Fertility and Well-Being

At a Glance Projects Publications Team

Detailed Description

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Why does fertility increase in developed countries and why do some world regions lag behind the secular fertility decline. The factors and social polarization that underlie these trends are examined by the Fertility and Well-Beeing Lab.

The early 21st century presents us with vast variation in fertility patterns around the globe. However, we also witness a number of regularities across many human societies:

  1. Fertility postponement is occurring in high-income as well as in many middle- and low-income countries.
  2. In most high-income countries, the era of low or lowest-low fertility seems to have come to an end, but there is substantial variation in how populations have departed from this era.
  3. Many societies are facing social polarization that affects family formation and fertility differentials by social status. At the same time, the long-standing negative relationship between fertility and development seems to be subject to shifts. At high levels of development, we witness signs of attenuation or reversal of this relationship.
  4. The fertility decline in Sub-Saharan Africa not only started later than in other world regions, but is also slower.
  5. Males are increasingly involved in childrearing in some parts of the world, though gender questions remain an issue where perceptions vary widely across global societies.

Research in the Laboratory of Fertility and Well-Being focuses on improving our understanding of the determinants and consequences of contemporary fertility trends. A key focus is on exploring the variety of socioeconomic and developmental conditions that potentially allow contemporary societies to reach fertility levels close to replacement levels. We are also interested in how economic uncertainty and subjective well-being affect fertility decisions and how social polarization within societies matter for fertility differentials.

Understanding fertility trends and differentials across the world

In highly developed countries, fertility has been shown to increase in the latest stages of development. To understand these recent trends, we investigate the decisive factors at different levels of social organisation. As part of the project, we have set up a European Register-Based Fertility Research Network to improve our understanding of the recent shifts in the relationship between fertility and development, and of the role of migration in sub-national fertility trends.

We are also interested in how family building behaviours (i.e. union formation and dissolution, and fertility) differ between socioeconomic groups, welfare and gender equality contexts. In developing regions, we study the social and spatial inequalities in the process of fertility decline, and how these are interlinked with patterns of migration. In sub-Saharan Africa, we apply innovative research perspectives to better understand the causes of the slow fertility decline.

Does parenthood influence well-beeing?

Well-being goes beyond having access to economic necessities, and whether well-being is affected by parenthood depends not only on individual-level characteristics, but also on perceptions of parenthood and childlessness in the social surrounding.

Increasing uncertainty and new educational and professional opportunities have been key factors in the increase in maternal and paternal ages at birth. This process of fertility postponement has given rise to concerns about the individual- and the population-level health effects that are associated with older parents.

We aim to distinguish the separate contributions of parental biological aging, resource accumulation, and changing period conditions to the relationship between parental age and child outcomes in order to improve our understanding of the population-level impact of the changing parental-age distribution.

How does male fertility look like?

The observed tendencies toward the greater involvement of males in childrearing require a stronger focus on fertility trends among males and couple constellations. One research focus in this area is to improve the global data infrastructure on male fertility by contributing methodological advancements to account for the challenge that vital registration records for fathers are often much less complete than records for mothers.

Throughout the research areas, we place a strong emphasis on population-level trends and micro-macro mechanisms driving these macro developments. The enhanced knowledge about fertility trajectories enables us to improve projections of future fertility trends, an area to which we contribute with methodological advancements.

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.