Unemployment Leads Women to Postpone the Birth of Their First Child

By Monique Meron, Isabelle Widmer, David Shapiro


Unemployment, more than other activity statuses, prompts childless young women in union to delay a prospective maternity. This result is established here for women born between 1952 and 1973, on the basis of data from the Youth and Careers Survey carried out by INSEE in 1997. Young women confronted with a period of unemployment chose to forego their first child for a while, rather than take advantage of the “free” time imposed on them. In contrast, homemakers especially at the beginning of their union tend to have their first births much more rapidly. This result confirms that a period of unemployment is not tantamount to a period of inactivity. In matters of fertility, unemployed women are not homemakers.
Economic fluctuations have an especially important impact on the early working life of the young, at the very time when they may be starting a family. The usual statistical analyses do not make it possible to demonstrate a clear link between the growth of unemployment and the increase in the age at first birth. Biographical analysis sheds light on the impact of female unemployment on childbearing plans, by including the timing of life history events of individuals among the variables that explain behaviour.
In a society where contraception makes it possible for women to master the timing of their fertility and where female labour force participation has become the norm, these findings show that the family building process and the couples’ decisions are now factoring in the work experience and the career goals of both partners.

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