How to increase the fertility rate


It is true that using 1980 data, there was a correlation between countries with higher national income and female employment and lower fertility rates.

But a recent analysis of data from 2000 contained in a new paper A new era in the economics of fertility shows that the relationship has recently turned heads.

“This relationship has reversed – fertility is now highest in countries where many women work,” the authors reveal.

It may still be true that every nation’s fertility rates are lower relative to history, but it is no longer the case that high-income countries necessarily have the lowest fertility rates.

Indeed, quite the contrary.

In particular, the data show that countries that made it easier for women to combine the pursuit of work and family goals achieved not only higher female labor force participation, but also higher fertility rates. Jobs and babies. Win-win!

So what policies really help women combine both paid work and the generally unpaid work of making and caring for babies?

The authors identify four factors: family policy, cooperative fathers, supportive social norms and flexible labor markets.

Family policies include paid parental leave and public investment in childcare, the latter having a direct positive impact not only on women’s participation in the labor market, but also on fertility. It turns out that the choice between children and careers is not at all binary. Women can have both, with the right support.

“If…childcare is widely available, covers the full working day, and is affordable, women with young children have an easier time continuing to work and may therefore be more likely to have families more numerous.”

Men in the most fertile OECD countries – Switzerland, Iceland, Finland and Norway – perform between 35 and 40% of household chores.Credit:Shutterstock

Second, there is a marked increase in fertility in countries where men contribute relatively more to childcare and household chores.

“In all countries where the fertility rate is below 1.5 (i.e. low fertility), men do less than a third of the work in the home.” By comparison, men in the most fertile OECD countries – Switzerland, Iceland, Finland and Norway – perform between 35 and 40% of household chores.

It’s far from equal, of course, but enough to translate into more babies. (For the record, Australian men do about 27% of household chores.)


Supportive social norms include both generally positive attitudes towards women who balance work and family, as well as workplaces that discourage excessively long or unsociable hours and encourage parents to work flexibly.

Finally, the general state of the labor market and the availability of well-paid, flexible jobs for women to return to after birth also strongly influence fertility decisions.

Helping women balance work and family in this way is a direct antidote to declining fertility rates in advanced countries, the authors conclude.

“The clear association between fertility rates and measures of family-career compatibility shows that ultra-low fertility is not an inevitable fate, but a reflection of the policies, institutions and norms that prevail in a society. .”

Of course, the decision to have a child should always be an active choice for women. And the success of some countries in finding policy frameworks that boost both women’s paid work and fertility suggests a potential unmet demand among women to do more of both.

It turns out that women, on average, just want what men have had for many years: the ability to combine a rewarding career with a happy family life.

Policies that help them do both, including greater investment in childcare, end up paying a double fiscal dividend, both by increasing the proportion of female taxpayers and generating more future taxpayers otherwise called babies.

Women really want to have it all. And it is in the general interest of society that their needs are met.

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