Academic journal article Population

Two Children or Three?: Influence of Family Policy and Sociodemographic Factors

Academic journal article Population

Two Children or Three?: Influence of Family Policy and Sociodemographic Factors

Article excerpt

The fertility level in France is among the highest in Europe (behind Ireland), thanks largely to the relatively high frequency of families with at least three children, now referred to as "familles nombreuses" (large families). For example, by producing 2.12 children on average, the women born in 1960 have replaced themselves. The contribution of births of order three or above to this fertility is far from insignificant, standing at around 0.5 children per woman, i.e. 24% of the total. And yet in all developed countries, the two-child family model is by far the most common today, though there are recent signs of a slight downward trend. Under this model, the progression from one child to two is very frequent, while the progression from two to three is much rarer. Even in France, where large families are still quite common, only a minority of families have a third child. For example, 90% of women born in 1960 founded a family by producing at least one child; around 80% of these women went on to have a second child, of whom only 44% had a third child. In turn, only 30% of those with three children continued to enlarge their family. So the birth of the second child represents a clear cut-off point, with only a minority of families deciding to have more children. In total, fewer than one woman in three (32%) has at least three children, whereas 72% have at least two.

This article aims to examine the changes since the 1970s in the proportions of fathers and mothers of two children who have had at least one additional child (or parity progression ratios to the third child) and to analyse the characteristics of these parents who have chosen not to conform to the two-child family norm. By pinpointing the factors which influence the decision to have or, on the contrary, to not have a third child, this research encompasses several issues that are central to the debate among demographers and other specialists interested in the determinants of fertility. These issues concern, in particular, the link between the frequency of third births and the parents' social status and/or level of education (Kravdal, 1992a; Hoem, 1996; Toulemon, 1995; Ekert-Jaffé et al., 2002), their employment status (Wright et al. 1988, Hoem and Hoem 1989, Kravdal 1992b, Corman 2000), repartnering after union dissolution (Vikat et al. 1999), or the sex of the first two children (Pollard, Morgan, 2002). This research also provides an opportunity to examine the efficacy of French family policy, which specifically encourages births of order three and above by offering more generous welfare benefits and special advantages to large families.

After presenting some of the main components of French family policy specific to families of three children or more, we will add our contribution to the debate on the efficacy of this targeted approach by comparing the French situation with that of several other European countries and by observing changes in the frequency of progression from two to three children since the 1970s. We will then analyse the characteristics of men and women with a third child and compare them with those who did not enlarge their family after a second birth in order to highlight the factors associated with the birth of a third child.

The 1999 Study of Family History survey (EHF) was the main data source used for our study. Its large size was a first key advantage, since it enabled us to study sub-populations (Table A in the Appendix). Moreover, the survey contains the main socioeconomic variables generally regarded as determinants of fertility (educational attainment, social status, nationality, etc.)

I. Is French family policy effective in encouraging third births?

1. Measures targeting families with at least three children

French family policy has always sought to promote births of order three and above by offering more generous support to families with at least three children. For example, family allowance entitlements have always begun with the birth of the second child, and the amount received increases for the third and following children: in 1946, the monthly allowance paid out for each child of order three or above was more than 50% higher than that paid out for the child of order twoO. …

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