This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Women Having a Second Child--The Key to Europe's Future?

It is well-known that fertility levels have fallen below replacement level throughout Europe and this causes a lot of alarm with respect to the future possibility of population decline in the region. The evidence suggests that the drop in fertility is due less to an increase in childlessness than it is to a decline in the proportion of women who have a second or third child. Thus, European women have not stopped having children, they have just stopped having very many of them. If fertility were to rise in the future, then, it would seem to depend on the motivation for that second or third child. Demographers from the Estonian Institute for Population Studies have just published a very interesting paper in Demographic Research analyzing data from differing regions of Europe to figure out the relationship, in particular, between education and the probability of having a second child. Demographic theory generally suggests that the opportunity costs of children rise with education and so the demand for children goes down--a negative relationship. But at very low levels of fertility it seems that the relationship may reverse itself, at least in some countries. The map below, drawn from the paper, shows considerable spatial variability in Europe (with darker shades associated with lower odds of a second birth), and the authors summarize their results as follows:
...the behaviour of highly educated women seems to be decisive for a region‘s level of second-order and overall fertility. In areas where university-educated women have lower second-birth intensity than women with medium and low education, fertility tends to be lower. The mechanism of opportunity costs, advanced by the micro-economic and adopted by the Second Demographic Transition theory, suggests that the observed variation in educational gradient may be due to contextual features such as institutional support for combining employment career and parenthood, as well as gender equity.
In other words, in European regions with traditional marriages that punish women's out-of-home employment, better educated women wind up having fewer children than the less-well educated, and the result is lower than average national levels of fertility. By contrast, more "modern" egalitarian marital regimes produce support for women and that generates higher fertility among the better educated and higher overall national fertility. If higher fertility is the goal, it is becoming increasingly obvious what the appropriate policies are--educate women, promote gender equality, and provide support networks to working parents.

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