Men stepping up at home is key to increasing birth rates

When we talk about how to deal with declining birth rates, it’s no surprise that the conversation usually focuses on young women. After all, it is quite difficult to influence birth rates without them. But according to a growing body of research, this demographic is already doing all it can. A more successful political target might actually be men.

In 2000, there were 22.5 people aged 65 and over per 100 people of working age in OECD countries. This year, the ratio is estimated to have increased by nearly half to 32.4. Over the same period, female labor force participation has steadily increased from 59% to 65%, and the gender pay gap for workers in OECD countries has narrowed. is reduced from 18% to just under 12%.

The coinciding trends present a conundrum: at a time when some governments are concerned about falling birth rates, the number of women navigating the difficult trade-off between thriving professionally and having children has never been greater. .

Comprehensive new research suggests it’s time to stop defaulting to the assumption that work versus family is a trade-off only for women, and start paying more attention to role than men can play in facilitating simultaneous progress in birth rates and female employment.

The old wisdom that the more careers women pursue, the fewer children they have, has long been proven wrong. In the 1980s, it was true that the higher a country’s female labor force participation rate, the lower its fertility rate. But a decade later, the relationship had reversed: the higher a country’s female labor force participation rate, the higher its fertility rate. In some countries, the probability of having a second child is now highest among the professional classes and lowest among the less qualified.

Several factors contributed to this reversal, including improved provision and state support for childcare, but one of the most significant changes was the increase in paternal contribution to childcare and household chores. This makes the trade-off for mothers much less steep.

Having a child usually depends on both partners wanting one. Research shows that agreement tends to be much higher when men provide a relatively high share of childcare. In societies where male contributions are minimal, many women report not wanting another child despite their partner’s wishes. The result is that in countries where men do one-third of childcare and household chores, total fertility rates are about one-third higher than in countries where they do only one-fifth. .

If a young woman knows that having a baby will mean either exorbitant childcare costs or giving up several days of work a week – and possibly her chance for a promotion – she would be right to think twice about start a family. But if she and her partner cut the burden in half and choose to lose a day each, then assuming their employers’ policies and corporate culture are fit for the 21st century, these small shared steps are unlikely to work. result in such a significant professional setback.

For decades the assumption has been that when it comes to the workplace, out of sight is out of your pocket, but the pandemic has shown otherwise. The new era of flexible working makes equalizing parental custody of children more feasible than ever.

Worryingly, in parts of the west not only have men been slow to act, but the trend has been in the opposite direction. In the United States, between May and December 2020, fathers spent 50 minutes a day during which their main activity was childcare. In the first year of the pandemic, this fell to 46 minutes, while mothers’ daily childcare commitments fell from 88 to 101 minutes.

And the “new normal” that is beginning to take shape has seen the labor force participation rates of American mothers to fall, reversing decades-old trends. The activity rate for fathers of young children rose from 95 to 93.4% in 2020, before rising slightly to 93.9 last year. Mothers, meanwhile, rose from 66.4 to 65.8% in 2020, labor force participation rates fell further to 65.6% last year, while in the Kingdom United, women’s participation also fell slightly.

Change is needed on several fronts. Government and corporate policies need to provide more flexibility for all parents. Britons need a lot more help to cope with the highest childcare costs in the world (in a bad way). And men need to step back from the office and join their partners in doing their part at home. Everyone must shoulder the burden of raising the next generation.

[email protected], @jburnmurdoch

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