Academic journal article Demographic Research

Effects of Current Education on Second- and Third-Birth Rates among Norwegian Women and Men Born in 1964: Substantive Interpretations and Methodological Issues

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Effects of Current Education on Second- and Third-Birth Rates among Norwegian Women and Men Born in 1964: Substantive Interpretations and Methodological Issues

Article excerpt


A variety of approaches have been employed to assess the importance of women's education for their second- or third-birth rates. Some researchers have included the educational level measured at a relatively high age in their models, whereas others have included current education. A few have taken selection into account by modelling first-, second-, and higher-order birth rates jointly, with a common unobserved factor. The corresponding education-fertility relationships among men, however, has not attracted any attention. In this study, based on Norwegian register data for the 1964 cohort, a high current educational level for a woman is found to stimulate her second- and third-birth rates. Controlling for selection through joint modelling turns out to be quite unimportant, but the results are very different if the educational level attained by age 39 is included instead of current education. It is important to be aware of such sensitivity to the specification of education. The corresponding effects for men are also positive, but not more strongly positive than those for women. These results may suggest that we should not take for granted that women's education generally reduces fertility, and that it does so because of higher opportunity costs for the better educated. However, it is also possible that a high current educational level is linked with modest aspirations for further schooling, which would tend to stimulate subsequent fertility, that it is partly caused by some individual, family or community characteristics that also lead to high fertility, or that it even to some extent is a result of plans to have a child fairly soon. These alternative interpretations are discussed.

1. Introduction

Much of the research on the education-fertility relationship has focused on the total number of children per woman and the transition to motherhood (United Nations 2004). In addition, some investigations, largely from developed countries, have addressed the educational (and other) differentials in the progression from first to second or from second to third child 2. This interest in the reproduction after the first birth has been stimulated by the access to more detailed survey and register data, as well as the concern about below-replacement fertility, which to a large extent is a result of "too few" second and third births. However, much remains to be known about how education affects parents' inclination to have more children.

The better educated tend to have their first child at a higher age than the less educated (e.g. Rindfuss et al. 1988), which also reduces their chance of having yet another child, because of the shorter exposure time for further childbearing, and because remaining childless up to an older age may stimulate interests that compete with the parental role (e.g. Morgan and Rindfuss 1999). In statistical models for second-birth rates, one typically includes a control for the current age of the first child and the current age of the mother (or her age when the first child was born) to see whether there is an effect of education on second births beyond the effect of later entry into motherhood. Similarly, the age of the second child and the age of the mother (at second birth) are included in third-birth models. Effects of education are often positive in such models (e.g. Hoem and Hoem 1989; Kreyenfeld and Zabel 2005; Köppen 2006), which apparently challenges common ideas about better-educated women having the highest opportunity costs of childbearing and therefore the lowest fertility. Either such opportunity cost differentials do not exist (any more) or the opportunity cost effect is outweighed by various contributions in the opposite direction.

However, the statistical models that have been used to analyse second or higher-order births may produce a wrong impression about the importance of education. One potential problem is that there are educational differentials in the selection of women who, at a given age, have already had their first (second) child and therefore are exposed to the chance of having a second (third) child. …

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