European Sociological Review vol:29 issue:6 pages:1149-1161
Fertility differences in Europe are largely due to disparities in parity progression after the first
child. Postponement is recuperated to a larger extent in countries with relatively high fertility, less in
countries with very low fertility. Explanations have referred to social policy and socio-economic context.
We argue that cultural factors also need to be taken into account and investigate the relationship
between age norms and second birth rates in 23 European countries. Using the third round of the
European Social Survey, we analyze if ideas about the ‘proper’ age for parenthood interact with actual
ages at first birth in influencing second birth transitions. Our findings indicate that in regions with older
ideal ages for parenthood the second birth rate is depressed for women with young ages at first birth
and vice versa. This effect, however, is strongly reduced and remains only marginally significant after
controlling for an interaction between regional gross domestic product (GDP) and age at first birth. This
indicates that rich regions exhibit weaker postponement effects, and that this relationship largely
absorbs the effect of age norms. We also find that the negative effect of high age at first birth on the
second birth rates attenuates with educational attainment.