Karl Ulrich Mayer, Eva Schulze
Delaying Parenthood in East and West Germany : a Mixed-Methods Study of the Onset of Childbirth and the Vocabulary of Motives of Women of the Birth Cohort of 1971

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Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung: Arbeitspapiere; 123
ISSN: 1437-8574

In this paper we analyze the delay in first births among East and West German women born in 1971 on the basis of both qualitative and quantitative data. The data comes from the German Life History Study (GLHS) and, in particular, two nationally representative quantitative surveys conducted in 1996-1998 and 2005 as well as narrative interviews conducted from 2004 to 2006. Median ages for first marriage and first births have been increasing in West Germany for more than three decades and in East Germany since 1991. The 1971 birth cohort is of particular interest, because it is the first cohort where the family formation process took place within re-unified Germany. In regard to the onset of childbirth the West German part of the cohort represents the continuation of a delaying trend whereas the East German cohort represents a drastic reversal in regard to the age of first child.
Our qualitative material documents widely differing parenthood motives and behavior between East and West German women. As perceived by women, West German men avoid and delay commitments and thus complicate maternal aspirations for West German women, who in addition face problematic incompatibilities of career and family. In contrast, for both East German women and men parenthood appears to be a taken for granted even under difficult economic circumstances.