Population  2002/2

Population

2002/2 (Vol. 57)

pages200

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Unemployment Leads Women to Postpone the Birth of Their First Child

byMonique Meron[*]By the same author

Monique Meron, Institut National d’Études Démographiques, 133 bd Davout, 75980 Paris Cedex 20, France, tel. : 33 0(1) 56 06 21 53, fax : 33 0(1) 56 06 21 99,

e-mail : meron.at.ined.fr

andIsabelle Widmer[**]By the same author
Page 301-330

In a number of developed countries, the delay in the onset of family formation is linked to later exit from the educational system and to the increasingly common desire of women to begin their working life before having children (in France, for example, the labour force participation rate of women aged 25-29 exceeds 80%). But what happens when these women encounter difficulties in obtaining a job, and experience periods of unemployment? In trying to answer this question, Monique Meron and Isabelle Widmer have used data from reproductive and work histories collected in a French national survey. Periods of unemployment at the beginning of a union appear to result in postponement of the first birth. Women who experience unemployment have very different family behaviour from homemakers, who have a first child more rapidly than women who are in the labour market.

1

What are the links between trends in family behaviour and changes in the labour market? Economic fluctuations have a particularly important impact on the beginning of the working life of young people at the time when they may be starting a family. How will a young woman who is in a childless couple react when she is confronted with a period of unemployment? Will she accelerate her maternity schedule in view of the “free” time that is thus imposed on her? Or, on the contrary, will she temporarily forego those plans in consideration of the uncertain future and the material difficulties linked to the search for employment? Or are these two spheres — family and occupation — independent of one another? With respect to the link with fertility, is a period of unemployment comparable to a period out of the labour force? Is the behaviour of unemployed women closer to that of homemakers or to that of employed women?

2

Since the middle of the 1970s in France, the age at first birth has risen while unemployment rates, and particularly those of young women, have increased considerably. The risk of unemployment, like the timing of fertility, depends on the place of women in society, on their birth cohort, and on the education and training that they have received. But the usual descriptive statistics do not enable one to establish a clear link between fluctuations in unemployment and age of mother at time of first birth, even when taking into account the differences in the above factors.

3

The methods used here are based on event histories. They make it possible to analyse individual life histories in all their diversity in order to better understand the interaction between the activity status of women and the decision whether to have a first child. This biographical approach is used to study women who were surveyed in the Youth and Careers Survey carried out in 1997 by INSEE, the French National Institute of Statistics. In this nationally representative survey, there is a large sample of women, including both women who have and who have not lived with a partner. For reasons of homogeneity of the data and to allow sufficient observation time in relation to the beginning of reproduction, we first examine the experience of women aged 31 to 45 in 1997 (born from 1952 to 1966). Then we investigate whether the trends are apparent as well among younger women, aged 24 to 29 (born from 1968 to 1973).

Beginnings of family life and entry into the world of work: Changes in timing

4

The most recent cohorts of women, as compared to their elders, have taken the steps considered as constituting the passage to adult life (completing their schooling, leaving home, beginning life in union, seeking employment) at later ages. These events, although occurring earlier and closer together than for men, have been increasingly spread out in the lives of women since the middle of the 1970s (Galland, 1995, 2000; Galland and Meron, 1996).

5

At the same time, the average childbearing age of women has gone from close to 27 years in 1975 to over 29 years in 2000 (Prioux, 2001). This increase has taken place, at least for now, without threatening generation replacement, since all cohorts have had about 2.1 children per woman by the age of 40.

6

With respect to the first birth, the average age of women at the time of delivery has gone from a low point of less than 24 years in 1972 to 25 years in 1983 and 26 years in 1989.

7

“Thus, at their 25th birthday, only 37% of the women born in 1965 were already mothers, as compared to 55% of women born in 1955 and 61% of those born in 1945”.

(Prioux, 1996, p. 16)
8

According to the INSEE surveys, the age at which half of the women had become mothers was 26 years for those born in 1963-1966 and 28.2 years for those born between 1968 and 1971 (Galland, 2000).

Postponement of the first birth is linked to family transformations, the prolongation of education, and the development of women’s labour force participation

9

Since the 1970s the time spent in a union prior to the arrival of the first child has been prolonged, thus reversing the trend of the previous decade. Demographers explain this evolution by the diffusion of new methods of contraception in France. Better control over fertility contributes also to the lengthening of other birth intervals. But while the increase in age at first birth observed in the mid-70s can clearly be attributed to the growing use of efficient modern contraception, the continuation of the trend calls for other explanations.

10

The growing fragility of relationships and the increase of non-marital cohabitation have also characterized the recent period. In this context, the fact that 83% of children were living with both parents in 1994 (Villeneuve-Gokalp, 1999) indicates that today, children are, by and large, the result of well-considered decisions by the couple (Toulemon, 1994).

11

Since the end of the Second World War, the increase in the duration of formal schooling in France has been spectacular, as it doubled in fifty years. The share of secondary school graduates (those with a baccalauréat) has grown from 4% in the 1946 cohort to more than 60% today, and the proportion holding a technical or vocational diploma (CAP, BEP) among persons aged 25-34 has tripled during the period (Estrade and Minni, 1996). Women have especially benefited from this trend: since 1996, they study for longer than men and they have a higher level of educational attainment, which was far from being the case among earlier cohorts.

