Individual autonomy and timing of childbearing: a cross-European comparison

Arieke J. Rijken, Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement
Francesco C. Billari, Università Bocconi

A central notion of the Second Demographic Transition theory is that the increasing importance of individual autonomy and self-fulfillment lead to postponement of childbearing. Yet, empirical investigations of this notion are scarce. We investigate this issue in a cross-national perspective; assuming that the association between people´s ‘need for autonomy’ and their ideal as well as actual timing of childbearing depends on the welfare context. The more parents’ freedom is reduced by having children, the stronger this association is expected to be. In countries where the state reduces the negative consequences of having children through support for parents, we expect this association to be weaker or non-existent; in such a context having children interferes less with pursuing goals such as hedonism and self-direction. Therefore, the effects of values concerning individual autonomy on the timing of childbearing are probably weaker and there is less need to adjust one’s values after childbearing. Multilevel analyses are conducted using Wave 3 of the European Social Survey (2006), with consists of 47,000 respondents nested in 25 countries. ‘Need for autonomy’ is measured with items from Schwartz’ human value scale referring to self-direction, stimulation and hedonism. At the country level, we operationalize the welfare context as the social expenditures on families and children as percentage of the GDP. Our dependent variables are ideal age for becoming a parent and actual age at first childbirth. Analyses conducted sofar confirm our hypothesis that the higher the social expenditures on families and children, the weaker the association between people´s ‘need for autonomy’ and their ideal age for becoming a parent. Gender differences are also discussed.

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Presented in Session 47: Traces of second demographic transition