Fertility and Well-Being

At a Glance Projects Publications Team

Detailed Description

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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. Fertility postponement is occurring in high-income as well as in many middle- and low-income countries. In most high-income countries, the era of low or lowest fertility seems to have ended, but with substantial variation in how populations depart from this era. Many societies are facing social polarization that affects family formation and fertility differentials by social status. At the same time, long-standing regularities, such as the negative relationship between fertility and development, seem to be subject to shifts. At high levels of development, we witness signs for attenuation or reversal of this relationship. 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. This includes investigations on the role of uncertainty and subjective well-being in affecting fertility decisions. Tendencies toward increasing social polarization within societies seem to particularly affect the lower social strata. Well-being goes beyond economic necessities, and whether well-being is affected by parenthood depends not only on individual-level characteristics but also on social perceptions of parenthood and childlessness in the social surrounding. We have now expanded our research to respond to the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic created in family formation processes.

Increasing uncertainty, as well as new educational and professional opportunities, have been key factors in contributing to the increase in parental 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 the older age of the parents and with changes in sibling group structure. 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 to improve our understanding of the population-level impact of the changing parental-age distribution.

The observed tendencies toward greater involvement of males in childrearing require a stronger focus on male fertility trends and couple constellations. One of our projects aims to improve the global data infrastructure on male fertility by contributing methodological advancements to account for the challenge that vital registrations 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 on 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.