12

The age at first birth increases with women’s educational attainment. Women born between 1950 and 1954 were on average 22.6 years old at the birth of their first child if they had only completed primary school, and 28.4 years old if they had completed four years of higher education. The differences by level of education and social class grew during the 1980s and the 1990s (Desplanques and de Saboulin, 1986). According to forecasts, women born between 1960 and 1964 with four years higher education will have, on average, further delayed the first birth by 1.5 years as compared to those born ten years earlier. By contrast, the average age at first birth of women with low educational attainment appears to be remaining more or less stable. F. de Singly explains how “women with career prospects delay their marriage for the duration of their studies and of a first job” (1987, p. 182). “Moreover, as long as she is pursuing postsecondary education, a woman will avoid having children, and this results in later births” (Desplanques, 1996, p. 17). The general increase in the age at first birth is thus all the more marked from one generation to the next as women become increasingly educated.

13

Women’s labour force participation rates have grown considerably since the beginning of the 1970s. In March 2001 nearly 80% of women aged 25-49 were employed or were seeking employment (full time or part time) whereas the corresponding figure in 1975 was less than 59% (Aerts and Mercier, 2001). But the labour force participation rates of women are all the lower as their parity is higher. In January 1999, 79% of women aged 25-49 were in the labour force; this rate was 88% among childless women in union, 83% for mothers of one child, 74% for those with two children and 52% for women with at least three children. With the exception of a very recent decline due to the influence of the extension of the parental educational allowance in July 1994 (Bonnet and Labbé, 1999), the economic activity of mothers of two or more children has increased the most.

14

Among younger women, inactivity (in the sense of not being in the labour market) has become increasingly uncommon. In 1995, 8% of women aged 15-29 were homemakers, whereas the corresponding figure in 1975 was 19% (Meron and Minni, 1995). Since 1995, however, some of these changes have slowed down. The duration of formal education has stopped increasing and the percentage of inactive women has stopped falling (Brunet and Minni, 2000).

15

The effect of women’s employment status has not been studied very much, except in relation to completed family size. In particular, little is known about the incidence of activity status (employment, unemployment, non-participation in the labour force) on the timing of family formation. Family sociologists and specialists of home economics have developed, however, the idea that the family and employment spheres are linked and are part of a broader gender division of labour (Barrère-Maurisson and Marchand, 2000).

Difficulties of economic integration and postponed family formation: What are the links?

16

The poor performance of the economy has resulted in difficulties of economic integration for young people. Unemployment, which has grown substantially since the end of the years of strong economic growth following World War II, hits them especially hard, and women are most affected (Maruani, 1998). Unemployment rates, which were holding at around 2.5%, rose sharply beginning in the first half of the 1970s to exceed 10% in 1985. After a brief improvement at the end of the 1980s, unemployment reached record levels in 1994 and then again in 1997, exceeding 12% of the labour force before beginning a new decline since 1998. In March 2001 the overall unemployment rate was 8.8%, and unemployment rates still varied greatly by educational attainment, ranging from 14.1% for those without any diploma or only a primary school certificate, to about 5% for those with higher education (Aerts and Mercier, 2001).

17

Although young people are staying in school for longer, nearly half of them (48%) are in the labour market between the ages of 15 and 29. Despite an improvement in recent years, the unemployment rate of young workers remains very high, and their employment is especially sensitive to economic fluctuations. This is especially the case for those with lower levels of educational attainment and for those who entered the labour market most recently (Brunet and Minni, 2000; Fondeur and Minni, 1999; Meron and Minni, 1995).

18

Thus, the context in which today’s young people begin their working and adult lives is much more difficult than for their parents. The future prospects for young adults, in terms of careers and salary, are not good (Baudelot and Establet, 2000), and this is certainly not without influence on the family formation process. Young men especially mention these adverse prospects as a reason for continuing to live with their parents and delaying the onset of family formation (Leridon and Villeneuve-Gokalp, 1994; Galland and Meron, 1996; Dormont and Dufour-Kippelen, 2000). The influence of economic factors on the formation of couples has also been studied: among the most recent cohorts (born after 1968), “the effect of the ‘degree of precariousness’ is not the same for men and women. A fixed-term employment contract does not have adverse consequences for women, but it does for men. But a more precarious status (subsidized employment, training course for integration into the labour market, unpaid training, unemployment) is a negative factor for both sexes” (Ekert and Solaz, 2000; see also Kieffer, Marry, Meron, and Solaz, forthcoming in 2002).

Monographs and cross-sectional surveys give conflicting answers regarding the impact of unemployment on childbearing plans

19

In the social science literature, unemployment sometimes appears as a factor leading individuals to put off until better times their plans for childbearing, and sometimes as a period of “non-activity” to be taken advantage of in order to have a child.

20

Thus, according to the most recent results of INSEE’s permanent Survey on Living Conditions for 1998, “72% of women under the age of 25 consider that it is ‘very important’ for a woman to have a stable job prior to having a first child” (Toulemon and Leridon, 1999). But other studies, based on the life histories of young women in precarious economic situations, support the idea that young women, when confronted with difficulties in entering the labour market, have a tendency to turn towards the family sphere.

21

“These young women will ‘make use’ of their professional precariousness to carry out various projects during the ‘interludes’ provided by these career interruptions (these projects range from voluntary mobility to formal training, via the ‘programming’ of a child”.

(Nicole-Drancourt and Roulleau-Berger, 1995, p. 79; see also Nicole-Drancourt, 1989)
22

Yet in the life histories, the proximity between a period of unemployment and the arrival of a child can lead the respondent to reconstruct, in good faith, an ex post facto explanation. Biographical interviews offer the opportunity “to invent discursive strategies for confronting the interview situation, for ‘saving face’ (Goffman, 1974) and affirming their specificity as a subject” (Demazière and Dubar, 1997).

