Media Briefings


  • Published Date: March 2016

Education policies, such as the Easter Leaving Rule or the expansion in post-compulsory schooling do not lead to a reduction in the probability of having a child as a teenager. But both sources of variation in education lead to delays in having a child. These are the central findings of research by Jonathan James and Sunčica Vujić, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference in Brighton in March 2016.

Their study looks at the effect of a feature of education system and a set of education reforms in England and Wales on the timing of fertility. They examine an institutional rule that led to women obtaining qualifications due to their month of birth (the Easter Leaving Rule). Second, they look at an education reform that led to a large expansion of post-compulsory schooling that occurred from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.

Specifically, according to the Easter Leaving Rule, those born between 1 September and 31 January could leave school at Easter while those born between 1 February and 31 August had to stay at school until the end of the summer, enabling them to take end of year exams. Dickson and Smith (2011) show that ‘late leavers’ were significantly more likely to obtain academic qualifications. This education policy was active from the Education Act of 1962 up until 1997.

The second education reform was a combination of changes in policies that led to a large expansion in education in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It resulted in the proportion of 18 year olds in full-time education rising from around 17% in 1985 to over 35% in the late 1990s. Walker and Zhu (2008) show that the proportion of women with a college degree increased from 13% to 30% from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. This period of change was the Education Expansion.

Despite the increase in qualifications due to the Easter Leaving Rule, the authors find no evidence that it led to a reduction in the probability of being a teen mother. The Education Expansion reform resulted in large increases in post-compulsory schooling participation. An increase in education, either through an increase in age finishing full-time education or obtaining a degree, led to delayed fertility. The authors calculate that an increase in education by one year led to a 5% increase in probability of birth of women aged 27 or above.

The authors consider a combination of human capital and incapacitation effects (Black et al, 2008) as two mechanisms that could explain the relationship between education and the timing of fertility. The findings based on both the Easter Leaving Rule and Education Expansion do not suggest an incapacitation mechanism as a plausible explanation. For example, the Education Expansion led to delaying fertility after the age of 27, which is after the typical age when a degree would be completed.

While the authors can rule out the incapacitation effect, it is more challenging to distinguish between a direct human capital or an improvement in labour market opportunities as a result of holding qualifications (signalling) effect of education on fertility timing.

The small additional time in school as a result of the Easter Leaving Rule suggests that any effects found would be driven more by signalling, and therefore an improvement in labour market opportunities. But the effects of the Education Expansion reform could well be a combination of improvements in human capital and signalling of qualification effects.

The new research results confirm that timing of education policies is essential in using education as a key policy lever in preventing teenage fertility and delaying child birth until after ages that are essential for the human capital formation of young women.


Fertility Timing And Education:
Evidence Based On Institutional Features Of British Education System
Jonathan James and Sunčica Vujić