Family, firms and fertility: the spillover effect of workplace and family

Equal Lives research shows strong links between colleague and sibling networks for becoming a parent

New research published in Demography shows that when an individual has a baby can be directly linked to the fertility decisions not only of their closest family and colleagues, but of wider networks. The findings demonstrate for the first time, a clear fertility spillover effect from family to the workplace and vice versa.

The study uses register data from Statistics Netherlands on a group of people born in the 1970s and links them to create samples of more than 600,000 work colleagues and more than 70,000 sibling pairs.

A strong effect on the timing of becoming a parent ran between colleagues’ siblings and the individual concerned and siblings’ colleagues and the individual concerned. These effects occurred over a 3-year period following the transition to parenthood and were strongest 2-3 years after the initial birth and where the social interactions were between women.

Zafer Büyükkeçeci and colleagues, whose research is part of the NORFACE-funded Equal Lives project, conclude that without the ‘colleague effect’, there would have been 1,151 (5.8%) fewer pregnancies from a total of nearly 20,000 pregnancies identified in the study’s time period. For siblings it was 315 (1.5%) from a total of just over 20,000. 

Commenting on the findings, Zafer said:

“Although previous research has hinted at the role of social connections in fertility, until now it’s not been clear whether the links are direct or whether they relate to other shared factors such as environment or background characteristics.”

He added:

“Our research makes it clear for the first time in a very robust way that when it comes to deciding to have a child, a spillover effect is happening from the family to the workplace and vice versa.”

The researchers say the increasing availability of register data in various countries such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden will make it possible to look at what’s going on in other countries and also to see if the spillover effect extends to other networks, such as neighbours.

Family, Firms, and Fertility: A Study of Social Interaction Effects is research by Zafer Büyükeçeci and colleagues and is published in the journal, Demography.