Postponement and recuperation of first births in Europe: the effect of economic and institutional contexts over the life course

Karel Neels, Universiteit Antwerpen
Jonas Wood, Universiteit Antwerpen
Tine Kil, Universiteit Antwerpen

The decline of period fertility below the replacement level in the early 1970s and 1980s in many European countries was largely driven by the postponement of family formation to older ages, which was in turn induced by increasing enrolment of younger generations in education and increasing female labor force participation in a context characterized by limited prospects in the labor market. As a result of the increasing labor force participation of women and the restructuring of the demand for labor, family policies have become increasingly important to reduce the costs and/or opportunity costs related to family formation. Combining longitudinal micro-data from the European Social Survey with contextual data from the OECD and the Comparative Family Policy Database, this paper uses multilevel discrete-time hazard models to analyze the impact of variations in macro-level unemployment rates and family policies on first birth hazards of 6906 women in 14 European countries between 1975 and 2005. The results provide empirical support for recession-induced postponement of first births at younger ages in all educational groups. Family allowances and childcare availability, on the other hand, show significant positive effects on first births in older age-groups, suggesting that family policies affect the amount of fertility recuperation taking place at older ages. No variation of policy effects was found in terms of educational level. A comparison of the family policy effects suggests that the observed between-country differences in terms childcare enrolment have a larger impact on fertility differences than between-country variation in terms of family allowances.

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Presented in Session 42: Economic crisis, uncertainty and fertility