23

While both unemployment and age at first birth have tended to increase since the mid-1970s, the comparison between economic fluctuations and the timing of family events does not establish a direct link between unemployment and fertility (Figures 1 and 2). Although they are less affected by unemployment, the most educated women are most likely to delay the first birth; in contrast, the least educated women have children earlier, despite their greater sensitivity to economic fluctuations. Moreover, the curves showing age at childbearing do not exhibit fluctuations similar to those on the curves showing unemployment, regardless of the level of education of the women, even with a time lag.

24

In view of the contradictory conclusions stemming from opinion surveys, monographs and statistics with respect to the impact of unemployment on childbearing plans, a biographical approach seemed appropriate.

Event history analysis allows a different approach

25

There are multiple and diversified consequences of unemployment for family life. They depend not only on the position of the unemployed individual in the household and the type of unemployment faced, but also on the timing of the spell of unemployment in the individual’s life. The consequences, then, vary according to age, place of origin, the spouse’s employment status, the duration of the union… In order to measure the impact of unemployment on women’s first maternity, we have used event history analysis to study the time spent by couples in the childless state (Courgeau and Lelièvre, 1989).

26

The INSEE survey on Youth and Careers (Estrade and Thiesset, 1998) lends itself to this type of analysis because it describes retrospectively, year by year [1]  The year is the unit of time used in this analysis....[1], the sequence of familial, residential and occupational events concerning the individual since the age of 16 (see Appendix 1).

27

Women are observed from the beginning of their first union (marriage or cohabitation) until either the birth of their first child, the separation from their first partner if that takes place before the birth of a child, or (if neither of these events occurs) until the date of the survey. We limit the period of observation to a maximum of eight years of union.

Average age of mothers at the birth of their first child, by level of education

Legend: see footnote 3 p. 312 for an explanation of the French educational categories.

Source: INSEE Family Survey, 1990.
Unemployment rates of women aged 15-29, by level of education

Legend: see footnote 3 p. 312 for an explanation of the French educational categories.

Source: INSEE Employment Surveys.
28

First, we consider here women aged 31 to 45 at time of survey (1997), who reported retrospectively at least one date of union or marriage. We eliminated those women who had a first birth before the year of union. We will then study younger women (ages 24-29), to determine whether the trends observed have continued among the more recent birth cohorts.

Half of the women born between 1952 and 1966 had a first child during the initial three years of marital life

29

The first sample includes 5,506 women born between 1952 and 1966, of whom 877 (16%) had no child during the period of observation (so-called “right-censored” data). They are representative of 5,660,000 women aged 31 to 45 in 1997. One woman out of two had a child during the first three years of union (Appendix, section 2 and Table A).

30

The time spent in a childless couple depends on the woman’s own characteristics (her birth cohort, level of education, etc.), and also on the events that she experienced during this period and the context in which she lives. We have taken into account her social class background and some variables related to the circumstances of her studies and work experience. Other variables are missing from the data basis. Thus, the characteristics of the first partner or housing conditions do not appear explicitly in the analysis, despite the fact that they play a role in the timing of fertility (Appendix, section 3). Moreover, unemployment may be correlated with some instability of the union. The fact that we take into account the date of separation from the first partner when that happens during the period of observation tends to reduce this effect. It is logical to stop the observation at that time, since separation will, in all likelihood, alter the woman’s behaviour with respect to the timing of her fertility.

31

The different situations relative to economic activity are identified in the woman’s year by year record, during the life as a couple preceding the arrival of the first child, that is, from the beginning of union to the year before the birth of the first child for those women who had a child, or until the end of the observation period for the others (Appendix, section 2). What we study is then truly the influence of the economic context on the date of birth of the first child, free of the reverse causation implicit in the influence of the arrival of the child on the employment status of the woman (though there is still some haziness when the birth and the beginning of union occur the same year). In the survey, periods of unemployment, of economic inactivity and of long-term employment are only identified if they lasted at least six months. An “intermittent” period of employment designates shorter periods of employment alternating with periods when the woman is not employed. Continuing and resuming one’s studies are combined in a single category, “studies.” The different types of employment status are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Up to three (consecutive or concurrent) may be encountered for a single year. All the statements are entered in the same manner in the analysis, and were not ranked a posteriori.

The youngest and the most educated women were in union longest without a child…

32

While half of the women born between 1952 and 1966 had a first child during the initial three years of union, the median duration was only 2.1 years for women with no diploma or only a primary school certificate, but reached 3.7 years for women with the baccalauréat and 4.7 years for those with more than 2 years of higher education.

33

Moreover, among the cohorts born between 1952 and 1954, one woman out of two waited less than 2.4 years before having a first child, whereas among the younger women (born between 1964 and 1966) this interval was one and a half times longer, or 3.7 years (Appendix, Table A). Between these two extremes, the median duration increased regularly from one cohort to the next.

34

The duration of union without a child thus depends both on the woman’s cohort and on her educational level, which is to some degree a proxy for the socio-economic background of the young woman (Galland, 1995). The non-parametric survival function shows the proportion of women still childless for a given duration of union in the absence of exit from observation. The curves in Figures 3 and 4 clearly show that the younger and better-educated the women, the longer they are likely to remain in a union without becoming mothers.

Proportion of childless women by duration of union and birth cohort (survival function)
Source: INSEE Youth and Careers Survey, 1997.
Proportion of childless women by duration of union and level of education (survival function)

Legend: see footnote 3 p. 312 for an explanation of the French educational categories.

Source: INSEE Youth and Careers Survey, 1997.
35

When we try to examine the influence of other variables, we quickly encounter a problem of inadequate sample size. We are thus obliged, in certain analyses, to summarise the preceding effects by regrouping different educational attainment categories — secondary school graduates and non-graduates — and different cohorts: we distinguish women born during the 1950s (that is, from 1952 to 1960) from those born during the 1960s (that is, from 1961 to 1966) (Table 1).

