Field of education and the postponement of motherhood in Europe

Jan Van Bavel, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Many studies have confirmed that the level of educational attainment is associated with the postponement of motherhood. A case can be made, however, that the field of education is just as important for entry into parenthood as the level of education. Yet, this qualitative dimension of educational achievement has to a large extent been neglected. The aim of this paper is to see how differences between study disciplines affect entry into motherhood across Europe. In an earlier contribution, this has been done by looking at the associations between study disciplines and entry into motherhood after taking into account correlating attitudes towards gendered family norms and the activity status in the labour market. In this paper, the earlier analysis is enriched in order to get more insight into underlying mechanisms. First, the paper analyses the mediating role of partnership formation. Second, it investigates the role of both earning potential and the steepness of the wage profile associated with particular study disciplines. Economic theory suggests that these are important mediators in the education–fertility connection. Third, the paper also looks at the mediating role of both the timing and quantum of women's activity in the labour market. To this end, it uses data from the second round of the European Social Survey for 23 countries. Preliminary results indicate that all mechanisms suggested by the theory do play a (sometimes countervailing) role but are insufficient to explain away the significant effect of field of education across Europe. Also, there appear to be big differences between European countries in how particular fields are related to the postponement of motherhood. This heterogeneity seems to be related to both cultural and economic country characteristics.

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Presented in Session 61: Education and Fertility

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