Are there gender-specific effects of education on the transition to parenthood? An analysis of Belgian and British panel data

Dieter H. Demey, University of Cambridge

This paper aims to investigate whether there are gender-specific effects of education on the transition to parenthood. Dominant sociological and economic theories of fertility focus on how the fertility decline in the industrialised world can be explained by the growth in women’s economic independence, in particular by their increasing participation in the education system and labour market as well as by changes in women’s occupational and income prospects. Descriptive findings of previous studies show that higher educated women have a lower average family size than low educated women, delay entering motherhood, and have higher rates of childlessness. However, there has been scant attention for the influence of education on the transition to fatherhood, even though it has been argued that focussing on changes in both women’s and men’s lives would lead to a better understanding of changes in family formation. Furthermore, for both women and men, the results of studies which statistically model the probability of becoming a parent as a function of educational attainment (and other factors) are partly inconclusive, showing both negative and positive effects. The paper intends to analyse the influence of women’s and men’s educational attainment and enrolment on the transition to parenthood and to identify gender-specific effects of education on becoming a parent. Data from two panel studies have been analysed using methods for longitudinal data analysis: the Panel Study of Belgian Households for Belgium (PSBH) and the British Household Panel Survey for Britain (BHPS). Preliminary results show that, after controlling for educational enrolment, educational attainment has a negative effect on first birth probabilities for women, whereas for men educational attainment exerts no significant effect in Britain and a positive effect in Belgium. Furthermore, Belgian higher educated women and men accelerate entering parenthood after leaving full-time education, whereas the opposite is observed in Britain.

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Presented in Session 99: Education and fertility