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Department of Sociology

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Caroline Sten Hartnett

Title: Associate Professor
Department: Sociology
College of Arts and Sciences
Phone: 803-777-3123
Resources: Curriculum Vitae [pdf]
Google Scholar Profile
Public engagement (media and essays)
Caroline Hartnett


Dr. Hartnett is a Demographer and Sociologist studying fertility rates, childbearing desires, and family relationships, mainly in the U.S.

She received her Ph.D. in Demography and Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center.


Substantive research interests: Fertility rates and population trends; Childbearing intentions; Unintended pregnancy; Infertility; Parent-child relationships across the life course; Transition to adulthood

Department cluster: Population and Health; Inequalities and Institutions

Research overview:

My work investigates how social location and social relationships shape the ability of individuals to successfully plan their lives and achieve life goals. My research agenda consists of three streams.

1) The Role of Intentions and Attitudes in Shaping Childbearing Behavior and Explaining Differences Across Groups. One area of my research focuses on explaining variation in childbearing, mostly within the United States.  My research explores how individuals’ views on children and childbearing vary by social group or position, particularly race-ethnicity and socioeconomic status. What do individuals want their families to look like – particularly in terms of the number of kids and the timing of childbearing – and who gets what they want?  How do these differences in attitudes and preferences help us better understand variation in childbearing patterns? 

2) How Do Women Evaluate Their Own Births? How are Desirable and Undesirable Births Distributed Unequally Across Women? In my second stream of research, I consider births as a key life event and ask: What makes a birth desirable or undesirable, from the woman’s (or couple’s) perspective? How can we better capture the complexity and nuance of women’s feelings about both the possibility of getting pregnant, and about their actual pregnancies once they occur? How are positive and negative experiences of pregnancy unequally distributed across women? One aspect of my work in this area has been to challenge the dominant research and policy framework which considers the main differentiating line to be between “intended” and “unintended” pregnancies.

3) Family Relationships Over the Life Course. My research on family relationships and social support addresses three sets of questions not fully resolved in prior literature.  First, what are the social norms that motivate and constrain transfers between family members at various points in the life course?  Second, what are the characteristics that predict who has access to support from family members and what effect does this support have on the recipient’s health, well-being, and human capital?  And third, how are changes in family structure and changes in the economy influencing the support that individuals receive from family members?


310 Social Demography

326 Sociology of Adolescence

360 Sociology of Medicine and Health

510 Life Course Demographics

749 Methodological Topics in Demography

Selected Publications

Hartnett, Caroline and Gemmill, Alison. “Recent Trends in U.S. Childbearing Intentions” (forthcoming) Demography

Hartnett, Caroline and Brantley, Mia. 2020. “Racial Disparities in Emotional Well-Being during Pregnancy” Journal of Health and Social Behavior

Walsemann, Katrina, Ailshire, Jennifer, and Hartnett, Caroline. 2020. “How borrowing to pay for a child’s college education relates to parents’ mental health at mid-life,” Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

Hartnett, Caroline and Margolis, Rachel. 2019 “Births that are Later-than-Desired: Correlates and Consequences,” Population Research and Policy Review. 

Hartnett, Caroline, Fingerman, Karen, and Birditt, Kira. 2018 “Without the Ties that Bind: U.S. Young Adults Who Lack Active Parental Relationships,” Advances in Life Course Research 35, 103-113.

Hartnett, Caroline, Walsemann, Katrina, Lindley, Lisa, and Negraia, Daniela. 2017. “Sexual Orientation Concordance and (Un)happiness about Pregnancies Ending in Birth,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 49(4), 213-221.

Hartnett, Caroline, Lindley, Lisa, and Walsemann, Katrina. 2017. “Congruence across Sexual Orientation Dimensions and Risk for Unintended Pregnancy among Adult U.S. Women,” Women’s Health Issues 27(2): 145–151.

Furstenberg, Frank, Hartnett, Caroline, Kohli, Martin, and Zissimopoulos, Julie. 2015. “The Future of Intergenerational Relations in Aging Societies,” Dædalus (Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences) 144(2): 31-40.

Birditt, Kira, Hartnett, Caroline, Fingerman, Karen, and Zarit, Steve. 2015. “Extending the Intergenerational Stake Hypothesis: The Intra-Individual Stake and Implications for Well-Being.” Journal of Marriage and Family 77(4): 877-888.

Hartnett, Caroline. 2014. “White-Hispanic Differences in Meeting Lifetime Fertility Intentions in the U.S.” Demographic Research 30(43):1245-1276.

Harknett, Kristen and Hartnett, Caroline. 2014. “The gap between births intended and births achieved in 22 European countries, 2004–07.” Population Studies.

Hartnett, Caroline, Furstenberg, Frank, Birditt, Kira, and Fingerman, Karen. 2013. “Parental Support During Young Adulthood: Why Does Assistance Decline with Age?” Journal of Family Issues  34(7): 975-1007.

Hartnett, Caroline. 2012. “Are Hispanic Women Happier About Unintended Births?” Population Research and Policy Review 31: 683–701.

Hartnett, Caroline & Parrado, Emilio. 2012. “Racial-Ethnic Differences in the Social Value of Children: Hispanic Familism Reconsidered,” The Sociological Quarterly 53: 636–653

Harknett, Kristen and Hartnett, Caroline. 2011. “Who Lacks Support and Why? An Examination of Mothers’ Personal Safety Nets.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 73(4): 861-875.

Preston, Samuel and Hartnett, Caroline. “The Future of American Fertility.” 2010. In Demography and the Economy, John Shoven, ed. University of Chicago Press for National Bureau of Economic Research. Draft issued as NBER Working Paper 14498.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.