Fertility and fertility intentions
According to the Theory of Planned Behaviors (Ajzen, 1991; Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005) (TPB), individuals’ intentions are strictly linked with individuals’ behaviors. Furthermore, individuals’ intentions account for their perceived costs and benefits of that behavior. An extensive literature has applied the TPB to fertility dynamics and, specifically, to fertility intentions (e.g., Billari et al., 2009; Morgan, 1985; Schoen et al., 1999; Testa & Basten, 2014). The main hypothesis that links these two concepts is that in those societies in which contraceptive use is spread out, it is reasonable to assume that individuals plan or intent their childbirth (maybe not always their pregnancies). Therefore, studying fertility intentions—through the lens of the TPB—allows researchers to better understand whether people want to have children and why, i.e., what are those costs that sometimes prevent them from having children despite their desires.
The first relevant question about fertility intentions is whether they represent a reliable measure for behaviors. Previous research has highlighted a set of conditions under which intentions result a reliable measure for behaviors. Specifically, it is important to frame intentions in a specific time-period, in fact the longest the intentions remain not achieved, the higher the likelihood they will never become a behavior (Billari et al., 2009; Philipov, 2009). Thus, intentions have to be asked within a specific and sufficiently short time horizon (Philipov, 2009; Schoen et al., 1999; Testa & Basten, 2014). Furthermore, fertility intentions are parity-specific, i.e., the intention to have a first child entails a different decisional process than the intention to have second or higher parity (Morgan, 1982). Finally, another important aspect to consider is that although intentions are measured at individual-level, the decision to have a child is often made at couple-level. Therefore, a non-agreement within the couple might lead to unrealized or delayed fertility decision despite fertility intention (Billari et al., 2009; Morgan, 1985).
Following the TPB, intentions already include the perceived costs and benefits of the subsequent action. Hence, all those factors influencing both fertility intentions and fertility transitions are essential to understand how the decision process works (Mencarini et al., 2015). Previous studies find that individuals' demographic and socio-economic characteristics have an important impact on both intentions and realizations. Women’s age and their number of children are two of the most important demographic factors (Bühler & Philipov, 2005; Mencarini et al., 2015) with younger mothers displaying a higher likelihood of intending to have another child (Philipov et al., 2006). Furthermore, the number of children and the age of the youngest child are negatively correlated with the intention to have another child (Balbo & Mills, 2011; Bühler, 2008).
Education, income, and employment status also play an important role in shaping fertility intentions and fertility transitions. Specifically, high-educated women are more likely than low-educated ones to report the intention to have another child (Balbo & Mills, 2011; Esteve et al., 2021; Philipov et al., 2006). Furthermore, high-educated women better anticipate fertility intentions than their low-educated counterpart (Toulemon and Testa 2005). Similarly, high-income household are more likely of intending another child (Philipov et al., 2006; Tanskanen & Rotkirch, 2014). Finally, individuals who are studying or who are not employed have a significant lower risk of having another child in the next 2 years compared to those who are employed by the government or by a private firm (Philipov et al., 2006).
Although few studies have investigated the direct role of grandparental support on fertility intentions, there is a wider set of studies that investigate the role of support defined as general additional help and social support. The high involvement of partner in the household chores, the use of paternity leave, and co-residing with grandparents or in-laws positively affect Korean women’s intentions to have a second child (Yoon, 2017). In line with these findings, a study on Italy, a familialistic country, shows that partner’s involvement in childcare, household chores, and the take up of paternity leave, positively impact women’s fertility intentions (Fiori, 2011). Finally, in Italy, childcare provided by the external family network positively and significantly raises women’s intention to have another child (Fiori, 2011). Due to the similarities between the Spanish and the Italian context, we might expect grandparental informal support to play a similar role in Spain a well.
Grandparental support, fertility and fertility intentions
Grandparental childcare provision represents a resourceful boost for the adult child’s fertility transitions as it helps couples and especially women to soften work–family conflicts (Aassve, Arpino, et al., 2012; Kaptijn et al., 2010; Thomese & Liefbroer, 2013). In fact, receiving grandparental childcare improves women’s labor force participation (Aassve, Arpino, et al., 2012), and first and higher-parity fertility transition (Aassve, Meroni, et al., 2012; Kaptijn et al., 2010; Thomese & Liefbroer, 2013). Furthermore, in countries with unsupportive welfare state and weaker family policies, grandparental childcare plays a more relevant role in shaping adult children entry into parenthood (Rutigliano, 2020).
The role of grandparental childcare on fertility intentions has received little attention and it has produced mixed findings. A recent study about Germany does not find any significant association between parental investments—defined as number of contacts, financial and emotional support—and adult sons ‘and adult daughters’ intention to have a fist and a second child (Tanskanen & Danielsbacka, 2021). On the other hand, grandparental childcare has found to have a positive and significant impact on women’s fertility intention in both Norway and France (Tanskanen & Rotkirch, 2014). Furthermore, grandparental emotional support increases women’s fertility intention but only for relatively wealthy households (Tanskanen & Rotkirch, 2014).
