French-German comparison of fertility related "Leitbilder"

Kerstin Ruckdeschel, Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB)
Anne Salles, Université de Paris IV, Sorbonne
Laurent Toulemon, Institut National d'Études Démographiques (INED)
Arnaud Régnier-Loilier, Institut National d'Études Démographiques (INED)
Sabine Diabaté, Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB)

Since decades we observe different fertility patterns between France and Germany: Although both countries are European neighbors their birth rates are very different: Germany is a low-fertility-country, France a high-fertility-country, so these countries reflect the range of fertility all over Europe. In cross-country comparisons we find higher birth rates not only in those countries with an above-average availability of public childcare (which reduces the opportunity costs of children) such as Sweden or France, but also in countries like Great Britain where public childcare is hardly provided at all. It seems obvious that, given the development of structural circumstances, family lives in Europe could have changed much more than they actually have. So we assume that there needs to be a substantial cultural influence holding change back and stabilizing given fertility patterns. Theories describing such an influence exist, but there are, in comparison, few, and within current family research hardly any of them is frequently used. This article will keep on in the long tradition of French-German comparison and try to explain the differences within the family size-patterns trough a cultural concept called “Leitbild”, which is supplemented to structural concepts. Similar questions on norms on childlessness, large families, and partners roles within couples have been asked to representative samples in France and Germany. They were referring to personal opinions as well as to the perception of the “general opinion”. The comparison between the two countries shows that some norms are implicit although very influential: positive opinions on some family forms may hide some strong misgivings, while other behaviors are not highly valued because they are perceived as standard. The opposition between the two countries about norms on childlessness and large families allows detecting such specific “leitbilder”.

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Presented in Session 19: Policy Issues