Economic context and fertility outcomes: exploring educational differentials in postponement and recuperation of first births in Belgium, France and the Netherlands

Karel Neels, University of Antwerp

The global economic recession that recently emerged, has fuelled interest in short-term and long-term effects of economic context on family formation and raises questions on how social policies mediate such effects. This paper investigates the effect of economic recession and unemployment on age-specific first birth hazards in three countries characterized by different family policies and varying fertility levels. The analysis focuses on recession induced period-disturbances of birth hazards at younger ages and on recuperation mechanisms where births postponed due to adverse period circumstances are recuperated later in life. Because economic context and variations in labor market conditions are likely to differentially affect socio-economic groups, the analysis is stratified by level of education. Stratification by education further allows to control effectively for the expansion of educational attainment among recent birth cohorts and its confounding effect on timing of fertility. Using retrospective data from the Belgian census as well as data from the Generations & Gender Survey for France and the Netherlands, socio-economic differentials in family formation and fertility are reconstructed between 1970 and 2005. This period is characterized by considerable variation in economic conditions and profound changes in labor market conditions. For Belgium, results suggest that particularly higher educated women have benefitted from policies aimed at de-familialization of care responsibilities introduced since the early 1970s, similar to policies in France and the Scandinavian countries. For lower educated women, however, birth hazards at younger ages are more strongly affected by varying economic conditions. The paper compares socio-economic fertility differentials in Belgium to trends emerging for France and the Netherlands and discusses the results in the light of comparative work on family policies in OECD Countries.

  See paper

Presented in Session 43: Economic uncertainty and fertility