Entry into Motherhood in Europe: does a woman’s career matter?

Publication type

Conference Paper


European Population Conference


Publication date

August 27, 2003


The age at motherhood has increased in most European Countries in the past decades. The main aim of this paper is to assess the impact of women's labour market participation on the timing of first birth across the European Union (EU).

According to the literature - based on income maximisation framework (Cigno and Ermish 1989, Hotz et al. 1997) - women with a higher degree of human capital and a shorter work experience are more likely to delay motherhood or to remain childless. However, recent micro-level studies have shown contradictory empirical evidence. For instance, higher educated women or career women seem to enter motherhood earlier in the Northern European Countries (Kravdal 1994, Hoem 2000, Andersson 2001). Conceivably, these ambiguous findings might reflect substantial cross-country differences that we would like to point out. Therefore, we intend to conduct this analysis at individual level by using the European Community Household Panel survey (ECHP) covering the 15 European Union countries for the period 1994-1998.

The dynamic approach is of paramount importance for evaluating the time when a birth minimizes - or at least reduces - costs arising from women's forgone earnings and investments in human capital during maternity. In particular, we consider the impact on entry into motherhood of variables such as educational level, age at first employment, current activity status, number of working hours, contract typology (permanent versus short term), wage level and potential earnings.

We conduct an analysis to explain how the probability to enter into motherhood differs across countries. On one side, the gap between the probability of being childlessness in each country and the overall EU corresponding probability reflects differences in the observed characteristics of the national women populations, i.e. a different composition by educational level, age at the first employment, etc. On the other side, the gap is instead due to different fertility behaviours across countries, and it persists even if we assume the same composition of the women's population across countries.



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