New data shows childlessness in Germany no longer rising, confirming findings of study by Michaela Kreyenfeld

German government policies likely helping working parents juggle family and career.

The long-term trend of rising childlessness in Germany has levelled off, according to new data on childlessness compiled by the German Statistics Office Destatis. The Microcensus 2016 showed that childlessness doubled from 11% for women born in 1937 to 21% for those born in 1967, but did not increase for those born in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

German government policy efforts since the mid-2000s have likely made it easier to have children and a career, although there are not yet conclusive studies about the effects of those policies, says Michaela Kreyenfeld, Professor of Sociology at the Hertie School. Time off for parents, paid leave and more childcare places have been introduced in Germany over the last decade.

“One has to see that the government has done quite a bit since 2005, such as expanding Kindergarten places,” Kreyenfeld told the Bayerische Rundfunk in a television interview. “In the reform of financial support for parents, they have also done quite a lot. So the ability to combine child and career has improved considerably in Germany.”

The new data confirms trends Kreyenfeld identified in the new book Childlessness in Europe: Contexts, Causes, and Consequences, which she edited together with and Dirk Konietzka of the TU Braunschweig. The book sheds light on the reasons for high levels of childlessness in Europe, and indicates that historical patterns may be on the verge of shifting in some countries.

Government policies can only do so much, Kreyenfeld notes. Companies have to become more flexible and men have to step up to the plate and take on the challenge of combining family and career as well. “Combining child and career is not just a question for young women, it is a question young men have to take up as well,” she said.

Since the mid-2000s, there has been a rise in the number of women working full time and the number of men taking off time to stay home with children, Kreyenfeld told the Wormser Zeitung in a recent interview. But there has not yet been a study to closely determine the effects of these policies.

“What we do see is that the birth rate in Germany has shown a positive development in recent years,” Kreyenfeld. “Whether that was due to the reform of the paid leave benefit for parents or to other things, is not clear.” Kreyenfeld noted that many families have benefitted from Germany’s positive economic developments, and that the birth rate in some other countries has been declining.

Nevertheless, this does not immediately solve the long-term issue of securing public pensions, Kreyenfeld said in the Bayerische Rundfunk interview. This will already start to flare up when Baby Boomers retire in the next decade. “Children born today will not do anything for this short-term pension problem, that is a question of long-term developments.”

The Berliner Zeitung noted that childlessness in Germany’s capital is generally higher than in other cities in Germany – at 27%, compared to 21% four years ago. “Berlin is a city of singles,” said Kreyenfeld. “Childlessness is usually higher in metropolitan areas than in rural areas.”

Michaela Kreyenfeld was also quoted by The Economist in an article on the growing rate of childlessness in Europe.

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