The New York Times Magazine on Sunday examined why industrialized countries have been experiencing decreased fertility rates and how differing policies regarding maternity leave and worker benefits are affecting the rates.
According to the Times Magazine, fertility rates in more than 90 countries are below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman, and the "relatively large families of new immigrants" are "staving off a population crisis" in the U.S., which has a fertility rate that "hovers around replacement level."
Some scholars say that many factors -- including greater access to contraception, later marriage and a decrease in "hopefulness about the future" -- account for the decreased fertility rates, but many researchers say that the "particular burdens women face in the work force" also is a factor.
According to Times Magazine, it might be more difficult to be a working parent in the U.S. than in countries experiencing larger decreases in fertility rates because the country spends less on child care than any other industrialized country and paid leave is not guaranteed.
The lowest fertility rates in Western Europe are in countries -- such as Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain -- where "the old idea that the man is the breadwinner and the woman is the childraiser holds strong," while countries that support the highest numbers of working women -- including Denmark, Finland and Norway -- have among the highest rates in the region, the Times Magazine reports.
Sociologist Ronald Rindfuss said that Norwegian women who live in towns with more day care slots available have more children and begin to have children earlier than women in towns with less day care slots.
In addition, experts have linked an increase in Sweden's birthrate to policies mandating paid maternity leave, the Times Magazine reports (Lerner, New York Times Magazine, 3/4).