Population Research and Policy Review 22: 411–438, 2003.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The changing institutional context of low fertility
RONALD R. RINDFUSS
, KAREN BENJAMIN GUZZO
Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA;
Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA;
Department of Sociology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA
Abstract. Using data for 1960–97 for 22 low fertility countries, we document a dramatic
change in the association of fertility levels to women’s levels of labor force participation.
Until the 1980s, this association had been strongly negative. However, during the 1980s it
became positive, and since 1990 strongly positive. We also document an emerging positive
association of the country-level total fertility ratio (TFR) and nonmarital ratio (e.g., the pro-
portion of births to unmarried women). We argue that these transformed associations reﬂect
societal level responses that, in some contexts, have eased the incompatibility between mother
and worker roles, and loosened the link between marriage and childbearing. These arguments
imply that societal responses to mother/worker incompatibility exert substantial inﬂuence on
fertility levels in low fertility countries.
This paper examines the changing institutional context of low fertility. We
focus on a set of 22 countries
that had achieved moderate to low levels of
fertility by or shortly after World War II. Many of them experienced fertility
increases during the 1950s, while others had fertility declines. The weighted
average (with country population being the weights) of the total fertility rate
(TFR) for these countries in 1960 was 2.89. By 1997, this had dropped by
over a child, to a TFR of 1.71. Much of this decline occurred by the mid-
1970s (see Figure 1). Between 1978 and 1997, this TFR weighted average
ﬂuctuated within a very narrow band, with a high of 1.81 and a low of 1.69.
Further, in low fertility countries, childbearing principally means having one
or two children; higher parity births are becoming increasingly rare in all
developed countries (Morgan 1996).
Behind the recent aggregate stability of the total fertility rates for this set of
low fertility countries, there has been substantial change for some countries,
marked declines in some, and even slight increases in others. Furthermore,
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