A scientific analysis of data from large panel studies in Germany and the United Kingdom indicates that job loss negatively affects the chances of having a child. This link was more pronounced in middle-income couples. The study was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
Job loss can have a profound negative psychosocial effect on an individual. Losing a job results in immediate financial strain that can impair one’s ability to secure basic livelihood. For many people, job is an important part of identity. Losing it can cause a loss of this identity and also self-esteem.
Work can also provide individuals with social connections and a sense of community. Loss of a job can mean the loss of these connections resulting in social isolation and a feeling of loneliness. That is the reason why losing a job can lead to stress, anxiety and depression.
Studies in Europe have linked job uncertainty to postponing the decision to have children and the strong decline in birthrates notable across the continent. In the European culture from mid-20th century onward, women have progressively entered the job market leading to changes to traditional gender roles. Women now see their careers as an important part of their identity. Due to this, career-related events often play a very important role in family planning and the decision to have children.
Study authors Alessandro Di Nallo and Oliver Lipps wanted to investigate the impact of job loss on couple’s fertility i.e., their decision to have children. Noting that the decision to have children is a joint decision by two people, they wanted to examine these effects separately in men and women. Study authors’ expectation was that job loss negatively influences the likelihood that a person will have children regardless of gender, but that reasons why job loss has this effect will be slightly different for men and women.
They analyzed data from three large-scale yearly surveys of households in Germany and the UK. The German data came from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), while the UK data came from the British Household Panel Study (BHPS) and the UK Household Longitudinal study (UKHLS). Germany and the UK were chosen because they are the two most populous European countries that also have substantial differences in labor market practices, taxation and welfare policies.
Samples from each country consisted of a bit over 15,000 participants and adequately represented the population of these countries. Data analyzed in this study was collected in the period between 1991 and 2020. Participants were included in the study if they lived in the same household in at least three data collection waves in the study period, were in a fertile age (between 18 and 50 for men, 45 for women, and at least one partner was employed for at least 1 year. Researchers followed couples for 5 years after job loss.
Participants were divided into two groups – those who experienced an involuntary and unanticipated job loss and those who did not experience such a loss. The researchers considered a job loss involuntary if layoffs occurred as a result of firms downsizing, restructuring, closing plants, or relocating. Participants who left a firm voluntarily were included in the groups that did not experience a job loss.
Pregnancies were counted only if they started at least 1 month after job loss. In practical terms, the researchers counted only births that occurred at least 10 months after job loss.
Results showed that couples in which women lost their jobs were less likely to have a child within 5 years from job loss compared to similar couples who reported no job loss. This was found in both countries. Male job loss was less likely to negatively affect the likelihood of having a child in the observed time period compared to women, but the effect was still present.
In the UK, couples in which the woman lost her job had a 2% probability of having a baby in the first year, which was 3.3 percentage points lower than control couples. Over five years, the effect increased to a 4.3 percentage point decrease. In Germany, the probability of having a baby for couples where the woman lost her job decreased by 3.3 percentage points in the first year and after five years, the cumulative probability of birth was 13% lower than expected.
In the United Kingdom, these effects were most pronounced in couples where both partners equally contributed to family finances or where the female was the breadwinner, and childless couples with women in their mid-20s up to late 30s. In Germany, the effect was more pronounced in couples where both partners equally contributed to family finances or where the male was the breadwinner, with 35-year to 40-year-old women and one child. Middle income couples were relatively more affected in both countries.
The study sheds light on the relationship between job loss and family planning. However, it also has limitations that need to be taken into account. Notably, the study only considered short-term effects of job loss on childbearing (5 years). It did not consider whether the couples postponed childbearing for later time or changed their childbearing plans permanently.
The study, “How much his or her job loss influences fertility: A couple approach”, was authored by Alessandro Di Nallo, Oliver Lipps.