Geographical variations in fertility and transition to second and third birth in Britain

Fiori, Francesca and Graham, Elspeth and Feng, Zhiqiang (2014) Geographical variations in fertility and transition to second and third birth in Britain. Advances in Life Course Research, 21. pp. 149-167. (

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Geographical variations in fertility have been observed within several countries in Northern Europe, with higher fertility in rural areas, smaller settlements and city suburbs. However, the processes underlying such fertility variations across residential contexts are not well understood. This paper contributes to the on-going debate by looking at local variations in fertility in Britain. It aims to disentangle the relative contribution of a number of factors, including the socio-economic characteristics of individuals, housing conditions, patterns of residential relocation and lastly, contextual factors stricto sensu. In addition, it seeks to identify those aspects of reproductive behaviour which are more likely to be associated with the observed spatial differences, and to distinguish between those that may be influenced by local context and those that respond to social influences at different scales. The focus is on local fertility contexts which, we argue, have the potential to influence the fertility behaviour of individuals through processes of social learning. Individual level data from the British Household Panel Survey and methods of event history analysis are used to explore women's transitions to second and third order births in Britain in the early 21st century. Our findings indicate that individual reproductive life paths respond to a variety of social processes acting at various scales, and that these influences vary by birth order. Most interestingly, local fertility contexts influence transition to first birth but not transition to higher order births, which are mainly associated with individual characteristics of women and their partners. Dominant spacing effects, however, suggest that local contexts have an indirect impact on second and third births through age at the onset of childbearing. The study demonstrates the importance of considering social interaction theories, and their extension to scale-sensitive spatial contexts in which these interactions take place, when analysing geographical variations in fertility. Future research seeking to explain subnational fertility variations must recognize the importance of developing theoretical understandings to inform empirical work.