I would if I could: precarious employment and childbearing intentions in Italy


This paper carries out an investigation into the socio-economic determinants of childbearing decisions made by couples in Italy. The analysis accounts for the characteristics of both possible parents. Our results do not support established theoretical predictions according to which the increase in the opportunity cost of motherhood connected to higher female labour participation is responsible for the fall in fertility. On the contrary, the instability of women’s work status (i.e. having occasional, precarious, and low-paid positions) is revealed as a significant dissuasive factor in the decision to have children. Couples in which there is an unemployed woman are less likely to plan childbearing as well. Other relevant explanatory variables are women’s age, men’s work status and education, women’s citizenship, marital status and perceived economic well-being.

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  1. 1.

    The ILO defines “casual” workers as having an explicit or implicit contract of employment which is not expected to continue for more than a short period.

  2. 2.

    Most parasubordinati are similar to fixed-term employees except that they are paid less and receive lower social security contributions, and do not benefit from employment protection legislation (Brandolini et al. 2007). Interinali are individuals who work through a temporary employment agency.

  3. 3.

    Labour precariousness can thus be seen as a barrier to social integration that may destroy human and social capital: a high level of employment flexibility hinders training and qualification and, at the same time, hampers the consolidation of social ties, both inside and outside the workplace.

  4. 4.

    The questionnaire and microdata are available on the Bank of Italy’s web site.

  5. 5.

    1,742 households answered the question on family planning. The partner is present in 1,696 households; the remaining cases are single men or single women. Since we want to control for the characteristics of both men and women, the sample is restricted to include those households in which both the head and the partner are present.

  6. 6.

    The following responses are included in the category "no": "Not now, we will think about it later" (19%),”No, we don't want any more children" (55%), "No, but we would have liked to have (more) children (10%)”.

  7. 7.

    The perceived economic conditions of the family is given by the interviewees’ response to the question: “Is your household’s income sufficient to see you through to the end of the month?”, ranging on a scale from 1 (“with great difficulty”) to 6 (“very easily”). We grouped answers into low, medium and good economic well-being.

  8. 8.

    Estimates are available by request to the authors.

  9. 9.

    Our calculation is on the basis of data collected from Istat, Ebitemp and Inps.

  10. 10.

    The estimated coefficient of the instrumental variable is 0.69 and the t-statistic is 2.69 in the first-stage reduced form regression.

  11. 11.

    We grouped unemployed and precarious females in order to increase the number of observations. This procedure is supported by the fact that coefficients are not statistically different (test based on the model presented in Table 4).


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We wish to thank Christopher Gilbert, Alessandra Gualtieri and two anonymous referees for their valuable suggestions. Francesca Modena gratefully acknowledges the financial support of Fondazione Caritro. Needless to say, usual disclaimers apply.

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Correspondence to Fabio Sabatini.



See Tables 6, 7.

Table 6 Detailed description of variables
Table 7 Descriptive statistics

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Modena, F., Sabatini, F. I would if I could: precarious employment and childbearing intentions in Italy. Rev Econ Household 10, 77–97 (2012) doi:10.1007/s11150-010-9117-y

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  • Fertility
  • Family planning
  • Parenthood
  • Childbearing
  • Participation
  • Job instability
  • Precarious employment
  • Italy

JEL Classification

  • C25
  • J13