Intrafamily exchange and Europe’s low fertility

Robert G. White, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Laura Bernardi, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research and Université de Lausanne

The demography of lowest-low fertility remains poorly understood. While there is growing consensus that the postponement of childbirth is a major factor in the persistence of lowest-low fertility in Europe, the decoupling of fertility from its historical relationships with marriage and labor supply leaves numerous alternative explanations. These explanations emphasize changing marriage patterns and growing uncertainties in labor markets. We hypothesize that shifts in exchanges among family members of material support and labor play an important role in the postponement of fertility. We analyze a new dataset of over 500 kinships collected from eight countries in Europe and show that intra-family exchanges of wealth and child care are significantly related to the age at first birth as well as cumulative fertility. Employing both family and kinship fixed effects, we further show how family structure, distinguished by co-residency patterns and measures of proximity to near kin, has important independent effects on the postponement of childbirth. These effects highlight the unobserved dimensions characterizing Hajnal’s (1965) East-West divide that play an important role in Europe’s lowest-low fertility.

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Presented in Session 88: Models of Fertility Behaviour and Theoretical Approaches to Fertility