Skip to main content

Family formation decisions and gender attitudes in crisis times: an international, historical and longitudinal comparison.

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - FAMilyDECisions (Family formation decisions and gender attitudes in crisis times: an international, historical and longitudinal comparison.)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2019-09-30

Low fertility has been at the forefront of demographers’ research agendas in recent decades. Fertility rates in many developed societies, including Spain, have rapidly fallen below 1.5 children per woman. However, the ideal number of children remains centered at two children in most postindustrial countries. Many young adults say they would like to have two children, but they expect to have fewer. What explains this gap between fertility ideals and intentions? Understanding the reasoning behind the gap between ideal and intended or realized fertility is key to helping young adults to meet their fertility aspirations. This research aims to better understand the reasoning behind young adults’ fertility decision-making. Three factors are explored in detail to reach this understanding: 1) the gap between relatively egalitarian gender-role attitudes and more traditional gender-role behaviors among Spanish couples, 2) the rigidity and precariousness of the labor-market structure for men and women’s fertility decision-making, and 3) the role of public institutions and family policies. Extensive scientific literature can be found focused on family formation dynamics and fertility, especially for European countries and mainly using a quantitative perspective. This qualitative project used an innovative methodology to analyze the Spanish case from a three different perspectives: an intra-country and cross-country comparison (comparing similar data from Spain, Sweden, the U.S. Japan and Korea in 2012), an historical comparison (comparing Spain 1985 vs.2012) and a longitudinal comparison (comparing the same Spanish sample in 2012 and 2018). The overall conclusion of the project emphasizes the key role and implications that gender-egalitarianism at a multidimensional level –individual, couple, institutional- has on young couples forming families today. This study also contributes to the understanding of theories explaining low fertility over time by placing value on individual reasoning at the micro-level of analysis.
The research activities conducted during the project covered three different analytical approaches. From an intra- and cross-country comparative perspective, several products have been published. In Brinton, Bueno, et al. (2018), we compared the reasoning for the ideal-intention fertility gap of respondents from two low fertility countries –Japan and Spain- and two moderate fertility countries –the U.S. and Sweden. Our results suggest that work-family conflict in Sweden and the U.S. is more pronounced in individuals’ narratives because mothers’ employment is taken for granted to a greater extent. Our interviews also suggest that the dynamics of gender inequality may be more instrumental in generating lower fertility intentions among the highly educated in Japan than in Spain. Focusing on the Spanish context, in Bueno and Brinton (2019), we explored whether fertility intentions of those feeling economic insecurity or not, differ depending on the couple’s level of gender egalitarianism. Results show that, unlike less egalitarian couples, highly-egalitarian couples feeling economic uncertainty will condition their fertility decisions to the ability of both partners to find a stable position in the labor market. However, when economic uncertainty is not an obstacle, fertility intentions do not significantly differ between less and more egalitarian couples. Following these insights, in Bueno and García-Román (under review), we analyzed how the relative education, employment, and occupational characteristics of both partners in terms of homogamy can provide insights into couples’ fertility decisions. Results confirm the reversal of the negative education-fertility gradient among Spanish couples. They show that dual-earner highly educated couples and hypogamous couples have the highest likelihood of having a child. These findings are relevant because they emphasize the non-exclusive importance of gender egalitarianism, females’ employment, and economic uncertainty for fertility. Given the important role of men’s involvement in the reproductive sphere, I studied men’s use of parental leave in Spain. In Bueno and Grau-Grau (under review), we identified seven different narratives that help to understand men’s underuse of unpaid leave. We observed that beyond a small number of proactive fathers, men with positive attitudes towards taking leave are not necessarily self-motivated to do so but are pressured by their partners, and social norms. Conversely, negative intentions do not necessarily mean a lack of gender-egalitarian dynamics at home. This study reveals that men seem to overestimate the egalitarianism within their relationships. In Bueno and Oh (forthcoming), we further compared men’s use of parental leave in Spain, the U.S. and Korea. Findings show that whether the leave system is paid or unpaid critically shapes men’s use parental leave in Spain and the U.S. In contrast, while Korea has generous paid leave, almost no Korean men intended to use nor actually used it. Instead, Korean fathers would work even harder. In the end, the macro context of gender norms, workplace culture, and paid versus unpaid leave system play key roles in explaining the differences in men’s reasoning across the three countries. The historical comparison has been performed thanks to the qualitative secondary analysis of a set of interviews from 1985 and its comparison with 2012’s materials about respondents’ fertility decisions. In Bueno (2019), I show how changing age norms and union formation norms underlie the differences between the fertility decision-making of respondents from both generations, leaving aside the second demographic transition as an explanatory theory for the newer generation. The results also show that besides the advancements in gender equity in Spanish society, the transition of gender-role norms towards greater egalitarianism remains unfinished. In addition, economic insecurity and the lack of support for work-life balance stand out as persistent structural factors influencing the fertility decisions in both cases. During the last year of the action, I have conducted follow-up interviews in order to apply a longitudinal comparison. The fieldwork ended in May 2019 and, the transcription of materials was finished in July 2019. At the time of submitting this report, I have started the analysis for a paper comparing wave 1 and wave 2 on the individual narratives regarding paternal age and health-related reasoning. The totality of works mentioned have been presented at international conferences and invited seminars. Three of them are already published in high-impact peer-reviewed journals and one of them is a book chapter in Springer. Two more papers are currently under review for publication in scientific journals.
The overall results from the project have confirmed the multidimensional importance of gender egalitarianism for couples’ fertility decisions. The gender-egalitarian dimension is transversal across three influencing factors: first, labor market and financial factors; second, ideational and identity factors, and third, institutional factors (family policies and labor-market conditions). I argue that these factors often operate at three different levels: individual, household level and structural level. Results aim to influence policymakers on the important role that gender-egalitarianism has for couples achieving their unmeet fertility.