Local Childcare Availability and Dual-Earner Fertility - Variation in Childcare Coverage and Birth Hazards over Place and Time

Jonas Wood, University of Antwerp
Karel Neels, University of Antwerp

The theoretically well-grounded hypothesis that the availability of formal childcare has a positive impact on childbearing in the developed world has been part of the population literature for a long time. Whereas the transformation of women’s roles in the labour force created a tension between work and family life, the increasing availability of formal childcare in many developed countries is assumed to reconcile these two life domains as roles of mother and worker become more compatible. However, previous studies on the association between childcare availability and fertility provide ambiguous results. This article argues that these mixed findings occur - at least partly - due to variation in the methods applied and a number of methodological issues which remain largely unaccounted for. As a result, this study uses detailed longitudinal census and register data for the 2000s in Belgium combined with childcare coverage rates for 588 municipalities, to assess the relation between local childcare availability on the one hand and first, second and third births among dual earner couples on the other. Our findings indicate substantial positive effects of local formal childcare provision on birth hazards. Quantifying the impact of local formal childcare availability on fertility at the aggregate-level shows that in the context of low and lowest-low fertility levels in the developed world, the continued extension of formal childcare services can be a tool to stimulate childbearing among dual earner couples. Finally, various robustness checks for endogenous placement of formal childcare and selective migration are discussed.

Presented in Session 1168: Fertility