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(In)Fertility, Education and Reproductive Health

 

Principal Investigators: Prof Jacqueline Scott and Prof Sarah Franklin

Research Associate: Dr Nitzan Peri-Rotem

 

Over the past decades most industrialized countries have undergone profound changes in family and fertility patterns. Marriage and first birth are consistently delayed to later ages, cohabitation and other alternative living arrangements to marriage are becoming increasingly common and there is a growing disconnection between marriage and procreation. In most of Europe, fertility has fallen below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman, which is required to sustain a stable population in the absence of immigration. These general trends, however, mask differences in fertility and family behaviours across social groups in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

This project, which is funded by the Philomathia Foundation, aims to improve our understanding of the incentives and constraints that people are facing when they consider starting a family or having another child and how these decisions are influenced by social policy and socioeconomic factors. In particular, we are interested in the dynamic relationship between education and fertility, since education can affect reproductive behaviour in various ways, from contributing to enhanced opportunities in the labour market to shaping family values and aspirations. For this purpose, we adopt an innovative approach to fertility behaviour by focusing not only on women’s reproductive decision making but also looking at the couples’ perspective and taking into account the changing gender imbalance in education, which has implications on gender and family relationships.  

The recent decades of fertility change, particularly the ongoing delay in childbearing to later ages, has been associated with the widening use of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). This in turn, has led to new fertility patterns and behaviours, including an extension of the biological age limits of childbearing and a growing disconnection between sex and procreation. Therefore, another objective of this research project is to explore new dimensions of fertility change in the context of increasing global ARTs use and the way it is shaped by the social environment and public policy.

The findings from this project have been presented in several international conferences, including the Annual Meeting of the British Society for Population Studies and the Annual Conference of the European Sociological Association. In addition, we have written an article on educational differences in marital and non-marital childbearing in Britain for a special issue of the Vienna Yearbook of Population Research on Education and Reproduction in Low-Fertility Settings. Other project activities include the organisation of an international workshop in Cambridge, jointly funded by the Philomathia Foundation and the Wellcome Trust’s Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF). This workshop, entitled ‘Changing Fertility: Social, Demographic and Ethical Consequences of Assisted Conception Technologies’ has laid the groundwork for future collaborative research projects and formed the basis for a position paper with policy recommendations for addressing age-related infertility. In addition, we have organised a panel session on ‘Reproduction in an Era of Bio-Tech Revolution’ at the 3rd Annual Philomathia Symposium.