The Economic Rationality of Late Parenthood



Dutch society seems to be a special case: first motherhood comes late, and female labour force participation in hours is relatively low, since many women work in parttime jobs. Formally the Netherlands does not have population policies, but all kind of other specific policy measures are available and may help couples to have children and a decent income from work. The hypothesis tested in this chapter is that women’s labour market activities set a restriction to their number of children and can be hold responsible for the fact that women in the Netherlands have their first child relatively late. Data on the Dutch labour market show that more and more women participate, but parttime work is the watchword. Many start with a fulltime job, but change this job for a parttime job at motherhood. Also women without children tend to resort to parttime jobs over their lifetime. And even when after a certain age children are no longer a restriction on the mother’s labour market participation, many women stick to their parttime jobs: it serves like a “warm, comfortable coat” that is not taken off easily. Culturally the ideology of motherhood is the dominating factor to which the labour market career is adapted. Mothers prefer to keep child care and child raising in their own hands, especially since parents have doubts about the quality of care facilities. In modern society young adults leave the educational system at a higher age than previous birth cohorts, and before starting a family there is a variety of things and places in the world to be discovered. Many young adults also take the chance to first develop their labour market career and commit themselves to their job. As the majority of women wants to combine the best of both worlds they calculate that after having proved a strong labour market commitment during the first stage of their career the employer will be more interested to keep also “mothers” on board. Moreover, the later a woman has her first child, the higher her lifetime earnings. From many socio-economic perspectives late parenthood is a rational outcome, that is not easy to be turned, even not by heavy investments in arrangements to facilitate the combination of child care and paid work. One can only hope that the more men are prepared to share child care and household tasks, the less women will feel to be the only one responsible for the combination of paid work and unpaid care.


Labour Market Welfare State Family Formation Labour Market Participation Dutch Government 
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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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