The double postponement: Men and women coping with childbearing intentions in their late 30s and early 40s

The double postponement: Men and women coping with childbearing intentions in their late 30s and early 40s

If several European countries came into the 21st century with low or even very low fertility, some experienced slight increases during the last decade, while Portugal underwent a steady decline: from a TFR of 1.6 in 2000 to 1.3 in 2009, one of the lowest in the European Union.

An explanation for this recent drop is linked to the increase in only-child parities along with a cut-back in 3rd and higher birth orders . In fact, Portuguese fertility encloses this distinctiveness: a high proportion of one-child families, and a minor incidence of childlessness. So we can say that in Portugal there is still a great propensity for the transition to parenthood, but not for the transition to the second child.

And this fact seems to be related with another singularity: the postponement of this transition, an upward trend at least since the cohorts born in the early fifties . Postponing this childbirth several years became a common fertility behavior and an increasing pathway to unmeet childbearing preferences and intentions.

But we do have to ask: if this postponement has been the core of the most recent shifts, is it realistic to expect an imminent upturn in childlessness as a result of further postponement of the younger cohorts, as is happening elsewhere ?

In Portugal, this double postponement is already in motion in cohorts that are still in their reproductive years, as a recent national survey has revealed: for men and women born in the early 70s having only one child is becoming as normal as having 2, and remaining childless until their late thirties is not unusual.

Looking into the double postponement entails exploring the gender gap: the childbearing agenda imbalance that brings about gendered childbearing intentions and (lack of) opportunities. Men are more willing to postpone, specially the first transition , and have more chances to recover in their late forties. But it is important as well to reveal the socially determined mechanisms that are engendering each postponement, since those that postpone the first transition belong to highly qualified social settings, while the others belong to low-middle classes.

This research project intends to produce a further questioning in relation to childbearing intentions within the framework of contemporary postponement and decision-making processes, and specifically regarding the transitions to the first and the second child in cohorts that are coming close to the end of reproductive life. The aims are two and will be pursued within a life course perspective: 1st, to identify the mechanisms that are engendering those postponements and how they entail coping with and reshaping childbearing intentions throughout the life course; and 2nd, to understand the chain of decision-making processes that triggers the childbearing postponement, and the resulting balance of gains and costs for one's life. Assuming that decision-making only take place inside a stable partnership is a narrow perspective, since the social regulation that traditionally confined sexuality and reproduction within marriage has been (to a certain extent) withdrawn by the reproductive revolution

But research claims for a third cross-cutting aim: to clarify if the gender gap concerning the childbearing agenda, while performing as a postponer within couples' reproductive trajectories, turns into a gender trap by jeopardizing childbearing intentions of one or both partners; and also, if the gender gap removed from the conjugal arrangement can be a source of different opportunities to recover from postponement, for instance by looking for a younger partner in the case of men, or for alternative ways to become a parent (assisted reproductive technology, adoption...) in the case of women.  

There will be two methodological approaches: a qualitative one based on in-depth interviews with men and women aged between 35 and 45, in order to understand how they cope with the transitions to the first and second child in different conjugal situations (alone and in a couple); and a quantitative one, regarding the analysis of data from the Census 2011 and 2001, as well as other sources, to portray the current demographic trends concerning postponement, childlessness and one-child families in Portugal, outlining major changes in a period of a decade.

To meet the goals set in this proposal, the main research team will count with the full collaboration of two grant-holders (one at ICS-UL and one at University of Évora), as well as the complementary expertise of two international consultants: Prof. Maria Rita Testa (Vienna Institute of Demography/Austrian Academy of Sciences) and Prof. Carmen Leccardi (University of Milano-Bicocca).

Project The double postponement: men and women coping with childbearing intentions in their late 30s and early 40s - PTDC/CS-SOC/121148/2010 - Financed by FCT

 

Estatuto: 
Proponent entity
Financed: 
Yes
Entidades: 
Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia
Keywords: 

Low fertility; Postponement; Transitions; Quantitative and qualitative approach

If several European countries came into the 21st century with low or even very low fertility, some experienced slight increases during the last decade, while Portugal underwent a steady decline: from a TFR of 1.6 in 2000 to 1.3 in 2009, one of the lowest in the European Union.

An explanation for this recent drop is linked to the increase in only-child parities along with a cut-back in 3rd and higher birth orders . In fact, Portuguese fertility encloses this distinctiveness: a high proportion of one-child families, and a minor incidence of childlessness. So we can say that in Portugal there is still a great propensity for the transition to parenthood, but not for the transition to the second child.

And this fact seems to be related with another singularity: the postponement of this transition, an upward trend at least since the cohorts born in the early fifties . Postponing this childbirth several years became a common fertility behavior and an increasing pathway to unmeet childbearing preferences and intentions.

