Bedroom Politics. How family policies affect women’s fertility and union formation decisions.
Most studies on policies’ effect on fertility depart from the assumption that fertility decisions are taken within unions, by partners who behave altruistically towards each other. This study argues that such a focus misses a fundamental fact: namely, that fertility decisions are closely interrelated with decisions about union formation and union dissolution. Many fertility decisions are taken by individuals long before they form unions and can be certain that their partners will share the burdens of raising potential children with them. In addition, in a time of high union dissolution rates, far from all fertility decisions within unions are taken by partners who are altruistically inclined toward each other. Consequently, the previous research’s focus, on how policies that reduce altruistic partners’ costs of reproduction affect within-union fertility, is too narrow to capture the entire effect that policies have on fertility. More specifically, this study argues that policies can affect fertility in two ways that the previous research has failed to notice; namely 1) by affecting women’s incentives to form unions, and 2) by affecting women’s incentives to have children in unstable unions. The empirical investigation, which builds on multilevel analyses of data from the European Social Survey on nearly 15000 women in 22 European countries, contributes to the field with three main findings. First, it is shown that generous family policies increase women’s likelihood of living in unions. Because a union is an almost necessary precondition for having children in contemporary Europe this finding means that generous family policies have a strong indirect positive effect on fertility. It is not possible to detect this indirect effect only by studying within-union fertility. Second, it is shown that family policies that reduce the economic risks of having children in unstable unions increase women’s likelihood of living in unstable unions (as opposed to remaining single). Because union instability lowers fertility this means that within-union fertility rates, on average, are lower in countries implementing such policies. However, total fertility rates are likely to be higher, as, for most women, the alternative to form an unstable union is to remain single. Third, it is shown that policies that reduce the economic risks of having children in unstable unions reduce the negative effect of union instability on fertility. Thus, such policies have a stronger positive effect on the likelihood of women in unstable unions having children than they have on the likelihood of women in stable unions having children. Previous studies have not considered this possibility, but assumed policies to have a uniform impact on women’s fertility regardless of how stable the women’s unions are. Together the study’s findings point to that previous research, in so far as it has focused on within-union fertility, has underestimated generous family policies’ positive effect on fertility. Thus, family policies are probably a more effective means for raising fertility than hitherto has been acknowledged. This is in particular true of family policies that reduce women’s economic risks of having children in unstable unions, by helping them reconcile work-family conflicts (e.g. paid parental leaves with high replacement rates and subsidized professional child care). Europe’s current fertility crisis can likely be solved if states implement more of such policies.
Doctor of Philosophy
University of Gothenburg. Faculty of Social Sciences
Göteborgs universitet. Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten
Department of Political Science ; Statsvetenskapliga institutionen
Fredagen den 23 september 2011, kl. 13.15, Universitetsbyggnaden, Vasaparken, Göteborg
Date of defence
new home economics
second demographic transition
Göteborg Studies in Politics