Academic journal article Demographic Research

Fewer Mothers with More Colleges? the Impacts of Expansion in Higher Education on First Marriage and First Childbirth

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Fewer Mothers with More Colleges? the Impacts of Expansion in Higher Education on First Marriage and First Childbirth

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


Since the instances of lowest-low fertility were first observed in Europe in the early 1990s and the term 'lowest-low fertility' was coined (Kohler, Billari, and Ortega 2002), researchers have explored the various factors that have led to these transitions (Billari 2005, 2008; Billari and Kohler 2004; Frejka, Jones, and Sardon 2010; Goldstein, Sobotka, and Jasilioniene 2009; Jones 2007; Kohler, Billari, and Ortega 2002; McDonald 2006). Education, particularly the increasing participation of women in postsecondary education, has been considered a major contributing factor (Billari 2005; Kohler, Billari, and Ortega 2002). For example, Italy and Spain, the leading forerunners of lowest-low fertility in the 1990s, demonstrate the most marked increases in the proportion of college-educated women in Europe (Kohler, Billari, and Ortega 2002). This suggests a plausible causal link between college expansion and fertility decline to the very low level.

Over approximately ten years, a group of East Asian countries, including South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore, joined the lowest-low fertility club, while most European nations that had been at low levels rebound (Goldstein, Sobotka, and Jasilioniene 2009). A common feature shared by these East Asian countries is that their college education expanded sharply at the same time that their fertility fell to the lowest-low level. Given theoretical reasons and empirical evidence about substantive relationships between college education and fertility changes in these demographic transitions (Brewster and Rindfuss 2000; Kohler, Billari, and Ortega 2002; Lesthaeghe 2010; Rindfuss, Morgan, and Offutt 1996), this concurrence raises the question of whether and how large-scale college expansion influences fertility decline in the context of low fertility.

However, there has been insufficient research that adopts a quasi-experimental approach to addressing the causal relationship between college education and fertility change, specifically in the transition to lowest-low fertility levels. Most of the previous studies using a policy variation as an instrument to tease out the causal effect of education on fertility examine reforms in compulsory schooling that improve the attainment of low-level education achievers (Black, Devereux, and Salvanes 2008; Monstad, Propper, and Salvanes 2008; Silles 2011; Skirbekk, Kohler, and Prskawetz 2004). In addition, most existing studies implicitly or explicitly deal with the average effect of college education, assuming that college effects on marriage and childbearing have been the same for all individuals in the population. The absence of consideration of heterogeneity is a general feature in research on fertility and higher education (Brand and Davis 2011). When college education expands because of a policy change, not all individuals respond equally to the change. Recognizing a marginal group of people who respond to the policy of college expansion by deciding to attend college is important because their experiences identify the causal effects of college expansion.

In this vein, South Korea offers a rare empirical context in which a transition from below-replacement fertility to the lowest-low level fertility occurred simultaneously with a dramatic expansion of college education during a relatively short period. As illustrated in Figure 1, college education expanded remarkably. The proportion of high school graduates who enrolled in some form of college rose from 32% in 1992 to 78% in 2003. This shift in the status of college graduates from the minority to the majority in each cohort suggests the presence of a large proportion of new college graduates who were drawn to college because of the college expansion. On the other hand, the trend of total fertility rate (TFR) suggests that, for the cohorts of people who completed high school and became eligible to attend college right before college enrollment took off in the 1990s, TFR at the prime age for entering into marriage and parenthood remained between 1. …

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