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Southern Europe and low fertility: micro and macro determinants of a crucial demographic and cultural revolution

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Labour uncertainty in Spain makes men less likely to have children

Southern European countries have some of the lowest fertility rates in the world. While most studies focus on why women are having fewer babies, demographers in Spain have taken a look at how economic security or the lack of it affects the fertility of Spanish men.

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Temporary work is all too common in Spain. In 2017, over 26 % of Spanish jobs offered fixed-term contracts according to the (OECD employment database). This is the second highest figure of the 34 OECD countries. Spain has also experienced a marked decline in fertility since the late 1970s, joining others, such as Italy, as countries with some of the lowest fertility rates in the world during the 1990s. Researchers based at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) decided to examine, as part of the SEU-FER project, the links between these two characteristics by investigating how temporary employment and unemployment affect men’s decisions to have a child. This initiative, undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, is part of a broader attempt to examine the determinants of changing fertility in Southern Europe over time.

Studying men is innovative

Demographers interested in fertility usually study women. “Scholars have paid less attention to men’s fertility until now, but we believe it cannot be ignored if you wish to understand the dynamics of fertility today,” says SEU-FER’s main researcher Stanislao Mazzoni. Using data from the 2018 Spanish National Fertility Survey, the SEU-FER team reconstructed biographies for 2 619 men born between 1962 and 2000, including educational attainment and the types of job contracts they held. For one analysis, they studied the biographies from the age of 15 until the conception of a man’s first child. Using unemployed status as the reference, they then calculated what impact a man’s employment status had on the time it took him to become a father.

Uncertainty delays fatherhood

“We see that in comparison with someone unemployed, a man with a fixed-term contract enters fatherhood a little earlier, but that the difference is not statistically significant,” explains Mazzoni. “But when we compare an unemployed man with someone with a permanent job, we see that the permanent job really does facilitate entering fatherhood – it comes 30 % faster in comparison with someone unemployed.” Thus experience of temporary contracts is shown to increase a young man’s feelings of uncertainty and has the effect of slowing down some of his fundamental life choices. These findings may be of interest to many outside the field of demography. “This is really relevant because we are in the middle of a pandemic and a recession and we need to have the tools to predict what will happen,” adds Diego Ramiro, project coordinator and director of the CSIC’s Institute of Economics, Geography and Demography. He notes that major studies on the effects of the COVID pandemic on the health of European populations are already under way, but this is not the case when it comes to the impact on fertility. Reality often confounds expectations according to Ramiro. “Everyone was expecting that during March-April this year, we would have a baby boom, but what happened was a baby bust, completely the opposite. Since age at first birth is already high, if a couple delay having their first child, many will end up childless with all the consequences this has for society,” he notes.


SEU-FER, men’s fertility, fertility rate, temporary work, unemployment, fatherhood, demography, COVID

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