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Couples and childbearing: new approaches to the study of fertility outcomes and family formation across Europe

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Education and childbearing

An EU team examined the relative education levels of European couples in terms of numbers of children per couple. The study also investigated gender values as a predictor of housework participation.


The EU-funded COUPFER (Couples and childbearing: New approaches to the study of fertility outcomes and family formation across Europe) project investigated family formation among Europeans. The study considered individual educational attainment, couple dynamics and social context across various European countries. The team first examined educational pairings in couples, and whether such differences affect initial parenthood and progression to later births. Differences in educational attainment between couples make no difference when at least one partner is highly educated. On the other hand, education had no effect on fertility behaviour in couples with low education. Across Europe, couples where partners have equally high education more often progress to further births (called parity progression) than couples with an educational difference. Nevertheless, such differences were not statistically significant. Thus, the team could not determine mechanisms. In an attempt to find mechanisms, researchers also studied the effects of gender ideology and money on the division of housework. An egalitarian gender ideology strongly predicted egalitarian behaviour, yet resource availability made no difference. The team concluded that gender values of both partners affect division of housework, and that social norms affect family behaviour. The group also examined whether parity progression after age 40 remained after controlling for differing union histories. Investigators furthermore wrote a review about the current state and likely future of family formation research. COUPFER's findings have general social significance and could impact policymaking.


Education, childbearing, couples, COUPFER, fertility, family formation

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