Policy Receptiveness as Determinant of Policy Effectiveness: German childcare and women’s transition to first birth

Abstract: During the past decade, German family policies have shifted from supporting the male breadwinner – female carer family to providing infrastructure for mothers’ employment and children’s daycare. Institutional theorists assume that increased availability of childcare will increase fertility, while family transition theorists argue that such increase depends on a change of norms. We examine these propositions for women’s transition to first birth. We apply event-history methods to German Pairfam panel data and consider the importance that women attribute to public childcare, the applicability of childcare to their work and family preferences, and the acceptability of childcare to their motherly care-employment norms. First birth risks are significantly elevated for women who regard childcare as a precondition to have a child, who want to combine work and family (applicability) and who do not oppose maternal employment (acceptability). In contrast, we find no such association between childcare necessity and first birth for women who want to focus on family (no applicability), and for those who are averse to or uncertain about maternal employment (no acceptability). Our results underline the importance to consider attitudes when evaluating the impact of policies on childbearing behavior. They also indicate that macro-level effects of policies on fertility may only become visible when policy offers and attitudes converge.