Academic journal article Demographic Research

Educational Differences in Early Childbearing: A Cross-National Comparative Study

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Educational Differences in Early Childbearing: A Cross-National Comparative Study

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Recent research on fertility trends in industrialized countries has focused primarily on delayed onset of childbearing (e.g., Frejka and Sobotka 2008; Morgan and Taylor 2006) and fertility recuperation at older ages (e.g., Lesthaeghe and Willems 1999). Studies of early childbearing are less common, despite the fact that large numbers of women continue to enter parenthood at relatively young ages. A better understanding of the patterns of early childbearing across a range of national contexts is important in light of evidence that, at least in the U.S. and the U.K., early first births are associated - and perhaps increasingly so - with socioeconomic disadvantage (Amato et al. 2008; Hobcraft and Kiernan 2001; Geronimus and Korenman 1992) and less favorable outcomes for both parents (Brien and Willis 1997; Taniguchi 1999) and children (Hoffman and Scher 2008).

There are reasons to believe that the growing divergence in age at childbearing by educational attainment observed in the U.S. and U.K. (Martin 2004; Robson and Pevalin 2007) may be part of a more general bifurcation in family patterns by socioeconomic status. For example, Sara McLanahan (McLanahan 2004; McLanahan and Percheski 2008) has argued that growing differences in maternal age (and other family characteristics and behaviors) between less-educated and more-educated women are part of a broader pattern of demographic change characterizing industrialized countries. Other studies offer reasons to expect that the extent of educational differences in early childbearing (and change therein) should differ systematically across countries. For example, theories of "reproductive polarization" (Schulze and Tyrell 2002) posit that the extent to which public policy regimes effectively support women's balancing of work and family may be associated with growing socioeconomic differentials in the timing of births over time. Consistent with this hypothesis, Rendall and colleagues (Rendall et al. 2009, 2010) find that the positive association between educational attainment and age at first birth has diminished over time in several European countries with stronger work-family policies, but has remained unchanged in less generous welfare states: in other words, when women can more easily balance employment with childrearing, they do not wait as long to begin having children as in countries where there is less support. An alternative possibility is that the link between low educational attainment and early births may be more pronounced in countries where early childbearing has become a relatively rare, and thus non-normative, pathway to family formation. In such contexts it may be particularly difficult to combine childrearing with continued education. These three scenarios are not mutually exclusive - McLanahan's theory of "diverging destinies" (2004) recognizes that there may be cross-national differences in the pace and magnitude of change in educational differences, which might reflect differences in policy, demography, or social context.

The relatively narrow geographical focus on Western Europe and the U.S. in prior research is an important limitation. The absence of comparable evidence from lowfertility countries in other parts of the world makes it difficult to evaluate the extent to which increasing socioeconomic differences in early childbearing observed in the U.S. and Western Europe are indeed a general feature of recent family change in a broader context. Our goal in this paper is to extend existing cross-national research by providing new descriptive evidence about educational differences in early childbearing across three cohorts in 20 countries, as follows: first, we examine a wide range of low-fertility societies, including understudied countries in Eastern Europe and East Asia. Second, we examine change over time in the relationship between educational attainment and early childbearing. By examining data from three birth cohorts of women (over the years 1955-1981), we can more directly assess the generality of the growing differences observed in the countries considered in previous studies. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.