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Thieß Petersen and Britta Lübcke (2006)

Parenthood as a Problem of Economic Decision-Making: Model-Theoretical Foundations and Family Policy Consequences*

In: Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Vol. 31, 2/2006, p. 187-230, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ISSN: 0340-2398

The increasing intended childlessness and the gradual disappearance of multiple-children families in Germany and in most other Western industrial nations is as a rule attributed to the increased costs of having children, above all by the opportunity costs caused by resigning at least temporarily to own income. The attempt to explain fertility decline exclusively via the cost aspect however does not suffice. One should take account not only of the costs, but also of the various beneficial elements of having a child, in other words their economic benefit, as well as the emotional and social benefit linked with deciding for a child. It is only when potential parents weigh up all the costs and benefits that the decision for or against a child is completely rational. On the basis of a systematic balance of all the costs and benefits linked to deciding for having a child, it is possible to derive family policy recommendations which may result in increasing fertility. There is however a need to take into account here that the group of potential parents is highly heterogeneous. In addition to varying attitudes towards family and work, also differences in financial constraints and in the social networks in which potential parents live must be taken into account. Individual family policy measures will have different effects among various types of potential parents. Since the economic benefit of having children is relatively minor in developed societies, the emotional benefit attaches is of considerable relevance to family policy. If preferences do not change towards regarding children as constituing element of meaning to their parents’ lives, it is hardly possible to expect an increase in fertility. Even if a systematic change in people’s preferences and attitudes is difficult and time-consuming, such a change is key to increasing the birth rate. Parallel to this, it must be ensured that those who would like to have children are indeed enabled to do so.

* peer-reviewed article (original German title: Elternschaft als ökonomisches Entscheidungsproblem: Modell-theoretische Grundlagen und familienpolitische Konsequenzen)

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