Volume 33 - Article 9 | Pages 239–272  

The low importance of marriage in eastern Germany - social norms and the role of peoples’ perceptions of the past

By Andreas Klärner

This article is part of the Special Collection 17 "Focus on Partnerships: Discourses on cohabitation and marriage throughout Europe and Australia"


Background: Eastern Germany is a region with one of the world's highest percentages of non-marital births. Marriage and childbearing seem to be decoupled. This brings into question people's views on the institution of marriage.

Objective: This paper examines eastern Germans' views on cohabitation, marriage, and childbearing. It argues that historical, social, and political contexts shape the social norms of marriage and non-marital childbearing.

Methods: This paper presents data from eight qualitative focus group interviews with 74 women and men aged 25-40 in Rostock, a medium-sized city in eastern Germany.

Results: The respondents often compared their own motives and incentives for marriage with those which existed in the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR) and held true for their parents. Many of them stated that having children was important for them as individuals and for their partnership. However, they treated the decision to get married and the decision to have children as two separate issues. Respondents often referred to the past and said that the strong legal and financial incentives to marry in the past regime in the socialist GDR no longer exist. Today's incentives were seen as minor, or as irrelevant to their personal situations.

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Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

On the normative foundations of marriage and cohabitation: Results from group discussions in eastern and western Germany
Volume 36 - Article 53

Towards a new understanding of cohabitation: Insights from focus group research across Europe and Australia
Volume 31 - Article 34

Social networks and fertility
Volume 30 - Article 22

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