Gender Equity in Theories of Fertility Transition

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Abstract

Recent theoretical discussion has postulated that low fertility in advanced countries is attributable to low levels of gender equity. Low gender equity is evidenced in the lack of support for women to combine paid employment and childrearing; tax-transfer systems that remain based on the male-breadwinner model of the family; and the retention of gender-oriented roles within the family. Hence, it is argued that an increase in gender equity is a precondition of a rise in fertility from very low levels. At the same time, theorists argue that, in less developed countries, higher levels of gender equity are a necessary condition for achieving lower fertility. The article addresses this apparent contradiction by distinguishing two types of gender equity: gender equity in individual-oriented institutions and gender equity in family-oriented institutions. The argument is made that the transition from very high fertility to replacement-level fertility has been associated with a gradual increase in gender equity primarily within the family itself. In contrast, the further movement to very low fertility is associated with a rapid shift toward high levels of gender equity in individual institutions such as education and market employment, in combination with persistent low levels of gender equity within the family and in family-oriented institutions.

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