All the indications point to the possibility that sometime within the next decade the majority of the world’s population will find itself living in regions of the globe which have either near-replacement or below-replacement levels of fertility. What were previously thought of as distinct fertility regimes, with a strong distinction being drawn between fertility in "developed" and "developing" societies, are increasingly coming to be seen as forming part one single fertility phenomenon (Bongaarts and Bulatao 2000; Lutz et al. 2001; Wilson 2001).
Several aspects of this convergence towards low fertility are particularly striking.
First, the spread of below replacement fertility to formerly high fertility countries has occurred at a remarkably rapid pace and this has had the not insignificant consequence that the global convergence of fertility levels has notably preceded the convergence of many other social and economic indicators.
In Southern Europe (Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal), for example, fertility started to fall much later than it did in Northern or Western Europe, but when it did finally start to fall it did so at a much faster rate than those who bagan the demographic transition earlier (Bagavos and Martin, 2001). By the time we get to the mid 1990s total fertility rates in Spain, Italy and Greece had already fallen so far that they were registering 'lowest-low' levels of below 1.3 TFRs. The recent pace of fertility decline has also been particularly rapid in the former Communist countries, such as Slovenia, Croatia, the Slovak Republic, the Czech Republic and Poland, all of whom saw their total fertility rate decline from around its near-replacement level of the mid-1980s to around 1.3 recently. Indeed, in former East Germany, the total fertility rate was cut in half between 1990 and 1992, reaching an unprecendented level of 0.9 in the immediate aftermath of reunification. (Sobotka, 2002)
Secondly, earlier ideas that fertility levels would naturally stabilize close to replacement level have been rudely shattered (see the last section). Far from convergence at replacement level, what we have actually seen has been the arrival of extremely low levels of fertility in some countries. Starting with the example of Spain and Italy in the early 1990s, the phenomenon of 'lowest-low' fertility - defined as total fertility rate levels below 1.3 (Kohler, Billari, and Ortega, 2002) - has spread and spread to such an extent that it now encompases some 13 lowest-low fertility countries in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Germany, Armenia, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. What is more, the pattern of evolution of fertility rates in some developing countries is giving rise to some concern that the number of these 'lowest-low' fertility countries may well have a tendency to increase in the near furute as first birth ages rise rapidly in what may be considered to be generationally short periods of time (ie in timespans of fractions of a generation).
Thirdly, fertility trends within the developed world continue to reveal surprisingly diverse patterns, with European fertility levels ranging from those found in the lowest-low fertility countries to the seemingly more benign TFR levels to be found in France (1.9), Denmark (1.8), or in the UK and Sweden (1.7). At the same time Japan and the Asian tigers now have versions of lowest-low fertility, while the United States has 'revived' and now sustains TFR levels within striking distance of the 2.1 population replacement rate.
Fourthly, we have seen the steady and continuous evolution of what Lance Pritchett in another context called 'big-time divergence' between the core global trend in fertility and life expectancy and the performance of a small group of demographic 'outliers'. In particular the 2005 United Nations Human Development report identifies 18 countries as suffering from either stubbornly high fertility rates, or from rising mortality rates, or from a combination of the two (United Nations, 2005). As the UN notes, male life expectancy at birth in the Russian Federation - at 60 years - is now the lowest for any industrial country, and this is a situation which compares starkly with that of Russia's West European neighbours, where average life expectancy is now around 79. Since the early 1990s there has been a marked increase in male mortality over and above the historical trend in the Russian Federation, with the number of additional deaths during 1992–2001 being estimated at between 2.5 and 3 million. In the absence of war, famines or health epidemics there is no recent historical precedent for the scale of this loss of life.
A look at the immediate causes of death does at least provide us with part of the explanation for what is happening in Russia. Firstly it is clear that there is a high presence of cardiovascular disease among adult males, something which in part at least reflects dietary and lifestyle influences. But alongside this 'First World' epidemic, the Russian Federation is also increasingly affected by infectious disease problems, with tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in the forefront. Homicide and suicide rates are also compartively high by industrialised country standards, and both of these have seen marked increases since the early 1990s. In both cases the these indicators are closely associated with the overconsumption of alcohol.
All of this raises the question of whether Russia (with a relatively high median age of 38.15 and a relatively low TFR of 1.4) may not now be caught in another kind of demographic trap. With a sizeable disparity between male and female life expectancy, and compartively few children, it is hard to foresee the future of a society with such a distressingly warped population structure. Unfortunately we may face a future where the majority of Russian men grow neither old nor rich.
Such exceptions apart, viewed globally, the life-expectancy gap is still closing, although this needs the important qualification mentioned above that since the early 1990s the generalised long-run trend towards convergence has been significantly affected by regional divergences linked to the rise of HIV/AIDS and a number of other health issues.
And those with the lowest levels of life expectency may normally be expected to be those who experience the most rapid increases in life expectancy as they move towards the lifespan frontier after they begin their fertility decline. Between 1960 and 2005, life expectancy increased by 16 years in developing countries and by 6 years in developed countries. However due to the 'outlier' phenomenon mentioned above, the aggregate pace of increase has slowed, with the gap only closing by two years between 1980 with 85% of the two year convergence taking place in the 1980s. Indeed since that time, convergence has virually ground to a halt, and the overall spread remains very large, with the diference between a low-income country and a high-income one still being 19 some years, with someone, for example, born today in Burkina Faso expecting to live 35 years less than someone born in Japan, while someone born in India may expect to live 14 years less than someone born in the United States.
HDI reversals play an important role in the relative standing of a number of countries. In 2004 an estimated 3 million people died from the virus, and another 5 million became infected. Almost all of these deaths were in the developing world, with 70% of them in Africa. Some 38 million people are now infected with HIV—25 million of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In Sub-Saharan Africa the lethal interaction of economic stagnation, slow progress in education and the spread of HIV/AIDS has produced a free-fall in the Human Development Index ranking of a number of countries. Southern Africa accounts for some of the steepest declines of all - a fall of 35 places for South Africa, 23 places for Zimbabwe and 21 places for Botswana. Of the countries of the former Soviet Union the biggest declines were in Tajikistan, which fell 21 places; Ukraine, 17 places; and the Russian Federation, 15 places.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region that explains the greater part of the slowdown in progress towards greater global equality in life expectancy. Twenty years ago somebody born in Sub-Saharan Africa could expect to live 24 years less than a person born in a developed country, and the gap was shrinking. Today, the gap is back at 33 years and still climbing.
