Germany as a case of high development and low fertility – bringing women’s choice back into demography

Wiebke Rösler, Humboldt University of Berlin
Carolin Deuflhard, Humboldt University of Berlin

Demographic theory often explains fertility patterns in relation to broad patterns of economic development. A recent approach suggests that the long-term, structural trend of declining birth rates during the 20th century is now changing for highly developed countries (Myrskylä et al. 2009). Comparing the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) with the Human Development Index (HDI), Myrskylä et al. argue that further development in such countries can reverse the declining trend in fertility. The ‘reversal hypothesis’ turns out to be problematic. It is methodologically inaccurate to derive a rise in fertility from changes in the TFR. The rise in the TFR in Germany simply reflects tempo effects, while the Cohort Fertility Rate (CFR) doesn’t increase - as it doesn’t in France, Sweden and the USA. Instead of assuming a positive relationship between high development and fertility this paper argues that in-country fertility patterns in highly developed countries vary and must be associated with linked political frameworks on the state level. Following Esping-Anderson’s theory of welfare regimes and their relation to women’s choices (Esping-Andersen 2009), we claim by looking empirically at East and West Germany that state political organization fundamentally shapes women’s decisions for or against having children. Using quantitative data from the German microcensus between 1973 and 2008 enables us to empirically gauge the role of women’s choices and how they vary for East and West Germany. By disaggregating women’s labor participation by age of the youngest child and by occupation, we are able to demonstrate that women’s choice between work and family is structurally constrained. Where society doesn’t allow for the compatibility of work and family, well-educated, progressive women tend to choose careers over children. Thus, it is essential to consider the factor of choice in demography.

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Presented in Poster Session 3