Family Matters No. 63 - December 2002

Three facts about fertility

Cross-national lessons for the current debate
Francis Castles

Abstract

In a world where socioeconomic and cultural patterns are usually slow to change, there has been a radical reversal in the traditional factors that influence levels of fertility. In the debate about below replacement fertility and the policy instruments Australia might adopt to tackle the problem, appeals are frequently made to cross national experience, to consider the experience of countries that have already done the things that Australia may want to undertake. However, most appeals are made on an exemplary rather than an exhaustive basis. Commentators tend to choose the countries they discuss with an eye to making the cases of which they hope to persuade the reader. This paper seeks to supply a corrective to this tendency by being systematic, highlighting the conclusions that emerge from looking at the experience of the widest possible range of countries with which to compare Australia. In this article evidence from 21 OECD countries is used to describe the recent trajectory of fertility change in advanced industrialised countries, to identify changes in the nature of the trade offs between work and family and to establish which family friendly policy measures are most conducive to high levels of fertility.

In a world where socioeconomic and cultural patterns are usually slow to change, there has been a radical reversal in the traditional factors that influence levels of fertility. In the debate about below replacement fertility and the policy instruments Australia might adopt to tackle the problem, appeals are frequently made to cross national experience, to consider the experience of countries that have already done the things that Australia may want to undertake. However, most appeals are made on an exemplary rather than an exhaustive basis. Commentators tend to choose the countries they discuss with an eye to making the cases of which they hope to persuade the reader. This paper seeks to supply a corrective to this tendency by being systematic, highlighting the conclusions that emerge from looking at the experience of the widest possible range of countries with which to compare Australia. In this article evidence from 21 OECD countries is used to describe the recent trajectory of fertility change in advanced industrialised countries, to identify changes in the nature of the trade offs between work and family and to establish which family friendly policy measures are most conducive to high levels of fertility.

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