Statistics alone cannot capture the full scale of suffering associated with the impact of HIV/AIDS, but they can provide an insight into the scale of the demographic shock inflicted on the worst-affected countries. On current indicators a child born in Zambia today has less chance of surviving past age 30 than a child born in the United Kingdom in 1840.
So at one pole of the globe we still have societies with continuing high mortality, and continuing high fertility, while at the other we find the opposite tendency with rectangular mortality low mortality and low fertility increasingly representing the norm.
A catchy way of putting all this would be to say that we have not one population problem but two, except that, as we shall see, the existence of a high-life-expectancy low-fertility regime isn't really a problem in and of itself (even if the adjustment process to one might be) all of this really forms part of one continuous seamless process.
One serious attempt at an explanation of lowest-low fertility which has emerged in Europe and elsewhere has been based on a combination of four distinct demographic and behavioral factors (Kohler, H.-P., F. C. Billari, and J. A. Ortega. 2002).
1/ The extremely low fertility readings are in many ways a statistical construct. As Bongaarts and Feeny have argued (Bongaarts and Feeney, 1998) conventionally used period fertility measures (like TFRs) show readings which are the product of a combination of both birth postponment and changes in the parity composition of the childbearing population. This means that the reading given on the derived period fertility indicators is, in all probability, significantly below the likely actual final level of achieved cohort fertility.
The derived TFR is, in fact, subject to both what are called 'tempo' and 'compositional' influences. In simple terms the 'tempo' influence arises from the postponement of childbirth and the result is a statistical indicator which be very misleading if what we are really interested in is the period-based final-outcome TFR. Clearly subsequent cohort-based achieved-data offers a more reliable indicator (and the end result is invariably significantly higher), but equally clearly such data only becomes available as the relevant cohorts reach the end of their fertility window, that is it only becomes available after a considerable lag, and this in itself complicates an already complicated policy decision process.
The other element - the so-called compositional effects - refer to movements in final achieved fertility levels, and their composition in terms of what are know as birth 'parities' (that is to say how many women are childless, and how many have four or five children, etc, etc).
The above-mentioned 'tempo distortion' clearly forms part of the lowest-low fertility picture, although its degree of importance is subject to ongoing debate since the extent of the subsequent fertility 'recovery' has been contested, and some demographers (most notably Wolfgang Lutz) have been at pains to explain that whatever the final achieved cohort outcomes the tempo effect irreversibly changes the shape of the pyramid (unless there is a later 'compensatory' advancement of birth ages), and the size of the reproductive base diminishes in any given society (ie you get generational-shrink).
Thus, while a focus on period TFRs offers an easy, and extremely user-friendly, classification of lowest-low fertility, unadjusted TFR readings need to be handled with care due to the inherent problems they conceal.The difficulty involved in interpreting these distortions has received a good deal of attention in recent times due to importance of delay in low fertility societies (e.g., Bongaarts and Feeney 1998, Kohler and Ortega 2002, Kohler and Philipov 2001).
2/. Ongoing economic and social changes make the postponement of fertility a rational response for most individuals. The higher educational demands of the labour market are often mentioned in this regard, and particularly the presence of an increasingly educated female population. Insecurity is another often mentioned topic, with labour market reforms, the widespread use of temporary employment contracts and the globalisation of labour and product markets being frequently mentioned in this context (Blossfeld, H.-P. 2005).
3/. Social-interaction processes which impact on the timing of fertility mean that the overall demographic and economic consequences of a changing socio-economic environment is much greater than the sum of the direct individual responses would lead one to expect (or put another way these are non-linear processes). Indeed quite modest socioeconomic changes appear to lie behind the rapid and persistent postponement phenomenon which we see reflected in the recent generalised onset of low and lowest-low fertility.
4/. Institutional settings in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, as well in many newly developed countries (Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South Korea), may well have favored an overall low quantum of fertility (McDonald, 200, 2002)
Postponement-quantum interactions have amplified the consequences of these institutional settings, and as a resuly have caused particularly large reductions in completed fertility in lowest-low fertility countries.
It is important to bear in mind that it has also often been argued that lowest-low fertility may not lead to particularly low completed cohort fertility if what is involved is primarily a temporal phenomenon. In this case, fertility eventually could eventually ‘recover’ through increased childbirth at the older ages (Frejka and Calot 2001a,b; Lesthaeghe 2001; Lesthaeghe and Willems 1999).
This debate is important since, as we have noted, in recent years a general and progressive delay in the age of the first childbirth has been observed throughout the OECD world and in particular in every single European Union country. The percentage of births to mothers aged thirty or over now exceeds 40% of total births in a number of countries, including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain (Pinnelli and De Rose 2001). Indeed delayed first child birth is now considered one of the most characteristic features of the most recent fertility change, a fact which has lead some authors to talk of yet another transition: the "postponement transition toward a late-childbearing regime" (Kohler, Billari and Ortega 2002).
Spain is a prime case here, since Spanish women are now the oldest first-time mothers in Europe, and arguably in the world, bearing their first child on-average at around 29. The Spainish case, however, is by no means unique. Women in at least six other European countries (Ireland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland) and in Japan currently have their first child at an average age of over 28.
At the other extreme, in a number of OECD countries a significant minority of women still have their first child as a teenager and the persistence of an early-childbearing subculture contrasts with the more general phenomenon of ever-later childbearing among the majority of women. Such 'birth-polarisation' can now be found in a number of countries, but it has reached pronounced proportions in Ireland, the United Kingdom and, outside Europe, in the United States. It still remains unclear what exactly is driving the phenomenon, whether, for example, it is a result of the erosion of explicit norms relating to the timing of parenthood, of choice, of constraints, of careful planning, or of unanticipated ‘accidental’ pregnancies or whether it is the result of a parallel process of 'polarisation' of incomes and opportunity. (Sobotka, 2004)
The mean age at first birth in many 'late first birth' countries is, in fact, likely to continue to increase further in the near future, and may well eventually come close to the 30 year benchmark. However a variety of factors have lead some demographers to suggest that it unlikely that the mean age will increase notably above this threshold (at least in the short-term given current assisted reproduction technologies). Sobotka (2004) concludes that a mean age of 32 appears to constitute something of an outer limit for the record late-first-birth pattern. As he indicates, only if first births among young women under 25 were to be virtually eliminated could the mean age at first birth increase much further, and then only to the enter the 32-34 age interval.
