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Rising Support for Reproductive Freedoms: Emancipatory Breakthroughs into a Bulwark of Tradition


This article presents evidence for a rising emancipatory spirit, across generations and around the world, in a life domain in which traditional family, fertility and sex (FFS) norms have been most resistant to emancipatory gains since the ages: reproductive freedoms. We propose an explanation of rising emancipative values that integrates several theoretical approaches into a single idea—the utility ladder of freedoms. Specifically, we suggest that objectively improving living conditions--from rising life expectancies to broadening education to better technologies—transform the nature of life from a source of threats to suffer into a source of opportunities to thrive. As living conditions begin to hold more promise for increasing population segments, societies climb the utility ladder of freedoms: supporting universal freedoms becomes increasingly instrumental to use the opportunities that a more promising life offers. This trend has begun to spill over into a life domain in which traditional FFS norms have until recently been able to block emancipatory gains: reproductive freedoms. We present (1) cross-national, (2) longitudinal, (3) generational and (4) multi-level evidence on an unprecedentedly broad basis in support of this theory.

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