This study examines how individuals perceive children, focusing on two dimensions—the positive aspects of having children and the perception of children as a burden—and taking into account relations with both individual- and macro-level characteristics. Three dimensions are examined on the macro-level: policies that support families, the cultural environment, and economic conditions. The study is based on the 2012 ISSP module on “Family and Gender Roles” and covers 24 OECD countries. The findings show that countries vary widely in their negative perceptions of children, but evince relatively greater similarity in their positive perceptions. Institutional support for children and working parents and traditional family values as captured by religiosity are important factors in explaining cross-country variation in negative perceptions of children. Further, policies may help men and women adopt a more positive view of children and reduce differences among educational groups in relation to children.
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This solution was also confirmed by a factor analysis (not shown here).
Length of paid parental leave might affect the age at which children participate in day-care. A more nuanced measure of childcare participation (e.g., at age 1–2) would be better; however, such a measure is not available in the OECD database.
For each country, we calculated the average level of self-reported religiosity (attendance at religious services, as outlined above) ranging from 1—secular to 7—highly religious.
GDP, for example, is highly correlated with the percentage of children in day-care and other measures. Countries with low GDP are mainly former socialist countries in which maternity leave is generous, but the level of participation in day-care is lower. Models including the GDP (excluding the policy measures) indicate a significant effect of GDP on negative attitudes (namely, in countries with higher GDP attitudes are less negative) and on the perception of children as a joy (higher GDP is associated with less positive attitudes). There were also significant interactions with education and gender in affecting the perception that children contribute to the social standing of the family. In terms of model fit, there are minor differences between models. These models can be seen in an online appendices A2 and A3.
Bryan and Jenkins (2015) argue that there might be a possible bias in the estimates when the dataset contains a large number of individuals embedded in a relative small number of countries, as is the case with the current dataset. However, they point out that HLM corrects for these possible biases in the estimation.
In preliminary analyses, we tested the statistical effect of each of the other indicators. The relationships were not significant. The only exception was GDP (as mentioned above), which is negatively associated with the perception of children as a joy.
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This study was supported by Israel Science Foundation Grant No. 1377/15. We would like to thank Efrat Herzberg for her valuable research assistance.
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Stier, H., Kaplan, A. Are Children a Joy or a Burden? Individual- and Macro-level Characteristics and the Perception of Children. Eur J Population 36, 387–413 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-019-09535-y