Educational differences in tempo and quantum of childbearing in Britain: a study of cohorts born 1940-1964

Ann M. Berrington, University of Southampton
Juliet A. Stone, University of Southampton
Eva Beaujouan, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU)

This paper examines the changing relationships between education and childbearing in Britain. The paper builds on earlier work for England and Wales, now a decade old, which suggested that higher education was associated with a postponement in fertility and faster subsequent parity progression among highly educated women (Rendall and Smallwood, 2003). We provide new insight by examining for cohorts born 1940-1964 the changing relationship between education and the timing of first birth, and progression to higher order births. The paper addresses the following research questions: How have educational differentials in completed family size changed for cohorts born 1940-1964? Has the increase in childlessness been concentrated among those with higher levels of education? Among those who become mothers, do those with higher education show a higher propensity to go on to have further births? How does the relationship between age at entry into motherhood and completed family size differ by education? Has this relationship changed over cohorts? Our data come from retrospective fertility histories collected in repeated British General Household Surveys 1979-2009. Unlike vital registration data, these surveys provide details on highest educational qualification allowing us to examine educational differentials in fertility behaviour. The findings suggest educational differences in completed family size have remained remarkably consistent across cohorts. Among female graduates who enter motherhood, progression to higher order births is similar to those with intermediate levels of education, although both these groups have lower progression rates than those with the lowest levels of education. Within each educational group, higher order parity progression ratios have remained remarkably consistent across cohorts. We conclude that the overall reduction in mean family size across cohorts 1940-1964 is due in large part to the increased number of women entering higher education and the higher likelihood of remaining childless, or having a single child, among this group.

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Presented in Session 100: Education and fertility