• Article

Fertility and Employment

This paper reviews the empirical evidence on the relationship between fertility and women's employment. In modern, industrialized societies there is generally a negative relationship between the two, but the causal direction is far from clear. No doubt, fertility exerts a negative influence on work-force participation, in the sense that a new-born baby has a dramatic and immediately inhibiting effect on work-force participation for the woman who has just become a mother. This effect tends, however, to be temporary and decreases as the child gets older. On the other hand, the effect of employment on fertility is a much more debated issue, and the author questions whether the presumed negative relationship really holds in most of contemporary Western Europe. The incompatibility of employment and motherhood would seem to have become seriously weakened in recent decades, through the growth of part-time work and the increasing availability of institutionalized child care. From a feminist perspective, it may be argued that the incompatibility of work and motherhood is mainly a consequence of existing gender structures in society and the ensuing power relations within marriage. Countries with modified gender structures would therefore seem to stand a better chance of achieving a birth rate near replacement level


Bernhardt, EM. (1993). Fertility and Employment. European Sociological Review, 9(1), 25-42.