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1This brief work on what makes women postpone maternity and the possible impact of postponement on fertility levels in Europe is an excellent synthesis of research on the subject. It rigorously presents the current situation while supporting its arguments with graphs and tables together with reviews of fertility history and economic theories that have worked to explain the phenomenon. It also contributes new quantitative perspectives thanks to data from the EU-SILC household panel survey and the harmonised Human Fertility Database. It is well-argued and pleasant to read, in particular for its critical examination of the demographic estimators used to measure fertility (possibly misleading because sensitive to seasonal tendencies), and it includes European-scale comparisons and case studies on France and Germany, two countries that have taken different fertility directions. The last section focuses on the role of family policy, specifically the soundness of policy designed to attain optimal fertility.

2Birth postponement (having one’s first child at a later age) has been observed in all European countries. The authors demonstrate that contrary to what is sometimes assumed, postponement is not related to and does not affect the total number of children a woman has. This means that the increasingly later age at which women have their first child observed since the end of WWII cannot explain falls in fertility. They also show the importance of educational attainment, a factor found to be operative in all countries: women with less education have children much earlier on average than women with more education; women with low educational attainment also show more varied fertility levels. Moreover, the authors show that in high fertility countries (and countries that have developed a day care system for young children), the probability that highly educated women will become mothers is higher than for women with lower educational attainment, despite the fact that the first group start families at a later age and their completed fertility is lower. Last, the authors’ findings confirm that occupational instability works to delay first birth, a fact that reinforces the social significance of mother’s age at first birth.

3Nonetheless, several points have not been studied sufficiently in this work. First, the authors chose to focus exclusively on economic fertility determinants; i.e., education and employment – or occupational instability (they briefly explain this choice in the conclusion), whereas demographers have found that much of the delay is explained by other factors. For example, Bhrolcháin and Beaujouan (2012), [1] in their excellent review of the question, mention difficulty in obtaining housing, the importance women attach to their careers, instability of unions, increased secularization, etc.

4Second, the perspective throughout the text is exclusively woman-centred: the authors only mention woman’s age at birth of first child, number of children per woman, woman’s education level, and job instability for women. This approach is justified in that women are fertile for a shorter period than men and it is easier to identify births chronologically with reference to the mother than the father. Most research on the subject proceeds in the same way, and the demographic indicators in use today are constructed from the woman’s perspective. But it would be interesting and instructive to integrate men’s characteristics, which are just as important as women’s, and couple characteristics as well. Doing so would reveal possible connections between fertility and conjugal timing. Though the book says nothing on couple formation, it too is being postponed and has become more irregular due to frequent breakups and the forming of blended families.

5Third, the text centres exclusively around mother’s age at birth of first child and fertility postponement, ultimately saying little about other delays, such as the time that elapses between completing education and childbearing (does it vary by education level?), between couple formation and birth of first child, and between the first two births and possible next two. Do parents try to have a second child more quickly when they have postponed having the first? A recent study [2] has shown that the delay between a woman’s first and second child increases if partners break up.

6Last, the authors choose 40 years as the cut-off point for childbearing, partially to ensure data comparability over time. Late fertility, then, is defined as childbearing between ages 35 and 40. The fact is that the number of children born to mothers over 40 has been rising and is coming to represent a considerable share of births, particularly among very highly educated women. It would have been useful to include a section on childbearing after 40 in Europe.

7These comments in no way diminish the valuable contribution of this concise, clear, informative and instructive work – qualities that will make it pleasant reading for economists and non-economists alike.


  • [1]
    M. Ní Bhrolcháin and E Beaujouan, 2012, “Fertility postponement is largely due to rising educational enrolment,” Population Studies 66, no. 3, pp. 311-327.
  • [2]
    E. Thomson, T. Lappegård, M. Carlson, A. Evans, E. Gray, 2014, “Childbearing across partnerships in Australia, the Unites States, Norway, and Sweden,” Demography 51, pp. 485-508.Online
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