October 26, 2015 | News | New publication

Childhood shapes attitude to motherhood

© photocase.de/ Franziska Schellhaas

Women in Eastern Germany on average have children earlier than women in the old Länder. But what about Eastern German women who migrated to the west? MPIDR-researcher Anja Vatterrott has looked at this question to determine whether it is external conditions or rather socialization that influences the birth behavior.

It is 25 years since German reunification, yet large east-west differences in birth behavior persist. Despite some convergence, women in Eastern Germany on average are younger when they become mothers, they remain childless less often, and mothers also have a full-time job more often. In many Western German families, by contrast, the man is still the breadwinner and the woman is under greater pressure to choose between employment and motherhood.

More Information

Socialisation or Institutional Context: What Determines the First and Second Birth Behaviour of East–West German Migrants?, European Journal of Population
October 2015, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 383-415

To get to the roots of the east-west differences in birth behavior, Anja Vatterrott, a researcher at the MPIDR, has looked at the birth behavior of a small selected group of women, the so-called "East-West migrants" (i.e., women born in Eastern Germany who later moved to the west). The results of her study have now been published in the European Journal of Population.

Anja Vatterrott looked at, inter alia, the age of the women at first birth. She discovered that the birth behavior of Eastern German women had converged at least to some extent towards Western German levels: The age at first birth was found to be between the age of Western German women and that of Eastern German women who stayed in the new Länder. The researcher thus concluded that both socialization and adaptation to the external conditions play their part in influencing birth behavior.

"The East-West migrant women do adapt to external conditions and they have children later, probably because they have a strong job orientation and because the child care situation is rather difficult," says the researcher. "Moving place and the time it takes to settle down can also delay family formation. But having spent childhood and youth in Eastern Germany has shaped the women to such an extent that their attitude towards being a mother does not change, although they now live in the west."

Anja Vatterrott used data from the so-called Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), a representative repetitive survey as part of which about 30,000 people living in Germany in a total of almost 11,000 households are interviewed every year. The data provide information on income, employment, education, and health. Because every year the same people are interviewed, the researchers receive detailed insights into the life course of these people, and this enables them to investigate social and societal trends on a long-term basis.


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The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.