Italy is characterised by both a low level of female participation in the labour market and a low fertility rate. At the same time, many women stay out of the la-bour market after the childbirth for a much longer period of time than the com-pulsory maternity leave prescribes. This way, they put at risk the possibility of re-entering the labour market after the career break, as well as damage their future career opportunities. In this paper we use a two-stage estimation process to ana-lyse the factors that influence the choice of having children first and then the choice of the period of time to devote to raising them out of the labour market. In particular, we focus on the role of factors hitherto neglected by the literature, such as prevailing local social norms and women’s reproductive health. The re-sults show that economic constraints do not have a strong impact on fertility choices (which seem to be more influenced by individual preferences and social norms), but significantly influence the length of the maternity period. The worsen-ing of women’s reproductive health, also due to the increase in the average age at childbirth, seems to significantly lengthen the period of time spent out of the la-bour market after the childbirth.
Keywords: Fertility, maternity leaves, female work, social norms