MPIDR Working Paper
Too worried about the environment to have children? Or more worried about the environment after having children? The reciprocal relationship between environmental concerns and fertility
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2023-023, 56 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (May 2023)
Climate change is one of the central challenges for contemporary societies. It is widely discussed as triggering “climate anxiety,” and as dampening the desire to reproduce, particularly among young people. Conversely, parenthood could affect people’s attitudes and behaviors toward the environment. Empirically, however, little is known about this potentially reciprocal relationship due to the lack of longitudinal data of sufficient temporal scope. Our study extends this debate using unique data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (GSOEP), which contains both full fertility histories and yearly measures of environmental concerns (1984 to 2020). We follow individuals born between 1965 and 2000 through time and investigate a) whether environmental concerns predict first birth quantum and timing, and b) whether environmental concern trajectories vary between eventual parents and the childless. Results show no significant relationship between environmental concerns early in or throughout the life course and first birth timing or quantum, except for individuals born before 1970, who delayed parenthood if they had substantial environmental concerns. Moreover, while some differences in environmental concern trajectories between eventual parents and the childless are found, they seem to be largely rooted in unobserved heterogeneity.