Study: New study on childbearing and education offers surprising findings
New research by Joel E. Cohen and colleagues in Norway found that, at least among a population of Norwegian women, childbearing impeded education more than education impeded childbearing. The surprising findings are reported online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
From the press release:
In almost every country, women with more education have fewer children. But does education reduce childbearing, or does childbearing get in the way of education, or both? New research by Joel E. Cohen and colleagues in Norway found that, at least among a population of Norwegian women, childbearing impeded education more than education impeded childbearing. The surprising findings are reported online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Cohen and his co-authors, Øystein Kravdal and Nico Keilman from the University of Oslo, followed all the women born in Norway in 1964 through the end of their childbearing, using year-by-year data on education, enrollment and reproduction.
The researchers expected to find that women around 40 years old with more education bear fewer children mainly because education reduces childbearing. However, they found the opposite: women who have children early seem not to go on to higher education, much more than higher education reduces childbearing.
Cohen and his colleagues offer several possible policy implications based on their findings. For example, should women be discouraged from bearing children at an early age? The authors suggest that policy makers could recognize that early childbearing may be a result of decisions made by well-informed individuals. On the other hand, if society places a large value on education that is inadequately taken into account through individuals' decision making, policies could be adopted that discourage people from having children at an early age.
In addition, if women underestimate how much childbearing interferes with further education — along with potentially adverse consequences for their long-term quality of life — then a case could be made that it would be a good idea to create more awareness about the educational consequences of early childbearing.
Finally, a policy could be implemented that offset the effect of childbearing on education by, for example, lowering the cost of child care for students who are mothers. Such a policy, the authors say, could in principle make more women interested in having a child early; however, it would increase the educational levels for those who would have a child (whether wanted or not) while they are still young, with potentially beneficial effects also on others' well-being.
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.
EurekAlert / Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences