Although the trend to later childbearing in more developed societies has been extensively studied, its causes are neither well understood nor well documented. The individual-level association between education and the timing of childbearing is well established, but few studies have quantified the contribution of rising education to aggregate change in birth timing. Using model-based rates and standardization, we show that educational expansion accounts for most of the shift to later ages at first birth between 1970 and 1998/2000 in Britain, France, and Belgium. Compositional change explains much of the decline in first birth rates at younger ages and some of the increase in rates at older ages. Structural change is separated into two factors: change in composition by time spent in education and by duration since leaving education. We argue that the link between educational expansion and the trend to later childbearing is likely to be largely causal.
Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council. Karel Neels is Associate Professor of Statistics and Demography, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium. Mike Murphy is Professor of Demography, Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics. Máire Ní Bhrolcháin is Visiting Professor of Demography, Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences, University of Southampton. Éva Beaujouan is Research Scientist, Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, Vienna Institute of Demography.