Gender Roles and Values of Children: Childless Couples in East and West Germany

Article excerpt


Presuming that not just economic circumstances but also ideational factors influence fertility decisions, the paper examines the values of children of East and West-German childless men and women living with a partner. Based on the survey about 'Change and Development of Family Life Forms', a confirmatory factor analysis identifies an affective, a utility and a cost dimension of the values of children, and for West-German women an additional dimension of opportunity costs. Although East and West-German men and women differed in their values of children, hypotheses about the higher affective value of children for East Germans compared to West Germans or for women compared to men are not supported for the specific sample. The values of children varied with respondent's labour-market position and the division of household work. An analysis of panel data for West Germany shows that first-birth rates depended on the values of children especially of women and on the gender roles in the home. Couples that practised a patriarchal division of labour had a relatively high first-birth rate whereas less traditional couples' behaviour was more varied depending on their affective value of children.

1. Introduction

A popular explanation of current fertility trends in Western societies is the neoclassical economic theory (Becker 1981), which assumes that it is economically advantageous for spouses to specialize in market and in family work, respectively. As women's level of employment has risen during the last decades, women's increasing income has raised the opportunity costs of having children, lowering the presumed advantage of specialization. While these changes explain the drop in fertility in many Western countries, they do not fully account for the differences in fertility levels between these countries (Friedman et al. 1994). Recent research on the low levels of fertility in Western societies has suggested that not just the division of market work between the spouses but also the division of household work are key to their explanation (McDonald 2000a, 2000b; Oláh 2003; Cooke 2004; Torr and Short 2004; de Laat and Sevilla Sanz 2007). The main argument is that women find it difficult to combine work and family if the household work is divided in the traditional way between the spouses. As a consequence women are reluctant to have children especially if they pursue a career. A more egalitarian setting should be associated with fewer stressors and higher fertility rates.

The other major explanation of current fertility trends emphasizes the importance of ideational and cultural factors as part of the theory of the 'Second Demographic Transition' (van de Kaa 1987; Lesthaeghe 1995). According to this approach, the drop in fertility in Western societies was related to a change in the role and structure of the family in the context of rising postmaterialist values of self-expression and quality of life. This change might have progressed differently in different societal groups. In contrast, Becker's neoclassical economic theory presumes that all people have the same preferences about children. If one assumes that some couples are more eager for the woman to have a career than others, and that some couples have a more positive attitude to children than others, one can distinguish three situations: (a) The couple values children highly and wants the woman to be in paid work: these couples should profit from equality in the societal institutions and in the home when pursuing their fertility goals. (b) The couple does not especially value the woman's involvement in paid work but still holds positive values of children. These couples' intentions are compatible with a more traditional male breadwinner model. (c) The couple does not hold positive values of children. For these couples one would expect no relationship between gender equality and fertility. To test these scenarios it is necessary to consider in fertility models attitudes to children and to women's careers and the anticipated gender division of household work. …