Childbearing impeded education more than education impeded childbearing among Norwegian women
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 108 (29), 2011, pages 11830-5.
In most societies, women at age 39 with higher levels of education have fewer children. To understand this association, we investigated the effects of childbearing on educational attainment and the effects of education on fertility in the 1964 birth cohort of Norwegian women. Using detailed annual data from ages 17 to 39, we estimated the probabilities of an additional birth, a change in educational level, and enrollment in the coming year, conditional on fertility history, educational level, and enrollment history at the beginning of each year. A simple model reproduced a declining gradient of children ever born with increasing educational level at age 39. When a counterfactual simulation assumed no effects of childbearing on educational progression or enrollment (without changing the estimated effects of education on childbearing), the simulated number of children ever born decreased very little with increasing completed educational level, contrary to data. However, when another counterfactual simulation assumed no effects of current educational level and enrollment on childbearing (without changing the estimated effects of childbearing on education), the simulated number of children ever born decreased with increasing completed educational level nearly as much as the decrease in the data. In summary, in these Norwegian data, childbearing impeded education much more than education impeded childbearing. These results suggest that women with advanced degrees have lower completed fertility on the average principally because women who have one or more children early are more likely to leave or not enter long educational tracks and never attain a high educational level.