Saturday, September 19, 2009

On the contradictions between traditional family structures and high completed fertility in developed countries

In his Globe and Mail article "Germany's working mothers get some respect", Doug Saunders describes one very important reason behind Germany's incipient population decline: alternative family structures beyond the patriarchal nuclear family haven't taken nearly enough hold.

A child seemed a welcome addition to the life of Jutta Hoffritz, who had expected her pregnancy to lead to a predictable chain of events: For a year, she would stay home and care for her baby. Then she would place him in a decent child-care centre and return to work – difficult, but surely not beyond reach. After all, she had a well-established career as a business journalist for a national magazine, and she lived in Dusseldorf, a prosperous and liberal city in a major welfare state, so it seemed like a natural progression.

But this is Germany, where the working mother is still considered bizarre and somehow unacceptable. When she sought child care, she discovered there was none. The two spots available for children under 3 at one of her city's few nurseries were reserved for single mothers. She had to hire a full-time kinderfrau (child-minder) at a cost that consumed her entire salary.

And even when her child turns 3, the hassle and expense won't end: Germany has only half-day schooling, in most cases right through high school, and parents are expected to cover the other half out of their own pockets – or, more often, out of their own time.

“In Germany,” she told me, “we have an ideology of motherhood. I thought I would be back in my office soon, no problem, but then I learned that I was being forced to forget everything I knew, and take up the career of being a full-time babysitter, and talk about nothing but children all day. It was terrible.”

Unbeknownst to most outsiders, Germany is the most difficult place in Western Europe to be a working mother, with a deeply ingrained culture of machismo that expects women to give up their lives once they have children.

The ideology itself was Ms. Hoffritz's biggest barrier. When she talked about her frustrations, her friends and relatives openly denounced her as a rabenmutter – literally “raven mother,” a woman who abandons her children, like the mythic ravens throwing their chicks from the nest. It is a term routinely applied to working mothers in Germany.

“When I got pregnant, even though I'd had a career for 20 years, everyone expected me to drop my job forever, to take care of my son and not do anything else all day for the rest of my life, and they got angry when I said otherwise,” she says. “Friends just thought I should be a full-time mom.”


Jean-Marie Le Goff's paper "Cohabiting unions in France and West Germany: Transitions to first birth and first marriage", in issue 7.18 of Demographic Research, sheds life on this phenomenon through a comparison of France and the former West Germany. The two territories, each with roughly similar populations and roughly similar levels of development, have diverged significantly in the post-Second World War period.

French total fertility rates (TFR) have traditionally been higher, on average by the value 0.3 to 0.7 since 1965 (Council of Europe, 2001). In 1965, the TFR was 2.7 in France and 2.4 in West Germany. In both countries, the TFR decreased drastically until the middle of the seventies and levelled off thereafter. In 1999, the TFR was 1.8 in France and 1.4 in West Germany. Moreover, pronounced differences in nonmarital births between France and West Germany have emerged since the beginning of the eighties. France witnessed a big increase in non-marital fertility rates; from roughly 11% in 1980 they reached 41% in 1999. In West Germany, the increase in non-marital births was less pronounced, from 8% to 18% (Council of Europe, 2001). In most developed countries, an increase in non-marital births occurred simultaneously with an increase in non-marital unions (Kiernan 2001a and b). France appears to follow this pattern, but West Germany constitutes an exceptional case.

Women in France, Le Goff argues, have access to a whole variety of family structures, from the traditional nuclear marriage family to a family marked by cohabitation to single motherhood, with a relatively long tradition of recognizing the responsibilities of parents towards their children regardless of their legal status, with the idea of mothers working outside of the home not only being accepted but supported by any number subsidies to parents to affordable and accessible day care. In West Germany, social and policy norms tend to support traditional family structures. The result? In France, people are childbearing age are split between two sectors, one defined by marriage relationships and the other defined by cohabitation relationships. On the other side of the Rhine, people of childbearing age are split between people who have children and people who don't. Katja Köppen's Second births in Western Germany and France (Demographic Research 14.14) further points out that whereas Frenchwomen seem to enjoy an institutional structure that encourages motherhood and there isn't a contradiction between high levels of education--hence employment--and fertility, there is such a contradiction in western Germany, with government spending priorities in the latter country being directed towards the support of traditional families. It's not too much of a surprise, then, that the German Federal Statistics Office reports that of childless women is rising, particularly in the former West Germany.

The number of childless women is increasing in Germany. As reported by the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), in 2008 21% of the women aged 40 to 44 years had not given birth to a child. By contrast, 16% of the women who were ten years older (birth cohorts from 1954 to 1958) and only 12% of the women who were 20 years older (birth cohorts from 1944 to 1948) were childless. A share of 26% of the women aged between 35 and 39 years had no children yet in 2008. However, the proportion of childless women will still decline in this age group.

These and more 2008 microcensus core results regarding childlessness and births in Germany were announced today by Roderich Egeler, President of the Federal Statistical Office, at a press conference in Berlin.

In the eastern part of Germany, the number of childless women is by far smaller than in western Germany. While in the ‘old’ Länder, 16% of the women aged 40 to 75 years have no children, their share amounts to only 8% in the ‘new’ Länder. Regarding younger women, too, the difference is considerable. In the ‘old’ Länder, a share of 28% of the women aged between 35 and 39 years (birth cohorts from 1969 to 1973) have no children yet, while the relevant proportion amounts to not more than 16% in the ‘new’ Länder.


Sobotka points out that West German women have evidence considerably higher rates of childlessness than their French counterparts since the 1940s.

