Academic journal article Fathering

The Influence of Partner Involvement in Fatherhood and Domestic Tasks on Mothers' Fertility Expectations in Italy

Academic journal article Fathering

The Influence of Partner Involvement in Fatherhood and Domestic Tasks on Mothers' Fertility Expectations in Italy

Article excerpt

Does greater partner involvement in household tasks and childcare increase the mother's desire to have a second or a third child? An answer to this question was sought in Italy, a country characterised by very low fertility. Further comparisons were made between working and non-working mothers. Data from the ISTAT Survey on Births completed in 2000-2001 were used to study the impact of fathers' involvement and mothers' employment on expected fertility of women who had a child between 18 to 21 months prior to their interviews (N = 9,852). Working women had the same fertility intentions as non-working women, but these expectations were conditioned by several factors. Fathers' participation in childcare and domestic activities significantly increased the intention to have a second child for working women, while fathers' participation had no influence on the intentions to have a third child or on fertility intentions of non-working women.

Keywords: fertility expectations, fathers' collaboration, gender roles, women's work, Italy, lowest low fertility


Italy has been for many years a country with one of the lowest total fertility levels in the world, which was 1.32 children per woman in 2005 (ISTAT, 2007). From a demographic point of view, the lowest-low Italian fertility level is the result of the low proportion of women and men marrying or cohabiting, the postponement of marriage or the start of cohabitation, and lastly the proportion of women that interrupt their reproductive careers after the first or, at the most, the second child (Kohler, Billari, & Ortega, 2002; Livi Bacci, 2001).

This study focused on those women who had a first or a second child and on the factors encouraging or discouraging their intention of having other children in the future. In particular, we were interested in assessing the influence of fathers' participation in childcare and household activities, according to the woman's working status and controlling for her demographic and socio-economic characteristics and the formal and informal support she received after the birth of the last child.

Fertility Intentions and Fertility: Between Choices and Constraints

The study dealt exclusively with mothers' intentions of having another child. According to Hakim (2003, p. 369), "when women control their own fertility, it is their preference and values that shape responses to public policies." However, we believe that fathers' wishes and the couple decision-making process leading to the joint fertility outcome influence mothers' preferences. A thorough review of studies dealing with this issue is provided by Thomson, McDonald, and Bumpass (1990). In other words, the intentions women expressed at the time of their interviews were influenced by previous daily interactions, shared experiences, and negotiations between partners, which are inclusive of men's wishes (Miller & Pasta, 1995; Morgan, 1985; Thomson, 1990). The choice of relying on fertility intentions to contribute to an understanding of Italian lowest-low actual fertility may be arguable from a statistical perspective as it has been widely demonstrated that the distributions of intentions versus births often differ. The desired number of children concentrates around the modal value of two children while actual fertility is much more variable. In fact, actual performances depend on fecundity, social and economic conditions, quality of family life and couple's relationship, family life stage, and competition with other's individual goals, among other factors (Bongaarts, 2001; Girard & Roussel, 1982; Morgan, 2001; Westoff, Mishler, & Kelly, 1957).

Particularly in highly contraceptive societies, a widespread presumption is that attitudes towards family size may determine fertility outcomes or at least provide some assistance in understanding the wanted or planned component of actual fertility and its determinants (Hakim, 1995, 1998, 2003; Hendershot & Placek, 1981; Miller, 1994; Schoen, Aston, Kim, & Nathanson, 1999; Van Hoorn & Keilman, 1997). …

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