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Individualization, Occupational Success and the Postponement of Parenthood

Sun, August 11, 12:30 to 2:10pm, Sheraton New York, Floor: Second Floor, Empire Ballroom East


In individualized societies, after the Second Demographic Transition, fertility became subject to agentic planning requiring couples to coordinate and synchronize their biographies. Attempts to schedule and fit fertility into life courses might lead, however, unintentionally to postponement.

How do ‘positive’ work-family conflicts influence fertility timing? Do occupational benefits lead to postponement of parenthood? Parenthood can be a constraint for career and individual needs are more central in individualized relationships. Thus, these questions are crucial for fertility decisions.

Data from 8 waves of the German Family Panel were used. Actors, without children and in dual full-time earner relationships, were observed from age 26 until 34 (N=800). Dependent variables were realistic age and latest age for the first child and dyadic agreement on fertility timing. Independent variables were occupational benefits (satisfaction, importance, specific benefits) and relationship benefits (division of household labor, dominance, intimacy, respect, aggression), age and gender.

Occupation explained 58% of the variance for realistic age, but only 19% for latest age and 4% for agreement. Realistic age is a sensitive measure for postponement due to positive work-family conflicts, but latest age might relate more to social norms and biological limitations. For agreement, relationship benefits were more important, but only for women. Findings show gendered fertility planning. For men only occupation is dominant, women balance relationship and occupation.

Work-family dynamics were multi-directional. Fertility planning is modulated by occupational benefits with both delaying and triggering effects. Importance of work signifies conflicts between life domains resulting in postponement. Satisfaction with work triggers fertility and might reflect occupational achievements as precondition for parenthood.

Findings support the concept of individualized relationships. Relationships have to adapt to individual needs, such as occupation and become more flexible. The combination of individualization and flexibility, however, might become dysfunctional and lead to unsuccessful postponement and precarious relationships and biographies.