A possible reason for these mixed findings could be the heterogeneity in the grandparental investment measures. In contrast with the second study (Tanskanen & Rotkirch, 2014), in the first study (Tanskanen & Danielsbacka, 2021) parental investments are measured with variables that are not directly related with childcare provision which, in turn, is found to be one of the most important resources lowering the cost of children (Bühler, 2008). A second possible explanation lies in the heterogeneity of national contexts. Family norms, gender division of unpaid work, and the type of welfare state influence each other leading to different perceptions of informal childcare provision (Jappens & Van Bavel, 2012).
Gender differences in the perceived and actual cost of children
In the current study, we explore the relationship between grandparental support and fertility intentions by gender. Women and men could have different perceptions about the consequences of having another child (Bühler, 2008; Liefbroer, 2005). Such differences might depend on the gendered dynamics on the labor market and on the gender roles within the household when it comes to parenthood.
Existing literature reports a consistent motherhood wage-penalty, in contrast to a father wage-reward (Anderson et al., 2003; Avellar & Smock, 2003; Budig & Hodges, 2010; Glauber, 2018; Killewald & Gough, 2013). In addition, there are multiple stereotypes in play. Previous studies finds that employers associate positive ideas with working fathers, such as job commitment, but negative ideas with working mothers, such as absenteeism and lower productivity (González et al., 2019). Furthermore, within the household, although men are becoming more and more involved, women, especially after childbirth, are still performing the majority of housework and childcare activities (Nomaguchi & Milkie, 2020). These evidences lead men and women to perceive childbirth differently. Women identify as a future cost of motherhood a loss in their independence and a drop in their career trajectory and independence, whereas men expect an enhancement in their partnership quality (Liefbroer, 2005).
All in all, these findings suggest that perceived and actual costs of parenthood might be higher for women than for men.
The Spanish case
Spain, compared to other countries, represents an interesting case study as grandparental support might be particularly relevant for boosting fertility intentions. First, Spain displays one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe (1.3 children per woman in 2020) and among the highest mean-ages at entry into motherhood (31.2 years old in 2018—EUROSTAT). Nonetheless, on average, women desired fertility has been stable around the value of 2 children per woman (Adsera, 2006; Esteve et al., 2021). Hence, there is a growing gap between desired and realized fertility also called fertility gap (Esping-Andersen, Arpino, et al., 2013; Esping-Andersen, Boertien, et al., 2013). At the micro-level, the Spanish fertility gap indicates that women, both in their private and public lives, do not meet the proper conditions to have the children they desire at the time they desire. Consequently, they delay and eventually forgo their second birth transition (Brodmann et al., 2007; Esteve et al., 2021).
Several factors have been identified to explain such a trend. First, the Spanish labor market is characterized by temporary contracts and a high levels of insecurity (Lozano Renteria 2019; Verd et al., 2019) which is negatively correlated with fertility intentions and childbirth (Comolli, 2017). Women in Spain face a large motherhood penalty that negatively affects mother’s earning and their career, promotion, and aspiration development (Budig & Hodges, 2010; de Quinto et al. 2021). Indeed, research shows that ten years after childbirth, a persistent gender-gap in terms of wages and promotions largely attributable to motherhood is still observable (de Quinto et al., 2021). Furthermore, women in Spain are still the main caregivers and primarily responsible for unpaid work, which represents an extra obstacle for working mothers’ reconciliation strategies (Esping-Andersen, 2009; Garcia Roman & Cortina, 2016; Sevilla-Sanz, 2010).
Second, Spain is considered a familialistic country, i.e., the family is considered the main responsible for individual’s well-being (Esping-Andersen, 2009). Given that childcare preferences and family policies are the result of the interplay between cultural values, family models, and public policies (Pfau-Effinger, 2005), a familialistic context might not favor the development of fully supportive family and childcare policies. The availability of formal childcare services in Spain has a positive impact on women’s fertility transitions, however, there is shortage of public early-childcare (Baizan, 2009; Suárez, 2013), and private early-childcare is fairly expensive (Brodmann et al., 2007). Additionally, Spanish long working hours jointly with the low share of companies offering parents flexible schedules, might exacerbate parents’ work–family conflicts (Adserà and Lozano 2021; Gracia & Kalmijn, 2016; Gutiérrez-Domènech, 2010). As a result, grandparents in Spain play a crucial role as they add flexibility to a rigid public childcare system (Baizan, 2016; Fernandez-Cordón and Tobío-Soler 2005; León & Pavolini, 2014).
These mechanisms affect not only more disadvantaged women, but also women with high education (Acosta-Ballesteros et al., 2018). In fact, women’s improved levels of education are not being translated into either better occupational positions with higher wages, or into more egalitarian division of unpaid works within the household (García-Román, 2021). This leads to two possible scenarios for high-educated women. On the one hand, high-educated women tend to postpone motherhood as much as they can, which leads to a less likely transition to first and second birth (Brodmann et al., 2007). On the other hand, given that education is also correlated with higher income and more stable employment, high-educated women, after entering into motherhood, can squeeze the time–space between the first- and second-birth showing a higher likelihood to have a second child (Baizan, 2009; Esping-Andersen, Arpino, et al., 2013; Esping-Andersen, Boertien, et al., 2013).