Changing Relationships between Education and Fertility: A Study of Women and Men Born 1940 to 1964
American Sociological Review 73 (5), 2008, pages 854-873
Education and fertility (including childrearing) are foundational processes in societal metabolism, and the relationship between them can have profound, long-term effects on a variety of institutions, including the labor market, the family (especially care for the elderly), and educational institutions themselves. In postindustrial countries, conventional wisdom holds that there is a strong inverse relationship between education and completed fertility, but this has not been carefully examined in recent decades, and the topic has been almost completely neglected for men. In this article, we address these core questions and relations, drawing on the Norwegian population registers for cohorts born 1940 to 1964. Among women, the relationship between completed fertility and educational level attained at age 39 has become substantially less negative. In all cohorts, better-educated women have later first births and remain childless more often than do the less educated. The negative effect of education on higher-order birth rates net of the impact of later motherhood has, however, disappeared. Family-friendly ideologies and policies, including better access to high-quality daycare, are likely the engine behind this shift. Among men, a positive relationship has emerged: the better educated become fathers later than others, but fewer remain childless, and there has been an increasingly stimulating effect of education on second- and third-birth rates. We discuss these sex differences in light of the persistent differences between mothers' and fathers' roles.