The effect of the Great Recession on permanent childlessness in Italy

Chiara Ludovica Comolli, European University Institute
Marcantonio Caltabiano, Università di Messina
Alessandro Rosina, Università Cattolica, Milan

The severe recession that has hit advanced economies since summer 2007 had a very strong effect not only on the economic system but also on family dynamics. Many studies address the issue of how the business cycles impact on fertility behavior both in the US and in Europe, but the literature and the empirical evidence have not come to conclusive results yet on the causal link between economic shocks and fertility behavior. Most studies also argue that the latter responds to recessions only with a temporary postponement of births, concentrated on the first child and among the younger strata of the population. A recent paper by Comolli and Bernardi (2015) though, finds a permanent negative effect of the Great Recession in the US on older childless women in their late thirties. In light of these results, in this paper we want to verify if a similar effect might be found in a different context, i.e. Italy. The aim of this study is to apply the difference-in-difference method to synthetic cohorts of Italian childless women to assess whether the crisis had an impact on cohorts’ childlessness rates, and to evaluate the magnitude of this impact. Also, focusing on women around 40 years old allows quantifying the permanent effect of the Great Recession on childbearing (lost births) since, presumably, these women who are close to end of their reproductive lives will not have another chance to become mothers after 40. We use the Italian Labor Force Survey 2004-2015 to compare cohorts’ childlessness rates across the phases of the Great Recession.

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Presented in Session 5: Recession and fertility