Volume 36 - Article 53 | Pages 1637–1666  

On the normative foundations of marriage and cohabitation: Results from group discussions in eastern and western Germany

By Andreas Klärner, André Knabe


Background: Since the 1960s the inclination to get married has been declining in almost all western industrialised countries. Partnership arrangements have become more diverse and the share of cohabiting couples and nonmarital births has been increasing. Yet there are substantial regional differences in marriage and childbearing patterns, and the differences between eastern and western Germany are especially striking. We assume those differences can be partially explained by social norms and different attitudes towards marriage, cohabitation, and childbearing.

Objective: We explore the views and values young people in eastern and western Germany hold about marriage, cohabitation, and childbearing and how those views relate to individual life experiences. We also examine different social norms and contexts in both parts of the country.

Methods: We analyse data from qualitative focus group interviews conducted in in Rostock (eastern Germany) and Lübeck (western Germany) with women and men aged 25−40.

Results: Our findings indicate that there are normative differences between eastern and western Germans in their attitudes towards partnership, marriage, and family formation that can be traced back to the social and political conditions prior to German unification in 1990. The harmonisation of family laws and policies across Germany after 1990 did not automatically lead to a convergence in the norms and behaviours of the people living in these two regions.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

The low importance of marriage in eastern Germany - social norms and the role of peoples’ perceptions of the past
Volume 33 - Article 9

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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