There is one European society where the MAFB currently appears to have stabilised, at least temporarily, at a comparatively high level, and that is the Netherlands, where first birth postponment seems to have come to an end end around 1998. Curiously, as Sobotka notes, the Netherlands is also a country where demographers, other researchers, and even some politicians and journalists, have vocally expressed concerns about the consequences of late parenthood (e.g. van Nimwegen et al. 2003). However it is still too early to decide what importance to give to this fact - or how stable the pause in upward age movement actually is. However the Netherlands example should be followed closely as it may provide evidence regarding at least one line of possible policy initiative.
Another important feature of the ongoing process of birth postponement is its duration. The process has been operating now for significant periods of time (extending for over three decades in many cases) and such continuity stands in marked contrast with the other two major shifts in fertility tempo that occurred in industrialised countries in the 20th century: the fertility delay which occured during the economic depression of the 1930s, and the fertility advancement that took place during the 1950s and the 1960s. The latter is of course well known for the part it played in generating the major post-war baby booms.
Kohler, Billari, and Ortega (2002) point out that the current postponement shift has in and of itself many of the features of a ‘transition’, in this case one from a relatively-early to a relatively-late first birth timing pattern. This view seems to imply the idea of self-perpetuation, of a built-in momentum which continues to drive first birth delays over a long period of time irrespective of actual socio-economic conditions (Kohler, Billari, and Ortega 2002: 664) and this sets it apart from other earlier tempo shifts, which were, as we have seen, conjunctural or 'shock-like' in their incidence. The transition idea also implies the existence of an end state, but it is far from clear that any such end state exists, or that there is any ultimate lower bound to fertility.
Sobotka describes how,in Europe the recent postponement of first births has taken place in three main waves(Sobotka, 2004). During the first wave (1971-73), the shift towards late motherhood was initiated in eight countries of Western and Northern Europe. Similar changes occured in the United States and Japan at around the same time. The second wave (1980 - 85) included the Southern European countries (with the exception of Italy, where the process appears to have commenced around 1977), two peripheral 'outlier' countries in Western Europe (Austria and Ireland) and several Central European ones (East Germany, Croatia, Hungary, and Slovenia). The last wave (1992-1995) began shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall and included almost all the remaining post-communist societies. Only the former republics of the Soviet Union - Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine - failed to commence their increase in MAFB until the final years of the 1990s.
Sobotka goes on to argue that there is an underlying structure to this fertility change. Initially there is a sudden and notable decline in births, and the appearance of this phenomenon may be considered an indication of the onset. Then there is a protracted period of very low TFR levels, and finally there is a ‘catching-up' stage as the postponment reaches completion and TFR levels begin once more to rise above the earlier 'lowest-low' level. The whole 'transition process' lasts at least two decades, since following the change in timing TFRs normally need a minimum of 15 years to attain a new equilibrium in conformity with the new set of age-parity birth probabilities. The magnitude of the eventual fertility ‘recovery' varies in a way which reflects both the underlying quantum change as well as the speed of the original birth decline (Sobotka, 2005).
For those who argue that the postponement of first births is one of the defining characteristics of a 'second demographic transition' (Lesthaeghe and Neels 2002: 333) - as opposed to constituting a distinct, ‘third transition’ (Kohler, Billari and Ortega 2002: 664) - its initiation may be thought to serve as a suitable indicator for the onset of this transition.
At the macro level, evidence concerning the relation between first birth postponement and eventual low fertility is still fairly controversial (Frejka and Calot 2001b, more references here) - indeed it could be said that the very idea of lowest-low fertility itself remains a controversial one given the fact that it owes, in part, its existence to the tempo effect.
So where exactly are we? Well, the evidence is indeed contradictory. In some countries - for example Northern Europe, Belgium - the first-birth delay seems to have involved a 'pure' postponement effect without apparently large consequences for eventual fertility levels, since the catching-up process is normally sufficient to cancel out a large part of the previous impact (although non of this happens without producing significant damage to the age pyramid in the process, as Lutz points out). Replacement level fertility is in no case, however, attained, and the more common outcome is a final achieved cohort TFR in the 1.7 - 1.9 range. In other countries – e.g. France and Switzerland - cohort fertility levels seem to be affected only slightly. Finally in Southern and Eastern Europe, Germany and Japan the evidence to date suggests that a consistent and sustained contraction of cohort fertility appears to follow the postponement of first birth for cohorts born after 1960.
Be this as it may, the empirical evidence indicating that something more than a ‘pure’ postponement process is at work is mounting and micro-level analyses have begun to offer confirmation that shifting motherhood to ever later ages is associated with a reduction of completed fertility (Morgan and Rindfuss, 1999; Billari and Kohler 2000). Kohler, Skyitte and Christiansen (2001), using longitudinal data from a sample of Danish twins, find, for example, that for every year by which the first childbirth is deferred, there is a reduction of 3% in the number of children achieved by the end of the reproductive life. Kohler, Billari and Ortega (2002) estimate that for Italy and Spain the postponement effect is even higher: in fact, each year of delay implies a reduction of completed fertility of between 2.9 and 5.1%. A weaker effect, declining across cohorts, has been observed in Northern Europe and in the US (Morgan and Rindfuss 1999).
What Drives Postponment?
A large number of tentative 'causes'have been offered in an attempt to explain postponement. Some of these stress economic and structural constraints (e.g. Happel et al. 1984), while others emphasise the importance of socialisation-process changes within the family, and the transition in social values (e.g. Schizzerotto and Lucchini 2002, Lestaeghe 1995).
Broadly speaking the economic approaches (see Livi Bacci and De Sanctis) assume that reproductive behaviour is the outcome of a rational choice process and that individuals have almost complete control over fertility. This leads many authors to hypothesise that the timing choice requires an evaluation of the costs and benefits associated with parenthood from a long run, as well as from a short run, perspective.
Postponing motherhood in circumstances of uncertainty - uncertainty surrounding, for example, future economic possibilities and future union stability - allows those who do this to dispose of an opportunity for a more precise evaluation of the costs and benefits of childbearing as well as of future earnings prospects. There is, if you like, a sort of options advantage attached to postponement (Kohler, Billari and Ortega 2002, Simò, Golsch and Steinhage 2002).
