Low second birth rates in Eastern and Southern Europe: interactions between economic uncertainty and norms about parenthood

Joanna Rozanska, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Jan Van Bavel, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

In contemporary Europe, the distinction between low and very low fertility levels crucially depends on parity progression after the first birth. More specifically, it appeared that the very low total fertility levels that have been observed in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe were not in the first place caused by high childlessness but rather by low second birth rates. This paper seeks to find out to what extent this can be explained by differential demographic responses to economic uncertainty. Indeed, we argue that the fertility response to uncertainty will depend on the context in at least two ways. First, in regions where parenthood is culturally so highly valued that it is considered an important prerequisite for being considered a full-fledged adult, remaining childlessness will be considered a less attractive option. Therefore, economic uncertainty will translate in lower second birth rates rather than in higher childlessness. The highly valued status of parenthood may be achieved by having just one child. In regions were norms about parenthood are weaker, uncertainty may translate more often into childlessness. Secondly, economic uncertainty is more widespread in Eastern and Southern Europe than in Northern and Western Europe. We argue that economically uncertain people will perceive their situation as less "exceptional" in contexts were uncertainty is pervasive and that their reactions will differ accordingly. We therefore investigate how the fertility responses of uncertain people in highly uncertain contexts differ from the responses of uncertain people who live in economically well-off regions. We use the second and third round of the European Social Survey to construct individual and regional level variables related to objective and subjective dimensions of economic uncertainty, including unemployment, his and her education, household income, and norms about parenthood. In addition we include Eurostat labour market indicators on the NUTS1 regional level.

Presented in Session 43: Economic uncertainty and fertility