Graph 1.1 Change in total fertility rate of the global average, France, and Germany, from 1960 to 2016, data obtained from World Bank Open Data (“Fertility rate”).
In this blog post, I have carried out a comparative analysis of the fertility rates of Germany and France, which have traditionally been compared to each other in the field of birth rate research. I was initially going to conduct research on Germany alone, however, I decided to make a change in my plan for two reasons: to learn what makes France an appropriate target of comparison to Germany, and to see whether comparing different countries allows me to identify the unique characteristics of each country in a more effective manner.
Why compare Germany to France?
Germany and France make an appropriate set for the comparative study of birth rates for two reasons. First of all, these countries are situated in a similar geographical region in the world. This allows me to expect that there are less cultural differences between these countries than comparing either one of the two to those in other remote regions, such as Asia or Africa. Another reason is the similar socioeconomic background these countries share: France’s per capita GDP is $38,476.66 and Germany’s is $44,469.91, both of which are well above the global average, $10,714.47, as of USD conversion on October 20th, 2018 (“GDP per capita”). These similarities of the two countries, accordingly, allow me to carry out the analysis with fewer factors to examine, which collectively cause the net difference in the birth rates.
Overview of the two countries
Graph 1.2 Change in total fertility rate of France and Germany from 1972 to 2016, data obtained from World Bank Open Data (“Fertility rate”).
I created Graph 1.1 to outline the global shift in the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) to that of both Germany and France, using statistics issued by the World Bank (“Fertility rate”). As shown, the world has been experiencing a continuous decline in fertility rate for over half a century. Germany and France have also mostly followed the global trend. Graph 1.2, which was created with the same data set, shows a closer comparison between the two countries in a shorter period of time; starting from 1972, in the midst of rapid decline of fertility rates, the TFR of two countries start to recover as various countermeasures to reverse the trend started to get implemented from the 1980s by the governments (“Fertility rate”). By inspection, despite the overall difference in the TFR level, it can be observed that France has demonstrated a larger recovery of TFR compared to Germany. In fact, until Germany has recently shown a dramatic increase in TFR in the last few years, Germany had traditionally been viewed as a typically unsuccessful example of reversing a low-TFR, whereas France had been viewed as one of the most successful examples. So, in two countries with relatively similar socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, what has made all the disparity?
Based on my research, the biggest cause of the difference in the birth rates between Germany and France is the policies each government have implemented to counter their low fertility rates. Both Germany and France have extensive government programs to encourage people to have more children. However, each country has a different overarching approach to their policies. Generally speaking, German government provides support in a way that helps women take a maternity leave more easily, whereas the support French government provides allows both men and women equally stay in their work after they have a child, instead of taking a long-term maternity leave (Bussolo et al. 50).
The German policies are characterized by the generous monetary subsidization, but also by the lack of access to childcare systems and facilities. Even though this suffices for single-earner family, the limitation makes it difficult for a dual-career family to have a child, as someone has to take care of the child at home (Bussolo et al. 49). Furthermore, many German schools and kindergartens, both public and private, close in the afternoon. To counter the especially low birth rates among tertiary-educated German women, the government has recently created a new system that links the benefit for maternity leave with the amount of income before giving a birth. Nevertheless, the trend of women’s financial dependence on men still prevails in Germany (Bussolo et al. 50).
Meanwhile, the French policies focus more on gender equality. The polices target subsidization on caregivers and longer open hours of schools and kindergarten (Bussolo et al. 50). The French government also does not discriminate dual-earner family that has the capacity to have a larger family; rather, the system provides a better treatment for them. The income-splitting system is one of the major French policies on countering a low fertility rate. This means that the amount of income tax to be paid will depend on the family size—that is, the bigger the family is, the less tax to be paid (KPMG). It is true that this system alone receives criticism for creating income inequality. Nevertheless, the set of policies implemented by French government overall minimizes the disproportionate burden of raising a child on women, as well as realizing their financial independence from men.
Another factor causing the disparity in the birth rates is the difference in the level of women’s social participation. Statistically, French women from age of 15 to 64 have a higher percentage of tertiary education attainment than German women in the same range of age by 5.1 % (“Population by educational”). Generally, women who have finished tertiary education tend to have fewer children, or not to have at all, in order to prioritize their professional career.
Given the correlation between these statistics on women’s education and the overall trend in policies in each country, it is also possible to conjecture that each government might be progressively shaping and adjusting their policies based on the decisions women make on whether to have a child based on their education level—that is, more and more working-friendly policies for French women, and less and less so for German women. I was not able to confirm this hypothesis with outside sources due to the lack of reliable sources on German and French politics written in English I had access to, however.
Furthermore, a source claims that the historical reluctance in German government’s encouragement on pronatalist policy is attributed to the history of Holocaust (Takayama and Werding 3). This means that, after the World War II, the German people have in the past felt disinclined to have the government intervene the family planning of citizens, as Nazi Germany did to Jews, even though their predecessors had a far more segregative intent behind the policy.
Germany’s recent increase in fertility rate
This traditional comparison, France as a successful example and Germany as an unsuccessful example, however, might no longer hold true, due to the recent dramatical increase in Germany’s fertility rate. A recent report shows that for the year 2016, Germany had the 43 year-high TFR of 1.59, as well as the increase in TFR for five consecutive years (Pearson). Another report suggests that not only the improved domestic economy of Germany but also the rapid increase of immigration, symbolized by the European refugee crisis in 2015, is attributable to the change in trend. Statistics provided in the article show that out of all newborns in Germany, about 23% of them were born to mothers of non-German citizen (Wróbel).
In my first comparative study on birth rates, I learned the multidimensionality the topic of my research and the effectiveness of conducting research on countries as a pair when chosen correctly. The key of choosing a right pair for the comparison is to find a set of countries that have a sizable gap in their birth rates while sharing many similarities; this way, it is easier to find a few major factors that are causing the disparity. I also learned the difficulty of gathering information on foreign countries since many sources I found were not in English. Whether to make the next post also be about a comparative analysis is now under my consideration.
Bussolo, Maurizio, et al. “Box 1.3.” Golden Aging: Prospects for Healthy, Active, and Prosperous Aging in Europe and Central Asia, e-book, Washington, World Bank Publications, 2015, pp. 49-50.
“Fertility rate, total (births per woman).” World Bank Open Data, data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.TFRT.IN. Accessed 20 Oct. 2018.
“France – Income Tax.” KPMG, 31 Dec. 2017, home.kpmg.com/xx/en/home/insights/2011/12/france-income-tax.html. Accessed 20 Oct. 2018.
“GDP per capita (current US$).” World Bank Open Data, data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD. Accessed 20 Oct. 2018.
Pearson, Alexander. “Germany’s fertility rate hits 43-year high.” Deutsche Welle, 28 Mar. 2018, http://www.dw.com/en/germanys-fertility-rate-hits-43-year-high/a-43163756. Accessed 22 Oct. 2018.
“Population by educational attainment level, sex and age (%).” eurostat, appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/submitViewTableAction.do. Accessed 20 Oct. 2018.
Takayama, Noriyuki, and Martin Werding. “1.1.” Fertility and Public Policy: How to Reverse the Trend of Declining Birth Rates, e-book, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2011, p. 3.
Wróbel, Aleksandra. “Immigration helps bump German birth rate to highest in decades.” Politico, 28 Mar. 2018, http://www.politico.eu/article/germany-migration-helps-bump-birth-rate-to-highest-in-decades/. Accessed 22 Oct. 2018.