Childless at age 30: A qualitative study of the life course plans of working women in East and West Germany

TitleChildless at age 30: A qualitative study of the life course plans of working women in East and West Germany
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsBernardi, L, Keim, S
Book TitleChildlessness in Europe: Contexts, causes, and consequences
Series TitleDemographic Research Monographs
Place PublishedBerlin, Allemagne
Keywordscombination of family and work, Family formation, life course plans, socialization, unification

At German unification, two states with fundamentally different economic and social systems became one. To help us gain a better understanding of the legacies of the past, this paper compares the attitudes of childless women who grew up in the former East and West Germany, but who reached early adulthood in unified Germany. How did these women plan and envisage having children and combining work and family life? We analyzed data from a qualitative research project on social influences on family formation collected in 2004 and 2005 in the two structurally similar towns of Lübeck (West Germany) and Rostock (East Germany). Our results show that the typical family models of the former East and West Germany were still very present in the narrations of these young women, and that the ongoing influence of these models contributes to persistent differences in the strategies these women use in dealing with the issues surrounding family formation and work and family reconciliation. We rely on Bourdieu’s concept of “inertial effect” to interpret the results. This concept stresses the relevance of socialization for the formation of attitudes and values, for the meanings attached to certain behavior, and for perceptions regarding the potential range of action. Our results suggests that family values are rather stable traits that are resistant to change, even when the macro-level societal conditions change radically.

Refereed DesignationRefereed