia University. Email:

Alix Winter: Department of Sociology, Harvard University. E-mail:

Ka-Yuet Liu: Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles.

Peter Bearman: INCITE, Columbia University. E-mail:

Acknowledgements: We thank Keely Cheslack-Postava, Alexandra Brewer, Christine Fountain, and Soumya Mazumdar and the members of the Bearman-Minkoff group for helpful comments on previous drafts. This research is supported by the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award program, part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, through grant number 1 DP1 OD003635-01.

  • Citation: Makovi, Kinga, Alix Winter, Ka-Yuet Liu and Peter Bearman. 2015. “The Population Level Impacts of Differential Fertility Behavior of Parents of Children with Autism.” Sociological Science 2: 398-419.
  • Received: January 24, 2014.
  • Accepted: March 13, 2015.
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Stephen L. Morgan
  • DOI: 10.15195/v2.a19

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