Table 1 –  Time elapsed between beginning of union and birth of first child, by cohort and level of education, according to woman’s activity(1) in the intervening period (median durations in years)
36

A semi-parametric analysis (Cox model) was undertaken to control for the link between educational attainment and cohort. This makes it possible to study the duration spent childless and in union, taking account of the explanatory variables that we have introduced. The Cox model belongs to the family of proportional hazards models, and it offers the advantage of allowing the direct estimation of the effect of duration, without imposing a form other than the assumption that women’s characteristics exert a proportional effect on the chances of having a first child. Its use thus requires only a (graphic) validation of the similarity of the curves representing the logarithms of the cumulative quotients as a function of duration [2]  This condition was verified for the first eight years...[2].

37

In such an analysis, the curves can be inferred one from the other as a function of a multiplicative factor, or relative risk. The relative risks, which are interpreted in relation to a reference category that takes a value of 1, are presented in the tables of results of the models. This analysis confirms that the differences due to each of the two variables (level of education and cohort) remain significant when both variables are introduced together in the model.

…but this does not depend on the age at which the union began

38

For women born between 1963 and 1966, the median age at start of union ranges from 20.2 years for those who do not have even the CAP to 21.8 years for those with a CAP or BEP, 23.1 years for those with a baccalauréat and 24.4 years for women with higher education [3]  The lowest diploma in the French educational system...[3]. Yet the analysis shows that age at beginning of union does not have a significant effect on the time elapsed before first birth once cohort and educational attainment have been controlled for (Table 2). This surprising result indicates that these two variables, in summarising the characteristics of the past and the social background of the young woman, are sufficient to explain the age at beginning of union. Consequently, including this age in the analysis, in addition to cohort and level of education, does not add anything.

Table 2 –  Estimated coefficients and relative risks of having a first child since the beginning of union, by cohort, level of education, and age at the start of the union (Semi-parametric analysis) – sample of women aged 31-45
39

In contrast, other variables that are known to influence fertility behaviour play a significant role here. For example, given the level of education and the cohort, women from large families of origin become mothers at an earlier age than the average, and it is known that they tend to have more children than women from small families (one or two children) (Leridon, 1985, p. 517). Moreover, women whose father is a manual worker or whose mother is not in the labour force have a first child more rapidly than those for whom the mother or father is an executive. Finally, women living in rural areas or in cities of fewer than 20,000 people have a first child a little sooner than residents of larger cities or Paris.

Women experiencing unemployment postpone the birth of a first child more…

40

Three quarters of the women born between 1952 and 1966 held at least one job for six months or more during the period of observation (that is, between the beginning of life together and the year preceding the birth of a first child or the year when observation ended). Intermittent employment mixed with unemployment is most common among the youngest and least educated women. The requirement in the survey that in order to be counted as periods of unemployment there must be six continuous months of jobhunting explains why this situation is relatively uncommon, even though it affects nearly one woman out of ten. One woman in five pursues her studies after the beginning of union, and this is observed mostly among the best-educated women (more than one in three). A spell of at least six months out of the labour force was reported by more than one in five of the least educated women (those who had not passed the baccalauréat) (Appendix, Table B).

41

Compared with women of the same cohort and educational level, those who had always been in the labour force delayed having a first child longer after the start of union. But this prolongation of the period as a childless couple is greater for the women who experienced intermittent periods of employment than for those who report only continuous employment. Continuous periods of unemployment postpone the arrival of a first child the most (Table 1, figure 5).

Proportion of childless women by duration of union and various work-and education-related situations, for the birth cohorts of the 1950s and the 1960s (survival function)
Source: INSEE Youth and Careers Survey, 1997.

…than those who experienced stable or even intermittent employment

42

Among the women born between 1952 and 1966 who had at least one long spell of employment, half had a first child within 3.5 years of life in union. This median duration amounts to 4.3 years for the women who experienced short or intermittent periods of employment, and 4.5 for those who experienced six months of continuous unemployment at least once. These results vary by cohort and educational level (Table 1).

43

As indicated earlier, these statuses with respect to employment are not mutually exclusive, and their effects may be combined. In order to better visualise the impact of unemployment (in the sense of the survey, i.e. for a spell lasting at least six months), we measure the joint effect (model A) and the net effect (model B) of the situations: “have been employed” (in the broad sense) and “have been unemployed”, holding constant the cohort and level of education, in a semi-parametric proportional hazards analysis (Cox model). The effect of unemployment on first birth postponement is confirmed for women in the labour force (Table 3).

Table 3 –  Estimated coefficients and relative risks of having a first child since the beginning of union, by cohort, level of education, and activity experiences (Semi-parametric analysis). sample of women aged 31-45
44

These results may, however, be criticised: the longer the duration since the couple has been established, the greater the likelihood that the woman will have experienced one of the enumerated statuses (employment, unemployment…). There is thus a possible bias in considering variables for which the intensity is correlated with the observed duration. To address this issue, the event “experienced unemployment” can be analysed as a time-dependent variable in a Cox model, that is, the event is taken into account only from the year when it took place. The results are consistent with the earlier conclusions, but continuous unemployment, in the sense of the survey, is too rare an event when considered on a year-by-year basis, holding constant cohort and level of education, to yield statistically significant results at the levels considered earlier.

45

Women rarely experienced a period of continuous unemployment during the year in which they entered a union (5% of the sample, Appendix, Table B). This observation is linked to the fact that unemployed women delay this entry (Ekert and Solaz, 2000). If one considers the activity status for the year in which the couple was established, unemployment does not have a significantly different impact from that of continuous employment. In contrast, if the distinction is made between having experienced unemployment for the first time before or after beginning of union, the results are unambiguous. Unemployment clearly delays the arrival of the first child more markedly if the women have experienced unemployment when they were already living in a couple (Table 4).

