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SWELL-FER Report Summary

Project ID: 313617
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Italy

Periodic Report Summary 3 - SWELL-FER (Subjective well-being and fertility)

The aim of SWELLFER project is to give new understanding of how subjective wellbeing (SWB) matters for fertility, and vice versa, with longitudinal data. To achieve this objective SWELLFER activities of the first half of the project have mainly regarded the acquisition of panel data set, their data managing and their first analyses and statistical modelling. The following panel surveys have been acquired and prepared: (1) HILDA: Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia; (2) GSOEP: German Socio-Economic Panel; (3) BHPS: British Household Panel Survey; (4) SHP: Swiss Household Panel; (5) the US PSID: Panel Study of Income Dynamics; (6) KLIPS: Korea Labor and Income Panel Survey; (7) the German PAIRFAM: Panel Analysis of Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics (8) RLMS: Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey; (9) ERHS: Ethiopian Rural Household Survey. All the data sets (except the Korean one, so far) have been used for in depth micro analysis of one-country case and, moreover, they have been harmonized and made ready for cross-country comparisons. Currently we are working on the acquisition of longitudinal data sets from Japan, Poland, and China to enrich the comparative analysis.
SWELLFER organises its scientific activities around three main research questions: 1) What are the consequences of fertility for SWB – and how do changes in SWB following childbearing impact higher-order childbearing decisions; 2) What is the role of current and prospective SWB for childbearing decisions and behaviour, 3) How are the links between SWB and childbearing influenced by the context in which individuals operate.
Using (cross sectional) European Social Survey data, we found that fertility and happiness are higher in those European countries where institutions appear to have adapted to women’s new preferences and aspirations and that there are strong gender differences in happiness associated with parenthood. Fathers are always happier than non-fathers, whereas mothers are happier only when relevant institutions are in place. Starting from this first proof of an important and statistically significant existence of – at least cross-sectional – relationship between SWB and fertility, the project team started to address the three broad research questions with panel data.
Investigating the effect of fertility for SWB, we analysed 1) how mediating effect of the work-family conflict and the family orientations of the parents can change the shape of the relationship (results showed that where the conflicts are strong, the subjective wellbeing of the parents is decreasing after the birth of the child); 2) we explored how family orientations shape the effect of fertility on parents’ SWB (different gender attitudes, preferences towards career and family, and expectations about how childbearing indeed affect their subjective well-being); 3) we focussed on the specific issue of how the transition to the first parenthood affects partners’ relationship satisfaction (findings are very different by gender, however couple’s ability to share experiences, tasks and attitudes seems to compensate for gender differences in enjoying parenthood, relationship and also work).
On the other direction of the relationship between SWB and fertility, our results suggest that an increase in SWB may indeed increase the likelihood of having a child, and the effect is particularly strong for the second child. Furthermore, from a vast comparative analysis, our results highlight how SWB increases the likelihood of child-bearing across all societies, and therefore how SWB is an important factor for child-bearing – in low fertility societies considered – for both women and men.
The comparative analysis of the effect of fertility on individuals’ SWB will be conducted with several harmonised data sets from developed and low fertility countries with the aim to assess whether there is a universal feature or the link is driven by specific contextual factors. The result will be relevant in the discussion of possible policies for family wellbeing and fertility.

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