Couples’ Employment Characteristics and Fertility in Italy

Ilaria Landini, University of Florence
Francesca Berti, University of Florence

Growing economic uncertainty has become an intrinsic characteristic of contemporary globalized societies in which an increasing number of people are moving in and out of (often precarious) jobs. Among other things, economic uncertainty may affect long-term commitments, including family formation and having children. In this study, we address the relationship between partners’ employment characteristics and transition to the first child in Italian couples, using event history analysis models. Our preliminary results suggest that the most relevant employment characteristics for fertility are gendered: men’s employment security (permanent vs temporary contracts) and women’s work arrangements (full-time vs part-time). We also confirm that the progression to the first child depends mainly on the male labour market status and characteristics: the man remains the household provider (“bread-winner”) and a female income is not particularly important, even if more and more women are workers and decide to achieve working careers.



Increasing levels of employment precariousnessand insecurity make more difficult for young people the transition to adulthood and discourage particularly long-term commitments, including familyformation and transition to the first child (Oppenheimer1988; Billari 2005; Kalmijn 2011). What remains unclear is whose employment career theseuncertainties refer to: the man’s, the woman’s, or both? This paper aims at investigatingthe impact of both partners’ labour force status on the occurrence of firstbirths in Italy, with particular emphasis on the role of job precariousness.

In Southern Europe, where women are the maincaregivers and men act primarily as household providers (“bread-winners”), theeconomic well-being of the household depends primarily on the marketperformance of the man. In Italy, the institutional support for working womenhas traditionally been modest, part-time work is rare, working schedule rigidand public childcare provision limited. The traditional division between‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in this unequal labor market has therefore beenreinforced by reforms of flexible employment contracts. Beside, women’s employmentrate (age 15-64) is still relatively low (46.4%) compared to men (68.5%).

Rosina and Fraboni research results (2006), withtheir study based on 1998 Fertility and Family Survey data, showed that womenwho had never worked before marriage have had their first child earlier thanthose with some work experience. Vignoli and Salvini (2008) and then Santarelli(2011) found elevated first birth risks among couples where the man ispermanently employed and the woman does not work, compared to couples whereboth are employed.  Vignoli, Drefahl and De Santis (2012), using longitudinaldata of EU-SILC 2004-2007, concurred that the fertility is higher in those coupleswhere both partners have permanent contracts.




For our analysis, we use retrospective data referringto the 2009 Family and Social Subjects survey, carried out by the ItalianInstitute of Statistics. It covered detailed information on men’s and women’spartnership and employment histories: this allowed us to carry out acontinuous-time event history analysis, using a baseline hazard with alog-logistic specification.

In our data set, we include individuals in arelationship (married or cohabiting at age 16 or older) at the interview date, andexamined their previous labour market and fertility histories. This means zoomingthe study on intact couples only, which implies a focus on relativelytraditional couples. Nonetheless, most analyses, especially in Italy, focus onwomen or men in isolation: our study on couples’ labour market characteristics addsnew insights to the discussion of Italian fertility.

We utilised event history models to estimate the transitionto first conception. We follow the couple from union formation to the birth ofthe first child or the interview date, whichever comes first. Our data showthat 88.57% of the couples have had a first child; 92.62% of them are married.

Our core explanatory variable is the employmentstatus combined with the type of employment for both partners. We control ourestimates for a set of potential confounders: educational level (time-varying),region of residence and calendar time (time-varying). The latter variableaccounts for the flexibilization of the Italian labor market with Law 451(1994), Treu Law (1997), Biagi Law (2003) as well as the beginning of theeconomic recession (2007).



In Model 1 (M1) we look at the employment situationof both partners. The final specification presented retains those partners’employment characteristics that proved to be especially meaningful: men’semployment security (permanent vs temporary contracts) and women’s work arrangements(full-time vs part-time).

The outcomes show that, if the man is permanently employed,the hazard of first birth is higher. For men, unemployment and temporaryemployment inhibit the transition to first births. This pattern is in line the standardmicro-economic interpretations. On the contrary, women with more time available(not working or working part-time) illustrate elevated first birth risks. Thedifferences are minimal when she has a temporary contract (probably a notchosen part-time) but are relevant when she has a permanent one (maybe a chosenpart-time, with the intent to have a baby) – results not shown in this abstract.

In Model 2 (M2) we included the combination of thetypes of employment of both partners. These results show that the inclinationto have a child increases when only the man has a work and decreases when bothhave a temporary job, compared to the couples where both are non-employed.

Overall, our preliminary resultsconfirm that the progression to the first child among Italian couples depends mainlyon the male labour market status and characteristics. Interestingly, coupleswhere both partners are out of the labour force have higher first birth risks thanfemale single-income households. We are planning to continue scrutinizing thecombination of different partners’ labour market arrangements on firth birthrisks.

































Presented in Session 1233: Posters