The Labour Market Preconditions to Fertility in Belgium: The Importance of Gender

Leen Marynissen, University of Antwerp

The gender revolution that started around the second half of the twentieth century gave rise to increasing female educational attainment and female labour market participation. Whereas, gender differences are becoming smaller in the public sphere, gender role differences persist in the private domain. This raises questions on whether labour market preconditions to parenthood have changed or remain traditionally gendered. Although available research widely supports that financial resources, time and certainty about future labour market positions are preconditions for the transition to parenthood, the degree to which it matters whether these requirements are fulfilled through men’s or women’s economic position depends strongly on the theory considered.

Micro-economic theories predict that the fulfilment of the aforementioned economic preconditions has a positive effect on first birth hazards, but do not differentiate in terms of partners’ relative labour force positions: couples are assumed to divide paid and unpaid work in the economically most efficient manner, regardless of gender.
The doing gender hypothesis on the other hand argues that couples conform to and reproduce gender norms, suggesting that traditional gender roles may persist, resulting in differential effects of women’s versus men’s labour market positions on first birth hazards.

Empirically, previous studies on couples’ labour market positions and fertility routinely lacked the necessary data required to look into different dimensions of labour market positions rather than mere activity or employment. Using data from a Belgian Administrative Socio-Demographic Panel (1999-2010) which contains detailed quarterly data on labour market and income positions for all household members, this paper examines the effect of women’s labour force position relative to that of their partners on first birth decisions in Belgium between 2000 and 2010.

Presented in Poster Session 3