Fertility and family dynamics of east-west German migrants

Vatterrott, A.
180 pages. Rostock, University of Rostock (2019)


This dissertation focuses on the fertility and family behaviour of women who have migrated between east and west Germany in the decades following German unification. The comparison of the mobile population with the non-mobile populations in eastern and western Germany illuminates the effects of the institutional context and of the cultural norms adopted during socialisation on fertility behaviour. In the almost three decades since unification, total fertility rates in the two parts of Germany have converged, but east-west differences remain in the timing, the number, and the spacing of births, as well as in the shares of nonmarital fertility. Compared to western Germans, eastern Germans are less likely to stay childless and tend to have their first child at a younger age, but they are also less likely to have a second child. If eastern Germans have a second child, the spacing between the first and the second child is wider. A majority of eastern Germans have their first child outside of marriage, while the opposite is true for western Germans. The reasons cited for these differences include the remaining east-west institutional differences in the compatibility of employment and motherhood due to the wider availability of child care in the east, combined with a tendency to place a high value on children in the east. East-west German migrants offer an opportunity to analyse the determinants of the persisting east-west differences from a novel perspective.

The analysis employs panel and register data and adopts a life course approach, using event-history tools to analyse first and higher order births, as well as whether the first birth occurred in or outside of marriage. Migrants display an intermediate form of family behaviour compared to non-mobile eastern and western Germans. For example, they are less likely to have a first child than non-mobile eastern Germans, but are more likely to have a first child than non-mobile western Germans. Migrants are also a selective group of the eastern German population. The young, childless, and well educated are more likely to migrate than others. After accounting for migrants’ major socio-demographic characteristics – their educational attainment, employment, partnership status, religious denomination, importance placed on employment and family, and the partner’s characteristics – their first birth risks resemble those of western Germans more than those of eastern Germans. This finding suggests that migrants adapt to western German first birth patterns when they live in western Germany. This is especially likely to be the case when the partner is of western German origin, which also raises the likelihood of being married at the first birth. For the second birth, socialisation seems more important than the institutional context. The east-west migrants have lower second birth risks than non-mobile western Germans and higher second birth risks than non-mobile eastern Germans, but their risks are closer to those of non-mobile eastern Germans. Moreover, migration seems to be a disruptive process for first and second births, as the depressed fertility observed immediately after the move indicates. Finally, east-west migration is not necessarily a fixed or permanent state. A high share of east-west migrants return to eastern Germany and return migration is related to elevated first birth risks. This result suggests that migrants might postpone family formation until they return to their region of origin, where they have better support networks and it is easier to arrange child care.

Keywords: Germany, Germany (Alte Bundesländer), Germany (Neue Bundesländer), fertility, internal migration
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.