This growing body of research points towards a strong conclusion: if a developed country, or at least a country well advanced in the demographic transition, wants high cohort fertility, it has to support alternative family structures in such a way that women will have the autonomy necessary to combine participation in the work force with motherhood. Times have changed, and if any number of countries--Germany included--are to avoid very prolonged demographic winters they're going to have to adapt.

12 comments:

Stands without the door said...

It will be interesting to see how successful the lowest fertility developed countries handle their situations. Japan just held an election in which population aging was an issue (although I am not sure how much of an issue it was to the public at large) and this problem is being discussed in the German election.

It will be interesting to examine and compare the outcome of new policies (and potential coming effects of recent ones) in each case.

The information from the article about working mothers in Germany would seem to indicate that Merkel's policies will be more successful in the lander which were formerly part of East Germany at first (we may now already be seeing that).

Randy said...

There is that possibility. (Come to think of it, a brief post on East Germany might be warranted.) Against this is the ongoing east-to-west migration trend, however.

It's important to remember that any uptick in cohort fertility anywhere in Germany isn't going to prevent population aging in the long run, never mind prevent a certain amount of population shrinkage. Here, demographic momentum's just too powerful a force. We're talking about something in the long term.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it, the next century will witness a long, slow population aging and eventual decline in Europe (a few high-immigration countries excepted). Any changes, ie support for alternative family structures, will alter these trends only at the margin. The demographic future is elsewhere.

Stands without the door said...

I wonder how the Middle East and North Africa compare to East Asia in the forms of family structure. Which adheres to the traditional family structure to a greater extent? Both could be compared to the South Asian region also.

Randy said...

Forget East Asia, there's a good case to be made that for a variety of historical reasons North African--or at least Maghrebin--family structures are similar to those of southern Europe save for being even more patriarchal and family-oriented. That has obvious implications.

snakeoilbaron said...

Randy: I agree that this has implications for North Africa and other areas of the Islamic world. Iran is already demonstrating this trend. I have heard it proposed that the use of oil wealth to subsidize single income family lifestyle has obscured the normal demographic transitions in many of these nations even while increasing female education levels and inflating dowry rates. As a result, more women are starting to work to raise money for dowry and thus raising the average marriage age. This trend could be accentuated by lower oil production and prices yeilding less revenue. Add urbanization and other factors and you could see a demographic transition much faster than seen in other societies. Without the ability of the culture to adapt to permit working mothers or maternity "sabaticals" there could be som major changes in fertility paterns.

For this reason, I am sceptical of visions of immigration as a fix for population aging, whether Eurabia fears or multicultural eutopian dreams. The idea of any region being and endless source of migrants is not necessarily realistic.

Cicerone said...

Seems that East germany is prepared better. It's fertility rate is now at 1.40 and over that of West Germanys, which is at 1.37 in 2008. (http://www.destatis.de/jetspeed/portal/cms/Sites/destatis/Internet/DE/Content/Statistiken/Bevoelkerung/GeburtenSterbefaelle/Tabellen/Content50/GeburtenZiffer,templateId=renderPrint.psml) It is very probable that East Germany can escape the low fertility trap.


As it's written in Randy's link, the major demographic border in Europe is between protestant countries on the one side and catholic+orthodox countries on the other side. That's why I think East germany will end up with a considerably higher fertility rate than West Germany. East Germany is heavily atheist, was heavily protestant and has high levels of child care facilities. West Germany instead was dominated by the catholic family model.

There are only a few exceptions: France and Belgium, but they have a very atheistic government which supports alternative family forms. Luxemburgs fertility is between that of France and Germany, like it's culture.

The only exception I can't explain is Ireland. Deeply catholic, they still have a very high fertility rate.

Concerning the Arab world, we'll see two different stories here. The maghreb, I think, will slowly slide towards lowest-low-fertility. The mashreq, the oil dominated countries today have fertility rates of 3-4 for their native populations. When the oil runs out, there could be a demographic shock that will lead to plummeting rates.

Africa could be a migration reservoir for at least 50 additional years. The dynamic of Africa seems to be unstoppable.

Stands without the door said...

Ukraine was reported to have a TFR of 1.458 for 2008. From: http://www.ukrstat.gov.ua/

Perhaps it is in the process of pulling out of the lowest fertility category? Ukraine might have a higher TFR than Russia now (although high net emigration accompanying it).

Also, Georgia recently had a spike in the birth rate.

Cicerone said...

Could be. If you exclude the Russians of the Ukranian population, the fertility rate for ethnic Ukranians could easily be 1.5. Regional fertility rates are lowest in the east and highest in the west.

Anonymous said...

The former Communistic countries go from an communistic birth-profile to a capitalist birth-profile. That is why they have such a low TFR at the moment.


Communistic birth profile: Few kids in the womens early 20's because that is the way to get your own home.
Capitalistic birth profile: Few kids in the womens 30's because than you have enough money to get a good home.

Anonymous said...

Population aging will result in the young leaving to avoid higher taxes to pay for pensions.

Presumably Heinsohn knows about Germany,
" It is no wonder that young, hard-working people in ... Germany choose to emigrate. [...] If we take 100 20-year-olds, then the 70 Frenchmen and Germans also have to support 30 immigrants of their own age and their offspring. This creates dejection in the local population, particularly in France, Germany and the Netherlands. So they run away.[...]

They assume that the young people will stay in Europe and bring up their own children, but that will not happen. A study from 2005 showed that 52 per cent of the Germans between 18 and 32 wanted to leave".

Anonymous said...

Other Anonymous, how many California's want to move to another state in the Union?


ps. You are right. Those Polish immigrants are lazy but political it is impossible to get others