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The Changing Link Between Fertility, Gender, and Career in Europe

New evidence from Switzerland

The role of income and employment on fertility patterns has already been extensively explored in the existing literature. However, empirical evidence for such effects is surprisingly scarce for Switzerland. In this recent study, Doris Hanappi, Valérie-Anne Ryser and Laura Bernardi examine the way perceived job quality is associated with the intention to have a child for men and women in Switzerland. The authors also explored whether job quality carries the same weight when considering first and subsequent child intentions, and whether the belief that children suffer by having a working mother changes the effects of job quality on the childbearing intentions of individuals.

The Swiss case shows a particularly interesting pattern: If women are disadvantaged at work and gender-inegalitarian norms dominate, the result is low fertility and high rates of childlessness. According to data from the Swiss Household Panel, men intend to have 2.19 children and women 2.21, which by far exceeds the actual fertility level of about 1.5 children per women. In Switzerland, the welfare provisions for families are weak and public services for childcare for children under the age of 3 years are underdeveloped. Switzerland does also not yet grant employed men access to statutory paternity or parental leave when they become fathers. Maternity leave regulations grant mothers the right to take time off from work to care for children for 98 days following birth. As there is no paternity leave for fathers at the federal level, fathers are not as engaged in parenting new-borns to the same extent as mothers.

Results indicate that individuals with good employment conditions in terms of job stability and occupational prestige are more likely to have intentions to have a child, other things being equal. However, parents – especially mothers – are less sensitive to job quality when wanting additional children. The authors found no difference in the intention to have a first child between women who believe that a child suffers when the mother works and those who do not. For childless men this is different: Having a high prestige job and believing that the child will suffer with a working mother decreases the chances of intending to have a child in the near future. In addition, the relation between perceived job quality and fertility intention was found to be partially mediated by gender attitudes to the extent that they modify the relevance of job quality for men and women.

This analysis points to major shortcomings in the functioning of the Swiss employment system, despite the fact that it has heavily promoted equal opportunities for men and women since the 1980s. However, back then, the compatibility of childrearing and employment, with its specific demands regarding schedule flexibility and autonomy in the organisation of work, was not yet part of the political agenda. High status jobs were designed as career tracks that offer quality training and promotions in exchange for continuous work commitment – in other words, a typical trajectory for men. Conservative parties insisted on the mother’s primary role in her child’s development and were reluctant to create alternative childcare systems outside the family. This combination of elements contributed to reducing the attractiveness of having children, reducing fertility and increasing the age of first motherhood. To integrate work into couples’ fertility planning, job designs and policies must provide options for pursuing both career and family planning goals; it is crucial that parents perceive such options to be stable and realistic.


*This PopDigest has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 320116 for the research project FamiliesAndSocieties. FamiliesAndSocieties ( has the aim to investigate the diversity of family forms, relationships and life courses in Europe, to assess the compatibility of existing policies with these changes, and to contribute to evidence-based policy-making. The consortium brings together 25 leading universities and research institutes in 15 European countries and three transnational civil society organizations.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Daniela Vono de Vilhena