Värikkäässä kuvassa värikynälaatikko, taustalla lapsi piirtää.

Evidence-based solutions for adapting to changes in fertility

The Family Formation in Flux – Causes, Consequences and Possible Futures (FLUX) consortium project seeks evidence-based solutions to new demographic challenges in Finnish society. These are posed by the changes and dynamics in fertility and family formation, especially the recent decline in fertility, and the acceleration of an already rapid population ageing. Fertility and family dynamics are also linked to social and gender-based inequalities and psychosocial and economic wellbeing.

We produce new scientific understanding on changes in fertility and family dynamics, and population ageing. Our goal is to increase dialogue between research, decision-making and practice and to strengthen evidence-informed decision-making in the different stages of social and family policy processes and at different levels of public administration. Our longer-term aim is to promote wellbeing and improve the social and economic sustainability of society.

Familiar reasons no longer explain the dynamics of fertility and family formation

Fertility levels have fallen in Finland and other Nordic countries, but there is little knowledge on the reasons behind this change. The plummeting fertility rate in the Nordic countries has challenged our scientific understanding of the factors affecting fertility in developed societies.

According to central theories, gender equality and social stability are often found together in countries where the fertility rate is also comparatively high. The fertility rate previously remaining high in the Nordic countries has been explained by the fact that these welfare states support families and gender equality. However, these theories are unable to explain recent changes.

In FLUX, we conduct interdisciplinary research and ask new questions to seek alternative explanations that help us to understand these changes. Among other things, we want to establish how changing goals in life, the formation of identity, distinct life trajectories, and obstacles experienced in starting a family, as well as differences between the sexes in sharing unpaid care work, affect fertility rates and family formation.

We explore the impacts of changes in fertility and family dynamics

Changes in fertility and family dynamics impact individuals and the society. It is probable that the drop in the fertility rate in the 2010s will lead to a sharp decline in the final number of children for women and men.

A low fertility rate, postponing having children to later in life and partnership instability are inherently associated with relationships between generations and social sustainability. These complex connections emerge, for example, in the health of adults and children, and in employment rates.

Our researchers at FLUX seek to understand these effects of changes in fertility and family dynamics on the wellbeing of individuals and society by focusing attention on the dynamics of life trajectories, gender relations and the societal environment shaped by policy action.

Inequality and wellbeing as cross-cutting themes

Changes in fertility and family dynamics are linked to social and gender-based inequalities and shortcomings in psychosocial and economic wellbeing and health. These links often go both ways, contributing towards cumulating disadvantages in the life trajectories of individuals and across the generations.

Lifelong childlessness, having children with several partners and partnership instability have increased, especially among those with low levels of education. Socioeconomic differences in family formation have changed in the same direction for Finnish men and women but the impacts of starting a family on position in the labour market remain gendered. We still know little about the links between recent changes in family demographics and psychosocial factors, such as psychological wellbeing.

In FLUX, we are seeking answers on the connections between changes in fertility and family dynamics and inequality and wellbeing. Inequality and wellbeing are two cross-cutting themes in the FLUX project.

Social and family policy can be influenced

The average number of children desired by Finns has slightly decreased. Irrespective of this, the number of children people actually have is clearly lower than the figure desired. General wellbeing and satisfaction with life encourage people to have children, and thus an increase in the fertility rate could be sought by means of a family policy that supports the wellbeing of adults and children.

If uncertainty encourages people to postpone commitments associated with starting a family, actions in national and local policy that increase the predictability of the lives of young adults will support people in having children. Social policy can also influence the consequences of having children, including by supporting the compatibility of work and family life and a more equal division of unpaid care labour between the sexes.

In FLUX, we think that in order to improve social and economic sustainability there is a need for both proactive actions (including supporting family formation), and reactive actions, in which society adapts to changes in population structure.

The aim is to support evidence-based decision-making and the work of experts

By means of stakeholder collaboration and interaction, in FLUX we seek to increase dialogue with different knowledge-users. We produce new scientific information with the aim of supporting evidence-informed decision-making especially in the fields of social and family policy. Our goal is to make the knowledge we produce timely, concrete and beneficial from the perspective of decision-making and policy preparation.

We also engage in dialogue with non-governmental organisations and experts working with young people, children and young adults. This enables us to disseminate evidence-based knowledge for practical application. By participating in developing research-based content for training and lifelong learning, we in FLUX seek to increase expertise and knowhow associated with building the capacity of a sustainable welfare society.

Additionally, we aim to make new knowledge more accessible and improve the prerequisites for developing wider understanding of social and economic sustainability among Finnish society.

Solutions sought via a multidisciplinary approach

Our multidisciplinary FLUX consortium brings together leading researchers in population science and other fields that are important to our understanding of the reasons and consequences of changes in fertility. These fields are demography (population research), sociology, psychology, epidemiology (public health science), economics, data science and social policy. Close collaboration and a multidisciplinary approach between researchers in different fields can identify factors affecting changes in fertility and family dynamics and the consequences of these changes as well as create pragmatic policy solutions.

Our consortium brings together researchers and experts from three Finnish universities and two leading national research institutions on social security and social and health services. Participants are the University of Turku, the University of Helsinki, Åbo Akademi University, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Finnish Centre for Pensions (ETK). The consortium is led from the INVEST research centre and research flagship at the University of Turku.

Further information:

FLUX website

FLUX status report (tilannekuvaraportti, only available in Finnish)

DEMOGRAPHY programme website

Authors

Marika Jalovaara FLUX Consortium director
University of Turku
Erika Lilja Impact and interaction manager
University of Turku