Fertility, Family Policy and Welfare Regimes

Elina Schleutker


This paper is inspired by the many similarities between gendered welfare state research and demographic research on the determinants of fertility. The first part of the paper discusses some of the theories on childbearing in the light of the gendered welfare state theory. One important similarity between these two genres is that when work-life choices are studied, the emphasis is on policies which enable women to reconcile employment and family. Support for informal care is accordingly treated as having a negative influence on work-life compatibility, and women are moreover assumed to have homogeneous preferences, i.e., they are supposed to want to combine work and family. However, such an approach does not pay sufficient attention to informal care and to heterogeneity among women, either when it comes to preferences or to behaviour. To address these gaps, in the second part of the paper a new framework to analyse women’s work-life choices is developed. The suggested framework gives considerable attention to the way in which formal as well as informal care is supported or enforced in different welfare states and the consequences such support has on women’s decision making. Moreover, heterogeneity among women is emphasised, both in preferences and when it comes to behaviour. The central argument is that women’s heterogeneous preferences transform differently to different lifestyle career strategies (with regard to employment and childbearing) in different welfare state settings, as each lifestyle strategy is encouraged or discouraged by family policy to differing degrees. Hence, the number of women who choose a particular strategy, as well as the level of fertility, varies between the welfare states. In addition, household resources are assumed to influence the choices that are being made. The argument that is put forward is illustrated with recent data on family policy, women’s employment patterns and fertility in the social-democratic (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden), conservative (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain) and liberal welfare states (Australia, Canada, Ireland, the UK, the USA). Moreover, a reinterpretation of the findings on the relationship between family policy, female employment and fertility is provided in the light of the framework outlined.


Fertility; Family policy; Preferences

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DOI (PDF): http://dx.doi.org/10.12765/CPoS-2013-18en

DOI (- PDF (Deutsch)): http://dx.doi.org/10.12765/CPoS-2013-18de

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