Volume 42 - Article 29 | Pages 799–826  

Entrance into parenthood at the onset of low fertility in Ukraine: The role of family relationships and perceived security

By Yuliya Hilevych


Background: In post-Soviet countries, low fertility has been achieved through postponement of second birth, while entrance into parenthood still takes place relatively early in life and within marriage. Studies suggest that grandparental support with childcare drives this reproductive behaviour. However, we still know little about the exact way in which decisions about first parenthood are shaped by family relationships, especially with respect to the expected and actual support they exert.

Objective: This paper explores how family relationships – spousal and intergenerational – influenced decisions to enter parenthood in Ukraine between 1950 and 1975, when fertility there declined below the replacement level for the first time.

Methods: A total of 66 qualitative life-history interviews were conducted with women and men from the Ukrainian cities of Lviv (west) and Kharkiv (east); age-specific fertility rates and the total fertility rate in 1960 were measured for the two provinces.

Results: The informants shared their notions about the right timing for first parenthood, which parents(-in-law) helped them to navigate. This guidance, in turn, created expectations about the provision of help with childcare, which facilitated a feeling of security when entering parenthood in economically insecure circumstances, which are defined as perceived security. The actual provision of childcare by parents(-in-law), however, was contingent on spousal relationships, which differed between the two cities. These differences are important for understanding postponement of second birth and regional variation in achieving low fertility in Ukraine.

Contribution: The study argues that perceived security – guided by specific intergenerational and spousal relationships – is crucial for understanding universal and relatively early entrance into parenthood in Ukraine.

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