However, delaying childbirth is not a cost-free decision. As desired age at motherhood goes up women approach their natural biological age limit. The implications of delayed childbearing are complex. On the one hand, recent medical advances provide many women with the opportunity to 'sequence' (Blair-Loy, 1999; Garey, 1999), and achieve career success prior to the raising of children. For many career women in earlier times, this option was not available and they were often forced to remain childless in order to stay on a given career track. On the other hand, the risks associated with delayed childbearing are not, it seems, that widely known. Thus the approach of birth ages towards previous biological limits increases demands for medically assistanced reproduction - e.g. in vitro fertilization - and raises the anticipated level of biomedical cost (Wetzels, 1999, ch. 7). In addition, late mothers are subject to more substantial risks for their own health and for their late-born child (Gustafsson, 2001).
There are various known maternal risks associated with childbearing. As the mother’s age increases, a point is reached where there is a dramatic increase in the likelihood of childbearing complications. In the first place, the probability of carrying a child to term is significantly reduced after the age of 35. Cohen & Sauer (1998) found, for a sample of pregnant women receiving no infertility treatment, that spontaneous abortion rates rose from 10 percent in the 30-34 age group to almost 30 percent in the 35-39 one. According to Cohen and Sauer, even after fetal heart monitoring, miscarriage rates were still significantly higher in women of 35 and older. (More references from the postponement conference).
Gilbert, Nesbitt, & Danielson (1999) found that women age forty or over have a higher chance of requiring assisted childbirth: forceps, cesarean, and vacuum deliveries occur at a rate of 61% for this group, whereas younger women only have a 35 percent risk of needing such assistance. According to Scholz, Haas, & Petru (1999), in women over age 40, induction of labour was higher than for controls, while maternal morbidity due to childbirth is also found to increase with maternal age over 35 (van Katwijk & Peeters, 1998).
In addition, there are a number of fetal risks associated with advanced maternal age. In a study of 379 mature prospective mothers of 35 and older, who were compared to a control group of 379 prospective mothers, aged from 20 to 30, there were five stillbirths in the mature age group and none in the other younger age group (Barton, Bergauer, Jacques, Coleman, Stanziano, & Sibai, 1997). Furthermore, there is a significant difference in unexplained fetal death in pregnant women over the age of 35. According to Fretts & Usher (1997), one in 440 fetal deaths were unexplained in women 35 and older, whereas, one in 1000 fetal deaths were unexplained in women younger than 35.
Traditionally our reproductive biology has meant that female fertility has peaked in the mid 20s, followed by a steady then substantial fertility decline as the women moves through the 30s and 40s (Schmidt-Sarosi, 1998). Women over the age of 40 account for only one percent of all live natural births, a rate that falls to 0.01 percent for women over the age of 47 (Nesbitt, Bythell & Redfern 1999). These differences in childbearing are, in turn, linked to an increasing probability of infertility as a women ages. Griffin & Panak (1998) found that women under the age of 40 using in vitro fertilization and gamete intrafallopian transfer had a 20 percent success rate, whereas women over 40 had only an eight percent success rate. A study by Schmidt-Sarosi (1998) looking at all assisted reproductive technologies found that women younger than 35 had a 25.3 percent live birth rate, women 35-39 had a 18.2 percent live birth rate, and only an eight percent success rate was found in women 40 and older.
It is evident then that postponement decisions which result in unwanted childlessness constitute a good example of informational deficiencies, and the macro economic consequences (for eg lifelong savings), as well as the individual life-history consequences may well be important.
Paragraph above: life rescaling, does this affect our reproductive biology?
This next paragraph doesn't belong here.
In general higher levels of education are found to have a double effect on age of first birth: it leads to its postponement and lowers the probability that it may ultimately be realised (Nicoletti and Tanturri, 2005). However it should be noted that more highly educated women, once they do go down the road of motherhood, have a relatively high probability of having more than one child. Rendall and Smallwood (2003: 24), for example, found that in England and Wales 90.8% of higher educated women born in the 1954-1958 cohort and who gave birth to a first child at age 30 eventually gave birth to a second child. Nicoletti and Tanturri also find a very strong relationship between timing of first birth and age at the onset of the work career for all EU countries, finding that women, after first job commmencement, wait an average (depending on country) of between 3 and 7 years before deciding to have their first child.
Explanations For The Postponement/Factors Driving the Second Stage
There are in fact several competing theories of how fertility decisions are taken available in the literature. However a broad set of determinants are shared across most of the accounts of recent fertility declines in OECD countries. These determinants (or causal factors) include: (Elaborate a bit on the theories).
i) the perceived material and psychological benefits provided by children;
ii) the direct and opportunity costs of children which are incurred by their parents;
iii) the broad economic environment in which reproductive decisions are taken: the labour market insecurity and uncertainty faced by young people, changes in women’s economic roles, and the increased valuation of women’s work;
iv) a series of individual lifestyle factors, such as grater values attached to autonomy and self-realisation, greater willingness by women to adjust family aspirations to pursue career goals, and the diffusion of alternative forms of relationships;
v) changing societal and cultural norms, such as those which identify the division of home responsibilities within families and those underpinning the functioning of the welfare and tax systems.
Lesthaeghe (2001: 17-18) divides the relevant factors into two groups: one general and one country specific. In so doing he offers the following inventory of factors that help account for the new patterns of family formation and postponed parenthood:
1) increased female education and female economic autonomy;
2) rising and high consumption aspirations that created the need for a second income in households and equally fostered female labour force participation;
3) increased investments in career developments by both sexes, in tandem with increased competition in the workplace;
4) rising ‘post-materialist’ traits such as self-actualisation, ethical autonomy,
freedom of choice and tolerance for the non-conventional;
5) a greater stress on the quality of life with a rising
taste for leisure;
6) a retreat from irreversible commitments and a desire for maintaining an ‘open future’;
7)rising probabilities of separation and divorce, and hence a more cautious ‘investment in identity’.
1) the geographical mobility of young adults in tertiary education;
2) lack or availability of state subsidies for students in the forms of fellowships, housing facilities and transportation
3) the flexibility of the labour market, including the possibilities for part-time work;
4) youth unemployment;
5) minimum income guarantees;
6) costs and availability of housing, both for ‘starters’ and for
households in later stages of family formation (often linked to the structure of labour market and its regulations);
7) contraceptive availability and methods mix; access to abortion.
Principal Causal Factors
It is perhaps possible to identify a small number of principal causal factors.
Views relating to the importance of contraception in the fertility decline have been divided. Some - pointing to the fact, for example, that the European fertility transition was achieved using coitus interruptus - treat it as being of relatively secondary importance (Pritchett, 1994; Gertler and Molyneaux, 1994; Schultz, 1994). However in the context of the post-1970 trend in delayed childbearing in the developed countries (the so called second transition) there can be little doubt as to its importance. Approaches to the question seem to fall into two main groups: (i) contraception is seen as a technical factor addressing a pre-existing demand for birth control; (ii) contraception has its own dynamic and independent effect on fertility postponement.
