The Social Stratification of Partnership Trajectories to Childlessness in Germany

Marcel Raab, Mannheim University
Emanuela Struffolino, WZB Berlin and Humboldt University of Berlin

In recent decades childlessness increased across many European countries. This spurred a lot of research on the determinants and consequences of childlessness. Building on recent life course studies this paper is using rich retrospective and panel data to study partnership trajectories of childless men and women in Germany. Next to socioeconomic characteristics partnership trajectories are among the most important determinants of childlessness. Yet, still little is known about the partnership biographies of childless persons. This study examines the heterogeneity in partnership biographies (from age 18-40) ending in childlessness.

Using representative German panel data and sequence analysis, we identify five distinct patterns which we labeled according to the predominant partnership status: (1) married, (2) cohabiting, (3) living apart together, (4) previously partnered, (5) never partnered. Our study contributes to the previous literature by using rich retrospective accounts on partnership trajectories which allow to distinguish between unpartnered persons and persons in LAT relationships and which include information on life satisfaction, religiosity and self-reported fecundity. Furthermore, our analysis comprises women and men, whereas most research on childlessness is exclusively focusing on women. Finally, we are able to access context effects on childlessness by examining differences between the former socialist East Germany and the rather (gender) traditional West Germany. Preliminary results show that men are clearly overrepresented in the “never partnered” cluster while women have an increased probability of sorting into the marital pathway. The single clusters (4 & 5) are associated with a lower life satisfaction compared to the three remaining groups. Marriage among childless is much more common in the West and among low educated women. Interestingly more than 50% in this cluster report that they or their partner are infertile. This indicates that involuntary childlessness might be a concern among this group.

Presented in Session 99: Class Differences and Fertility