MPIDR Working Paper

Is a positive link between human development and fertility attainable? Insights from the Belgian vanguard case

Wood, J., Klüsener, S., Neels, K., Myrskylä, M.

MPIDR Working Paper WP-2017-014, 26 pages (May 2017).
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Keywords: Belgium, child care, economic and social development, family policies, fertility determinants


It is expected that by the end of the 21st century the vast majority of the human population will live in densely populated environments that are frequently characterized by low fertility. Belgium constitutes one of the few recently emerged cases, where a densely populated and highly developed country not only escapes from low fertility, but also exhibits positive associations between education and childbearing. It has been argued, that these patterns might be related to Belgium’s extensive policies supporting the reconciliation of family and career goals, and that especially highly educated people are benefiting from these policies. We look into these hypotheses by studying a unique micro-dataset covering all Belgian residents between 2002 and 2005. The main focus is on the relevance of between-municipality variation in economic conditions and social services for understanding variation in second birth risks by educational attainment. Our results suggest that the second birth risks of highly educated women are by far most sensitive to variation in local conditions. Controlling for ethnic composition effects and internal migration, we reveal that a considerable part of the local variation in the educational gradient in second births can be related to a positive link between fertility and economic conditions as well as social services for the highly educated. Low educated mothers, on the other hand, are found to be less likely to progress to a second child in more prosperous municipalities. This provides support for the view that institutional support for families might indeed be very relevant, and this particularly for the highly educated.