Academic journal article Demographic Research

How Do Educational and Occupational Resources Relate to the Timing of Family Formation? A Couple Analysis of the Netherlands

Academic journal article Demographic Research

How Do Educational and Occupational Resources Relate to the Timing of Family Formation? A Couple Analysis of the Netherlands

Article excerpt



Fertility research often uses data from women only. This can bias the results if the effects of education and occupation on fertility are dependent upon the characteristics of the male partner. Using retrospective life-course information from both partners, this study examines the effects of educational and occupational characteristics on the transition to a first childbirth.


The objective is to examine how the respective earning potential and career dynamics of the male and the female partners in couples influenced the timing of their entry into parenthood from 1960 to 2009 in the Netherlands, as well as the extent to which the characteristics of the two partners were interdependent in terms of their influence on the transition to a first birth.


Using couple-period data from four pooled cross-sectional waves (1998-2009) of the Family Survey of the Dutch Population, discrete time event history models accounting for unobserved heterogeneity at the couple level are estimated to predict the birth of the first child, starting from the moment couples started living together.


The results show that a high earning potential of the female partner (based on her educational attainment, the status of her first job, and whether she is in full-time work or has supervisory responsibilities) has delaying effects on her transition to a first childbirth. With regard to the male partner, the only significant predictors of the entry into parenthood are educational attainment and working hours, and there is no evidence of an interdependence of the partners. The comparison of effects over time indicates that the female partner's higher earning potential has become a stronger predictor of delayed parenthood over time, while a positive effect for the male partner's higher earning potential is seen only up to 1990.


The results suggest that the educational and occupational characteristics and the labor market participation of the female partner are stronger determinants of first-birth timing than the characteristics of the male partner.

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1. Introduction

The decision to have a first child is generally made jointly by the two partners in a couple. While this may seem obvious, many studies on the interrelationship between paid work, education, and childbearing focus on women only. Previous research has confirmed that both partners in a couple influence decisions about having children (Beckman 1984; Coombs and Chang 1981; Corijn, Liefbroer, and de Jong Gierveld 1996; Jalovaara and Miettinen 2013; Jansen and Liefbroer 2006; Thomson 1997; Vignoli, Drefahl, and De Santis 2012), but the lack of suitable couple data often causes fertility researchers to focus only on women. This can be problematic because the exclusion of partner information has been shown to lead to an overestimation of the negative effects of women's employment on fertility (Matysiak and Vignoli 2008). A more substantive reason behind the female focus of fertility research is the theoretical notion that women are the driving force behind fertility decisions and the postponement of parenthood. This notion is based on the assumption that having a child involves greater investments of time and energy for women than for men, because even though women's educational attainment and labor force participation levels have increased significantly in recent decades, they continue to perform the majority of childcare and household tasks (Kühhirt 2011; Morgan and Taylor 2006). The birth of the first child is, indeed, associated with indirect and direct costs for women's careers in virtually all industrialized countries (Amuedo-Dorantes and Kimmel 2005; Budig and England 2001; Ellwood, Wilde, and Batchelder 2004; Gangl and Ziefle 2009). How much these anticipated costs affect the decision to have a child is in the current study assumed to also be dependent on the occupational and educational resources of the partner, as well as on the institutional and historical contexts. …

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