More Work, Fewer Babies: What Does Workism Have to Do with Falling Fertility?

The Institute for Family Studies

More Work, Fewer Babies: What Does Workism Have to Do with Falling Fertility?

More Work, Fewer Babies: What Does Workism Have to Do with Falling Fertility?

2021, The Institute for Family Studies. Laurie DeRose and Lyman Stone, editors. 36 pages

Birth rates have reached extremely low levels in many countries around the world, including virtually all high-income countries. The causes of this decline and the solutions to it are of great interest to policymakers. People’s attitudes toward work —specifically the elevation of career advancement to a very high place in individual values— may influence fertility. The rise of “work-focused” value sets and life courses means that achieving work-family balance isn’t just about employment norms adjusting to the growing complexity of individual aspirations; it can also mean that many men and women find their preferred balance to be more work and less family.

The importance people ascribe to work and family matters for fertility, according to this groundbreaking report, funded by the Social Trends Institute and released by the Institute for Family Studies. Using four different datasets, DeRose and Stone explore the relationship between work, family, gender role attitudes, and fertility in countries across the globe and find that high-income countries that become more "workist" experience large associated declines in fertility. More specifically, they show that: 

  • Highly work-focused values and social attitudes among both men and women are strongly associated with lower birth rates in wealthy countries.
  • The decline in birth rates over the last decade across many high-income countries—including some Nordic countries—can be partly explained by the rising importance individuals assign to work as a source of value and meaning in life.
  • Government policies that try to increase fertility by providing more benefits aimed at workers, such as universal childcare or parental leave programs, may undermine their efforts as they strengthen a “workist” life-script rather than a “familist”

Download the report here.