The birth pill has been particularly important in this context for two main reasons. Firstly it has shifted control over pregnancy completely onto the woman herself, and secondly, in and of itself, it constitutes one of the most efficient contraceptive methods ever to become available. Perhaps as a result of this the pill "consistently heads the list of things which have most changed women’s lives" (de Guibert-Lantoine and Leridon 1999: 91).
In countries where legislative and societal attitude changes facilitated the rapid spread of the pill, its wide use was closely linked with the early onset of the fertility postponement. Santow and Bracher (2001: 359) associate increasing contraceptive prevalence, the drop in teenage pregnancies, and the subsequent onset of fertility postponement in Sweden with progressive changes in the sex education curriculum and the free provision of contraception to young people in the mid-1970s.
In Spain a dramatic increase in the pill use took place after 1978 when the ban on contraception was removed: “it is within this modern contraceptive regime that women started to delay first birth” (Castro Martín 1992: 232). As a result, rapid postponement of fertility - as captured by the increase in the mean age at first birth - started in Spain in 1980. In the Czech Republic, the very intensive postponement of first births after 1992 progressed hand in hand with the rapid diffusion of pill use (Svobotka, 2005). Elsewhere, increased contraceptive use has enabled young married women to delay entry into motherhood through prolonging the interval between marriage and the birth of the first child (Blossfeld and Huinink 1991 for West Germany, Castro Martín 1992 for Spain, and Murphy 1993 for England and Wales).
Further indirect support for the effect of modern contraception on fertility postponement comes from evidence on undesired and ‘mistimed’ pregnancies and first birth timing. From a cross-country perspective, there appears to be a link between inadequate contraceptive use, especially among teenagers, a high proportion of ‘unwanted’ or ‘mistimed’ pregnancies among (very) young women, and lower age at first birth. In Western European England and Wales stand out for their high teenage fertility rates and relatively earlier timing of first birth, but globally the clearest case is that of the United States.
In the United States a very high proportion of unintended births, which still accounted for around a third of the total fertility rate in the 1990s (Frejka 2004), went hand in hand with low contraceptive use and high fertility rates among teenagers (Morgan 1996 and the sociological perspective of Furstenberg 2002) and a relatively early age at first birth (by far the lowest among the ‘Western’ industrialised countries).
A similar combination of low contraceptive use, high teenage fertility, and earlier first birth timing is found in a number of Eastern European countries (Svobotka 2005, Chapter 7). One could argue that increased contraceptive availabilty leads to reduced rates of unintended pregnancies and births, especially among teenagers and young adults, and that this in itself facilitates fertility postponement.
The case of Italy, where very low levels of period fertility and rapid postponement of first births were achieved despite relatively low use of modern contraception and low abortion rates seems to provide a counter-argument to the importance of pill diffusion (Delgado Pérez and Livi-Bacci 1992; Castiglioni, Dalla Zuanna, and Loghi 2001). However it is assumed in the literature that a high prevalence of traditional birth control methods, particularly withdrawal, was already present in Italy and researchers generally conclude that by 1996 the use of modern contraceptive technology (the condom and in particular the pill) had almost completely replaced coitus interruptus among young people and sexually active women not living with a partner. In general, post 1996, the use of contraception became common from first sexual intercourse onwards (Dalla Zuanna, de Rose, and Racioppi 2001).
It is apparent that the diffusion of the pill has changed the nature of decision-making about childbearing. Surveys of sexual and reproductive behaviour indicate that women increasingly adopt pill-use at an early age, often from the start of their active sexual life (see e.g. de Guibert-Lantoine and Leridon 1999 for France; de Graaf and Lodewijckx 2000 for Flanders and the Netherlands; Dalla Zuanna, de Rose, and Racioppi 2001 for Italy; Bajos and Guillaume 2003 for a cross-country comparison). Continuous pill use has become the norm; in most countries women can also prevent unwanted pregnancies and births with the use of abortion and emergency contraception (Bajos and Guillaume 2003).
Here it is possible to identify another important break with the contraceptive patterns prevailing until the 1960s (or later in many countries), since initially contraceptive efforts were mainly focused on preventing additional pregnancies after a couple reached their desired family size. However this is certainly no longer the case and Beets et al. (2001: 21) have aptly drawn our attention to the way in which in the Netherlands modern contraception has changed the perception of sexual relationships within partnership from one of ‘getting children’ (kinderen krijgen) to a decision-making process over whether or not to ‘take children’ (kinderen nemen).
2/. Changing Household Structure
Van de Kaa (1994) links the spread of modern contraception with the change in living arrangements which characterise the postponement process: "the freedom from unwanted pregnancy has led to a new contextual or mental model of sexual relationships and of the connection between procreation and partner relations." Van de Kaa has asserted that ‘perfect contraception’ paradoxically played a key role in the spread of cohabitation and the subsequent postponement of marriages, in the decline of marriage rates, and in the increase in extra-marital childbearing.
The changing nature of intimate relationships has produced a profound transformation in family forms and living arrangements, especially since the late 1960s. The main contours of the changing European family are well known (e.g. Kuijsten 1996; Kiernan 2002) and have become the cornerstones of the concept of the second demographic transition (see e.g. Lesthaeghe and van de Kaa 1986; Lesthaeghe 1995; Lesthaeghe and Surkyn 2002; van de Kaa 1987, 1994, 1997, and 2001). Marriage has been increasingly replaced by cohabitation, extended spells of single living, and unconventional living arrangements.
Accelerating divorce rates have further eroded marital unions. The waning of marriage as an institution has led to the pluralisation of families and living arrangements. Marriage has also ceased to be the only socially accepted pathway to childbearing. Sex has been separated from reproduction, and reproduction has been detached from marriage. The separation of sex from procreation was made possible by the diffusion of the contraceptive pill (see the previous section).
3/. Changing Value Set
Societal norms, in particular with respect to gender roles, have a profound influence on fertility. If there is an "incoherence" between women’s roles within the family, the working place and society at large, fertility may well be negatively affected.
Societal norms as to the ideal, or standard, family size may also influence fertility. In societies where large families become less frequent or less socially accepted individuals possibly lower their preferred family size away from the previous family norm. In societies where out-of-wedlock births are less accepted fertility may wellalso be discouraged.
