Academic journal article Demographic Research

Cohort Fertility Patterns in the Nordic Countries

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Cohort Fertility Patterns in the Nordic Countries

Article excerpt

Abstract

Previous analyses of period fertility suggest that the trends of the Nordic countries are sufficiently similar that we may speak of a common "Nordic fertility regime". We investigate whether this assumption can be corroborated by comparing cohort fertility patterns in the Nordic countries. We study cumulated and completed fertility of Nordic birth cohorts based on the childbearing histories of women born in 1935 and later derived from the population registers of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. We further explore childbearing behaviour by women's educational attainment. The results show remarkable similarities in postponement and recuperation between the countries. Median childbearing age is about two to three years higher in the 1960-64 cohort than in the 1950-54 cohort, but the younger cohort recuperates the fertility level of the older cohort at ages 30 and above. A similar pattern of recuperation can be observed for highly educated women compared to women with less education, resulting in small differences in completed fertility across educational groups. Another interesting finding is that of a positive relationship between educational level and the final number of children when women who become mothers at similar ages are compared. Despite some differences in the levels of childlessness, country differences in fertility outcome are generally small. The cohort analyses thus support the notion of a common Nordic fertility regime.

1. Introduction

Very low fertility in many parts of Europe and other industrialised societies has increasingly put issues of reproduction and population development high on the agenda of politicians, researchers, and the media. The Nordic countries are often in focus in this discussion, as their fertility levels have remained close to the reproduction level, at the same time as levels of female participation in the labour market, politics, and public life in these societies are high. Since the Nordic countries also have a long history of relatively generous social policies, the possible pro-natalistic effects of the 'Nordic model of family welfare' have received considerable attention (UN 2000; Demeny 2003).

The family policies of the Nordic countries have many common characteristics. Following Esping-Andersen's seminal work (Esping-Andersen 1990), comparative analyses of welfare states usually place the Nordic countries under the common denominator 'The Nordic Social Democratic welfare regime'. The welfare policies in these countries are based on the principles of social and gender equality, universal provision of care services, and individual rights to social security and welfare benefits. Since the late 1960s, social policies have been geared toward supporting the labour force participation of women and men, furthering the redistribution of childcare obligations between parents, and securing individual independence and a high standard of living throughout the life course. The educational systems have been organized so as to promote post-secondary schooling and facilitate flexible participation in education across the life course. Active labour market and gender equality policies have been implemented to support women's careers and participation in public life. Family policies have been expanded to (a) provide childcare services for children of all age groups, (b) offer the option of taking parental leave with benefits that replace all or most of a parent's previous earnings, and (c) oblige or encourage fathers to take parental leave. However, as several authors have pointed out, there are considerable differences between these countries with regard to the historical development of their family policy programmes, and in the extent to which present family policies also integrate gender equality as an explicit political goal (Leira 1992, 1993; Borchorst 1994; Bergqvist 1999; Skrede 1999; Kjeldstad 2001; Sainsbury 2001). While acknowledging these differences, we should not overlook the many similarities in the general political, economic, and social developments in the Nordic countries during the post-Second World War period, which may be seen in areas such as educational expansion and female labour force participation, as well as in the general goals of welfare policies. …

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