Document Type

Working Paper

Date of this Version



We are grateful to Hans Peter Kohler, Sarah Hayford, Ann Orloff, Mónica Caudillo, Abigail Weitzman and participants of the 2019 Gender, Power, Theory, the 2019 Global Family Change workshop, and the 2019 American Sociological Association Annual Meeting for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We gratefully acknowledge support for this paper through the Global Family Change (GFC) Project ( gfc), which is a collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania, University of Oxford (Nuffield College), Bocconi University, and the Centre d’Estudis Demogràfics (CED) at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.


Background: Scant research explores the association between women’s employment and fertility on a truly global scale due to limited cross-national comparative standardized information across contexts.

Methods: The paper compiles a unique dataset that combines nationally representative country-level data on women’s wage employment from the International Labor Organization with fertility and reproductive health measures from the United Nations and additional information from UNESCO, OECD and the World Bank. This dataset is used to explore the linear association between women’s employment and fertility/reproductive health around the world between 1960 and 2015.

Results: Women’s wage employment is negatively correlated with total fertility rates and unmet need for family planning and positively correlated with modern contraceptive use in every major world region. Nonetheless, evidence suggest these findings hold for non-agricultural—but not agricultural—employment only.

Contribution: Our analysis documents the linear association between women’s employment and fertility on a global scale and widens the discussion to include reproductive health outcomes as well. Better understanding these empirical associations on a global scale is important for understanding the mechanisms behind global fertility change.


employment, fertility, reproductive health, global, gender, families



Date Posted: 14 August 2020