Did the reversal in the cross-country association between women’s labor force participation and fertility really take place? A cohort view

Anna Matysiak, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU)
Tomas Sobotka, Vienna Institute of Demography

Numerous studies have consistently found that the cross-country relationship between the period Total Fertility Rate (TFR) and Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) in Western OECD countries reversed from negative to positive. However, all these studies were based on period data, which, in the case of the period TFRs implies considerable year-to-year fluctuations and distortions due to changes in the timing of childbearing. Moreover, only a few studies paid attention to the “reasons” for the observed changes in the FLFP-TFR association and to the variety of employment-fertility trajectories in individual countries. In addition, these studies used the FLFPR for the broad age range of women in productive age (15-64) which is incompatible with the fact that most of the fertility rates are realised in a much narrower age range between 18 and 39 years. This study will address some of the shortcomings of the previous research. We will conduct our analysis in a cohort perspective, using completed cohort fertility rates (CFRs) and reconstructing cohort female labour force participation rates (CFLFPs) at ages 25-39. The cohort data allow us to provide consistent measures of labor force participation and fertility across the life cycle which are neither distorted by short-term fluctuations, nor by tempo effect due to fertility postponement. In addition to looking at the correlations between CFLFPR and CFR across cohorts, we will also (1) look at regional differences across Europe, (2) investigate temporal developments in cohort fertility and female employment in individual countries, and (3) perform simple simulations which indicate whether the observed changes in the CFLFP-CFR correlations were mostly driven by changing fertility rates or changing female employment rates.

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Presented in Session 19: Gender dynamics and fertility