Institutional change, happiness and fertility
Published: Jul 2014


Building on existing theories of fertility dynamics, this paper provides a theoretical perspective that connects two recent strands of the literature. The first concerns the idea that subjective wellbeing plays a critical role in explaining childbearing behaviour (and vice versa). The second concerns gender equity and equality, in which the role of institutions plays an important role. The key argument put forward here is that subjective wellbeing is a direct function of the discrepancy between aspirations and opportunity structure. As aspirations change over time, discrepancy arises in so far institutions are unable to follow suit. This lowers subjective wellbeing associated with childbearing, and hence leads to lower levels of fertility. Our empirical analysis based on the European Social Survey, although taking an indirect approach, give support to this idea. Fertility and happiness are higher where institutions appear to have adapted to women’s new preferences and aspirations. This is further supported by strong gender differences in happiness associated with parenthood. Fathers are always happier than non-fathers – no matter the circumstances of the country where they reside – whereas mothers are happier only when relevant institutions are in place.


Keywords: Family


Download Paper