Large families in Germany: phase-out model or life plan for the future?

Original in German on the website of The Federal Institute for Population Research

Child wealth has become rare in Germany. With a share of around 16 percent of women with children, Germany is in the lower middle of the European comparison. Nevertheless: Around 7 million people in Germany currently live in a household with three or more children. This corresponds to around 1.4 million families. Unlike many other family constellations, multi-child families often encounter reservations in society. These families play an important role in demographic development. The new BiB study focuses on these families: Who are the large children in Germany? Where do they live and what are their living conditions? For the first time, the study also shows the regional distribution of large families at district level.

The decreasing frequency of child wealth is one of the central characteristics of demographic change. This development began in the 19th century and can still be observed today. In the early 1970s, around 30 percent of women in Germany gave birth to three or more children. Since then, this proportion has dropped significantly to currently around 16 percent. The majority of these women have three children, only 4 percent have four or more children. The decline in families with three or more children is, more than the rapid spread of permanent childlessness, the decisive demographic driver for the decline in the birth rate in Germany and the still low level of the birth rate.

Children’s abundance most widespread in Baden-Württemberg, Bremen and Bavaria

When it comes to the distribution of large families, there are considerable regional differences within Germany. With regard to the federal states, large numbers of children are particularly well represented in Baden-Württemberg, where every fifth woman born between 1965 and 1974 had three or more children (20.6 percent). This is followed by Bremen (17.2 percent) and Bavaria (17.0 percent).

The comparatively least prevalent, however, is found in Saxony-Anhalt (9.3 percent) – only around every eleventh woman from these birth cohorts became a mother three or more times. In Brandenburg it is only every ninth (11.6 percent). Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (13.0 percent each) are well below the national average of 16.2 percent.

The low proportions of large families in eastern Germany can be explained primarily historically: the demands placed on women in the former GDR to lower their willingness to have more children. As a result, the two-child norm, but also the acceptance of only children in Eastern Germany, is still very widespread to this day. The low proportion of women with a migrant background is another cause.

Which regions are particularly rich in children?

An estimation model developed at the BiB enables smaller-scale considerations at the level of cities and counties. The new study now provides data for 398 independent cities and counties for the first time. Regional clusters become clear: Districts in the west of Lower Saxony (Cloppenburg: 25.4 percent; Vechta: 25 percent) and in the border region between Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria (Unterallgäu: 23.1 percent) have a particularly high proportion of women with children. In contrast, there are numerous districts with less than eight percent in Saxony-Anhalt (Dessau-Roßlau: 7.4 percent). In general, the proportion of large families is greater in rural areas than in large cities and in western Germany higher than in the east. The new findings indicate that regional factors with regard to cultural characteristics, public services, housing and the specific living conditions in town and country play a central role.

European comparison

Germany is in the lower middle of the field in Europe with a share of around 16 percent of women with children. The Scandinavian countries (Norway: 33 percent; Finland: 29 percent; Sweden: 27 percent) consistently have higher proportions of women with children; the same applies to the Anglo-Saxon countries (Ireland: 36 percent; England / Wales: 28 percent). Lower proportions of women with children are found particularly in southern Europe (Portugal: 15 percent; Italy: 12 percent, Spain: 11 percent). In contrast, there is no uniform pattern in the Eastern European countries

Living situation of multi-child families

The study shows not only where families with three or more children live, but also how they live. Here, for example, the living situation plays a central role. In large cities in particular, living space is mostly designed for families with two children. Other important indicators of the reality of life in multi-child families are income and employment and division of labor. The traditional division of labor between the sexes is typical of multi-child families. Women take on much of the housework and family work there even more than in other family forms.

Social recognition or stigmatization?

The survey conducted by the Federal Institute for Population Research on young adults on the family model shows how strongly the personal attitude differs from the perceived opinion of the general public. Only about one in ten respondents agrees with the statement that large children are “anti-social”; At the same time, however, over 80 percent believe that large children are viewed by society as “anti-social”. The reasons for this stigmatization are different: on the one hand they have grown historically, on the other hand these clichés continue to be served by the media. However, it is remarkable and a good signal for the future that many young adults think positively about large children

Sibling wealth – Child wealth from a child’s perspective

While only about every sixth woman between the ages of 40 and 55 has many children, the situation is quite different from a child’s perspective. According to this, 33 percent of ten-year-old children in Germany have at least two siblings with whom they live in one household. Since older siblings can already have moved out, the proportion of children from large families to all children is even higher. Well over a third of all children in Germany come from a large family. As a result, there are currently only a comparatively small number of large families, but these raise a significant proportion of all children.

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