Changing kinship structures in East and West Germany before and after reunification

SocArxiv papers
42 pages.
submitted: 9 April 2024 / last edited: 10 April 2024 (2024)
Open Access


Kinship networks are one of the primary structures of human life. Members of the kin network play a crucial role as potential supporters and receivers of support and constitute a person’s kinship reservoir. Little is known about how past fertility and mortality differences in divided Germany have shaped inequalities in kinship reservoirs between the poorer and more rapidly aging eastern versus the richer western parts of the country. This paper explores differences in kinship structure (number and kind of kin) between East and West Germans before and after reunification. We use age-specific fertility and mortality data (1956–2017) as inputs into analytic kinship models. The output is a full accounting of the expected number of family members, including grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, aunts and uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews, for focal individuals of various ages over time. Despite large differences in period fertility, mortality, and generational length, we find surprisingly few differences in kin counts between East and West Germany, though East Germans in general tend to have larger numbers of kin of all types primarily due to their shorter generational lengths. The dominant trend in both populations is a movement from horizontally dominated to vertically dominated kinship networks.

Keywords: Germany, Germany/FRG, Germany/GDR, extended family, fertility decline, mathematical models
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.