Childbearing and Parenting in the context of Low Fertility, Family Change and the Economic Crisis

Childbearing and Parenting in the context of Low Fertility, Family Change and the Economic Crisis

Portuguese fertility has been declining since the 1970s and in the early 21st century, there was an increase in postponement and a severe reduction in childbirths. The dramatic decline in fertility in 2010-14, which dropped to lowest-low levels, has to be understood in the context of the economic crisis and austerity measures that worsened the living conditions of young adults, hindering childbearing intentions and family formation. Beyond the crisis and retrenchment in welfare policies, new normative orientations to family life and parenting may also be endorsing poor fertility outcomes. Low fertility has been shown to be related to a cultural shift towards small family size, influenced by: novel childrearing styles, today highly sentimentalised and stressing children well-being and rights; demanding and time-consuming requisites of responsible parenting; family values and practices shaped by individualization, diversification and changing gender roles. Drawing on three fields of knowledge - sociology, demography, social policy - and combining the explanatory frames of life course and social structural approaches, the aim of this project is threefold:

1- To analyse the impact of the economic crisis and family change on the childbearing and parenting perspectives and outcomes of specific birth cohorts (1970-74; 1980-84), exposed to the crisis at different stages of the life course. Research will seek to draw out the influence of austerity on young adults’ opportunities at a specific life-stage, as well as the impact of new parenting values, embedded in more individualistic and conflicting assessments of parenthood and family life.

2- To explore how social structural variables are shaping childbearing and parenting in two cohort groups. Childbearing behaviours, at first sight private and explained by individuals’ preferences, may depend on different macro- and micro level conditions, which shape them beyond the volition of individuals and life-stage effects. Regional asymmetries as well as cleavages related to social class and gender will be taken into account.

3- To promote debate and public understanding of these issues by policy actors and stakeholders. The long-term impact of low fertility on families and societies (e.g. ageing and its impact on social cohesion across the generations) is an issue that has been taken up recurrently in the arena of public policies. Recent years have seen an explicit focus on pro-natalism and parenting as designated areas of policy intervention. Social policy approaches have stressed the need to move beyond a normative model of modern-day parenting by taking into account the current perspectives of young adults themselves, and the diversity in parenting ideals and practices. The project will apply quantitative, qualitative and outreach methodologies and promote a dynamic and collaborative work environment combining high-level expertise across different fields of knowledge as well as opportunities for young scholars.

 

Estatuto: 
Proponent entity
Financed: 
Yes
Entidades: 
Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia
Rede: 
Instituição participante: UÉvora / Unidade de investigação: CIDEHUS, Outras instituições parceiras sem financiamento: UAçores e UBI
Keywords: 

Low fertility, Parenting, Family change, Economic crisis

Portuguese fertility has been declining since the 1970s and in the early 21st century, there was an increase in postponement and a severe reduction in childbirths. The dramatic decline in fertility in 2010-14, which dropped to lowest-low levels, has to be understood in the context of the economic crisis and austerity measures that worsened the living conditions of young adults, hindering childbearing intentions and family formation. Beyond the crisis and retrenchment in welfare policies, new normative orientations to family life and parenting may also be endorsing poor fertility outcomes. Low fertility has been shown to be related to a cultural shift towards small family size, influenced by: novel childrearing styles, today highly sentimentalised and stressing children well-being and rights; demanding and time-consuming requisites of responsible parenting; family values and practices shaped by individualization, diversification and changing gender roles. Drawing on three fields of knowledge - sociology, demography, social policy - and combining the explanatory frames of life course and social structural approaches, the aim of this project is threefold:

1- To analyse the impact of the economic crisis and family change on the childbearing and parenting perspectives and outcomes of specific birth cohorts (1970-74; 1980-84), exposed to the crisis at different stages of the life course. Research will seek to draw out the influence of austerity on young adults’ opportunities at a specific life-stage, as well as the impact of new parenting values, embedded in more individualistic and conflicting assessments of parenthood and family life.

2- To explore how social structural variables are shaping childbearing and parenting in two cohort groups. Childbearing behaviours, at first sight private and explained by individuals’ preferences, may depend on different macro- and micro level conditions, which shape them beyond the volition of individuals and life-stage effects. Regional asymmetries as well as cleavages related to social class and gender will be taken into account.

3- To promote debate and public understanding of these issues by policy actors and stakeholders. The long-term impact of low fertility on families and societies (e.g. ageing and its impact on social cohesion across the generations) is an issue that has been taken up recurrently in the arena of public policies. Recent years have seen an explicit focus on pro-natalism and parenting as designated areas of policy intervention. Social policy approaches have stressed the need to move beyond a normative model of modern-day parenting by taking into account the current perspectives of young adults themselves, and the diversity in parenting ideals and practices. The project will apply quantitative, qualitative and outreach methodologies and promote a dynamic and collaborative work environment combining high-level expertise across different fields of knowledge as well as opportunities for young scholars.

 

Objectivos: 
<p>O principal objectivo do projecto consiste em analisar as mudanças recentes na fecundidade portuguesa de um modo inovador: reunindo dois campos científicos (a sociologia e a demografia), duas abordagens metodológicas (macro/extensiva e micro/compreensiva), e dois patrimónios teóricos (teorias da transição demográfica e teorias da negociação e decisão na esfera da reprodução). Ao explorar intersecções e elos, pretendemos beneficiar dos avanços teóricos e empíricos das duas disciplinas, mas extravasando as fronteiras de cada um delas, de modo a desenvolver um quadro conceptual e analítico mais profícuo para apreender o fenómeno da baixa fecundidade.</p><p> </p><p>Pretende-se, assim, clarificar o duplo adiamento em marcha na esfera da reprodução: o adiamento da transição para o 1º e para o 2º filho. Esta proposta encerra uma perspectiva inovadora, na medida em que a questão do adiamento tem sido equacionada apenas em relação à primeira transição, tanto na análise demográfica como em abordagens mais compreensivas. Mas também importante compreender o passo para o 2º filho, mais ainda na sociedade portuguesa, onde o adiamento desta transição é já uma evidência empírica, que tem vindo a explicar o peso significativo de descendências de filho único.</p><p> </p>
State of the art: 
&nbsp; <p>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 D&iacute;az, 2009]. </p><p>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. </p><p>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; Papp&aacute;mikail, 2007, 2009]. In Portugal, this pattern is less strong [Sobotka and Toulemon, 2008; Papp&aacute;mikail, 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. </p><p>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]. Ari&egrave;s [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 [Papp&aacute;mikail, 2005]. </p><p>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]. </p><p>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]. </p><p>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 [Ari&egrave;s, 1980]. </p>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: 
National network
Maria Filomena Mendes
Piedade Lalanda

PARENT

Coordenador 
Start Date: 
01/10/2018
End Date: 
30/09/2021
Duração: 
36 meses
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