Table 4 –  Estimated coefficients and relative risks of having a first child since the beginning of union, by cohort, level of education, activity status(es) in year of beginning of union (model C), or exposure to unemployment before or after the beginning of union (model D) (Semi-parametric analysis) sample of women aged 31-45 years

Unemployed women and homemakers do not have the same family behaviour

46

Conversely, the women who experienced periods of inactivity spent less time in childless union than other women. Half of them had a child after 2.3 years of life together (as against 3.2 years for women who were not inactive). Once again, this result depends also on the cohort and the educational attainment (Table 1).

47

The impact of inactivity is very strong (Table 4). This result seems to indicate that women who are not in the labour force during the year when they start their union plan, more than other women, to have a child quickly. As Laurent Toulemon has suggested (in Leridon, 1994, p. 174), “for women, forming a couple before starting to work reflects a choice that privileges family and children.” By contrast, continuing studies while in union delayed the first birth for women aged 31 to 45 years. This result is more ambiguous when broken down by cohort and level of education and the influence of further studies is compared with that of employment or unemployment. Women born in the 1950s who pursued studies while they lived in a union postponed the arrival of their first child less than those who were unemployed. In contrast, students born during the 1960s delay even longer than the members of the same cohorts who are in the labour force (Table 1).

Are women under 30 following in the footsteps of their elders?

48

Now let us look at the impact of employment status on the birth of a first child for the women aged 24-29 interviewed in the Youth and Careers Survey of 1997. The employment histories of women under 30 were collected following a slightly more detailed procedure than for the older women, but these modest differences do not hinder the comparison of results with those of the older women (see Appendix, sections 1 and 2). This complementary study is based on data for 1,565 women born from 1968 to 1973 who were living or had lived in a union at time of survey. They represent approximately 1,700,000 women in these cohorts. In this sample, the “right-censored” observations (770, being 49.2% of the total) are clearly more frequent than in the preceding group. Being younger, these women are much more likely than their elders to have lived in a union for less than eight years at time of survey. They also remained childless more often during the period of observation, and have more frequently left their first partner (Appendix, Tables A and B). Since the sample size is smaller for these younger cohorts, educational levels and cohorts had to be regrouped. We distinguish those who obtained the baccalauréat from those who did not, and those born between 1968 and 1970 from those born between 1971 and 1973 (Figure 6).

Proportion of childless women by duration of union, birth cohort, and level of education, for the younger women (survival function)
Source: INSEE Youth and Careers Survey, 1997.

Half of the women born between 1968 and 1973 waited at least 4.4 years before having a first child

49

Certain trends that may be observed among the women under 30 are in fact extensions of the trends described above for the older women. Thus, among the women aged 24 to 29 (born from 1968 to 1973), one out of two had a first child after 4.4 years of life in union (as compared to 3.0 years for the cohorts born between 1952 and 1966), and the differences by cohort persist: women born at the end of the 1960s had a first child more rapidly after the start of their union (4.1 years) than those born at the beginning of the 1970s (4.9 years) (Table A).

50

Having obtained a diploma appears to be a strong differentiating factor, and the time spent in a childless union tends to increase more markedly from one cohort to the next when the woman has graduated from secondary school. Yet pursuing studies deters a certain number of young women from forming a couple. In this regard, our observations are evidently incomplete. Moreover, at these ages (24 to 29 at time of survey), a certain number of secondary school graduates have not yet completed their higher education, and this may help explain the substantial delay preceding a first birth among the youngest secondary school graduates in union.

51

Those under 30 have been much more markedly affected by the difficult state of the labour market than their elders. Thus these young women are proportionately three times more likely than the older women to have experienced unemployment or periods of intermittent employment between the beginning of union and the year preceding the birth of a first child or the end of observation (Table B). These precarious situations in the labour market are even more frequent among the less-educated women and the younger women, born between 1970 and 1973. Conversely, having held a job for a long time is much less common (47% of women born from 1968 to 1973 during the period observed following establishment of the couple, as compared to 77% for the women born between 1952 and 1966). Women under age 30 are also twice as likely to continue their studies after the start of the union. In contrast, only one woman out of ten has been inactive during the period observed and only 8% were out of the labour force during the year when they began their union, whereas 16% experienced unemployment that year (Appendix, Table B).

Among the younger cohorts, unemployment has a stronger influence on the less educated women, comparable to the effect of intermittent employment

52

As was the case for their elders, the median duration between beginning of union and birth of a first child is clearly longer for the women from the younger cohorts who are in the labour force or still in school, as compared to the economically inactive. Half of the young women who experienced a spell of inactivity had their first child within 2.6 years of the beginning of the union, while this median is longer by two years for those who did not experience this situation (Table 1, Figure 7).

Proportion of childless women by duration of union, employment experience and level of education for the youngest cohorts (survival function)
Source: INSEE Youth and Careers Survey, 1997.
53

The time spent in childless union is shorter when the woman has little education and when she has withdrawn from the labour force. The effect of inactivity is especially notable for the women who were already non-working homemakers during the year when the union began (Table 5, model F). Other activity statuses during that year are not significant in the models, despite the fact that the frequency of unemployment, studying, and short employment spells is more important for the young women of this sample than for their elders.

