Beyond the Economic Gaze: Childbearing during and after recessions in the Nordic countries

Abstract: This study investigates fertility responses to the business cycle in the Nordic countries by comparing period variation in women’s childbearing propensity. We harmonize register data from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden to compare childbearing in the aftermath of the two most recent crises that hit those economies: the 1990s and 2010s. We use event-history techniques to present parity-specific fertility, by calendar year, relative to a defined pre-recession year. We further examine any possible impact of the two recessions by women’s age and education. Results show a large heterogeneity across the five Nordic countries in the childbearing developments after 1990. This variation largely disappears after 2008 when period trends in birth hazards become more similar across countries. Likewise, the educational differences that characterized the variation in childbearing relative risk after 1990 considerably diminish in the years after 2010, especially for first and second births. Economic theories do not suffice to explain this reversal from the heterogeneity of the 1990s to the homogeneity of the 2010s in the childbearing response to recession episodes across countries and socioeconomic groups. Our findings suggest the need to expand the theoretical framework explaining the cyclicality of fertility towards the perception of economic and welfare uncertainty.