February 17, 2023 | Press Release
Parents in Germany: What Role does Personality Play in the Decision to Have Children?
Personality traits such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, and extraversion affect the probability of having children. MPIDR doctoral student Steffen Peters demonstrates this in his new study using longitudinal data from the German Socio-Economic Panel study.
In Germany today, the decision for or against having children is partly a question of autonomy and self-realization. It is therefore hardly surprising that personality also plays a role in this decision.
Steffen Peters, a PhD Student at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany, has investigated how traits according to the so-called Five Factor Model, a recognized personality model, affect the probability of having children in the future. His study has now appeared in the journal Genus.
“As far as I know, my study is the first to record character traits according to the Five Factor Model exclusively before the birth of the first and second child. Looking at both time periods is important because personality traits can change as a result of being a parent. By using my approach, I rule out reverse causality," says Steffen Peters.
Those who are extraverted are more likely to have children
Using longitudinal data from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) study from 2005 to 2017, Steffen Peters examined the influence of the following five character traits on childbearing in Germany: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and open to new experiences.
He found that extraversion in particular increases the likelihood of having a child, but this trait lowers the chances of having a second child.
Agreeableness favors the chances of having a first and - in men at least - a second child. In general, these correlations are more pronounced in men. In contrast, character traits seem to play a minor role in women's decision for or against having children. In women, only conscientiousness lowers the probability of having a second child.
“Personality fundamental for the analysis of demographic processes”
With further analysis, Steffen Peters showed that the relationship between personality and having children also depends to some extent on other factors such as partnership status, income, and educational level. At the same time, existing research says that these factors are in turn influenced by personality. For example, certain character traits are associated with a higher likelihood of getting married or achieving a higher level of education.
“From my point of view, individual character traits are essential to explain demographic processes like birth rates or health behaviors. Each and every individual has different reasons for and attitudes towards certain decisions in life”, says Steffen Peters.
Peters, S.: The prospective power of personality on childbearing: A longitudinal study based on data from Germany. Genus (2023). DOI: 10.1186/s41118-023-00184-y
Author and Affiliation
Steffen Peters, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock