How Does Men’s Involvement in the Family Affect Partners’ Fertility Plans and Preferences?

Anna Matysiak, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU), Vienna Institute of Demography/Austrian Academy of Sciences
Anna Rybińska, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Demographers have recently hypothesized that an increase in men’s family involvement (childcare and housework) should ease work-family tensions experienced by women and lead to higher fertility. This hypothesis triggered a series of empirical studies on the effects of partners’ division of labour on fertility, resulting in conflicting findings. One of the possible reasons for this inconsistency can be that an increase in men’s family involvement may have different effects on men’s and women’s fertility intentions. While an increase in men’s family involvement may weaken women’s opportunity costs of parenting and encourage them to have more children, it may increase men’s opportunity costs and lower men’s childbearing intentions. We thus study how the increase in partners’ time spent on childcare and housework affects men’s and women’s childbearing desires, expectations and intentions. To this end, we use panel data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey and estimate dyadic models for longitudinal data separately for couples with no, one, and two children. We employ within- and between-person decomposition in order to separate the effects of the change in the intrapersonal time spent on childcare and housework on the dependent variables from the interpersonal differences in family orientation and preferences. Our preliminary findings show that increases in the time spent on childcare lead to declines in men’s and women’s desires to have the next child, although the findings differ in their magnitude across parities. Furthermore, women’s involvement in household chores increases men’s willingness to have a third child. Contrary to expectations, we do not find any evidence that men’s involvement in the family has a potential to increase women’s fertility plans and preferences.

Motivation

Men continue to do much less childcare and housework (Fisher and Robinson 2011, Gauthier and DeGusti 2012), even though women are nearly as present as men in the labor force (Charles 2011). Consequently, women experience strong work-family tensions which are argued to contribute to marked declines in fertility in many western countries (McDonald 2000). In this context demographers have hypothesized that fertility would increase if men became more involved in the family (Esping-Andersen and Billari 2015, Goldscheider et al. 2015).

Studies of men’s family involvement and fertility to date generated conflicting findings: whereas some of them indeed suggest a positive relationship between the two variables (Duvander et al 2010, Dommermuth et al 2015), others show that this relationship is weak, insignificant, and/or non-linear (Cooke 2009, Miettinen et al 2015, Torr and Short 2004, Craig and Siminski 2011). We hypothesize that one of the possible reasons for this inconsistency is that an increase in men’s involvement in childcare and housework may have different effects on men and women. It may ease work-family tensions experienced by women and encourage them to have more children. Nonetheless, becoming more involved in housework and care will also have consequences for men and they may be positive (e.g., a closer relationship with children) as well as negative (e.g., opportunity costs). These consequences may affect men’s fertility desires and intentions and influence partners’ final decision about subsequent childbearing.

The relationship between men’s family involvement and women’s fertility intentions has been already investigated (Mills 2008, Pinnelli and Fiori 2008, Bernardi et al. 2013), but few studies were conducted on the effects of men’s family involvement on men’s fertility plans and preferences (for exceptions see Tazi-Preve et al 2004). Even less is known about how the family involvement of both partners affects their fertility plans and desires. Our study remedies this gap by investigating how both partners’ family involvement affects men’s and women’s fertility desires and intentions.

Data and Method

We use panel data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey conducted annually since 2001 and focus on three dependent variables: partners’ childbearing desires, expectations and intended family size. Fertility desires and expectations are measured on the 10-point Likert scale while involvement in the family is measured as the time spent on childcare and housework. We adopt a couple approach (Keizer and Schenk 2012, Nitsche and Grunow 2016). It enables us to control for the couple context, i.e. for the fact that partners are in many dimensions more similar to each other than to other individuals and that these similarities are often not directly observed in data (Kenny et al. 2006). It also allows us to study how behaviours of one partner influence fertility desires, expectations, and intentions of the other partner (i.e. cross-over effects). We implement three-level models with couples who consist of two individuals observed annually over several survey waves. Furthermore, we employ within- and between-person decomposition in order to separate the effects of the change in the intrapersonal time spent on childcare and housework on the dependent variables from the interpersonal differences in family orientation and preferences.

Findings

Our preliminary findings show that increases in the time men spend on childcare indeed lower men’s childbearing desires and expectations although findings differ in their magnitude across parities. For fathers of one child, an increase in time spent on childcare has a negative impact on childbearing desires and for fathers of two children increases in time spent on childcare depress both childbearing desires and expectations. There were no effects of men’s time spent on housework on men’s childbearing preferences. We also find that women’s involvement in the family has some impact on men’s childbearing plans and preferences, but the direction of the influence is less clear. While woman’s involvement in childcare lowers men’s desires to have a second child, for fathers of two children, woman’s involvement in household chores increases their willingness to have a third child.

We also find some effects on women. Similarly to men, women tend to reduce their childbearing desires if the time they spend on childcare increases. However, contrary to expectations, we do not find support for the hypothesis that men’s involvement in the family has a potential to increase women’s fertility plans and preferences.

To summarize, our findings indicate that increases in time spent on childcare reduce both men’s and women’s willingness to further enlarge their families. The cross-over effects are less clear-cut, but larger workload experienced by one of the partners does not seem to encourage the other partner to have more children.

Presented in Session 1160: Fertility