Social norms vs. policy influences on cohort fertility trends: a natural experiment study on the German minority in eastern Belgium

Sebastian Kluesener, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Karel Neels, University of Antwerp
Michaela Kreyenfeld, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

A few countries in Europe – such as France, Sweden or Belgium – still report cohort fertility rates close to two children per women, while in other countries, particularly in the German-speaking area, cohort fertility is only around 1.5-1.6 children. In order to explain these country differences in fertility levels, scholars increasingly refer to the role of the social policy context, while others point to existing differences in value structure which may also account for country specific variations in fertility levels. However, due to the mutual interdependence of the two, it is cumbersome to isolate the impact of social/cultural norms and institutional factors on fertility decisions. In our study we attempt to disentangle the two by drawing on a natural experiment. After World War I two German districts were ceded to Belgium. The population in this area retained its German linguistic identity, but has, since then, been subject to Belgian social policies. Our study uses (micro)-census data to compare fertility behavior of the German minority in Belgium with data for western Germany and the Flemish and French Language Communities in Belgium, controlling for individual-level characteristics. Our findings indicate that the overall fertility outcomes of the German minority in Belgium resemble more the Belgian pattern than the German one. This provides support for the view that institutional factors are relevant for understanding the fertility differences between Belgium and Germany.

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Presented in Session 85: Regional disparities in policies supporting families