Fertility Intentions, Subjective Well-Being and Gender Equity in Economic Recession

Hideko Matsuo, University of Leuven
Koen Matthys, Family and Population Studies, Centre for Sociological Research, Faculty of Social Sciences, KU Leuven

This paper examines the impact of subjective well-being on fertility intentions among European baby bust generation, contrasting this relationship from a gender perspective during the recent economic recession period (2007-2009). In line with our previous analyses, in this paper, gender specific fertility intentions are further studied taking into account of individual subjective well-being, gender role attitudes, and country economic measures. Use is made of European Social Survey data for both men and women aged 20-39 among the baby bust generation in 27 European countries in Round 5 (2010) module of family, work and well-being. We apply bivariate statistical tests between fertility intentions and subjective well-being measures by gender, and multi-level models to estimate individual and country level effects on fertility intentions. Our previous analyses indicated the overall well-being effects on higher fertility intentions, however, gender differentials and country effects (e.g. Human Development Index & Gender Inequality Index) were more observed when old aged and higher parity. We expect that higher income and education, higher subjective well-being levels and egalitarian gender attitudes have higher intended fertility at the individual level. Further, we expect distinguished gender and life course specific country effects when GDP growth and unemployment rates are modelled. In other words, we anticipate country effects of economic change resulting into changes in individual attributes and effects on fertility intentions. Building on previous analysis, use of country economic performance data prior to 2010, provides evidence on effects of economic changes on fertility intentions, and identifies its differentials across individual socio-economic backgrounds.

    1. Background

    Recent studies indicate the growing importance of taking account of gender equity in achieving higher fertility (Neyer et al 2013, Aassve et al 2015). The post-war historical development is characterized as substantial changes concerning partnership and family formation behaviour in industrialized countries leading to low fertility (Lesthaeghe 2010). Behind this development is the increasing female labour force participation, first resulting into weakening linkage between female labour force participation, and partnership and family formation behaviour (Kohler et al 2006). However, these linkages are reversing for the support needed to combine work and parenthood through work-family balance policies (Gauthier & Philipov 2008, Thévenon 2013). Furthermore, in a recent article, Goldscheider and others (2015) argue that these weakening and reversing linkages between female labour force participation, and partnership and family formation behaviour, are due to changing gender relationships in both public and private spheres. The phenomena is termed as gender revolution characterized by two dimensions: growth of female labour force participation and eventually the dual earning households (public); and increase of men’s involvement in the household (private). In fact, the second aspect, where men act as important contributors and participants for the household chores including childrearing activities, strengthens such linkages and makes such gender revolution complete theoretically.

    Number of previous empirical evidence supports the notion of strong linkage of gender inequity and (very) low fertility (McDonald 2000). Balbo et al (2013) point out that different levels of fertility (i.e. low and lowest-low) are the outcome of interactions between micro individual characteristics (e.g. education, employment) and macro factors (e. g. family policies). There exist differential fertility levels globally (i.e. low and very low fertility) (Kohler et al 2006). Recent study of Aassve and his colleagues (2015) find that when institutions adapt gender equity, the higher the happiness and fertility levels. Given these evidences, the linkage of well-being levels and fertility intention can also be established, in the context of planned fertility in industrialized nations.

    Such relationship of gender equity and fertility behaviour is testable during the economic recession though. Sobotka and others (2011) review the role of economic recessions on fertility, family formation and dissolution. The effect of economic recession is expected when individual fertility decisions are influenced by gender, age, socio-economic status, and current life course stage (Kreyenfeld 2010). Economic downturn, such as GDP decline and rising unemployment, is likely to influence the individual attributes (i.e. education, income, employment status) plus gender attitudes (Puur 2008 et al), and level of subjective well-being influencing fertility behaviour (Myrskylä & Margolis 2014). The proposed study aims to complement empirical research of intended fertility behaviour by Testa and Basten (2014) additionally taking into account of subjective well-being and gender roles on fertility intentions.

    Against this background, the objective of this paper is to analyse the impact of subjective well-being and gender attitudes on gender specific fertility intentions, and examine the role of economic measures. This will be tested to baby bust generations in 27 European countries using European Social Survey Round 5.

    1. Theoretical framework and research questions

    Prime attention is given to make use of the well-established ''theory of planned behaviour'' (Ajzen 1991) in studying the predictive power of intentions for actual behaviour and outcomes (Ajzen & Klobas 2013, Berrington 2004) in a cross-national perspective. Our analysis considers multi-dimensional effects of wellbeing (Abdullah et al 2011, Thompson & Marks 2008, OECD 2013) on fertility intentions from a life course perspective (Berrington & Pattaro 2014), in integrating gender equity and attitudes (Goldschieder et al 2015; Miettinen et al 2015; Puur et al 2009). The life course concepts, operationalized in four key elements, human agency, location in time and place, linked lives, and timing (Giele & Elder 1998) are present in our analysis.

    RQ1: What are the overall well-being effects (i.e. individual and country levels) on fertility intentions? And how do these effects differ by gender?

    RQ2: Which effects matter more on fertility intentions? What is the role of the economic context (i.e. average and changes of 2008-2010) on fertility intentions?

    RQ3: How does the aforementioned effects matter by life course by means of age and parity?

    1. Expected results

    We expect that the higher well-being effects, the higher intended fertility, although type of effects differ substantially during the individual life course. We additionally expect clear gender effects, highlighting different determinants where gender roles and economic measures matter differently. We consider country level effects of economic change resulting into changes in individual attributes and effects on fertility intentions. Since low GDP growth and high unemployment rate will mostly affect childless young age group influencing their employment status and income, we expect to find strong gender differentiating effects on fertility intentions in earlier life course. Such finding contributes to the understanding of social-economic inequality and its effect on fertility intentions among European baby bust generation.

    Presented in Session 1152: Fertility