Family background is the main driver for U.K. women delaying motherhood, a new study claims
Over recent decades, research has indicated that British women have postponed motherhood largely because they want to go onto college or university to gain qualifications before starting a family.
However, academics from the University of Oxford and the Universities of Groningen and Wageningen in the Netherlands, have now discovered that education plays a much smaller role than previously thought when it comes to children.
“We find that both education and a woman’s fertility choices seem to be mostly influenced by her family background, instead of education influencing fertility behaviour directly,” Dr. Felix Tropf said in a statement. “For example, families provide social and financial support, and pass on genes affecting reproductive behaviour. A large part of the observed association between education and age at first birth in other studies can actually be explained by the family environment. In isolation, education has a much smaller effect.”
The researchers used nationally representative data from the Office of National Statistics for cohorts of women born in the U.K. between 1944 and 1967 to track patterns of educational enrolment to see how they impact reproductive behaviour. The researchers also compared the fertility histories of more than 2,700 female twins from the largest adult twin register in the U.K., which acts as a controlled test as this separates the effects of different levels of education between siblings in pairs of twins who share so many other characteristics.
From this, the researchers were able to calculate that for every extra year of educational enrolment after the age of 12, a woman put off motherhood by an average of six months.
The paper suggests that family environment, a combination of a woman’s social, economic and genetic factors, is significant, with education alone contributing to only 1.5 months of the total six-month delay.
“We hope this important finding that a large part of the link between educational enrolment and fertility postponement is not causal but spurious may inform those forecasting future fertility trends or shaping family policy,” added Dr. Tropf.
The full findings are published in the journal Demography.
© Cover Media