Often fertility rates are analysed at the country level. However, it is also often disregarded that there are economic, political and cultural regional differences within a country, which have a considerable influence on the respective opportunity structure of women and families. In a recent article, Martin Bujard and Melanie Scheller examine cohort fertility rates for all German districts. They provide a broad overview of factors influencing birth behaviours at a local level and to what extent these factors can explain regional differences.
Using microdata from the 2011 German census household survey, the authors selected households with women born in the years 1969 to 1972 and calculated the number of children living in these households. At the time of analysis, women born in these years were old enough to no longer be participating in family planning but still young enough to assume that children are still living in the same household. To take into account regional differences, numerous explanatory factors were considered and examined. The researchers selected local socio-demographic indicators, as well as local indicators for opportunity structures such as the availability of housing, which could have a direct or indirect influence on birth level in the particular region. Economic aspects were also included in their analyses.
Results indicate substantial differences in the estimated fertility rates for women born in the years 1969 to1972 among the districts in Germany. Overall effects of the composition of the local population showed that the birth rate is generally higher in districts with a low proportion of well-educated women, a high proportion of Catholics and a high proportion of men. Particularly interesting are the effects of the availability of housing, which varies greatly between urban and rural areas. The authors’ findings show that the shortage of dwellings with five and more rooms contribute to a lower fertility level. Another interesting effect on the fertility rate is based on the availability of the other sex: Districts with a lower proportion of men lead to a lower number of births. A leading explanation is based on the explanatory factors for the urban-rural gap: Urban areas are dominated by less available housing; a modern, service-oriented economic structure; a higher percentage of well-educated women migrating to cities because of career ambitions; and, the prevailing of modern cultural values which contribute to a lower fertility rate.
All in all, the study by Bujard and Scheller makes an important contribution on several levels. First, the authors developed an improved way to measure the fertility rate by calculating the cohort fertility rate at the district level for Germany. Secondly, the findings about regional conditions and prerequisites for a lower birth rate provide essential starting points for local and federal political actors to help build a better infrastructure for young families. One initial point being the availability of housing for larger families.