School of Economics research suggests that the paternity leave reform in Spain may have discouraged subsequent fertility

The introduction of the two-week paid paternity leave in Spain in 2007 may have reduced the subsequent fertility of eligible couples, as parents now wait longer to have another child, according to a recent scientific article co-authored by the UB School of Economic researcher Dr. Lídia Farré and the Universitat Pompeu Fabra researcher Dr. Libertad González. The findings have been published at the Journal of Public Economics under the title “Does paternity leave reduce fertility?

Two reasons may be driving this unexpected result. On the one hand, as a result of the increased involvement of fathers in childcare, mothers are more attached to the labour market. This may have raised the opportunity cost of an additional child. On the other hand, men who have benefited from the new paternity leave are less eager to have another child, probably because they are more aware of the costs of childbearing or because they now give priority to child quality over quantity.

Even though the take-up rate of paternity leave was high, the evidence suggests that it did not affect fathers’ labour market attachment or their likelihood of taking extended family leave. However, it may have affected their involvement in childcare persistently, as these fathers reported spending more time on childcare. On the other hand, mothers had significantly higher employment rates six months after childbirth and were significantly less likely to take unpaid family leave.

Parental leave entitlements reserved to fathers and non-transferable to mothers seek precisely to increase the participation of fathers in childcare activities. A more balanced distribution of unpaid work within households may foster women’s professional careers and reduce gender disparities in the labour market, thought as the results of this study suggests it may also affect households’ fertility decisions.

The effect on subsequent fertility observed for Spain may generalise to other Southern and Eastern European countries, where women still bear a large burden of the household responsibilities. In contrast, these effects may be smaller or non-existent in countries where both market and household work are more equally distributed within households. The authors warn that effects in Spain are modest in size and precision is limited and that more research is needed before concluding that introducing or extending paternity leave can lead to fewer births.

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