The 'traditional' explanation of women’s reproductive and childbearing decisions relies on the "rational choice" approach. This model of fertility, which was pioneered by Gary Becker (1981) in the 1970s and 1980s, regards individual decisions on having a child to be the result of a utility maximization process influenced by the economic cost and benefits of children, and subject to income constraints and individual’s preferences. Within this framework, the decline in fertility that characterises the developed countries may be the consequence of the higher price of children relative to other goods, of lower family incomes, or of a change in preferences for having children relative to other consumption goods. This model, which has been very influential in the literature, also lies at the core of most policies aimed to influence women’s childbearing decisions. For example, reductions in the cost of children (e.g. as a result of public subsidies) or increases in the income of women of reproductive age (e.g. due to higher transfer payments) would be considered to increase demand for children. Becker’s basic model has been extended over time in an attempt to account for additional aspects of the childbearing decision, such as 'quality' of children and timing of births (Hotz et al., 1999).
One rival to the Becker model is the options theory one. This is frequently associated with a tradition of life course analysis.Much of the life course analysis concentrates on the detection and documentation of a structure in the pathways of life (Willekens 1999: 26). Individual behaviour is conditioned by various social constraints, determining the options available for each individual actor; thus, any behaviour at the micro level is influenced by a particular context- a feature labelled within the theory as embeddedness (ibid.: 28).
On most accounts of the postponment process individuals are seen as rational actors trying to utilise information available to them to achieve their goals within various constraints, such as material resources, institutional regulations, and cultural norms.
Decision-making on important life course transitions is strongly influenced by an interplay between the various domains of life, and this leads to potential conflicts between the various available parallel careers. In general the decision to have a child is thought to depend strongly on current and expected partnership status, employment, and educational pathway decisions (e.g. Willekens 1991b).
In modern societies rather than strict ‘sequencing norms’, what exist are a number of commonly shared concepts of what constitute the necessary preconditions for parenthood: leaving the parental home, finishing education, and accumulating resources. Leaving the parental home in fact constitutes in most societies a precondition for making individual choices on union formation and parenthood (Billari, Philipov, and Baizán 2001: 354).
Later union formation, less stable employment and living arrangements, and higher expectations of partnership quality mean that many modern young men and women hesitate in committing themselves to parenthood. An increasing feeling of entitlement to experiencing a variety leisure activities and acquiring a variety of consumer products prior to entering parenthood also presents an additional obstacle fuelling fertility postponement (e.g. Presser 2001).
At the same time the social definition of ‘being too old’ to have children has been modified in recent decades in favour of a higher acceptability of late childbearing (Rindfuss, Morgan, and Swicegood 1988). The evidence suggests that there are generally shared norms on a preferred ‘timetable’ for having a first child, and this timetable tends to move towards ever later ages paralleling the trend of delayed parenthood, during this process the 'childbearing years' come to encompass a relatively narrow age interval. (Toulemon and Leridon 1999, France.... Matsuo 2003: Japan).
Some authors have also identified the existence of comprehensive pension systems as an important determinant of low fertility in developed countries (Livi Bacci, 2001b). While, in traditional societies, a higher fertility rate may reflect the parents wish to have support available from children when they reach old age, the expansion of alternative forms of support for the elderly might have reduced the importance of this factor.
This hypothesis would suggest that countries with more generous pension systems, and with expectation that this generosity will continue in the future, will also experience lower fertility. As the income of older people does not depend exclusively on the social security system, Sleebos used the mean disposal income of those over 65 (relative to income available to the working age population as a whole) in an attempt to identify a more general indicator of the economic resources of the elderly in order to examine any possible relation. He found there was a negative relationship between higher relative income in old age and total fertility, although the relationship was not a strong one (Sleebos, 2003).
Those who employ the concept of a second demographic transition tend to see late childbearing as the result of a fundamental social, economic, and cultural transformation, one which is defined as much by changed norms related to the family and parenthood as it is by decision-making on the timing of childbearing. On this view the purely economic perspective on family and childbearing, as epitomised by Becker (1991), is thought to provide too narrow a view insofar as it ignores the altered character of norms and attitudes in relation to the family and reproduction.
4/. Costs of children.
The costs of having children may be considered to be consituted by all the child-related expenses faced by families with children. While difficult to quantify, these costs may have increased in recent decades relative to the prices of other goods and in particular technological products. Since parents feel an increasing desire and obligation to invest more heavily in the education of their children these costs rise even further. Costs related to providing appropriate housing for families with children may also increase as urbanisation unfolds, since in large cities housing costs tend to increase with space, and cheaper forms of housing may be considered to be less suited for raising children. Another reason for the higher costs of having children is the tendency for couples to increasingly live at an ever greater distance from their parents, with the resulting need to rely on costly child-care facilities. Beyond direct costs, mothers also incur opportunity costs due to earnings-loss during absence from work, and to the impact of work interruption future career development. The importance of these opportunity costs will partly depend on the feasibility of combining paid work with child-rearing (with opportunity costs being higher the more the difficulty that is associated with the work-mother combination).
5/. Employment and Education
During the last four decades young Europeans have spent an ever larger portion of their lives in education. In particular there has been a massive expansion in post-secondary education. Post-industrial economies generate a growing demand for an ever more highly educated and flexible workforce. For individuals, pursuing higher education constitutes the main pathway on-route towards finding a stable job, receiving sufficient wage, and increasing career prospects (Kohler, Billari, and Ortega 2002). Most men and women continue to be enrolled in some form of education in early adulthood, and the expected number of additional years in post compulsory education extends as far as 8.5 years (in France, OECD 2001).
Consequently, up to half of all those in the 20-24 age group (and even up to between 50 and 55% in the cases of Denmark, Finland, and France) are enrolled in full-time or part-time studies. Women in particular have availed themselves of this opportunity, and they now form more than half of the total number of graduate and postgraduate students in a majority of European countries.
Such educational expansion has direct implications for fertility trends. In present-day Western societies, years spent in education are almost universally perceived as incompatible with family formation. This view has been supported by a number of studies which have illustrated that ‘being in education’ strongly reduces the probability of having a first child (see e.g. Rindfuss, Morgan and Swicegood 1988; Blossfeld and Huinink 1991; Kravdal 1994; Blossfeld 1995; B. Hoem 2000; Baizán, Aassve, and Billari 2003).
