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Highly-qualified Dutch women postpone birth of first child

30 January 2013

Dutch women have their first child relatively late in life. PhD research carried out by Katia Begall shows this to be particularly true of highly qualified women who work full time and women in jobs that do not belong to the ‘typically female’ domain. This effect is less evident in sectors with high female employment, such as healthcare and education. It is a different story when it comes to second children. Highly qualified women tend to have their second child fairly soon after the first. Begall will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 7 February 2013.

Good qualifications, a career with good prospects, a full-time job in a mainly male environment and irregular hours are all factors that cause women to postpone having their first child. These are some of the findings from research carried out by Katia Begall in four separate studies into the relationship between working conditions and fertility. She discovered that highly qualified women working in sectors that employ relatively few women are much more likely to postpone having their first child. Women working in sectors with a relatively large female workforce, such as healthcare and education, are less likely to postpone the birth of their first child. Begall has come up with two explanations: ‘Having children appears to be “catching” in sectors employing mainly women. What’s more, it is easier to have children in these sectors as employees often qualify for paid parental leave.’ The partner’s qualifications and type of work appear to have little impact on the timing of the first child. ‘The woman’s job is the deciding factor, although we did note a delay among highly qualified men, which we put down to the fact that many of them are in relationships with highly qualified women.’

No delay having second child

The research also showed that qualifications or type of work did not affect the timing of having a second child. In fact, highly qualified Dutch women tend to have their second child relatively quickly, unlike working mothers in Germany and Italy, for example. Begall: ‘Huge numbers of Dutch women seize the opportunity to work part time. Although the media often refers to them as lazy, this is not the truth of the matter. In the Netherlands, many working mothers take a part-time job when they have their first child and continue to work part time while they have more children. Part-time work allows them to combine work and parenting, which is why many highly qualified Dutch mothers are able to have a second child. In Germany, for example, a lot of women who want more than one child have to stop work altogether. The proportion of highly qualified women who have just one or even no children in Germany is much higher than here.’

Conservative motherhood ideal

Begall thinks that the Dutch government’s failure to provide good facilities is to blame for women postponing motherhood and the large number of women in part-time employment. She points out that Scandinavian parents are entitled to a full year of paid parental leave. ‘It would improve workforce participation among Dutch women if every parent had the right to six months paid leave to care for their child. But this would only work if they did not have the right to transfer this leave to the other parent.’

She also notes that childcare in the Netherlands is badly organized, and brands the government unreliable in this respect. ‘The rules have changed so often over the past few years that young parents don’t know whether they’re coming or going. The relatively conservative climate in the Netherlands about what constitutes “good motherhood” also has a negative effect. The norm is still for women to care for their own children, leaving them in a crèche for no more than two and a half days a week. This normative culture regarding working mothers and the facilities provided by government and employers needs to change if we are to raise the level of workforce participation and fertility among Dutch women, and give both parents the chance to continue working once they have children.’

Curriculum Vitae

Katia Begall (1982, Frankfurt am Main) studied Sociology at the University of Groningen. She carried out her PhD research in the Sociology Department of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences and the Interuniversity Center for Social Science Theory and Methodology (ICS). Her thesis is entitled ‘Occupational hazard? The relationship between working conditions and fertility’ and her supervisors were Prof. M.C. Mills and Prof. H.B.G. Ganzeboom. Begall has been working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Faculty of Sociology & Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam since October 2012.

Note for the press

Katia Begall, phone +31 (0)20-5253467, e-mail k.h.begall@uva.nl

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.32 p.m.
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