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First Education, then Children? A Qualitiative Study of Students' Childbearing Attitudes and Intentions
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology. (Demography unit)
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In all Western countries, students have significantly lower fertility than non-students of the same age. Extended education is therefore considered one of the most important factors behind the postponement of first birth. This study investigates students’ childbearing intentions and the motivations behind them through individual in-depth interviews with 25 childless students enrolled in higher education in Sweden. The results suggest that the postponement of childbearing until completion of education is above all a question of economic security. The importance of completing one’s education and achieving economic security is weakened by age, however, and the biological risks associated with postponement of child­bearing are found to be a significant factor in particularly the female students’ childbearing intentions. Mental well-being and knowing what you want to do with your life are also important preconditions in this regard. A sense of being on the “right” educational track increases the feeling of security and the inclination to have children. On most issues, male and female students reasoned along the same lines. One gender difference, however, was that female students had much more knowledge about the parental leave insurance system, and parental leave and their benefit level was something they took into account, and planned for, to a greater extent than men did.

Keyword [en]
students, childbearing intentions, gender, qualitative interviews, Sweden
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-94161OAI: diva2:652237
Available from: 2013-09-30 Created: 2013-09-30 Last updated: 2013-09-30Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Students and Family Formation: Studies on educational enrolment and childbearing in Sweden
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Students and Family Formation: Studies on educational enrolment and childbearing in Sweden
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis explores the impact of educational enrolment on family formation in Sweden. The aim is to identify factors that are important for students’ childbearing and to find potential explanations as to why so few students have children while enrolled in education. Three independent studies are carried out, two quantitative and one qualitative. Study I examines the associations between age, earnings, a student financial aid reform, and female students’ first, second and third birth risks. Study II takes a gender perspective and compares the influence of mothers’ and fathers’ enrolment and earnings on parental couples’ propensities to have a second or a third child. In both these studies the analyses are performed using longitudinal register data. Study III explores male and female students’ childbearing intentions, and the motivations behind them, through individual in-depth interviews with childless students. Several findings point towards the significance of economic factors. The results in Study I show that earnings have a clear impact on female students’ birth risks, and in Study III economic security is found to be an important motive behind the students’ childbearing intentions. However, the student financial aid reform investigated in Study I had no noticeable impact on students’ childbearing behaviour. The negative effect of educational enrolment on childbearing risks, as well as the significance of earnings and economic security, is clearly weakened by age. In addition to economic security, the interview accounts indicate that non-material aspects, such as the biological risks of postponement, knowing one’s future prospects and being content with life, are also important for the timing of childbearing. The implications of educational enrolment for family formation are also found to be largely dependent on gender, as in Study II mothers’ educational enrolment had a much stronger negative impact on couples’ continued childbearing than fathers’ enrolment. Further, compared to the males, the female respondents in Study III had much more knowledge about the parental leave system, and parental leave and their benefit level were also things they took into account to a much larger extent when discussing their childbearing intentions. The gender differences are likely associated with the Swedish earnings-related parental leave insurance and mothers still taking the largest part of the leave. The fact that both economic security and the biological risks associated with postponement are seen as crucial factors for timing of family formation implies that some students, particularly females above age 30, find themselves in a difficult situation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, 2013. 49 p.
Dissertation series / Stockholm University Demography Unit, ISSN 1404-2304 ; 9
students, educational enrolment, childbearing, gender, Sweden
National Category
Research subject
Sociological Demography
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-94174 (URN)978-91-87235-55-9 (ISBN)978-91-87235-56-6 (ISBN)
Public defence
2013-11-15, De Geersalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm, 13:00 (Swedish)

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 2: Manuscript. Paper 3: Manuscript.

Available from: 2013-10-24 Created: 2013-09-30 Last updated: 2016-05-27Bibliographically approved

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Thalberg, Sara
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