Gender Equality, the Labour Market and Fertility: A European comparison

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Fertility has fallen to extremely low levels in Europe, prompting some to argue that we are on the brink of a ‘demographic crisis’ that will have serious societal consequences. There is also a parallel need to strengthen the labour force and increase productivity, materialized in the Lisbon Strategy to increase women’s employment to 60 percent across Europe by 2010. These dual concerns prompted the European Commission to embark upon a major public debate, resulting in the adoption of recent fertility and labour market policy measures. These mandates raise a dilemma: how to combine an increase in female employment with an increase in fertility? Beyond posing a predicament, these policies also shape the current debate and channel thinking into one direction. Research continues to target issues surrounding: only women’s fertility, paid employment, and the reconciliation of work and family. Although these are core questions, the result is that key aspects have been overlooked. The focus on women means that we know relatively little about men’s fertility. The attention to female employment distracts us from more nuanced aspects of employment such working conditions or subjective experiences. We also know less about non-employment related reasons for low fertility, such as lack of a partner or partnership histories, gender equity, family policy or domestic unpaid labour. This paper proposes six new demands for data in the area of labour market and fertility research. Namely, the need for data and research related to: 1) gender equity and family policy, 2) unpaid domestic labour, 3) subjective experiences of paid and unpaid labour, 4) men’s fertility; 5) partnership histories and fertility; and, 6) stepfamily and multi-partnered fertility. After a brief background, the paper explores the first three interrelated aspects of gender equity, unpaid domestic labour and subjective experiences of (un)paid labour. Using the European Social Survey (2004/5) and examining the impact of these factors on fertility intentions, the paper then tests the empirical validity of these arguments. The analysis offers three central findings. First – gender equity matters. Women in countries with higher gender equity exhibit higher fertility intentions, with an added suggestion to link gender equity indices to family policies. Second, domestic labour impacts fertility intentions, reminding researchers to look beyond paid employment and acknowledge the impact of the ‘second shift’ on fertility. Women who engage in considerably more household labour and find housework stressful have lower fertility intentions. Previous research has also largely focussed on the link between the labour market participation and working hours of women. A third finding, however, shows that the missing link appears to be women’s control over the organization of work and influence on organizational policy. Compared to those who felt that they have no influence, those with some influence or complete control report significantly higher fertility intentions. These preliminary findings challenge us to go beyond standard measures of paid employment to examine the underlying mechanisms that may generate problems between work and family. The paper concludes with suggestions for three new frontiers of data collection and research. The focus on women’s employment and fertility means that we know relatively little about men, who play a key role in fertility decisions and long-term well-being of children. The retreat from marriage and partnerships as the locus of childbearing, complex partnership histories, and higher dissolutions are further under researched areas in the study of fertility. Finally, we need to know more about stepfamily, multi-partnered and pre-union fertility. A growing recognition of alternative family forms and types of employment experiences invite a future of new frontiers for research in the area of labour market and family research.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Event35th CEIES Seminar - Warsaw, Poland
Duration: 24-Jan-200825-Jan-2008


Conference35th CEIES Seminar




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