The "missing link" between parental leave policies and fertility behaviour: understanding policy effects through their interaction with family circumstances

Alzbeta E. Bartova, University of Edinburgh

Work-family balance policies are often hypothesised to be responsible for large fertility variation amongst developed countries. They are often analysed from a broader perspective and reflect merely upon cross-country variation. Less attention is paid to within country policy variation and how it influences fertility decision-making. Also, theoretical explanations of mechanisms through which policy may have an impact on fertility behaviour are rather scarce. This paper conceptualises the theory of gender equity as a multilevel theory which clarifies how parental leave characteristics may influence individual level fertility decision-making. The “missing link” in the title relates to eligibility criteria which determine not only who is eligible for parental leave, but also how long the leave is and what the financial compensation will be. The analysis represents the first part of an agent-based model that aims to contribute to research on whether policy characteristics influence aggregated fertility variation across countries. Gender equity is not understood from the position of respondents and their perception of fairness as proposed by McDonald (2013) but as equality of opportunities. It evaluates policies according to their ability to ensure mothers employment after birth and fathers to actively participate in nurturing. Since gender equity in parental leave policies does not differ only in its characteristics, the degree of gender equity is also assessed from the position of various family circumstances. To do so the paper uses longitudinal EU-SILC data from 29 European countries. The analytical method applied is multilevel logistic regression. Preliminary findings suggest that being eligible for parental leave increases the likelihood of giving birth. However, the effect is not statistically significant in the transition to first birth, but appears to be important only in higher order births. The effect of eligibility for parental leave further seems to vary according to the degree of gender equity.

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Presented in Session 109: Gender assumptions, policy design and demographic outcomes: focus on fertility