Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

A Multilevel Analysis of Child Care and Women's Fertility Decisions in Western Germany

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

A Multilevel Analysis of Child Care and Women's Fertility Decisions in Western Germany

Article excerpt

The availability of public day care is often assumed to be crucial to the compatibility of childrearing and women's employment. This article takes a multilevel perspective in investigating the role of child care in childbearing decisions in western Germany. Using information on the local supply of public day care and data from the German Socio-Economic Panel, we estimated first and second birth risks from the 1980s and 1990s. We found that access to informal care arrangements increases the probability of entering parenthood, but we did not find any statistically significant effect of the public day care provision on fertility. This result points to shortcomings in the institutional setup of the German day care (and welfare) regime and to potentially relevant unobserved dimensions of child care.

Key Words: child-care, fertility, Germany, multilevel analysis.

Starting in the mid-1960s, fertility rates in indusrialized countries began to decline rapidly, reaching a persistent below-replacement level soon after. Women's increasing educational attainment and their growing labor market participation are widely believed to be the main forces behind this development (e.g., Becker, 1993; Hirschman, 1994; Oppenheimer, 1994). Many empirical studies have confirmed a negative relationship between women's education or employment and fertility. Analyzing macrolevel data from the United States, Butz and Ward (1979), for example, showed that women's wages are negatively correlated with fertility rates. Also, at the microlevel, a negative correlation between women's wages or their educational attainment and fertility has been reported repeatedly (e.g., Heckman & Walker, 1990). Brewster and Rindfuss (2000, p. 271) concluded that "women's labor force participation lies at the heart of most explanations of fertility and fertility change" and that the inverse "association between fertility and women's labor force activity reflects the incompatibility between caring for children and participation in economically productive work that typifies industrialized societies."

This association has never been as consistent as has been claimed, however. A growing body of research even suggests a changing, now positive, relationship between women's education or employment and fertility (e.g., Ahn & Mira, 2002; DeWit & Ravanera, 1998; Hoem, 2000; Hoem & Hoem, 1989; Kravdal, 1992). These findings suggest that the male breadwinner model is losing some of its significance and that women's labor market participation has become essential to guarantee the family income. They furthermore point to social contexts that allow women to combine childrearing and employment, in which access to affordable child care is frequently considered one of the most important structural conditions to solve the compatibility problem (e.g., Meyers, Gornick, & Ross, 1999; Rindfuss & Brewster, 1996).

Although the role of child care in fertility decisions is often acknowledged implicitly, it has rarely been investigated directly in empirical models of fertility. A study by Lehrer and Kawasaki (1985) suggests that the availability of care by relatives increases U.S. parents' desire to have another child. Mason and Kuhltau (1992) found evidence for child-care constraints on women's employment and fertility in a sample of Detroit-area mothers. For Norway, Kravdal (1996) reported a stimulating effect of an increased supply of public day care for children aged 0 to 3 on women's probability to advance to a third birth. There is no further increase in birth probabilities at coverage levels above 10%, however, and the day care effect becomes insignificant when aggregate female employment is accounted for in the model. Most recently, Del Boca (2002) detected a positive influence of the availability of public day care on childbearing in Italy.

In this article, we investigate the role of childcare availability for women's fertility decisions in western Germany. …

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