Academic journal article Demographic Research

Educational Differences in Timing and Quantum of Childbearing in Britain: A Study of Cohorts Born 1940-1969

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Educational Differences in Timing and Quantum of Childbearing in Britain: A Study of Cohorts Born 1940-1969

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

1. Introduction

Educational attainment is a strong predictor of fertility and, particularly given the expansion of higher education among post-war cohorts, the mechanisms underlying this educational differential are of significant interest in contemporary demography (Rindfuss, Bumpass, and John 1980; Axinn and Barber 2001; Hoem, Neyer, and Andersson 2006; Testa 2012; Wood, Neels, and Kil 2014). Increased education has an impact on childbearing through enrolment and human capital effects. Current enrolment in education is consistently associated with a decreased likelihood of childbearing (Blossfeld and Huinink 1991) and research has highlighted the importance of the increasing age at leaving education on the postponement of first births (Neels and De Wachter 2010; Ni Bhrolchaín and Beaujouan 2012). Increased educational attainment is generally assumed to exert a downward pressure on achieved fertility; for example, as a result of increased female emancipation and desire for personal fulfilment (Van de Kaa 1987, Kravdal 1992; Lesthaeghe 1998), and an increase in the economic opportunity costs of leaving the labour market to care for children (Becker and Lewis 1973; Becker 1981).

If recent cohorts of women are postponing their fertility with the intention of having children later in their life courses, then rates of entry into motherhood and progression to subsequent birth orders at older ages should be higher among more recent cohorts; i.e., postponement will be followed by fertility recuperation (Frejka and Calot 2001; Frejka 2012). However, there are a number of biological and social reasons why those who start their childbearing at late ages may end up with fewer children, not least constraints arising from the end of the reproductive age range (Billari and Borgoni 2005; Billari et al. 2007; Schmidt et al. 2012). Since it tends to be the most educated women who are more likely to postpone entry into motherhood, educational differences in completed family size will result at least partly from this timing-quantum interaction (Kohler, Billari, and Ortega 2002; Billari and Borgoni 2005).

Despite only modest educational differences in mean intended family size, educational differences in achieved fertility in many developed countries are large, with completed family sizes for highly educated women far below intended levels (Quesnel-Vallee and Morgan 2003; Berrington and Pattaro 2011, 2014; Testa 2012). Whilst it is not possible to demonstrate causality, research from a number of European countries consistently shows that women who postpone entry into motherhood but who continue to desire children are less able to fulfil their intentions compared to young women (Ni Bhrolchaín, Beaujouan, and Berrington 2010; Harknett and Hartnett 2014). Harknett and Hartnett (2014) suggest that unrealized intentions of older women who have postponed fertility will reduce the quantum of childbearing, and not just change the tempo. Hence some of the gap between intentions and achieved fertility among highly educated women could result from a lack of recuperation of fertility among those who start childbearing later in their reproductive careers.

Educational gradients in completed family size can result from differences in the proportion that remain childless, and/or educational differences in the number of children born to those who become mothers. Educational differences in completed family size among mothers can vary by education independently of the level of childlessness, depending, for instance, on the age at which mothers started a family. Completed family size among degree-educated mothers will reflect the extent to which they recuperate their births at later ages. Few studies have examined, at the individual level, the relationship between childlessness, age at entry into motherhood, and completed family size, and how this differs by education, as noted by Sigle-Rushton (2008). …

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