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More income is needed to become a parent

Parenthood is being postponed to older ages, but why? In this new study, Daniël van Wijk and Francesco Billari show that an important explanation may be that the level of income that men and women wish to achieve before becoming parents is higher now than it was two decades ago.

Source: Puwadon Sangngern / Pexels

Across rich societies, people are becoming parents at increasingly older ages. To explain this postponement of parenthood, scholars have pointed at the changing economic circumstances of young adults. However, trends in economic indicators such as perceived economic uncertainty and income do not show evidence for a general decline in young adults’ economic positions, as they vary widely across countries. To explain the puzzle of a common trend of postponement of parenthood amidst differential economic performances between societies, a new study by Daniël van Wijk and Francesco C. Billari explores whether the economic prerequisites that people wish to fulfil before becoming parents may have increased over time.

The study uses data from Australia, Germany, Russia, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which have been harmonized in the Comparative Panel File. Information on individuals’ perceptions of economic uncertainty and level of income are linked to their probability to have a first child 1-2 years later. The authors then test how these relationships have evolved between the late 1990s and the late 2010s to examine whether the economic prerequisites of parenthood have changed over time.

The findings show that men and women who earn higher incomes are more likely to become parents than those with lower incomes in nearly all countries that are studied. Moreover, in many countries the relationship between income and parenthood has become stronger over the past two decades. This confirms the idea that in recent years the level of income that people wish to achieve before becoming parents is higher than it was twenty years ago. Possible reasons for this trend may be the increasing compatibility of work and childrearing for women, the rising costs of raising children, and increases in the investments parents want to make in their offspring. The consequence is that parenthood is becoming increasingly less accessible to lower-income groups, raising important questions regarding inequalities in reproduction in rich societies. 

In contrast, the authors found little evidence that perceptions of economic uncertainty contributed to the postponement of parenthood. In most countries, persons who perceived their economic future to be bleak were as likely to become parents as persons who thought they were in a more secure economic position. Also, the importance of economic certainty as a prerequisite of parenthood did not change over time.

Additional Information


Daniël van Wijk and Francesco C. Billari

Authors of Original Article


van Wijk, D., & Billari, F. C. (2024). Fertility Postponement, Economic Uncertainty, and the Increasing Income Prerequisites of ParenthoodPopulation and Development Review.