Women's Employment and Non-Marital Childbearing: A Comparison between East and West Germany in the 1990s

By Dirk Konietzka, Michaela Kreyenfeld


In contrast to West Germany, where marriage and childbirth have been strongly coupled, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) displayed high rates of non-marital childbearing. Researchers attributed this pattern to “misguided” GDR family policies that encouraged women to remain unmarried after childbirth. With German unification, East Germany’s legal and political institutions — including family policies — were replaced by those of West Germany. Against this background, it was widely expected that east German non-marital birth rates would soon fall to west German levels. After unification, however, they increased even further.
This article argues that the enormous east-west differences in non-marital childbearing in the 1990s can be attributed to differences in women’s work orientation. Despite unfavourable labour market constraints and social policies that encourage women’s withdrawal from the labour force after childbirth, east German women, compared with their west German counterparts, are still more likely to be in full-time employment, and to re-enter the labour force sooner after childbirth. Our empirical investigation, drawing on data from the German 1997 micro-census, reveals a strong effect of women’s education and employment on marriage in west Germany, whereas in east Germany the probability of living in a marital union is hardly correlated at all with women’s employment characteristics. We conclude that a generally strong female work orientation and the wide availability of public day care facilities are the most important factors weakening the economic incentives for east German women to get married at childbirth.

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