But we do have to ask: if this postponement has been the core of the most recent shifts, is it realistic to expect an imminent upturn in childlessness as a result of further postponement of the younger cohorts, as is happening elsewhere ?

In Portugal, this double postponement is already in motion in cohorts that are still in their reproductive years, as a recent national survey has revealed: for men and women born in the early 70s having only one child is becoming as normal as having 2, and remaining childless until their late thirties is not unusual.

Looking into the double postponement entails exploring the gender gap: the childbearing agenda imbalance that brings about gendered childbearing intentions and (lack of) opportunities. Men are more willing to postpone, specially the first transition , and have more chances to recover in their late forties. But it is important as well to reveal the socially determined mechanisms that are engendering each postponement, since those that postpone the first transition belong to highly qualified social settings, while the others belong to low-middle classes.

This research project intends to produce a further questioning in relation to childbearing intentions within the framework of contemporary postponement and decision-making processes, and specifically regarding the transitions to the first and the second child in cohorts that are coming close to the end of reproductive life. The aims are two and will be pursued within a life course perspective: 1st, to identify the mechanisms that are engendering those postponements and how they entail coping with and reshaping childbearing intentions throughout the life course; and 2nd, to understand the chain of decision-making processes that triggers the childbearing postponement, and the resulting balance of gains and costs for one's life. Assuming that decision-making only take place inside a stable partnership is a narrow perspective, since the social regulation that traditionally confined sexuality and reproduction within marriage has been (to a certain extent) withdrawn by the reproductive revolution

But research claims for a third cross-cutting aim: to clarify if the gender gap concerning the childbearing agenda, while performing as a postponer within couples' reproductive trajectories, turns into a gender trap by jeopardizing childbearing intentions of one or both partners; and also, if the gender gap removed from the conjugal arrangement can be a source of different opportunities to recover from postponement, for instance by looking for a younger partner in the case of men, or for alternative ways to become a parent (assisted reproductive technology, adoption...) in the case of women.  

There will be two methodological approaches: a qualitative one based on in-depth interviews with men and women aged between 35 and 45, in order to understand how they cope with the transitions to the first and second child in different conjugal situations (alone and in a couple); and a quantitative one, regarding the analysis of data from the Census 2011 and 2001, as well as other sources, to portray the current demographic trends concerning postponement, childlessness and one-child families in Portugal, outlining major changes in a period of a decade.

To meet the goals set in this proposal, the main research team will count with the full collaboration of two grant-holders (one at ICS-UL and one at University of Évora), as well as the complementary expertise of two international consultants: Prof. Maria Rita Testa (Vienna Institute of Demography/Austrian Academy of Sciences) and Prof. Carmen Leccardi (University of Milano-Bicocca).

Project The double postponement: men and women coping with childbearing intentions in their late 30s and early 40s - PTDC/CS-SOC/121148/2010 - Financed by FCT

 

