Volume 48 - Article 20 | Pages 549–590

Family inequality: On the changing educational gradient of family patterns in Western Germany

By Ansgar Hudde, Henriette Engelhardt

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Date received:06 Jun 2021
Date published:27 Apr 2023
Word count:6484
Keywords:census data, descriptive analysis, divorce, educational inequality, family, Germany, marriage, partnership, time, trends


Objective: A comprehensive and thorough investigation of the key trends in family patterns in Western Germany.

Methods: Descriptive analyses of educational differences in marital status, cohabitation, partnerlessness, and children in the household in Western Germany from 1976 to 2019. We analyze unique data from the German Microcensus with information from more than 1.7 million individuals.

Results: In the 1970s, men with higher education were moderately more likely to live with a partner and be married, and less likely to be divorced. The reverse was mainly the case for women. Over time, higher education levels for men and women became increasingly associated with living with a partner, being married, and living with children; lower levels of education became increasingly associated with divorce, partnerlessness, and single parenthood. Today, men with lower levels of education are least likely to live with a partner, be married, or have children in the household. Women with lower education levels are most likely to be single parents.

Conclusions: Education is turning more and more into a generalized life resource: those with higher education are not only the winners in the labor market but are also increasingly more likely to achieve those partnership and family outcomes to which the majority of young people aspire – a stable partnership and children.

Contribution: This 'big picture' analysis deepens our understanding of changes in family-related social inequalities in Germany. Analyses based on high-quality data have not been available for Germany and can serve as bases for future research at the granular level.

Author's Affiliation

Ansgar Hudde - Universität zu Köln, Germany [Email]
Henriette Engelhardt - Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg, Germany [Email]

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