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The effect of delaying motherhood on the second childbirth in Europe

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We examine the effect of delaying motherhood on the transition to the second childbirth across European countries. There exist two opposite forces of delaying the first birth: biological and socio-cultural factors producing a postponement effect and career-related factors leading to a catch-up effect. Estimating a multistate duration model that addresses the endogeneity of age at first birth, we find a catch-up effect in countries where the career effect is large and a postponement effect in countries where the opportunity cost of childbearing is relatively high due to the lack of family friendly institutions and cultural influences, which may discourage late childbearing.

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  1. Our focus on the first two parities is motivated by the observed decline in the TFR below two children per woman, which makes the transition to the second birth the relevant margin to study. Moreover, despite the declining trend in TFRs, survey data usually show that the modal desired number of children per woman is still two, and that many women fail even this relatively low fertility target (Bongaarts 2001).

  2. Our work is also related to cross-country studies that observe a reversal of the negative correlation between female employment and fertility (Ahn and Mira 2002).

  3. As it is well known, female life-cycle labour force participation and fertility decisions are closely related (see, for instance, Moffitt 1984; Hotz and Miller 1988; Francesconi 2002).

  4. For instance, Heckman et al. (1985) and Heckman and Walker (1990) show the existence of a catch-up effect in Sweden, while Kohler et al. (2002) find a strong postponement effect in Southern European countries.

  5. Culture has recently been shown to be important in shaping women’s fertility and labour force participation decisions (see for instance, Fernandez and Fogli 2006, 2009).

  6. To avoid potential confusion, these social influences could push women to have their first birth earlier. This is something completely different from the postponement effect, which posits that women who have their first birth later are less likely to proceed to the second parity.

  7. Theoretically, there is no reason why the income effect should prevail over the substitution effect. Empirically, evidence that late motherhood is positively associated with mothers’ wages can be found in Amuedo-Dorantes and Kimmel (2005) and Miller (2009), while Davies and Pierre (2005) use ECHP data to show that mothers under 24 are more likely to suffer from a family wage gap than older mothers. Del Bono et al. (2008) show that an unexpected career interruption, which lowers the opportunity cost of giving birth for working mothers, has a sizeable negative effect on women’s fertility. This effect could be explained by a reduction in expected life-time earnings due to the destruction of working mothers’ firm-specific human capital, which leads to a reduction in permanent income.

  8. Estimation of country-specific regressions, which do not impose equality of coefficients across countries, is frequent in the literature using the ECHP, see Nicoletti and Tanturri (2008), Del Boca and Sauer (2009), and Del Boca et al. (2009), among others. However, we also provide evidence based on a pooled cross-country sample in Section 5.6, which allows for interactions between age at first birth and country specific institutional features.

  9. The model we estimate is similar to that of Heckman and Walker (1990). The only difference is that we consider only the first two births, while Heckman and Walker (1990) consider also the third birth for Swedish women born before 1950.

  10. The use of bivariate duration models based on the proportional hazard assumption is common in the analysis of labour market dynamics (see Lancaster 1990 and van den Berg 2001 for an overview), but it has also been used extensively in health economics in the analysis of the use of alcohol and tobacco (van Ours 2004) or drugs (van Ours 2003).

  11. Miller (2009) in her study of age at motherhood on career path uses biological fertility shocks as instruments, in particular an indicator for first pregnancy ending in miscarriage or stillbirth, an indicator for “accidental” first pregnancy occurring while using contraception, and the lag in years from first attempt to conceive to first birth. Unfortunately, these variables are not available in the ECHP.

  12. See the discussion on identification at the end of this section. Although we assume that the random effects are orthogonal with respect to the covariates in the model, the model allows for correlation between the unobserved effect and the main variable of interest (age at first birth).

  13. Although our specification of the transition to both the first and the second birth is based on a proportional hazard model, Brinch (2007) shows that variation in covariates overtime combined with variation across observations is sufficient to ensure identification without the proportional hazard assumption.

  14. Censored spells are contributed both by relatively “young” women, that is those who still have to complete their reproductive careers, and by women who drop from the panel due to panel attrition.

  15. We have also considered three mass points in the empirical analysis, but either they did not improve the estimation results, or they could not be identified.

  16. For the same reason, we do not include partners’ characteristics. Also in line with the previous empirical literature on tempo effects, we do not account for the potential endogeneity of educational variables. This means, for instance, that the coefficient on educational variables could also proxy for an individual’s preference towards childbearing. By including the higher education achieved in both the first and the second birth equations we aim to capture the effect of age at first birth on the timing of the second birth over and above the association between age at first birth and the level of completed education.

  17. It should be noted that both definitions of career orientation do not necessarily imply that women must be continuously attached to the labour force. Indeed, a sufficient condition for observing career effects would be that working women who delayed their first birth have accumulated more resources to afford a further birth, even if they decided to drop the labour force after their first childbirth.

  18. We do not describe in detail the estimates of the transition to the first parity, since they do not represent the main focus of our paper. Delaying of first birth in Europe has been recently investigated by Nicoletti and Tanturri (2008).

  19. We only report in Table 2 the main variables of interest for the transition to the second birth. The full estimates from the jointly estimated model of specification 1 for both transitions are reported in Table 8 in the Appendix. Specification 1 of Table 8 is equivalent to the one of Table 7 based on the piecemeal approach.

  20. For specification 2, the effect is positive but not significant for Belgium, Germany and the UK, while for specification 3 the effect is negative but again not significant for Belgium, Germany and Greece.

  21. The effect of age at first birth for Denmark refers to those women who have been employed. The effect of having been employed cannot be identified due to low variation, as most of women have been employed at least once in their lifetime.

  22. These results are available by the authors upon request.

  23. A description of the variables used and the relative data sources are reported in the footnote of Table 5. For the series that do not cover the whole time period of fertility histories that we consider (1976–2001), we use the first observed value for all years of the unobserved period (that is the period not covered by the time-series). In case of missing values within the “observed” period, we use the mean between the first observed year preceding the missing year and the first observed following year.

  24. See

  25. Lalive and Zweimüller (2009) find that parental leave extensions affect positively fertility.


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We thank three anonymous referees, Deborah Cobb-Clark, John Ermisch and Daniel Hamermesh for their very helpful comments and discussions. Earlier versions of this paper (circulated under the title “Explaining How Delayed Motherhood Affects Fertility Dynamics in Europe”, IZA DP No 3907) have also benefited from comments received at seminars at IZA, RWI-Essen, MPI in Rostock and Keele University, the BHPS Conference in Colchester, the III Workshop on ‘Economics of the Family’ in Zaragoza, the ESPE Conference in London, the EALE Conference in Amsterdam and the EEA Conference in Barcelona. The paper is partly based on work carried out by Massimiliano Bratti during his visits to the European Centre for Analysis in the Social Sciences (ECASS) at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (University of Essex) supported by the Access to Research Infrastructure action under the European Community’s ‘Improving Human Potential Programme’, and at IZA in Bonn, which are both acknowledged for their financial assistance. The usual disclaimer applies.

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Correspondence to Konstantinos Tatsiramos.

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Responsible editor: Junsen Zhang



Table 6 Means of main variables
Table 7 Transition to first and second birth under the independence assumption
Table 8 Transition to first and second birth with correlated unobserved heterogeneity

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Bratti, M., Tatsiramos, K. The effect of delaying motherhood on the second childbirth in Europe. J Popul Econ 25, 291–321 (2012).

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