Inequality in the Distribution of Fertility among Women and Men: Stability and Change over Time in the UK

Wendy Sigle , London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Jenny Chanfreau, University College London (UCL)

Compared to other moderately high fertility countries in Europe, childbearing in Britain is characterised by pronounced social differences. Degree-educated women are more often childless and have smaller families. Evidence suggests differences have widened in recent decades as the share of degree-educated women has increased. In this paper, we ask whether less educated groups have disproportionately carried the costs of sustaining Britain’s near replacement fertility. Using data from four British cohorts (spanning 1935-1970), we document trends in inequality in the overall distribution of children and the share of children born to different education groups. This is important as it highlights the social justice issue inherent in the division of labour involved in reproducing the next generation of society, and the implications for child poverty of an unequal distribution reproducing social inequality. We find that while the concentration of fertility has increased among both women and men over cohorts, only among women is fertility also polarised by education. This suggests lower educated women bear a disproportionate share of reproduction; a share that in relative terms has increased over time. In recognition of the societal benefit of childbearing, implicit in much fertility research, we argue demographers should be concerned not only with the level of fertility but also with the distribution of fertility and the ways in which policy can perpetuate or mitigate against, the costs associated with childrearing being distributed along gendered and classed lines.

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 Presented in Session 122. Social Inequality and Fertility