A deeper look into the effects of advanced education reveals that it significantly increases the likelihood that a woman will find a spouse and have children by the age of 37. Interestingly, the same research showed that increased educational attainment does not promote family formation amongst men.
This intriguing outcome was the result of an exhaustive study conducted by the Institute for Economic Research. The study, just recently published by Etlawhich, was aimed at investigating the effect of education on children’s income.
According to Hanna Virtanen, Etla’s research manager and the author of the study, the results concerning men, in particular, differ a lot from what was previously assumed. However, as of now, there isn’t any definitive explanation for these results.
In the past, it was commonly believed that education made it difficult for women to start a family, while it assisted men in finding a relationship. However, these perceptions have recently changed.
In today’s world, both highly educated women and men are more likely to have a spouse and children compared to those with only secondary education. And those with secondary education, in turn, are more likely to have a family than those who have only completed primary school.
However, Virtanen points out that there is very little researched information on the cause and effect relationships behind these findings.
To delve deeper into this issue, Virtanen along with another group of researchers examined the effect of education level. They did this by analyzing registry data from those born between 1979–1985 who sought secondary education or admission into a university of applied sciences.
The study included those who barely exceeded or just fell short of the admission limits.
The researchers assumed that the groups of those who got in and those who did not, especially those close to the entry border, have quite similar characteristics. Therefore, near the border, it is somewhat random who gets an education and who does not.
“It is interesting to note that while education has a significant impact on men’s income, it does not seem to have any effect on their likelihood of having children.”
After conducting an in-depth comparison of the life courses of these groups, it was discovered that access to secondary education increased the number of children women have by five percentage points, and access to a university of applied sciences increased it by a further five percentage points compared to those who did not gain admission.
The research team believes that education increases the number of women’s children because the jobs of educated people are typically more flexible and can be adjusted according to the needs of the family. Additionally, a more educated woman may also be viewed as a more desirable reproductive partner.
“Our results could also suggest that education is considered a sign of the ability to be a good parent and that this seems to be especially important for women,” the study speculates.
On the other hand, the effect of education on the number of children men have was found to be virtually zero.
“Despite the fact that education significantly increases men’s income, it surprisingly does not affect their likelihood of having children,” says Virtanen.
The reason behind this phenomenon remains a mystery. One possible explanation could be that men who have reached university tend to postpone having children.
“Then when they decide to start a family, they may struggle to find a suitable partner, or issues related to fertility may come into play,” Virtanen reflects.
On the other hand, men with a lower level of education may face obstacles to starting a family that education does not solve, such as health concerns.
However, Virtanen notes that these are just hypotheses. In the next phase of the project, the research team hopes to unearth a more definitive explanation for the results.
Despite the intriguing findings, Virtanen warns that the results of this one study cannot be generalized to all educated and uneducated people.
However, the target population of the study is relevant, especially in light of discussions on whether increasing the availability of education could help boost the birth rate.
This study was part of the Lifecon project which is funded by the Strategic Research Council. The project’s main objective is to provide decision-makers with valuable information on the causes, consequences, and potential solutions of demographic change.