Table 5 –  Estimated coefficients and relative risks of having a first child since the beginning of union, by cohort, level of education, activity experiences since the start of the union (model E), or activity status(es) in year of beginning the union (model F) (Semi-parametric analysis) sample of women aged 24-29
54

As for the preceding sample, we tested the influence of different activity statuses (unemployment, stable employment, intermittent employment, studies) on the duration between beginning of union and the year preceding the birth of a first child. It is clear that each of these situations lengthens substantially the time spent in a childless couple, for a given educational level and cohort, as compared to inactivity. The women with the highest educational attainments remain childless for longest, regardless of their employment status.

55

The influence of unemployment is very clear for the least educated w omen (Table 1). Women without a secondary school diploma (baccalauréat) who have experienced unemployment since beginning of union delay the birth of their child by almost 2 years more than those who have not experienced unemployment: the median durations are 4.9 years and 3 years.

56

The delaying effect of long-term employment is also stronger among those without a secondary school diploma than among those with one. As for periods of intermittent employment, rather than having an intermediate effect between that of long employment and unemployment as was the case among women born between 1952 and 1966, they delay the arrival of a first child among the younger cohorts born between 1968 and 1973 by as much as unemployment: the median duration before a first birth reaches 5.5 years (Table 1, figure 7).

Conclusion

57

The method of event history analysis applied to data from the Youth and Careers Survey sheds light on the question of the impact of unemployment on family life. Unemployment among young women living in union postpones the birth of a first child. Thus, experiencing a period of unemployment has prompted women born between 1952 and 1973 to delay their first birth in the expectation of better times. We have shown that this phenomenon is even more evident when the woman has relatively little education and when she belongs to the most recent birth cohorts.

58

One essential difference opposes the status of homemaker to all others (employed, unemployed, or student). Being out of the labour force, especially at the start of life together as a couple, translates into much more rapid first births that undoubtedly reflect an accelerated childbearing schedule. This result confirms that a period of unemployment is not at all the same as a period of inactivity: with regard to fertility, unemployed women are quite different from homemakers.

59

From older women to younger women, a strong continuity of behaviour is observed, despite a changed social and economic context. Longer formal education has widened the gap between those women who have finished school without any certificate and those who have gone on to higher education. Behaviour has evolved as unemployment and — among the younger women — intermittent employment have become facts of life. These periods of uncertainty in the labour market correspond to quite different realities for different educational groups. Unemployment undoubtedly affects the family income of the least educated more severely and therefore has a stronger impact on their fertility. The influence of intermittent employment is similar to that of unemployment among the younger cohorts.

60

Thus childbearing plans are also motivated by economic considerations and are influenced by job opportunities. Women in a precarious situation in the labour market postpone the birth of their first child as long as their plans for stable employment or completing their studies are not realized. This serves as a reminder, if needed, that the employment of women reflects expectations of income and social recognition, and perhaps also career ambitions. Where family decisions are involved, these assets are seen as more than “add-ons”, and they interfere with the priorities of couples.

61

In a society where contraception makes it possible to control the timing of maternity and where female employment has progressively become the norm, the size of the family and the timing of fertility are influenced by the current and anticipated employment of women. To further the understanding of their behaviour, any analysis must involve family life, occupation, and migration of women and their partners in a symmetrical and detailed manner.

1 - The Youth and Careers Survey

62

The Youth and Careers Survey, complementary to the Employment Survey, was a face-to-face survey carried out by INSEE interviewers in March 1997. Data collection, largely computer-assisted (CAPI method, except for the schedule of events), covered women aged 19 to 45 from among the outgoing third of the Employment Survey sample. The sample is representative of the population, and is made up of 20,770 individuals of whom 12,400 aged 30 to 45. Retrospective life histories were used to collect data on family events (start of union, marriage, separation, birth of children), changes of residence and periods of studies or economic activity experienced by the individual since age 16. The confrontation of these different types of events facilitated recall by the respondents.

2 - Description of the sample

63

We chose to study the population of women with the greatest likelihood of having a child, and took the start of union as point of departure (t0). Beginning at the age of 16 or 18 would confound the effects of the delay in initiating union and those of the timing of the first birth. In fact, the activity status at beginning of union is the most critical factor. For similar reasons, we avoided taking the end of studies as point of departure, as many women start their union before they finish their studies.

64

Thus we consider the time elapsed between the start of union (t0 = first year of union) and the year of birth of the first child (t1), if this birth takes place within 8 years of the start of union without separation of the partners. Beyond 8 years, the proportional hazards model that we use is no longer applicable; these relatively infrequent situations (fewer than 5%) cannot be studied in the same way.

65

Three groups are included in the analysis as “right-censored data”: women who remained with their first partner but had no child during the first eight years of life in union (t1 = t0+8); women who separated from their first partner before having a child and before eight years together in union with that partner (t1 = date of separation); and women for whom the date of the survey intervened before a child was born and before eight years in union (t1 = 1997).

66

Several activity statuses (employed, unemployed, student, inactive) may be recorded during the same calendar year in the survey. All are taken into consideration for the period under study. For the younger women, labour force data are more detailed.

a - Women aged 31 to 45

67

Of the 6,256 women in the sample who were born between 1952 and 1966, 5,771 have lived in a couple. The others, representing about 12.4% of the younger women (born 1964-1966) and 5.1% of the older ones (born 1952-1954) are excluded from the sample.

68

Among the women who have lived in a union, 163 are eliminated because they had a child before the start of the union. Another 102 are excluded because their activity status was not recorded at the start of the union, and their status with respect to studies and the labour market at that time cannot be determined.

69

The final data file thus consists of 5,506 women (Table A). There were 4,629 women who had a child less than 9 years after the start of their first union and without leaving their first partner. 503 women (9.1%) did not have a child; 283 women had a child but more than 8 years after starting living together; and 302 women left their partner before spending 8 years together in union, of whom 91 did so prior to having a first birth. Thus, 877 women (15.9% of the sample) are included in the analysis as “right-censored” observations.

