Volume 45 - Article 38 | Pages 1149–1184 Editor's Choice

Couples' paid work, state-level unemployment, and first births in the United States

By Chiara Ludovica Comolli

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Date received:08 Sep 2020
Date published:16 Nov 2021
Word count:7924
Keywords:breadwinner, dual earners, Great Recession, parenthood, social norms, unemployment


Background: While most studies analyze male’s and female’s employment separately, this study adopts a couple-level approach to relate paid work to childbearing in the United States. In addition, building on previous studies suggesting the existence of spillovers from others’ unemployment, I explore whether state-level unemployment rates moderate this association.

Objective: First, this study investigates how couples’ paid work, i.e., both partners’ combination of employment, working hours, inactivity, or unemployment, is associated with first birth. Second, the study tests whether this association varies depending on state unemployment rates across the decades around the Great Recession.

Methods: Using the 2003–2017 PSID waves, the probability of a first child across couples’ job constellations and aggregate labor market conditions is estimated using a linear probability model. A number of robustness checks are run, including fixed effects models.

Results: Both men’s and women’s unemployment similarly lower the probability of a first birth, as does the male breadwinner model. Full-time dual-earner couples display the greatest probability of a first birth. However, rising unemployment rates greatly reduce the advantage of dual-earners compared to single-earner couples.

Conclusions: In a context of low public support for childbearing, couples tend to rely on the paid full-time work of both partners to enter parenthood. Moreover, women’s work seems as relevant as that of their partners in shaping household childbearing decisions. Aggregate unemployment attenuates these differences, reducing the advantage of full-time dual work.

Contribution: Adopting a couple-level and macro-micro perspective is critical to understanding the link between paid work and fertility dynamics in contemporary societies where women’s labor market attachment is strong and labor market uncertainties are growing.

Author's Affiliation

Chiara Ludovica Comolli - Università di Bologna (UNIBO), Italy [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» The effect of the Great Recession on permanent childlessness in Italy
Volume 37 - Article 20

» The fertility response to the Great Recession in Europe and the United States: Structural economic conditions and perceived economic uncertainty
Volume 36 - Article 51

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