Transitions to fatherhood in East Germany in the 1990s: psychological determinants of childbearing and the meaning of entering into parenthood for young adults from Rostock; an event-history and qualitative composite investigation within the Rostock Longitudinal Survey

von der Lippe, H.
199 pages. Magdeburg, University of Magdeburg (2004)


This book deals with three current research questions: a) on the compatibility between demographic and psychological explanations of reproductive behavior, b) on explaining extreme fertility decline in East Germany after reunification, and c) on sex differences in the determinants of the transition to parenthood. In Part A, the research questions are subjected to conceptual precision. In doing this, the author presents, amongst other things, a recent socio-demographic research paradigm (the foundations of demographic theory by Bart de Bruijn), which shows in what way a micro foundation of fertility theory can be formulated. The empirical investigations in the book take their starting-points from this model and include different analyses with data from the Rostock Longitudinal Study. In Part B, the author performs an event-history-analysis of observed birth events between 1988 and 2002. The results show that psychological covariates contribute largely to explaining differential fertility and that their effects are clearly sex-specific. The findings indicate that for women (more so than for men), characteristics of the socio-economic and biographic background (such as education – one’s own and that of the parents – and the size of the family of origin) as well as personality traits determine observed differences in first birth timing. For men, by contrast, the practical organization of the life course (e.g., the timing of leaving the parental home and the end of their education), certain behavioral habits (e.g., coping-styles), the availability of personal resources (e.g., their own skills, a well-functioning partnership) as well as the style and content of personal considerations (e.g., fears, optimism) explain these differences in greater detail. The second part of the empirical investigation (Part C) deepens the new insights into the determinants of male transition to parenthood. It presents a qualitative study with 20 male participants, using problem-centered interviews (A. Witzel) on the desire for children and conceptions of fatherhood. The analysis applies a conceptual model of goal and intention formation, which is derived from personality psychology. Results show that men’s desire for children can be explained by two different core dimensions. The first is termed "developmental perspective of the self" and constitutes self-related perceptions on the consequences of parenthood (motives, anticipated self-concept), the current self-concept, and the conceptions of an adequate manhood in society (masculinity). The second dimension is termed "evaluation of social objects" and consists of personal attitudes to children, partnership, and family, of values in terms of binding societal norms, and of interests in activities with children. The author concludes from this that a valid psychological theory of the desire for children must consider two different processes, namely the affective-motivational and the cognitive-attitudinal. The last part (Part D), firstly, presents an integration of the two former parts. Secondly, it places the results into the societal context of post-unified East Germany in order to gain deeper insights. The author shows that subjectively perceived motives for fatherhood as well as factors not perceived are crucial in the causal explanation of differential male fertility. The former mechanism is the motivation for fatherhood, the latter the selection of male partners by women. Both empirical parts of the book converge into the overall picture of a changing gender order in East Germany. The authors show that the abstract of "gender order" is expressed in the emergence of new and the decline of old family-related life-styles. The results present evidence that the notions of the "normalcy" of parenthood during the life course, of the disintegrating of traditional and socialistic ideals of motherliness (from the perspective of men), and of the attribution of gender-specific new tasks and expectations to one’s own life exist side by side. In sum, the study suggests to view these new attributions (for instance, social maturity, life-practical competence, the individual construction of the meaning of fatherhood) as a constitutive for entering into fatherhood in East Germany of the 1990s.

Keywords: Germany (Neue Bundesländer), family formation, fertility decline, fertility determinants, sex differentials, social psychology
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.