IZA DP No. 8613: Gender, Time-Use, and Fertility Recovery in Industrialized Countries
published in: International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd Edition
This paper explores gendered patterns of time use as an explanatory factor behind fertility trends in the developed world. We review the theoretical foundations for this link, and assess the existing evidence suggesting that a more equal division of labor within the home leads to more children, both at the household (micro) and country (macro) levels. After decades of unprecedented fertility decline in the industrialized world, only a handful of countries in the West exhibit replacement fertility rates – around two children per woman. Paradoxically, birth rates are substantially lower in countries in which family units (and women within families) remain primarily responsible for familial care obligations, and where the role of the State in the provision of care services is marginal. Very low fertility poses challenges for economic growth and threatens the sustainability of pay-as-you-go welfare systems. It is thus important to understand why some developed countries managed to sustain near-replacement fertility rates or to recover from very low fertility, while others fell and still remain at lowest-low rates of about 1.3 children per woman. Looking at time-use and fertility trends for a few representative industrialized countries, we hint at the existence of a threshold ratio of gender equity in the distribution of domestic work that low fertility countries need to cross before being able to enter a phase of fertility recovery.