Table A –  Structure of the samples of the Youth and Careers Survey and time elapsed between the start of the union and the birth of the first child (median duration in years)
70

With regard to the activity status, the yearly records only indicate long periods (at least 6 months). Five categories are distinguished:

  • continuous unemployment: “unemployed and looking for work continuously”;

  • continuous long-term employment: “employed for more than six months (may be in more than one job if there has been a change of employer)”;

  • intermittent employment : “short-duration jobs alternating with periods without a job or periods of apprenticeship”;

  • inactivity : “inactive, homemaker”;

  • studying : “periods of study or continuous training or resumption of studies”.

In the year when the union started, two women out of three held a long-term job (66%), fewer than one out of five was studying (17.9%), while the proportion inactive (13.2%) was close to that with intermittent employment (9.3%). Finally, only 5.3% of the women experienced a period of uninterrupted unemployment during that year (Table B).

Table B –  Activity status(es) encountered(1) between the start of the union and the birth of the first child
71

Before having a child, the young women encountered a growing number of activity statuses. More than three-quarters had at least one long period of employment, and this figure was close to 84% among the most educated women. Periods of intermittent employment and of unemployment were especially common among the youngest and least educated women. One woman in ten experienced unemployment. Among the most educated women, more than one in three continued her studies after starting her union. Among those women who did not graduate from secondary school, one out of five experienced at least one period of inactivity (Table B).

72

The probability of having experienced these different situations is not independent of the characteristics of the young women. The methods used enable us to distinguish among the effects of each of the variables considered in the model.

b - Women aged 24 to 29

73

The sample of younger women consists of 1,565 women born between 1968 and 1973. Among them, 795 women had a child before the 9th year of their life in union and without leaving their partner. 737 (47.1%) did not have a child, 8 had a child but more than 8 years after the start of their first union, 141 left their first partner before 8 years of life together, and for 25 of the latter women this separation also preceded the birth of a child. Thus, 770 women (49.2%) are included in the analysis as “right-censored” observations.

74

The work history schedule of the younger women differs somewhat from the one used for the older cohorts of women, in order to better represent their situation at the start of observation and to remain consistent with earlier surveys. When a young woman had experienced different statuses during the same year, the record identifies, in addition to the principal status during the year, a “secondary” status (that must be reported if it lasted at least three months or if it coexisted with the principal status).

75

The categorization of the work status of the young women is done so as to be consistent with that of the older women:

  • unemployment: principal or secondary status of “unemployed and looking for work”;

  • long-term employment: principal or secondary status of “full-time wage earner for an unlimited duration, or unpaid family worker, or self-employed”;

  • short-term or intermittent employment: principal or secondary status of “apprenticeship or fixed-term contracts, temporary job, seasonal work”;

  • inactivity: principal or secondary status of “inactive, homemaker”;

  • studies: principal or secondary status of “student, unpaid training or occupational training course, subsidized employment contract or remunerated student”.

In the year in which they started their union, only 34% of the young women in the sample had long-term employment, more than a third were pursuing their studies (38%), and the percentage inactive (7.8%) was substantially lower than the percentage of women in short-term employment (26.4%);16.1% experienced a period of unemployment, a much larger proportion than among the older cohorts of women (Table B).

76

Before having a child, these women encountered a variety of statuses. Almost half of them (46.7%) had at least one period of long-term employment, and this proportion was close to 53% among the most educated women. Periods of short-term employment and unemployment are especially prevalent among the youngest and the least educated. Nearly three women in 10 experienced unemployment. Among the most educated women, 56.7% continued with their studies after starting their union; among those without a secondary education diploma, 16% experienced at least one period of inactivity (Table B).

c - To weight or not to weight

77

The sample is representative of the total population and the weights take into account the non-response rates (which were relatively low, around 7%) by sex, age, type of activity, and size of urban area. The 5,506 women aged 31 to 45 in the sample are representative of approximately 5,660,000 women in that age range as of March 1997, and the 1,565 younger women born between 1968 and 1973, of 1,695,000 women (Table A). Should the sample cases be weighted in the analyses? In a cross-sectional analysis, each surveyed individual clearly represents a weight in the sampling frame. In longitudinal analyses, the answer is not so clear. Since the sample is representative as of the time of survey, it may also be assumed to be representative of the past of the individuals covered by the survey. But this point is a debatable one (Hoem, 1985). The condition for being able to use a non-weighted sample is that it be non-informative. Unfortunately, this condition can never be perfectly verified. It is, however, indispensable to work also with non-weighted samples to test the significance of the results.

78

Neglecting the new non-responses introduced by the “poorly completed” life histories, we recalculated a certain number of results by attributing to each individual her weight in the survey. These weighted results differ only slightly from the non-weighted results, bearing witness to the quality of the initial sampling (Table A).