Beets et al. (2001) found that highly educated women were the ‘forerunners’ of the childbearing postponment in European countries, and it has been estimated that an increase in education level can explain about half the increase in the mean age at first birth found between Dutch women in the 1931-40 and the 1961-65 cohorts. Substantial differences in first birth timing according to education levels are found across all developed societies. The example of French women born in 1950-55 is illustrative: those who left education after completing primary school gave birth to a first child at an average age of 22.6, while those with four and more years of post-secondary education had their first child at an average age 28.4 (Meron and Widmer 2002: 303).
Higher education both enhances the labour market status of the individual labour and increases the ‘opportunity cost’ of childbearing. People with higher education have values and preferences which are distinct from those with less education, although this may not necessarily be due to the effects of the education itself, as (self-)selection to higher education may reflect value orientation as well as contibuting to forming it. Education goes hand in hand with increased material and career aspirations. Individuals with higher education are more proficient in obtaining and assimilating information, and are less sensitive to social pressure (Bouwens, Beets, and Schippers 1996). They embrace values such as autonomy, independence, and self-realisation.
Educational groups may be viewed as "possessing a cultural capital, a 'Weltanschauung', and a preference map of some stability at ages around which the transition to adult life (…) is centered" (Lesthaeghe and Surkyn 1988: 17). Thus, the reluctance to start a family among women and men with higher education could be seen as reflecting increased resistance to normative pressures, higher levels of flexibility, and stronger attachment to career building, as well as an anticipation of higher costs being associated with having children and an indication of a higher valuation of individual autonomy (e.g. Liefbroer 1998).
Traditionally employment and motherhood were seen as incompatible roles. This view is supported by the economic perspective on family formation, especially by Becker’s (1991) argument that the increasing earning power of women increases both their labour force participation and the opportunity costs of childbearing. This perspective is subsequently developed to incorporate the idea of education implying a lower demand for the ‘quantity’ of children, since educated women prefer to invest more in the education and other training of their children (Becker 1991: 153).
Many recent studies, however, have found that the relationship between labour force participation and fertility is not a straightforward one, and may be filtered through a number of additional factors. Liefbroer and Corijn (1999) advocate a dynamic perspective on the compatibility between family life and labour-force participation, stressing that societal differences, cohort membership, age, and education level modify this relationship.
From a macro perspective, a seemingly counter-intuitive positive association between period total fertility and women’s labour participation has been found in OECD countries since the mid-1980s (see Brewster and Rindfuss 2000; Rindfuss, Guzzo, and Morgan 2003; Billari and Kohler 2004; Engelhardt and Prskawetz 2004). The complex relationship between the two interdependent ‘careers’ of employment and fertility (see Willekens 1991b) considerably influences the timing of family formation. Brewster and Rindfuss (2000: 282) noted that birth timing and spacing "may comprise key components of strategies to balance work and family responsibilities."
The difficulty that women face in combining work and family responsibilities account for the fact that, in general, the proportion of women with children is higher among those who do not work than it is among those who do. Large differences however are to be found across countries, both in terms of the gap between these two groups of women (the gap being much larger in Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand) and in the proportion of women with children by employment status. The type of job and contract held by the mother is also important when it comes to decisions about having children. Part-time jobs, in particular, generally allow women greater opportunities to combine work and family responsibilities. Across countries, the proportion of women with children is generally higher among those working part-time than among those working full-time, with differences between the two groups being larger in the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden but much smaller in France, Italy and Spain (Sleebos 2003).
Because part-time employment is often the preferred option of the working mother, in those countries where part-time employment is rare women will have to choose between either leaving work and having children or taking up a full-time job, neither of which is likely to be their preferred option.
Additional information on how women’s reproductive and employment decisions interact is provided by labour force survey data (OECD, 2001). Trends in women’s employment rates suggest that while these have increased in almost all countries (OECD, 2002) those for women with young children remained, with few exceptions (Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United States) fairly stable throughout the 1990s (OECD, 2002).
Mills and Blossfeld, for instance, (Mills and Blossfeld, forthcoming: 18-19) distinguish between various types of uncertainty.
(1) economic uncertainty, related to the "economic precariousness of an individual’s employment and educational enrolment circumstances"
(2) temporal uncertainty, and
(3) employment relationship uncertainty, reflecting the type and precariousness of one’s employment contract.
In the Mills and Blossfeld framework, being unemployed leads to a high level of individual economic uncertainty, whereas rising unemployment rates could lead to a more generally higher temporal uncertainty. Young adults are increasingly susceptible to a variety of forms of uncertainty, especially with regards to their employment situation, and this has a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged - and especially on less-educated - social groups. In addition, the accelerating pace of change, the increased unpredictability of social and economic developments, and the increase in the flow of available information all serve to create heightened uncertainty attached to both possible behavioural outcomes and to the relative probability of these outcomes. To this general uncertainty may be added doubt about the amount of information which needs to be collected for taking any particular decision (Mills and Blossfeld forthcoming: 17). The authors attribute rising uncertainty among young adults to the broadly defined forces of globalisation.
7/. The Family
One factor stands out in the present context above all others: the presence of a prevailing conservative (Continental) welfare regime or a ‘familiastic’ (Southern European) welfare model appears to have a negative impact both on the tempo (i.e. it tends to induce additional postponement) and on the quantum of fertility (by reducing the opportunities for women to have an independent career and have multiple children, e.g. Esping-Andersen 1999). High unemployment rates coupled with low family benefits, policies supportive of the traditional male breadwinner family model, costly and scarce childcare, expensive rental housing, and limited part-time work opportunities all serve to characterise many societies with very low fertility and very late timing of motherhood.
Moreover, norms prescribing stay-at-home mothers, and in particular those which stress the desireability of this in the presence of young children, tend to increase role incompatibility between employment and fertility (Brewster and Rindfuss 2000). Southern European countries, especially Italy and Spain, exemplify just such a situation (see Baizán, Michielin, and Billari 2002 for Spain and Dalla Zuanna 2001 for Italy) and the extremely low levels of fertility to be found in these societies are often attributed to the strength of this role incompatability.
The McDonald Thesis
In recent decades, in modern industrial economies, participation of women in the formal labor force has expanded rapidly. This tendency, reflecting market forces but also encouraged by government policy (partly as an antidote for deteriorating dependency ratios as the population becomes older), is likely to continue. Among the many factors advanced to explain the generally low level of fertility despite general material affluence, observers have pointed to the double burden on women of both raising children and working outside the home. To the extent that higher birth rates are seen to be socially desirable, the derived policy prescription would seem to be the adoption of measures that make motherhood and women’s labor force participation more compatible.
