The Fertility Transition in Latin America

By José Miguel Guzmán; Susheela Singh et al. | Go to book overview

18 The Implications of Mexico's Fertility Decline for Women's Participation in the Labour Force

MARTA MIER Y TERÁN


Introduction

Housework, which is an important activity in the lives of most women, is determined in large measure by the composition of the household, in particular, the number and ages of children and adults. In societies where fertility is in sharp decline, the domestic burden diminishes as the number of children is reduced, and women have greater opportunities to undertake other activities, such as participation in the labour force.

During the process of fertility transition, as the number of children drops, there are changes in the timing of the demographic events in women's lives that demarcate the stages related to their roles as mothers. Among these events are the birth of the first child, the birth of the last child, the beginning of the youngest child's attendance at school, the marriage or departure from the parental home of the youngest child, etc.

In one interesting study, the effects of the demographic transition on the family trajectories of US women were analysed for the period 1800 to 1980 ( Watkins et al. 1987). During this period, life expectancy at birth rose from 40 to 78 years, and the TFR declined from eight to two live-born children. One of the principal changes was in the proportion of their adult lives (15 years and over) that married mothers spent with children under the age of 5; this fell from one-third in 1800 to merely one-tenth in 1980.

An analysis of the experience of several industrialized countries since the end of the last century shows a drastic reduction in the number of years that women devote to childbearing ( UN 1988). Age at first birth has changed relatively little, whereas the age at which the last child is born has dropped sharply. In the case of Japan, for example, where the transition was relatively late and rapid, the median age of women at the birth of their first child rose from 23 to 26 years, and age at

____________________
*
Brígida Garcia and Orlandina de Oliveira made available to me unpublished documents from their project 'Fertility, Work, and Female Subordination in Mexico'. Patricia Martínez and Miguel Sánchez provided help in the preparation of the tabulations. Susheela Singh offered valuable comments and suggestions on the first draft of this chapter. My sincere thanks to them all.

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