Page 1 – A study with consequences
Page 2 – Children's desire is not lower per se
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Guest author Matthias Westphal researches education and health economics issues at the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research in Essen (RWI). Leonard Goebel is a speaker for economic policy communication at the RWI.
Paying more child support and paying less taxes – the Family Relief Act is the latest in many policies that have been adopted by politicians in recent years to support mothers and fathers. Even if it is rarely stated so clearly: One of the goals of family policy is also to increase the birth rate. If our social system is to function in the long term, we depend on more children being born again.
Fortunately, the long negative trend in this relationship has recently reversed a bit. The number of newborns has risen from 663,000 in 2011 to 785,000 in the past year. From a longer-term perspective, however, this is still a rather low value: Between 1950 and 1971, the number of newborns in Germany was always over one million, in the record year 1964, just under 1.36 million babies were born.
Above all, it is noticeable that female academics still have fewer children than other women. According to our calculations, the average number of children of university graduates born between 1956 and 1986 is 1.52. For women of the same age without a university degree, it is 1.69. This so-called birth gap has basically been known for a long time. Changing career prospects However, it was not clear what the reasons are. Do women with higher education in principle wish children as often as others, but are prevented from doing so by their studies and careers? Or is the proportion of those who would like to have children lower among female academics than among other women – for example, because they are differently socialized?
In the RWI study, we were able to show for the first time that university degrees actually lead directly to lower birth rates. Under otherwise identical conditions, the university degree reduces the probability of becoming a mother by about a quarter. In order to prove this causal effect, we included data on university expansion in Germany in our analysis and compared the birth rates before and after a university opening in a certain region. Thus, the birth gap can be attributed solely to the study and the career perspectives thereby changed.
For politics, that's a good but uncomfortable message. For she suggests that women who study do not want to have fewer children, but because of the general conditions at some point against children – and this often means: for the career – decide. Apparently, there are still significant problems in reconciling work and family life. Last but not least, our calculations show that mothers with university degrees work less and earn less than their childless colleagues.
In order to combat the birth gap, a financial relief from families is therefore not enough. Instead, childcare needs to be further improved. In particular, day-care centers and schools must be designed so that mothers and fathers can work full-time, if they wish. In view of the demographic development, we as a society can not afford that well-educated parents work only part-time, because the full-time care of the school ends at 15.30 or because the nursery school holidays do not coincide with those of the day-care center.