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Alicia Adserà: ¿I think the most progressive policy to raise fertility is really to provide employment. Stable employment¿

Alícia Adserà.

Alícia Adserà.



Alicia Adserà is a lecturer at Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs and the Office of Population Research at Princeton University (United States). She is also member of the Center for Research Analysis and Migration at University College London. Her research is focused on, among other issues, studying families’ decisions on fertility and how economic circumstances have an impact when deciding whether or not to have children. This October, she was the invited speaker at the opening ceremony of the research institute of the UB Barcelona Economics Analysis Team (BEAT), with a conference titled “Education and Fertility in a Context of Rising Inequality”.

Regarding the opening conference for BEAT, I would like to ask you about the relation between the level of education of women with the amount of kids they have.

The relationship between education and fertility has been negative since late 19th century. I mean, women with a lower education have more kids than those who are more educated. What happens now is that this relationship is somehow flattening. Differences across educational levels have diminished, and this has happened faster in some places than in others. Some of these trends are driven by two factors: one of them is that there are more and more educated women now. For example, the majority of women in the United States have tertiary education –not necessarily finished- and this is also growing in some European countries: in the Nordic countries the figures surpass the 50%. The second factor is related to economic conditions, which are driving some of these patterns and hitting especially harder the low and mid educated people.
How do you relate this to other factors, such as new family models, single parent families, restructured famílies?
Nowadays we have more out of wedlock births, some of them are happening in single mother situations or unmarried couples. In some countries, first children happen within stable cohabitant relationships, especially in Nordic countries, where these couples eventually marry –interestingly after the first child before having the second child. In other countries, this is mostly dominated by single parents, which is more common in the US. In Europe this was not the case, at the beginning, cohabitation appeared more among the high educated, especially in France, but nowadays you really see more likelihood for a child to be in a single-home if the mother is less educated.
In cases such as Catalonia, with a low fertility rate, to what extent can this be modified with public policies, and how these policies should be?
This is the million dollar question. Historically, public policies haven’t been really successful, and that’s why this is the million dollar question. Child care provision is really important but if you look at -for example- Spain when people are asked “why you didn’t have as many children…”, child care doesn’t really show up high in the ranking. Instead, it’s more related to the stability of employment and to uncertainty. So I think the most progressive policy to raise fertility is really to provide employment. Stable employment. Of course that’s easy to say and hard to do. I think shifting and especially the type of contracts that are available for women in their childbearing years would be something important, avoiding discrimination and offering the parental leave for men.
Apart from fertility, what are your other research lines?
Migrations. I try to tease out the main factors that drive people to move to certain destinations and I try to analyse conditions in their origins and destinations. In particular, I work in areas of language; I’m looking at the linguistic distance between origins and destinations. Here you take into account other factors such as the historical conditions, distance, differences in unemployment, whether people still tend to go to places where the languages are relatively similar… And I am also now working on wars and violence, how they generate flows of migration, not only to rich countries but in many cases to poor countries, the surrounding countries, especially ethnic wars that lead to those flows. At a micro level, I am working on how migrants adapt to the destination countries, and mostly on the types of jobs they do, the types of skills they use in the labour market and where they get stuck at entry jobs that are low-skilled.
Regarding migrations, how much do cultural factors, such as language, influence people when choosing a country?
Difference in income and jobs are the factors that drive people to move to certain places: comparing income per capita in origins and income per capita in destination, this usually explains it.
Also, language matters. And not only language but also the linguistic community in the destination.  This is interesting: if those migrants speak the language of the linguistic community, for example, it can be beneficial for them, especially for those with a lower education. However it can also be a trap when they enter certain close neighbourhoods, where people work and live without speaking the local language.
For those with higher education this does not matter that much because they learn the language faster and in many cases they already come “with the language”, especially we think across OECD countries, where for example English or French would be the working language.
As a researcher working in the United States, how do you see initiatives like Beat?
I think this is a good idea, it’s a model that works in many places, for example in Princeton University, where I work, and specially in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs –which is a combination of people coming from fields of economics, politics, sociology, even biology or physics. We have centers, which would be something similar to what this institute is. And this is a very good way to get synergies.
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