The Impact of Early Childcare Trajectories on Subsequent Fertility: The Case of France

Anne Solaz, INED
Lidia Panico, Institut National d''Etudes Démographiques
Quentin Francou, ENSAE

Although increasing fertility rates is no longer the key reason for implementing early childhood education and care policies across most developed countries, it is often expected that providing early childhood services can help to increase fertility rates. The French offer of early childcare is diverse, with several possible formal childcare arrangements available (childminders, at-home services, nurseries), before the almost universal take-up of free public pre-school at about age 3. This diverse offer is an ideal context to test whether childcare trajectories can affect both the decision and the timing of a subsequent birth. Parents who encounter difficulties or have only access to informal or unstable childcare might be more reluctant to have another child, or may do so less quickly.

In this paper we use recent, nationally representative data to question whether childcare trajectories in the pre-school period have an impact on the probability and the timing of a subsequent birth. We explore a number of associated variables to see whether results are driven by the profiles of the families who access different types of childcare arrangements, and apply survival models that distinguish timing from quantum effects. Our results suggest that more unstable and less formalized childcare trajectories decrease the risk of a subsequent birth. When looking at families using a formal arrangement, the next child arrives more quickly when collective arrangements are used (especially for a third or subsequent child). Furthermore, those experiencing several changes to their childcare arrangements also appear to have a longer lag to their next child. However, the effects of formal and stable early childcare trajectories on subsequent fertility appear to be a timing and not a quantum effect. These results highlight the importance for parents to access stable, formal childcare arrangements for the timing of their subsequent fertility decisions.

The impact of early childcare trajectories on fertility: thecase of France

While increasing fertility isno longer given as a key reason for implementing early care policies across mostdeveloped countries, there is a rich literature exploring whether the provisionof childcare is linked to fertility. The literature, at the macro ormicro-level, has so far mainly focused on the formal, state-sponsored offer ofchildcare, and often ignores informal and private childcare. However, lookingat the whole spectrum of childcare possibilities allows to better graspchildcare trajectories (with often more than one type of childcare arrangementused during the early childhood period) and understand whether “difficult”trajectories (i.e. those parents who had to switch providers, perhapsalternating periods of formal and informal childcare) might have a negativeimpact on fertility choices.

Using  recent, nationallyrepresentative data, this paper analyses to what extend childcare trajectoriesin the pre-school period have an impact on the probability and the timing of asubsequent birth. We further explore a number of associated variables to seewhether results are driven by the differing profiles of the families who accessdifferent types of childcare arrangements.

Data and thecreation of trajectories

The 2013 survey Childcarearrangements of young children describes the childcare arrangements of childrenfrom birth to age 6, with a retrospective monthly calendars of the types ofchildcare used by parents from birth until the time of the survey. Eight possible arrangements wereproposed for each month (parents; grandparents; a childminder; collectivearrangements such as nurseries; school; nannies and other at-home arrangements;another type of formal care; or another informal arrangement).

Sample and model

Our analytical sample is composed of 6290households including at least one child under 6 for whom a complete childcarecalendars is available. Weuse survival analysis (Coxand cure model regression) toestablish whether there is a link between trajectories of childcarearrangements and the probability a new child arriving in the household with thestudy period. To quantify childcare trajectories, we look at two indicators:the monthly type of childcare arrangement and an indicator of the number ofchanges in childcare arrangement over the study period, to capture whetherparents had difficulties securing a stable arrangement. We include a number oftime-unvarying variables as controls (see Table 1).


Childcare arrangements beforeentry into pre-school are very diverse, with an increasing frequency ofcollective child care arrangements as children age.  Until the start ofpreschool, the most used form of childcare used by about 30% of households isprovided by nanny or childminders in an individual or small group (up to 3children) format. Informal arrangements represent a small but not negligibleproportion of childcare, decreasing from 8% at 6 months of age to 4% at 3years. Almost all children are in pre-school by the end of their 3 year of age.

Our survival analyses resultsshow that both the time-varying monthly childcare arrangement and theinstability of the trajectory, as measured in the number of changes during thestudy period, predict the net and controlled probability of a subsequent birth,with more unstable trajectories decreasing the risk of a subsequent birth.Parental care was linked to a higher risk of a subsequent birth, which could beexplained by more family-oriented values of these parents or, given their moredisadvantaged socio-economic profiles, the lower opportunity costs of mothersnot returning to the labour market. A large proportion of children are looked after within aformal arrangement: for these families, the next child arrives more quicklywhen collective arrangements are used (especially for a third or subsequentchild), however by the end of the observation period there are no observeddifferences across households with access to a formal childcare arrangement. Onthe other hand, having a child looked after through informal arrangements(mostly care provided by grandparents) does appear to have a significantnegative impact on the arrival of another child (Figure 3). Experiencingseveral changes in the type of childcare also slows down the arrival of a newchild (table 1). Theseresults could mean that difficulties in access to formal childcare might be areason for postponing subsequent fertility. Taken together, these results suggestthat when looking at impact of childcare on fertility, it is important todistinguish between timing and quantum effects.

Figure 1: Odds ratio of subsequentbirth by monthly (time-varying) childcare arrangements


Thiswork highlights the importance of the childcare trajectories to predict futurefertility. In this large sample of French households with at least one childunder the age of 6, our results suggest that more unstable and less formalizedchildcare trajectories decrease the risk of a subsequent birth, although thisappears to be a timing and not a quantum effect.

Table 1: Resultsof Cox Model

Presented in Session 1168: Fertility