Academic journal article Demographic Research

Fertility and the Fast-Track: Continued Childbearing among Professionals in Sweden, 1991-2009

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Fertility and the Fast-Track: Continued Childbearing among Professionals in Sweden, 1991-2009

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

During recent decades women's progress in education and the labor market has been comprehensive throughout most industrialized nations. Not least does this apply to their inroads into the professions. Today, both women and men are attaining high-status degrees and entering fast-track professions such as law, medicine, and academia. In Sweden women earned 17% of all PhDs in 1977, but 47% in 2007. Similarly 24% of all law school graduates and 35% of those graduating from medical school were women in 1977, but the corresponding figures were 63% and 60% in 2007. Generally, high levels of education and career orientation among women are related to delayed and reduced involvement in family life, indicating that professional gains may be offset by familial losses. One reason is that human capital investment, especially that of higher education and starting a career, takes time. Also, childbearing and career breaks are associated with high opportunity costs for the highly educated. But, perhaps more importantly, while women have made substantial advances into the fast-track professions, the career paths of some jobs have changed little and remain inflexible. They are therefore incompatible with having a family, especially for women, who typically take on more care-giving responsibilities than men.

Although the negative relationship between education and fertility is well documented, a previous study (Dribe and Stanfors 2010) on Sweden showed that highly educated couples, where both partners have professional degrees, are more likely to continue childbearing than other couples. There are more opportunities to combine career and family in Sweden than in many other countries, but the question is whether this holds for all, regardless of profession and gender. This article investigates continued childbearing within the group of highly educated professionals. It focuses on the relationship between occupation and continued childbearing among the highly educated and contrasts the continued childbearing patterns of men and women in three high-status professions. The questions addressed are: how does continued childbearing vary among professional groups? Are there differences in higher-order childbearing by profession and gender? The determinants of having a second or a third birth during the period 1991-2009 are analyzed multivariately using longitudinal register data. The present study extends research that mainly studied women and focused on broad educational categories or only one occupational group. Moreover, it investigates the case of Sweden, which has been in the forefront internationally when it comes to various aspects of gender equality, partly through a longstanding strong orientation towards work-family policies targeting men as well as women. If a certain pattern is emerging in the combination of career and family among highly educated professionals Sweden is one of the places where this should be noticed first, indicating what might be coming elsewhere.

2. Theoretical considerations and previous research

2.1 Education and fertility

Much interest has been devoted to the association between education and fertility, especially educational attainment and fertility. Typically, studies have focused on women and assumed a negative relationship between education and fertility. Based on standard human capital theory (Becker 1991), better-educated women will have their first births later in life and ultimately fewer children compared to less educated women. Women with higher education postpone family formation because enrolment in education and earning a degree is demanding and not compatible with childbearing. After finishing their degrees, women with higher education face higher opportunity costs of childbearing than women with lower education because they usually have better jobs, career prospects, and wages (Mincer 1963; Willis 1973; Becker 1991: chapter 5). They are also more often in occupations with steeper earnings profiles and potentially faster depreciation rates than women with less education (Polachek 1981). …

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