Changes in Postindustrial Family Formation: An Empirical Examination of Competing Theories

Mary Brinton , Harvard University
Sinn Won Han, Harvard University

Family formation patterns in the postindustrial world have changed markedly in the past several decades. Fertility rates have declined, cohabitation rates have increased, age at marriage has increased, and non-marital childbearing has become more common in most postindustrial settings. A dominant theoretical explanation for these changes is second demographic transition theory, which posits widespread value change towards individualism and post-materialist concerns. In contrast, gender equity theory emphasizes structural changes in women’s participation in the public sphere and the increasing incompatibility of women’s domestic and public roles. This incompatibility is posited as a driver of change in family formation patterns, and particularly the decline in fertility. We test the predictions of these two competing theories by analyzing fertility decline in 34 societies. We find little support for second demographic transition theory and considerable support for the predictions of gender equity theory.

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 Presented in Session 12. Gender Inequality and Fertility