Objectivos: 
The main goal is to analyze the recent childbearing shifts in an innovative way: gathering two scientific backgrounds (sociology and demography), two methodological approaches and devices (macro/extensive and micro/comprehensive), and two theoretical insights (second demographic transition theories and childbearing decision-making and bargaining theories). By exploring these intersections and bonds, we intend to benefit from the theoretical and empirical advances of both disciplines, but going beyond the strict boundaries of each one, in order to develop a more inclusive and resourceful analytical framework to apprehend this phenomenon. <p>We propose to enlighten a double (childbearing) postponement: the postponements of the transitions to the 1st and the 2nd child. This comprises a new perspective, since postponement is mainly related to the transition to parenthood, not only in standard demographic analysis but also in more comprehensive ones. But it is also vital to understand the step towards a 2nd child, especially in Portugal, where the postponement of this 2nd transition is empirical evidence and has been explaining the weight of only-child parities.
State of the art: 
The persistent low fertility in the West is a meaningful social issue, as it is linked - along with the increase in life-expectancy - to the demographic drift towards an ageing society. But if the second trend is perceived as a civilizational progress, the first represents a threat to the population balance, and also to the welfare-state model, as it's rooted in a well-established intergenerational contract [Laslett and Fishkin, 1992]. This explains the political concern this topic and legitimates the inclusion of the fertility issue in the political agenda of developed countries [Lutz et al., 2006; McDonald, 2002], with the goal of influencing the private sphere of citizens' life, such as their reproductive behaviour [McInnes and Díaz, 2009]. The Portuguese fertility, one of the lowest in UE, is intriguing, revealing a distinctive pattern in Southern Europe, and challenging in some degree the theoretical endeavours to explain fertility shifts. Childbearing postponement has been at the core of those theoretical proposals [Frejka and Sobotka, 2008] and is the outcome of an overall postponement of the transitions to adulthood, in part due to the progression of education that delays entry into the labor-market. But there are regional idiosyncrasies, such as the latest-late pattern of parental home leaving of Southern Europe [Billari, 2004]: a mix of economic precariousness, acceptance of co-residence, new norms of autonomy and privacy in the parental home, and resistance to commit to adult roles [Leccardi and Ruspini, 2006; Pappamikail, 2007, 2009]. In Portugal, this pattern is less strong [Sobotka and Toulemon, 2008; Pappamikail, 2007], most likely due to our educational disadvantage [Cunha, 2007; Wall, 2005]. Plus, the postponement of the transition to parenthood is not as severe as in other countries, as most women have the 1st child below age 30. Goldstein et al. [2003] raised the hypothesis of a cultural drift towards a small family size in younger cohorts. Indeed, the two-child ideal is being challenged in the German-speaking countries [Testa, 2007], underpinned by the fact that low fertility is becoming the norm. Since childbearing preferences are perceived as the key driver of behaviour, authors foresee that other countries with persistent low fertility, including Southern Europe, will experience the same shift, engendering conditions to pursue the fertility decline caused by this low fertility trap [16]. Aries [1980] goes further in the culturalist approach, by proclaiming that current fertility represents the end of the child-oriented family, where parental altruism and sacrifice were at the service of children's mobility. For him, more individualistic accounts underlie childbearing motivations. But in the most recent survey on preferences, the two-child norm wasn't being challenged in Portugal [Testa, 2007], confirming findings on its upward recognition from the 70s to the 90s [Cunha, 2007]. Plus, the parental sacrifice and the strong commitment to children's social mobility are still widespread norms, as well as the centrality of parental identity in men's and women's lives [Cunha, 2007, 2010b; Wall, 2005; Wall et al., 2010], even for young persons [Pappamikail, 2005]. In other approaches, the focus is&nbsp; on gender inequality in public policies, family values and the division of paid/unpaid work, since the most conservative countries regarding gender balance - Southern and German speaking ones -, where motherhood penalty is heavier, are those where fertility is lower [McDonald, 2002]. But Portuguese families have been undergoing profound changes since the Revolution of 1974. The breadwinner family model was replaced by dual-earner couples, and women's full-time work, especially in their childbearing years, is one the highest in EU and represents a widespread norm. Divorce rates and the proportion of births out-of-wedlock have been recording a steady increase to levels equivalent or exceeding the EU ones, revealing remarkable shifts in family formation and arrangements. Moreover, since the middle 80s public policy has been giving growing attention to fathers' role in childcare, culminating in the 2009 legislation on parental leave [Wall et al., 2010]. This overall picture goes along with changes that are taking place within family life, where parental and conjugal roles are being renegotiated and reshaped on a more egalitarian basis. The persistent asymmetry in household tasks seems to be the main bastion of gender imbalance [Wall, 2005; Wall et al., 2010]. Hence, what has been making a major difference is the postponing of the 2nd child, a consistent upward trend since the cohorts born in the early 50s. Postponing it for several years became a common fertility pattern and a pathway to forgo the wish for a 2nd child [Cunha, 2007, 2010a]. In two national surveys (1999 and 2009/10), there were questions on childbearing intentions, outcomes and reasons for postponing or giving up an intended child. Findings bared several hindrances to fulfilling childbearing intentions, with economic-hardship ahead. This is distinctive within European trends, since this dimension has a minor relevance for childbearing targets [Testa, 2007]. But the 2009/10 survey came up with motivations (incipient in the previous) that suggest two additional perspectives on childbearing: a call for demanding prerequisites of responsible parenthood, such as partnership quality [Testa, 2007]; and an emerging cultural resistance to childbearing (not a goal in life), linked to with individualistic and a parent-centred perspective [Leccardi, 2008], such as the need to protect couples' intimacy [Aries, 1980]. Childbearing postponements and the interplay of old and new fertility delayers and misleaders [Cunha, 2010a], are important ingredients of our declining fertility that demand further and more inclusive research, taking into account both women's and men's point of view, since men have been the invisible co-responsible for fertility outcomes [Goldscheider e Kaufman, 1996]. But postponement has to be framed as well in the multistep decision-making process concerning couples' reproduction, since it might enfold a contradiction difficult to solve within a context of gender gap regarding childbearing intentions: the contradiction between individual freedom of choice and the need to synchronize the choices of both partners [Cunha, 2010a, 2010b].
Parceria: 
Unintegrated
Maria Filomena Mendes
David Cruz
Coordenador 
Start Date: 
01/03/2012
End Date: 
31/03/2015
Duração: 
36 meses
Closed