Childlessness and third births – a differentiated view on the fertility decline in Germany

Detlev Lück, Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB)
Martin Bujard, Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB)

Judging from cohort fertility, in Germany the fertility decline linked to the Second Demographic Transition has come to an end with the birth cohort of 1968 having 1.49 births per woman. We re-investigate this fertility decline, following the consideration that the development of distributions over parities may reveal more information than the development of birth rates. Our question is: Are the description and the interpretation of this fertility decline accurate and complete? We approach this question with a theoretical reflection as well as with empirical analyses based on micro-census data and on qualitative content analyses. Our theses are: The explanation of the birth decline can only be accurate if it differentiates between two parity specific changes: (1) The number of women remaining childless strongly increases and (2) the number of women having three or more births strongly decreases, while the parities one and two remain roughly stable. The speed of these two processes changes throughout the overall birth decline, so that two phases can be distinguished: a first phase of rapid decline in third births and a second phase of comparably fast increase in childlessness. This as well as theoretical reflections on the plausibility of arguments suggests that also the explanations for the two processes need to be differentiated. Whereas the predominant theoretical interpretations of the birth decline discuss a general postponement and lack of births and give plausible explanations especially for emerging childlessness (such as individualisation, value change or opportunity costs), there is a tendency to ignore the decrease of third births as a second crucial driving force. To compensate for the lack of plausible explanations for this second process, cultural theories of the two children ideal and the discrimination of large families need to be developed.

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Presented in Poster Session 1