Family formation in times of uncertainty: France and Germany compared

Marie-Therese Letablier, CNRS/CES Université Paris 1
Anne Salles, Université Paris Sorbonne (Paris 4)

What are the implications of the labour market uncertainty and economic insecurity on family formation? The implications of economic insecurity on fertility decisions will be analyzed in France and Germany representing two contrasted countries with regard to fertility level, young adults’ employment patterns and policies supporting parenthood. France has one of the highest fertility levels in Europe whereas Germany has one of the lowest despite a contrasted situation regarding the incidence of unemployment among young generations. We suggest in this contribution to explore the paradox that characterizes the two countries: the high economic insecurity due to a high labour market uncertainty does not result in a low fertility in France while a lower labour uncertainty in Germany is connected to a low fertility. We hypothesize firstly that the impact varies according to gender and class and secondly that the impact depends on the institutional and cultural context. Methodology uses a comparative qualitative approach, analyzing the narratives from a sample of young men and women living in two medium sized cities in Western Germany and France. Results emphasize the strong effect of norms related to gendered parenthood and to the value of children in the two countries, and notably the acceptance of external childcare. They also underline the effect of policies supporting parenthood in reducing the perception of insecurity, therefore enabling a transition into parenthood. We conclude that the contrasted situations in the two countries may be explained firstly by the subjective meaning of children as an economic and social risk, and secondly by the perception young adults have of policies in their ability to support transition to parenthood, that is high or low trust in policies and in their ability to reduce the risk perception.

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Presented in Session 35: Economic uncertainty and fertility