The impact of social policy on fertility: evidence from Switzerland

The impact of social policy on fertility: evidence from Switzerland

Variation in fertility rates, across both countries and time, is sometimes explained with reference to specific types of social polices. In particular, the recent increase in fertility rates seen in some Nordic countries and in France has been ascribed to these countries’ efficient childcare systems. A recently published study looks at variation in fertility rates within Switzerland. Switzerland is a federal country where subnational units (the cantons) enjoy almost total autonomy in matters of family policy, and are experiencing very different levels of fertility. These range between a low of 1.17 in Ticino, the Italian speaking canton, and a high of 1.71 in Appenzel (AI), a German-speaking rural strongly Catholic canton.

The analysis basically confirms the findings of previous studies based on international comparisons. The main cause of declining fertility rates in Switzerland over the last two decades has been societal modernisation, a move away from agricultural traditional societies to urban service-based ones. Its effects, however, have been moderated by family friendly polices, in particular the availability of childcare and the level of family allowances. The effect of social policies may be broader than suggested by these two indicators, though. We can assume that investments in these two fields of policy go hand in hand with a general policy climate that is more favourable to the reconciliation of work and family life. Other important policy aspects include the duration of the school day, availability of activities during the holyday season, availability of services such as home helps, and so forth. It is possible, that the two, easy to measure, policy instruments included in this analysis reflect in reality a boarder policy orientation towards families. Fertility decisions are unlikely to be the result of rational calculations where a few Swiss francs variation in family benefits can be important. The alternative hypothesis that it is the broad context of polices towards families that matters, seems way more plausible.


The study has been published in the “Journal of European Social Policy”, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp 64-78, 2008. It can be downloaded from the IDHEAP website:


Giuliano Bonoli, Swiss Graduate School of public Administration (IDHEAP), Route de la Maladière 21, CH-1022 Chavannes-près-Renens, Switzerland, 0041 (21) 557 40 90, giuliano.bonoli [at]