Comparatively higher fertility levels in those countries (most notably in Scandinavia) where measures to increase this compatability have been systematically applied, when compared to countries (especially those in Southern Europe) where they are largely absent, suggest that enhanced compatibility (through day-care services, flexible work-hours, liberal sick-leave allowances, and the like) is an effective pronatalist policy even if motivated by other considerations. But it is far from clear whether the fertility differential so generated is high enough to bring the total fertility rate back to replacement level.
Peter McDonald, in a series of papers (2000, 2000a, and 2002), has suggested that very low fertility is an outcome of high levels of gender equity in an environment dominated by individual-oriented institutions (implying a relatively high structural compatibility), combined with a persisting gender inequality within the family. This situation poses a dilemma for women, who may increasingly perceive their family role as inconsistent with their individual aspirations.
Evidence for such continuing inequality within the family unit is to be found in numerous time-budget surveys, which clearly indicate that women still do most of the domestic work (e.g. Joshi 1998, Table 2; Esping-Andersen 1999: 57-60). Both among housewives and employed women, the time spent on ‘social reproduction’- child-rearing and related domestic tasks - is not compensated-for in terms of family benefits or other means, and an equal division of domestic tasks between men and women seems still to be a long distant goal. As Joshi (1998: 177) notes, in "the private arena of home life, at least among young adults, the ideology of sex equality runs ahead of the practice."
Within this context, McDonald has emphasised the importance of the 'coherence' between the levels of gender equity in different social institutions, and between the roles, functions and preferences of different actors. McDonald distinguishes between two types of gender roles, in paid and unpaid work. The first setting ('male breadwinner model') is characterised by a complementary division of labour between men and women, with a clear distinction between the responsibilities of men for jobs and market-income, and those of women for care and domestic work. The second setting (the 'gender equity model') is characterised by a symmetric division of responsibilities within the family and the labour market. While both settings may a-priori lead to a high fertility rate, societies where changes in women’s economic roles and aspirations are not matched by similar changes in institutions and family responsibilities seem destined to experience lower fertility rates.
Curiously, and contrary to what might be expected from McDonald’s original hypothesis, lower structural and cultural incompatibility do appear to go hand in hand. ‘Family-oriented’ welfare regimes in Italy and Spain, hindering a compatibility of employment and childbearing for women and embracing the traditional breadwinner model, are good examples of both (e.g. Dalla Zuanna 2001, Del Boca 2002). In Esping-Andersen’s words (1999: 67) "the great paradox of our times is that familialistic policy appears counter-productive to family formation."
West Germany, a region which currently has the highest childlessness rates in Europe, also has a long-lasting shortage of day-care facilities and an institutional system which is conducive to reproductive polarisation, encouraging women with small children to stay at home and serving as an obstacle for those who wish to combine work and childrearing.
The relatively high level of childlessness in England and Wales has also been related to the incompatibility of motherhood and upper-level employment, resulting in a large proportion of higher educated women remaining childless (Ekert-Jaffé et al. 2002; Rendall and Smallwood 2003).
The rapid increase of childlessness in Italy and Spain also suggests that prevailing cultural norms may constitute an additional obstacle to parenthood. Italy is an interesting case in this respect, since it is a country where the various available theoretical frameworks offer quite conflicting signals as to the expected extent of future childlessness.
On the one hand, Italian society is characterised by a deep-rooted familistic culture (Reher 1998), which attaches a high value to in-family parenthood. However, in addition to negative socio-economic factors, such as a high unemployment rate among young people, the importance attached to the traditional family may also serve to explain the very late pattern of home leaving and partnership formation, as well as the low compatibility of child-rearing with female employment (Dalla Zuanna 2001, Micheli 2004).
Living in a welfare system that hinders individual autonomy, while being increasingly reluctant to marry and enter parenthood, young Italians commonly stay in the parental home into their early thirties (Billari and Rosina 2004). The lack of gender equity within the family in combination with the expanding economic opportunities for women outside the family sphere has been rightly identified by McDonald (2002) as a further obstacle to family formation, and clearly forms part of the explanation for very low fertility in Southern Europe. Livi Bacci (2001a), unsurprisingly, sees signs of a 'delay syndrome' (one which will unwind) in all of this, particularly in the context of the Southern European countries.
In the eastern and central European case, the collapse of the earlier communist regimes paved the way for increased labour market competition and unemployment, a scaling down of the previous social policies, an increase in the duration of education, a rapid spread of modern contraception and, in general, lifestyles that are less compatible with parenthood. Although the plummeting levels of period fertility in these countries have been frequently attributed to the broadly defined effects of economic and social uncertainty (e.g. UN 2000), survey data point to the pivotal role of the changing character of partnerships.
The Population Policies Acceptance Survey (PPAS), carried out between 2000 and 2003, indicates that childless men and women who do not intend to become parents, or who remain uncertain, most typically quote the lack of a steady partner as a reason. The costs of children and concerns about maintaining one’s living standards are quoted frequently as well, whereas relatively few men and women perceive their professional activities as a main reason for the intention to remain childless.
Besides being tightly linked to the current partnership status, childbearing intentions are also strongly connected to preferred living arrangements, revealing different lifestyle preferences. Respondents that favour other living arrangements than marriage, including those who prefer to cohabit first and marry later, are considerably less certain about their childbearing intentions. This finding is particularly helpful for explaining the projected sharp increase in childlessness in Poland, a fairly traditional and dominantly Catholic society. Although the younger generations have actively embraced the ‘reflexive’ model of partnership, and now tend to wait longer before entering a stable union, their search for the most suitable partner is hindered by the low societal acceptance of informal living arrangements. The PPAS results provide then a picture which is full of paradoxes.
Most recently, however, the predominant explanations of women’s reproductive decisions to be found in studies of chilbearing and fertility go beyond the focus on individuals’ decisions that characterised the earlier 'rational choice' models. Such studies typically stress the importance of cultural and institutional constraints within which individuals’ reproductive decisions take place.
On some accounts, emphasis is given to the 'risk aversion' of individuals when it comes to having children, and to the fact that both future costs and benefits of children cannot be known with certainty: when uncertainties about future economic, social or personal conditions increase, individuals may lean on the side of safety in order to avoid risk. In other accounts, emphasis is put on the emergence of post-material values in industrialised societies (such as individual self-realisation, satisfaction of personal preferences, and freedom from traditional forces of authority) and on changes in gender roles.
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