3 - What the analysis does not say

79

The model presented in this article allows some progress in the analysis of the interactions between labour market and family behaviour, although it does not account for all the potential explanatory factors. Without calling into question the conclusions presented here, we would like to refine the explanation.

a - Problems of couples…

80

First of all, it is well known that the experiences of partners are not independent. In decisions to migrate, type of employment, etc., what happens to one depends in part on what happens to the other, and certain characteristics of the couple, such as the age difference between partners, have a significant influence on work histories (Courgeau and Meron, 1996). A fortiori, a child is a joint project of the couple and the activity status of the future father will certainly interact with that of the mother. This aspect cannot be taken into account here because the survey deals only with the partners present in March 1997 and there is no information on previous partners in cases of separation. But the biographical approach requires taking into account the characteristics that were relevant at the moment when the event in question took place. One way of dealing with this problem due to separations (which incidentally were more numerous in the more recent cohorts) would have been to study the arrival of a first child only for women who stayed with the same partner. But that would have introduced a serious selection bias. Accounting for the successive places of residence of an individual raises similar problems. Finally, it would be interesting to know whether the impact of the woman’s unemployment is tempered by the stability of her partner’s employment, if the unemployment of the man delays the prospect of a child to a lesser or a greater extent than that of the woman, and to measure the cumulated impact of the unemployment of the two partners or the influence of certain types of employment.

b - … and of health

81

Since our data file does not have any information pertinent to health or to possible problems of contraception or subfecundity, the analysis cannot take these problems into account. This is equivalent to considering that these problems are independent of the explanatory variables, most notably of the birth cohort, the level of education, and the activity status of the women. Yet it is well known that certain health problems are more frequently encountered among unemployed individuals than among other persons in the labour force. Some people are inactive for health reasons. It seems quite unlikely, however, that such problems can explain the magnitude of the differentials observed.

82

Moreover, if subfecundity is linked to age, it may contribute to extending the childless period of the most educated women and of the younger cohorts of women who start their union at an older age. This effect is probably sufficiently weak to be accounted for already in the analysis, since age at union does not appear to have any independent effect after cohort and level of education have been controlled for.

c - Some future lines of inquiry

83

The event history approach, which is well suited to examining these kinds of issues, can be used to explore other questions as well. It would be interesting to analyse other birth intervals to see if the effect of unemployment in delaying the first birth is also evident for higher-order births. The experiences of men could also be examined, and their outcomes could be compared to those of women…

84

The limitations of the Youth and Careers Survey prompt thoughts of alternative data sources, where the employment, family, and migration histories would be more complete. Another interesting line of research would be to compare the individual point of view with the strategy of the firm. The introduction of the employer’s characteristics in the analysis of individual behaviour, the simultaneous study of the biography of individuals and the history of the firms for which they work, might shed light on the construction of certain modes of behaviour in the field of the family.


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Notes

[*] Institut National d’Études Démographiques (INED).

[**] Department of Sociology, Université d’Aix-Marseille I /Institut National d’Études Démographiques.Translated by David Shapiro.This article is the outcome of work financed by the Direction de la Population et Migrations (DPM) pursuant to a recommendation of the High Council of Population and the Family (Jacques Commaille report).

[1] The year is the unit of time used in this analysis. Earlier work using the same method showed that monthly dates add but little supplementary information (Kempeneers and Lelièvre, 1991).

[2] This condition was verified for the first eight years of life together, but the graphs are not presented here.

[3] The lowest diploma in the French educational system is the CEP [Certificat d’études primaires], the primary-school-leaving certificate. This is followed by the CAP [Certificat d’aptitude professionnelle], a lower-level vocational training certificate obtained in four years; the BEPC [Brevet d’études du premier cycle] which is sat after four years of secondary education in a collège: this is the “lower secondary diploma”; and the BEP [Brevet d’études professionnelles], a higher-level vocational training diploma obtained in six years. The students who enter a lycée after the BEPC prepare (in three years) the baccalauréat (or “bac”), the secondary school diploma that leads to higher education: this is the “upper secondary diploma”. “Bac + 2” means two years of higher education, etc.

Abstract

English

Unemployment, more than other activity statuses, prompts childless young women in union to delay a prospective maternity. This result is established here for women born between 1952 and 1973, on the basis of data from the Youth and Careers Survey carried out by INSEE in 1997. Young women confronted with a period of unemployment chose to forego their first child for a while, rather than take advantage of the “free” time imposed on them. In contrast, homemakers especially at the beginning of their union tend to have their first births much more rapidly. This result confirms that a period of unemployment is not tantamount to a period of inactivity. In matters of fertility, unemployed women are not homemakers.
Economic fluctuations have an especially important impact on the early working life of the young, at the very time when they may be starting a family. The usual statistical analyses do not make it possible to demonstrate a clear link between the growth of unemployment and the increase in the age at first birth. Biographical analysis sheds light on the impact of female unemployment on childbearing plans, by including the timing of life history events of individuals among the variables that explain behaviour.
In a society where contraception makes it possible for women to master the timing of their fertility and where female labour force participation has become the norm, these findings show that the family building process and the couples’ decisions are now factoring in the work experience and the career goals of both partners.

Outline

    1. Beginnings of family life and entry into the world of work: Changes in timing
    2. Postponement of the first birth is linked to family transformations, the prolongation of education, and the development of women’s labour force participation
    3. Difficulties of economic integration and postponed family formation: What are the links?
    4. Monographs and cross-sectional surveys give conflicting answers regarding the impact of unemployment on childbearing plans
    5. Event history analysis allows a different approach
    6. Half of the women born between 1952 and 1966 had a first child during the initial three years of marital life
    7. The youngest and the most educated women were in union longest without a child…
    8. …but this does not depend on the age at which the union began
    9. Women experiencing unemployment postpone the birth of a first child more…
    10. …than those who experienced stable or even intermittent employment
    11. Unemployed women and homemakers do not have the same family behaviour
    12. Are women under 30 following in the footsteps of their elders?
    13. Half of the women born between 1968 and 1973 waited at least 4.4 years before having a first child
    14. Among the younger cohorts, unemployment has a stronger influence on the less educated women, comparable to the effect of intermittent employment
  1. Conclusion

To cite this article

Monique Meron and Isabelle Widmer "Les femmes au chômage retardent l'arrivée du premier enfant", Population 2/2002 (Vol. 57), p. 301-330.
URL  www.cairn.info/revue-population-2002-2-page-301.htm

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