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Understanding delayed parenthood

Having children at an older age has different effects for the careers of women and men

Empty baby swing

Young adulthood is a dynamic and demographically dense stage in the life course. This poses a challenge for investigations on the consequences of the timing of parenthood. Parenthood timing is likely to be both influenced by previous education and labour market attachment and may also bear effects on these aspects. It remains unclear to what extent the timing of parenthood affects education and labour market outcomes across young adulthood, and how these effects differ between women and men.

In a new study, Jessica Nisén (University of Turku), Maarten J. Bijlsma (University of Groningen), Pekka Martikainen (University of Helsinki), Ben Wilson (Stockholm University) and Mikko Myrskylä (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research) investigated how educational and labour market trajectories of women and men depend on the timing of parenthood. The researchers used high-quality data from Finnish registers that included women and men born in Finland in 1974 and 1975. Using a novel longitudinal analysis approach, the parametric g-formula, they estimated how a 3-year delay in parenthood would impact educational and labour market trajectories. The findings were published in Advances in Life Course Research.

The results indicated that delayed parenthood may add to the educational advantage of women compared to men: a three-year delay would result in a 2.4 %-points increase among women and a 1.1 %-points increase among men in the share of those educated to the tertiary level by age 32. The results provide population-level evidence on how delayed parenthood is likely one factor that has contributed to strengthening the educational position of women compared to men over time.

At the same time, later parenthood diminished the income advantage of men across young adulthood. Although incomes of both genders increased when parenthood was delayed, the magnitude of the effect was much larger among women. The three-year delay was estimated to have strong but temporary impacts on the employment of women, while employment effects on men were negligible. The employment effect among women reached its peak at age 27, with a 3.8 %-points increase in the general population of women. Gender differences in the impacts of delayed parenthood on labour market trajectories were largely not explained by changes in educational trajectories.

In addition, the study estimated that delayed parenthood improves the incomes of fathers at the time of entering parenthood even more so than for mothers. While the focus of previous research has been on how the labour market position unfolds after the entry into parenthood, especially among women, this finding adds to our understanding of how parenthood contributes to gendered outcomes in the labour market, even in a Nordic country characterised by comparatively high gender equality.


The research was supported by the Academy of Finland, the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland, the Swedish Research Council, and the European Research Council (for details please the publication).



Nisén, J., Bijlsma, M., Martikainen, P., Wilson, B. and Myrskylä, M. (2022). The gendered impacts of delayed parenthood: A dynamic analysis of young adulthood. Advances in Life Course Research 53.

Author(s) of the original publication
Julia Hellstrand, Jessica Nisén and Mikko Myrskylä