Academic journal article Demographic Research

Jobs, Careers, and Becoming a Parent under State Socialist and Market Conditions: Evidence from Estonia 1971-2006

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Jobs, Careers, and Becoming a Parent under State Socialist and Market Conditions: Evidence from Estonia 1971-2006

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The postponement of parenthood is the most prominent feature of contemporary fertility dynamics in Europe. Mills et al. (2011) demonstrate that women's age at first birth has steadily increased by about one year per decade across almost all OECD countries since 1970. This widespread phenomenon has sparked a growing interest in why young adults postpone parenthood. Educational expansion is a leading explanation (Ni Bhrolcháin and Beaujouan 2012; Blossfeld and Huinink 1991; Blossfeld 1995) as this entails more years spent in higher education and waiting to begin a family. Besides the mechanical effect of prolonged education, educational expansion is also linked to postponement through factors related to women's higher earning power. We know that one of the pre-conditions for childbearing is getting a job (Hobcraft and Kiernan 1995), but studies on developed market economies have not produced consistent predictions of how work experience or the value of men's and women's time in the labour market influences women's entry into parenthood (Nicoletti and Tanturri 2008), and we know little about how these dynamics may have contributed to postponement over time.

Nowhere has the value of men's and women's time in the labour market increased as rapidly in recent years as in the formerly socialist contexts of Eastern Europe; the transition toward market economies was accompanied by earnings dispersion as well as a dramatic increase in the importance of earnings to living conditions due to the privatization of services and liberalization of prices (Blanchard 1997). In most formerly socialist countries the age at first birth did not increase through the 1970s and 1980s as in other parts of Europe; rather the phenomenon distinctly emerged after the turn of the 1990s. The critical juncture, related to the increased value of earnings and work experience and the concurrent demographic change, render Eastern Europe an interesting region for exploring how employment and careers may be related to fertility postponement. This study is the first to make use of the rapid changes that occurred in the post-socialist region to study whether there has been a change in the relationship between work experience and the timing of first births. This contribution to the literature is important for two reasons: 1) we explicitly compare differences in the relationship between work experience and the timing of parenthood across two contexts, rather than discuss the role of context only in the interpretation of our findings, and 2) existing studies focus exclusively on Western Europe and North America; by adding an Eastern European context, this study contributes to a more comprehensive account of the role of work experience in first-birth timing in Europe.

Estonia is a particularly attractive setting for studying how the relationship between employment and the timing of parenthood has changed across two dramatically different contexts, because it offers the opportunity to observe the role of both economic and cultural factors. The early years of economic transformation were tumultuous because Estonia adopted a radical path of reforms and the delineation between the 'old' and 'new' societal regime was sharper than in most Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries (Åslund 2007). Estonia eventually became one of the most successful reformers in Eastern Europe. Second, Estonia has a large Russian- speaking minority and evidence has emerged that distinct demographic patterns characterize native and non-native-origin populations (Katus, Puur, and Sakkeus 2000; ESA 2009). This heterogeneity in the population potentially enables us to examine the role of cultural characteristics in how employment influences the timing of parenthood. Beyond the contribution of a case study, we expect our findings to illuminate the plausible contribution of the increasing importance of work experience to the start of 'postponement transition' in Eastern Europe during the societal transformation of the 1990s. …

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