Economic risk, fertility and the welfare state: understanding individual rationales

Anne Lise Ellingsaeter, University of Oslo
Eirin Pedersen, University of Oslo

At the centre of the academic debate concerning fertility decline in western welfare states is the question if family policies may sustain or increase fertility levels. Statistical evidence on the association between family policies and fertility is mixed. Qualitative and interpretative approaches studying whether and how policy arrangements may enter the transition to parenthood can be a valuable complement to statistical correlation analyses. The present study investigates Norwegian young adults’ considerations about economic conditions, family provider models and labour market risks related to the choice of becoming a parent, and the role they assign to childcare policies. Norway is an interesting case, a social democratic welfare state that has generated close to replacement level fertility: In 2010 the total fertility rate was 1.95, and the completed fertility at the age of 40 among women born in 1969 was 2.0 The analysis is based on 90 semi-structured interviews in 2010 among urban women and men in working class and upper middle class occupations. The analysis finds that the transition to parenthood is characterised by a rather high degree of perceived economic security. Economic security is founded on two pillars: childcare policies supporting the dual earner family; compensating income lost during child rearing and providing childcare when both parents are working, and a strong and well-regulated labor market, providing jobs. The choice of having a child is made with seemingly little detailed knowledge of policy arrangements and without thinking about the risk of unemployment. This reveals a great deal of trust in the welfare state’s ability to mitigate the economic risk that parenthood entails. The transition to parenthood is affected by class and gender, however: Different employment contracts and consumption standards deemed necessary for having children influence choice.

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Presented in Session 35: Economic uncertainty and fertility