Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family Policy and Fertility Intentions in 21 European Countries

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family Policy and Fertility Intentions in 21 European Countries

Article excerpt

The debate over whether policies influence childbearing decision making continues, and, in contexts of very low fertility, questions of how policies may support higher fertility are central to understanding future fertility patterns. Some comparative macro-level analyses support the idea that family policies can influence fertility (Blanchet & Ekert-Jaffe, 1994; Castles, 2003; Ferrarini, 2006; Gauthier & Hatzius, 1997; Rovny, 2011; Winegarden & Bracy, 1995), and research on single policies within one or a few countries also suggests that generous family policies may increase fertility rates (see Gauthier, 2007, for an overview). Few studies, however, have comprehensively evaluated broader sets of family policies and how they relate to fertility decision making at the indi- vidual level, making use of contextual variation across a wide range of countries. Earlier studies have also not sufficiently considered the conse- quences of different family policies. Therefore, a policy perspective that is multidimensional and considers different policy orientations is needed in the discussion (Korpi, 2000; Korpi, Ferrarini, & Englund, 2013; Sainsbury, 1996).

In this study, we evaluated whether and in what ways family policies are related to women's and men's intentions to have a child. In the process of fertility decision making and behavior, intentions follow childbearing desires and precede actual behavior; "intended or expected births reflect the combined effect of fertility demand and situational constraints on achieving desired fertility" (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980; Thomson & Brandreth, 1995, p. 82). Because fertility intentions reflect internal and external influences, they are an important stage in the fertility decision-making and behavior process to observe in relation to macro-level conditions (Philipov, Thévenon, Klobas, Bernardi, & Liefbroer, 2009). To date, how intentions are influenced by family policy has yet to be explored, even though finding a link between policies and intentions is essential for validating the more complex relationship between policies and behavior.

Using multidimensional family policy indices, we quantitatively represented the complexity of a comprehensive set of legislated family policies. The two dimensions of family policy we argue to be the most relevant to fertility intentions-(a) traditional family support, which sustains a gendered division of labor, and (b) support to earner-carer families (in which both members of a couple are earners and carers)-reflect another increasingly important debate within fertility research: the role of gender equality or gender equity (see Mason & Oppenheim, 1998; McDonald, 2000; Mills, 2010; Neyer, 2006; Neyer, Lappegå rd, & Vignoli, 2011). The implications of family policies for fertility cannot be discussed without addressing the role of gender (in)equality, because different policy orientations influence how men and women divide care and paid work.

In contrast to the vast majority of research, we analyzed fertility intentions of both men and women. Including men is important because of their influence in a couple's fertility decision- making process (Thomson, 1997; Thomson & Hoem, 1998). How gender equality influences men's fertility intentions has recently been subject to debate, in which conflicting evidence has emerged suggesting that gender equality can both positively (Mills, 2010; Neyer et al., 2011; Puur, Oláh, Tazi-Preve, & Dorbritz, 2008) and negatively influence men's fertility intentions (Westoff & Higgins, 2009), depending on how gender equality is supported (Goldscheider, Oláh, & Puur, 2010).

In this study, we used comparable data for 21 countries,whichcoverhighandlowfertilitycon- texts in Europe. Over the 2000s, the period total fertility rate in 10 of these countries fluctuated mostly between 1.6 and 2 children per women (Belgium, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries, and the United Kingdom), and the total fertility rate in the other 11 fluctuated between 1. …

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