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Why Young Women Are in No Hurry to Have Children

Societal values have a strong influence on young people’s reproductive habits.

Research authors

Tatiana KarabchukSenior Research Fellow, Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology, HSE
Anna RyabchikovaResearch Assistant, Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology, HSE

The higher the levels of education, employment and income, the fewer children women have. Researchers established this back in the 1960s. Over the past half-century, the levels of education, personal income, and professional opportunities open to women have risen, and together with that many countries have seen the birth rate decline. Attitudes to a number of questions related to the family as an institution and childbirth have also changed. A greater tolerance of alternative family units, not having children, abortions, and divorce is seen today than was the case several decades ago.

In their international research, Tatiana Karabchuk and Anna Ryabchikova set themselves the task of understanding which values have an impact on women’s reproductive behaviour at different ages.

The researchers analysed data from the European Value Survey (EVS) for 2008, which took in 47 countries from Iceland to Azerbaijan, from Portugal to Norway. The sample size exceeded 30,000 women aged from 19 to 68.*

The impact of modernization and emancipation

There is no consensus in academic literature on exactly how values impact the birth-rate among women in different age categories. This research examined the interplay between values and birth rate through the prism of Ronald Inglehart’s modernization theory and Christian Welzel’s emancipation theory. These theories can be interpreted as part of a Second Demographic Transition, characterized by control over the birth rate and a shift in values towards liberalism and individualism.

During the research the authors created a number of values indices that can be used to predict the number of children born: sexual liberalism index, gender inequality in housework index, index of freedom in decision-making regarding starting a family, index of social duty to have a child, and indices of how important family and children are for people. Ages were split up into five categories.

Other, control, data collected included marriage and family status, education, income, employment and level of religious adherence. The results confirmed the research carried out. Marriage remains a key factor in women having multiple children.  Education, income, and employment status have a negative impact on birth rate. However, in countries with more family-friendly policies in place, which allow women to combine their career (or working) with having a family, then the birth rate is higher among women who are employed. Religious adherence correlates positively with the number of children born, although this connection is more apparent in women over 40 years of age.

As for the impact that values have on birth rate, the authors confirmed that, for example, the extent of sexual liberalization has a negative impact on the number of children born, while the importance of family and children has a positive impact, as does the sense of having a social duty to reproduce.

Age matters

The values environment has a different impact on women of different ages regarding their reproductive behavior, researchers note.

The correlation between values and the number of children is more clearly expressed among young people. Sexual liberalization and freedom in decision-making over marriage pushes the birth-rate down more among younger women than among middle aged women (over 39). The importance of family and children significantly increases the likelihood of having more children among young children.

The authors concluded that young European women are more sensitive to the impact of changing values than women who were born several decades ago. Tatyana Karabchuk said that this can be explained by the fact that young people are generally more vulnerable to ideological influences than people who are older.

*In preparing this material, information from an article published in the magazine Socis was used.

Author: Marina Selina, June 03, 2016