Academic journal article Demographic Research

A New Family Equilibrium? Changing Dynamics between the Gender Division of Labor and Fertility in Great Britain, 1991-2017

Academic journal article Demographic Research

A New Family Equilibrium? Changing Dynamics between the Gender Division of Labor and Fertility in Great Britain, 1991-2017

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

The reversed relationship between female labor force participation rates and fertility levels has ignited a heated debate about the changing equilibrium between gender inequality and family formation. Between the 1960s and the mid-1990s, fertility levels have fallen in almost all industrialized countries and reached low or extremely low levels.3 Improvements in gender equality, represented by women's increased educational attainment, rising economic autonomy, and strive for self-fulfillment outside the family, were believed to be a critical inhibitor to family formation according to the New Home Economics model and the Second Demographic Transition framework (Becker 1976, 1981; Lesthaeghe and Meekers 1987; Van De Kaa 1987). However, since the beginning of the 21st century, the total fertility rates have stopped declining and even started to increase in many OECD countries, including the United Kingdom (Figure 1), despite the continual growth in female labor force participation rates (OECD 2017; Rindfuss, Choe, and Brauner-Otto 2016). Since then, many studies have found a positive relationship between female labor force participation rates and fertility levels, especially among the Northern European and English-speaking countries and France (Luci-Greulich and Thévenon 2014; Siegel 2017). Meanwhile, the gender gap in domestic work time continues shrinking, reflecting a slow convergence of women and men's roles even in the private sphere (Altintas and Sullivan 2016; Kan, Sullivan, and Gershuny 2011).

Inspired by those changes, scholars have proposed a new relationship between gender equality and family formation. They argue that the positive association between a traditional gender role setting and fertility is likely to diminish as the gender revolution progresses. Based on the Gender Revolution framework, when women and men's roles continue to converge, eventually there will be a new family equilibrium where an egalitarian family model can even promote fertility (Esping-Andersen 2016; Esping-Andersen and Billari 2015; Goldscheider, Bernhardt, and Lappegård 2015).

Nevertheless, evidence that supports this prediction has been limited or mixed. First, many findings remain confined at macro-level cross-country analyses, and discussions have largely turned to cross-cultural variations (e.g., Arpino, EspingAndersen, and Pessin 2015; Brinton and Lee 2016; de Laat and Sevilla-Sanz 2011; Esping-Andersen et al. 2013). In addition, cross-country and cross-sectional analyses are subject to the risk of spurious findings, and analyses of changes within countries over time are necessary (Kolk 2019). Second, micro-level empirical studies usually use the division of housework per se to represent the level of gender equality within couples and to predict fertility (e.g., Cooke 2009; Schober 2013a). Findings are mixed and inconclusive, leading to a question of whether fertility decisions are dependent on the gendered division of labor.

We ask whether the micro-level relationship between gender equality and fertility has changed in the past few decades. In other words, we would like to know how the macro-level societal context, which has changed over time, could moderate the microlevel relationship between gender equality and fertility. Gender inequality has many dimensions. One of the most important ways that gender roles are enacted is through the division of household labor among heterosexual couples. In particular, the division of labor exhibits the couples' actual gender practices in the public and private spheres. In this paper, we use the couple-level gendered division of labor to represent the gender (in)equality level at a micro-level.

We adopt a comprehensive couple-level analysis and consider how fertility behavior is associated with the division of market labor, the division of domestic labor, and the combinations of the two spheres between spouses. This holistic couple-level approach differs from earlier studies. …

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