Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Birth Postponement

Birth Postponement

Birth postponement, which is defined as an increase in the age at which women give birth to their first child, is now a widespread, and indeed near universal, phenomenon across the OECD countries. In Western, Northern, and Southern Europe, first-time mothers are on average 26 to 29 years old, up from 23 to 25 years at the start of the 1970s. In a number of European countries (Spain), the mean age of women at first childbirth has now even crossed the 30 year threshold.

This process is not restricted to Europe. Asia, Japan and the United States are all seeing average age at first birth on the rise, and increasingly the process is spreading to countries in the developing world like China, Turkey and Iran.
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First birth trends in developed countries: Persisting parenthood postponement

evels and trends of various facets concerning first births are continuously changing. The evidence confirms that the postponement of first births is an ongoing and persisting process which started in western countries among cohorts of the 1940s, but only in the 1960s cohorts in Central and Eastern Europe. The mean age of women having first births is universally rising. Fertility of older women was increasing. The decline in childbearing of young women is robust among the cohorts of the late 1960s and the 1970s; in Southern Europe as well as in central and Eastern Europe the rates of decline have accelerated. Childbearing behavior in the formerly socialist countries is in transition to a different regime.
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Postponement of Childbearing in Europe

The Vienna Institute of Demography, the Università Bocconi, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) together with the Working Group on the Second Demographic Transition in Europe of the European Association for Population Studies held a conference on the Postponement of Childbearing in Europe at the Statistics Austria centre in Vienna on 1-3 December 2005. The conference brought together most of the world's leading experts on this topic, and on this page you can find links to, and comments on, what I consider to have been the most interesting papers.

The subject matter of this conference forms the core of the second chapter of my book, which you can find here.
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The Postponement of Childbearing in Europe

At the present time some 66 countries have fertility rates which are below the level necessary for population replacement (TFR 2.1). Within the next decade the number of counries in this group is set to grow to the point where a majority of the world’s population will be living in regions where the existing population no longer replaces itself. This development in an of itself is no disaster - many countries arguably suffer from excessive rates of population increase - but equally reducing fertility too rapidly can lead to economic and social 'imbalances' that may well turn out to be, in and of themselves, 'undesireable'.
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The Postponement In Childbearing

All the indications point to the possibility that sometime within the next decade the majority of the world’s population will find itself living in regions of the globe which have either near-replacement or below-replacement levels of fertility. What were previously thought of as distinct fertility regimes, with a strong distinction being drawn between fertility in "developed" and "developing" societies, are increasingly coming to be seen as forming part one single fertility phenomenon (Bongaarts and Bulatao 2000; Lutz et al. 2001; Wilson 2001).
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Postponement of childbearing and low fertility in Europe

Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X, published with an appreciable success in 1991, portrays the story of three young people in their twenties who quit their jobs, leave their hometowns, and settle down in a small town in the Californian desert. They are ‘overeducated’ individuals, overloaded with information, and shaped by the consumer culture, yet totally lacking the career ambitions and family values of their parents’ generation. Andy, Claire, and Dag survive on low-paid ‘McJobs’, are strongly individualistic—practically to the point of being unable to develop lasting relationship—and feel alienated and ambiguous about the future. Their lives are conspicuous in their almost complete absence of family and children; their parents, typically divorced, are mentally and geographically worlds apart. Having children apparently does not belong to the options considered by the characters, who live in their own inner worlds.

Hardly any other novel better epitomises the cultural and social change, which has occurred in the course of one generation and turned the perception of many traditional values on family and reproduction upside down. For many young men and women in developed societies, marrying and having children has become a matter of choice, the possibility of a distant future. They live in an uncertain world which values flexibility and which is marked by impermanence—in employment, consumer products, and intimate relationships. Women have gained almost complete independence from men through receiving higher education and participating massively in paid labour, and have been freed from unintended pregnancies by a broad range of modern contraceptives. Men often seem to retreat from partnership and childrearing commitments, preferring spending money on consumer goods or pursuing a career instead (Goldscheider and Kaufman 1996). In the light of these shifts, it comes as no surprise that most developed societies have low or very low fertility rates and that women are having children at progressively higher ages. What is surprising, however, is the pace of these changes.
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1 comment:

lizbet said...

I am not a demographer but have just completed a series of interviews with childless women over the age of 35 who are seeking assisted conception, for my PhD study on age related infertility.Age related infertility arises through a conflation of fertility postponed and the desire for a child. Its bio-medcial remedy is assisted conception and simultaneous to the ever longer postponement of fertility we find the rise of an assisted conception industry catering mainly to the unmet fertility desires of older women.From the perpective of age related infertility the process of postponement takes on a new, rather strange and challenging perpective. We find women who have postponed their fertility to their own disadvantage.The relationship between socio-economic factors and the desire for a child also takes on new meanings. We find women who are willing to spend any amount of money or time, make any sacrifice, suffer any risk, bear any uncertainity, in order to acheive the fertility they desire.The very concept of infertility takes on new meanings; the boundary between voluntary and involuntary infertility becomes blurred .We see women who have constructed their own infertility over the course of their reproductive lives.Are we looking at a physiological problem or a social problem? Moreover historical demography makes clear that postponing fertility through late marriage is a very old and entrenched social and reproductive norm. In this we see that late married societies actually write in a certain level of infertility, voluntary and involuntary ,into female lives, lifecourse and eventually the demographic structure. In fact western demography is well and truly founded upon the postponement of fertility. So whatever it means to postpone we can be sure that it means a lot ; it has value and meaning that reaches way back to societies that have little in common with our ours, except that they posptoned and we postpone.

Just a few thoughts from someone who is looking at postponement from a very different perspective to you demographers.Sometimes I think we haven't really begun to think about postponement at all.