Research Group

Gender Inequalities and Fertility

At a Glance Projects Publications Team

Detailed Description


Gender is more than an attribute that differentiates individuals by biological sex. Gender pervades social institutions, such as the family, the labor market, the economy, and society at large. Although gender inequalities have become less visible in formal institutions, such as laws, they remain embedded in contemporary societies. Gender inequalities manifest in unequal opportunities and constraints linked to the socially constructed roles of women and men. Yet, demographers often neglect inequalities in gender when addressing differences in biological sex.

Overlooking inequalities between women and men hampers demographers’ understanding of the determinants and consequences of demographic processes that underlie contemporary family change in Europe and the global North. Fertility continues to decrease to record lows, and this is also true for countries that enjoy high gender equality and have strong welfare state support for families. Births are postponed or foregone, and they may occur in a multitude of partnership statuses and with consecutive reproductive partners. Institutions that for long had clearly shaped the roles of women versus men and within society (e.g., marriage) have lost their predominance in the lives of many people. Family is done in diverse ways, and the complex interplay between fertility and partnership behavior in contemporary societies affects the life courses of women and men differently. We are living in an era of unprecedented family complexity, yet demographic research tends to focus on women only when studying individuals, their partners, and their children.

The Research Group: Gender Inequalities and Fertility, funded by the Max Planck Society, conducts research to advance the subfield of family demography and the study of gender inequalities. The group systematically incorporates gender inequalities into the analysis of fertility and reveals how and under which conditions gender inequalities are produced and reproduced within individuals, couples and families, and the social institutions in which they are embedded.

The group has three main objectives:

  1. To bring gender inequalities to the core of family demography by revealing the mechanisms that explain how gender inequalities both determine and result from demographic trends and patterns contributing to family change.
  2. To study the normative foundations of gender inequalities and how they influence gender attitudes and the meaning attached to similar (demographic) behavior.
  3. To advance demographic theory by crossing disciplinary boundaries and integrating into demographic research also concepts and theoretical frameworks that address gender inequalities.

Applying a “gender lens” to the study of determinants and outcomes of fertility constitutes an innovative and pressing research agenda. The research activities of the group are conducted in four complementary research projects: (i) the normative foundations of gender inequalities, (ii) complex families and the reproduction of gender inequalities through parenthood, and (iii) gender inequalities over the family life course.

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.