‘Genderising’ aspects of birth-related leave policies and fertility behaviour in Europe: understanding policy from an individual’s perspective
In the context of population ageing and its consequences for future welfare state support, the issue of low fertility in Europe has become very topical over the past two decades. The role of policy and gender equality in explaining fertility behaviour has gained a prominent position in the literature and even today represents two streams that are believed to be important predictors of the current fertility outcomes in Europe. When building arguments regarding the policy effects on fertility behaviour, authors often implicitly assume that everyone living in a given country is entitled to support from particular statutory policy and/or that each individual is entitled to the same amount of support. However, although everyone of reproductive age is likely to make a decision about having children, the policy support does not mean the same thing for each one of them. Instead the set of rules on eligibility conditions clearly states who is entitled to welfare state support and how extensive this support is going to be. These rules consequently mediate the impact a child is going to have on an individual’s circumstances and therefore may influence the decision of whether or when to start a family and how big this family is going to be. The issue of within-country variation in the distribution of entitlements to policy support has been largely ignored in the comparative welfare state literature and has not been sufficiently acknowledged in fertility research. By focusing on the birth-related leave schemes in Europe, this thesis aims to address this gap. It does so by linking the individual-level survey data from EU-SILC with legislative rules from 27 European countries. Such an approach allows the identification of individuals that would be entitled to birth-related leave and compares how their socio-economic situation would change if they were to have a child. Apart from that the thesis is set into a wider context of contemporary fertility research that examines the role of gender issues in fertility behaviour. As such the thesis is particularly interested in the distribution of entitlements to birth-related leave between men and women and in the analyses pays special attention to the policy designs that strengthen traditional gender roles and whether they are associated with fertility behaviour.